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Passportisation: Risks for international law and stability – Part I

Published on May 9, 2019        Author: 

I. Fast track to Russian nationality

On 24 April 2019, the Russian President issued an Executive Order identifying groups of persons entitled to a “fast-track procedure” when applying for Russian citizenship otherwise regulated by the Russian Law on Citizenship (Federal Law No. 62-FZ of 31 May 2002). The decree facilitates the acquisition of Russian nationality by residents from various districts of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Lugansk regions, notably without taking residency in Russia. The regions border Russia and are struck by a military conflict between the central government and separatist forces under heavy involvement of Russia. On 1st May 2019, the President issued a second “Executive Order on Certain Categories of Foreign Citizens and Stateless Persons Entitled to a Fast-Track Procedure when Applying for Russian Citizenship”. The new fast track procedure is potentially open to around 4 million people living in the conflict area of Eastern Ukraine.

In the Security Council of 25 April 2019, the representative of the Russian Federation explained “that there is a high demand for Russian citizenship among people from south-eastern Ukraine whose living conditions Kyiv has made intolerable. In other words, Russia’s legislative initiative is a response to the aspirations of many thousands of people. It is not we who are forcing them to become Russian citizens but rather they themselves who desire it. We are simply providing them with an opportunity and significantly simplifying the process. (…) Why was it done? The conflict in Donbas has been going on for five years. For five years, the inhabitants of Donbas have been deprived of the ability to exercise their human rights and freedoms in Ukraine. They were denied the right to vote in the recent presidential elections.” “[T]he residents of Donetsk and Luhansk (…) have been deprived of income sources, pensions and benefits that other Ukrainian citizens are entitled to. They would not have survived without Russia (…). The people of Donetsk and Luhansk deserve to have reliable State care and social protection once again. (…) They are getting none of that from the Ukrainian Government, and we therefore felt compelled to offer them assistance.” (Vassily A. Nebenzia, Security Council 8516th meeting, Verbatim Record, UN Doc S/PV.8516, p. 15-16). The decrees might also respond to the Ukrainian draft language law which establishes Ukrainian as the language of the state and relegates Russian to a regional language (Bill №5670-d, reading in Parliament on 25 April 2019, not yet in force ).

The recently elected President of Ukraine spoke of “another unprecedented interference of the Russian Federation in the internal affairs of an independent state, a brutal violation of sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine and a complete trampling upon its obligations in the framework of the Minsk agreements. In addition, the Kremlin therefore deliberately and cynically violates international humanitarian law, which prohibits the occupation authorities from changing the citizenship of the inhabitants of the occupied territories.” (24 April 2019).

In the UN Security Council Meeting of 25 April 2019, numerous delegates criticised the Russian measures. The Slovak OSCE Chairmanship expressed “deep concern”.

The recent decrees inscribe themselves in an overall Russian policy of generously conferring its nationality on residents of those states which emerged from the break-up of the Soviet Union. In Crimea, an active Russian “passportisation” policy had allegedly been pursued since 1991, until the peninsula was annexed by Russia in 2014. In two breakaway territories of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, passportisation was rampant especially around 2002 (see the analysis in: Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia, Report (“Tagliavini Report”), vol. II, Chapter 3). Russia also offers easy Russian nationality to inhabitants of Transnistria (in Moldowa).

This two part-blogpost shows that the Russian “passportisation” policy (i.e. the policy of conferring Russian nationality en masse to persons residing outside Russia) is in many respects exorbitant and risks to violate various principles of international law. Part One examines the governing principles, Part Two balances these principles, applies them to the current case, and examines the legal consequences of  exorbitant naturalisations.  Read the rest of this entry…

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Corporate Responsibility for Human Rights Violations: UK Supreme Court Allows Zambian Communities to Pursue Civil Suit Against UK Domiciled Parent Company

Published on April 24, 2019        Author:  and

On 10 April 2019, the UK Supreme Court held unanimously, in Vedanta Resources PLC and another v Lungowe and others [2019] UKSC 20, that Vedanta Resources, a UK company, arguably owes a duty of care to villagers living in the vicinity of its Zambian subsidiary, Konkola Copper Mines Plc (KCM). Ruling on a procedural appeal, by upholding the jurisdiction of the UK courts, this landmark judgment allows the claimants, 1826 Zambian villagers, to pursue their case against both the parent and subsidiary companies in the UK. The core legal question, whether a parent company can be held accountable under civil law for human rights violations and environmental harm caused by its foreign subsidiary, is central to the ability of many victims of corporate human rights violations worldwide to access justice. The case provides an example of how public international law principles (such as those on corporate responsibility espoused in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs)) can be realised and achieved though domestic civil law.

