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Home International Tribunals Archive for category "Inter-American Court of Human Rights"

What implementation of judgments looks like – or doesn’t? –: the case of the Molina Theissen family in Guatemala

Published on July 2, 2018        Author: 
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On 27 September 1981, Emma Molina Theissen, member of the Patriotic Labor Youth, was detained by the armed forces and taken to the “Manuel Lisandro Barillas” Military Barracks (MLB-MB), where she was subjected to psychological and physical torture, including sexual violence. She was deprived of food and water, losing so much weight that, after nine days, on 5 October, she was able to slip off the handcuffs and escape. Attempting to recapture her, on 6 October, members of the Army went to the family residence, searched the house and, not finding her, took her 14-year-old brother, Marco Antonio. Their mom, Doña Emma Theissen Álvarez de Molina, witnessed everything. Marco Antonio remains disappeared since that date. While the family was forced into exile, they have never stopped searching for him and have never ceased in their efforts to obtain truth, justice and reparation.

This post, product of the ESRC Human Rights Law Implementation Project, explores the domestic-international interplay regarding implementation of reparations ordered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) in the Case of Molina Theissen vs. Guatemala; more specifically, in relation to the historical domestic proceedings of early 2018. Read the rest of this entry…

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Inter-American Court of Human Rights condemns Venezuelan regime’s political persecution against the opposition in the San Miguel Sosa and others case

Published on June 25, 2018        Author: 
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The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (hereinafter, IACtHR) published a recent decision (only available in Spanish) in the San Miguel Sosa and others vs. Venezuela case, by means of which it rebuts frequent arguments relied on by the Chavista[d1] –i.e. based on the ideas of former president Hugo Chávez— regime of Nicolás Maduro that label external and foreign criticism against its policies, frequently seen as abusive against political dissidents and others as contrary to human rights, as forms of intervention in its domestic affairs. This post translates relevant excerpts of the judgment on merits and reparations, and introduces some observations on the right to political participation under the American Convention on Human Rights.

The case was about the termination of contracts of persons who worked with the state of Venezuela soon after they participated in an initiative that sought to call for the celebration of a referendum on the termination of the mandate of then-president Hugo Chávez (para. 1). The list of those who signed in support of the referendum had been transmitted by the National Election Council (Consejo Nacional Electoral) to a ‘chavista’ member of parliament, Tascón (para. 131). Several state agents had told the applicants that the termination of their contract was the result of their disloyalty (paras. 137-139). While the defendant state argued that the contracts were terminated in order to lower costs and personnel (para. 140), the Court considered that this was not demonstrated. In this sense, it argued that the mere invocation of “convenience or reorganization, without providing more explanations” made the state arguments seem weak and lack precision “in relation to motivation”, supporting the “strength of circumstantial evidence” about actions that were actually meant to target lawful political and legitimate opposition action of some persons. Thus, the IACtHR concluded that there was a “reprisal against them for having legitimately exercised a political right enshrined in the Constitution, i.e. signing their support of the call for a referendum on the revocation of presidential mandate. The Court added, hence, that “the termination of the contracts was a “deviation of power” (para. 150), which exists when “there is a motivation or purpose that differs from that of a norm that confers powers to a state authority, [case in which it can be demonstrated that] the action can be regarded as an arbitrary one” (para. 121).

It is interesting to note that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had stated that the state of Venezuela’s assertion that the alleged victims had to fully demonstrate a nexus between an alleged discriminatory treatment and the authorities’ decisions would imply placing an excessive and absolute burden of proof on the applicants without the state having exhausted all the measures at its disposal to find out the truth, considering the complexity of the issue (para. 174). The Court, in turn, considered that while the termination of contracts was permitted by the legal system, it is possible to rebut a presumption that authorities acted in good faith (para. 122), as the Court found in this case based on circumstantial evidence (supra) flowing from evidence on the “Tascón list”, testimonies on conversations with state agents, statements of the president of Venezuela, and other elements that made the Court consider that “the termination of contracts took place in a context of high instability, political polarization and intolerance towards dissent, which could encourage forms of persecution or discrimination […] made possible by acts and declarations of members of the Executive and Legislative Powers, as well as of the competent electoral authority”, there having been no adequate state “precise and detailed explanation as to the motivation of its decision. In cases as the present one, the mere invocation of convenience or reorganization, without providing further explanations, is not sufficient, because the weakness of precisions as to motivation reinforces the likelihood of contrary circumstantial evidence […] Reason why the Court concluded that the termination of contracts was a form of deviation of power, which used [a] clause as a veil of legality to conceal the actual motivation or real purpose: a reprisal […] for having legitimately exercised a political right” (paras. 124-150).

