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Visions of the ‘Right to Democratic Governance’ under International Law: The Complexities of the Philippines under Duterte

Published on May 24, 2018        Author: 
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Is international law any closer to defining the content of a “right to democratic governance”? International human rights law instruments do not prescribe a form of governance, but they do explicitly refer to consistency with the needs of a “democratic society” when they admit limitations or restrictions to certain rights and freedoms.  Thus, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights refers to limitations to rights and freedoms determined by law and which meet “the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.” (UDHR, Article 29(2). The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) enumerates specific civil and political rights and freedoms, but only refers to the needs of a “democratic society” when it speaks of permissible restrictions on press and public participation in court hearings [ICCPR Article 14(1)], restrictions to the right to peaceable assembly [ICCPR Article 21], and restrictions to the right to freedom of association [ICCPR Article 22(2)].  The general limitations clause in Article 4 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) refers to “such limitations as are determined by law only in so far as this may be compatible with the nature of these rights and solely for the purpose of promoting the general welfare in a democratic society.”  The United Nations paints a broad brush on democracy as the enabling environment for the realization of human rights:

“Democracy, based on the rule of law, is ultimately a means to achieve international peace and security, economic and social progress and development, and respect for human rights – the three pillars of the United Nations mission as set forth in the Charter of the UN. Democratic principles are woven throughout the normative fabric of the United Nations….The UN has long advocated a concept of democracy that is holistic: encompassing the procedural and the substantive; formal institutions and informal processes; majorities and minorities; men and women; governments and civil society; the political and the economic; at the national and the local levels. It has been recognized as well that, while these norms and standards are both universal and essential to democracy, there is no one model: General Assembly resolution 62/7 posits that “while democracies share common features, there is no single model of democracy” and that “democracy does not belong to any country or region”. Indeed, the ideal of democracy is rooted in philosophies and traditions from many parts of the world. The Organization has never sought to export or promote any particular national or regional model of democracy.” (UN Guidance Note of the Secretary-General on Democracy, at p. 2).

There is no shortage of international legal scholarship examining different facets of “democracy”, whether as a separate right of individuals or peoples under international human rights law, or as an emerging norm of governance under international law.  Thomas Franck wrote in 1992 about the “emerging right to democratic governance” under international law, anchored on the notions of “democratic entitlement” and a “separate and equal status in the community of nations” – all traceable to the fundamental human right to self-determination.  In the same year, Gregory Fox also published a landmark article with the Yale Journal of International Law, this time on the specific right to political participation in international law, based on the ICCPR, the European Convention on Human Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. A year later, James Crawford argued that a “pro-democratic” shift was taking place in international law, in a much-cited article in the British Yearbook of International Law.  Susan Marks later developed the concept of an emerging international law norm of “democratic governance” in her landmark book The Riddle of All Constitutions:  International Law, Democracy, and the Critique of Ideology (OUP, 2003). Jean D’Aspremont’s 2011 EJIL Article observed that certain global events – such as the rise of non-democratic regimes – could be “cutting short the consolidation of the principle of democratic legitimacy under international law.”  But even among these scholars (and many others, see here, here, here, and here), there is no hard consensus on the elements of the “right to democratic governance”. After Stanford’s Larry Diamond originated the idea of the “global democratic recession” some years ago, the Economist’s Intelligence Unit (EIU) developed its “Democracy Index” which measures the state of democratic freedoms in countries around the world according to five categories: 1) electoral process and pluralism; 2) civil liberties; 3) the functioning of government; 4) political participation; and 5) political culture.  

The Philippines presents an interesting case study on today’s many scholarly contestations over the “right to democratic governance” under international law (see among others Susan Marks’ 2011 EJIL article here, Ignacio del Moral’s ESIL essay, Johannes Fahner’s 2017  positivist argument for the existence of the right to democracy here).  As of 2017, the Philippines is ranked 51st among the world’s democracies in the 2017 Democracy Index as a “flawed democracy”, expressly finding that “the indefinite declaration of martial law in the southern state of Mindanao in the Philippines, and the rule of country’s strongman leader, Rodrigo Duterte, adversely affected the quality of democracy in the Philippines.  Mr. Duterte has led the way among the many Asian countries that are infringing democratic values.” (2017 Democracy Index, at p. 28). While the Philippines ranks in the highest percentiles when it comes to the electoral process and pluralism category, it ranked very dismally in the categories of the functioning of government and political culture, and only in moderate percentiles in the categories of political participation and civil liberties.  It is a jurisdiction that is unique for having repeatedly and consistently transformed the UDHR into a legally binding and directly actionable set of rights under Philippine law (see landmark Philippine Supreme Court decisions here, here, here, here, here, among others), and yet it finds itself today seriously contesting visions of “democratic governance” between Mr. Duterte’s asserted “rule of law” and the myriad of civil and political liberties issues raised by local critics (see for example here, here, and here), as well as abroad (such as the 2018 US State Department Country Report on Human Rights in the Philippines, the 2017 Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review for the Philippines, the 2018 chapter on the Philippines in Human Rights Watch’s World Report, among others).  The irony is, both the Philippine government and its critics claim to act according to a “right to democratic governance”, even if both parties may have different visions of what democratic governance is.

