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OHCHR Publishes Report on Surveillance and Privacy in the Digital Age

Published on July 18, 2014        Author: 

Readers will recall that in its resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age the UN General Assembly had requested the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a report for the next GA session on the various issues raised by mass electronic surveillance and the human right to privacy (see here for our previous coverage). An advance edited version of that report (A/HRC/27/37) is now available here. The report is rich, thoughtful and very much pro-privacy in the surveillance context, albeit not in a blind, fundamentalist way. It reaffirms that the right to privacy, as set out in Article 17 ICCPR or Article 8 ECHR, provides a framework within which the legality of surveillance measures needs to be assessed. While it acknowledges the legitimate governmental interests that surveillance may serve, it finds the existing institutional and legal arrangements in many states wanting and in need of further study and reform. Here are some of the highlights:

- It is important to consider linkages with other possible human rights violations, e.g. the collection of intelligence through surveillance that is later used for an unlawful targeted killing (para. 14).

- Interferences with the privacy of electronic communication cannot be justified by reference to some supposedly voluntary surrender of privacy on the Internet by individual users (para. 18).

- Collection of communications metadata can be just as bad in terms of privacy interference as the collection of the content of the communication (para. 19).

- Because of the chilling effect of surveillance: ‘The very existence of a mass surveillance programme thus creates an interference with privacy.’ (para. 20).

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Transatlantic Roundtable on Challenges to IHL

Published on July 16, 2014        Author: 

This week, leading academics and practitioners from the US, UK, continental Europe, and Israel will gather at the University of Oxford to discuss a range of IHL-related issues – from addressing violations of the rules of war to military ops that go beyond the traditional battlefield.  The two-day roundtable discussion will focus on transatlantic issues relating to international humanitarian law (IHL). Civilian and military participants from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, continental Europe and Israel will address a variety of IHL issues of concern to their own States, as well as relating to cooperation between States. The idea is to share ideas across borders in order to exchange approaches to various IHL and national security issues and advance the dialogue on these issues. The roundtable is organized by the International Committee of the Red Cross’ delegations in Washington, D.C. and London, the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict, the Oxford Martin Programme on Human Rights for Future Generations , the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas, and the South Texas College of Law.

Participants will discuss the following topics:

- Updates in the overlap between IHL and IHRL

What have the major updates in the interplay between IHL and International Human Rights Law (IHRL) been over the past year? Has IHRL gone too far into influencing IHL? What are the effects of this interplay?

 - Accountability for violations of IHL

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Two Articles on the Relationship between IHL and IHRL

Published on July 14, 2014        Author: 

Readers interested in my four scenarios on the relationship between international humanitarian law and international human rights law who want to know how I would decide them, as well as those who’ve read coverage of the Serdar Mohammed v. MoD judgment, might also be interested in two companion articles I recently posted on SSRN. The first is called Extraterritorial Derogations from Human Rights Treaties in Armed Conflict. In a nutshell it argues that states can and should resort to derogations from human rights treaties in extraterritorial situations, for example that the UK could have derogated (but chose not to) from the ECHR with respect to situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The second piece is entitled The Lost Origins of Lex Specialis: Rethinking the Relationship between Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law and it mainly deals with the genesis of the lex specialis principle and analyses the three different conceptions thereof. The abstracts are below the fold, and comments are as always welcome.

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Four Scenarios on the Relationship between IHL and IHRL

Published on July 9, 2014        Author: 

The issue of the relationship between international humanitarian law and international human rights law is often mixed together with other difficult questions of international law. This is not very conducive to conceptual clarity. One way of advancing that clarity is to construct hypotheticals which isolate as many of the various issues as possible, so that we can through a thought experiment better appreciate both how they operate individually and how they interact with one another, and move through them carefully, step by step, while resisting the temptation of introducing further complicating considerations.

In this post I’ll present four such (not so) hypothetical scenarios. These are the quintessential hard cases: they all deal at least with an apparent conflict between IHRL and IHL with regard to the use of lethal force and preventive security detention without judicial review. This is not to dispute that in the vast majority of other situations IHRL and IHL would be complementary. My reason for focusing on the hard cases is that they allow us to address more clearly conceptual questions such as the nature and utility of the lex specialis principle.