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Environmental Rights and the Legal Personality of the Amazon Region

Published on April 24, 2018        Author: 
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There are two recent, noteworthy developments on environmental rights in Latin America. First, an Advisory Opinion of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), requested by Colombia. Second, a judgment rendered by Colombia’s Supreme Court, interpreting its international obligations.

The IACtHR’s Advisory Opinion

On 15 November 2017, the IACtHR issued Advisory Opinion OC-23/17, responding to Colombia’s request to clarify the meaning of “jurisdiction” in article 1.1 of the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR). Colombia suggested that a State has “functional jurisdiction” in areas that are environmentally protected by a treaty to which that State is a party (e.g. the Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment in the Wider Caribbean Region, the “Cartagena Convention”). Colombia also asked if State actions that seriously damage the marine environment – constituting the livelihood of island and coastal inhabitants of another State – are compatible with rights to life and human integrity.

The IACtHR did not limit its Opinion to the marine environment or the Cartagena Convention. It confirmed the relation between environmental protection and the realisation of “other human rights” (paras. 35, 47). It held that the right to a healthy environment is established in Article 11 of the San Salvador Protocol and, as such, is included in the economic, social and cultural rights protected by Article 26 ACHR (paras. 56- 57; in the recent Case of Lagos del Campo v. Peru, the IACtHR established a violation of article 26 ACHR for the first time in relation to the right to freedom of association). Apart from references to the environment in indigenous cases, throughthe right to life and the concept of “dignified life” (vida digna)(Case Comunidad Indígena Yakye Axa Vs. Paraguay), the IACtHR never before addressed environmental rights directly. Read the rest of this entry…

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A New Extraterritorial Jurisdictional Link Recognised by the IACtHR

Published on March 28, 2018        Author: 
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In its recently published Advisory Opinion on “The Environment and Human Rights of 15 November 2017 (in EJIL: Talk! summarized here; on its potential diagonal effect see here), the Inter-American Court is the first human rights court to recognise a new extraterritorial jurisdictional link based on control over domestic activities with extraterritorial effect. This post explains how the conclusions of the Advisory Opinion specifically on the first question recognise a new extraterritorial jurisdictional nexus (1) and argues that despite certain welcome developments (2), the Inter-American Court failed to give a comprehensive guideline as to the limits of the jurisdictional link (3).

1.    Summary of the new jurisdictional test

In its advisory opinion, the Inter-American Court had to answer the question whether a State Party has jurisdiction under Article 1(1) of the Pact of San José over a person situated outside the territory of that State Party if his or her human rights have been violated as a result of damage to the environment or of the risk of environmental damage that can be attributed to that State party.

This is the first occasion the Inter-American Court faces the question of the extraterritorial applicability of the American Convention on Human Rights. Therefore, the Court examined the case law of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the European Court of Human Rights and other treaty regimes and confirmed the Convention’s extraterritorial applicability, recognising two alternative bases of extraterritorial jurisdiction: effective control over territory or persons. However, the Inter-American Court did not stop here and accepted a third jurisdictional link “when the State of origin exercises effective control over the activities carried out that caused the harm and consequent violation of human rights” (para. 104(h)). The Inter-American Court widens extraterritoriality by establishing a new jurisdictional link that departs from the criteria for extraterritorial jurisdiction of effective control over territory/persons: it is based on the factual – or, as the Court formulates, “causal” – nexus between conducts performed in the territory of the State and a human rights violation occurring abroad (paras. 95, 101-102). While the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) vaguely recognised that “acts of the Contracting States […] producing effects […] outside their territories can constitute an exercise of jurisdiction within the meaning of Article 1” (e.g. Al-Skeini), it has never applied it as a standalone basis to establish the State’s extraterritorial jurisdiction. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Rise of Environmental Law in International Dispute Resolution: Inter-American Court of Human Rights issues Landmark Advisory Opinion on Environment and Human Rights

Published on February 26, 2018        Author:  and
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The Inter-American Court’s Advisory Opinion on Environment and Human Rights, released on 7 February 2018 (in Spanish only) (for brevity “AO”), is the latest and potentially most significant decision in a series of high profile international judicial rulings which acknowledge legal consequences for environmental harm. As recently as 2 February 2018, the International Court of Justice in the conjoined Costa Rica v. Nicaragua / Nicaragua v. Costa Rica cases ordered Nicaragua to pay compensation to Costa Rica for environmental damage, its first ever order for such compensation. Earlier, the ITLOS issued a landmark provisional measures order in Dispute Concerning Delimitation of the Maritime Boundary between Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire in the Atlantic Ocean (Ghana/Côte d’Ivoire) (Case 23), prescribing provisional measures protecting the marine environment, inter alia suspending all ongoing oil exploration and exploitation operations in a disputed area. To that list one could add the 2017 decision of an ICSID tribunal in Burlington Resources, Inc. v. Republic of Ecuador to award some US$39 million in damages in favour of Ecuador for environmental remediation costs.

