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Home Human Rights Archive for category "Deprivation of Liberty"

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 ECtHR’s Ilias and Ahmed v. Hungary and Why It Matters

Published on March 20, 2017        Author: 

The European Court of Human Rights delivered a judgment last Tuesday in the case of Ilias and Ahmed v. Hungary, finding multiple violations of the European Convention as a result of Hungary’s border procedures and its treatment of asylum-seekers. The applicants, nationals of Bangladesh, spent over three weeks in the transit zone before being sent back to Serbia, considered a “safe third country” under a 2015 Governmental Decree. Both applicants were part of the first wave of asylum-seekers attempting to access Hungary after the entry into force of controversial new legislation in September 2015, which effectively led to the Western Balkans route turning towards Croatia over the course of the next few days.

In what constitutes its first verdict on Hungary’s latest practice – which involves deprivation of liberty and almost universal forced return to Serbia on the basis of the safe third country concept – the Court found violations of Arts 3, 5 and 13 in conjunction with Art. 3 of the Convention, namely because the applicants had been subjected to de facto deprivation of liberty with no adequate safeguards for over three weeks, didn’t have access to an effective remedy with respect to the conditions of their detention and ended up being sent back to Serbia without ever having the possibility of ill-treatment genuinely considered either by the asylum authority or the Szeged Administrative Court in their attempted appeals against the former’s ruling. In finding violations, the Court generally agreed with more-or-less all of the applicants’ arguments, however it did not agree with them that the conditions of their detention in the border zone reached the level of severity necessary for there to be a violation of Art. 3 in that respect.

The Implications Read the rest of this entry…

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A Trio of Blockbuster Judgments from the UK Supreme Court

Published on January 17, 2017        Author: 

This morning the UK Supreme Court delivered three important judgments dealing with various claims alleging wrongful acts by the UK when fighting international terrorism (UK Supreme Court page; Guardian news report). In Belhaj and Rahmatullah No. 1 the Court unanimously dismissed the Government’s appeal, and found that the claim against the UK for its alleged complicity in torture and mistreatment of the claimants was not barred by rules of state immunity and the foreign act of state doctrine (press release; judgment). In Rahmatullah No. 1 and Mohammed the Court unanimously allowed the Government’s appeals, holding that, insofar as the respondents’ tort claims are based on acts of an inherently governmental nature in the conduct of foreign military operations by the Crown, these were Crown acts of state for which the Government cannot be liable in tort (press release; judgment). Finally, and perhaps of greatest interest to most of our readers, in Al-Waheed and Serdar Mohammed the Court, by 7 votes to 2 in a set of very complex judgments, held that British forces had power to take
and detain prisoners for periods exceeding 96 hours if this was necessary for imperative reasons of security, but that its procedures for doing so did not comply with ECHR article 5(4) because they did not afford prisoners an effective right to challenge their detention (press release; judgment). We will be covering these judgments in more detail soon.

I have only had the time to read Serdar Mohammed, which I am yet fully to digest, but here are some initial thoughts (we have of course extensively covered this case on the blog before). The two key judgments are those of Lord Sumption for the majority and Lord Reed for the minority; I must say that by and large I incline towards the latter. I am also troubled by some of the ipse dixit, rather casual references in the judgments of the majority justices to the lex specialis principle; the supposedly restrictive original intentions of the drafters of the ECHR with regard to its application extraterritorially and in armed conflict, which are in reality completely unknowable; similarly casual constructions of coherent narratives of a very messy field that confirm one’s own predispositions (e.g. that in Al-Skeini the Strasbourg Court unprecedentedly expanded the reach of the Convention to extraterritorial armed conflicts, when one could just as easily say that in Bankovic the Court unprecedentedly restricted the Convention’s reach); or the supposed unavailability of extraterritorial derogations, on which see more here.  That said, the judgments are thoughtful and rigorous even when one might disagree with them, which brings me to the Court’s main findings.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Joint Series on International Law and Armed Conflict: Procedural Regulation of Detention 

Published on October 7, 2016        Author: 

The latest post in the Joint Series on International Law and Armed Conflict is by Lawrence Hill- Cawthorne on the procedural regulation of detention.

I am pleased to have been asked to write a short blog post to outline some of the issues I raised as a discussant for the panel on the procedural regulation of detention at the Fourth Transatlantic Workshop on International Law and Armed Conflict, which took place in Oxford this summer. This is of course an area in which we have recently seen considerable controversy and rapid developments in practice, with cases such as the Serdar Mohammed litigation (on which see here and here) and Hassan v UK (on which see here) dominating much of the recent debates.

The present post does not seek to repeat the above debates but instead it picks out a few controversial points from these much broader discussions that remain unresolved. Everything that is said here is explored in more detail in a recent book that I have written on this topic. The questions that I wish to address here are:

  1. In light of Hassan, which requires that, when making an assessment of compliance with international human rights law (IHRL) in an international armed conflict, a renvoi must be made to international humanitarian law (IHL), what controversies persist concerning:

    1. The review procedures for civilian internment and
    2. The procedural regulation of combatant internment?
  2. To what extent has the law of international and non-international armed conflict converged here?

