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Home Archive for category "Human Rights"

A Moving Conference: Rights, Justice and Memories of the City

Published on November 21, 2017        Author: 

Conferences rarely get reviewed (but see a recent such review here), but given the amount of time, money and carbon emissions that goes into them, we may wish to evaluate them. Moreover, in reviewing a conference, we can try to capture and share an experience that, unlike a book, cannot be picked up again.

The conference Rights, Justice, and Memories of the City that took place in Lviv, Ukraine, from 9 to 12 November, is worth an attempt at capturing. If allowed to pick only one adjective, I would choose ‘moving’. Unlike most academic conferences, the conference involved a lot of physical moving around: the opening lecture took place at the Ukrainian Catholic University; the workshop next day, Placeless/Placeness: Ideas of Rights and Justice in Eastern Europe, was at the Center for Urban History and in the city hall on the city’s beautiful main square; the Saturday included a discussion at the Mayor’s office, a three-hour city walk and an art performance in the Lviv Philarmonic; while the Sunday offered a visit to the nearby town of Zhovkva. These were not mere ‘excursions’, agenda items peripheral to the core business of seated discussion. Rather, they were key to what was being discussed throughout the conference, including during the walks: the role of a place in the development of ideas on rights and justice.

Inspired by Philippe Sands’s celebrated East West Street: On the origins of genocide and crimes against humanity (Weidenfeld&Nicholson 2016, published in Ukrainian in September 2017), this event connected Hersch Lauterpacht and Raphael Lemkin and their legal work to the socio-political context within which they developed. Historians provided brilliant insights into the need for members of minorities to think and act in a cosmopolitan way. Reut Paz outspokenly illustrated the significance of Lemberg/Lwów/Lviv/Lvov with an excerpt from the Eichmann trial, where Eichmann mentions that it was here that he saw something he had not seen before: ‘Blutfontänen’, fountains of blood springing up from the soil due to the extent of killing of Jews that had taken place. Sean Murphy explained how the International Law Commission was working on a draft convention on the prevention and suppression of crimes against humanity, a concept inserted in the Nuremberg Charter at Lauterpacht’s recommendation. And the Ukrainian Judge on the European Court of Human Rights, Judge Ganna Yudkivska, pleaded civil society to continue its fight for human rights in an environment of backlash. Read the rest of this entry…

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A Danish Crusade for the Reform of the European Court of Human Rights

Published on November 14, 2017        Author: 

Tomorrow (15 November) Denmark will take over the rotating chairmanship of the Council of Europe (CoE). The CoE was established in 1949 and has since adopted numerous treaties, including the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Denmark is a CoE founding member and has traditionally been a strong supporter of human rights. Yet the Danish Government has announced that the chief priority of its chairmanship will be the reform of the European human rights system. This announcement may come as a surprise to the readership of this blog. This post therefore summarises the vicissitudes that have led to the Danish Government’s initiative, and provides some early reflections on its expected impact.

Why does Denmark want a reform?

Immigration has long been a dominant theme in Danish politics. In the late 1990s, the Danish People’s Party (DPP) began to denounce immigration, multiculturalism and Islam as alien to Danish society and values. Since 2001, the DPP has supported various minority coalition governments and gained extensive influence on Denmark’s immigration policy, which is now one of the most restrictive in Europe.

Critique of the ECHR is not new in Denmark, where much debate has focused on the influence of the Convention on the deportation of the foreign criminals. Read the rest of this entry…

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The European Arrest Warrant against Puigdemont: A feeling of déjà vu?

Published on November 3, 2017        Author: 

On 2 November 2017, the Spanish State Prosecutor asked Carmen Lamela, a Spanish judge, to issue a European Arrest Warrant against Carles Puigdemont and four of his former ministers following the vote of secessionist Catalan MPs to declare independence. They face potential charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds. Carles Puigdemont, who arrived in Brussels a few days before the news of the warrant was made public, called in a Belgian lawyer to defend his case. The Spanish authorities may not be thrilled by his choice.

