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.
Category Archives: discrimination
In a controversial new judgment, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has found that Slovenia did not violate its positive obligation to provide access to drinking water and sanitation for Roma communities living in informal settlements. [ECtHR Press Release] In Hudorovič and Others v. Slovenia, a group of Slovenian nationals of Roma origin alleged that the Slovenian government failed to provide adequate access to drinking water and sanitation to the Roma community. See ECtHR, Hudorovič and Others v. Slovenia, nos. 24816/14 and 25140/14, Judgment of 10 March 2020. While the Court acknowledged that it is “necessary to take into account the vulnerable and disadvantaged position of the Roma population” in Slovenia, it clarified that in “socio-economic matters” a State enjoys a wide margin of appreciation. See id. at paras. 131-142, 144. In this case, the Court considered whether Slovenia had met its positive obligation to provide access to basic utilities (such as safe drinking water) within the meaning of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and concluded that the State had not violated the Convention given that the applicants failed to demonstrate that the State’s “alleged failure” to provide safe drinking water “resulted in adverse consequences for [their] health and human dignity.” See id. at paras. 158-159. In 2016, Slovenia became the first European country to make access to drinking water a fundamental right, but human rights groups argue that Roma communities in Slovenia continue to lack access and consider this “evidence of the discrimination that Roma continue to experience.” [ERRC; Amnesty International]
In its first decision regarding obstetric violence, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) has found that Spain violated the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) when domestic courts did not adequately assess a woman’s claims that she had been subjected to excessive and unnecessary exams, medication, and other interventions without her consent during labor, resulting in “lasting physical and mental trauma.” [OHCHR Press Release] The CEDAW Committee concluded that the domestic courts deferred to the hospital instead of respecting the principle of informed consent, relied on gender stereotypes, and did not fairly evaluate her claims, in violation of CEDAW articles 2(b), (c), (d), and (f), 3, 5 and 12. See CEDAW Committee, S.F.M. v. Spain, Communication No. 138/2018, Views of 28 February 2020, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/75/D/138/2018 (Spanish only). The Committee urged Spain to provide appropriate reparations to the applicant, including financial compensation, and take specific steps to ensure respect for women’s human rights in the context of pregnancy and reproductive health care. See id. at paras. 7.2, 8.
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.
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]
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.
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.
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.
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.
The European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) has held Bulgaria responsible for Roma women’s inferior access to reproductive healthcare in public hospitals, specifically during pregnancy and childbirth. [ECSR Press Release] In a unanimous merits decision, the Committee found that Bulgaria’s failure to take proactive steps—including by addressing the much lower levels of health insurance coverage among Roma women, barriers to maternal care such as a lack of translation services, and significantly higher infant and maternal mortality rates—constituted a violation of the rights to health and non-discrimination under the Revised European Social Charte (the “Charter“). See ECSR, European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) v. Bulgaria, Complaint No. 151/2017, Merits, 5 December 2018. While the complaint also alleged that Roma women are routinely segregated in maternity wards, the ECSR ultimately determined there was insufficient evidence that this is a systemic practice. See id. at para. 93. In 2008, the ECSR found Bulgaria responsible for related gaps in access to healthcare services and worse health status among the Roma population; according to the more recent decision, the situation has not seen any improvement since then. See ECSR, European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) v. Bulgaria, Complaint No. 46/2007, Merits, 3 December 2008; ERRC v. Bulgaria, 5 December 2018, paras. 56, 85.