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Home Archive for category "Human Rights" (Page 58)

Response to Alison MacDonald’s and Dapo Akande’s comments

Published on July 14, 2009        Author: 

We thank Alison MacDonald for her illuminating and extremely useful perspective on the developments in the approach of the British courts to adjudication based on international law. In many respects the changing attitude toward international law,  headed by the House of Lords under the unmistakable leadership of Lord Bingham, has provided an example for other national courts (NCs) to follow, starting in 2004 with the so-called Belmarsh Detainees judgment, that stunning 8-1 majority declaration that found the detention of foreign suspected terrorists incompatible with the Human Rights Act.  Such leadership is critical to change the status quo not only within a jurisdiction but also regionally and perhaps even globally (and no doubt, as MacDonald suggests, it facilitated a mutually reinforcing relationship between the House of Lords and the ECtHR).

Other useful observations of MacDonald’s that are worth highlighting include the reference to the Court of Appeal’s blend of interpretive biases as leading – as often is the case – to conceptual confusion (in this case between customary and conventional international law); the inclusion of the Divisional Court’s “bright line” rationale characterizing the division of responsibilities between domestic and international courts followed by a brief documentation of the principle’s growing impracticality and obsolescence, and the description of how NCs continue to emphasize the importance of continuity and their fealty to their traditional role even as they venture further and further into the international legal sphere. This is an excellent example of how low visibility, incremental change can achieve a great deal at relatively low political cost.

We thank Professor Akande for his thoughtful review of our main arguments presented in our recent EJIL essay. We reproduce a number of his points below and respond to each of them in turn. A fuller treatment of a number of the issues that Akande raises can be found in several of our recent publications in this area (see Benvenisti 2008, Benvenisti & Downs 2009, and Benvenisti & Downs forthcoming 2009). Read the rest of this entry…

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The European Court’s Admissibility Decision in Al-Saadoon

Published on July 3, 2009        Author: 

Today a Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights made public its admissibility decision in Al-Saadoon and Mufdhi v. United Kingdom, App. No. 61498/08, a very important case. In brief, the facts are these: the applicants were detained by UK forces in Iraq, and first complained to English courts, and then to the European Court, that their requested transfer to Iraqi authorities would violate the non-refoulement obligations of the UK, inter alia under Art. 2 ECHR, as there was a serious risk that they would be subjected to the death penalty. The first issue to be decided in the case is whether the ECHR applies extraterritorially to the applicants, i.e. whether the applicants could be said to fall within the UK’s jurisdiction within the meaning of Art. 1 ECHR. The Chamber found that the applicants were within the UK’s jurisdiction, and declared the application admissible. But first, some background.

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The European Court on Domestic Violence

Published on June 9, 2009        Author: 

Today the European Court of Human Rights delivered an important judgment dealing with domestic violence in Turkey. The case is Opuz v. Turkey, Application no. 33401/02, 9 June 2009. The Court found violations of Articles 2 and 3 ECHR, because Turkey failed to fulfill its due diligence obligations to do all that it could have reasonably done to prevent the abuse of the applicant by her ex-husband, who also eventually murdered the applicant’s mother, despite being aware of his violent behavior. Bolder still, the Court found a violation of the prohibition of discrimination in Article 14 ECHR, as it established that domestic violence in Turkey was gender-based, and the Turkish authorities failed to suppress an atmosphere conducive of such violence, even if they had no intent to discriminate themselves. The Court awarded the applicant 30.000 euros in damages, a very significant sum in Strasbourg terms, which will hopefully serve as an incentive to Turkey and other states in Europe with similar systemic problems with domestic violence to work on improving their record.

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Peacemaking or Discrimination: Bosnia’s Dayton Constitution before the European Court of Human Rights

Published on June 1, 2009        Author: 

A hearing will be held this Wednesday before the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Sejdic and Finci v. Bosnia and Herzegovina (application nos. 27996/06 and 34836/06) (press release here). A Venice Commission amicus brief is available here. A webcast of the hearing will be available here on Wednesday afternoon.

