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Home Archive for category "International Tribunals"

The Right to Religious Freedom and the Threat to the Established Order as a Restriction Ground: Some Thoughts on Account of the Achbita Case

Published on March 23, 2017        Author: 

On March 15, 2016, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) heard two different cases, the case of Achbita and that of Bougnaoui. As noted here, while both cases had the wearing of the Islamic headscarf at work as a common factual background, the legal questions asked were different. The Achbita case, referred to the ECJ by the Belgian Cour de Cassation, concerned Achbita’s dismissal from work as a receptionist. The dismissal took place after she refused to comply with a prohibition to wear the Islamic headscarf when dealing with customers. The Bougnaoui case, referred by the French Cour de Cassation, focused on a similar dismissal after she refused to abide by her boss’ demands and take off her Islamic headscarf, following the relevant wishes expressed by one of the enterprise’s clients. Nevertheless, the two courts brought different questions before the ECJ for a preliminary ruling. The Belgian supreme administrative court asked the ECJ whether such a ban from wearing the headscarf at work constituted direct discrimination. Its French counterpart focused on the client and whether his will not to have services provided by an employee wearing a visible religious symbol or attire contravened EU law.

On Mach 14, 2017, almost a year after the hearing of the cases, the ECJ issued its judgments (here and here). In the case of Achbita, the ECJ ruled that employers, coming to pursue a policy of political, philosophical and religious neutrality, have the right to prohibit their workers from adhering to a specific religious dress code or from wearing at work visible religious symbols. On the contrary, in the Bougnaoui case, the court’s holding was that employers cannot discriminate between employees who wear religious symbols and those who do not, due to a customer’s demand. Accordingly, while the Bougnaoui judgment closes the door to any potential restricton of religious expression at work, this is not the case with the Achbita one. The latter can be seen as introducing a possible infringement on religious freedom even if the Court ruled that employers have the option and not the obligation to impose such a ban on visible religious symbols. Through the granting of such an option, the ECJ sends the message that an individual cannot cite religious beliefs in order not to comply with generally set applicable norms.

This has been palpably demonstrated in domestic jurisprudence on both sides of the Atlantic. For example, in the Employment Division v. Smith, the U.S. Supreme Court held that two Native Americans had been justifiably dismissed from their work after the ingestion of peyote, a powerful entheogen. The fact that their religious beliefs sanctioned such an ingestion was not a valid ground for them to contravene the laws of the State of Oregon which prohibited possession and use of the particular substance. Similarly, in the case of Bull v. Hall, the UK Supreme Court held that the religious beliefs of a hotel keeper could not justify discrimination against same-sex couples and justify a policy according to which the hotel suites destined for married couples would be given only to heterosexuals. Read the rest of this entry…

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Azerbaijan: Is it Time to Invoke Infringement Proceedings for Failing to Implement Judgments of the Strasbourg Court?

Published on March 22, 2017        Author: 

A year ago, on 17 March 2016, the European Court of Human Rights issued a landmark judgment against Azerbaijan finding a rare violation of Article 18 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and the first based on the repression of human rights defenders as a result of their human rights activities. The Court found that the pre-trial detention of a prominent Azerbaijani human rights defender, Rasul Jafarov, was unlawful and aimed ‘to punish the applicant for his activities in the area of human rights’, in violation of Article 18 (restrictions of rights for a purpose other than the one prescribed in the Convention) and also Article 5 (the right to liberty). That same day, after having spent 15 months in a prison cell, Rasul Jafarov was released under the presidential pardon decree.

In finding the violation of Article 18, the Court took note of the totality of repressive circumstances in which Azerbaijani human rights NGOs operated and the numerous statements of high ranking Azerbaijani officials criticising those NGOs and their leaders, including the applicant, and concluded that Jafarov’s case could not be viewed in isolation from this backdrop.

Earlier cases, such as Tymoshenko v Ukraine and Lutsenko v Ukraine, had found a violations of Article 18 due to the unlawful detention of political opposition leaders.