Detention in International Armed Conflict

The Hassan judgment offered a view as to the relationship between the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and IHL, reading into Article 5 ECHR the grounds and procedures governing internment under the latter regime. Though seemingly simple, the IHL rules on internment, and the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECtHR) reasoning in Hassan, leave a number of questions unanswered. Read the rest of this entry…

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UK to Derogate from the ECHR in Armed Conflict

Published on October 5, 2016        Author: 

At the Conservative party conference this week, the UK Prime Minister and her defence secretary announced that the UK will derogate from the European Convention on Human Rights in times of armed conflict. I have written before that such derogations – if appropriately used – can be a valuable tool in regulating the relationship between human rights law and international humanitarian law, by providing much needed clarity and flexibility. I hence have no problem with the principle of the idea – indeed, I have argued in particular that the dicta of some of the judges of UK’s highest courts to the effect that the ECHR cannot be derogated from extraterritorially are not to be followed. I do have a problem, however, with how this derogation idea is now being sold to the British public and for what purpose. In that regard, my comments in this post are caveated by the unfortunate fact that the specifics of the derogation plan are yet to be published – we know that there will be a ‘presumed’ derogation, but not from which rights and under what exact circumstances.

Let me first deal with the political salesmanship. To start with, there’s the usual (and forgivable) pandering – Theresa May thus opens her pitch by saying that “Our Armed Forces are the best in the world” and that her government “will ensure that our troops are recognised for the incredible job they do. Those who serve on the frontline will have our support when they come home.” Oh, please. By what metric exactly are the British armed forces “the best in the world”? By their tactical combat effectiveness? By their actual achievement of specific strategic goals (in which they’ve been constantly hampered by the underfunding, underequipping and wishful thinking on the part of their political masters)? By their compliance with the law of armed conflict? The Chilcot inquiry’s findings with respect to the armed forces’ performance in Basra do not exactly support the “best in the world/incredible job” label.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Al-Saadoon and the Duty to Investigate

Published on September 16, 2016        Author: 

On September 9, a UK Court of Appeal handed down its judgment in Al-Saadoon & Ors v. Secretary of State for Defence [2016] EWCA Civ 811]. Much of that case revolved around when and how the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) applies to the conduct of a State beyond its own borders (i.e., extraterritorially) in situations of armed conflict where that State is in some way linked to a use of force that results in death.

This post focuses on a separate issue in the judgment: the duty to criminally investigate violations of non-refoulement (under Article 3, ECHR) and arbitrary deprivation of liberty (Article 5, ECHR). The non-refoulement issue arose after two individuals who U.K. military forces captured in Iraq claimed they were transferred to U.S. custody and in whose hands they were subsequently ill-treated. The Article 5 issue arose after U.K. military forces operating in Iraq detained several individuals who claimed to have had their Article 5 rights violated whilst in U.K. custody. The question that Lord Justice Lloyd Jones had to resolve was whether, under the ECHR, the U.K. had a duty to conduct criminal investigations into these alleged violations.

Lloyd Jones LJ, agreeing with Mr. Justice Leggatt’s prior High Court judgment, said that no such obligation to investigate exists for all Art 3 non-refoulement and all Article 5 violations. Read the rest of this entry…

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The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention decision on Assange: ‘ridiculous’ or ‘justifiable’?

Published on February 9, 2016        Author: 

The UN WGAD Assange decision has been met with general ridicule from British officials, legal academics and the press. This piece seeks to bring some balance to the coverage on this decision, which consistently fails to outline the arguments which persuaded the Working Group.

The central argument of Assange’s lawyers’ proceeds on the basis that his confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy ‘cannot … be characterized as volitional’ (para 13). He is not free to leave, because he is protecting himself from the violation of other human rights: ‘the only way for Mr. Assange to enjoy his right to asylum was to be in detention’ (para 11). If Assange were to leave he would be arrested in the UK and extradited pursuant to a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) issued by Sweden. Consequently, he would expose himself to the risk of a ‘well founded fear of persecution’ were he to be extradited to the US from Sweden (para 12). In the words of Assange’s lawyers:

The source submits that Mr. Assange was deprived of his liberty against his will and his liberty had been severely restricted, against his volition. An individual cannot be compelled to renounce an inalienable right, nor can they be required to expose themselves to the risk of significant harm. Mr. Assange’s exit from the Ecuadorian Embassy would require him to renounce his right to asylum and expose himself to the very persecution and risk of physical and mental mistreatment that his grant of asylum was intended to address. His continued presence in the Embassy cannot, therefore, be characterised as ‘volitional’ (para 13).

