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The Risk and Opportunity of the Humanisation of International Anti-Corruption Law: A Rejoinder to Kevin E. Davis and Franco Peirone

Published on February 18, 2019        Author: 
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Editor’s note: In the EJIL: Debate! section of the latest issue of EJIL (Vol. 29 (2018) No. 4), Anne Peters presents her provocative and disrupting idea of corruption as a violation of international human rights. Kevin Davis and Franco Peirone respond to this challenging thesis and Anne Peters rejoins in this post. 

1. Doctrine and Policy

The two comments on my article “Corruption as a Violation of International Human Rights” challenge various elements of both the doctrinal analysis and the normative assessment. I had developed and defended two propositions: First, corrupt acts or omissions can under certain conditions technically be qualified as violating international human rights (notably social rights), although the difficulty to establish causality remains the most important doctrinal obstacle. Second, I argued normatively that the principal added value of a reconceptualization of corruption as a human rights violation is to offer complementary forums for redress, notably the international human rights mechanisms.

The two commentators raise very valuable points for which I am thankful. In this rejoinder, I focus only on two arguments which appear in both comments. Their first critical observation relates to the doctrinal analysis and to the problem of causation. Franco Peirone finds that “[t]he idea of identifying citizens as victims of corruption in a one-to-one relationship with the state is particularly problematic”, and he asks: “How is it possible to maintain that an individual has suffered a human rights violation because of state corruption?“ Along the same line, Kevin E. Davis points out that if a:

“national health care system is so underfunded that the state has clearly failed to satisfy its obligation to fulfil the right to health [, t]his does not necessarily mean that corruption is the cause of the human rights violation. For instance, it is possible that, if the funds had not been diverted, they would have been allocated to the military or to higher education. In this case, it cannot be said that the corruption has caused the failure to realize the right.”

The second critique relates to my policy assessment. Both commentators point out that the human rights sanctions and state responsibility for human rights violations will ultimately burden members of the general population of the corrupt state (as opposed to the criminal individual, e.g. bribe-taker or receiver of kick-backs). Read the rest of this entry…

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New EJIL: Live! Interview with Dr Veronika Fikfak

Published on February 15, 2019        Author: 
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In this episode of EJIL: Live! the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal, Professor Joseph Weiler, speaks with Dr Veronika Fikfak, Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Cambridge, whose article “Changing State Behaviour: Damages before the European Court of Human Rights”, appears in EJIL’s 29:4 issue.

In her pioneering article, Dr Fikfak analyses the ECtHR’s practice of awarding damages. She and a team of researchers spent three years coding 12,000 decisions of the Court, seeking to understand which variables in a case – relating to the victim, the state and the events that occurred – affect the amount of damages awarded and subsequent compliance. In this conversation Dr Fikfak talks about her motivation for undertaking this study, the premises upon which it is based and the surprising results that emerged. The interview was recorded at the IE Law School, Madrid.

EJIL: Live! is the official podcast of the European Journal of International Law (EJIL), one of the world’s leading international law journals. Regular episodes of EJIL: Live! are released following the publication of each quarterly issue of the Journal, and include interviews with the authors of articles appearing in that issue as well as news and reviews when possible. Additional episodes, EJIL: Live! Extras, are also released from time to time to address a range of topical issues. Episodes of EJIL: Live! can be accessed via the EJIL website and this blog. Comments and reactions to EJIL:Live! episodes are welcome, and may be submitted below. 

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A Positive Take on the Legacy of the 1978 Judgment in Ireland v. United Kingdom

Published on February 7, 2019        Author: 
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In September 2018, a request by the Irish Government to refer the Ireland v. United Kingdom revision case to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) was refused, closing a door that had been reopened after forty years. The fact that the ECtHR arrived at a finding of inhuman and degrading treatment ‘only’ has been maligned. In this post, I’d like to highlight an alternative perspective and suggest that this judgment elevated the gravity of the ‘other’ forms of treatment and set in motion a pioneering approach to the interpretation of Article 3 ECHR.

