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Home Archive for category "Human Rights" (Page 5)

The Situation of the Rohingya: Is there a role for the International Court of Justice?

Published on November 14, 2018        Author: 
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In April 2017, the UN Human Rights Council established the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar to investigate alleged human rights abuses by military and security forces. The Fact-Finding Mission issued an initial summary reportin August 2018, followed by a 444-page report of detailed findingsin September.

Among other things, the Fact-Finding Mission found that after an armed group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army launched a series of small-scale attacks against government military outposts on 25 August 2017, a government campaign aimed at Rohingya communities in Rakhine State resulted in at least 10,000 deaths and caused 725,000 Rohingya to flee, mainly to neighbouring Bangladesh. The Myanmar authorities termed their actions “clearance operations” meant to eliminate a terrorist threat. The Fact-Finding Mission described a campaign of indiscriminate killing and maiming, rampant sexual violence, and widespread destruction of Rohingya villages—a “human rights catastrophe”, but one long in the making because of a history of state-sanctioned discrimination against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in a predominantly Buddhist country.

The Fact-Finding Mission (which Myanmar refused to admit into its territory) concluded that the actions of Myanmar’s forces constituted crimes against humanity and war crimes. It also found sufficient evidence to warrant the investigation and prosecution of senior officials for the crime of genocide. Among other recommendations, the Fact-Finding Mission urged the UN Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) (Myanmar is not a party to the Rome Statute) or to establish an ad hoc international criminal tribunal. (After the Fact-Finding Mission issued its August report, a Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC determinedthat the ICC has jurisdiction over the alleged deportation of Rohingya individuals from Myanmar to Bangladesh, and possibly over additional other crimes; ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has since announceda preliminary examination into the situation.) The Fact-Finding Mission also recommended targeted sanctions against government officials and an arms embargo. The Chair of the Fact-Finding Mission, Marzuki Darusman, addressed the Security Council last month (over the objections of China and Russia) to reiterate these conclusions. In the meantime, the UN Human Rights Council responded by establishing a mechanismto collect and preserve evidence of international law violations in Myanmar (discussed here).

The emphasis of the Fact-Finding Mission and the UN Human Rights Council on individual criminal accountability is unsurprising. Many other fact-finding missions and commissions of inquiry that have investigated large-scale human rights violations have been similarly focused—a reflection of the extent to which international criminal law has become the central or even dominant narrative of the international response to so many crises. Indeed, advocacy groups have long campaigned for an ICC-focused response to the Rohingya crisis, alongside the urgent need to provide humanitarian assistance to the thousands of Rohingya refugees now living in difficult conditions in camps across the border in Bangladesh. (A dealnegotiated by UNHCR and UNDP with Myanmar in May 2018 to facilitate the repatriation of the Rohingya has been widely criticizedand remains unimplemented.)

The increased focus on Myanmar in 2018 is to be welcomed. UN officials and some governments have already characterized the conduct of the Myanmar authorities as acts of genocide (see herehere, here, and here), and the reputation and credibility of Myanmar’s de facto leader, the Nobel peace laureate Aung Sung Suu Kyi, has seen a rapid and precipitous decline (see here, here, and here). Yet amidst all of these developments, the almost singular focus on an international criminal justice response to the plight of the Rohingya is striking. The idea of seeking legal accountability at the level of State responsibility has gone largely unmentioned, a further example of what Laurel Fletcher has called the “effacement of state accountability for international crimes”. In that vein, the remainder of this post will consider the prospects for a case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Read the rest of this entry…

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Reforming Land Restitution – A Concerted Effort to Derail Colombia’s Transitional Justice System?

Published on November 2, 2018        Author: 
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Recently, Kai Ambos alerted readers of two attempts to weaken Colombia’s transitional justice system (see here and here). A third development fortifies suspicions that the country’s newly elected government intends to derail it. This time, a legislative proposal threatens Colombia’s land restitution process. Changes in the treatment of secondary occupants of reclaimed land could especially frustrate this integral part of the elaborate reparation efforts.  

