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Jones v UK: The re-integration of State and official immunity?

Published on January 14, 2014        Author: 

Philippa Webb is Lecturer in Public International Law at King’s College London. She is the co-author, with Lady Hazel Fox QC, of the third edition of The Law of State Immunity (OUP 2013).

As regards the immunity of the State, the 6-1 decision in Jones and Others v the United Kingdom to uphold the immunity of Saudi Arabia was to be expected: in the Jurisdictional Immunities Judgment, the principal judicial organ of the UN clearly stated that that there was no exception to State immunity for jus cogens violations. The Fourth Section of the ECtHR felt no need to examine national developments in detail as the ICJ Judgment must be considered as ‘authoritative as regards the content of customary international law’ (para 198).

The razor-thin majority of the Grand Chamber in Al-Adsani 13 years ago has now been buttressed by both the ICJ and the Fourth Section of the ECtHR.

But the decision in Jones to uphold the immunity of the State officials even in the face of allegations of torture is more surprising. It stretches the meaning of the ICJ Jurisdictional Immunities Judgment and goes against two emerging trends: (1) accountability of non-high ranking State officials for serious human rights violations; (2) the diversification of various forms of immunity. Let me take these issues in turn.

Accountability of State officials for torture

As the ECtHR Chamber acknowledges (para 92), the ICJ emphasised in the Jurisdictional Immunities Judgment that it was addressing ‘only the immunity of the State itself from the jurisdiction of the courts of other States; the question of whether and to what extent immunity might apply in criminal proceedings against an official of the State is not in issue in the present case’ (para 91 of the ICJ Judgment). Yet, the ECtHR followed the ICJ’s Judgment with respect to the immunity of State officials as well as that of the State. In its 2012 Judgment, the ICJ had been silent as to immunity of a State official from civil proceedings, but it was clear that the Judgment was focused on the State itself and arguably even limited to ‘acts committed on the territory of the forum State by the armed forces of a foreign State … in the course of conducting an armed conflict’ (para 65). Read the rest of this entry…

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European Court of Human Rights Upholds State Immunity in Case Involving Allegations of Torture – Jones v United Kingdom

Published on January 14, 2014        Author: 

Today, a chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has handed down its judgment in the long awaited case of Jones and others v. United Kingdom (application no. 34356/06 & 40528/06). The case concerned the UK House of Lord’s decision ([2006] UKHL 26)  to accord state immunity in civil proceedings brought in the UK, against Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabian officials, by British nationals who alleged they had been tortured in Saudi Arabia. The European Court of Human Rights has today upheld that decision of the House of Lords. The chamber of the Court held by six votes to one that the granting of immunity to Saudi Arabia and its state officials in civil proceedings reflected generally recognised rules of public international law. Therefore, dismissal of the case by the English courts on grounds of state immunity did not amount to a violation of Article 6 (1) of the European Convention on Human Rights which guarantees a right of access to court. In particular, the Chamber held that there was noaccess to court.

According to the Chamber, while there was some emerging support at the international level in favour of a special rule or exception in public international law in cases concerning civil claims for torture lodged a state’s right to immunity could not be circumvented by suing named officials instead. The decision picks up from where the International Court of Justice left off in Jurisdictional Immunities (Germany v. Italy) case in deciding that allegations of violations of jus cogens rules does not mean that state immunity becomes inapplicable. However, the European Court of Human Rights has also stated that in the light of the current developments in this area of public international law, this was a matter which needed to be kept under review by Contracting States.

EJIL:Talk! and Opinio Juris will be providing reactions to this decision over the coming days. Here on EJIL:Talk! Lorna McGregor (Essex University), who worked on the case while she was Legal Adviser at Redress (an NGO that helps torture survivors), and Philippa Webb (Kings College London) will discuss the case. Over at Opinio Juris,  Chimène Keitner, Bill Dodge (both at the University of California, Hastings College of Law) and Ingrid Wuerth (Vanderbilt) will provide commentary from across the pond. All of them have done brilliant work on immunity and all have written influential pieces on the relationship between immunity and human rights. A stellar line up indeed!

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“You Can’t Change the Meeting Place” – Khodorkovsky, Bad Faith, and the European Court of Human Rights

Published on January 6, 2014        Author: 

Julian LehmannJulian Lehmann is a research associate at the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin, Germany and a SJD candidate at Dresden University of Technology.

