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The New UK Government Wants To Scrap the Human Rights Act. Does the Act Matter, and Can Anything Be Done To Save It?

Published on May 27, 2015        Author: 

The quick answers to the above two questions are Yes and Maybe.  Despite the statutory framework that devolved power to legislative bodies in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, the UK parliament has the power to repeal the 1998 Human Rights Act (“HRA”).  Yet there are significant legal, constitutional and political aspects that will determine the future of the HRA.  Before delving into these, it is worth asking why repeal is even on the agenda.

This proposal is not new. The Conservative party promised to repeal the HRA in 2010 and replace it with a British Bill of Rights, but ended up governing in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. A Commission on a Bill of Rights was set up instead, but failed to reach a consensus. In the 2015 manifesto the pledge re-emerged.  Having won a majority on the May 7th Prime Minister David Cameron is now pressing ahead. (Also high on his legislative agenda is a referendum on EU membership). The government claims scrapping the HRA would:

  • Break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights and make our own Supreme Court the ultimate arbiter of human rights matters in the UK” and,
  • “Stop terrorists and other serious foreign criminals who pose a threat to our society from using spurious human rights arguments to prevent deportation.”

It also intends to go ahead with a “British Bill of Rights” to:

  • “Remain faithful to the basic principles of human rights, which we signed up to in the original European Convention on Human Rights.”
  • “Reverse the mission creep that has meant human rights law being used for more and more purposes, and often with little regard for the rights of wider society”, and
  • “Ensure our Armed Forces overseas are not subject to persistent human rights claims that undermine their ability to do their job.” This argument will be familiar to readers of recent posts on the second of the two “Fog of Law” reports (2013 & 2015, Policy Exchange).

Readers will see the many legal reasons why most of these aims cannot be achieved by abolishing the HRA, Read the rest of this entry…

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The Situation Concerning the Islamic State: Carte Blanche for the ICC if the Security Council Refers?

Published on May 27, 2015        Author: 

At a meeting of the UN Security Council held on 27 March 2015, the possibility of a referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) of the situation relating to the so-called Islamic State (IS aka ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh) was vigorously discussed. At that meeting, which was convened by France and chaired by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (who had travelled to New York specifically to preside over the meeting), more than a dozen of States lined up to call for a Council referral. However, confusion seemed to rein over what should be referred to the ICC. While most States appealed for a referral of the situation in Syria, some urged a referral of the situation in Iraq, others called for a referral of the situation in both States, and, finally, a few remained purposefully vague by calling for a referral of ‘the situation’, ‘the matter’, and even ‘the cases’ to the ICC. One issue was, however, clear: the reason to refer a situation to the ICC would be to make members of IS accountable for the crimes they committed.

This discussion about the possibility of prosecuting IS members at the ICC raises the question whether “situations” referred to the ICC must be defined by reference to a given territory. Is it possible to refer a worldwide situation relating to a group to the Court? Or must the situation referred be one occurring in a particular geographical location or in a particular state?

On 8th April 2015, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda stated that she will not open a preliminary examination concerning alleged crimes committed by IS, unless Iraq or Syria or the Security Council (SC) provide jurisdiction to the ICC. As Barrie Sander has noted this statement was an attempt by the Prosecutor to pressure States and, especially, the Security Council, to assume their responsibility and confer jurisdiction on the ICC over this situation.

Despite the Prosecutor’s ‘clarification’, neither Iraq nor Syria or the Security Council has yet taken action. Subsequent to her statement, Lithuania, Chile and the UK’ representatives at the UN have continued to push for a Council referral of the situation in Syria to the ICC – but to no avail. The position of Russia and China concerning a referral of Syria is known. They vetoed a similar attempt last year. One may think that the recent attempts to refer IS are trying to push through the window what some members of the Council were unable to push through the door in 2014. However, there is a difference. A Security Council referral of the crimes committed by IS tout court would enable the Prosecutor to charge members of IS not only for crimes committed in Syria or in Iraq but also for crimes committed in Libya, Yemen, Tunisia, France, and why not in the United States. Read the rest of this entry…

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Mexico: The War on Drugs and the Boundaries of Crimes Against Humanity

