magnify
Home Archive for category "Torture"

R v TRA: Article 1 of the Convention Against Torture and the Public Official Requirement

Published on November 20, 2019        Author: 

 

Last week’s decision of the UK Supreme Court in the R v TRA (Appellant) case provides an important confirmation that armed group members can be prosecuted under s134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. The decision should be welcomed for providing authoritative guidance on how Article 1 of the UN Convention against Torture should be interpreted, when applied to prosecutions at national level.   Specifically, the judgment addresses the interpretation of the phrase ‘public official or other person acting in an official capacity’, finding that the words ‘other person acting in an official capacity’ can be interpreted to include members of armed groups which exercise governmental control over civilian population in a territory over which they control. It distinguishes these kinds of groups from armed groups whose activities are ‘purely military’. This judgment is to be welcomed as it confirms that members of non-State armed groups can be prosecuted for acts amounting to torture. It is also to be welcomed because the interpretation of Article 1 has long been discussed in academic writings (see Gaeta, Clapham & Gaeta, Fortin, Rodenhauser), and partly pertains to the larger question of when and whether armed non State actors are bound by human rights obligations.

It seems that the majority was mainly persuaded by (i) the ordinary meaning of Article 1 and (ii) the purpose of the Convention to establish a regime for international regulation of ‘official torture’, as opposed to private acts of individuals. According to the court, torture perpetrated on behalf of a de facto governmental authority is clearly a matter of proper concern to the international community and within the rationale of the Convention’s regime. The arguments that lead the Court to this conclusion are too detailed and varied to review in their entirety, but I want to address the following three aspects of the judgment: (i) the Supreme Court’s handling of the ordinary meaning of Article 1 (ii) its interpretation of the practice of the Committee Against Torture and (iii) the consequences of the judgment on the relationship between IHL and IHRL.

Ordinary Meaning of Article 1

In several different places in the judgment, the Court made clear that it was not convinced by the appellant’s argument that only persons acting for or on behalf of a State can perpetrate torture. Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
 

Callamard Report on the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi: Part II

Published on June 26, 2019        Author: 

In my second post on the report on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi by the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, I will discuss some of its most interesting legal findings. The key finding, obviously, is that Saudi Arabia is responsible for committing an extrajudicial execution in violation of Mr Khashoggi’s right to life. The Special Rapporteur notes in that regard, quite correctly, that it is ultimately legally irrelevant whether Khashoggi’s killing was premeditated, ordered at the highest levels of the Saudi state, or was done as part of some ‘rogue’ operation. Saudi Arabia bears responsibility for the conduct of its organs, done in their official capacity, even if it was committed ultra vires (para. 219).

In addition to finding Saudi Arabia responsible for violating Khashoggi’s right to life and for failing to comply with obligations towards Turkey under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the report also finds that Khashoggi’s killing constituted an unlawful use of force by Saudi Arabia against Turkey, contrary to the prohibition in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter (paras. 227-230). The report’s analysis in this regard focuses somewhat excessively on whether the killing of a journalist would be an act contrary to the purposes of the United Nations, but does not really engage with the prior question of whether the furtive assassination of a single individual can constitute ‘force’ in the sense of Article 2(4). This is in effect the question of whether there is any de minimis, lowest limit to the concept of force in Article 2(4), and is a point of some controversy, since a finding that interstate force has been used has a number of important implications. Most recently the same issue was raised with regard to the Salisbury chemical attack, when the UK government formally accused Russia for violating the prohibition on the use of force (which, as far as I’m aware, Turkey did not do here). For detailed discussions in this respect see this post by Tom Ruys on Just Security and Dapo’s post here on EJIL: Talk.

Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
 

A Hypothetical on Deprivation of Liberty and Torture

Published on May 31, 2019        Author: 

In light of today’s rather extraordinary statement by Prof. Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, that Julian Assange has been subjected not only to arbitrary deprivation of liberty, but also to a sustained campaign of collective persecution, the results of which were tantamount to psychological torture, here’s a brief hypothetical that can hopefully shed some light on Assange’s legal situation:

Variant 1: A is a human rights defender living and working in Dystopia, a highly authoritarian police state. He has helped countless people in his work, to much international acclaim. One day he receives reliable information that a Dystopian court has ordered his arrest, on charges of sedition, and that if convicted (which seems very likely) he could spend many years in prison. A decides to evade the police seeking to arrest him.  With the help of friends, A finds refuge in a cave in a remote location. He spends 7 years in that cave, with very little human contact, fearful that if he ever left the cave the police would find him and arrest him. The years take their toll. A starts suffering from a number of physical ailments. Even worse, the virtually total separation from his family, friends and the outside world eventually leads to serious impairment to his mental health, including severe anxiety and depression. After 7 years, the Dystopian police discover A’s hiding place and arrest him.

