Category Archives: universal jurisdiction

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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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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European Court Delivers Landmark Judgment on Universal Jurisdiction & Torture

European Court of Human Rights
Credit: Adrian Grycuk via Wikimedia Commons

On March 15, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) issued a landmark decision finding that States are not required to allow victims of torture to sue perpetrators in civil proceedings, in the absence of criminal proceedings, for compensation when the act of torture occurred outside of the territory of the State and the perpetrators are not nationals and are domiciled abroad. See ECtHR, Naït-Liman v. Switzerland [GC], no. 51357/07, ECHR 2018, Judgment of 15 March 2018, paras. 97, 217. Accordingly, the ECtHR Grand Chamber held that States are not obligated under international law to exercise universal civil jurisdiction over acts of torture. See id. at para. 203. Universal civil jurisdiction is the power of a domestic court to resolve claims for monetary compensation without there being any connection between the State where the case is brought and the underlying facts of the case. See id. at para. 177. Although the ECtHR recognized that States were obligated to exercise universal criminal jurisdiction over acts of torture, the ECtHR found that there was no similar obligation for civil claims that are wholly separate from a criminal proceeding. See id. at para. 97. This decision diverges from the position taken by the United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT) and various international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists, Redress Trust, and the World Organization Against Torture. See id. at paras. 52-53, 161, 167-68. The CAT maintains that States are obligated to award reparations for acts of torture, even if the torture occurs outside of the territory of the State, and to ensure that civil liability and redress is “available independently of criminal proceedings.” See id. at paras. 52-53, 161, 167-68; CAT, General Comment No. 3 (2012), UN Doc. CAT/C/GC/3, 13 Dec. 2012, paras. 22, 26. Read more

News Clips – July 8, 2016

Human Rights Bodies’ Activities

  • The UN Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution supporting online users’ human rights and criticizing internet shutdowns. [Access Now; TechCrunch]
  • The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met with civil society representatives from the Philippines, Myanmar, and France ahead of those States’ interactive dialogues with the CEDAW Committee, which also took place this week as it began its 64th session. [OHCHR Press Release]
  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has suspended its planned July (and October) sessions amid an ongoing, critical financial crisis. [IJRC]
  • The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights held a special meeting this week in Thailand to review its work, complete its annual report, and address new areas of work, including its Judicial Colloquium on the Sharing of Good Practices regarding International Human Rights Law and Human Rights Cases in Domestic Courts. [AICHR Press Release]

Conflicts & Humanitarian Crises

  • The UN Security Council agreed to reauthorize the deployment of African Union troops in Somalia for an additional year, to improve stability and reduce the security threats posed by Al-Shabaab and other armed groups. [UN News Centre]
  • Amnesty International this week criticized the lack of investigation into war crimes committed by the Israeli military and Palestinian armed groups during the 50-day siege of summer 2014, when approximately 1,500 civilians died in the Gaza Strip. [Amnesty]
  • More than 280 people were killed as a result of last Saturday’s bombing in Baghdad, the worst such attack in Iraq since 2003. [Al Jazeera]
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross called on the parties to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine to stop attacking infrastructure on which civilians depend. [ICRC]
  • Many thousands have fled the South Sudanese city of Wau amid fresh fighting. [Al Jazeera]
  • An independent inquiry into the United Kingdom’s role in the Iraq war has culminated with the release of the so-called Chilcot report, which finds serious flaws in decision making by British intelligence and politicians, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair. [Washington Post; NYT]
  • A terrorist attack in Dhaka killed 20 people and prompted increased calls for the government of Bangladesh to improve justice and accountability while respecting human rights, particularly of civil society and members of the political opposition. [FIDH]

