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

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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The Emerging Reparations Case-Law of the ICC Appeals Chamber in Comparative Perspective

Published on June 12, 2015        Author: 
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Reparations for victims of international crimes or serious human rights violations have received increasing attention from international courts. The most recent example is the Judgment on the Appeals against the “Decision establishing the principles and procedures to be applied to reparations” rendered by the Appeals Chamber (AC) of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in Lubanga on 3 March 2015. (See this previous post.) The present contribution compares how three key reparations issues are addressed by the ICC Appeals Chamber and by two other courts: the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR). Besides the ICC, the ECCC is the only international or hybrid criminal court where victims can claim reparations. The IACtHR’s reparations case-law has been seminal for decades, and references to its case-law by the ICC and ECCC reflect an ongoing dialogue. The three issues on which the courts are compared are: who can claim reparations, who is obliged to pay reparations, and what reparations can victims obtain

Who can claim and benefit from reparations?

Under rule 85(a) of the ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence (RPE), victims are “natural persons who have suffered harm as a result of the commission of any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court”. Only victims who suffered harm as a result of the crimes for which the accused was convicted are eligible to claim reparations against him/her (AC Judgment, para. 8). At the ECCC, rule 23bis(1) is the equivalent rule 85(a) defining victims. However, unlike the ICC, the ECCC rules and case-law require a direct causal link between the victim’s harm and the crimes for which the accused was convicted (rule 23bis(1); Case 002/01, Trial Chamber Judgment, para. 1114).

Given the absence of a direct causal link requirement before the ICC, the AC should have considered sexual and gender-based violence as harm resulting from the crimes for which Lubanga was convicted (AC Judgment, paras. 196-198). During his trial, there was robust evidence of sexual exploitation of minors by armed forces or groups. The UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict considered such sexual exploitation as providing essential support to the armed groups and, thus, as active participation in hostilities (Lubanga, Trial Judgment, para. 630). Accordingly, this sexual exploitation was arguably linked to the child soldiers-related crimes for which Lubanga was convicted. The AC should therefore have upheld the Trial Chamber’s finding of reparable harm from sexual and gender violence (paras. 207-209). Read the rest of this entry…

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The Successes and Challenges for the European Court, Seen from the Outside

Published on May 14, 2014        Author: 
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Helfer photo croppedLaurence R. Helfer is the Harry R. Chadwick, Sr. Professor of Law and Co-director of the Center for International and Comparative Lawat Duke University.

Cross-posted on AJIL Unbound.

In this post I wish to address the successes and challenges for the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), as seen from the outside.  I will take this opportunity to draw upon my research on human rights systems outside of Europe to explain how these systems have responded to some of the same challenges now facing the Council of Europe and the ECtHR.  My main contention is that international human rights courts, wherever they are located, require sustained political and material support if they are to thrive and grow over time.

I will illustrate my points with examples from the Inter-American and African courts of human rights and from lesser-known courts of sub-regional legal systems in Africa—the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).  The judges of these courts often look to ECtHR case law for guidance.  They are also aware of the high level of political and material support for the Strasbourg supervisory system.  Just as these courts have drawn inspiration from the ECtHR, so too those who will shape the Court’s long-term future should consider both the achievements and the challenges that these regional and sub-regional systems have faced.  In describing these positive and negative developments, I will focus on three issues—the evolution of human rights jurisprudence, the politics of compliance with court judgments, and government resistance and backlash.

I will begin with jurisprudential trends.  The innovative doctrines and principles pioneered by judges in Strasbourg are alive and well in other human rights systems.  Interpretive tools such as the evolutionary nature of human rights, the presumption that rights must be practical and effective, the creative and strategic approach to remedies, and cross-fertilization of legal norms are commonplace in the case law of all regional and sub-regional courts.  For example, Inter-American judges have applied these doctrines in several types of cases, including the obligation to investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators of past human rights violations, the prohibition of amnesty for such violations, the rights of LGBT persons, and affirmative measures to combat violence against womenMtikila v. Tanzania, the first merits judgment of the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights decided in 2013, analyzes the decisions of the other two regional human rights courts and the U.N. Human Rights Committee to support its conclusion that a ban on independent candidates standing for election violates the African Charter.  Among the most striking examples of creative legal interpretation appear in the case law of the East African Court of Justice and the SADC Tribunal.  The judges of those courts have cited references to human rights, the rule of law and good governance in the principles and objectives clauses of treaties establishing the economic communities to justify expanding their jurisdiction to include human rights.

These capacious interpretations have broadened the scope and reach of international human rights law.  But they have also engendered significant compliance challenges.  All other things equal, the more expansive and far-reaching remedies a court requires, the greater the likelihood of delay or resistance in implementing its judgments—in terms of political will, capacity, and commitment of resources.  The Inter-American Court has by far the most ambitious approach to remedies, often specifying in exquisite detail the measures states must adopt.  Governments have responded by implementing the easier and less politically costly remedies, with the result that partial compliance with the Inter-American Court’s judgments is now commonplace. Read the rest of this entry…

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More Human Rights Reforms Under Discussion

Published on August 4, 2012        Author: 
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Readers interested in reform within the international human rights system, including the reform of the UN human rights treaty monitoring system previously discussed here, may be interested in yesterday’s announcement by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), adding a regional dimension to discussions.

The IACHR serves as the focal point for human rights within what is touted as “the world’s oldest regional organization” – the Organization of American States (OAS). The OAS is a pan-American regional organization akin to the Council of Europe, supported by 35 states in the Western Hemisphere, and headquartered in Washington DC. The IACHR was created in 1959, and formally established in 1960, with a mandate to promote and protect human rights throughout the region. It is one of two organs of the inter-American human rights regime, the other being the Inter-American Court of Human Rights based in San José, Costa Rica. With functions similar to the UN treaty-monitoring bodies, and the old European Commission on Human Rights, the IACHR monitors the situation of human rights in the various OAS states, conducts on-site visits, handles individual complaints, and hosts several thematic rapporteurs. The Commission also brings cases to the Court, as was done in the old European human rights system prior to Protocol 11.

But all is not rosy at the IACHR, with a current docket of 8500 individual complaints currently pending before the seven-member part-time body. Financial resources have not kept up with the volume of complaints, and each commissioner also serves as a thematic rapporteur, with consequent duties and workload. Events within the Americas also add to the workload. In 2002, for example, the IACHR received 3783 complaints as a result of the banking measures adopted in Argentina, and further petitions were received in 2009 following the coup d’état in Honduras.

The IACHR has agreed to embark on an in-depth examination of its procedures and mechanisms. To this end it has, as of 3 August 2012, published its methodology document for what it calls its “2012 process of reform of its Rules of Procedure and of its institutional policies and practices” (with the Rules of Procedure last undergoing significant reform back in 2009). It is expected that consultation documents regarding the individual complaint procedure, precautionary measures, the monitoring function, and the promotion function, will be published on or before 25 August 2012, to be followed by a one-month period for comments from all users of the inter-American system. By the end of September, we should see an IACHR report to the OAS Permanent Council on possible reforms to the Rules, policies and practices of the IACHR, and in October, the IACHR promises to convene two hearings on strengthening measures to give key actors an opportunity for dialogue.

The webpage for the “Process for Strengthening the IACHR” can be found here.

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