Questions: (1) While A was in the cave, was he subjected to a deprivation of liberty by the state of Dystopia? (2) If so, was that deprivation of liberty arbitrary? (3) In any event, do the accumulated consequences to A’s mental and physical health, due to the extended period of time he spent in the cave hiding from Dystopian authorities, qualify as torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of A on the part of the state of Dystopia?

Variant 2: R is the highest-ranking general of the army of a separatist regime in Anarchia, a country ravaged by a sectarian civil war. The International Criminal Court has issued a warrant for R’s arrest for war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale; he is suspected of leading a campaign of ethnic cleansing which claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people. After the Anarchian civil war ends in the victory of his opponents, R decides to go into hiding. With the help of friends, R finds refuge in a cave in a remote location. He spends 7 years in that cave, with very little human contact, fearful that the Anarchian government authorities will arrest him and send him to The Hague for trial. The years take their toll. R starts suffering from a number of physical ailments. Even worse, the virtually total separation from his family, friends and the outside world eventually leads to serious impairment to his mental health, including severe anxiety and depression. After 7 years, the Anarchian police discover R’s hiding place and arrest him.

Questions: (1) While R was in the cave, was he subjected to a deprivation of liberty by the state of Anarchia? (2) If so, was that deprivation of liberty arbitrary? (3) In any event, do the accumulated consequences to R’s mental and physical health, due to the extended period of time he spent in the cave hiding from Anarchian authorities, qualify as torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of R on the part of the state of Anarchia? (4) If you have answered any of the preceding questions differently than their counterparts in Variant 1, please explain why you have done so.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
 
Tags:
Comments Off on A Hypothetical on Deprivation of Liberty and Torture

A Positive Take on the Legacy of the 1978 Judgment in Ireland v. United Kingdom

Published on February 7, 2019        Author: 

In September 2018, a request by the Irish Government to refer the Ireland v. United Kingdom revision case to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) was refused, closing a door that had been reopened after forty years. The fact that the ECtHR arrived at a finding of inhuman and degrading treatment ‘only’ has been maligned. In this post, I’d like to highlight an alternative perspective and suggest that this judgment elevated the gravity of the ‘other’ forms of treatment and set in motion a pioneering approach to the interpretation of Article 3 ECHR.

Subsequent to the Chamber judgment in March 2018, there was much debate (including in this blog) about whether the ECtHR should have revised its 1978 finding of inhuman and degrading treatment in light of the additional evidence. Some have supported the ECtHR’s exercise of restraint in the use of its exceptional revision powers under Rule 80 of the Rules of Court, pointing out the need for legal certainty. Others have critiqued the Court’s approach to the new evidence or have lamented the Court’s failure to follow the European Commission on Human Rights’ finding of torture, opening the door to manipulation of the torture-versus-ill-treatment distinction. All have opined that the facts of the case would give rise to a finding of torture today.

A further commonality across the commentary is that all refer to the finding of inhuman and degrading treatment ‘only’. The 2018 judgment itself describes the applicant Government’s request for the Court to find that the ‘five techniques’ ‘amounted to a practice not merely of inhuman and degrading treatment but of torture within the meaning of Article 3 of the Convention’ (para. 8). In the context of these debates, and the revision request itself, the distinction between torture and inhuman and degrading treatment ‘only’ has been amplified. That is, there is a pervasive and implicit sense that inhuman and degrading treatment is in some way not as bad as torture. In 2018, as was observed in 1978, the Court’s failure to arrive at a finding of torture overshadowed the finding of inhuman and degrading treatment. Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
 
Tags: ,

Revising the verdict in Ireland v UK: time for a reality check?

Published on April 6, 2018        Author: 

There is a general misunderstanding about the revision judgment that was delivered by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on 20 March 2018.  The Court does not have the power under the Convention (ECHR) to revise a past final judgment because it considers it is wrong or was wrongly decided.  It only has an inherent power to revise a judgment where an error has been made concerning matters that were unknown to the Court and which, had they been known, might have had a decisive influence on the outcome of the case.  This power is exercised sparingly and reluctantly because there is almost a presumption that judgments have been correctly decided and should not be revised.  All revision requests will thus be subject to strict scrutiny in the interests of preserving legal certainty.