Although Article 18 cases are very rare in the Court’s practice, the Jafarov judgment is the second one in which the Court has found Azerbaijan’s actions in arresting its critics in violation of Article 18 of the Convention. In the case of opposition leader Ilgar Mammadov the Court established that his arrest and pre-trial detention aimed to punish him ‘for criticizing the Government’. Ilgar Mammadov has remained in prison for more than four years serving a seven-year sentence on charges of organising mass disorder and resisting arrest after he criticised the Government’s handling of demonstrations and unrest in the region of Ismayili. Read the rest of this entry…

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The ECtHR’s Ilias and Ahmed v. Hungary and Why It Matters

Published on March 20, 2017        Author: 

The European Court of Human Rights delivered a judgment last Tuesday in the case of Ilias and Ahmed v. Hungary, finding multiple violations of the European Convention as a result of Hungary’s border procedures and its treatment of asylum-seekers. The applicants, nationals of Bangladesh, spent over three weeks in the transit zone before being sent back to Serbia, considered a “safe third country” under a 2015 Governmental Decree. Both applicants were part of the first wave of asylum-seekers attempting to access Hungary after the entry into force of controversial new legislation in September 2015, which effectively led to the Western Balkans route turning towards Croatia over the course of the next few days.

In what constitutes its first verdict on Hungary’s latest practice – which involves deprivation of liberty and almost universal forced return to Serbia on the basis of the safe third country concept – the Court found violations of Arts 3, 5 and 13 in conjunction with Art. 3 of the Convention, namely because the applicants had been subjected to de facto deprivation of liberty with no adequate safeguards for over three weeks, didn’t have access to an effective remedy with respect to the conditions of their detention and ended up being sent back to Serbia without ever having the possibility of ill-treatment genuinely considered either by the asylum authority or the Szeged Administrative Court in their attempted appeals against the former’s ruling. In finding violations, the Court generally agreed with more-or-less all of the applicants’ arguments, however it did not agree with them that the conditions of their detention in the border zone reached the level of severity necessary for there to be a violation of Art. 3 in that respect.

The Implications Read the rest of this entry…

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Ukraine v Russia at the ICJ Hearings on Indication of Provisional Measures: Who Leads?

Published on March 16, 2017        Author: 

From the day Ukraine submitted its case against Russia at the ICJ, one could expect that the case would be extremely politicized and difficult to adjudicate. Oral proceedings on the request for provisional measures held on 6th -9th March 2017 not only demonstrated that parties disagreed on the major points of the dispute, but also revealed that both parties had adopted “alternative facts”, at times making it difficult to grasp if they actually had the same dispute in mind. Ukraine’s position is that Russia violates ICSFT by continuing to support pro-Russian separatist armed groups in eastern Ukraine that engage in the commission of terrorist acts against the civilian population. Ukraine also claims that Russia pursues “policies of cultural erasure and pervasive discrimination” against non-Russian ethnic population in Crimea (see my blog). In its counter-arguments, Russia submits that the supply of weaponry originated from the old Soviet stockpiles inherited by Ukraine as well as the retreating Ukrainian army. Although widespread reports on the human rights situation in Crimea indicate marginalization of non-Russian ethnic population, as do the hundreds of pending individual applications before the ECtHR, Russia maintains that it is fully compliant with CERD and that “the views [of international organizations] on the status of Crimea often prejudge the attitude towards the situation in Crimea itself”.

Oral proceedings provide valuable insights into Russia’s litigation strategy. Russia maintains that there is no factual or legal basis for the ICJ to adjudicate, claiming that the issues between Ukraine and Russia relate to the legality of the use of force, sovereignty, territorial integrity and self-determination and therefore go beyond the jurisdiction of the Court. Russia accused the Ukrainian government of using the Court “to stigmatize a substantial part of the Ukrainian population” in eastern Ukraine as terrorists, and Russia as a “sponsor of terrorism and persecutor”.

