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Environmental Damages, Environmental Reparations, and the Right to a Healthy Environment: The ICJ Compensation Judgment in Costa Rica v. Nicaragua and the IACtHR Advisory Opinion on Marine Protection for the Greater Caribbean

Published on February 14, 2018        Author: 
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On 2 February 2018, the International Court of Justice issued a landmark judgment on compensation for environmental damages in Certain Activities Carried Out By Nicaragua in the Border Area (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua), Compensation Owed by the Republic of Nicaragua to the Republic of Costa RicaThe ICJ’s decision was followed shortly thereafter on 9 February 2018 by a significant Advisory Opinion of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), declaring the fundamental importance of the right to a healthy environment to human existence and States’ corollary obligations to protect human rights through marine environmental protection in the Greater Caribbean region (summary report of the Advisory Opinion in English found here, while the full text of Colombia’s request for advisory opinion on this question can be found here). The 2 February 2018 ICJ Compensation Judgment follows its 16 December 2015 Judgment declaring Nicaragua liable for activities in Costa Rican territory, such as the excavation of three caños and establishment of military presence in said territory (see my previous comments on evidentiary approaches in this 2015 Merits Judgment here.)

While both the 2 February 2018 ICJ judgment on compensation and the 9 February 2018 IACtHR Advisory Opinion signify the central importance of international environmental norms to international human rights law, the methodological approaches taken by the World Court and the regional human rights court for Latin America reveal some sharp differences between these tribunals.  In adjudging compensation for environmental damages caused by Nicaragua to Costa Rica, the ICJ took a rather ‘incrementalist’ approach to quantification and empirical proof for every head of damage asserted – a methodologically ambiguous and context-sensitive approach which is not easily replicable for future environmental cases, given the complex nature of environmental damages in any given dispute.  The ICJ did not adopt Costa Rica’s theory of an “ecosystem approach” to damage assessment, and neither did it adopt Nicaragua’s position that “replacement costs” be used to estimate environmental damages.  Unlike the IACtHR Advisory Opinion’s broad acceptance of States’ continuing individual obligations towards preventing transboundary harm that could ensue from infrastructure projects in the Greater Caribbean, the ICJ Judgment carefully reduced Costa Rica’s claim of compensation by delineating between Nicaragua’s compensatory duties as part of environmental reparations, and Costa Rica’s own environmental mitigation duties in the presence of foreseeable environmental damage.  These recent developments suggest that, while it is recognized that all States share responsibilities towards environmental protection especially under the precautionary principle, the precise allocation of environmental reparations owed through compensation will not always lie strictly on the side of the State that is the environmental tortfeasor, at least where the ICJ is concerned.

The following subsections summarize the 2 February 2018 ICJ Judgment reasoning on compensation, the 9 February 2018 IACtHR Advisory Opinion, and conclude with some comments on methodologies used for damages assessment and environmental reparations, especially in the thorny form of lump-sum upfront compensation for environmental damage impacting present and future generations.

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A Critical Assessment of Colombia’s Advisory Request before the IACtHR – and Why It Should Be Rejected

Published on October 25, 2016        Author: 
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On 14 March 2016 Colombia filed an Advisory Opinion request before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR). The request poses three questions, which can be summarised as follows: The first question asks whether the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR) entails extra-territorial obligations for a State when interpreted in light of a “treaty-based environmental protection system to which that State is a party [also],” and if it does, what are its incidences vis-à-vis the elements of state responsibility (attribution and breach).

The second question is a restatement of the first one, but zeroes in on conduct of states that might do “serious damage to the marine environment” and the implications thereof for inhabitants of “the coast and/or islands of another State party” under articles 4(1) (right to life) and 5(1) (personal integrity) ACHR; in other words, the question enquires whether, and if so how, IHRL might serve as vehicle for the extra-territorial application of IEL.

Building upon the ICJ’s environmental law developments in Pulp Mills, a final question enquires whether environmental obligations under articles 4(1) and 5(1) ACHR entail the duty to conduct environmental impact assessments (EIA). Read the rest of this entry…

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The Successes and Challenges for the European Court, Seen from the Outside

Published on May 14, 2014        Author: 
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Helfer photo croppedLaurence R. Helfer is the Harry R. Chadwick, Sr. Professor of Law and Co-director of the Center for International and Comparative Lawat Duke University.

Cross-posted on AJIL Unbound.

In this post I wish to address the successes and challenges for the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), as seen from the outside.  I will take this opportunity to draw upon my research on human rights systems outside of Europe to explain how these systems have responded to some of the same challenges now facing the Council of Europe and the ECtHR.  My main contention is that international human rights courts, wherever they are located, require sustained political and material support if they are to thrive and grow over time.