The AO (summarized in EJIL: Talk! here) focuses on State obligations under international environmental law and human rights law in the transboundary context, in particular as concerns the construction and operation of infrastructure mega-projects, petroleum exploration and exploitation, maritime transportation of hydrocarbons, construction and enlargement of ports and shipping canals, and so on. 

The AO is ground-breaking in several respects. It is the IACtHR’s first pronouncement on State obligations concerning environmental protection under the ACHR (§ 46). Indeed, it is the first ruling ever by an international human rights court that truly examines environmental law as a systemic whole, as distinct from isolated examples of environmental harm analogous to private law nuisance claims (e.g. Lopez-Ostra v. Spain in the ECtHR). Perhaps most importantly, it is a landmark in the evolving jurisprudence on ‘diagonal’ human rights obligations, i.e. obligations capable of being invoked by individual or groups against States other than their own. The AO opens a door – albeit in a cautious and pragmatic way – to cross-border human rights claims arising from transboundary environmental impacts. Read the rest of this entry…

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Human Rights and the Protection of the Environment: The Advisory Opinion of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

Published on February 26, 2018        Author:  and
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On 7 February 2018, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (the Court, IACtHR) issued the much awaited advisory opinion (A/O) concerning the obligations of States Parties to the American Convention on Human Rights (American Convention, ACHR) in respect of infrastructural works creating a risk of significant environmental damage to the marine environment of the Wider Caribbean Region.

This entry sets out the main findings of the Court, including its approach to the extraterritorial application of the American Convention. With the text of the A/O currently available in Spanish only (here), this post seeks to provide an annotated summary of the A/O to EJIL:Talk!’s readership in the English speaking international law world.

The reformulated scope of the advisory opinion

Colombia, the requesting state, asked for the A/O to be limited to the jurisdictional area established by the 1984 Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Region (Cartagena Convention).

Colombia’s original, complex and prolix request originally read as follows:

“I. In accordance with Article 1.1 of the [American Convention], should it be considered that a person, although not located within the territory of a State party, is subject to its jurisdiction where the following four conditions are cumulatively met?

1) the person is present or resides in an area defined and protected by a conventional regime for the protection of the environment to which the relevant State is a party; 2) that the said regime establishes an area of functional jurisdiction, for example, as envisaged in the [Cartagena Convention]; 3) that in the said jurisdictional area the States parties have the obligation to prevent, reduce and control pollution through a series of general and/or specific obligations; 4) that as a result of the environmental damage or risk of environmental damage in the area protected by the relevant treaty, which is attributable to the State who is party to both that treaty and to the [American Convention], the human rights of the affected person had been breached or are in risk being breached. Read the rest of this entry…

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Environmental Damages, Environmental Reparations, and the Right to a Healthy Environment: The ICJ Compensation Judgment in Costa Rica v. Nicaragua and the IACtHR Advisory Opinion on Marine Protection for the Greater Caribbean

Published on February 14, 2018        Author: 
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On 2 February 2018, the International Court of Justice issued a landmark judgment on compensation for environmental damages in Certain Activities Carried Out By Nicaragua in the Border Area (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua), Compensation Owed by the Republic of Nicaragua to the Republic of Costa RicaThe ICJ’s decision was followed shortly thereafter on 9 February 2018 by a significant Advisory Opinion of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), declaring the fundamental importance of the right to a healthy environment to human existence and States’ corollary obligations to protect human rights through marine environmental protection in the Greater Caribbean region (summary report of the Advisory Opinion in English found here, while the full text of Colombia’s request for advisory opinion on this question can be found here). The 2 February 2018 ICJ Compensation Judgment follows its 16 December 2015 Judgment declaring Nicaragua liable for activities in Costa Rican territory, such as the excavation of three caños and establishment of military presence in said territory (see my previous comments on evidentiary approaches in this 2015 Merits Judgment here.)