Readers may be aware that three inter-related pillars underpin the UNGPs: first, the State duty to protect human rights; second, the corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and third, access to remedy. Relevantly, Guiding Principle 25, in Pillar III, reminds States to “take appropriate steps to ensure” that those affected by business-related human rights abuses within their territory and/or jurisdiction “have access to an effective remedy”. Principle 26 further identifies the need for States to ensure the effectiveness of these remedies, including by removing barriers that can lead to a denial to access to justice.

Two of the intervenors in this case (Corporate Responsibility Coalition Ltd (CORE) and the International Commission of Jurists) wrote a joint submission that sought to support the notion that Vedanta arguably owed a duty of care to the affected communities with reference to international standards and jurisprudence regarding corporate responsibility in relation to human rights and environmental protections. They pointed out that the UK Government explicitly:

stresses the importance of victims being able to secure access to justice in respect of wrongdoing by UK-based business enterprises both domestically and overseas, and indicates that such persons should have access to remedies through the judicial mechanisms of the UK itself.”

In particular, the Government publication Good Business: Implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (through which the UK advocates for the implementation of the UNGPs) notes that civil law claims are one remedial avenue in relation to human rights abuses committed overseas by corporations. The interveners further refer to a number of other international standards that aim to increase corporate accountability for human rights and environmental abuses. Robert McCorquodale, counsel representing the intervention of in the case, notes here of his disappointment that the Court did not refer to these international standards in its decision. But even without explicit reference, this case can surely be viewed as a step towards implementing the UNGPs with respect to access to justice, through its removal of obstacles for redress. The specifics of the court’s consideration of access to justice are canvassed in the sections below. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Murder of Jamal Khashoggi: Immunities, Inviolability and the Human Right to Life – Part V: Conclusion

Published on April 18, 2019        Author: 

The murder of Jamal Khashoggi is in many respects a truly extraordinary case. But it is by no means unique – authoritarian states assassinate journalists and political dissidents with some frequency. The use of consular premises as the scene of the killing is, of course, one special feature of this affair. And while diplomatic and consular privileges and immunities are abused all the time, this is not normally done in so spectacular a fashion.

What makes Khashoggi’s killing so fascinating from the standpoint of an international legal analysis is the interplay between the human right to life and the rules of diplomatic and consular law. However, as I have explained, most of the possible norm conflicts between immunities and the right to life could have been avoided in Khashoggi’s case. This is primarily because Khashoggi was killed on the premises of a consulate and not those of a diplomatic mission, and because consular privileges and immunities are significantly weaker than diplomatic ones.

It is therefore unclear why Turkey acted as if international law laid such obstacles in front of it, when in doing so it actually exposed itself to legal liability under IHRL for failing to effectively investigate Khashoggi’s death. There are several possible explanations. First, Turkey could have genuinely misunderstood the legal position, failing to appreciate the attenuated nature of consular immunities. The confusion of consular privileges and immunities with the more expansive diplomatic versions has certainly been pervasive in the coverage of the Khashoggi affair. In fact, in a speech in parliament President Erdogan lamented the fact that the ‘Vienna Convention’ – he did not specify which – inhibited the investigation through the ‘diplomatic immunity’ it provided for, commenting that it may need to be reviewed or revised.

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The Murder of Jamal Khashoggi: Immunities, Inviolability and the Human Right to Life – Part IV: After the Attack

Published on April 17, 2019        Author: 

Prior posts in this series examined the legal situation before and during the attack on Khashoggi; this one examines its aftermath. After Khashoggi’s death, the substantive negative and positive obligations were extinguished, but the positive procedural obligation to investigate his death was triggered for both Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Khashoggi was subject to the jurisdiction of both states at the moment of his death. Like the substantive positive obligation to protect life, the procedural obligation to investigate is also one of due diligence, i.e. it does not require the state to do the impossible, but only what could reasonably be expected of it in the circumstances. In other words, it is inherently flexible. Investigations into allegations of violation of the right to life must always be independent, impartial, prompt, thorough, effective, credible and transparent, and in the event that a violation is found, full reparation must be provided.