“Ten Years a Prisoner”

Mikhail Khodorkovsky (pictured right, credit), the former Russian business magnate and opposition sponsor was released from prison under a presidential pardon in late December – just two months after he had  commemorated the ten year anniversary of hisMikhail_Khodorkovsky_2013-12-22_3 imprisonment. The images of the tycoon fallen from favor into the dock for many had became symbols for political interference with courts.  Regardless of whether one clings to such symbolism, judicial independence in Russia still leaves much to be desired, not least according to the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.

Khodorkovsky and his associate Platon Lebedev are the most prominent alleged victims of political imprisonment. As many will recall, Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003 and convicted in 2005 for tax evasion in the turbulent 1990s. Then, he sold produce of his oil and resource company Yukos to alleged sham Russian firms registered in low tax zones. He was put on trial again in 2010. Vladimir Putin, pending Khodorkovsky’s appeal, bragged in a TV interview that ‘a thief must sit in jail’. He alluded to a phrase from the popular Soviet TV mini-series ‘You Can’t Change the Meeting Place’ – a detective story featuring the dissident artistic icon Vladimir Vysotsky. The title takes up the series’ final, in which Vysotsky suggests that he and his fellow policemen have no choice but to go for a plan that puts their abducted colleague at risk.

Putin omitted the second half of the film’s citation. Vysotsky, the old-school hot rock, repeatedly clashes with his fastidious partner over the choice of means for policing. Not shying away from breaking the law, Vysotsky states that ‘A thief must be in jail – and people are not interested in how I get them there.’

Putin’s candidness about his view on Khodorkovsky hasn’t gone unnoticed. Read the rest of this entry…

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Banning Niqabs in Public Spaces

Published on December 6, 2013        Author: 

Erica Howard

Dr Erica Howard is reader in law at Middlesex University and the author of Law and the Wearing of Religious Symbols: European Bans on the Wearing of Religious Symbols in Education (Routledge, 2012).

 

Recently the wearing of the niqab, the face-covering veil worn by some Muslim women, has been in the news again after the judgment on the wearing of the niqab by a defendant in criminal proceedings (R v D(R), 16/09/2013, judgment H.H. Judge Peter Murphy). In this case, Judge Murphy applied Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights 1950 (ECHR). He accepted, following the case law of the European Court of Human rights (ECtHR) on Article 9 ECHR (see, for example, Eweida and Others v the UK; Dahlab v Switzerland and Sahin v Turkey), that the wearing of the niqab was a manifestation of the defendant’s religion and that her right to manifest her religion had been interfered with. He then examined whether the restriction was justified under Article 9(2) using a proportionality test, balancing D’s right to manifest her religion against the interests of justice in conducting a fair trial for everyone involved.

So Murphy followed the approach of the ECtHR. But will the ECtHR do the same in the case of S.A.S. v France, which challenges the French legislation prohibiting the wearing of face-covering clothing in all public spaces? The case was heard by the Grand Chamber on 27 November 2013, after the Chamber, in May 2013, relinquished jurisdiction to the Grand Chamber (for a summary of this hearing see here). It is, at present, not known when the judgment in this case will be published.

S.A.S., a devout Muslim who wears the niqab in accordance with her religious faith, culture and personal convictions, was fined for wearing the face covering veil in public and claims a violation of a number of her rights under the ECHR, including her right to manifest her religion under Article 9. As, in my view, Article 9 is the most important and relevant for this case, I will only discuss this article here. Read the rest of this entry…

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Targeted Sanctions after Affaire Al-Dulimi et Montana Management Inc. c. Suisse: Is There a Way Out of the Catch-22 for UN Members?

Published on December 4, 2013        Author: 

SanctionsUN member states remain caught between the obligation to carry out Security Council decisions under Art. 25 of the UN Charter and the obligation to respect international or regional human rights guarantees. The chamber judgment of 26 November 2013 in Al-Dulimi, No. 5809/08, is the second decision of the European Court of Human rights (ECtHR) on targeted sanctions after Nada (ECtHR (Grand Chamber), Nada v. Switzerland, No. 10593/08, judgment of 12 Sept. 2012). In contrast to the constellation in Nada, the UN member states (here Switzerland) had no leeway at all to implement the Iraq sanctions imposed by UN SC Res. 1483. However, because the UN sanctions regime did not guarantee “equivalent protection”, the Bosphorus-presumption that the states’ implementing measures are in conformity with the European Convention of Human rights (ECHR) did not apply – in other words, it did not help the state that it had no leeway. Strasbourg examined in full whether Art 6 ECHR had been lawfully restricted by Switzerland and found that this was not the case. On the contrary, the Swiss Federal Tribunal’s refusal to scrutinize the merits of Al-Dulimi’s complaint (with a view to Art. 103 UN Charter), had undermined the very essence of Art. 6 ECHR and therefore Switzerland violated the Convention.