Subsequent to the Chamber judgment in March 2018, there was much debate (including in this blog) about whether the ECtHR should have revised its 1978 finding of inhuman and degrading treatment in light of the additional evidence. Some have supported the ECtHR’s exercise of restraint in the use of its exceptional revision powers under Rule 80 of the Rules of Court, pointing out the need for legal certainty. Others have critiqued the Court’s approach to the new evidence or have lamented the Court’s failure to follow the European Commission on Human Rights’ finding of torture, opening the door to manipulation of the torture-versus-ill-treatment distinction. All have opined that the facts of the case would give rise to a finding of torture today.

A further commonality across the commentary is that all refer to the finding of inhuman and degrading treatment ‘only’. The 2018 judgment itself describes the applicant Government’s request for the Court to find that the ‘five techniques’ ‘amounted to a practice not merely of inhuman and degrading treatment but of torture within the meaning of Article 3 of the Convention’ (para. 8). In the context of these debates, and the revision request itself, the distinction between torture and inhuman and degrading treatment ‘only’ has been amplified. That is, there is a pervasive and implicit sense that inhuman and degrading treatment is in some way not as bad as torture. In 2018, as was observed in 1978, the Court’s failure to arrive at a finding of torture overshadowed the finding of inhuman and degrading treatment. Read the rest of this entry…

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WTO Dispute on the US Human Rights Sanctions is Looming on the Horizon

Published on January 31, 2019        Author: 
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At the turn of the year, Venezuela initiated a WTO dispute with the United States. In a nutshell, Venezuela questions WTO-consistency of a number of coercive trade-restrictive measures (economic sanctions) imposed by the United States. Some of those restrictions were allegedly imposed on the human rights grounds.

US sanctions against Venezuela

The United States has been consistently imposing trade-restrictive measures against Venezuela, yet none of them has ever been challenged at the WTO. Most likely, the last wave of such restrictions is a spark that lit the fuse. In recent years, the Trump Administration introduced additional restrictions on Venezuela’s financial sector, leaving the country’s finances in shambles, as well as sanctions directed against the country’s gold sector. According to the media reports published in January 2019, the United States considers even tougher sanctions, particularly the ones that can impede Venezuela’s oil industry.

Human rights sanctions against Venezuela

The United States is notorious for its practice of economic coercion, which has been debated at length within the international community. Economic measures imposed to promote human rights entered the US foreign policy agenda under President Carter. In the following decades, the US has made ample use of them. 

In December 2014, the US Congress enacted the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014. The enactment of the act was triggered by a number of events, particularly by the deteriorated living standards and the violent crackdown on the anti-government protesters. The act authorizes the President to impose various targeted sanctions, – sanctions against current or former government officials responsible for acts of violence or serious human rights abuses against protesters. The ambit of such sanctions includes blocking of assets of the designated individuals as well as travel restrictions. In pursuit of its authority, President Obama declared the national emergency in respect of the situation in Venezuela and issued an Executive Order 13692 of March 8, 2015, which implements the aforesaid human rights sanctions.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Liability of an Assisting Army for Detainee Abuse by Local Forces: The Danish High Court Judgment in Green Desert

Published on January 24, 2019        Author:  and
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This comment sets out to discuss the judgment of the Danish High Court (Eastern Division) in what is known as the Iraq or Green Desert Case (B344808J – HBJ). The judgment, delivered in June 2018 and available in Danish only, has received limited attention outside Denmark. It is significant in that it establishes liability for Danish forces for ill-treatment of Iraqi detainees by Iraqi security forces, in circumstances in which Danish forces were found not to have taken part in the arrests and subsequent abuse of detainees, nor to have exercised command over Iraqi forces. Danish forces had only ‘coordinating authority’ which did not permit the issuing of orders to Iraqi forces. Liability was nonetheless established on the basis that, at the time of the decision to take part in this joint military operation (‘Operation Green Desert’) in November 2004, the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the Defence Command or the Danish Battalion should have known that there was ‘a real risk that persons detained during the operation would be subject to inhuman treatment in Iraqi custody during the further investigation’ (810-11). The MoD has appealed the decision, but at the time of writing the Supreme Court was yet to schedule a hearing date.

The claimants had submitted that, in light of Article 3 ECHR, the MoD was obliged to conduct a new independent investigation, but the Court rejected the applicant’s request, arguing that such an investigation was not likely to bring about relevant new information.

Taking into account the nature of the abuses and the fact that these were not perpetrated by Danish forces, the Court found that the compensation should be set at 30,000 DKK (appr. 4,000 EUR) each for 18 of the 23 claimants (5 claimants were not awarded compensation).

