European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held last week that Switzerland violated the European Convention on Human Rights by assessing disability benefits in a manner that disproportionately penalized women who reduced their working hours after having children, resulting in gender discrimination. See ECtHR, di Trizio v. Switzerland, no. 7186/09, Judgment of 2 February 2016 (in French only). The application was brought by Vita Maria di Trizio, an Italian national living in the Swiss canton of St. Gall, whose disability benefits were discontinued after she gave birth to twins under the application of a “combined method” of assessing benefits, which assumed that even without a disability she would not have been employed full-time in order to tend to her household and children. Swiss authorities had used this method almost exclusively with regard to women, to reduce or deny benefits by considering the impact of motherhood on their workforce participation.
The Court cited a growing awareness that the “combined method” impedes progress towards gender equality, and recognized increasing support for the development of a disability assessment method more favorable to persons who work part-time and that better protects women from disproportionate hardship with respect for both their paid work and domestic duties. [ECtHR Press Release] Read more
Participants in the 8th African Union Gender Pre-Summit on 2016 African Year of Human Rights
Credit: African Union
On January 18, 2016, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) announced that, through the Special Rapporteur on Rights of Women in Africa, it will be launching a continental Campaign for the Decriminalization of Abortion in Africa. [ACHPR Press Release] Of the ACHPR’s 57 Member States, 25 reportedly have legislation in place that either completely prohibits abortion or allows the procedure only when necessary to save a woman’s life, and an additional nine States allow abortion only in order to protect a women’s physical health. See Women on Waves, Abortion Laws Worldwide. Globally, the incidence of deaths due to unsafe abortions is highest in Africa. See WHO, Prevention of Unsafe Abortion.
The ACHPR initiative aims to eliminate the threat of arrest or imprisonment from women and girls’ reproductive health decisions, and to reduce the number of deaths caused by unsafe abortions. [ACHPR Press Release] Pursuant to their continental and international human rights commitments, African States have an obligation to ensure access to legal abortion, at least in certain circumstances. The current campaign also coincides with the African Year of Human Rights with particular focus on the Rights of Women. Read more
European Committee of Social Rights
Credit: Council of Europe
On January 27, 2016 the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR or the Committee) published its 2015 conclusions regarding 31 States’ implementation of the European Social Charter’s provisions related to the rights of children, families, and migrants. It found 239 instances in which governments’ policies and practices failed to adequately protect these rights. [ECSR Press Release] The Committee also reiterated 38 previous findings of non-conformity with the Charter’s other protections where States have failed to provide sufficient information for the Committee’s evaluation.
Of the 47 Council of Europe Member States subject to the Committee’s jurisdiction, four failed to fulfill their 2015 reporting obligations and eight were excused from reporting because they have accepted the collective complaints procedure. See ECSR, European Social Charter: Social Rights Monitoring 2015. In its review of those eight States’ follow-up concerning 40 collective complaints it had previously decided, the ECSR concluded that the governments had failed to remedy the violations in nearly 90 percent of cases. See ECSR, Press Briefing Elements: Conclusions 2015 (2016); ECSR, Follow-up to Decisions on the Merits of Collective Complaints: Findings 2015 (2016).
The ECSR highlighted the continuing problem of child labor in Europe, violations of refugee and migrant rights, inaccessibility and inadequate quality of social services for families, and unfair treatment of young apprentices as major concerns across the countries. It also identified areas where progress has been made, including: protection of children against ill treatment, legal protection for families, legal frameworks for workers with familial responsibilities, and language training for foreigners. See ECSR, Press Briefing Elements: Conclusions 2015 (2016). Read more
European Committee of Social Rights
Credit: Council of Europe
During the month of January 2016, a number of bodies will be in session whose mandates are relevant to the protection of human rights. These include one regional human rights monitoring body, the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR), in addition to four United Nations mechanisms: the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the Human Rights Council Working Group on Situations, and the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO Committee). Read more
A rally in Nepal during the constitution drafting process
Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Samsujata
On September 16, 2015, the Constituent Assembly of Nepal adopted a new constitution almost a decade after the end of its civil war. The country’s constitution, the first to be drafted by popularly elected representatives, establishes Nepal as a secular federal republic. The constitution also divides Nepal into seven provinces and establishes a proportional electoral system to elect federal and state officials. While on the one hand, the constitution has received praise for its provisions protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights, there has also been strong criticism about other aspects of the constitution. For example, the Madhesi and Tharu ethnic minority groups continue to protest provisions concerning the proposed provincial boundaries, on the basis that their political representation will be more limited. Additionally, women’s rights groups have protested on the basis that certain constitutional provisions discriminate against women. Scholars have also expressed concerns regarding the lack of public participation in the process of drafting and implementing the constitution. Protests against the constitution have already resulted in more than 40 deaths since August 2015. [NY Times: Amid Protests; BBC: Why is Nepal’s Constitution Controversial?]
Internally displaced persons during Sri Lanka’s civil war
Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Ranveig
On September 16, 2015, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, released a report on the human rights violations, including unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, and gender-based violence, committed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and Sri Lankan government forces from 2002-2011. See Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Report of the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL), 16 September 2015 (hereinafter Report). The report concludes with a number of recommendations, including those of a general nature as well as more specific ones regarding institutional reforms, justice, truth and the right to know, reparations, and suggestions directed at the United Nations and Member States. See id. at 248-251.
The UN Office in Geneva
Credit: Wikiimedia Commons, eGuide Travel
On September 14, 2015 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) commenced its 70th session in Geneva, Switzerland. During this session, which will end on October 2, the Committee will review the reports of Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, Kazakhstan, Poland, Timor-Leste, and the United Arab Emirates concerning the States’ implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child; examine the reports of Brazil and Cuba with respect to their implementation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (OP-CRC-SC); and evaluate the reports of Brazil, Cuba, and Madagascar regarding their implementation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OP-CRC-AC). The Committee will also review reports by civil society organizations and national human rights institutions (NHRIs) concerning the States’ implementation of the Convention and optional protocols.
States parties and signatories to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance
The United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) is currently holding its 9th session in Geneva, Switzerland from September 7th to 18th. The CED is reviewing State reports of Iraq and Montenegro regarding their implementation of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (Convention). During the session, the CED and each State engage in dialogue on the State’s national report and responses to the issues the CED requested the State to address; the Committee will also consider supplemental reports submitted by civil society organizations and national human rights institutions (NHRIs) concerning the States’ compliance with the Convention. The CED will then adopt concluding observations on the States’ implementation of treaty provisions.
A panel discussion on women’s access to justice
Credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine
On July 23, 2015, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee) adopted a general recommendation on women’s access to justice, noting that the right of access to justice for women is essential to the realization of all the rights in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). See Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, General Recommendation No. 33 on Women’s Access to Justice, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/GC/33, 23 July 2015.
Migrants arriving on the Island of Lampedusa
Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Sara Prestianni
Political upheaval and human rights violations in parts of Africa and the Middle East, particularly in Eritrea, Kosovo, and Syria, are increasing migration flows to Europe at an unprecedented rate. While the European Union (EU) received approximately 626,000 applications for asylum in 2014, Germany alone is expected to receive 800,000 applications this year. [Financial Times: Germany] Europe has not yet responded to this crisis with a uniform and coherent approach. For example, the Council on Foreign Relations notes that while Greece implemented stricter border-control operations in 2013 and Italy phased out its sea rescue program in October 2014, Sweden, on the other hand, stated that it would offer permanent residency to all Syrian refugees in 2013. European ministers will participate in an emergency summit on September 14, 2015 in Brussels to develop a more unified response to the migration crisis. [WSJ]