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ICERD and Palestine’s Inter-State Complaint

Published on April 30, 2018        Author: 
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On 23 April, The Guardian reported that Palestinian diplomats had filed an inter-state complaint against Israel for breaches of its obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the State of Palestine:

Palestine is a State whose territory remains under a belligerent colonial occupation. For its part, Israel, the occupying Power, has maintained its colonial occupation over the past fifty years by imposing racist and discriminatory policies against Palestinian citizens.  Confronting this pervasive reality of racism and discrimination is a priority. This cannot wait. It should not. No person or people should be asked to tolerate racism or the violence and injustice it breeds.

The Guardian writes that “the submission is believed to be the first interstate complaint filed under the treaty”. This is true in relation to ICERD, and also the entirety of the UN international human rights treaties; as the OHCHR highlights in its portal on inter-state complaints: “Note: these procedures have never been used.”

The inter-state procedure is not found in every treaty – there is no formal procedure for filing inter-state complaints under CEDAW and its Optional Protocol. The procedure is found in ICCPR, ICESCR, CAT, CMW, CED and Optional Protocols, but it is generally optional and both States have to have recognised the competence of the Committee to receive such communications. Read the rest of this entry…

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A Response: The Child in International Refugee Law

Published on September 1, 2017        Author: 
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I am grateful to each of the participants for engaging with The Child in International Refugee Law in such a thoughtful way.

As all four contributions have identified, the central thesis of The Child in International Refugee Law is that the the Convention on the Rights of the Child (“CRC”) has a critical role to play, alongside the 1951 Refugee Convention, in enhancing the visibility and protection afforded to refugee children. Rather than simply asserting a need for greater interaction between the 1951 Refugee Convention and the CRC, the book attempts to map out the substantive contours of that relationship, and to anchor the relationship in the international rules of treaty interpretation.

In his contribution, Bjorge engages with the book’s treatment of the international rules of treaty interpretation, and in particular the argument developed in Chapter 1 that these rules should be drawn upon to promote greater engagement with the CRC as an interpretative aid to inform the interpretation of the 1951 Refugee Convention refugee definition. I agree with everything that he has said. Bjorge agrees, perhaps unsurprisingly (see, e.g. The Evolutionary Interpretation of Treaties (OUP, 2014)), that Articles 31-33 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (“VCLT”) require a systemic approach to the interpretation of the 1951 Refugee Convention and that such an interpretative approach is, on the whole, likely to be beneficial for refugee children. However, he raises a sage warning that a systemic approach to treaty interpretation can, particularly in today’s unfortunate political climate, be used opportunistically by States to reduce rather than strengthen the protection afforded by the 1951 Refugee Convention. In these circumstances, says Bjorge, “it may well be that literalism or textual interpretation is rather better than its reputation”. Read the rest of this entry…

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Review: Jason Pobjoy’s Book, The Child in International Refugee Law

Published on August 31, 2017        Author: , and
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Jason Pobjoy’s newly released book, The Child in International Refugee Law, represents a major contribution not only to the advancement of protection claims of children, but to refugee law more broadly, taking its place among such seminal works as J. Hathaway and M. Foster’s, The Law of Refugee Status (2d Edition 2014) and G.Goodwin-Gill and J.McAdam’s The Refugee in International Law (3d Edition, 2007).

The publication of Pobjoy’s treatise comes at an opportune time, when there is increasing sophistication among practitioners and scholars about the complex issues involved in conceptualizing children’s claims and providing effective representation to children refugees accounting for their unique needs and vulnerabilities as children. The body of law regarding children’s claims builds on earlier work regarding in particular refugee law’s treatment of women claimants that challenges refugee law’s dominant male paradigm. Similarly, the body of children’s refugee law challenges the dominant adult paradigm: As Pobjoy advocates and presents so comprehensively, in the case of children every criteria in the refugee definition must be interpreted in a child-centered manner, grounded in the specific structure of rights and obligations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). This review focuses on Chapter 4 of Pobjoy’s book, “A Child-Rights Framework for Identifying Persecutory Harm.”