Assange’s lawyers moves on to the failure of the Swedish authorities to pursue their investigation through less restrictive means. Simply put, the Swedish authorities have ‘not established a prima facie case’ and have refused ‘unreasonably and disproportionately’ to ‘question him through alternative means offered under the process of mutual assistance’ (para 13). Furthermore, they argue that Assange has been deprived of the opportunity to know the case against him, to provide a statement regarding the charges against him, and thus to defend himself against the charges. This combination of factors thus also bears upon the principle of audi alterum partem and the presumption of innocence. The cumulative result of all of these conditions, and the failure to guarantee non-refoulement to the US, have resulted in a situation in which, on Assange’s argument, he has in effect been arbitrarily detained. Read the rest of this entry…

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Julian Assange and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

Published on February 5, 2016        Author: 

We should have known. Once Julian Assange publically stated that he would surrender to the UK authorities if the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found against him, it was obvious that the Working Group had done no such thing. And its opinion was released today, to widespread derision among the legal community (at least as expressed by my twitter feed).

To get the obvious issues out of the way: the Working Group is a UN body but it is not, and does not represent, ‘the United Nations’. Instead, it is one of the ‘thematic special procedures’ of the UN Human Rights Council, which is itself a political body established by and reporting to the UN General Assembly. The Working Group was originally established by the Commission on Human Rights, the Human Rights Council’s predecessor, and had its mandate renewed, most recently by the Human Rights Council in 2013. In contrast to the HRC, however, the Working Group is a body of independent experts serving in their individual capacities. It presently has five members: from South Korea, Mexico, Benin, Australia and the Ukraine.

The Working Group is tasked with investigating cases of deprivation of liberty imposed arbitrarily, with reference to the relevant international standards set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as to the relevant international instruments accepted by the States concerned. It can consider individual communications and, having done so, render opinions as to whether an arbitrary detention has or has not been established and make recommendations to the State concerned.

What all this means is that the Working Group cannot issue binding decisions (contrary to what Julian Assange’s legal team are arguing), hence their description as ‘opinions’. Nor can it provide authoritative interpretations of any human rights treaty (having not been granted that role by the parties to any such treaty). The most that can be said is that States are under a duty to take ‘due consideration’ to Working Group’s recommendations, which is a rather weak obligation.

Moving from the general to the particular, the Working Group gave its opinion in response to a communication made on behalf of Julian Assange. It will be recalled that Mr Assange has been in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 19 June 2012, when he skipped bail following the decision of the UK Supreme Court on 30 May 2012 to permit his extradition to Sweden under a European Arrest Warrant. The communication was made on 16 September 2014 and was passed on to the Governments of Sweden and the United Kingdom, which replied, respectively, on 3 and 13 November 2014. The opinion was adopted on 4 December 2015, over a year later, and was published on 5 February 2016, which does not indicate an enormous sense of urgency. Following the Working Group’s rules, one of the members of the Working Group recused herself from this deliberations as she shared the same nationality as Mr Assange. Another, Mr Vladimir Tochilovsky, dissented and produced a short individual dissenting opinion. Read the rest of this entry…

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Some Thoughts on the Serdar Mohammed Appeals Judgment

Published on August 10, 2015        Author: 

In this post I’d like to add a few thoughts on the recent Court of Appeal judgment in Serdar Mohammed, that we already covered on the blog last week (here and here). The case is now heading to the UK Supreme Court, and may also eventually end up in the European Court of Human Rights – although Strasbourg will be looking carefully at the Supreme Court’s judgment even if the case doesn’t find its way to it.

First off, I think everything that can be said about the ‘big issue’ of authority to detain in NIAC has already been said; those already committed to either view are not going to be dissuaded by some novel argument. For my part, I only wish to note that after the Court of Appeal’s (unanimous!) judgment it looks increasingly unlikely that the Supreme Court will overturn the finding of the lower courts (although that of course may still happen), especially bearing in mind the rigour and detail of these lower judgments. It is very difficult for any court to essentially make up rules (in reasoning by implication/analogy/structure or whatever) on who precisely can be detained in NIACs, for how long and under what exact process, in the absence of any meaningful legislative guidance. This is not a gap that most judges would feel comfortable in filling, especially when easy analogies to IACs or (much worse, between targeting and detention) break down.

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The UK Court of Appeal in Serdar Mohammed: Treaty and Customary IHL Provides No Authority for Detention in Non-international Armed Conflicts

Published on August 6, 2015        Author: 

Last week’s judgment in Mohammed v. Secretary of State for Defence is rich in analyses and observations concerning detention in non-international armed conflicts (NIACs). One of the key issues assessed concerns the power to detain in NIACs under IHL.

The Secretary of State’s position on this point commenced with a challenge to traditional classifications of armed conflict, contrasting purely internal conflicts with armed conflicts between two States (para 168). It was contended that the legal position concerning the authority to detain in a NIAC now reflects a more complex factual position than that captured under traditional classifications. A third classification must now be recognized: ‘internationalised’ NIACs. This echoes the ICRC’s Opinion Paper on internment, which speaks of ‘NIACs with an extraterritorial element’, in which “the armed forces of one or more State, or of an international or regional organization, fight alongside the armed forces of a host State, in its territory, against one or more organized non-State armed groups” (page 7).

To paraphrase, ‘if it looks and feels like an international armed conflict, let us apply IHL rules on international armed conflicts by analogy’. This is a dangerous approach that the Court of Appeal carefully avoided, instead focusing on its proposed implications.

Read the rest of this entry…

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