Category Archives: discrimination

Human Rights Bodies Respond to Coronavirus, Some Suspend Scheduled Sessions

UN Secretary-General António Guterres attends COVID-19 briefing
Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc FerréŽ

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.

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European Court: Lithuania Must Investigate Online Homophobic Hate Speech

Judges of the European Court of Human Rights
Credit: ECtHR

In its first judgment to directly consider the issue, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has held that the State authorities’ failure to investigate online hate speech against a gay couple violated the couple’s rights to private and family life and constituted discrimination on sexual orientation grounds under the European Convention on Human Rights. [ECtHR Press Release] In the case of Beizaras and Levickas v. Lithuania, a same-sex couple posted a photo on Facebook of them kissing, and other individuals posted hundreds of homophobic comments in response, including threats of violence. See ECtHR, Beizaras and Levickas v. Lithuania, no. 41288/15, Judgment of 14 January 2020, paras. 6-11. The Court found that State authorities had refused to launch a pre-trial investigation, even though they were aware of the hate comments, in part due to their expressed disapproval of the applicants’ sexual orientation. See id. at paras. 16-23, 121. The Court held that the State failed to meet its positive obligation to investigate hate speech that could incite violence, resulting in harm to the applicants’ “psychological well-being and dignity” and constituting a violation of their rights to private life and non-discrimination. See id. at paras. 113, 117, 129. Because the Lithuanian authorities had routinely failed to address increasing homophobic hate speech, the Court also found a violation of the applicants’ right to an effective domestic remedy (Article 13). See id. at paras. 151-56. The Court’s judgment advances protections for LGBTI individuals, and has been perceived as a victory by LGBTI rights activists. [ILGA-Europe] 

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December 2019: UN Treaty Bodies & Regional Bodies in Session

European Committee of Social Rights
Credit: ECSR

In December, 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. Two United Nations treaty bodies will be in session to assess States’ progress regarding the prevention of torture and the elimination of racial discrimination. Seven UN special procedures will conduct country visits in December. Additionally, two UN Working Groups will hold sessions in Geneva, Switzerland. Of the regional bodies, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR), the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR), and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will be in session.

The UN treaty body sessions, the AfCHPR public hearings, and the ECtHR’s Grand Chamber hearings, may be watched via UN Web TV, the African Court’s YouTube channel, and the ECtHR’s website, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.

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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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August 2019: UN Treaty Bodies & Regional Body In Session

Inter-American Court Judges
Credit: CorteIDH via Flickr

In August, 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 will hold sessions to assess States’ progress regarding the prevention of torture, the elimination of racial discrimination, and the rights of persons with disabilities. Five UN special procedures will conduct country visits in August. Additionally, the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention will hold a session in Geneva. Of the regional bodies, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will hold a special session this month.

The UN treaty body sessions may be watched via UN Web TV. The public hearings of the IACtHR may be viewed on the IACtHR’s Vimeo page. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.

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Inter-American Court to Determine State Responsibility for Trans Woman’s Murder

IACHR Hearing on LGBT Rights in Honduras
Daniel Cima via IACHR Flickr

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has, for the first time, referred a case involving an alleged extrajudicial killing of a transgender woman to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR). The IACHR’s referral, filed on April 30, 2019, indicates that trans activist Vicky Hernández was killed – likely by State agents – during a government-imposed curfew in 2009, amid a broader context of attacks against LGBT persons in Honduras, and that the State subsequently failed to adequately investigate her death. [IACHR Press Release] The IACHR describes the case as an opportunity for the Court to “develop jurisprudence on violence against LGBT people, particularly trans women” and to again consider the human rights implications of the 2009 coup d’état in Honduras. [IACHR Press Release] The IACHR referred the case to the Court after determining that Honduras failed to comply with the recommendations set out in its merits report, which was recently made available in English on the IACHR’s website along with the letter of submission to the Court.

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New IACHR Report Addresses Police Violence Against Black Americans

EEUU: Uso de fuerza por policía contra afrodescendientes
Credit: IACHR via Flickr

In a new report documenting the forms of police violence against people of African descent in the United States, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) examines the widespread racial disparities in the American criminal justice system, in light of the State’s international human rights obligations. See IACHR, Police Violence against Afro-descendants in the United States (2018). The report from the region’s principal human rights oversight body examines the factual situation and recommends specific reforms. [IACHR Press Release] Its conclusions are perhaps most succinctly expressed in a note on the cover art, which reads, “the United States has systematically failed to adopt preventive measures and to train its police forces to perform their duties in an appropriate fashion. This has led to the frequent use of force based on racial bias and prejudice and tends to result in unjustified killings of African Americans.” See IACHR, Police Violence against Afro-descendants in the United States.

The report goes beyond current-day excessive use of force to examine the history of racial discrimination in America, modern structural discrimination, over-policing of African American communities, a lack of accountability for excessive use of force, and various racial disparities in the larger criminal justice system. Among its recommendations, the IACHR calls on the U.S. to provide restitution “to remedy the situation of historic, structural discrimination against African Americans,” accountability for killings by police, public apologies and official declarations to restore the dignity and rights of the victims, and human rights training for law enforcement. See id. at paras. 295, 300, 301.

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