The newspaper headlines that the Court had found that the five techniques did not amount to torture is thus misleading.   The Court has decided not to alter the original judgment’s characterisation of the five techniques.  It has made no finding of its own about torture and it has made this clear.

Apart from the victims’ understandable sense of injustice and bewilderment there is an air of unreality surrounding these proceedings.

Firstly, it is beyond doubt that if the same issue was decided today the five techniques would be held to amount to torture.  The law on torture has evolved considerably since 1978 – the date of the Court’s original judgment – to take account of society’s sensitivity to and condemnation of the use of torture. The present Court has expressed the view that an increasingly high standard is required in the protection of human rights and that this “inevitably requires greater firmness in assessing breaches of the fundamental values of democratic societies.” The decision of the Court in 1978 to characterise the five techniques as only amounting to inhuman and degrading treatment which was strongly criticised at the time by many commentators is arguably one of the reasons for this increasingly high standard. Another is the realisation that torture has not been eradicated and that it can involve many different and sophisticated forms of unlawful treatment, such as water-boarding, and other variants of sensory deprivation techniques. It is a sad consequence of the old Court’s characterisation that it was used by the US government to assert that ‘water-boarding’ did not amount to torture. This was entirely spurious and self-serving since US government lawyers chose to ignore the marked evolution of the concept of torture that had occurred since 1978.

Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
 

Why the ECHR Decided not to Revise its Judgment in the Ireland v. The United Kingdom Case

Published on April 5, 2018        Author: 

The European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) recently rejected a request by Ireland to revise its judgment in the 1978 Ireland v. The United Kingdom case, where the Court found that the use by the then U.K. government of five techniques of interrogation on fourteen individuals amounted to “inhuman and degrading treatment” in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”), but did not rise to the level of torture. In the recent revision request Ireland asked the ECtHR to revise the original judgment, based on evidence that has recently become available, and to find that the five techniques did amount to torture.

The Court rejected Ireland’s request, a decision that was met with disappointment by human rights advocates. Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland campaigns manager remarked that this was “a very disappointing outcome, for the men and their families” and argued that the Court “missed a vital opportunity to put right a historic wrong.” Without taking away from the anguish of the fourteen individuals who suffered and continue to suffer as a result of being subjected to the harsh interrogations, it is necessary to understand the reasoning behind the Court’s decision and challenge the notion that it was a denial of justice.

A revision request is not an opportunity to fix the Court’s past mistakes or re-evaluate a case in light of more recent case-law. Rather, it is a technical process that allows the Court to revise a judgment only when new facts emerge which should have been made available to the Court at the time of the original judgment and which would have had a decisive influence on the Court. Should the Court agree to revise a case where any new fact or later case law would point to a different outcome, or where it finds the Court simply made a mistake, it would lead to complete chaos and uncertainty. In this case, the decision to deny the revision request was justified on the basis of maintaining legal certainty, a fundamental aspect of justice. Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
 

Part 2: A few steps forward, a few steps sideways and a few steps backwards: The CAT’s revised and updated GC on Non-Refoulement

Published on March 21, 2018        Author:  and

CAT’s Defiance in Response to State Pushback

In Part I of our analysis of the new CAT General Comment, we noted that state pushback on a range of issues, for example diplomatic assurances and post deportation redress, was successful as evidenced by the committee’s amendments to the now adopted GC.  In this post, we discuss the areas where the CAT stood its ground in the consultation process and resisted state pushback, on some occasions even pushing certain doctrines beyond the position stated in the draft GC, despite states’ concerns.

Reverse Burden of Proof

The draft GC proposed a reverse burden of proof in cases where an individual “cannot elaborate on his/her case”. This would be, for example, if she has no possibility to obtain documentation regarding her alleged torture or is deprived of her liberty (para 40). There was pushback against the reverse burden of proof from several countries with the US, Russia, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Australia all arguing that this was not reflective of the wording of the Convention or the Committee’s caselaw, which suggests that the burden is always on the complainant to present their case.  While a reverse burden of proof is occasionally mentioned in the committee’s caselaw, this only ever shifts after the complainant has provided enough evidence to substantiate their case (see e.g. SPA v Canada, at para 7.5).  Despite this pushback, and the lack of grounding in the Committee’s caselaw, a reverse burden of proof has been retained in the adopted GC demonstrating the Committee’s use of the GC to engage in dynamic interpretation of the Convention.

