Category Archives: domestic courts

U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Absolute Immunity For International Organizations

Panorama of the west facade of United States Supreme Court Building at dusk in Washington, D.C.
Credit: Joe Ravi via Wikimedia Commons

On February 27, 2019, the United States Supreme Court held by a vote of seven to one that international organizations do not have absolute immunity from suit in U.S. courts. See Jam v. International Finance Corp., No. 17-1011, slip op. at 2 (U.S. Feb. 27, 2019). Rejecting the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) argument that international organizations like the IFC maintain absolute immunity from suit in U.S. courts, the Court allowed a case alleging injuries from environmental pollution caused by a power plant that was funded and supervised by the IFC to proceed in a U.S. federal court. See id. at 1-2, 5-6. The Supreme Court held that international organizations are not immune from all suits, such as when those organizations are engaged in commercial activity. See id. at 4, 15. The Supreme Court’s decision now allows the case against the IFC to move forward in U.S. Federal Court in Washington D.C. Although the Supreme Court’s decision did not make a determination on the merits of the case, the Court’s holding opens the door in U.S. courts for other potential suits alleging wrongdoing committed by other international organizations. [Earthrights]

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Ten Human Rights Standards Implicated by U.S. Immigration Policy Changes

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol at the San Ysidro crossing
Credit: Josh Denmark

Recent changes in the United States’ immigration policies have drawn fresh condemnation from human rights experts and civil society, particularly as news spread that authorities had separated approximately 2,000 children from their parents at the country’s southern border. [IACHR Press Release; OHCHR Press Release; UNHCR Press Release] These changes include automatic criminal prosecution and detention of adults – including asylum seekers – entering the United States without authorization, separation and detention of children who crossed the southern border outside a port of entry with their parents, and a directive instructing immigration officials not to recognize a State’s failure to protect victims of gang violence and domestic violence as grounds for asylum. In response to criticism earlier this month, President Trump signed an Executive Order on June 20, 2018 to detain children and parents together, but that also raised concerns because it did not address the reunification of separated families and proposed modifying time limits on detention of families. [OHCHR Press Release: UN Experts] The policy changes add to long-standing human rights concerns related to U.S. immigration policy. This post reviews 10 of the primary principles implicated. Read more

U.S. Supreme Court Limits Corporate Liability for Human Rights Abuses

Arab Bank, the defendant in Jesner v. Arab Bank
Credit: jo.schz via Flickr

On April 24, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Jesner v. Arab Bank that foreign citizens cannot sue foreign corporations for civil damages in U.S. federal courts for serious violations of international law, such as torture or extrajudicial killings. See Jesner et al. v. Arab Bank, PLC, No. 16–499, slip op. (April 24, 2018). The case was brought against Arab Bank by victims of several terrorist attacks occurring in Israel and the occupied territories. See id. at 1. The plaintiffs alleged that Arab Bank supported numerous terrorist attacks, including those that harmed the victims, by knowingly providing financial services to terrorists, such as accepting deposits it knew were donations used to fund the attacks and pay money to the families of suicide bombers. See id. at 1-3. The plaintiffs brought their case under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), which provides that United States federal courts may hear cases, brought by non-nationals, of tort committed in violation of international law. See id. at 1-2. The ATS is an exercise in universal civil jurisdiction, as it extends domestic judicial jurisdiction over actions that occurred abroad to foreign plaintiffs; it has historically been a means for non-U.S. citizens to seek redress for serious human rights violations committed outside of the U.S., although the Jesner decision and previous rulings limit the scope of the statute. See, e.g., Jesner, No. 16–499, slip op. at 1; Filártiga v. Peña-Irala, 630 F.2d 876 (2d Cir. 1980). Notably, the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum limited the scope of the ATS to cases that touch and concern the United States with sufficient force to overcome a presumption against the U.S. extending jurisdiction extraterritorially. See Kiobel et al. v. Royal Dutch Petroleum et al., 569 U.S. 108 (2013); Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, 542 U.S. 692 (2004). International human rights bodies disagree over whether States must exercise universal civil jurisdiction over specific human rights abuses, mainly torture, that occurred abroad and by a foreign defendant. [IJRCSee Naït-Liman v. Switzerland [GC], Judgment of 15 March 2018; CAT, General Comment No. 3 (2012), UN Doc. CAT/C/GC/3, 13 Dec. 2012, paras. 22, 26.