Land Restitution in Colombia

The struggle over land has long been at the core of the Colombian conflict. With 7.7 million people, Colombia hosts the world’s largest population of internally displaced persons. IDPs constitute the vast majority of the 8.7 million registered survivors of the armed conflict. Studies estimate that displacement has affected 11.4 million hectares of land. Accordingly, former President Santos included land restitution as a central element in the 2011 Law on Victims and Land Restitution – the largest reparation program in the world. To manage the massive caseload, a newly created entity, the Land Restitution Unit (Unidad de Restitución de Tierras, URT) administers a special three-phase restitution process. In the first administrative phase, the URT decides on a survivor’s request to have his or her land entered into the Register of Evacuated or Forcibly Abandoned Land (Registro de Tierras Despojadas y Abandonadas Forzosamente). The URT collects evidence and evaluates whether the survivor convincingly demonstrates his or her displacement and a legal relationship to the land they seek to reclaim. Once registered, the survivor proceeds to the judicial phase, in which a specialized judge decides the claim with finality. A positive sentence constitutes a legal title to the land. The judge can further order any measures necessary to guarantee an effective return to the restituted land in conditions respectful to the survivor’s human rights. Among these measures are debt relief, and technical and financial assistance for economic projects. In the post-sentence phase, the judge remains seized and can issue further orders if the survivor encounters problems in the return process.

Secondary Occupants

Of course, the process is not perfect. Read the rest of this entry…

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Legitimizing Blasphemy Laws Through the Backdoor: The European Court’s Judgment in E.S. v. Austria

Published on October 29, 2018        Author: 
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This past weekend Irish voters decided, by an overwhelming majority, to amend the Irish Constitution so as to decriminalize blasphemy. Just a few days before this referendum, however, a unanimous Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights gave its blessing to the criminalization of blasphemy, in all but name, in its judgment in E.S. v. Austria, no. 38450/12.

I have now read this judgment several times. Each time I read it I was left more disturbed. It applies the Court’s previous troubling precedents in this context – such as the notorious judgment in Otto-Preminger-Institut v. Austria – wholly uncritically, while even going beyond them in policing offensive speech. It unpersuasively tries to draw a distinction between blasphemy laws, which categorically impermissibly infringe on the freedom of speech, and the Austrian law at issue, as interpreted and applied by Austrian courts, which according to the Court strikes the right balance between the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion. As I will explain, the Court’s distinctions are essentially meaningless and incapable of being applied in any non-arbitrary way, leading us not to a slippery slope of a further erosion of free speech, but to a cliff. Its reasoning lacks rigour and fetishizes the national margin of appreciation. Worst of all, the judgment will likely do nothing to promote religious tolerance in Europe, but will only help to further the narrative of Islamophobic closet neo-Nazis (who are, by the way, already in power in Austria, and not for the first time) that they are free speech martyrs , victimized in their own country by horrible minorities, elites and human rights lawyers.

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The Duty to Investigate Civilian Deaths in Armed Conflict: Looking Beyond Criminal Investigations

Published on October 22, 2018        Author: 
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Writing in the Times last Friday, General David Petraeus, former commander of US Central Command, added his voice to the familiar refrain that ‘European human rights law’ has given rise to the ‘judicial pursuit of British soldiers and veterans’. Petraeus may be correct in stating that the British emphasis on criminal investigations would never obtain in the US, but looking at some of the legal issues behind his claims undercuts his assumption that ‘restoring the primacy of the law of armed conflict’ would remove scrutiny over the actions of military personnel on the battlefield.

A year after the winding up of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), the controversies over accountability for the UK’s military action in Iraq certainly show few signs of going away. Sections of the press continue to mount a vociferous campaign against the residual work of the Iraq Fatality Investigations (IFI), while calls for investigations into alleged civilian fatalities from more recent UK military action over Mosul are growing.

I reflected on this experience in the course of completing a chapter on international legal obligations to investigate civilian deaths for a new book just published, The Grey Zone: Civilian protection between human rights and the laws of war. The many years of investigations in the UK have arguably resulted in a failure either to deal effectively with outstanding allegations or to deliver justice to many Iraqi victims. This perception may of course be influenced by continuing political disagreement over international military action in Iraq, but it also stems from the particular approach the UK has taken to investigating violations, including the heavy reliance on criminal law. In the current generation of devastating air campaigns, what lessons can be learnt?