The applicants are Bosnian nationals, who are respectively Roma and Jewish by their ethnicity. They complain because, despite possessing experience comparable to the highest elected officials, they are prevented by the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina from being candidates for the Presidency and the House of Peoples of the Parliamentary Assembly solely on the ground of their ethnic origins. They invoke, inter alia, Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention (right to free elections) and Article 1 of Protocol No. 12 to the Convention (general prohibition of discrimination).

In brief, the Dayton settlement of the Bosnian conflict divided some of the institutions of the state government by ethnicity, so that the three member Presidency must be comprised of one each ethnic Serb, Croat and Bosniak/Bosnian Muslim. Further, one chamber of the Bosnian parliament, the House of Peoples, is comprised of 15 members, 5 of whom have to be from each of the three ‘constitutive’ peoples. The two applicants thus complain that, being Roma and Jewish respectively, they cannot stand for election for either the Presidency or the House of Peoples. In their view, this is clearly prohibited discrimination on grounds of ethnicity.

It is very likely that this will be the first case that the European Court will decide on the merits on the basis of Protocol 12, which introduced a general prohibition of discrimination into the ECHR system. Prior to that, the prohibition of discrimination in Article 14 was only of accessory character, meaning that the legal right or interest in respect of which discrimination was being alleged had to fall within the scope of one of the ECHR provisions. The relevance of this limitation is apparent from the instant case – Art. 3 of Protocol 1 to the ECHR only guarantees the right to vote and to stand for election for a legislature – but the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina is not a legislature. Art. 14 could thus not be invoked in this regard, but Protocol 12 could be, because it sets out a general prohibition of discrimination, in respect of any right set forth by (domestic) law.

As far as the merits of the discrimination claim are concerned, the Court has in its Article 14 jurisprudence established that discrimination constitutes (1) a difference in treatment of persons or groups who are in a similar situation, (2) that has no objective and reasonable justification. In order for there to be such a justification, the treatment concerned must (a) be implemented for the pursuance of a legitimate aim, and (b) must be proportionate to that aim. Further, some grounds of distinction, such as ethnicity, race or gender, are by their very nature suspect, and particularly weighty reasons would have to be adduced by a state to justify them.

If we applied the Court’s test to the present case, there would undoubtedly be a difference in treatment on grounds of ethnicity (1). When it comes to the question whether there is a justification for such differential treatment, there would again undoubtedly be a legitimate aim for it (2(a)) – the establishment and maintenance of peace in post-conflict Bosnia. The question to be decided by the Court, therefore, is whether this distinction is proportionate to that aim (2(b)).

How the Court is going to answer this question is anyone’s guess. Aside from the general problem of commensurability that is inherent in all balancing tests, the proportionality inquiry in the present case clearly requires a value judgment. On the one hand, every liberal atom of one’s being cries out against discrimination based on ethnicity. On the other, there is the indisputable fact that Bosnian society is still markedly divided on ethnic lines (which, of course, measures like the ones above serve to both control and perpetuate). Then there is the whole question of whether an international court sitting in Strasbourg is best called upon to make this value judgment, or whether that judgment should still, for the time being at least, be the province of (what goes for) democratic political process in Bosnia.

At any rate, this is a case to watch.

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Cheney Chatter and Complicity

Published on May 15, 2009        Author: 

Jordan Paust is the Mike & Teresa Baker Law Center Professor at the University of Houston, a former U.S. Army JAG officer and member of the faculty of the Judge Advocate General’s School.  His book, Beyond the Law: The Bush Administration’s Unlawful Responses in the “War” on Terror, was published by Cambridge University Press.