Published on May 26, 2015        Author: 

Mexico ratified the International Criminal Court (ICC) Statute in 2006. Since that time, in the context of the ongoing conflict with drug cartels, there are credible reports (from governmental and non-governmental sources) of tens of thousands of killings, tens of thousands of disappearances, and thousands of cases of torture. While the precise figures are disputed, the numbers are large. The 2014 kidnapping and disappearance of 43 Ayotzinapa students by police drew international outrage, but it is part of a bigger pattern.   In terms of the scale and nature of the crimes, these figures would appear to place the situation among the gravest within the ICC’s jurisdiction. Yet international criminal lawyers generally tend to give limited attention to the violence in Mexico, and hesitate to apply the label of crimes against humanity.

Against compartmentalization: drug-related violence as crimes against humanity?

In international criminal law practice, we are most accustomed to two configurations of crimes against humanity: state repression of political opponents, and atrocities by parties to armed conflict. By contrast, we tend to label the violence in Mexico as “drug-related violence” and therefore not as crimes against humanity.

But should we separate crimes into watertight compartments? After all, we recognize that an act of terrorism can also be a crime against humanity or war crime. We should not assume that organized crime, or responses to organized crime, must fall into a completely separate compartment. Instead, we should look at the elements of crimes against humanity. The motives behind the crimes (eg. economic motives or the laudable goal of restraining cartels) do not per se prevent widespread and systematic violence against civilians from constituting crimes against humanity.

Addressing factual controversy

Another obstacle is the difficulty of ascertaining the scope and patterns of the crimes, given the scale of crimes (thousands of killings and disappearances) and limited records. The Mexican government has launched several important initiatives to collect and systematize information on crimes and victimization, and NGOs have also embarked on valuable projects. Read the rest of this entry…

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Announcements: EJIL:Live Extra Featuring Dapo Akande on IHL and IHRL; CfP Int’l Orgs and the Rule of Law (Wellington, NZ); CfP Development and Rule of Law (London & USA); Conference on Rule of Law in the EU (London); Seminar on Ethics in the Int’l Bar (London); ILA Conference Registration Extended (Essex)

Published on May 23, 2015        Author: 

1.  In case you missed it, the latest EJIL: Live Extra! features Joseph Weiler and Dapo Akande of the University of Oxford discussing the relationship between international humanitarian law and international human rights law.  The EJIL: Live Extras series comprises short video conversations with leading international law scholars.

2.  Call for Papers – International Organisations and the Rule of Law: Perils and Promise, Victoria University of Wellington Faculty of Law, New Zealand, 7-8 December 2015. This workshop will take a fresh look at the resources that international law possesses to ensure that international organisations (IOs) are held accountable for their errors and excesses, while remaining relevant and effective in the face of ever growing global challenges. How can international law develop in a way that preserves and enhances the dynamic possibilities of IOs while making sure that they comply with the rule of law? Can international law offer solutions, or is it part of the problem? The workshop organisers welcome papers that present original legal or empirical research; theoretical reflections; case studies from practice; and critical and historical perspectives. For more details see the call for papers here.

3.  The Global Rule of Law Exchange, a new project at the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, seeks to address key challenges posed by global development and its relationship to the rule of law. To this end, the Exchange will compile a list of short papers (such as think pieces, practice notes, policy documents, etc.) of around 1,500 – 3,000 words presenting research, case-studies and evidence from the field. Multidisciplinary analyses are encouraged, as are quantitative and qualitative studies. Conferences will be organised in London and in the United States in late 2015 and early 2016 to discuss the papers (date TBA). Shortlisted papers will feature in an edited publication, but the Exchange is also exploring opportunities of publishing a collection of these articles in a peer-reviewed journal. It will consider the challenges in respect of developing the rule of law in emerging economies, with regard to issues such as access to justice, corruption, legal certainty, government decision-making and the measurement of success in rule of law interventions. Read the rest of this entry…

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A Brief Response to Pizzutelli and Sitaropoulos

Published on May 22, 2015        Author: 