UK practice

Beside the need to address public concern about the conduct of military action in Iraq, UK practice on investigations has been driven largely by duties under the International Criminal Court Act 2001 and the Human Rights Act 1998.

The UK’s approach was established early in Iraq (and later applied to UK operations in Afghanistan), with all incidents involving civilian casualties being referred for investigation to the Service Investigation Branch of the Royal Military Police. Comparing US military investigations with those of other states in Naval Law Review in 2015, Commander Sylvaine Wong of the US Navy JAGC noted that the UK had, ‘as a matter of domestic policy, taken the most dramatic steps to rely solely on criminal law enforcement investigations for incidences of civilian casualties.’ Read the rest of this entry…

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The Spectre of Trexit: Proposal to Reintroduce the Death Penalty in Turkey

Published on October 10, 2018        Author: 
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On 1 October 2018, just ten days before the European and World Day against the Death Penalty, the only elected member of parliament of the BBP – a Turkish ultra nationalist party – submitted a draft legislation proposal to Parliament asking for the reintroduction of the death penalty in Turkey. The proposal reintroduces the death penalty for the murder of children and women through sexual means and for killings carried out as part of individual or organised acts of terrorism.

In its justification for the proposal, Burhan Ekinci, the MP in question, highlights the need to restore justice for victims of these hideous crimes, and the need to enhance the trust of the Turkish public in the fairness of the Turkish criminal justice system.  In his proposal, Ekinci argues there is no death penalty in Turkey because of ‘international agreements’ (in quotation marks) and what he labels ‘domestic dynamics’. Ekinci also expresses his disgust for the dishonesty of so-called humanism which, he claims, puts the rights of perpetrators above those of the victims of the most serious crimes. 

This proposal, of course, may not find support in the Turkish Parliament and fade away. Evidence, however, shows that the proposal should not be taken lightly. If it does succeed, it can be Turkey’s Trexit, ending Turkey’s long standing relationship with European institutions.

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An Exam Question on Diplomatic and Consular Law

Published on October 7, 2018        Author: 
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Kemal, a journalist and a national of the state of Azovia, is living in the state of Tiberia. One day he goes to the Azovian consulate in Kostantiniyye, a major Tiberian city, in order to obtain a divorce certificate, which he needs to marry his current fiancee. Kemal never emerges from the consulate. A few days later, Tiberian authorities publicly claim that Kemal was murdered by Azovian agents while he was in the consulate. The Azovian government denies these allegations. Assuming that the facts asserted by Tiberia are true, answer the following questions (in doing so, bear in mind that Azovia and Tiberia are both parties to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations; Tiberia is additionally a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Azovia is not):

(1) Is Azovia responsible for an internationally wrongful act or acts, and if so, which one?

(2) If Tiberia had obtained reliable intelligence that Kemal was about to be murdered in the Azovian consulate in Kostantiniyye, would it have been (i) obliged to or (ii) permitted under international law to forcibly enter the premises of the consulate in order to save Kemal’s life?

(3) Would your answer to question (2) be any different if Kemal was murdered/about to be murdered in the Azovian embassy to Tiberia, rather than in its consulate?

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An Independent Mechanism for Myanmar: A Turning Point in the Pursuit of Accountability for International Crimes

Published on October 1, 2018        Author: 
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Last week, the Human Rights Council voted to establish an “independent mechanism” to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyse evidence of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights in Myanmar.

To those following international efforts to bring perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide to justice, this watershed moment could herald a paradigm shift in how atrocities in situations such a Syria, Myanmar and Yemen are addressed.

The need for such a mechanism, at its core, stems from the need to bolster investigations and trials into the most serious crimes – both at the national and international levels.

Much has been written about the need to leverage the impact of the International Criminal Court in situations where it has jurisdiction, including a recent Human Rights Watch report, Pressure Point: The ICC’s Impact on National Justice – Lessons from Colombia, Georgia, Guinea, and the United Kingdom, which takes a stab at addressing this question.