Prima facie jurisdiction

The ICJ has to be satisfied on a prima facie basis that its jurisdiction is well founded in order to indicate provisional measures. Read the rest of this entry…

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The ‘Command Responsibility’ Controversy in Colombia

Published on March 15, 2017        Author: 

The peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas has led to complex legal debates. One key controversy has stood out as legislation to carry out the agreement moved forward: the “command responsibility” definition the Special Jurisdiction for Peace —the judicial system created as part of the peace talks— will apply to try army and FARC commanders.

This is not just a technical issue. Applying a definition consistent with international law will play a key role in ensuring meaningful accountability for army and FARC commanders’ war crimes during their 52-year conflict. The issue has been part of a key debate in Colombia about how to hold officers accountable for so-called “false positive” killings.

Government forces are reported to have committed over 3,000 such killings between 2002 and 2008. In these situations, soldiers lured civilians, killed them, placed weapons on their bodies, and reported them as enemy combatants killed in action. At least 14 generals remain under investigation for these crimes.

Unfortunately, for now, this debate has been resolved in the wrong direction: on March 13, the Colombian Congress passed a constitutional reform containing a “command responsibility” definition for army officers that is inconsistent with international law. This post reviews the background and lead-up to this development.

Command Responsibility in the Original Peace Accord

The parties first announced an “agreement on the victims of the conflict” in December 2015. The agreement included “command responsibility” as a mode of liability for the Special Jurisdiction for Peace in two identical provisions, one applicable to army commanders and the other to the FARC:

Commanders’ responsibility for acts committed by their subordinates must be based on the effective control over the respective conduct, on the knowledge based on the information at their disposal before, during and after the commission of the respective conduct, as well as on the means at his reach to prevent it and, if it has already occurred, promote the relevant investigations (my translation).

Human Rights Watch, the organization where I work, expressed concern that the definition could be interpreted in a manner inconsistent with international law.

Mens rea. As Kai Ambos has recently noted, the mens rea requirement in the definition was unclear. Under international law, including article 28 of the Rome Statute, a commander’s knowledge of crimes committed by their subordinates may be either actual or constructive —that is the commander knew or had reason to know. The definition in the 2015 agreement did not explicitly include a reference to constructive knowledge. This raised questions as to whether it was meant to be included or not.

Read the rest of this entry…

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The Evacuation of Eastern Aleppo: Humanitarian Obligation or War Crime?

Published on March 14, 2017        Author: 

On March 1, the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (“the Commission”) released a report on the horrific events that unfolded in Aleppo last year until it was captured by the Syrian governmental forces. The Aleppo report covers acts which may amount to violations of international human rights law or international humanitarian law (IHL), committed by all warring parties between 21 July and 22 December 2016. The Commission, whose reports will be instrumental for ongoing and future efforts to hold perpetrators accountable, should be commended for collecting and analyzing such an impressive amount of information in so little time.

The Aleppo report contains an appalling catalogue of allegations of egregious violations, including attacks against civilian infrastructures, hospitals, a UN/SARC humanitarian convoy and the use of chemical weapons. One allegation in particular caught the attention of the media: the Commission argues that the evacuation of eastern Aleppo amounts to the war crime of forced displacement. The Commission’s claim may at first seem astonishing not only because it stands in stark contrast with the then prevailing narrative of a humanitarian evacuation designed to alleviate human suffering, but also because the evacuation was based on an agreement between the warring parties – which means that opposing parties would have jointly committed a war crime. This post examines, on the basis of publicly available information, the legal foundation of this serious allegation.

