The International Justice Resource Center (IJRC) has published its second report in an ongoing series examining the barriers to civil society’s engagement with supranational human rights oversight bodies. See IJRC, Civil Society Access to International Oversight Bodies: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (2019). This edition analyzes the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), a principal autonomous organ of the Organization of American States (OAS) charged with addressing human rights conditions and human rights violations in the 35 OAS Member States. The 65-page report focuses on the informal policies and practical factors, as well as formal rules, that help or hinder civil society’s participation in IACHR sessions and other activities. The Executive Summary, which includes the report’s main findings and a complete list of recommendations to the IACHR, is available in both Spanish and English. Read more
African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Credit: African Court via Flickr
The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) recently issued its judgment in the case of Lucien Ikili Rashidi v. Tanzania, finding the State violated a non-citizen’s rights when its agents detained him, subjected him to an anal search, and did not resolve his legal claims for seven years after he was arrested for not having his passport and visa in his possession. See AfCHPR, Lucien Ikili Rashidi v. United Republic of Tanzania, App. No. 009/2015, Judgment of 28 March 2019. The AfCHPR found violations of Ikili Rashidi’s rights to residence, freedom of movement, integrity of person, dignity, and to be tried within a reasonable time. Ultimately, the Court awarded Ikili Rashidi and his family modest financial compensation and ordered Tanzania to take measures to ensure that all future cavity searches would be in compliance with international standards, as clarified by the European and Inter-American human rights bodies. See id. The judgment is one of six the AfCHPR released in late March, three of which concern Tanzania. [AfCHPR Press Release] Read more
Visualization of States’ ratification of universal human rights treaties
Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the seminal proclamation adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948. See UN General Assembly, Resolution 217 A(III), Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 10 December 1948. The UDHR’s adoption followed that of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, making it the first UN instrument recognizing the basic principles of human rights. Over the subsequent decades, many of the rights recognized in the UDHR have been made legally binding through specialized UN human rights treaties and the development of customary international law. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet stated that the UDHR “has passed from being an aspirational treatise into a set of standards that has permeated virtually every area of international law.” [OHCHR: 70th]
While the rights set forth in the UDHR have since become widely accepted, attacks and repression against human rights defenders have spiked in recent years. [Guardian; Amnesty; UN News] UN human rights experts recently noted “the appalling fact that between 2015 and 2017, on average, one person was killed every day while standing up for human rights.” [OHCHR: Defenders]
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Credit: African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (via Flickr)
In December, several universal and regional human rights bodies and experts will assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through the consideration of State and civil society reports, country visits, and the review of individual complaints. Two United Nations treaty bodies will continue reviewing States’ progress, with regard to the elimination of torture and racial discrimination, in sessions that began last month. Four UN special procedures will conduct country visits in December, and two UN working groups will hold sessions.
Regionally, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) will be holding public sessions.
The UN treaty body sessions, the public hearings of the IACHR, and the AfCHPR’s public hearings may be watched via UN Web TV, the IACHR’s website or Vimeo page, and the African Court’s YouTube channel, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar. Read more
Human Rights Committee Chairperson Yuval Shany at the 123rd Session
Credit: UN Web TV
The United Nations Human Rights Committee has concluded that France’s ban on face coverings in public violates the rights of women who wear full-face veils for religious reasons, a conclusion directly at odds with a European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgment from 2014. Compare Human Rights Committee, Hebbadj v. France, Communication No. 2807/2016, Views of 17 July 2018, UN Doc. CCPR/C/123/D/2807/2016 and Human Rights Committee, Yaker v. France, Communication No. 2747/2016, Views of 17 July 2018, UN Doc. CCPR/C/123/D/2807/2016 with ECtHR, S.A.S. v. France [GC], no. 43835/11, ECHR 2014, Judgment of 1 July 2014. The Committee’s views, published on October 17, 2018, concluded that two women’s criminal convictions under the 2010 ban violated their rights to freedom of religion and to non-discrimination under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The Human Rights Committee rejected France’s argument, which had been accepted by the ECtHR, that the ban was proportionate to, and the least restrictive means of achieving, the State interest in promoting the conditions for “living together” in a democratic society. In response to IJRC’s questions, the Human Rights Committee Chairperson, Yuval Shany, also noted that the Committee does not apply the ECtHR’s unique “margin of appreciation” doctrine, which gives European States latitude in balancing individual rights against State interests, particularly in areas where there is little consensus among States on a specific social issue. Read more
IACHR launches report in October 2018