The report proposes a range of measures by international partners of the International Criminal Court, international organizations, and civil society groups to assist national authorities to carry out effective prosecutions of international crimes, such as legislative assistance, capacity building, advocacy and political dialogue to counter obstruction.

These measures, however, overlook the more technical and evidentiary challenges that forestall national proceedings into war crimes and crimes against humanity. Most national judiciaries either lack the full capacity to conduct war crime trials in accordance with universally adopted standards, are too strapped for resources to comb through voluminous materials from human rights NGOs or victim groups regarding widespread atrocities, or lack the legal expertise to qualify criminal conduct as international crimes.

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Intelligence Sharing and the Right to Privacy after the European Court Judgment in Big Brother Watch v. UK

Published on September 24, 2018        Author: 
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On 13 September 2018, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in three consolidated cases brought by 14 human rights organisations and 2 individuals against the UK government’s mass interception program and its access to the intelligence gathered by other governments, including the United States (Big Brother Watch v. UK, nos. 58170/13, 62322/14, 24960/15.)

As noted already by Marko Milanovic, these cases are nuanced, complex, and long. I intend to focus here on one aspect, namely the way the Court assessed the intelligence sharing claim brought by the applicants (paras 416-449.) This assessment is noteworthy as that claim presents an issue of first impression for the Court. As the judgment itself notes, “this is the first time that the Court has been asked to consider the Convention compliance of an intelligence sharing regime” (para 416). (It is worth noting, however, that the recent judgment in Centrum för Rättvisa v. Sweden no. 35252/08 also touches upon this issue.)

The applicants’ intelligence sharing claim centred on the revelations, contained in disclosures by Edward Snowden, that the UK government has access to information collected by other foreign intelligence agencies, and most notably the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). In particular, these revelations suggest that the UK government has direct and unfettered access to raw data intercepted by other governments, which it can then filter, store, analyse and further disseminate. They further suggest that the UK government has similarly broad access to information stored in databases by other governments.

From a human rights law perspective, the fundamental question raised in this case is the nature of the interference and therefore the applicable test to apply to such interference. Read the rest of this entry…

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The ‘Security Council Route’ to the Derogation from Personal Head of State Immunity in the Al-Bashir Case: How Explicit must Security Council Resolutions be?

Published on September 19, 2018        Author: 
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Last week, the Appeals Court of the International Criminal Court (ICC, the Court) held hearings in relation to Jordan’s Appeal from a decision of Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) II holding that it has failed to cooperate with the Court in the arrest and surrender of Sudan’s President, Omar Al-Bashir. As is well known, Al-Bashir is presently subject to an ICC Arrest Warrant for committing war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur, following the referral of the situation by the Security Council (SC) to the Court. He has made a series official visits to Jordan and other states parties to the ICC Statute (the Rome Statute). However, none of those states has dared to arrest him to date. Their principal argument is that Al-Bashir enjoys personal immunities from foreign domestic jurisdiction under treaties and customary international law, that these are not covered by the removal of immunity in Art. 27(2) of the Rome Statute, and are thereby safeguarded by Art. 98 of the Statute.

The hearings, together with the Appeals Chamber’s decisions leading to them, represent a unique moment in the history of international criminal law for two main reasons. First, this is the first time in which the ICC has invited, accepted and heard submissions from leading international law scholars as amici curiae, as well as engaged in direct (and sometimes heated!) oral discussions with them. Secondly, some of the legal and policy issues discussed in the hearings are of fundamental importance to international criminal law and public international law in general. They include questions such as the extent of the SC’s powers, a possible customary international law exception to personal immunities before international criminal tribunals, and the practical importance of preserving such immunities for international peace and security. Thus, watching the hearings online has certainly kept some of us entranced during the entire week.

However, aside from the special role attached to academic commentary and from the systemic issues discussed in the hearings and in the written observations, one question seems to have been at the heart of the debates on Al-Bashir’s immunities. This question is whether the SC can implicitly derogate from personal immunities otherwise applicable under treaties or customary international law, or whether it must do so explicitly. Indeed, all parties and participants seem to agree that the SC has the power to displace personal immunities and other rules of treaty or general international law, except for jus cogens norms. Yet they disagree as to how clear the Council must be in order to do so. Read the rest of this entry…

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