It is manifest that Saudi Arabia is in violation of its procedural obligation to investigate Khashoggi’s death, on multiple grounds. Its agents covered up the evidence of the murder and actively obstructed Turkish efforts to investigate it. Its own internal investigation has lacked any transparency. It is obvious that Saudi law enforcement authorities have no real independence from the executive, the conduct of which they are supposed to be investigating, particularly with regard to the question of whether the crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s killing or knew that the operation would take place. It is equally obvious that the outcome of the Saudi trial of 11 unnamed individuals charged with Khashoggi’s death, which is shrouded in secrecy, is going to be determined by whatever the Saudi royals want the judges to say rather than by any kind of genuine pursuit for the truth.

In short, there is simply no doubt that Saudi Arabia is in violation of the procedural limb of the right to life. The position of Turkey is, of course, very different. As a general matter Turkish authorities have demonstrated willingness to effectively investigate Khashoggi’s death, and indeed much of what we know of his killing is directly the product of their investigative efforts. Had Turkey wanted to be complicit in the Saudi cover-up of the murder, it easily could have been, but it chose differently.

That said, the work of the Turkish investigators has also been subject to considerations of high politics. In particular, it has been limited and will be limited by whatever goals President Erdogan – no huge champion of the freedom of the press or human rights more generally – wishes to achieve in his management of the Khashoggi affair. And there are a number of specific decisions made by Turkish authorities that are at the very least arguably inconsistent with Turkey’s obligation under the ECHR and the ICCPR to effectively investigate Khashoggi’s death: (1) allowing the members of the Saudi hit-team to leave Turkey; (2) allowing the Saudi consul-general to leave Turkey; (3) delaying the search of the premises of the consulate; (4) delaying the search of the residence of the consul-general; (5) possible issues with searches of the consulate’s vehicles.

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The Murder of Jamal Khashoggi: Immunities, Inviolability and the Human Right to Life – Part III: During the Attack

Published on April 17, 2019        Author: 

The previous post in the series looked at the situation that preceded the attack on Khashoggi by Saudi agents; in this one we move to the time of the attack itself. Saudi Arabia’s violation of its obligation not to deprive individuals arbitrarily of their life under Article 5 of the Arab Charter and customary IHRL is manifest, in the sense that Saudi Arabia could not offer any kind of justification for Khashoggi’s killing that could be regarded as even potentially legitimate from the standpoint of the right to life. What is not obvious, however, is whether the Charter and the relevant customary rule even applied to Khashoggi, i.e. that they protected him while he was located outside Saudi territory.

Extraterritoriality

This is again a question of extraterritorial application, but this time of the negative obligation to refrain from using lethal force without justification. And this is a question that is in no way unique to the Khashoggi killing. We have confronted it repeatedly in the past couple of decades, whether in the context of the use of lethal force in armed conflict or in plain or not-so-plain state-sponsored assassinations. From drone strikes in the war on terror, to the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan by US special forces, to the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko and the attempted assassination of Sergei and Yulia Skripal by Russian secret agents, to the killing of Kim Jong-nam in Malaysia on the orders of his half-brother, the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un – all of these cases raise the fundamental threshold question of whether the target of the use of force is protected by human rights law at all. As a general matter, powerful states have been reluctant to accept that human rights treaties would apply to kinetic uses of force outside their territory, especially in areas not within their control, because they tend to see IHRL as an excessive constraint on their freedom of action.

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The Murder of Jamal Khashoggi: Immunities, Inviolability and the Human Right to Life – Part II: Before the Attack

Published on April 16, 2019        Author: 

This post will examine the legal situation before the attack on Khashoggi had materialized. The main obligation of Saudi Arabia in that regard is the same as the one during the attack itself, the negative obligation to refrain from arbitrary deprivations of life, and I will therefore address it in the next post in the series. Here, however, I will look at the positive obligation to protect Khashoggi’s right to life on the part of the United States and Turkey.

The duty to protect life

Three basic questions need to be answered with regard to the positive obligation to protect an individual. First, at what point does it arise, i.e. what is its scope of application. Second, once that threshold is crossed, what is the standard of conduct expected of the protecting state. Third, whether on the facts the state acted accordingly, with due diligence, taking all reasonable steps it could have been expected to take. Human rights bodies have extensively dealt with these questions in their case law, e.g. in the Osman jurisprudence of the ECtHR and recently by the Human Rights Committee in its General Comment 36. The threshold and the standard of conduct issues both require that a balance be struck between, on the one hand, the need for states to act affirmatively to protect the life of individuals from third parties, and, on the other hand, the need to avoid imposing unrealistic and excessive burdens on states.