The evacuation agreement

The evacuation of the rebel-held parts of the eastern districts of Aleppo was agreed between the warring parties as part of a cease-fire deal brokered by Russia and Turkey on 15 December 2016. The fall of this key rebel stronghold marked a major victory for the government forces, but it also offered rebels a safe passage into other rebel-held areas elsewhere in Syria. By 22 December, more than 35,000 people had been evacuated from the besieged areas of Aleppo to Idlib province (for the most part) or to western Aleppo. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Strangest ICJ Case Got Even Stranger, Or the Revision That Wasn’t

Published on March 13, 2017        Author: 

As Dapo explains in his post from this morning, the President of the International Court of Justice last week sent what was probably one of the weirdest letters to a government (and one of the weirdest related press releases) in its history, and it is only appropriate that it pertains to one of the Court’s strangest cases. The Court essentially dismissed in limine an attempt to make an application to institute proceedings for the revision of the 2007 Bosnian Genocide judgment, finding that the application was not made by an authorized state representative.

In a 2008 article, the late Vojin Dimtrijevic and I wrote about the strange story of the Bosnian Genocide case, a case which was more than any other, from its very beginning, subservient to its political context. It was a case pursued by a changing applicant against a changing respondent before a changing Court. It was a case which one part of the applicant state actively tried to subvert, which all segments of the political elite constantly miscast and misinterpreted, which witnessed some truly unprecedented procedural manoeuvres, and which was indeed from the Bosnian side not even funded from the state budget. So many hopes were pinned on it, that when the ultimately completely predictable and underwhelming, jurisdictionally severely constrained judgment was handed down, it was perceived by most Bosniaks as a massive disappointment and by most Serbs as a kind of exoneration, despite the finding of a violation of Article 1 of the Genocide Convention by Serbia. Today, after the Court’s swift termination of the revision application and the lapse of the time-limits for any further application, the case has gone away with finality, if only with a whimper.

Over on Just Security, David Scheffer, the ranking international expert in the revision team appointed by the Bosniak leader, Mr Izetbegovic, purports to explain to an equally expert audience ‘some realities’ behind the revision request. In so doing, he calls the President’s letter and a previous letter by the Registrar ‘shallow exercises that fail to explain the legal reasoning of their conclusions,’ and concludes that ‘History will not look kindly on the ICJ’s decision to reject the Application for Revision.’

Oh, please; history, humbug. History really won’t care one whit about this whole episode, which after a few days even the Bosnian and Serbian media won’t be writing about. And while I myself normally wouldn’t write critical comments about cases which I litigated and lost, or engage in debates with people who conversely think that it is sensible to do so, this kind of self-righteous, pontificating pooh-poohing of the ICJ is something I feel compelled to respond to. Here are, to quote Mr Scheffer, some (very hard) realities about this whole episode.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Applications for Revision of the International Court of Justice Judgments: The Curious “Case” for Revision of the Bosnian Genocide Judgment

Published on March 13, 2017        Author: 

Last Thursday, the President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) made a statement announcing that the Court was “not properly” seised of a request for revision of the Court’s merits Judgment of 26 February 2007 in the Bosnian Genocide Convention Case (Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia). The key question was whether the request for revision should have been considered as one made by Bosnia and Herzegovina and this depended on whether the person who made the request was to be considered as Agent for Bosnia. In coming to its decision not to take any action with regard to the request for revision, the Court concluded “that no decision has been taken by the competent authorities, on behalf of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a State, to request the revision of the Judgment of 26 February 2007 in the case concerning the Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia)”.

In effect, the Court rejected the request for revision on the grounds that the person who claimed to be the Agent for Bosnia, Mr. Sakib Softić, had not in fact been appointed as Agent by the state for the purpose of these particular proceedings. Mr Softić had been appointed the Agent for Bosnia, in 2002, in the original Bosnian Genocide Convention case. The present controversy surrounding his authority arose from the nature of the Presidency of Bosnia – the Head of State – which is not a single individual but rather composed of 3 individuals: one Bosniac, one Serb and one Croat. As it emerged from separate letters written to the Court by each of the members of the Presidency, no decision was made by the Presidency to request revision and only the Bosniac member of the Presidency, Mr. Bakir Izetbegović, was of the view that the appointment of Mr Softić as Agent in the original case remained valid.