Scenario 1: NIAC

State A is a party to both the ICCPR and the ECHR. A non-international armed conflict is taking place on its territory, between the state’s forces and those of a non-state actor, B, an organized armed group. The constituent elements of the NIAC threshold are met beyond any doubt. In an operation during the dead of night, A’s forces kill a dozen of B’s fighters sleeping in a barracks (e.g. by shelling it from a distance), presumably doing so in complete accordance with the applicable IHL rules on targeting. From the facts on the ground, however, it was clear that A’s forces were perfectly capable of capturing B’s fighters had they wanted to do so, with little or no risk to A’s own soldiers. Indeed, B’s fighters sleeping in an adjacent barracks were captured and detained by A as threats to state security for the duration of the NIAC, without criminal charge, and without any judicial review of the legality of the detention.

Questions:

1)     Do the ICCPR and the ECHR apply in principle to the killing and detention of B’s fighters, i.e. did these individuals have human rights vis-à-vis A? Assuming that the answer to this question is yes:

2)     Was the killing of B’s fighters lawful under Article 6 ICCPR? Why or why not?

3)     Was the killing of B’s fighters lawful under Article 2 ECHR? Why or why not?

4)     Was the detention of B’s fighters lawful under Article 9 ICCPR? Why or why not?

5)     Was the detention of B’s fighters lawful under Article 5 ECHR? Why or why not?

6)     Would a derogation under either treaty be permissible, and if so would the prior existence of a derogation have any impact on the analysis under questions 2-5?

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S.A.S. v France: Living Together or Increased Social Division?

Published on July 7, 2014        Author: 

On 1 July, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has delivered, in a public hearing, its judgment in the case of S.A.S. v France. This case is a challenge of the French legislation prohibiting the wearing of face-covering clothing in all public spaces. In a post on this blog, Stephanie Berry discusses the case and points out a number of positive developments, including the balanced and well-reasoned nature of the judgment, the rejection of the gender equality and human dignity arguments for the burqaban, as she refers to the French law, and the consideration that this ban was not necessary for public safety in the absence of concrete evidence. However, Berry criticises the ECtHR for accepting that the ban pursues the legitimate aim of ‘living together’ under the ‘protection of the rights and freedoms of others’. Berry points out that this concept pursues a distinctly assimilationist agenda. I agree with Berry that this is a worrying development. In this post, I examine this concept of ‘living together’ in more detail and explain why this is such a worrying development. I will not discuss other aspects of the judgment.

First of all, what does this concept mean? The ECtHR mentions that the ‘Report on the wearing of the full-face veil on national territory’ criticises the wearing of the full-face veil as ‘a practice at odds with the values of the Republic’ and as ‘a denial of fraternity, constituting a negation of contact with others and a flagrant infringement of the French principle of living together’ (para. 17). It also refers to the explanatory memorandum to the relevant law, which states that ‘the wearing of the full veil is the sectarian manifestation of a rejection of the values of the Republic’; that ‘the voluntary and systematic concealment of the face is problematic because it is quite simply incompatible with the fundamental requirements of “living together” in French society’; and, that it ‘falls short of the minimum requirement of civility necessary for social interaction’ (para. 25). The French Government stated that one of the aims of the law was the observance of the minimum requirements of life in society because the face plays a significant role in human interaction, and the effect of concealing one’s face in public places is to break the social tie and to manifest a refusal of the principle of ‘living together’ (para 82, and for a similar argument from the Belgian government: para. 87).

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The Peace of Utrecht in 1713, a Painting by Semiramis Öner Mühüdaroğlu

Published on July 7, 2014        Author: 

Treaty of UtrechtThe Treaty of Utrecht was until recently one of the few major peace treaties that had not been commemorated in a painting or photograph. The  treaty was finally memorialized on the occasion of its 300-year anniversary last year in a painting (pictured left, click to enlarge) by Turkish artist Semiramis Öner Mühüdaroğlu.

The Treaty of Utrecht was in fact a group of bilateral treaties that helped to end the War of Spanish Succession, which was being fought among European States including Spain, Great Britain, France, Portugal, Savoy, and the Dutch Republic. During negotiations lasting nearly fourteen months, from 29 January 1712 to 11 April 1713, the States reached compromises that included cessions of territories in both Europe and the Americas as well as recognitions and renunciations of various sovereign titles. 

Although the treaties were not concluded in a single signing moment, the artist depicts the diplomats who negotiated the various agreements together in the ballroom of the Utrecht Town Hall, posed as if they have just signed an agreement. Among the diplomats are five allegorical figures. These include a child holding a globe, symbolizing the various geographies touched by the treaty; a female figure holding an olive branch and dove, representing peace; and another woman holding an open book to symbolize  justice.

The painting was commissioned by the foundation that owns the Oudaen City castle, where the French emissary Melchior de Polignac and his retinue stayed during the protracted peace negotiations. The painting is housed at the Townhall of Utrecht.