Having set out key aspects of the judgment, we examine if the judgment is likely to have ramifications for how Denmark will approach joint military operations in Iraq and elsewhere in the future. We also highlight some parallels with civil proceedings in the UK arising from the Iraq War. Read the rest of this entry…

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Holding States to Account for Gender-Based Violence: The Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ decisions in López Soto vs Venezuela and Women Victims of Sexual Torture in Atenco vs Mexico

Published on January 21, 2019        Author: 
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In two recent decisions, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) has affirmed the existing binding obligations of States to address gender-based violence against women by State and non-State actors. The López Soto vs Venezuela decision (published in November 2018) is the IACtHR’s first ruling on State responsibility for acts of sexual torture and sexual slavery by a private actor and its first case for gender-based violence against Venezuela. The Women Victims of Sexual Torture in Atenco vs Mexico decision (published in December 2018) sets out the State obligations in cases of sexual torture by state security forces. Both rulings build on the IACtHR’s prior gender jurisprudence and set important new precedents by providing detailed content to the duties of due diligence and by explaining the circumstances in which States can be held liable for breaching them.

The López Soto vs Venezuela case examines the circumstances in which acts of gender-based violence by private actors can be attributed to the State. In 2001, a well-connected private individual kidnapped Linda Loaiza López Soto, then 18 years old, in Caracas, Venezuela, holding her hostage for over three months. During her captivity, she was brutally tortured, raped and humiliated. In her February 2018 testimony before the IACtHR, she provided a harrowing account of the sadistic abuse she endured, the multiple surgeries she underwent for her injuries following her rescue, and the lasting impact of these injuries. López Soto brought her case before the IACtHR after domestic authorities failed to duly investigate and prosecute the crimes, convicting her abductor of lesser charges.

The Court focused its analysis on two contentious issues: (1) whether the conduct of a private actor could be attributed to Venezuela; and (2) whether this conduct amounted to torture and sexual slavery under international law, as argued by the plaintiff. Read the rest of this entry…

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Joint Blog Series on International Law and Armed Conflict: Better Safe Than Sorry: Transferring Detainees Safely to Coalition Partners

Published on January 19, 2019        Author: 
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The third post in our joint series hosted by the ICRC Humanitarian Law & Policy BlogEJIL Talk! and Lawfare, and arising out of the 6th Transatlantic Workshop on International Law and Armed Conflict, “Better Safe Than Sorry: Transferring Detainees Safely to Coalition Partners” by Tilman Rodenhäuser (ICRC) is available now over on Lawfare.

Here’s a taster of Tilman’s post:

Faithful application of the principle of non-refoulement can mean that it is not possible to lawfully transfer a person to another authority—for instance when the recipient authority is notorious for torturing or otherwise ill-treating detainees, or for executing them without fair trial. Practically, this means that the international forces are stuck with the detainee during extraterritorial operations. Short-term solutions in such situations include keeping a detainee in accordance with applicable procedural safeguards, finding an alternative authority to which transfers are lawful, or releasing the detainee. For longer-term solutions, states should work more systematically with partners to ensure humane treatment of detainees, including through assisting in developing necessary rules and procedures, training partner forces, or jointly managing certain detention facilities.

In light of the various legal and operational challenges that extraterritorial detention may entail, it could seem tempting to avoid taking prisoners at all, for instance by conducting “partnered operations” in which only local partners take detainees.

Read the rest of Tilman’s post over on Lawfare.

Other posts in the series:

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The UN Human Rights Committee Disagrees with the European Court of Human Rights Again: The Right to Manifest Religion by Wearing a Burqa

Published on January 3, 2019        Author: 
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It is perhaps unsurprising to observers of the UN Human Rights Committee’s (HRC) jurisprudence that in the recent decisions of Yaker v France and Hebbadi v France, the HRC came to the opposite conclusion to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) regarding the compatibility of the so-called ‘French burqa ban’ with the right to manifest religion. In SAS v France, the ECtHR had found that although the French Loi no 2010–1192 interdisant la dissimulation du visage dans l’espace public of 11 October 2010, JO 12 October 2010 (herein after the ‘burqa ban’) interfered with the right to manifest religion, it did not constitute a violation of article 9 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) as it pursued the legitimate aim of ‘living together’ and fell within the State’s margin of appreciation (see my earlier post on this case). In contrast, in Yaker and Hebaddi, the HRC found that the same law violated not only article 18, the right to thought, conscience and religion, but also article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the right to equality before the law.