While both the 2 February 2018 ICJ judgment on compensation and the 9 February 2018 IACtHR Advisory Opinion signify the central importance of international environmental norms to international human rights law, the methodological approaches taken by the World Court and the regional human rights court for Latin America reveal some sharp differences between these tribunals.  In adjudging compensation for environmental damages caused by Nicaragua to Costa Rica, the ICJ took a rather ‘incrementalist’ approach to quantification and empirical proof for every head of damage asserted – a methodologically ambiguous and context-sensitive approach which is not easily replicable for future environmental cases, given the complex nature of environmental damages in any given dispute.  The ICJ did not adopt Costa Rica’s theory of an “ecosystem approach” to damage assessment, and neither did it adopt Nicaragua’s position that “replacement costs” be used to estimate environmental damages.  Unlike the IACtHR Advisory Opinion’s broad acceptance of States’ continuing individual obligations towards preventing transboundary harm that could ensue from infrastructure projects in the Greater Caribbean, the ICJ Judgment carefully reduced Costa Rica’s claim of compensation by delineating between Nicaragua’s compensatory duties as part of environmental reparations, and Costa Rica’s own environmental mitigation duties in the presence of foreseeable environmental damage.  These recent developments suggest that, while it is recognized that all States share responsibilities towards environmental protection especially under the precautionary principle, the precise allocation of environmental reparations owed through compensation will not always lie strictly on the side of the State that is the environmental tortfeasor, at least where the ICJ is concerned.

The following subsections summarize the 2 February 2018 ICJ Judgment reasoning on compensation, the 9 February 2018 IACtHR Advisory Opinion, and conclude with some comments on methodologies used for damages assessment and environmental reparations, especially in the thorny form of lump-sum upfront compensation for environmental damage impacting present and future generations.

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A Lot of Activity in the Inter-American Court

Published on February 13, 2018        Author: 
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The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has been very active recently: from hearing a major case on domestic violence; to issuing an advisory opinion on LGBT rights in which it ruled, inter alia (and contrary to the European Court) that the American Convention provides for a right to same-sex marriage, a decision which has polarized public opinion in Costa Rica, in the midst of the presidential election; to another major advisory opinion on environmental protection under the ACHR, including an extensive discussion on the Convention’s extraterritorial application. We will have more detailed coverage of these cases over the next few weeks.

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Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Unlawful Death Gets a New Life

Published on May 26, 2017        Author: 
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The Revised Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death has just been published. It sets out the international human rights and criminal justice standards applicable to national investigations into alleged summary executions and other suspicious deaths, while also providing detailed advice on crime scene investigation and forensic methodology.

The document is highly relevant for human rights lawyers and criminal justice practitioners.  As I also discuss here [pp. 204ff], human rights cases dealing with suspicious killings regularly turn on the quality of the national criminal investigation into the crime. If the investigation was done properly, international human rights mechanisms will typically defer to its findings; if not, they will find a procedural violation of the right to life, even if state responsibility for the killing itself cannot be proven.

The original Minnesota Protocol was prepared in 1991 by a small group of lawyers from that icy state and later published by the United Nations Secretariat. Formally also known as the United Nations Manual on the Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, the document has been cited with approval by the Inter-American and European human rights courts.

The just published version of the Minnesota Protocol/U.N. Manual maintains the established brand names. But the text has been completely overhauled by the drafting team around outgoing U.N.  Special Rapporteur on Summary Executions, Christof Heyns (note: the author was not involved). A biopsy of the old and new versions of the Minnesota Protocol goes to show how far human rights law has advanced over the last quarter century. Read the rest of this entry…

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A Critical Assessment of Colombia’s Advisory Request before the IACtHR – and Why It Should Be Rejected

Published on October 25, 2016        Author: 
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On 14 March 2016 Colombia filed an Advisory Opinion request before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR). The request poses three questions, which can be summarised as follows: The first question asks whether the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR) entails extra-territorial obligations for a State when interpreted in light of a “treaty-based environmental protection system to which that State is a party [also],” and if it does, what are its incidences vis-à-vis the elements of state responsibility (attribution and breach).

The second question is a restatement of the first one, but zeroes in on conduct of states that might do “serious damage to the marine environment” and the implications thereof for inhabitants of “the coast and/or islands of another State party” under articles 4(1) (right to life) and 5(1) (personal integrity) ACHR; in other words, the question enquires whether, and if so how, IHRL might serve as vehicle for the extra-territorial application of IEL.

Building upon the ICJ’s environmental law developments in Pulp Mills, a final question enquires whether environmental obligations under articles 4(1) and 5(1) ACHR entail the duty to conduct environmental impact assessments (EIA). Read the rest of this entry…

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