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Supreme Court of India Declares Privacy Is a Fundamental Right

Supreme Court of India
Credit: Legaleagle86 via Wikimedia Commons

At the end of August, the Supreme Court of India unanimously held that the Constitution of India specifically protects the right to privacy, which it concluded is inherent to constitutional guarantees of life and liberty pursuant to its Article 21 and, therefore, already exists as a fundamental freedom enshrined in the Constitution. See Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd) vs. Union of India, (2017) (India) (opinion of Chandrachud, J.), at 110, 254, 257, 262. The decision arose from a case challenging the constitutionality of the country’s system of using biometrics to identify individuals. For the case to move forward, the nine judges of the Supreme Court of India had to first determine whether the Constitution of India protects the right to privacy. See id. at 7. Affirming the right, the court’s decision was in accordance with international standards on privacy; the court confirmed that individuals have a zone of privacy limited by others’ rights and that the State may interfere with the right to privacy only through established law in pursuit of a legitimate aim and when necessary in a democratic society. See id. at 180-91, 242-46. The constitutional challenge to the biometric identification system will now resume, taking into account the privacy framework decided by the court.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) the ruling in the present case will not only have an impact on national policies concerning mandatory identification programs, but also other domestic issues, such as sexual orientation; the opinion explicitly states that sexual orientation is essential to privacy and identity, and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is counter to dignity. A challenge to India’s law criminalizing same-sex relations is also currently pending in court. [HRW] See id. at 124. The decision already overruled two prior domestic cases that held the right to privacy is not specifically protected under the Constitution of India. See Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd) vs. Union of India, (opinion of Chandrachud, J.), at 5. Read more

News Clips- May 19, 2017

United Nations Representative of the Republic of Korea, Cho Tae-yul, speaks to journalists on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s recent missile launch.
Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias

Civil Society

  • On Friday, an estimated 11 activists were detained in Moscow while reading aloud Russia’s constitution. [Guardian]
  • On Wednesday, the government in Venezuela announced it will deploy 2,000 soldiers in response to the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators that have been protesting the government since April. [Guardian]

Freedom of Expression & Access to Information

LGBTI

  • This week, Lebanon was set to be the first Arab country to celebrate gay pride, but the landmark events were canceled due to threatened violence. [Reuters]
  • On Wednesday, the International Day Against Homophobia, 100 activists demonstrated in Russia to protest gay persecution and violence in Chechnya. [Washington Post]

Violence & Humanitarian Crises

  • On Sunday, authorities in Yemen declared a state of emergency due to a cholera outbreak that has killed 115 people. [Guardian]
  • On Monday, at least 20 people died in attacks on a village in Nigeria that may be connected to land disputes in the region. [Washington Post]
  • On Wednesday, it was reported that the Red Cross found 115 people dead in Bangassou, Central African Republic after days of attacks. [Washington Post]

Environment

  • This week, the United Nations World Meteorological Organization launched a two-year worldwide effort to gather data to improve predictions of weather, particularly in the Arctic and Antarctic. [UN News Centre]
  • The United States Secretary of State signed a document to protect the Arctic, extend scientific cooperation, and acknowledge the entry into force of the Paris Agreement. [Guardian]

Politics

  • On Sunday, North Korea test-fired a mid-to-long-range missile; North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, claims the United States is in range of the rocket. [Guardian]
  • On Monday, the president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, ordered sanctions against Russia, including blocking access to popular Russian websites for three years. [Guardian]
  • This week, the European Union threatened to sanction Hungary for its anti-European Union rhetoric. [Al Jazeera]

 

Dutch Businessman Convicted of War Crimes Committed in Liberia and Guinea

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone
Credit: UN Photo/SCSL/AP Pool/Peter DeJong

On April 21, 2017, a Dutch court of appeal ruled that Dutch national Guus Kouwenhoven, acting in his capacity as president and director of two timber companies, was an accessory to war crimes including, rape, pillage, inhumane treatment, and murder committed in Liberia and Guinea between August 2000 and December 2002. See Hof ‘s-Hertogenbosch 21 april 2017, RvdW 2017, 20-001906-10 (Kouwenhoven) (Neth.) (in Dutch only). [Global Witness Press Release] The court determined that Kouwenhoven’s provision of weapons, material, personnel, and other resources to the former Liberian President Charles Taylor, in addition to his manifested intent to contribute to the commission of these grave crimes, constituted the aiding and abetting of war crimes committed by Taylor’s armed forces. The court ruled that Kouwenhoven, who assisted in the transportation and distribution of weapons, was liable both for the crimes that were directly committed with the weapons Kouwenhoven supplied and for the crimes that resulted indirectly from their use. He additionally was convicted of violating the United Nations arms embargo. See Hof ‘s-Hertogenbosch 21 April 2017 (Kouwenhoven).

