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

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.

Read the rest of this entry…

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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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