The argument that I made focused on the selection for admission of foreigners on the basis of economic worth, and I denominate this selection ‘discriminatory’. In his response Nikolaos Sitaropoulos argues that he is “not convinced that, in itself, such differentiation constitutes discriminatory, and hence unlawful, treatment”. However, the fact that it may not be, at least according to the European Court of Human Rights ‘unlawful’, or rather, in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights, although perhaps in breach of other international rules, does not mean that it is not ‘discriminatory’. The international human rights analysis of Sitaropoulos points in the direction of lawfulness for this discrimination in the context of admission. Allowing for this analysis to be correct, and at least suspending an important new argument, I would reframe the title of my argument to argue that it is international human rights law, and not just international migration law, that provides a license to discriminate on the basis of economic worth, exactly because it considers it lawful to do so. Referring to this practice as ‘differentiating’, rather than ‘discriminatory’, ignores the fact that we are talking about a very binary selection process: you are either admitted, or you are not. To differentiate is to identify difference. To discriminate is to grant somebody a right, or to deny it, on the basis of that difference.

Francesca Pizzutelli provides a welcome overview of international legal limitations that may protect people from discrimination according to economic worth. How should we, however, qualify these limitations? Do they indicate a new legal development? Or are they instead scattered exceptions that confirm a rule? Her analysis strongly reminds me of two very telling and almost identical anecdotes in which a refugee lawyer in the UK and an immigration officer in Germany were advising some prospective asylum seekers to seek entry through employment or ‘knowledge migration’, because that offered much better prospects. In addition, how should we assess these rather humble limitations against a backdrop in which citizenship of EU countries is increasingly for sale? And what to make of the fact that as this piece goes online, the UN Security Council is preparing military action against smugglers and accepting that this may result in the killing of ‘migrants’, as ‘collateral damage’? This author at least finds it hard to see in the limitations highlighted by Pizzutelli a significant obstacle to the right to discriminate according to economic worth.

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The Human Rights of Migrants as Limitations on States’ Control Over Entry and Stay in Their Territory

Published on May 21, 2015        Author: 

As Juan Amaya-Castro points out, (domestic) migration legislation is about selecting among potential or prospective migrants, i.e. creating two categories of migrants: ‘documented’ or ‘regular’ migrants, whose migration status complies with established requirements, and ‘undocumented’ or ‘irregular’ migrants, whose migration status does not so comply. Where does this leave international law and, as Juan Amaya-Castro calls it, its humanist-egalitarian tradition?

This post will argue that Amaya-Castro underestimates the strict and strong limitations on the sovereignty of states established by international human rights law, international refugee law and international labour law. In particular, states’ discretion in the adoption and enforcement of migration policies is limited by their obligation to respect, protect and promote the human rights of all individuals within their territory and subject to their jurisdiction (UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 15, para. 5). This post discusses some of the far-reaching consequences of this principle, focusing on three types of limitations on state sovereignty with respect to migration: limitations on the prerogative to control entry; limitations on the prerogative to establish conditions for entry and stay; and limitations on the treatment of irregular migrants.

Limitations on the prerogative to control entry

The obligation not to reject refugees and asylum-seekers at the frontier may be an exception to state sovereignty conceptually, but it is far from exceptional in practice, especially in certain European contexts. Of the 19,234 people “intercepted” along EU borders by the joint border control operation Mos Maiorum between 13-26 October 2014, 11,046 people (57%) claimed asylum (Mos Maiorum final report, p. 25). More than a quarter of those “intercepted” were Syrians, followed by Afghans, Eritreans, Somalis, Iraqis – individuals whose need for international protection can easily be argued (ibid., p10).

Nikolaos Sitaropoulos expertly discussed the limitations imposed on states’ sovereign prerogative to control entry and stay by the Council of Europe human rights framework, in particular its obligation of non-discrimination. Outside that framework, the guidance provided by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) is also worth mentioning. In 1998 the Committee criticised Switzerland’s so-called three-circle-model migration policy, which classified foreigners on the basis of their national origin, as ‘stigmatizing and discriminatory’ (UN Doc. CERD/C/304/Add.44, para. 6). Four years later, the Committee expressed concern at the possible discriminatory effect of Canadian migration policies (in particular, a high ‘right of landing fee’) on persons coming from poorer countries (UN Doc. A/57/18, para. 336). On these grounds, this post argues that the general principle of non-discrimination is a limitation to states’ discretion in the adoption and enforcement of all migration policies, including their prerogative to control entry. Read the rest of this entry…

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Why International Migration Law Does Not Give a License To Discriminate

Published on May 20, 2015        Author: 

Juan Amaya-Castro argues that states’ selective immigration policies are discriminatory, and that this discrimination has been legitimized by international (migration) law. From a legal point of view, this is rather a misperception that confuses differential with discriminatory treatment. The latter is not allowed by contemporary international law as this post will show.