Former Vice-President Dick Cheney is chatting about his role in assuring approval and use of manifestly unlawful interrogation tactics such as waterboarding during the eight-year Bush Administration.  According to Cheney, he has “[n]o regrets” that he was directly involved in the approval of severe interrogation methods, including waterboarding, and he has admitted that he was involved in helping to get the process cleared by President Bush.  “[T]his was a presidential decision,” Cheney said, “and the decision went to the President.  He signed off on it.” (see here)

On September 16, 2001, Cheney publicly declared that “[a] lot of what needs to be done … [“on the dark side”] will have to be done quietly, … using … methods that are available to our intelligence agencies … to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.”  He added: “we” “have the kind of treatment of these individuals that we believe they deserve.”  For the next two years, many of his preferences were effectuated by his top lawyer, David Addington.  Moreover, it has been reported that Cheney attended meetings of the National Security Council’s Principals Committee in the White House Situation Room during 2002 and 2003, at which specific tactics such as waterboarding and the “cold cell” were addressed and expressly and/or tacitly approved and abetted.  It has also been reported that during this time there was “live feed” or “real time” viewing of parts of actual interrogations, including that of al Qahtani at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

According to the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), SERE tactics were being used against detainees at Guantanamo in September 2002 and that, during October 2002, military intelligence interrogators “used military dogs in an aggressive manner to intimidate” al Qahtani.  In November 2002, FBI Deputy Assistant Director Harrington reported that al Qahtani had exhibited symptoms of “extreme psychological trauma.”  Around the third week in November, he was subjected to what was known as the “First Special Interrogation Plan,” a plan to use tactics later detailed in an 84-page log describing their use during a six-week period.  CCR reported that among several tactics used were: threats against his family, forced nudity and sexual humiliation, threats and attacks by dogs, beatings, and exposure to low temperatures for prolonged times. Each of these tactics is patently illegal under the laws of war, human rights law, and the Convention Against Torture, among other relevant international legal proscriptions and requirements.  As my article The Absolute Prohibition of Torture [forthcoming in 43 Valparaiso Law Review 1535 (2009)] documents, death threats, use of dogs to create intense fear, beatings, the cold cell or a related inducement of hypothermia, and waterboarding are each manifest forms of “torture” that are absolutely prohibited under all circumstances and regardless of the status of the victim.  If they were not torture, they would also be absolutely prohibited as cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, along with the other tactics mentioned.

Cheney’s direct involvement is evidence of complicity in international crime.  Read the rest of this entry…

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Norm Conflicts and Human Rights

Published on May 13, 2009        Author: 

Consider the following scenario: the United Kingdom, together with the United States and other allies, invaded Iraq in 2003. From that point on, there was an international armed conflict between the UK and Iraq. Further, as it obtained effective control over certain parts of Iraqi territory, the UK became the occupying power of these territories. Under Art. 21 of the Third Geneva Convention, and Arts. 41-43 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the UK had legal authority to subject enemy POWs and civilians to internment.

Yet, on the other hand, the UK is a state party to the European Convention on Human Rights. In some circumstances, the ECHR applies extraterritorially. What those circumstances are is an (overly) complex question, but the UK has conceded in the Al-Skeini case before its domestic courts that the ECHR applies to extraterritorial detention.

Unlike Article 9 ICCPR, which sets a standard by prohibiting arbitrary arrest and detention, Article 5 ECHR contains a categorical prohibition of detention, except on a limited number of grounds. Preventive detention or internment on security grounds is not one of them. Further, Article 5(4) ECHR requires judicial review of any detention, while Art. 5 GC III only provides for status tribunals if POW status is doubt, and Art. 43 GC IV expressly permits review of detention by mere administrative boards.

So, on one hand we have IHL treaties expressly authorizing preventive detention or internment. On the other we have the ECHR expressly prohibiting such detention. No amount of interpretation can bring the two rules into harmony – they are in a state of genuine norm conflict. That norm conflict could have been avoided had the UK made a derogation under Art. 15 ECHR, but it did not do so (and there is a further question whether it could have actually done so, which needs ti be clarified in the future, though in my view the answer is clearly in the affirmative).

