Former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh addresses the 68th session of the General Assembly
Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard
Germany has arrested seven asylum seekers from The Gambia who are suspected of having committed crimes against humanity during the 22-year rule of former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh. [TDN] The arrests come as The Gambia takes steps towards justice and reconciliation, primarily via its Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), which has been holding public hearings since January 2019. [JusticeInfo] Since assuming the presidency in 2017, Adama Barrow’s government has signaled a new approach to human rights, including by ratifying United Nations human rights treaties, authorizing complaints by individuals and NGOs to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR), committing to constructing a permanent headquarters for the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), and bringing Myanmar before the International Court of Justice to face allegations of genocide against the Rohingya. [CTI; AfCHPR Press Release: Declaration; BBC]
Germany is not the first country to initiate an investigation into crimes committed by those associated with Jammeh’s government. In 2017, Switzerland opened an investigation into crimes against humanity allegedly committed by former Gambian Minister of the Interior Ousman Sonko, and a Swiss court agreed to hold him in preventative detention until January 2020. [SWI] And, in June 2020, the United States indicted a man on torture charges of conspiring to commit torture against individuals who planned a coup against Jammeh’s government. [Jurist; HRW: Correa]
Guidelines on the Right to Water adopted during the ACHPR’s 26th Extraordinary Session in Banjul, The Gambia (July 2019)
In the midst of a global pandemic that has highlighted the need to make water accessible for all, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) has published new Guidelines on the Right to Water in Africa. [ACHPR Press Release] While the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter) does not expressly include the right to water, the guidance is grounded in the regional treaties’ protection of economic, social, and cultural development; health; access to natural resources; the environment; and, food. The Guidelines aim to inform civil society on States’ obligations with respect to the right to water, and guide States in meeting their obligations to respect, protect, and guarantee the right to water. [ACHPR Press Release] Drawing on its jurisprudence and prior resolutions, as well as reports from United Nations special rapporteurs and General Comment No. 15 of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the ACHPR Guidelines provide a comprehensive, human-rights based approach to ensure access to safe, affordable, and sufficient water. See ACHPR, Guidelines on the Right to Water in Africa (2019). The Guidelines were adopted during the ACHPR’s 26th Extraordinary Session in July 2019, and made public during its 28th Extraordinary Session, which took place during the last week of June 2020.
Other human rights systems have also grappled with the human right to water and its relevant legal framework – even where the right is not expressly recognized in the main human rights treaties. For example, the European Court of Human Rights has recognized that individuals have a right to access clean water under Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life and one’s home) of the European Convention on Human Rights. See ECtHR, Factsheet – Environment and the Convention on Human Rights (March 2020). Similarly, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Inter-American Court of Human Rights have found that the right to water can be derived from the rights to life, property, and health. See IACHR, Annual Report, Chapter IV.A, Access to Water in the Americas an Introduction to the Human Right to Water in the Inter-American System, 17 March 2016, paras. 26-90. Separately, United Nations bodies, including the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, have produced a number of relevant reports and other materials, such as a factsheet on the right to water under international human rights law.
28th Extraordinary Session of the ACHPR
On June 29, during its virtual 28th Extraordinary Session, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) swore in four new Commissioners who will begin six-year terms. They are: Marie Louise Abomo (Cameroon), Mudford Zachariah Mwandenga (Zambia), Ndiamé Gaye (Senegal), and Alexia Gertrude Amesbury (Seychelles). [ACHPR Press Release; ISHR] The Commissioners were appointed during the 33rd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government (the Assembly) of the African Union (AU), which took place from February 9 to 10, 2020, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The gender balance of the ACHPR will remain the same, with six members who identify as female and five who identify as male. The new Commissioners join the continent’s human rights body at a time when some AU Member States are pushing back against human rights norms and regional oversight.
The new Commissioners will replace Soyata Maiga (Mali), Yeung Kam John Yeung Sik Yuen (Mauritius), Lucy Asuagbor (Cameroon), and Lawrence Murugu Mute (Kenya). Commissioner Asuagbor was first elected to a three-year term in 2009. Commissioners Maiga and Yeung were first elected to six-year terms in 2007. The Executive Council re-elected the three commissioners, and elected Commissioner Mute, to six-year terms in 2013. Commissioner Mute was among the 10 candidates presented to the AU Executive Council in December 2019, but was not reelected. The next expected elections will take place in 2021, when three Commissioners’ terms will expire.
First hearing of the ECtHR by videoconference
Credit: ECtHR via Twitter
Universal and regional human rights oversight bodies are beginning to hold virtual sessions, following postponements and cancellations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since mid-March 2020, almost all human rights bodies started suspending their meetings and travel through at least June, with the United Nations treaty bodies postponing all in-person meetings through August 2020. Quarantine measures in many of the bodies’ host countries are further impacting the way staff and appointed experts can carry out their work. However, many human rights bodies have adopted measures that will enable them to continue some of their work remotely. On May 1, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights became the first human rights body to announce that it would hold a virtual period of sessions in July 2020. This month, several regional universal and regional human rights bodies will meet virtually, including the African Commission and Peoples’ Rights, which will swear in four new commissioners during its session.