The court, issuing a sentence of 19 years in prison, emphasized that with this judgment all international businessmen are put on notice that business with regimes like Charles Taylor’s can lead to involvement with and liability for international crimes. [European University Institute Blogs] While individual businessmen have been held liable for their assistance in committing war crimes in the past, such as in post-World War II trials and at least one other case in Dutch courts, civil society and academics have called for, and foresee, the increased prosecution of individuals for their assistance in the commission of war crimes through their business ties. See Trial International, Frans Van Anraat. [Global Witness Press Release] Read more

ILO: Thailand Not Meeting Obligations Under Forced Labour Convention

Thai fishing boat
Credit: SeaDave via Wikimedia Commons

The International Labour Organization (ILO) recently issued recommendations to Thailand to bring it in line with anti-slavery and forced labor provisions in the ILO Forced Labour Convention in response to allegations on the use of forced labor in the fishing industry, which has also been the topic of a lawsuit in the United States and of international pressure. [Guardian: Lawsuit; Guardian: ILO] Specifically, the submission to the ILO – referred to as a representation – alleged the forced labor and trafficking in persons of migrant workers from Myanmar, Cambodia, and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and alleged that fishers are subject to 20-hour work days, non-payment of wages, debt bondage, physical abuse, and murder. See International Labour Office, Sixth Supplementary Report: Report of the Committee set up to examine the representation alleging non-observance by Thailand of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29), made under article 24 of the ILO Constitution by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) (2017), paras. 1, 7, 10. Additionally, the representation argues that violations in Thailand are due to a “weak legislative framework, the lack of effective complaints mechanisms, and the ineffectiveness of law enforcement mechanisms.” See id. at para. 9. The ILO committee that was set up to examine the present representation recommended improving labor inspections and legal enforcement of existing legislation, preventing and punishing illegal recruitment processes, and addressing illegal employment practices. See id. at paras. 60-68, 71-77. The ILO Forced Labour Convention requires States parties to “undertake to suppress” forced labor and to enforce penalties for engaging in forced labor. Read more

News Clips- March 10, 2017

Protesters march on International Women’s Day in Barcelona
Credit: Sarahmirk via Wikimedia Commons

Civil Society

  • On Wednesday, to mark International Women’s Day, women demonstrated around the world for equality. [Reuters]
  • On Tuesday, in Argentina tens of thousands joined in a march protesting job cuts and other policies initiated under President Mauricio Macri. [Al Jazeera]
  • On Monday, Israel passed a law denying entry visas to foreign nationals who support boycotts against Israel or its West bank settlements. [Washington Post]

Armed Conflict, Violence, & Humanitarian Crises

  • On Thursday, a human rights organization reported it is likely that a United States-led coalition is responsible for air strikes on an ISIL controlled village in Syria that resulted in 23 civilian deaths. [Al Jazeera]
  • On Wednesday, 21 Guatemalan girls were killed by a fire that occurred amid protests against alleged rights abuses at San Jose Pinula child centre. [Al Jazeera]
  • On Wednesday, gunmen disguised as medical personnel carried out attacks, claimed by ISIL, killing 30 people in a hospital in Afghanistan. [Reuters]
  • On Monday, rebels from Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army initiated an attack against law enforcement officials in the Kokang region near China; 30 people were killed. [Al Jazeera]
  • Last week, government officials in Zimbabwe reported 246 deaths and thousands homeless after recent floods. [Al Jazeera]

Migration, Refugees, & Asylum Seekers

  • This week, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq estimated that 450,000 internally displaced persons are expected to flee to camps as violence in western Mosul, Iraq continues. [Al Jazeera]
  • On Tuesday, Hungary approved a policy of detaining asylum seekers in guarded and enclosed camps as a way of deterring migration. [New York Times]
  • On Tuesday, the International Organization for Migration reported that violence between rival smuggling gangs caused 22 migrant deaths. [Reuters]
  • On Wednesday, the state of Hawaii filed for a temporary restraining order against United States President Trump’s revised executive order that temporarily bans citizens of Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen from securing visas to enter the United States. [Al Jazeera]

Activities of International Bodies & Entities

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