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US Appeals Court holds that Former Foreign Officials Entitled to Immunity in Civil Suit alleging War Crimes

Published on May 3, 2009        Author: 

The Second Circuit of the US Court of Appeals has recently (April 16, 09) held  in Matar v. Dichter that the former head of the Israeli General Security Service is immune in a civil suit brought under the US Aliens Tort Claims Act (28 USC  § 1350) alleging war crimes and extrajudicial killing. The suit relates to Dichter’s participation in an attack on a suspected Hamas leader (Saleh Mustafah Shehadeh) in July 2002. Shehadeh’s apartment was bombed by an Israeli military jet in attack which destroyed the apartment building and surrounding buildings. Apart from Shehadeh, 14 other people were killed in the attack. This case is part of  a growing list of US cases addressing the legal basis of the immunity of foreign officials. There is a split among the Circuits of the Court of Appeals as to whether foriegn officials are to be considered as an “agency or instrumentality” and thus entitled to immunity under §1603 the US’s Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act (FSIA) (for recent analysis, see Bradley, Foreign Officials and Sovereign Immunity in US Courts, ASIL Insights, Mar, 2009). Dichter’s argument that he was immune under the FSIA was accepted by the first instance District Court (see here). In an earlier case, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals had held that:

“an individual official of a foreign state acting in his official capacity is the ‘agency or instrumentality’ of the state, and is thereby protected by the FSIA.”  In re Terrorist Attacks on 15 September 11, 2001, 538 F.3d 71, 81 (2d Cir. 2008)

However, in Matar v. Dichter, the Second Circuit upheld Dichter’s immunity, but noted that the question presented in this case was whether formerforiegn officials are entitled to immunity under the FSIA. Taking a different approach, the Court stated:

We decline to decide this close question because, whether the FSIA applies to former officials or not, they continue to enjoy immunity under common law. (P. 10)

In upholding the immunity of former officials under the common law, the Second Circuit relied on the views of the US Executive Branch (see here and here) which has long argued that it is not the FSIA that provides immunity to foreign officials (serving or former) in US law but rather the common law and customary international law. Also, the US Executive’s Statement of Interest (see here) argued that, under customary international law, there is no exception to the immunity of foreign officials based on alleged violations of jus cogens norms. This view was accepted by the Second Circuit, correctly in my view. In a previous post, I have argued that there is no jus cogens exception to immunity.

Although, at first glance, these cases relate only to how international law of state immunity is translated to US law, they raise issues of more general interest to international lawyers. The first question raised by these US cases is whether the functional immunity of foreign officials (the immunity of foreign officials with respect to acts performed in the exercise of their official capacity) is the same as the immunity of foreign States. If the two are the same then there is good reason for holding that foreign officials are a manifestation of the State for the purpose of according immunity and there would be good reason to interpret the FSIA (and similar immunity legislation, eg in the UK and Australia) as extending to individual officials. However, this would be erroneous. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Security Council and Human Rights: What is the role of Art. 103 of the Charter?

Published on March 30, 2009        Author: 

At last week’s ASIL meeting there was a panel on whether the United Nations Security Council is bound by human rights law. The panelists (Vera Gowlland-Debbas, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Linos-Alexander Sicilianos, University of Athens  & Gráinne de Búrca, Fordham University School of Law) discussed cases such as the Kadi decision of the European Court of Justice, Al Jedda (House of Lords), Sayadi (Human Rights Committee and Behrami (European Court of Human Rights). These cases have been the subject of posts on this blog (for Kadi, see here and here, for Sayadi, see here and for Behrami, see here). One of the things that strikes me about much of this discussion is the use made of Article 103 of the UN Charter. That article provides that:

In the event of of a conflict between the obligations of the Members of the United Nations under the present Charter and their obligations under any other international agreement, their obligations under the present Charter shall prevail.

Of the four decisions mentioned above, only the Al Jedda decision discusses and applies Art. 103. According to Lord Bingham,

The central questions to be resolved are whether, on the facts of this case, the UK became subject to an obligation (within the meaning of article 103) to detain the appellant and, if so, whether and to what extent such obligation displaced or qualified the appellant’s rights under article 5(1) [of the European Convention on Human Rights]. (para. 26)

The House of Lords held that the Security Council authorisation to detain the appellant did indeed bring Art. 103 into play (on the theory that Art. 103 also extends to authorisations) and that rights under the ECHR were qualified to the extent that they conflicted with that authorisation. Some have criticised the ECJ in Kadi  and the Human Rights Committee in Sayadi for not evening mentioning Art. 103 and for failing to take the Al Jedda approaching (for some more discussion of this issue see here and here).