I will illustrate my points with examples from the Inter-American and African courts of human rights and from lesser-known courts of sub-regional legal systems in Africa—the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).  The judges of these courts often look to ECtHR case law for guidance.  They are also aware of the high level of political and material support for the Strasbourg supervisory system.  Just as these courts have drawn inspiration from the ECtHR, so too those who will shape the Court’s long-term future should consider both the achievements and the challenges that these regional and sub-regional systems have faced.  In describing these positive and negative developments, I will focus on three issues—the evolution of human rights jurisprudence, the politics of compliance with court judgments, and government resistance and backlash.

I will begin with jurisprudential trends.  The innovative doctrines and principles pioneered by judges in Strasbourg are alive and well in other human rights systems.  Interpretive tools such as the evolutionary nature of human rights, the presumption that rights must be practical and effective, the creative and strategic approach to remedies, and cross-fertilization of legal norms are commonplace in the case law of all regional and sub-regional courts.  For example, Inter-American judges have applied these doctrines in several types of cases, including the obligation to investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators of past human rights violations, the prohibition of amnesty for such violations, the rights of LGBT persons, and affirmative measures to combat violence against womenMtikila v. Tanzania, the first merits judgment of the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights decided in 2013, analyzes the decisions of the other two regional human rights courts and the U.N. Human Rights Committee to support its conclusion that a ban on independent candidates standing for election violates the African Charter.  Among the most striking examples of creative legal interpretation appear in the case law of the East African Court of Justice and the SADC Tribunal.  The judges of those courts have cited references to human rights, the rule of law and good governance in the principles and objectives clauses of treaties establishing the economic communities to justify expanding their jurisdiction to include human rights.

These capacious interpretations have broadened the scope and reach of international human rights law.  But they have also engendered significant compliance challenges.  All other things equal, the more expansive and far-reaching remedies a court requires, the greater the likelihood of delay or resistance in implementing its judgments—in terms of political will, capacity, and commitment of resources.  The Inter-American Court has by far the most ambitious approach to remedies, often specifying in exquisite detail the measures states must adopt.  Governments have responded by implementing the easier and less politically costly remedies, with the result that partial compliance with the Inter-American Court’s judgments is now commonplace. Read the rest of this entry…

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Venezuela denounces American Convention on Human Rights

Published on September 12, 2012        Author: 
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The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has given notice of its intention to withdraw in a year’s time from the leading regional human rights treaty in the Americas, with the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS) having confirmed receipt of the notice of denunciation here: http://www.oas.org/en/media_center/press_release.asp?sCodigo=E-307/12. (Rumours back in July had suggested that Venezuela was considering withdrawal.) The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has also issued a press release announcing that Venezuela is withdrawing from the American Convention on Human Rights, with the denunciation to take effect in September 2013. The IACHR press release can be found here: http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/media_center/PReleases/2012/117.asp

The American Convention on Human Rights (also known as the Pact of San José, Costa Rica) was adopted in 1969 and entered into force in 1978. It is a key regional human rights instrument for the protection of civil and political rights within the Western Hemisphere (with the Convention working alongside the 1948 American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man which is relied upon for OAS states that are not Convention parties). Venezuela has been a party to the Convention since ratification in 1977. Venezuela has also recognized the competence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights since 1981, with Venezuela’s record before the court found here: http://www.corteidh.or.cr/pais.cfm?id_Pais=13.

A broken (but soon to be fixed?) link to the text of Venezuela’s denunciation can be found here:  http://www.oas.org/dil/treaties_B-32_American_Convention_on_Human_Rights_sign.htm#Venezuela. The Venezuelan Ministry of Foreign Affairs has posted an interview with the Minister here (in Spanish): http://www.mre.gov.ve/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=2&Itemid=325

This is not the first denunciation for the American Convention on Human Rights, with Trinidad and Tobago having denunciated in 1998 due to a stated need to address delays in death penalty cases as a result of the time taken before international human rights bodies. Venezuela is the second state to withdraw from the American Convention on Human Rights, notably at a time when the inter-American human rights system is undertaking consultations with respect to reforms (see earlier post).

Readers will also be aware that Venezuela is not a newcomer to denunciations, having earlier this year denounced the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (the ICSID Convention), becoming the third Latin American state to denounce the ICSID Convention (after Bolivia in 2007 and Ecuador in 2009). Under the terms of the ICSID Convention, which provides for a six-month notice period, Venezuela’s denunciation came into effect in July.

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