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.
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: 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.
African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Credit: AfCHPR via Twitter
Access to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) is likely to further shrink next year, following announcements by Côte d’Ivoire and Benin that they will withdraw their acceptance of the Court’s jurisdiction over human rights complaints by individuals and non-governmental organizations. [RFI; Government of Benin Press Release] News of the announcements came days after the AfCHPR issued provisional measures ordering both States to take specific steps to avoid the exclusion of opposition candidates from upcoming elections, although Benin authorities indicated Benin had communicated its withdrawal on March 16, 2020. [RFI (French only); RTI Info (French only); Barron’s] No official notification from either State to the African Union is yet available online.
Benin and Côte d’Ivoire would become the third and fourth States to withdraw a declaration under Article 34 of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Protocol), potentially leaving only six States that allow individuals and NGOs to directly submit complaints to the AfCHPR. See IJRC, African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Previously, Tanzania withdrew its declaration in November 2019 and Rwanda in February 2016. See IJRC, African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The AfCHPR ruled in the case of Rwanda that a properly communicated withdrawal would take effect one year after notification. See AfCHPR, Ingabire Victoire Umuhoza v. Rwanda, App. No. 003/2014, Ruling on Jurisdiction of 3 June 2016, paras. 67-68.
European Committee of Social Rights meets via video conference
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 May, with the European Court of Human Rights extending its exceptional measures to June 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. Some human rights bodies have adopted measures that will enable them to continue some of their work remotely and some have already held virtual meetings. On May 1, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights became the first human rights body to announce that it will hold a virtual period of sessions in July 2020.
As more information becomes available in the month of May, 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 May 26, 2020
Michelle Bachelet UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Credit: UN Photo/Violaine Martin
The United Nations Human Rights Committee and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) have published new guidance on derogations from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in light of reports indicating that States have or are considering implementing emergency measures in response to the COVID-19 health crisis. [OHCHR Press Release] While some States have notified the United Nations Secretary General of their intent to derogate from their human rights obligations, as required by Article 4 of the ICCPR, many States parties to the ICCPR have “resorted to emergency measures…without formally submitting a notification of derogation.” See Human Rights Committee, Statement on derogations from the Covenant in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic, UN Doc. CCPR/C/128/2, 24 April 2020. The Human Rights Committee and the OHCHR have clarified the requirements that States must meet when limiting or restricting human rights, and elaborated on the specific steps that States must take to derogate from certain rights under international human rights law. See OHCHR, Emergency Measures and COVID-19: Guidance (2020). While derogations are permitted when states of emergency are declared, both of the OHCHR and the Human Rights Committee emphasize that measures “suspending rights should be avoided when the situation can be adequately dealt with by establishing proportionate restrictions or limitations on certain rights.” See id.
From the data available in the United Nations Treaty Collection (UNTS), it appears that 13 States (Armenia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Georgia, Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Palestine, Peru, and Romania) have notified the Human Rights Committee of derogations to the ICCPR. News reports indicate that many more have enacted states of emergency, with varying restrictions and human rights implications. For a growing collection of such stories, see the National responses to the 2019-20 coronavirus pandemic page on Wikipedia. There are 173 States parties to the ICCPR.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres attends COVID-19 briefing
Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré
Various supranational human rights bodies have cancelled or limited meetings in response to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) assessment of the global risk posed by the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the increasing number of travel restrictions imposed by national governments. [NGO CSW; HRC Bureau Meeting; WHO Press Release: Feb 28] Civil society’s participation has been hardest hit, most notably by the decisions to reduce the 64th session of Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) from two weeks to one day, and to cancel all side events at the United Nations Human Rights Council’s ongoing session. [NGO CSW; France24; VOA] Some human rights monitoring bodies and civil society organizations have also reminded States of their human rights obligations in the context of preventing the spread of coronavirus. [ACHPR Press Release; OHCHR Press Release; Amnesty International] On its webpage, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, for one, encouraged participants in its March session to use videoconferencing to participate remotely. The human rights bodies’ decisions to cancel or modify meetings come after a February 28 letter from the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres.
European Committee of Social Rights
Credit: Council of Europe
In March, 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 and country visits. Five United Nations treaty bodies and two pre-sessional working groups will be in session to assess States’ progress regarding economic, social and cultural rights; children’s rights; civil and political rights; the rights of persons with disabilities; and, migrants’ rights. The Human Rights Council will continue to hold its first of three regular sessions in 2020. Seven UN special procedures will conduct country visits in March. Additionally, two UN Working Groups will hold sessions in Geneva, Switzerland. Regionally, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will hold public sessions. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will also hold a Grand Chamber hearing.
The UN treaty body sessions, the ECtHR’s Grand Chamber hearing, and the public hearings of the IACtHR and the IACHR may be watched via UN Web TV, the ECtHR’s website, and the IACtHR’s Vimeo page and the IACHR’s YouTube page, respectively. Civil society members wishing to attend sessions should monitor updates related to the spread of the COVID-19 (Corona) virus, which may result in cancelled sessions or meetings and/or additional health checks.
To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar. Read more
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.
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]