Judges of the European Court of Human Rights
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]
European Committee of Social Rights
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.
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.
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.
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.
Flags in front of the Council of Europe, Strasbourg
Credit: Elwood j blues via Wikimedia Commons
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.
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.
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
Inter-American Court hearing in Cuscal Piraval et al.
Credit: CorteIDH via Flickr
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) for the first time held a State responsible for violating the progressive realization principle, determining that Guatemala’s inaction to extend healthcare services to people with HIV/AIDS contravened its duty to progressively achieve the full realization of the right to health, among other violations. [IACtHR Press Release] In Cuscul Piraval et al v. Guatemala, published on October 25th, the IACtHR concluded that Guatemala violated the rights to health, integrity, and life of dozens of people with HIV and their family members. [IACtHR Press Release] The Court found that while charitable and humanitarian organizations had provided some care for HIV-positive patients, Guatemala’s public health system had failed to ensure access to essential healthcare for those with HIV, in spite of national legislation and programs intended to address the known gap in services. See IACHR, Merits Report No. 2/16, Case 12.484, Luis Rolando Cuscul Piraval et al. (Guatemala), 13 April 2016. This case marks a major development in the economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights jurisprudence in the Inter-American System. Read more