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SAS v France: Does Anything Remain of the Right to Manifest Religion?

Published on July 2, 2014        Author: 

Niqab23The finding by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in SAS v France that the so-called ‘French burqa ban’ did not violate the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) will not surprise many in the field of human rights. However, the judgment itself contains a number of developments and departures from the Court’s previous jurisprudence that warrant further consideration. In particular, the conclusion that the right to manifest religion may be restricted on the ground of ‘living together’ presents a worrying development, if this right is to have any practical meaning. (photo credit)

In SAS v France, the applicant challenged the French Loi no 2010–1192 interdisant la dissimulation du visage dans l’espace public of 11 October 2010, JO 12 October 2010 (herein after the ‘burqa ban’), which prohibits the covering of the face in public. The case differs from previous cases concerning the right of Muslim women to manifest religion by wearing religious attire, as the law imposed a blanket ban which extended to the social sphere. The applicant argued that by preventing her from wearing the burqa the ban violated her rights under articles 3, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 14 ECHR. The ECtHR completely dismissed her claims under articles 3, 10 and 11 ECHR, and focused its attention on articles 8, 9 and 14 ECHR, with a notable emphasis on article 9, the right to freedom of religion or belief.

The ECtHR’s judgment in SAS v France, for the most part, is balanced, well-reasoned and provides a thorough consideration of the French government’s justifications for the restriction of the applicant’s right to manifest her religion: public safety and ‘respect for the minimum set of values of an open and democratic society’. The latter category comprises three separate elements: gender equality, human dignity and ‘respect for the minimum requirements of life in society’ or ‘living together’. Whilst public safety is found within articles 8(2) and 9(2) ECHR, as noted by the ECtHR,  ‘respect for the minimum set of values of an open and democratic society’ does not correspond with any of the permissible limitations on article 8 and 9 ECHR (paras 116-7). Consequently, the ECtHR interpreted this justification as falling with the broad ‘protection of the rights and freedoms of others’ (para 117).

While the ECtHR established that the ‘burqa ban’ was prescribed by law (para 112), it did not accept that the ban pursued the ‘legitimate aims’ of gender equality and human dignity (paras 119-120). Specifically, in the context of gender equality, the ECtHR took ‘the view, … that a State Party cannot invoke gender equality in order to ban a practice that is defended by women – such as the applicant – in the context of the exercise of the rights enshrined in those provisions’ (para 119). This marks a significant departure from the ECtHR’s jurisprudence in the hijab cases. InDahlab v Switzerlandthe ECtHR had held that the hijab ‘appears to be imposed on women by a precept which is laid down in the Koran and which … is hard to square with the principle of gender equality’ . However, this approach was the subject of criticism, most notably by Judge Tulkens in her dissenting opinion in Leyla Şahın v Turkey:

It is not the Court’s role to make an appraisal of this type – in this instance a unilateral and negative one – of a religion or religious practice, just as it is not its role to determine in a general and abstract way the signification of wearing the headscarf or to impose its viewpoint on the applicant. (para 12)

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Eroding Religious Freedom Step by Step: France and the Baby Loup Case

Published on July 1, 2014        Author: 

cour de cassationLast Wednesday, the French Cour de Cassation (pictured left), in the Baby Loup case, permitted yet another restriction to be placed on the right to manifest religion in France.  The applicant had been fired from her job at Baby Loup, a private crèche and nursery, for violating the organisation’s rules of procedure. By wearing the hijab, the applicant purportedly breached the rule that

the principle of freedom of conscience and of religion of each staff member may not impede respect for the principles of laïcité [secularism] and neutrality that apply in the exercise of developmental activities, either on the premises of the crèche or during outside activities in which staff accompany children enrolled in the crèche.

The applicant will now take the case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The decision of the Cour de Cassation in Baby Loup is made all the more significant by the pending judgment in SAS v France, due to be handed down by the ECtHR today. Will the ECtHR continue to permit the creeping erosion of the right to manifest religion (article 9 European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR)) by deferring to the State’s margin of appreciation?

The decision of the Cour de Cassation was based on Articles L. 1121-1 and L. 1321-3 of France’s Labour Code, which require any restrictions on an employee’s freedom of religion to be proportionate and justified by the nature of the employment. The Courtfound that the private nursery could not justify the restriction of the freedom of religion of the employee by direct reference to the principle of laïcité, as the principle applies only to public bodies. Nonetheless, it was willing to accept that the adoption of the principle of laïcité in the organisation’s rules of procedure was designed to protect children and to promote gender equality, rather than promoting and defending laïcité as a religious, political or philosophical belief. Consequently, the Cour de Cassation found that the restriction on the applicant’s freedom of religion was permissible.