Whether the Court was right to reject the “request” for revision in this case depends on whether a request for revision is to be considered as a new case as opposed to a separate phase of a previous case. If a request for revision is simply a separate phase of a prior case – a form of incidental proceedings – then the authority of the previous Agent would extend to that new phase as Agents exercise their functions throughout a case, unless they are replaced by the state. However, if a request for revision is a new case the Court would be right to require a new indication from the state as to who the Agent is, thus impliedly confirming that the state has authorised the initiation of those new proceedings.

In my view, the Court was right to hold, if only implicitly, that requests for revision are new proceedings and not simply continuations of a previous case. There is a qualitative difference between a request for revision (or indeed interpretation) of a prior judgment arising from proceedings that have essentially concluded with the case removed from the Court’s list of pending cases, on the one hand, and the initiation of incidental proceedings (such as provisional measures for interim protection or making preliminary objections) in an on-going case, on the other hand. Read the rest of this entry…

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Opening the Floodgates, Controlling the Flow: Swedish Court Rules on the Legal Capacity of Armed Groups to Establish Courts

Published on March 10, 2017        Author: 

 

A Swedish District Court (SD Court) has recently ruled that non-state armed groups have the capacity under international law to establish courts and carry out penal sentences, but only under certain circumstances. While the issue has been widely debated by legal scholars over the past decade (Somer, Sivakumaran, Hakimi), this may very well be the first time that any domestic or international court has made a definitive ruling.

The implications at stake are as clear as the facts of the case. A member of an armed group admits to executing enemy detainees, but argues his actions were lawful as he was carrying out a sentence to punish war criminals as a result of a fair trail of a legitimate (but non-state) court. Notwithstanding the veracity of the claim, does this act amount to summary execution or the execution of justice?

International Humanitarian Law (IHL) prohibits the passing of sentences without fair trail guarantees for acts or omissions related to an armed conflict. For armed groups, this poses two existential challenges to the establishment of criminal courts. First, common article 3 to the Geneva Conventions requires courts to be ‘regularly constituted’. Second, the due process principle of legality (nullum crimen sine lege) requires that criminal offenses be established ‘under the law’.

The SD Court quite remarkably rules that armed group may establish courts in principle, but then seemingly aware of the vast public policy implications of this decision, attempts to rein it in by imposing conditions on armed group trials that seem more attuned to the court’s policy concerns than sound legal reasoning. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Constitutional Frontiers of International Economic Law

Published on March 9, 2017        Author: 

The End of Mega-Regionalism?

The future of ‘mega-regionals’, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) or the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), has become doubtful since President Trump took office. Through decisions, such as the withdrawal from TPP, he is putting his rhetoric to ‘Make America Great Again’ in action. Yet, the idea to put national values first is not, I argue in a recent issue of the Journal of World Investment and Trade, so different from opposition to mega-regionals elsewhere. Both the ‘new America’ and opponents to mega-regionals in Europe speak in favor of disengaging from mega-regionals and replacing them with action by the nation state. At the same time, rejecting mega-regionals will result in sticking with the existing international institutional infrastructure that is widely regarded as insufficient to effectively regulate globalization for the better.

Despite similarities in their effects, there are important differences across the Atlantic. In the European Union, opposition most vocally comes from the left, not from the right. It also does not come from an elected executive, but from large numbers of citizens and opposition parties, as well as a smaller number of Member States, or even sub-divisions of Member States – think of Wallonia. And it is couched in entirely different vocabulary: Rather than speaking the language of nationalism and protectionism, opposition in the EU invokes constitutional values and rights – namely democracy, the rule of law, and fundamental rights – which are leveraged against mega-regionals and the institutions they come with, notably investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) and regulatory cooperation.

Increasing Involvement of Constitutional Courts

Couching opposition to mega-regionals in constitutional language has important consequences: It brings in a different set of actors, namely constitutional courts. Following earlier examples in Latin America, the 13 October 2016 ruling of the German Constitutional Court on an application for an injunction against the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) brought by some 120,000 individuals is likely just the first of many court rulings in which international economic law encounters its constitutional frontiers head-on. Read the rest of this entry…

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