The publication of Pobjoy’s treatise also comes at a precipitous moment in the development of U.S. refugee law. There is growing sophistication among the American refugee bar and scholarly communities, especially evident over the past decade. Although in the past the U.S. has been, in some respects, an outlier, doggedly parochial and resistant to acknowledging the role that international human rights law should play in the interpretation of its domestic asylum provisions, there has been a shift: American lawyers have been urging a more internationalist approach; they have been including arguments about international human rights law in their advocacy; and, presenting the jurisprudence of other states parties to the UN Refugee Convention in support of their clients claims to protection. The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized the roots of U.S. law in the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol, has referenced the jurisprudence of other states parties, and federal courts have suggested at least implicitly a human rights standard. See Deborah E. Anker, Law of Asylum in the United States, Ch. 1 (2017). And as the American non-profit Opportunity Agenda points out, in other areas of law, the U.S. Supreme Court “has increasingly cited human rights law as persuasive authority for important constitutional decisions.” The Opportunity Agenda, Legal and Policy Analysis: Human Rights in State Courts: 2011, at 2. It may be unclear at this challenging moment in U.S. politics what long-term effect this new advocacy in refugee law will have, but the orientation is changing in an internationalist direction. Read the rest of this entry…

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Persecuting Children: How the Convention on the Rights of the Child has pushed the evolution of refugee law

Published on August 31, 2017        Author: 
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The nature of modern warfare has made children increasingly vulnerable to conflict related injury, deprivation and displacement. International refugee law was slow to recognise children as being worthy of separate consideration: the only express references to children in the UN Convention relating to the Rights of Refugees are in Article 4, referring to refugee parents’ freedom to religious education of their offspring; and Article 17(2)(c) which relates to the working rights of refugee parents whose children are nationals of a host country). Pobjoy’s masterful review of the comparative jurisprudence on children as refugees confirms the nature and extent of the change that is occurring. Chapter 4 of his book examines an aspect of the Refugee Convention that remains un-defined, yet central to the protection of refugees. This is the concept of ‘being persecuted’. As many of us have documented, children can experience persecution both in the same way as adults and in ways that are particular to their identity as children: See, for example, see Pobjoy, section 4.3; J Bhabha and W Young, ‘Not Adults in Miniature: Unaccompanied Child Asylum Seekers and the New US Guidelines’ (1999) 11 International Journal of Refugee Law 84, 103; J Bhabha and M Crock, Seeking Asylum Alone: A Comparative Study – Unaccompanied and Separated Children and Refugee Protection in Australia, the UK and the US (2007), Chapter 7; and G Sadoway, ‘Refugee children before the Immigration and Refugee Board’ (1996) 15(5) Refuge 17. Like adults, children can be killed, kidnapped, tortured and targeted for harm in ways that are readily identified as ‘persecution’. What has been harder for people to accept is that children also suffer harms that are peculiar to childhood. As Pobjoy writes at 117:

Only a child can be at risk of infanticide, underage military recruitment, forced child labour, forced underage marriage, child prostitution, child pornography, domestic child abuse, corporal punishment or pre-puberty FGC.

Moreover, children experience harm in ways that are different to adults. Because of their size and evolving capacities, they can be acutely susceptible to injury and harm.

Pobjoy explores these realities brilliantly. Noting the legislative and policies initiatives that have been taken in international, supra-national and domestic contexts, he argues nevertheless that more judges and policy makers should be taking the time to consider the different persecutory experiences of refugee children.

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Child Refugees and International Law: Legal Imagination in the Service of Others

Published on August 30, 2017        Author: 
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What is seen and experienced often determines outcomes, in law as elsewhere. Background assumptions about the world (including legal texts) can distort the interpretation and application of norms. Partial perspectives render invisible what should be obvious or perhaps what only becomes obvious with revised theories and concepts. As Jason Pobjoy makes plain in his outstanding book, there is no principled reason why children should face the formidable obstacles they do in the sphere of refugee protection. Refugee law makes no distinctions based on age; in theory a child who meets the Convention definition is every bit a refugee as an adult. This absence, of course, cuts both ways; it does not make explicit textual provision for the particular circumstances of children either. All refugees are not however treated equally, and in practice there are pervasive problems of visibility and incorrect assessment (Jason Pobjoy, The Child in International Refugee Law, (2017, Cambridge University Press) 5).

Pobjoy does a remarkable job in highlighting the deficiencies (for example, the evidence of the low number of references by domestic decision-makers to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) while also mapping out, with admirable precision, credible ways forward. Pobjoy thus unearths the lip-service often paid to the best interests of the child principle when compared with hard facts, but also charts a course for those globally and locally who genuinely want to take the rights of the child seriously within the international refugee protection framework.