The ECtHR is also likely to consider whether the freedom of religion of the applicant in Baby Loup can be justified by either the principle of secularism or ‘the rights and freedoms of others’ (article 9(2) ECHR). The recent cases of Ahmet Arslan and others v Turkey and Eweida and others v United Kingdom are directly relevantas previous ECtHR cases addressing the restriction of the right to manifest religion in the private sphere.

Ahmet Arslan concerned the arrest of members of the Aczimendi tankaı religious community for wearing religious clothing in public. The ECtHR found that the restrictions placed on the community by the authorities could not be justified by reference to the principle of secularism as the applicants were not State officials (para 48) and were not wearing religious clothing in a State institution such as a State school (para 49). Thus, Ahmet Arslan limits the circumstances in which States may justify the restriction of freedom of religion on the grounds of the principle of secularism to public officials and institutions. Consequently, it seems unlikely that France will be able to rely on the principle of laïcité in the Baby Loup case, as the nursery was a private organisation. Read the rest of this entry…

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Launch of the Manchester International Law Centre

Published on June 30, 2014        Author: 

Jean d’Aspremont and Iain Scobbie are pleased to announce the establishment of the Manchester International Law Centre (MILC).

Roughly twenty researchers are currently associated with MILC and we hope to grow at a steady pace over the next few years.  We have a number of current and planned projects.  One of the most significant is the re-launch of the prestigious Melland Schill public lectures in international law after a 40 year interregnum.  In her will Miss Olive B. Schill left a bequest to the University of Manchester in memory of her brother, Edward Melland Schill, who was killed during the 1914—1918 war.  The income generated by this bequest was initially used to host and publish a series of public lectures dealing with international law.  From 1961—1974, Professor Ben Wortley organised a series of distinguished lecturers, including Professors Quincy Wright, Robbie Jennings, and Dan O’Connell, and Sir Ian Sinclair.  On Professor Wortley’s retirement, his successor, Professor Gillian White, decided to replace the lectures with a monograph series, published by Manchester University Press.  This included equally distinguished authors, such as General AVP Rogers, and Professors Anthony Carty, Hilary Charlesworth, Christine Chinkin, Vaughan Lowe, Robin Churchill, and Leslie Green.  We hope to breathe new life into this monograph series, and to republish some of the classic lectures which still retain interest and relevance

The initial lecture in the revived Melland Schill lecture series will be delivered in Manchester on October 15th by Professor John Dugard when he will discuss contemporary developments in Statehood.

In the autumn we will also introduce four new masters programmes in international law, and we are currently working on the creation of a database of international law documents.  In collaboration with Lancaster Law School, we are also in the process of organising a series of public lectures on the impact of the First World War on international law for the coming academic year.  In 2018, we shall host the annual meeting of the European Society of International Law.

Our areas of research include all major topics of international law.  Although we already have some partners, we welcome new opportunities for partnership and co-operation.  Please visit our webpage or follow us on twitter (@MILC2014) for more information.

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Announcements: Conference on Asylum in Europe, Website Covering Italian Practice on International Law

Published on June 28, 2014        Author: 

1.  ‘Using Human Security as a legal framework to analyse the Common European Asylum System,’ 4 July, T.M.C Asser Instituut, The Hague, Netherlands. This expert conference will explore new territory in its analysis of protection under the Common European Asylum System through the prism of Human Security. The four thematic panels of the conference will analyse the added value of using Human Security as a legal framework for protection in Asylum law whilst assessing the prospects of legal interaction between both fields. It will take stock of recent developments in legislation, jurisprudence and doctrine; proposing insightful approaches to contemporary asylum challenges. The event is free of charge, however registration is required. Please register here. More information is available here.

2.  A team of scholars and students mainly based at the University of Trento, Italy announces the launch of www.italyspractice.info is a collection of Italian parliamentary and diplomatic statements on issues of international law. The website’s main purpose is to provide access to the Italian Government’s practice to non-Italian speakers.  The team constantly monitors the statements of the Italian Government as expressed before the Italian Parliament, as well as within the United Nations system, both in New York and Geneva.  Whenever necessary, it translates the statements into English. Then it classifies them chronologically, as well as through keywords and tags: the entire database is searchable. Each post is identified by a topic-based title and introduced by a short summary. When possible, a link to the official document is made available. This website will be a useful tool for scholars and practitioners of international law and international relations, as it provides for wide-ranged and easily accessible materials. 

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