Threshold inquiry: foreseeability of the threat

On the facts of Khashoggi’s killing, therefore, the first question is whether either the United States or Turkey knew, or ought to have known, of a real and immediate risk to Khashoggi’s life at the hands of the government of Saudi Arabia. Was, in other words, the threat to Khashoggi’s life reasonably foreseeable to either state? The threshold standard does not require actual knowledge or certainty of such a threat; it is an assessment of risk. This assessment will necessarily be contextual, and will always depend on (1) the information the state actually had in its possession at the relevant time and (2) information that it did not possess but could have obtained as a reasonable follow-up from the information it did actually already have.

The issue, therefore, is what the United States and Turkey knew about the Saudi threat against Khashoggi’s life, and when they obtained such information. Obviously, any appraisal of what these governments actually knew can at this moment only be tentative and incomplete, in the absence of some kind of investigatory process, whether internal or external, in that regard. That said, as far as we are able to understand this today, what did the two governments actually know?

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The Murder of Jamal Khashoggi: Immunities, Inviolability and the Human Right to Life – Part I: Introduction

Published on April 16, 2019        Author: 

On 2 October 2018, Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi journalist residing in the United States, where he was a columnist for the Washington Post, was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. He was visiting the consulate to obtain a certificate of divorce from his former wife, so that he could proceed to marry his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, who was waiting for him in a car outside the consulate. According to media reports relying on the findings of the governments of Turkey and the United States, Khashoggi was killed by Saudi agents and his body was then dismembered with a bone saw; his remains are yet to be found.

It has now been six months since Khashoggi’s killing. Saudi Arabia is conducting a secret trial of 11 individuals accused of his murder; the trial is widely regarded as an attempt to whitewash the involvement in the killing of the highest levels of the Saudi government. The UN Special Rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, has launched an investigation into Kashoggi’s death as part of her mandate; as of the time of writing, she has published a set of preliminary observations and plans to submit a final report to the UN Human Rights Council in June. Her report, based inter alia on a field visit to Turkey, concluded (paras. 10 and 7) that the evidence ‘demonstrates a prime facie case that Mr. Khashoggi was the victim of a brutal and premeditated killing, planned and perpetrated by officials of the State of Saudi Arabia and others acting under the direction of these State agents,’ a ‘grave violation’ of the human right to life.

Some legal issues that arise in that regard are trivial, even if they are politically extremely controversial. For example, it is legally irrelevant whether, in fact, the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s death or not. Per the customary rule codified in Article 7 of the ILC Articles on State Responsibility, Saudi Arabia incurs state responsibility for an internationally wrongful act committed by its organs acting in their official capacity, such as intelligence and state security officials, even if that act was committed ultra vires. Whether the crown prince’s underlings exceeded his orders or failed to inform him of the supposedly unauthorized operation – which involved a team of 15 agents, including a forensics expert specializing in rapid dissections, and two private jets – simply does not affect the attribution of, and hence responsibility for, the operation to Saudi Arabia.

It is similarly unquestionable, as Steve Ratner explained on Lawfare, that the Saudi operation against Khashoggi was a violation of Turkey’s sovereignty and of its rights under diplomatic and consular law. But while condemning Saudi Arabia for these violations would be both right and without difficulty, for international law to care only about the violations of the rights of the state in which he was killed would also profoundly fail to legally capture our sense of moral outrage over Khashoggi’s death. In addition to any criminal responsibility that may exist under either Turkish or Saudi domestic law, the most serious violation of international law at stake here is that of Khashoggi’s human right to life, and an attempt – ultimately unsuccessful due to the operation’s public exposure – to forcibly disappear him. This violation is compounded by that of the freedom of expression, since the reason for Khashoggi’s killing was his speech critical of the Saudi regime, and that of the prohibition of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment regarding Khashoggi’s next of kin, due to the manner of his killing and the desecration and disappearance of his corpse.

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The Assange case and the UK’s global defence of media freedom

Published on April 15, 2019        Author: 

Human rights advocates often point to the lack of consistency and coherence between states’ stated commitments, on the one hand, and their actions, on the other. Even then, the tensions surrounding the UK’s recent approach to the goal of protecting media freedom globally and its projection seem striking.