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Some Thoughts on the Jadhav Case: Jurisdiction, Merits, and the Effect of a Presidential Communication

Published on May 12, 2017        Author: 
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On 8 May, India instituted proceedings at the International Court of Justice against Pakistan relating to the latter’s imprisonment and award of death penalty to Kulbhushan Jadhav, an Indian national. Pakistan claims it arrested Mr Jadhav on 3 March 2016, in Balochistan (a Pakistani province), where he was engaged in espionage and sabotage activities. A military court sentenced him to death on 10 April 2017. India alleges that Mr Jadhav was abducted from Iran, where he was engaged in business following retirement from the Indian Navy. India further claims that following his arrest and throughout his trial, sentencing and now imprisonment pending execution of sentence, it has not been allowed consular access to Mr Jadhav.

India’s application asks the Court to declare that the sentence imposed by Pakistan is ‘in brazen defiance’ of Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR), and of the ‘elementary human rights of the accused’ (para. 60). It asks the Court to direct Pakistan to annul the decision; or, if, Pakistan is unable to do so, to declare the decision illegal, and direct Pakistan to release Mr Jadhav immediately (Id.). India has also requested that the Court indicate provisional measures preventing Pakistan from executing him pending resolution of the dispute.

Oral hearings on provisional measures are listed to begin on 15 May. Meanwhile, President Abraham has issued an urgent communication to Pakistan, pursuant to his powers under Article 74(4) of the 1978 Rules of the Court. This provides:

Pending the meeting of the Court, the President may call upon the parties to act in such a way as will enable any order the Court may make on the request for provisional measures to have its appropriate effects.

In this post, we offer a brief account of several issues. We first note a few points in relation to India’s claims as to the Court’s jurisdiction and the merits of the claim proper. We then discuss the scope and effects of the President’s Article 74(4) communication. Our attention was caught by the fact that this communication was reported in the Indian media as a ‘stay’ on Mr Jadhav’s execution, with India’s Foreign Minister even tweeting that she had told Mr Jadhav’s mother ‘about the order of President, ICJ […]’. This squarely raises the question: can the Article 74(4) communication be read as a mandatory ‘order’ in the same way as provisional measures ordered under Article 41 of the Court’s Statute? And, if not, could a state in any way be found legally accountable in for its breach? Read the rest of this entry…

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Turkey’s Derogation from Human Rights Treaties – An Update

Published on August 18, 2016        Author: 
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In an earlier post of 27 July I provided a first assessment of Turkey’s declared derogation from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and an assessment what kind of measures could be expected, as derogations both from the ECHR and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). This new post provides an update, partly in response to commentators.

On 11 August, the United Nations published Turkey’s notification notification of derogations from the ICCPR. According to its text, the actual measure was ‘effected’ more than a week earlier, on 2 August. Turkey’s notification, dated on 21 July, refers to the 90-day state of emergency that had been declared on 20 July under domestic law. The most interesting element in Turkey’s ICCPR notification is that it provides a list of articles from which Turkey ‘may’ derogate:

The decision was published in the Official Gazette and approved by the Turkish Grand National Assembly on 21 July 2016. In this process, measures taken may involve derogation from obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights regarding Articles 2/3, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 17, 19, 21, 22, 25, 26 and 27, as permissible in Article 4 of the said Covenant.

Again Turkey follows the recent example of France in specifying the articles under the ICCPR but not under the ECHR, and by not being explicit what the actual derogations are, instead only stating that derogations from the ICCPR ‘may’ result from measures taken pursuant to the state of emergency.

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Turkey’s Derogation from the ECHR – What to Expect?

Published on July 27, 2016        Author: 
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In the aftermath of the failed 15 July coup, Turkey’s government declared a state of emergency and subsequently on 21 July notified the Council of Europe that it “may” derogate from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).  So far there is no information of a possible notification to the United Nations concerning derogations from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Turkey’s ECHR formal notification was preceded by widely reported expectations, fuelled also by a Council of Europe press release, that it was going to “suspend” the ECHR (presumably as a whole) and, interestingly, followed by a 25 July communication to the Council of Europe (see below) that appears to downplay the severity of the derogations.

Derogations from some but not all human rights are permissible under ECHR Article 15 and, similarly, under ICCPR Article 4 when a state is faced with a public emergency that threatens the life of the nation and officially proclaims a state of emergency. A failed military coup would prima facie qualify as serious enough a situation that can be addressed through declaring a state of emergency in the process of restoring normalcy.

Basing myself on the assumption that Turkey’s decision to derogate from some of the ECHR rights as such is to be assessed as permissible, I will below address the constraints that a country is facing under human rights law when lawfully derogating. Read the rest of this entry…

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