Category Archives: civil society

Recent Developments Highlight Increased Collaboration Among Human Rights Bodies

Signing of the MOU between the UN and the World Economic Forum
Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias

Over the past several months, supranational human rights bodies have announced a flurry of joint events and agreements, highlighting some specific rights challenges and the increasing importance of technical collaboration. Between September and November 2019, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) were among the bodies that entered into cooperation agreements or hosted events to formalize and enhance collaboration in the implementation of human rights instruments. While there are many other examples over the past decade, it is noteworthy that these collaborations appear to be happening with increasing frequency, formality, and transparency.

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IACHR Announces Results and Changes in Efforts to Reduce Backlog

Assistant Executive Secretary for Petitions and Cases, Marisol Blanchard Vera (far right), IACHR 173 Period of Sessions
Credit: IACHR via Flickr

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which has long faced a significant backlog in its resolution of individual complaints, has announced developments in the implementation of its Special Procedural Backlog Reduction Program, approved in its Strategic Plan 2017-2021. [IACHR Press Release: Stages] According the IACHR’s press release on its 2019 conclusions, to date, the IACHR has achieved record results in terms of the number of petitions it reviews, decisions it adopts, and friendly settlements it approves. [IACHR Press Release: Stages] It also expects to notify States and petitioners of a record number of decisions to open petitions for processing in 2019. [IACHR Press Release: Stages] The IACHR attributes the increases to the addition of 21 individuals to its case system team in the last two years, largely thanks to the regular fund budget increase from the Organization of American States. [IACHR Press Release: Stages]

The IACHR has also made logistical and procedural changes in its handling of petitions. Most recently, the IACHR adopted Resolution 1/19 limiting the opportunities for petitioners to request review of a decision by the IACHR to reject a petition at the initial review stage. [IACHR Press Release: Initial Review] It also continues to implement Resolution 1/16, allowing the IACHR to consider the admissibility and merits of certain petitions together (rather than in separate stages and reports). Other efforts include increased facilitation of friendly settlements, using template reports for similar cases, and archiving petitions after three years of inactivity (rather than five). [IACHR Press Release: Stages]

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September 2019: UN Treaty Bodies, Human Rights Council, And Regional Bodies in Session

Human Rights Council in Session
Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

In September, universal and regional human rights bodies and experts will review States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through the consideration of State and civil society reports and country visits. Three United Nations treaty bodies and one pre-sessional working group will hold sessions to assess States’ progress regarding the rights of persons with disabilities, children, and migrant workers. The Human Rights Council will consider the overall human rights situations in 14 countries. Nine UN special procedures will conduct country visits in September. Additionally, the UN Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances will hold a session in Geneva, Switzerland. Of the regional bodies, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR), the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) will be in session, and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hold three Grand Chamber hearings.

The UN treaty body sessions may be watched via UN Web TV. The public hearings of the AfCHPR, IACtHR, IACHR, and ECtHR may be viewed via the AfCHPR’s YouTube page, the IACtHR’s Vimeo page, the IACHR’s YouTube page, and the ECtHR’s website, respectively.

To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar. Read more

OAS Elects Four Commissioners to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Second Day of OAS 49th General Assembly
Credit: OEA – OAS via Flickr

On June 28, 2019, the 49th General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) re-elected Commissioners Margaret May Macaulay (Jamaica) and Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño (Panama) to serve a second full term on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and elected two new commissioners, Julissa Mantilla Falcón (Peru) and Edgar Stuardo Ralón Orellana (Guatemala). [OAS Press Release] By January 2020, when the elected commissioners begin their terms, the IACHR’s composition will consist of five female commissioners and two male commissioners – the highest female to male ratio in the history of the IACHR. Mantilla Falcón was endorsed as a qualified commissioner in the 2019 report by the Independent Panel for the Election of Inter-American Human Rights Commissioners, a part of the Initiative on Transparency and Election Monitoring housed at American University’s Washington College of Law. See Mariclaire Acosta, et al., Abridged Version of the Report from the Independent Panel of Experts for the Evaluation of Candidates for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (2019). However, the Panel and civil society members objected to Ralón Orellana’s nomination and election, citing concerns over his limited human rights experience as well as his independence and impartiality.

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Inter-American Court to Publish Some Submissions on Implementation of Judgments

Caso Acosta y otros Vs. Nicaragua
Credit: CorteIDH via Flickr

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) has published a new agreement providing public access to certain documents submitted to the Court in relation to decided cases. [IACtHR Press Release] Specifically, the Court will now publish on its website briefs and other information on compliance with its ordered guarantees of non-repetition (whether these are submitted by the parties or by other entities or experts), as well as amicus curiae briefs, submitted during the judgment implementation phase. See I/A Court H.R., Court Agreement No. 1/19, Clarifications in Relation to the Publication of Information Contained in the Files of Cases at the Stage of Monitoring Compliance with Judgment, 11 March 2019.