The Basque precedent

In 1993, Spain issued an extradition warrant against two Basque secessionists who fled to Belgium, Moreno Ramajo and Garcia Arrantz. They were accused of participating in an unlawful association and an illegal armed band. The Court of Appeal of Brussels issued an Advisory Opinion according to which, the warrant was founded on political crimes and therefore, the extradition request should not receive a favourable response. The Belgian Ministry of Justice nevertheless ruled in favour of the extradition. In the meantime, Moreno Ramajo and Garcia Arrantz lodged an asylum application in Belgium, which was received admissible for further consideration. The extradition procedure was put on hold until a final decision to reject their asylum applications was made in 1994 on the grounds that despite the fact that cases of abusive behaviours of Spanish authorities towards Basque secessionists existed, these were isolated cases. Therefore, the argument was that there was no reason to believe that the Spanish justice system would fail to provide them with a fair trial. Thus, the extradition request was pursued and accepted. Following this decision, the couple submitted a procedure of extreme urgency before the Belgian Council of State in order to stop their extradition. This was successful and their extradition did not proceed(E. Bribosia and A. Weyembergh, ‘Asile et extradition: vers un espace judiciaire européen?’ (1997)  at 73-77).

What happened after that? Read the rest of this entry…

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Repressing Migrant Smuggling by the UN Security Council and EU Naval Military Operation Sophia: Some Reflections on Jurisdiction and Human Rights

Published on November 3, 2017        Author: 

On 5 October 2017, the UN Security Council through S/RES/2380 (2017) renewed for the second time the enforcement powers that S/RES/2240 (2015) granted to states in order to fight migrant smuggling and human trafficking off the coast of Libya.

In a previous blog post that I wrote here in October 2015, I concluded by wondering what the effects will be of S/RES/2240 (2015) and by questioning, from several standpoints, the use of military action against migrant smugglers and human traffickers and in the overall management of the migrant crisis.

These UN Security Council resolutions provide the legal basis for the EU naval operation mandated with the task of disrupting the business model of migrant smugglers and human traffickers in the Southern Central Mediterranean: EU NAVFOR MED Operation Sophia. Established in 2015 by Council Decision (CFSP) 2015/778, its mandate has been renewed until 31 December 2018.

Criticisms of Operation Sophia are widespread and concerns over its failure to meet its objectives and its human rights implications are no secret (see among others Meijers Committee and Not so Humanitarian after All). On the occasion of the second renewal of the S/RES/2240 (2015), it’s time to take a closer look at Operation Sophia’s results, at the legal shortcomings of the web of legal instruments regulating its actions, and the various consequences these have had. Read the rest of this entry…

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Guantanamo Surrealism

Published on November 2, 2017        Author: 

The surrealism of the moment defies description. Who would have thought, even only a short while ago, that on a nice November morning a US military commission judge in Guantanamo would be holding a Marine general and chief defense counsel for the commissions in contempt, sentencing him to 21 days of confinement in, well, Guantanamo? Who would have thought that on that same day the President of the United States would be deriding the US criminal justice system as a “joke” and a “laughingstock,” while suggesting that the “animal” who perpetrated a deadly vehicular terrorist attack in New York City be sent to that same Guantanamo, with its oh-so-successful, cost-effective military commissions? That he and his White House would, in 2017, be calling this individual an “enemy combatant”?  That he would be joined in doing so by prominent US senators, lamenting the fact that the individual concerned has not yet been shipped off to Gitmo, despite the fact that he essentially committed his crime in full public view and on camera, so that the likelihood of his acquittal before any regular civilian court would effectively be nil? 

Surrealism is by definition unexpected. Slippery slopes  are not. They can often be seen from a very, very long way off. And many of us have spent years warning some of our US colleagues of the dangers of some of the theories they have been advancing in the pursuit of the global conflict against terror. Just a few weeks ago we had just such an “IHL party” on the blog, provoked by a post of Ryan Goodman on Just Security. I pointed out in that discussion that while there was a measure of agreement on the geographic scope of application of IHL, that issue was part of a broader package, and that some items in that package – above all the definition of the relevant armed conflict and the classification of individuals with a nexus to that conflict – continued to attract controversy, inter alia because of the manifest possibility of abuse of some of the lines of argument put forward and their lack of basis in conventional and customary IHL.