By insisting on full responsibility of ECHR members for violations of the Convention, independently of their “strict” obligations under Security Council resolutions, Strasbourg has in Al-Dulimi stabilized the catch-22-situation. This blog post argues that member states should not be left off the hook, but also calls for responsibilizing the United Nations. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Impact of the ECtHR’s Judgment in Maktouf-Damjanović on Accountability and Punishment for War Crimes in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Published on November 12, 2013        Author: 

Francesco De SantisFrancesco de Sanctis is assistant professor at the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology and works as consultant on justice sector monitoring and reform.

 

The BiH War Crimes Chamber and the laws applicable to war crimes trials in BiH

The War Crimes Chamber of Bosnia-Herzegovina (WCC) has been generally considered as a successful effort to prosecute crimes committed during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia at the domestic level (see, in this regard, reports from OSCE and ICTJ). The WCC closely cooperates with the ICTY and received most of the cases transferred by the Hague Tribunal to domestic jurisdiction as part of its completion strategy; it is established within the Court of BiH and is a wholly domestic institution. As such, its work falls under the review of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which in  a Judgment by the Grand Chamber in Maktouf-Damjanović vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina issued in July 2013 found that the WCC had violated Art. 7 of the ECHR in connection with the convictions of the applicants due to the retroactive application of criminal legislation in their war crimes cases. This post will underline some serious problems related to the interpretation of this Judgment and to its implementation by the WCC with regard to the processing of future cases and the re-opening of adjudicated cases which may be deemed to fall under the Judgment’s scope.

In order to understand the content and relevance of Maktouf-Damjanović it is necessary to briefly outline the substantial criminal laws applied in atrocity crimes proceedings held in BiH. The 1976 Criminal Code of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY CC) was in force throughout the 1992-1995 conflict. Under this Code, war crimes and genocide could be punished with imprisonment from a minimum of 5 years (1 year in case of extraordinary mitigating circumstances) to a maximum of 15 years or, in the most serious cases, with the death penalty, which could be commuted to 20 years imprisonment. This Code has been and is still generally applied by courts at the entity level in war crimes cases; since the death penalty is not anymore applicable in BiH after the 1995 Dayton Agreement, these courts have been imposing sentences up to 15 years for war crimes. In 2003 this legal framework changed as the Office of the High Representative (OHR) imposed a Criminal Code at the State level (BiH CC) which punishes war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity with imprisonment from a minimum of 10 years (5 years in case of extraordinary mitigating circumstances) to a maximum of 45 years. This Code has been applied in the overwhelming majority of cases processed by the WCC. Since the beginning, however, the lawfulness of its application by the WCC has been a matter of intense legal discussion and controversy at the political level, to the extent of becoming one of the issues at the center of the EU-BiH Structured  Dialogue on Justice. Read the rest of this entry…

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Freedom of Religion and Religious Symbols: Same Right – Different Interpretation?

Published on October 10, 2013        Author: 

stephanie berryStephanie E. Berry is Lecturer in Public Law at the University of Sussex.

As the debate over the wearing of religious attire in State institutions in Western Europe has reignited over previous weeks, it is pertinent to consider the protection provided under international law to those who wish to exercise this element of freedom of religion. As has been well documented, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has been willing to accept restrictions on the right to manifest religion by wearing religious attire under article 9(2) of the European Convention on Human Rights on the grounds of the ‘rights and freedoms of others’ (specifically gender equality, pluralism and tolerance and State neutrality) (see, for example, Dahlab v Switzerland; Şahin v Turkey) and public order and safety (Phull v France; El-Morsli v France). However, the wide margin of appreciation afforded to States and the failure of the ECtHR to probe whether restrictions on the right to manifest religion are proportionate have been the subject of criticism.