While the IACtHR has long published its own orders on compliance with its judgments, it has not previously published the parties’ briefs or other submissions regarding compliance. And, while the Court publishes the parties’ “main briefs” from the merits phase, it does not publish amicus curiae briefs related to the merits. Importantly, the Court’s orders on compliance with its judgments already refer to and quote from the information it receives from the parties and others; the major change of this new policy is that the public will have direct access to submitted documents and briefs themselves, at least with regard to guarantees of non-repetition. The Court may implement the new agreement retrospectively, to publish the relevant briefs received in prior years. See id.

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New Report: Civil Society Access to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

civil society meets with IACHR

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

Commission of Inquiry: Israeli Response to Gaza Demonstrations Violated Rights

2018 Gaza border protests, Bureij
Credit: מינוזיג – MinoZig via Wikimedia Commons

In a new 252-page report, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on the protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (CoIOPT or Commission), established by the UN Human Rights Council, presents detailed findings related to its investigation of the demonstrations that took place in Gaza between March 30 and December 31, 2018, the Israeli security forces’ response, and the impact on civilians living in Gaza and Israel. See Report of the detailed findings of the independent international Commission of inquiry on the protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, 18 March 2019, UN Doc. No. A/HRC/40/CRP.2, para. 1. The CoIOPT finds Israel, Hamas (as Gaza’s de facto authority), and the Palestinian Authority, responsible for human rights violations committed in the context of these protests; notes that the Israeli security forces’ response to the demonstrations gave rise to humanitarian law violations, some of which may amount to crimes against humanity; and highlights the urgent need to revise the Israeli security forces’ rules of engagement. See id. at paras. 980-81, 985. The CoIOPT presents the report with a view to ensuring accountability, proposing concrete recommendations, and identifying State and non-State actors responsible for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and international criminal law — the applicable international legal framework to this situation. See id. at paras. 12-13, 37.

While the Commission faced significant limitations with respect to its ability to witness information first-hand, it relied on interviews, meetings with victims, civil society, government officials, and witnesses; it also collected thousands of documents, including medical reports, expert legal opinions, drone footage, and written submissions, among others, to support its findings. See id. at paras. 19-21, 30-36. The Israeli government has since issued a statement rejecting the report’s findings and accusing the Commission of bias against Israel. See Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Israel’s response to UNHRC Commission of Inquiry report, 21 March 2019. Read more

Human Rights Experts Condemn Continuing Internet Shutdowns in African Countries

ACHPR Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, Lawrence Murugu Mute
Credit: Lawrence Mute via Twitter

A number of African countries have drawn international criticism amid a wave of internet shutdowns aimed at restricting access to information and discourse on social, economic, and political issues. Between December 2018 and January 2019, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Gabon, and Zimbabwe cut off access to the internet in response to protests. [ACHPR Press Release: Shutdowns] Human rights groups and experts have condemned these moves as illegal acts of repression, citing violations of the rights to freedom of expression and access to information. [ACHPR Press Release: Shutdowns; OHCHR Press Release; Access Now Press Release] While the internet shutdowns in Africa contribute to a trend of increasing shutdowns around the world, the international response demonstrates that internet access is now recognized as essential to the exercise of human rights.

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Guatemala & Nicaragua: Cooperation with Human Rights Monitors Deteriorates

Press Conference by Foreign Minister of Guatemala
Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias

The governments of Guatemala and Nicaragua each recently issued decisions terminating cooperation with international and regional oversight bodies in critical areas of human rights, prompting strong criticism. [UN News: Nicaragua; IACHR Press Release: Guatemala; European Council Press Release] Escalating his September 2018 decision that Guatemala would not renew its agreement with a United Nations-backed anti-corruption investigatory body, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales unilaterally decided to expel the body prior to the agreement’s expiration and ahead of the next presidential election. [UN News: CICIG; NY Times; IJRC: Oversight] Additionally, in December 2018, the Nicaraguan government, amid mounting civil unrest, announced measures effectively barring two monitoring mechanism set up by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and stated that it would no longer accept IACHR visits. [IACHR Press Release: Nicaragua; UN News: Nicaragua] UN experts have resoundingly condemned the governments for disregarding their international legal obligations under these agreements and the human rights at stake in the absence of this oversight. [UN News: CICIG; UN News: Nicaragua]

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November 2018: United Nations and Regional Human Rights Bodies in Session

Human Rights Council Tenth Session Participants
Credit: UN Photo/Pierre-Michel Virot

In November, 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. Five United Nations treaty bodies will meet to review States’ progress with regard to civil and political rights, women’s rights, enforced disappearances, torture, and racial discrimination. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group will also be in session and will conduct interactive dialogues with representatives from 14 States. Eleven UN special procedures will conduct country visits this month, and two UN working groups will hold sessions.

Regionally, the African Commission of Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR), the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Children (ACERWC), and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will be holding public sessions. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hear arguments in three cases.

The UN treaty body sessions, the AfCHPR’s public hearings, the public hearings of the European Court, and the public hearings of the IACHR may be watched via UN Web TV, the African Court’s YouTube channel, the European Court’s website, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ website or Vimeo page, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.

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