So I therefore have a question for our American colleagues, including my friends on Just Security and Lawfare – let us assume that the facts about the New York terrorist continue to be as we know them today, i.e. that he essentially self-radicalized by looking at ISIS materials on the Internet and that he, beyond professing allegiance to ISIS, was at no point subject to the chain of command of that armed group fighting in Iraq and Syria. On these facts, are we in agreement that there is no way that this individual could be qualified, under the relevant rules of international law, as a fighter in any IHL-cognizable armed conflict? I am not asking what consequences this would have under US domestic law, including the AUMF; I am only interested in IHL. Under IHL, it seems to me that there is not even a remotely plausible, let alone genuinely persuasive, argument that this individual has a nexus to any armed conflict/was a member of a non-state armed group engaging in hostilities in such a conflict. He is not an “enemy combatant” in any international legal sense of the word; he is only a (vicious) criminal. This is not a hard or difficult case – it’s an easy, obvious one, again assuming the facts as we know them today. Do we agree? 

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The Continuing Utility of International Human Rights Mechanisms?

Published on November 1, 2017        Author: 

Can a convincing case still be made that the pursuit of international human rights mechanisms leads to efficacious results? The challenges to, and criticisms of, human rights systems in recent years are legion. Their legitimacy has been questioned (leading in some instances to the threat of state withdrawal, such as the case of Russia within the Council of Europe, complaining that it no longer has a role in electing judges to the European Court of Human Rights). It is also said that human rights mechanisms are inefficient and overloaded and that decisions are not implemented. Litigation can of course set bad precedents, resulting in regression, and even progressive decisions can lead to backlash – as a response, legislation may be introduced which is aimed at narrowing or reversing the positive effects. It remains very difficult to measure the impact of strategic litigation: governments seek to deny any impact; there may be a range of legal, social and political dynamics at play; and a lack of baseline data or analysis.

Their effectiveness relies on a minimum level of good faith shown by the executive and sufficient political will to lead to positive change. How viable is that when increasingly we are faced with the perilous position of the executive taking control of the judiciary, as is already the case in countries like Azerbaijan, and as we are seeing in Venezuela and Poland? It is also suggested that there is an over-legalisation of the human rights movement, which is not capable of addressing complex social problems, as a result of its distance from grass roots and the inadequate contextualisation of human rights issues at the national or local levels.

And yet….recent research suggests on the contrary that these legal mechanisms are indeed productive and viable, although we may need to do more to understand their various impacts and to develop different approaches to ensure we are getting the best out of them.

In her new book, Evidence for Hope, Kathryn Sikkink marshals a compelling argument that human rights laws and institutions have had positive impacts, especially in states undergoing political transition to greater democracy. She discerns both evidence of the socialisation of states taking place within these institutions, and also change from the bottom up: as a consequence of domestic social movements in repressive societies using legal tools. Sikkink suggests that the multiple accountability mechanisms (international and regional) address different kinds of impunity and serve to reinforce one another, and that strong domestic courts act to enhance the effects of states’ international commitments. Read the rest of this entry…

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Access to Remedy Under the UNGPs: Vedanta and the Expansion of Parent Company Liability

Published on October 31, 2017        Author: 

On Friday, 13 October 2017 the UK Court of Appeal handed down its long anticipated decision in Lungowe and others v. Vedanta Resources Plc and Konkola Copper Mines Plc [2017] EWCA Civ 1528 (“Vedanta”). The appeal was brought by UK-based Vedanta Resources Plc (“Vedanta Resources”) and its Zambian subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines (“KCM”), against a decision dismissing certain jurisdictional challenges brought by each of Vedanta Resources and KCM.

The underlying claim was brought by a group of Zambian Villagers alleging that harmful effluent from the appellants’ Zambian copper mining operations had been discharged into the local environment, including waterways that were of critical importance to the livelihood of the claimants, and to their physical, economic and social wellbeing. Rejecting the appeal, the Court of Appeal found that the claim could proceed against the appellants in the UK.

The Vedanta litigation is a critical avenue for the claimants to pursue effective remedy as envisioned by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (“UNGPs”) and represents a significant development in the emerging doctrine of parent liability. Read the rest of this entry…

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Myanmar’s Rohingya Crisis and the Need for a Regional Response to Statelessness in Southeast Asia

Published on October 30, 2017        Author: 

Over the past two months, about half a million Rohingya people have fled from Myanmar (Burma) to neighboring Bangladesh. The immediate trigger for this mass exodus was a crackdown by Myanmar’s security forces against Rohingya insurgents and civilians, which reportedly included widespread torture, rape, and killing. However, the roots of this conflict lie far in the past.