Until recently the right to manifest religion by wearing religious attire under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) had rarely been considered by the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) (see Singh Bhinder v Canada and Hudoyberganova v Uzbekistan). Notably, however, the HRC does not recognise that States have a margin of appreciation. Thus, in two recent cases concerning the right to manifest the Sikh religion by wearing religious attire, a significant divergence between the approach of the HRC and the ECtHR can be observed.

800px-Sikhs_on_the_move!In Mann Singh v France and Ranjit Singh v France the ECtHR and HRC, respectively, considered the right of a Sikh man to manifest his religion by wearing a turban on a photograph affixed to an identification document. In Mann Singh v France, the ECtHR acknowledged that the requirement that the applicant appear without his turban in the photograph affixed to his driving license constituted an interference with the right to manifest religion. However, the ECtHR accepted that the restriction was justified on the grounds of ‘public safety’ and ‘public order’ under article 9(2) ECHR. Notably, the ECtHR deferred to the discretion of the State and, thus, did not examine the legitimacy of the State’s assertion that the removal of the turban was necessary to allow the identification of the driver and to avoid fraud. (photo credit)

Similarly, in Ranjit Singh v France the HRC considered the requirement that Sikhs remove their turbans in photographs affixed to residents permits, (paras 2.12-2.2) a requirement again justified by France on the grounds of public order and public safety (para 5.3) under article 18(3) ICCPR. Although the HRC recognised that the aim of the restriction was legitimate, (para 8.4), in direct contrast to the ECtHR, the HRC found:

 [T]hat the State party has not explained why the wearing of a Sikh turban covering the top of the head and a portion of the forehead but leaving the rest of the face clearly visible would make it more difficult to identify the author than if he were to appear bareheaded, since he wears his turban at all times. Nor has the State party explained how, specifically, identity photographs in which people appear bareheaded help to avert the risk of fraud or falsification of residence permits. (para 8.4)

The HRC continued to consider the potential for this interference to result in continuing violations of the applicant’s rights ‘because he would always appear without his religious head covering in the identity photograph and could therefore be compelled to remove his turban during identity checks’ (para 8.4). By exercising a higher level of scrutiny of the justifications given by the State for the restriction of the right to manifest religion, than the ECtHR in Mann Singh v France, the HRC was able to assess the proportionality of the interference and found a violation of freedom of religion. Read the rest of this entry…

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On the Occasion of the Five-year Anniversary of the Russian-Georgian War: Is Georgia Occupied?

Published on October 1, 2013        Author: 

natia kalandarishviliNatia Kalandarishvili-Mueller is a Lecturer in Humanitarian Law at Tbilisi State University, Institute of International Law, Faculty of Law, and a PhD Candidate at the University of Essex, School of Law.

 

Five years have passed since war broke out between Russia and Georgia. The Independent International Fact Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia, established by the Council of the EU by decision of 2 December 2008, found that:

“On the night of 7 to 8 August 2008, a sustained Georgian artillery attack struck the town of Tskhinvali. Other movements of the Georgian armed forces targeting Tskhinvali and the surrounding areas were under way, and soon the fighting involved Russian, South Ossetian and Abkhaz military units and armed elements. It did not take long, however, before the Georgian advance into South Ossetia was stopped. In a counter-movement, Russian armed forces, covered by air strikes and by elements of its Black Sea fleet, penetrated deep into Georgia, cutting across the country’s main east-west road, reaching the port of Poti and stopping short of Georgia’s capital city, Tbilisi […] After five days of fighting, a ceasefire agreement was negotiated on 12 August 2008 between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and French President Nicolas Sarkozy…”. (pp. 10-11 of the Report)

However, the Russian Federation appears to be in violation of Point 5 of the Sarkozy peace plan, which had stipulated “the withdrawal of Russian military forces to the lines they held before hostilities broke out…”. What is more, on 26 August 2008 Russia recognized the independence and sovereignty of Georgia’s two breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

This post examines the validity of Georgia’s contention that 20 percent of its territory is occupied by Russia. I first discuss the parties’ opposing positions and then assess the facts in light of the applicable law on military occupation. Read the rest of this entry…

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Mothers of Srebrenica: The Obligation to Prevent Genocide and Jus Cogens – Implications for Humanitarian Intervention

Published on September 6, 2013        Author: 

Manuel J. Ventura is a Director of The Peace and Justice Initiative and Dapo Akande is editor of EJIL:Talk!