The HRC’s freedom of religion or belief jurisprudence has consistently diverged from that of the ECtHR when the right to manifest religion by wearing religious clothing is at issue. Both bodies have heard directly analogous cases, but while the HRC has found that restrictions on religious clothing justified by reference to either secularism or public order violate article 18 ICCPR, the ECtHR has deferred to the State’s margin of appreciation and declined to find a violation (see my earlier post on this blog). As a result, the HRC’s decisions in Yaker and Hebbadi were not entirely unexpected, especially as in its Concluding Observations on the fifth periodic report of France in 2015, the HRC had expressed ‘the view that these laws [including the burqa ban] infringe the freedom to express one’s religion or belief and that they have a disproportionate impact on members of specific religions and on girls’ (para 22). However, its decision in these cases remains noteworthy as a result of: its consideration of ‘living together’ as a legitimate aim under the article 18(3) ICCPR limitations clause; the HRC’s recognition that the burqa ban constituted intersectional discrimination; and the nuanced approach adopted to the gender equality argument. The analysis here will focus on Yaker, although the HRC’s reasoning in both cases is identical. Read the rest of this entry…

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A Quick Holiday Update on Ukraine/Russia Litigation before the ECtHR

Published on December 24, 2018        Author: 
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Last week the European Court of Human Rights published a press release which is worth flagging for readers, with an update on litigation concerning various aspects of the conflict in Ukraine pending before it. As things stand, there are more than 4000 individual cases before the Court with a nexus to the conflict, whether in Eastern Ukraine or Crimea. There are currently five pending interstate cases between Ukraine and Russia, the latest one filed in November, concerning the Kerch Strait incident (see this prior post by James Kraska) and in which the Court has indicted interim measures. The Court has now decided to adjourn many of the individual cases, pending its decision in the interstate cases on the applicability of the Convention, specifically with regard to the Article 1 ECHR jurisdiction of both Ukraine and Russia; for a discussion of this issue, see my recent ICLQ article with Tatjana Papic on the applicability of the ECHR in contested territories.

The full press release is reproduced below.

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In the name of the European Club of Liberal Democracies: How to Evaluate the Strasbourg Jurisprudence

Published on December 20, 2018        Author: 
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How should the European Court of Human Rights be reformed? Para. 41 of the Copenhagen Declaration of April 2018 seeks to scrutinise, for this purpose, recent developments in its jurisprudence, to decide, before the end of 2019, on further reform (para. 5 Copenhagen Declaration). What is a meaningful idea for such scrutiny? This post provides a legal reconstruction of the Court with respect to who it represents and in whose name it decides, that is in the name of the European club of liberal democracies. From here on, it flags the identity crisis of the club as the Court’s most important challenge. It also shows the procedural margin of appreciation doctrine as a possible path to the Court’s future, with a reformed role that focuses on the essentials of the club.

The focus “in whose name?”

An evaluation of the Court’s jurisprudence needs an idea of its democratic legitimacy, not least because it often confronts elected governments. The question, ‘in whose name’ the Strasbourg Court is deciding, evokes such an idea. Indeed, many national courts state right at the outset that they decide In the name of the people or the republic, whatever is conceived as the ultimate source of their legitimacy. Accordingly, most evaluations of domestic courts start from this premise.

In the judgements of the ECtHR, as those of any international court, nothing of that kind is written. So the question is what could feature in there as a short formula which provides a similar idea? One might consider referring to the Convention. It would then read In the name of the European Convention on Human Rights, as if a domestic court would start with In the name of the law. Yet, this is a step too short: the legitimacy does not stem from the law itself, but from its approval by parliament. Accordingly, the basis of the Court’s democratic legitimacy stems from the national ratifications of the Convention.

Hence, in a normal international controversy between two states, one could consider a court to decide In the name of the high contracting parties litigating before the court. But this makes little sense for the Strasbourg court: most controversies at the ECtHR are between a state and a national of that state. A different formula is needed. Read the rest of this entry…

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