Within less than a week, the UK government has gone from showcasing its new campaign to defend media freedom – specifically the appointment of the Foreign Secretary’s Special Envoy and a panel of legal experts “to support countries to repeal outdated and draconian laws and strengthen legal mechanisms to protect journalists”, as well as an international conference to be held in London on 10 and 11 July, co-hosted with the Canadian government (on 5 April) – to facing a chorus of warnings from wide range of human rights organisations, authorities and activists  – including the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Knight First Amendment Institute, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, and Pentagon Papers whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg – that the UK’s possible extradition of Julian Assange to the United States to face, at the moment, a single charge of conspiracy “to commit computer intrusion” would pose a threat the lawful and legitimate activity of journalists, especially their communications with their sources, setting a “dangerous precedent” for the future prosecution of “legacy” news media organisations.

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Drėlingas v. Lithuania (ECHR): Ethno-Political Genocide Confirmed?

Published on April 15, 2019        Author: 

The European Court of Human Rights on 12th of March issued a judgment in the case of Drėlingas v. Lithuania (Application no. 28859/16). The case at the ECHR was considered under Article 7 and focused on the principle of nullum crimen sine lege. However, in broader terms this case dealt with the definition of genocide, and the protected group issue in particular. This judgement continues a series of judgements related to Soviet mass repressions in the Baltic States after they were occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union and “sovietised” in a most brutal way from 1940 up to Stalin’s death in 1953. In fact, this case is a continuation of the case Vasiliauskas v. Lithuania (Application no. 35343/05), discussed on this blog previously

The main facts of the Drėlingas case are as follows: Drėlingas was an operative of the soviet repression structures (MGB/KGB) and in 1956 he participated in the arrest of one of the most famous anti-soviet armed resistance (partisans) leaders – A. R. (nome de guerre “Vanagas”) and his wife B. M. “Vanda”. After being captured, Vanagas was horribly tortured, maimed, then tried by the Soviet court and eventually executed, his wife was deported to Siberia. These events happened after the active armed resistance was almost over, while Vanagas and his wife were still on the run. After restoring Lithuania’s independence in 1990, Drėlingas was put on trial in 2014 and sentenced for his participation in genocide, as an accessory to the crime.

The last sentence perhaps needs further explanation. Back in the 1990s, Lithuania was one of a handful of countries that adopted a broader definition of genocide in its national laws; it included political and social groups together with national, ethnic, racial and religious. The main aim of this was to address the historic Soviet crimes. However, it soon became clear that the direct inclusion of political and social groups in the genocide definition created a conflict with the internationally accepted definition of genocide. Another approach was needed, and it was tested in the case of Vasiliauskas (mentioned above). Read the rest of this entry…

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Germany and its Involvement in the US Drone Programme before German Administrative Courts

Published on April 8, 2019        Author: 

On 19th March 2019, the German Higher Administrative Court for North Rhine-Westphalia rendered a highly interesting and important judgment. It addresses no less than the compatibility of US drone strikes in Yemen with international law, the role of domestic courts with regard to international law, and the scope – and limits – of judicial review in foreign affairs.

The case was brought by Yemeni claimants against Germany for its alleged involvement in the US drone programme. While Germany neither publicly supports nor actively participates in the US drone programme, it is nearly undisputed that the US Air Base in Ramstein, Germany, plays a vital role therein (see here). The Court held that, first, Germany is constitutionally obliged to ascertain that the US drone strikes conducted via Ramstein are compatible with international law. Secondly, in case the government finds the US practice to be legally contentious, German authorities have to take efforts in order to ensure that international law is complied with.

The full reasoning of the decision is not yet available in writing, but the press release (see here for an unofficial English translation) and the transcript of the oral pronouncement of the decision (see here) allow for some preliminary remarks. (Note that the Higher Administrative Court on the same day rendered a second judgment that concerned US drone strikes, albeit in Somalia (see here). This contribution, however, focuses on the “Yemen case”.)

The Facts

In 2012, Salem bin Ali Jaber, a Yemeni imam known for openly criticising Al Qaeda was invited to deliver a sermon at the local mosque of Khashamir, Yemen, where he attended a family wedding. In that course he was approached by three members of Al Qaeda requesting a meeting. Salem asked his relative, and local police officer, Waleed to accompany him. Shortly after the meeting commenced, US drones fired a series of four Hellfire rockets on the group killing both Salem and Waleed bin Ali Jaber as well as the three Al Qaeda members.

This prompted Read the rest of this entry…

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