The June 2013 decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Stichting Mothers of Srebrenica and Others v. The Netherlands is the latest phase in the attempts by the relatives of those killed in Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina to hold the UN (and/or The Netherlands) responsible for the inaction of the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) – made up of Dutch peacekeepers – who stood aside while Srebrenica was overrun in July 1995. The subsequent events at the Srebrenica ‘safe area’ and the deaths of between 7,000-8,000 persons are by now well known. In the underlying proceedings in the Dutch Courts, the complainants did not seek to hold the UN responsible for the commission of genocide, but rather for the failure, in the applicant’s view, of the UN’s duty to prevent genocide. The Dutch courts held that the UN had immunity from domestic suit, even in the face of violations of jus cogens norms. The ECtHR agreed with the Dutch rulings on the immunity of the UN. It followed the ICJ’s holding in Jurisdictional Immunities of the State (Germany v. Italy; Greece Intervening) that ‘[i]nternational law does not support the position that a civil claim should override immunity from suit for the sole reason that it is based on an allegation of a particularly grave violation of a norm of international law, even a norm of ius cogens’ [para. 158, ECtHR decision]. It also held that the recognition of immunity does not ipso facto constitute a violation of the right of access to a court [para. 164]. As a result, the ECtHR concluded that ‘the grant of immunity to the UN served a legitimate purpose and was not disproportionate.’ [para. 169]

However, the decisions of the Dutch courts and the ECtHR are unsatisfactory in one respect. They all ignore an important issue: the exact status of the obligation to prevent genocide in international law. These courts simply assumed that just as the obligation not to commit genocide is a rule of jus cogens, the obligation to prevent genocide is also a norm of jus cogens. The ECtHR simply stated (at para. 157) that: “The Court has recognised the prohibition of genocide as a rule of ius cogens  . . .” However to suggest that a jus cogens norm is involved simply because the prohibition of genocide is a jus cogens norm is a big legal leap that simply cannot be assumed. Otherwise we simply have jus cogens by association! To come to that conclusion, careful analysis was required as it is a proposition that is not at all clear from international law as it presently stands. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Role of the European Convention on Human Rights in the Wake of Kiobel

Published on July 25, 2013        Author: 

Jodie KirshnerJodie Adams Kirshner is the University Lecturer in Corporate Law at the University of Cambridge and a fellow of Peterhouse College, Cambridge. Her research concerns cross-border and comparative issues in corporate law. She contributed to an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in Kiobel in support of petitioners.

SCOTUSThe decision of the U.S. Supreme Court (photo credit) in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum has generated concerns that a governance gap will emerge for corporations that commit human rights violations abroad. As American courts become less open to extraterritorial claims, however, recognition of the global context gains importance. The current climate presents opportunities for other judicial systems to step forward. Kiobel gives the European Court of Human Rights the occasion to interpret the European Convention on Human Rights to require the right to an extraterritorial forum and counterbalance the shift that has occurred in the United States.

Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights offers a potential pathway to jurisdiction over extraterritorial corporate human rights claims. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has already interpreted Article 6 of the Convention broadly, and some national courts that are signatories to the Convention have suggested that the article could support extraterritorial jurisdiction. Article 6 guarantees the right to a fair trial. Subsection 1 states, “In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law. . . .”

The ECHR has encouraged an expansive reading of Article 6. In Delcourt v. Belgium (1970), 1 Eur. Ct. H.R. 355 (1993), the Court stated that “in a democratic society within the meaning of the Convention, the right to a fair administration of justice holds such a prominent place that a restrictive interpretation of Article 6 (1) would not correspond to the aim and purpose of that provision.” It has also maintained that rights under the Convention must be “practical and effective and not theoretical and illusory.” (See, e.g., Airey v. Ireland, 9 October 1979, § 24, Series A no. 32; Artico v. Italy, 3 Eur. H.R. Rep. 1, para. 33 (1980); Mehmet Eren v. Turkey, Eur. Ct. H.R. App. No. 32347/02, 50 (2008).).

The ECHR (photo credit), furthermore, has held that, though the text does not expressly include one, the Convention encompasses a right of access to court. Read the rest of this entry…

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