Internal Flight Alternative Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
 
Tags:
Comments Off on Part 2: A few steps forward, a few steps sideways and a few steps backwards: The CAT’s revised and updated GC on Non-Refoulement

Part 1: A few steps forward, a few steps sideways and a few steps backwards: The CAT’s revised and updated GC on Non-Refoulement

Published on March 20, 2018        Author:  and

On 6 December 2017, after a year long consultation process with states and civil society representatives, the Committee against Torture (CAT) adopted its revised General Comment (GC) (now No.4) on the implementation of Article 3 of the Convention against Torture (the Convention)  in the context of Article 22.

In a decaying global human rights climate, in particular towards people on the move, this GC has been much awaited.  Non-refoulement claims are the single most common claims raised before all UN Treaty bodies.  Non-refoulement cases are over 80 percent of  CAT’s  caseload. In addition to this, the  Human Rights Committee (HRC), the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) also receive individual petitions concerning non-refoulement, and turn to CAT for guidance.

Twenty-three state parties to the CAT (out of 162 in total) provided written comments on the draft GC prior to its adoption. These, in almost every case, pushed back on the standards the Committee aimed to develop.  The significant majority of the twenty three States responding were asylum and migration destination states in the global north, well known for their anti migration rhetoric. Alongside these, countries that have a disproportionate burden of asylum seekers, such as Turkey and Morocco also responded. China, the US, the UK, Qatar and Egypt, even though they do not recognise the right to individual petition before CAT,  also provided written comments. The states that provided the most detailed and expansive submissions were: the United Kingdom, Norway, Denmark, Australia, Canada, the United States, the Russian Federation, France and Switzerland.

Over these two blog posts, we identify which issues were subject to state pushback and how CAT responded, highlighting the areas where CAT stood its ground and where it conceded. Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
 
Comments Off on Part 1: A few steps forward, a few steps sideways and a few steps backwards: The CAT’s revised and updated GC on Non-Refoulement

Active Hostilities and International Law Limits to Trump’s Executive Order on Guantanamo

Published on March 13, 2018        Author:  and

In his State of the Union speech on January 30, 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump announced his signing of a new executive order aimed at keeping open the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as well as approving its repopulation. This post considers how the law of war governing detention in armed conflicts constricts the ability of the U.S. to hold persons in military prisons at Guantanamo in the manner suggested by this new order.

Formally speaking, Trump’s executive order repeals a critical portion of President Obama’s 2009 order calling for the Guantanamo prison site to be closed “as soon as practicable, and no later than 1 year from the date of this order.” The 2018 order also provides that the U.S. may “transport additional detainees” to the facility “when lawful and necessary to protect the nation.”

On the one hand, this executive order simply makes explicit what has already been President Trump’s de facto Guantanamo policy since taking office. While the Obama Administration worked to reduce the Guantanamo population considerably, resettling 197 of the 242 detainees remaining at the facility, President Trump has resettled none — not even five detainees cleared for release by the Department of Defense prior to Trump’s taking office. On the other hand, the order reflects a radical shift in policy. Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
 

Reflections on the European Committee on the Prevention of Torture’s Report on the UK

Published on April 21, 2017        Author: 

The European Committee on the Prevention of Torture (CPT), the Council of Europe monitoring body responsible for visiting places of detention in member states, recently published its report on its visit to the UK in 2016. The report was published at the request of the UK and a response is expected shortly.

The report is important in three respects. First, the report is striking in the number of concerns it raises about ill-treatment in places of detention in the UK, including inter-prisoner violence, a lack of safety in prisons, use of restraint and separation in psychiatric hospitals, solitary confinement of children and indefinite lengths of immigration detention. Second, the nature of the concerns raised in the report prompts questions on whether measures to eradicate ill-treatment are sufficient or whether in some instances the use and legitimacy of detention itself needs to be considered. Third, the report is part of a wider context of national reviews and reform and recent and forthcoming recommendations by the UN on the use, legitimacy and treatment in detention in the UK. This level of attention to detention in the UK raises interesting questions for scholars and practitioners on implementation and compliance with international human rights law and the conditions necessary to bring about change. Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email