International migration law is not a self-contained legal regime. It is a multi-layered body of law consisting of various international, regional or bilateral treaties and agreements which leave “the alien’s body protected by a varying number of layers (legal regimes) depending upon the sartorial tastes of the State involved” (Richard Lillich, The Human Rights of Aliens in Contemporary International Law, Manchester UP, 1984, 122). Some of the most migrant-protective layers are certainly those provided by international and European human rights law and principles.

As regards migrants’ entry, the UN Human Rights Committee in its 1986 General Comment No 15 noted that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

“does not recognize the right of aliens to enter or reside in the territory of a State party. It is in principle a matter for the State to decide who it will admit to its territory. However, in certain circumstances an alien may enjoy the protection of the Covenant even in relation to entry or residence, for example when considerations of non-discrimination, prohibition of inhuman treatment and respect for family life arise”.

This is true also under another core law-making treaty, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), as interpreted by the Strasbourg Court (see below).

Differential treatment of migrants does not always equal discrimination

Migration control measures that differentiate among (prospective) migrants are not automatically unlawful. Whether such state action affecting migrants constitutes  discrimination is grounded in the principle of prohibition of discrimination enshrined notably in Article 14 ECHR and in Protocol No. 12 to the ECHR. Non-discrimination grounds indicatively enlisted therein are: “sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status”. Read the rest of this entry…

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International Migration Law: License to Discriminate?

Published on May 19, 2015        Author: 

The story of international law and migration commonly begins with the observation that states have the sovereign right to deny access to non-nationals. This statement is then qualified with the observation that there are some exceptions to this rule. Refugees and other people who may run serious risks if returned to their country, or are otherwise expelled, and in some cases people requesting admission on the basis of family reunification, should be allowed access. The sovereign right to exclude is presumed to be inherent and ‘age-old’. That impression is mistaken. Immigration control is a relatively recent phenomenon. Until late in the 19th century, political demographic conditions made population growth desirable, so immigration was welcomed. It was only with the desire to limit Chinese immigration into the US and Australia, a desire motivated by racist considerations, that immigration control and the passport regime became the new ‘normal’, and that the reference to the ‘age old’ sovereign right to control immigration began to gain force.

Recently, a number of countries have made headlines because of innovative immigration policies designed to attract investors and entrepreneurs. Spain, Chile, Canada, and others are now conceiving of immigration policies within the broader context of increasing their economic competitiveness. Many other countries already offer benefits to so-called ‘knowledge migrants’. What makes this new wave stand out is the overt effort to compete with other countries for talent and investment. One could almost forget that fear of immigrants has been the main driving force behind most immigration policies around the world. Although government officials in many countries experiencing immigration may be under pressure to implement policies that bring immigrant numbers down, immigration policies have typically also been made with an eye to economic sectors eager for access to certain workers, whether skilled or unskilled. In other words, immigration policies cater not only to those fearful of (large scale) immigration, but also to those in need of specific forms of labor.

As such, migration law is not just about putting up barriers to migrants but also about selecting among potential or prospective migrants. In the Dutch political context the term of art is kansarm (poor in prospect) or more broadly in public opinion debates kansloos (prospectless). Kansarm even made it into the 2010 coalition agreement, which also exempted so-called knowledge-migrants (kennismigranten) from various measures deemed to make immigration more difficult; the factor used to determine whether someone is a knowledge-migrant is a minimum level of income. Blunt as Dutch political discourse may be, public discourse on immigration in most immigration countries often takes such distinctions for granted. Read the rest of this entry…

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Symposium on the (Ab)normality of Migration and the Legal Position of Migrants

It is with great pleasure that the ESIL Interest Group on Migration and Refugee Law, in close cooperation with EJIL:Talk!, launches its first blog symposium, which will run on EJIL:Talk! this week. The interest group was established in April 2013, making it one of the newest members of the ESIL family. Underlying its foundation is the strong belief that human migration is a constant in the history of the world and a defining reality of our time. The interest group aims to provide a forum for discussion on the legal principles and processes governing the movement of people across borders as well as their reception in host communities. The interest group thereby hopes to build a shared knowledge base among ESIL members interested in migration and refugee law.