Human Rights Defenders & Civil Society

  • As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visits Beijing, China’s year-long crackdown on civil society has come under increased scrutiny. [AP; Amnesty]
  • Another Honduran activist, a colleague of slain environmentalist Berta Cáceres, has been killed. [The Guardian]
  • In Zimbabwe, citizens stayed home and businesses closed to protest government corruption and shortages. [The Guardian]
  • The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights joined other human rights bodies this week in condemning the murders of Kenyan human rights lawyer Willie Kimani and his companions. [ACHPR Press Release]
  • The human rights community mourns the death of Elie Wiesel, a Nobel Laureate, advocate, and Holocaust survivor, who died on July 2, 2016. [NYT; Enough Project; UN News Centre]

International & Domestic Courts

  • Following investigations and pressure from UN actors and civil society, Sri Lanka has agreed to establish, within a year, a special Sri Lankan court to try those responsible for human rights violations and war crimes committed during its internal armed conflict. [NYT]
  • A legal challenge to Brexit will proceed before a British court, which will be asked to determine whether parliament alone can initiate Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. [The Guardian]
  • Unconfirmed – and contested – reports are circulating that Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi has been released from custody in Libya, where he had been held in secret detention awaiting execution. [The Guardian; JiC]
  • A French court sentenced two former Rwandan mayors to life imprisonment on charges of crimes against humanity and genocide for their roles in the massacre of 2,000 people in a church, during the country’s 1994 genocide. [BBC]

Police Violence

  • Following the police killings of two black men, in Louisiana and Minnesota, earlier this week and the killing of five police officers by snipers at an otherwise peaceful protest against police brutality, in Texas last night, the United Nations Working Group of Experts on Persons of African Descent called on U.S. authorities to address the persistent lack of accountability for police killings. [OHCHR Press Release]
  • New Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is making good on his promise to violently crack down on the drug trade, with 45 people reportedly killed by police and civilians during his first week in office. [Al Jazeera]

 

International Law Commission Adopts New Articles on Crimes against Humanity

Members of the International Law Commission in 2013Credit: UN Photo/Anne-Laure Lechat

Members of the International Law Commission in 2013
Credit: UN Photo/Anne-Laure Lechat

During its 68th session, the International Law Commission (ILC) adopted an additional five draft articles for a possible international convention on crimes against humanity. The new draft articles address criminalization under national law, establishment of national jurisdiction, investigations and inter-State cooperation, preliminary detention, the obligation to extradite or prosecute, and treatment of alleged offenders. See International Law Commission, Sixty-eighth Session (2016). The ILC Special Rapporteur on Crimes against Humanity, Sean D. Murphy, submitted his second report to the ILC, in which he provides background on these topics and proposes the text of articles 5 through 10. See ILC, Second report on crimes against humanity by Sean D. Murphy, Special Rapporteur, UN Doc. A/CN.4/690, 21 Jan. 2016. The ILC provisionally adopted draft articles 1 through 4 at its 67th session. Since he began spearheading the ILC’s work in this area in 2014, Murphy has highlighted the importance of a convention on crimes against humanity to fill a gap in international criminal law by complementing the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on a national level. See, e.g., Sean Murphy, Toward a Convention on Crimes against Humanity?, La Revue des droits de l’homme, 7 (2015). Read more

Former Guatemalan Police Chief Convicted for Spanish Embassy Siege

Guatemala City
Guatemala City

Guatemala City
Credit: Rigostar

On January 19, a Guatemalan court found Pedro García Arredondo, a former police chief, guilty of murder and crimes against humanity for his role in authorities’ attack on the Spanish embassy in Guatemala City in 1980. In this attack, 37 protesters burned to death when the Spanish embassy building caught fire and García Arredondo ordered the building to be sealed and instructed officers, “No one gets out of there alive!” [Amnesty International: Conviction; BBC] Among those killed was the father of human rights advocate Rigoberta Menchú Tum. [Guardian] The Guatemalan court sentenced García Arredondo to a total of 90 years in prison: 40 years for murder and crimes against humanity in connection with the embassy attack, and 50 years for the murder of two students at the embassy victims’ funeral. [BBC; New York Times]

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