As more information becomes available in the month of July, this post will be updated. For future or past monthly updates on human rights bodies’ schedule & procedural changes, see the IJRC monthly overviews. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar. Read more
Credit: GRETA via Council of Europe website
The Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) has published new guidance for States on the entitlement of victims of trafficking, and persons at risk of being trafficked, to international protection. See Council of Europe GRETA, Guidance Note on the entitlement of victims of trafficking, and persons at risk of being trafficked, to international protection, GRETA(2020)06, June 2020. In particular, GRETA’s new guide explains when trafficking victims are entitled to international protection in countries where they are not citizens or permanent residents, and identifies the kinds of services and treatment those countries must provide. [COE Press Release] Relying on various international and regional human rights instruments, including the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) jurisprudence, as well as the principle of non-refoulement, the guide is intended to assist Council of Europe (COE) Member States in meeting their obligations. The guide builds on the guidelines from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and elaborates on the scope of application of the Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. [COE Press Release]
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has launched an online database of recommendations it has issued to States in friendly settlement agreements, published merits reports, annual reports, country reports, and resolutions. [IACHR Press Release] The IACHR plans to soon add recommendations from thematic reports and precautionary measures, as well. The goals of the new system, known as the Inter-American SIMORE, are to facilitate State compliance and promote accountability and transparency, by improving access to information on the IACHR’s recommendations and their implementation. [IACHR Press Release] The Inter-American SIMORE is the IACHR’s first searchable database of its decisions and other outputs, and it is unique among human rights bodies in that it also serves as a channel for receiving information from many stakeholders on the status of (some) recommendations. States and civil society members may register on the platform to submit information on implementation, including regarding the IACHR’s most recent recommendation on the COVID-19 pandemic and human rights in the Americas. [IACHR Press Release] Currently, it contains 2,340 recommendations from 1999 to 2020. The interface, although not all documents, is available in English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese.
Credit: IACHR via Flickr
In its first decision concerning the “war on terror,” the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has found the United States responsible for violating the human rights of Djamel Ameziane, a former detainee at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility. See IACHR, Merits Report No. 29/20, Case 12.865, Djamel Ameziane (United States), 22 April 2020. Ameziane is an Algerian national who was detained in Guantánamo without charge beginning in 2002, tortured, and later repatriated to Algeria in 2013. The IACHR’s decision on his 2008 complaint is its first published merits report of 2020. [CCR; CEJIL] The IACHR concluded that the U.S violated the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man (American Declaration) provisions on torture and inhumane treatment, religious freedom, due process and effective remedy. See Djamel Ameziane (United States), 22 April 2020, para. 5. In contravention of IACHR precautionary measures and despite its repeated calls for the U.S. to transfer the remaining detainees from the detention facility, Guantánamo Bay is still operating and the U.S. continues to prosecute detainees before military commissions (hybrid military and civilian courts) rather than in federal courts. See id. at para. 110.
Credit: UN Human Rights via Twitter
As protests spread across the United States and the world in response to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, human rights experts and civil society renewed their condemnation of racial discrimination and excessive use of force in the American criminal justice system. [The Guardian; UN News: Floyd; OHCHR Press Release: Floyd; IACHR Press Release] In the weeks that preceded George Floyd’s death, the names of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Sean Reed joined those of more than 1,000 others shot and killed by police in the past year, in addition to those such as Ahmaud Arbery who were killed by individuals purporting to carry out law enforcement functions. [Washington Post; Equal Justice Initiative; NYT: Sean Reed] Authorities in many American cities imposed extended curfews and dispersed protesters with police and military who often used tear gas and rubber bullets and targeted journalists. [Washington Post: Callamard; Forbes; NYT: Troops; CPJ] Regional and universal human rights monitors reiterated that the U.S. must take “serious action” to stop killings by police, avoid impunity for extrajudicial killings, address discrimination and inequality, protect the right to protest, and guarantee journalists’ freedom of expression. [OHCHR Press Release: Floyd; IACHR Press Release] Against the backdrop of a pandemic that is not yet under control and that has also disproportionately killed black Americans, pressure is mounting for radical reform grounded in human rights principles.
IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of LGBTI Persons participates in virtual panel on the “Recognition of Gender Identity in Latin America”
Credit: IACHR via Twitter
Universal and regional human rights oversight bodies have postponed or cancelled their upcoming sessions and suspended some procedural deadlines as a result of the developing COVID-19 pandemic, while striving to maintain other activities. Beginning in mid-March 2020, almost all human rights bodies have suspended their meetings and travel through at least June, with the United Nations treaty bodies postponing all in-person meetings through August 2020. Moreover, quarantine measures in many of the bodies’ host countries are further impacting the way staff and appointed experts can carry out their work. Many human rights bodies have adopted measures that will enable them to continue some of their work remotely and some have begun to hold virtual meetings. On May 1, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights became the first human rights body to announce that it would hold a virtual period of sessions in July 2020.
As more information becomes available in the month of June, this post will be updated. For future or past monthly updates on human rights bodies’ schedule & procedural changes, see the IJRC monthly overviews. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.
*Last updated June 1, 2020
Félicien Kabuga arrested in Paris by French authorities
Credit: IRMCT Video via UN News Photo
French authorities have arrested Félicien Kabuga, long wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) for his alleged role in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. [Guardian] Using his fortune and his radio station, Kabuga is accused of funding, logistically supporting, and inciting anti-Tutsi violence. [OHCHR Press Release; ACHPR Press Release] He was indicted by the ICTR in 1997 on genocide charges. [ACHPR Press Release] A French court will decide on May 27, 2020 whether his trial will be handled by the United Nations International Residual Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) – which is concluding the remaining work of the ICTR and its counterpart, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia – or in France, where Kabuga is arguing he will receive a fair trial. [IJRC; NYTimes: Trial] The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) has called for the case to be transferred to Rwandan courts for trial, noting a “preference for national level prosecution” that meets the “needs of the affected people to participate in and witness the process.” [ACHPR Press Release] Kabuga’s arrest on May 16, 2020 is considered a highly significant development in international justice. [OHCHR Press Release; Just Security; NYTimes: Arrest] With his apprehension and the recently-confirmed death of Augustin Bizmana, just six fugitives indicted by the ICTR or IRMCT remain at large. See IJRC, ICTR.