In its first blog symposium, the interest group focuses on the idea that, despite the normalcy of migration, states have come to treat it more and more as an abnormality in recent times. Many policies bear testimony to this development; one need only think of increasing restrictions on family reunification, measures of migration-related detention, and the introduction of civic integration tests. At the same time, countries crucially depend on migration, either upon the (un)skilled workforce it delivers, or upon the revenue it creates. Policies introduced therefore aim to limit and shape migration, so that only ‘the wanted’ embark on the journey. The person of the migrant is the object of such limiting, discouraging and selective policies.

Three members of the interest group took on this overarching topic in their contributions to the blog symposium, each in their own way. Juan Amaya-Castro kicks off the blog symposium. He argues that international migration law is “about selecting among potential or prospective migrants” and that it therefore provides a “license to discriminate” on the basis of economic worth. In the next post, Nikolaos Sitaropoulos counters this argument by saying that it “confuses differential with discriminatory treatment”. With reference to the case law of the Strasbourg Court, he shows that human rights provide a “protective layer” against discriminatory treatment. Concluding the blog symposium is Francesca Pizzutelli, who takes the potential for protection even further. She discusses “three types of limitations on state sovereignty with respect to migration”.

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Announcements: Legal Theory Workshop for Junior Scholars (Tel Aviv); Chagos Litigation Conference (Greenwich); Summer Academy of Int’l Oceans Law & Policy (Xiamen & Shanghai)

Published on May 16, 2015        Author: 

1.  Call for Papers – The 3rd TAU Workshop for Junior Scholars in Law: Theory Coming to Life, Tel-Aviv, 26-27 October 2015. Through law, theory comes into our daily lives in many ways. The workshop will explore the connection between theory and life: how different theories are applied through legal doctrines, how theory comes to life through its application and how theory influences society and our lives. For more details see the call for papers.

2.  Delegates are now able to reserve places for The Chagos Litigation: A Socio-Legal Dialogue conference, which takes place on 29th June 2015 at the University of Greenwich. The keynote speaker is Professor Philippe Sands QC (University College London), who recently represented Mauritius in its proceedings against the United Kingdom at the Permanent Court of Arbitration. The conference is free to attend and is open to academics, legal practitioners and postgraduate students. Delegates can reserve their place by emailing: lawevents {at} gre.ac(.)uk. Further information can be found here.

3.  The 2014 Summer Program of Marco Polo-Zheng He Academy of International Oceans Law and Policy, P.R. China. The South China Sea Institute of Xiamen University, and Center for Polar and Deep Ocean Development of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, announce their annual summer program – Marco Polo- ZHENG He Academy of International Oceans Law and Policy, to be held from July 5 – July 31, 2015. These centers are leading interdisciplinary research institutes in China in the area of Oceans Law and Policy. This is the 10th anniversary of the summer academy which has been attended in past by the scholars, practitioners, diplomats and students from -: Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, China, Colombia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran, DPR Korea, Rep. of Korea, Malaysia, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Switzerland, U.S., and others. The four week intensive summer program is divided into two sessions to be held in Chinese cities of Xiamen and Shanghai. The participants have an option to attend either or both the sessions. The program offers a unique chance to learn about the Chinese perspectives on Law of the Sea and its policies. The structure of the program is such that the class lectures are held in morning sessions and in the afternoon sessions trips to Chinese courts, law firms, and governmental agencies related to oceanic administration, museums, etc., are planned. Participants also have the option of taking tests and getting credits transferred to their own schools. Limited number of scholarships is offered to outstanding candidates upon application and subsequent review. Please find more information about Xiamen Session here and Shanghai Session here.

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