However, the role of Art. 103 is often overplayed in these debates concerning the conflicts between Security Council obligations and human rights law.  There are 2 overlapping questions here: (i) Is the Security Council bound by human rights norms when it acts (eg in combatting terrorism, imposing sanctions or in authorising action in peacekeeping or peace enforment)?; (ii) are States bound to apply Security Council decisions that may conflict with the human rights obligations of those States?.  Art. 103 does not and cannot answer the first question. Art. 103 should not be regarded as the starting point in answering the second question. Furthermore one may not even reach Art. 103 in answering that latter question. Read the rest of this entry…

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European Court decides A and others v. United Kingdom

Published on February 19, 2009        Author: 

Today the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights delivered its judgment in A and others v. United Kingdom, App. No. 3455/05, the sequel to the Belmarsh case, [2005] UKHL 71, decided by the House of Lords several years ago. The applicants were detained preventatively as suspected terrorists by UK authorities pursuant to legislation passed by Parliament and a derogation from Article 5 ECHR made by the UK after the 9/11 attacks under Article 15 ECHR. The House of Lords declared the derogation incompatible with the ECHR, on the grounds that it discriminated between nationals and non-nationals, as it allowed the preventative detention only of the latter. Today it was the European Court’s turn to deal with numerous issues arising out of the applicants’ preventative detention.
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Sayadi: The Human Rights Committee’s Kadi (or a pretty poor excuse for one…)

Published on January 29, 2009        Author: 

In October 2008, the Human Rights Committee decided the Sayadi case (CCPR/C/94/D/1472/2006) regarding UN Security Council terrorist blacklists, and the decision has now been made public (h/t to Bill Schabas, who made available the text of the views). As I will now explain, the Committee regrettably failed to do justice to the many complex issues of international law that were raised in the case.

The facts of the case were these: the applicants, a married couple of Belgian nationality living in Belgium, ran the European branch of an American NGO that was put on a Security Council blacklist pursuant to the sanctions regime established in Resolution 1267 (1999) and its progeny. In 2003, after the initiation of a criminal investigation against the applicants in Belgium, the applicants’ names were put on a list drafted by the Sanctions Committee and appended to a UNSC resolution. Pursuant to EU and Belgian implementing legislation, the applicants’ financial assets were frozen, and they were banned from travelling internationally. The applicants were not given the reasons and the relevant information for their listing. In 2005, the applicants asked a Belgian court to order the Belgian government to initiate delisting procedures before the UNSC Sanctions Committee, and obtained such an order. Additionally, the criminal proceedings against them were dismissed. The Belgian government did initiate a delisting procedure, as ordered, but the UNSC Sanctions Committee refused to delist the applicants.

Before the Committee, the applicants raised the violations of several articles of the ICCPR, basically claiming that they were denied any due process in the UNSC sanctions procedure, and that Belgium implemented the outcome of this procedure, with a considerable impact on their life and without providing them with any remedy. As is apparent even from the mere recitation of the facts of the case, the applicants’ claims were certainly warranted on the substance of their complaint (I will not review here the growing literature on the impact of UNSC listing on human rights, and the many different proposals that were made to improve the process).

However justified the applicants’ claim on the merits, the examination of the claim on the merits faced a great impediment, a consequence of the nature of state obligations under the UNSC listing process. Under Article 25 and Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the UNSC can pass resolutions that have binding force on UN member states. Article 103 of the Charter further provides that ‘In the event of a conflict between the obligations of the Members of the United Nations under the present Charter and their obligations under any other international agreement, their obligations under the present Charter shall prevail.’ These obligations under the Charter include binding UNSC decisions made under the Charter, as confirmed by the ICJ in the Lockerbie case.

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