In a new report and interactive website, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has detailed flaws in the United States’ prosecution and incarceration of children, urging reforms to ensure that minors are not tried or sentenced as adults. IACHR, The Situation of Children in the Adult Criminal Justice System in the United States (2018). The report, released in September 2018, examines the legal framework that allows children to be tried in the adult criminal system in light of the State’s international legal obligations, the current status of children within the criminal system, and the conditions children face during their incarceration in adult facilities. See id. According to the IACHR, as of 2016, approximately 200,000 children were tried each year in U.S. adult criminal courts, and were held in adult penitentiaries in violation of their right to special protection and to be tried in a specialized juvenile system. [IACHR Press Release] While the U.S. has taken steps to reduce the number of children coming into contact with the adult criminal justice system, individual American states maintain laws and practices that allow children to be incarcerated in adult facilities. [IACHR Press Release] The report highlights the State’s failure to protect the rights of children in this respect, and recommends specific reforms. [IACHR Press Release] Read more
European Court of Human Rights
Credit: CherryX via Wikimedia Commons
On September 13, 2018, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that the United Kingdom’s bulk collection of online communications and its collection of data from communication service providers (CSPs) violated the rights to privacy and freedom of expression. See ECtHR, Big Brother Watch and Others v. the United Kingdom, nos. 58170/13, 62322/14, 24960/15, ECHR 2018, Judgment of 13 September 2018. Although the Court did not rule that mass collection is inherently a violation of privacy, disappointing many privacy advocates, the ECtHR held that such programs must have adequate safeguards to protect against abuse. [Sky News]
The decision is the first time that the ECtHR has reviewed the UK’s surveillance program since whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013, which revealed cross-border government surveillance efforts, including those by the UK intelligence agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) to intercept millions of private communications. [Guardian] The ECtHR did not consider the legality of the 2016 legislative amendments to the UK’s surveillance program, which followed the Snowden disclosures and are currently being challenged domestically. [Guardian] Read more
On September 10, 2018, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC or Child Rights Committee) published its first decision involving sexual violence against a minor, finding that Cameroon had failed to adequately investigate, punish, and redress the rape of a 10-year-old girl. [ACERWC] The Child Rights Committee found that the State’s lack of due diligence also amounted to gender discrimination and a violation of the minor’s right to be free from torture or inhuman or degrading treatment. See ACERWC, Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa and Finders Group Initiative on behalf of TFA (a Minor) v. Cameroon, Communication No. 006/Com/002/2015, Merits Decision, 31st Ordinary Session (2018). The decision, which the minor’s representatives hailed as ground-breaking, diverges from a 2016 African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights decision in which it declined to find that Ethiopia’s failure respond with due diligence to the rape of a minor constituted gender-based discrimination. See ACommHPR, Equality Now and Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA) v. Ethiopia, Communication 341/2007, Merits Decision, 19th Extra-Ordinary Session (2016), paras. 133-34, 150. Read more
Protesters in Managua
Credit: By Voice of America, via Wikimedia Commons
Two Central American governments ended their cooperation with the United Nations on specific human rights initiatives and sought to exclude UN representatives from their territories in late August 2018. In Guatemala, President Jimmy Morales announced on August 31 he would not renew the mandate of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) when it expires in 2019 and barred CICIG head Iván Velásquez from reentering the country, despite a Supreme Court order rejecting a previous attempt to expel him. [IACHR: Guatemala; NYT] Since 2007, CICIG has assisted national authorities in prosecuting corruption, and recently announced an investigation into President Morales for illegal campaign contributions. [NYT]
Also on August 31, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega rescinded an invitation to a fact-finding team from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), just after OHCHR published a report on authorities’ human rights violations against protesters since demonstrations against the Ortega government began in April 2018. [Al Jazeera; IJRC: Nicaragua] The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), OHCHR, and civil society have expressed concern at these developments. [IACHR: Guatemala; IACHR: Nicaragua; OHCHR Press Release: Concern; HRW: Nicaragua; HRW: Torture] Observers fear the crises in both countries will continue to worsen. [NYT: Authoritarianism] Read more
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda
Credit: ICC via Flickr
Earlier this month, the International Criminal Court (ICC) pre-trial chamber ordered the ICC to establish a system of disseminating public information to and conducting outreach activities with the affected communities and victims of the situation in Palestine, a situation currently undergoing preliminary examination at the Court. The decision recognizes victims’ right to be heard in the context of the ICC’s work, and requires that outreach activities explain the ICC’s jurisdiction with regards to the situation in Palestine; provide information on the Court, including on the role of victims at each stage of proceedings; and respond to victims’ concerns. See ICC, Situation in the State of Palestine, ICC-01/18, Decision on Information and Outreach for the Victims of the Situation, 13 July 2018, paras. 14-16. The pre-trial chamber’s order marks the first time that the Court has promoted information and outreach activities as early as the preliminary examination stage. [Al Jazeera]