The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority based in the western part of predominantly Buddhist Myanmar. Since the establishment of Myanmar in 1948, Rohingya leaders have made separatist claims, at times accompanied by a violent struggle by some insurgent groups. The government, on its part, has denied Burmese citizenship to the Rohingya people and refused to include them among the country’s 135 officially recognized ethnic groups. The government asserts that the Rohingya are illegal migrants from Bangladesh, whereas the Rohingya consider themselves to be indigenous people of western Myanmar. Neither Bangladesh nor any other country has been willing to grant citizenship to Myanmar’s Rohingya, and the vast majority of the group’s one million members have thus remained stateless.    

As a stateless minority, the Rohingya have suffered severe discrimination in Myanmar. They have been denied the right to participate in elections and have faced severe restrictions on movement, land ownership, family life, religious freedom, education, and employment. They have also been persecuted by extremist Buddhist groups without government interference. During the last decades, this reality has pushed tens of thousands of Rohingya to seek asylum in neighboring countries. The present crisis thus marks the culmination of the longstanding persecution of this stateless minority.

In this contribution, I argue that the adoption of a more effective regional response to the problem of statelessness is essential in order to ameliorate the plight of the Rohingya and other stateless groups in Southeast Asia. I begin by providing a brief factual background on statelessness in Southeast Asia. I then describe the existing international legal framework on statelessness, noting the limited impact that it has had in Southeast Asia. Finally, I present the justifications for adopting a new Southeast Asian regional approach to statelessness, and discuss the role that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should play in this respect. Read the rest of this entry…

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Is N.D. and N.T. v. Spain the new Hirsi?

Published on October 17, 2017        Author: 

On 3 October the Third Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights published its judgment N.D. and N.T. v. Spain, which concerns Spain’s pushback policy in Melilla. It found a violation of Article 4 of Protocol 4 (prohibition of collective expulsions of aliens) and of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) taken together with Article 4 of Protocol 4. This post focuses on the issues of jurisdiction and the prohibition of collective expulsions addressed in the judgment, as well as its policy implications. 

Facts

The facts of the case are straightforward: on 13 August 2014 a group of Sub-Saharan migrants, including the applicants, tried to enter Spain via the Melilla border crossing which consists of three consecutive barriers. They managed to climb to the top of the third barrier. When they climbed down with the help of the Spanish forces, they were immediately apprehended by members of the Spanish civil guard and returned to Morocco in the company of 75 to 80 other migrants who had attempted to enter Melilla on the same date. Their identities were not checked and they did not have an opportunity to explain their personal circumstances or to receive assistance from lawyers, interpreters or medical personnel.

Jurisdiction

Spain argued that the events occurred outside its jurisdiction because the applicants had not succeeded in getting past the barriers at the Melilla border crossing and therefore had not entered Spanish territory. The Court first recalled its general principles on jurisdiction (paras 49-51), referring in particular to Hirsi Jamaa and Others v. Italy, and specifying that when the State, through its agents, exercises control and authority over an individual, and thus jurisdiction, the State is under an obligation to secure the rights and freedoms that are relevant to the situation of that individual (para 51). Applying these principles to the facts of the case, the Court first observes that:

‘la ligne frontalière entre le Royaume du Maroc et les villes de Ceuta et de Melilla a été délimitée par les traités internationaux auxquels les Royaumes d’Espagne et du Maroc sont parties et qu’elle ne peut pas être modifiée à l’initiative de l’un de ces États pour les besoins d’une situation de fait concrète’ (para 53).

Yet in the next paragraph the Court explains that it is unnecessary to establish whether the border crossing between Morocco and Spain is located on Spanish territory because:

dès lors qu’il y a contrôle sur autrui, il s’agit dans ces cas d’un contrôle de jure exercé par l’État en question sur les individus concernés (Hirsi Jamaa, précité, § 77), c’est-à-dire d’un contrôle effectif des autorités de cet État, que celles-ci soient à l’intérieur du territoire de l’État ou sur ses frontières terrestres. De l’avis de la Cour, à partir du moment où les requérants étaient descendus des clôtures frontalières, ils se trouvaient sous le contrôle continu et exclusif, au moins de facto, des autorités espagnoles.

Read the rest of this entry…

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