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A Response: The Child in International Refugee Law

Published on September 1, 2017        Author: 

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

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: 

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: 

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: 

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: 

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: 

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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Beyond the Mantra, Towards the Granular: The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression’s Report on the Private Sector in the Digital Age

Published on July 5, 2016        Author: 

I. Introduction

“To what extent should the private sector be responsible for the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression?” This is the question at the heart of the latest report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Professor David Kaye (“Special Rapporteur”), which he presented at the 32nd session of the Human Rights Council, which ended last week. The current report does not purport to offer comprehensive answers, but instead maps out the myriad of ways in which the private sector impacts upon freedom of expression in the digital age, the “regulatory ecosystem on the Internet”, and the legal and policy issues that deserve particular attention. Surprisingly, UN human rights bodies only began really grappling with the challenges of the Internet five years ago. In this period, there have been reports of the Special Rapporteur and his predecessor on encryption and anonymity tools, mass surveillance, and the Internet as well as a series of Human Rights Council and General Assembly resolutions on human rights on the Internet and the right to privacy in the digital age. Such texts have made the statement that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression” into a mantra. Against this backdrop, the current report is pioneering for several reasons.

II. Breaking new ground

First and foremost, the report is comprehensive in its mapping of the digital environment and related freedom of expression challenges. As the delegation of the Netherlands recognised, it is the “first full overview of all private actors in ICT whose actions impact freedom of expression and opinion”. The report disaggregates the “vast” and “overlapping” range of roles played by private sector actors in “organising, accessing, populating and regulating the Internet” and distinguishes certain pressing legal and policy issues, concerning content regulation, surveillance and digital security, transparency and remedies. In doing so, it identifies the array of private actors including telecommunications and Internet service providers, web hosting services, hardware firms, search engines and social media platforms, media companies, companies producing surveillance technologies and multi-stakeholder processes. It also, importantly, draws on examples from many countries around the world, including Sweden, Russia, Uruguay, Brazil, China, India, South Africa, Tanzania, the UK and the US.   Read the rest of this entry…

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UN Human Rights Committee Finds that Ireland’s Abortion Ban Violates the ICCPR

Published on June 13, 2016        Author: 

Last week the UN Human Rights Committee delivered an important decision in Mellet v. Ireland, finding that, as applied to the claimant, the Irish ban on abortion violated several articles of the ICCPR. This was because the ban extended even to pregnancies, like the claimant’s, where the foetus was diagnosed with a fatal abnormality, so that it would either die in utero or shortly after delivery. The claimant was thus forced by Irish law to choose between carrying the baby to term, knowing that it would inevitably die in her womb or immediately after birth, or having to travel to the UK to get an abortion. The claimant chose the latter option, at great personal expense and with a lot of pain and indignity along the way, including having the ashes of her baby unexpectedly delivered to her by courier a few weeks after the abortion.

The Committee was unanimous on the bottom line of the case, which is that the abortion ban, as applied to the claimant, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in violation of Article 7 of the Covenant, as well as a violation of her right to privacy under Article 17 of the Covenant. While the reasoning of the Committee is at times laconic (as is unfortunately the norm with its views), the basic idea behind the decision was essentially that even if the claimant’s rights were subject to an implicit or explicit balancing exercise, in light of the fact that her unborn child would inevitably die there was nothing to balance with the intrusions into her own interests. In other words, Irish law forced her to endure significant suffering for no real purpose, since the unborn child would die anyway.

The Committee’s views in this case are thus confined to its specific circumstances; it has not created a right to abortion on demand or asked Ireland to liberalize access to abortion fully, but to (at the very least) create an exception to its ban that would accommodate women in the claimant’s situation. The main problem here is that the Irish abortion ban stems from a constitutional provision, which was interpreted by the Irish Supreme Court as only allowing for an exception if there is real risk to the life, but not to the health, of the mother. Ireland can thus comply with the Committee’s recommendation only if the Supreme Court revisits the issue and carves out another exception, or if the Constitution itself is amended, which requires a popular referendum. In other words, this is one of those rare cases where domestic constitutional provisions as authoritatively interpreted by domestic courts are themselves violative of international human rights law; this does not change anything as a matter of international law, but clearly it creates specific political challenges for compliance (cf. the Sejdic and Finci judgment of the Strasbourg Court). See more on this point in this post by Fiona de Londras on the Human Rights in Ireland blog; this post by Mairead Enright has more analysis of the Committee’s decision.

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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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