Category Archives: international human rights

New IACHR Report Addresses Police Violence Against Black Americans

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.

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Forced Sterilization as a Human Rights Violation: Recent Developments

Commission on the Status of Women, New York

In recent years, international advocacy has contributed to increased awareness of forced sterilization as a human rights violation, including as a result of our work at the International Justice Resource Center (IJRC). Around the world, healthcare providers and others continue to sterilize people without their informed consent, most often targeting those who are Indigenous, living with HIV, are persons with disabilities, or who experience discrimination on other grounds. Just this month, IJRC advanced our partners’ advocacy on this issue at the 63rd Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), and Human Rights Watch published a report on involuntary sterilization of transgender persons in Japan. The past three years have also seen judgments from regional human rights courts on forced sterilization and important statements from other bodies. This post details the results of advocacy before regional and United Nations human rights bodies, summarizing the growing body of recommendations, statements, and judgments that more fully define forced sterilization as a human rights violation and guide governments in addressing this harmful practice.

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ICJ: U.K. Rule Over Chagos Prevents Full Decolonization of Mauritius

London July 20 2018 (126) Chagos Islands Protest Trafalgar Square
Credit: David Holt via Flickr

In an advisory opinion issued on February 25, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) concluded that the United Kingdom violated core principles of international law by separating the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in the 1960s and continuing to administer the islands as a British territory. See Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965, Advisory Opinion, ICJ Reports 2019, para. 183. Despite the U.K’s numerous attempts to challenge the Court’s jurisdiction over the matter, the Court ultimately determined that it was competent to address the questions presented and issued its answer. See id. In its opinion, the Court made clear that the U.K’s actions with respect to this former colony run counter to what are now well-established rights of peoples to self-determination. See id. at paras. 177-178. The UN General Assembly is expected to discuss implementation of the advisory opinion, including returning the islands to Mauritius and resolving the status of the thousands of people the U.K. forcibly expelled from Chagos following its agreement with the United States to allow an American military base, and later secret CIA detention site, on the island of Diego Garcia. [Guardian; Nation]

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Council of Europe Adopts Declaration on Artificial Intelligence and Personal Autonomy

In a new declaration on the impact of the use of algorithms on democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers warns that artificial intelligence and other machine-learning technologies must not be used to unduly influence or manipulate individuals’ thoughts and behavior. See Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, Declaration by the Committee of Ministers on the manipulative capabilities of algorithmic processes, Decl(13/02/2019)1, 13 February 2019. The first of its kind, the declaration calls on States to take steps to ensure that technologies facilitating algorithmic persuasion, particularly those that “micro-target” individuals, do not interfere with people’s ability to enjoy their human rights and to make independent political, personal, and purchasing decisions. See id. at paras. 8, 9. The Declaration, which builds on ongoing study and analysis by Council of Europe organs, adds to the growing body of guidance and recommendations concerning the regulation of machine learning to safeguard human rights, including from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression.

The Declaration

At the heart of the Declaration is the concern that technology that seeks to shape our preferences and alter information flows is becoming an “ever growing presence in our daily lives,” and the finding that digital forms of targeted persuasion pose a threat to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. See Declaration by the Committee of Ministers on the manipulative capabilities of algorithmic processes, at paras. 4, 9. Specifically, the Committee of Ministers states that the use of “fine grained, sub-conscious and personalized levels of algorithmic persuasion” risks significantly interfering with the principles of individual autonomy and the right to form opinions and take independent decisions. See id. at para. 9. Undermining the autonomy and independence of individuals, according to the Committee, threatens the fundamental belief “in the equality and dignity of all humans as independent moral agents.” See id. at paras. 9.

The Committee of Ministers recognizes that digital services have become an essential tool for modern communication, including political communication, and that advanced technologies provide the opportunity to enhance human rights. See id. at paras. 2-3. However, the Committee also notes that public awareness “remains limited regarding the extent to which everyday devices collect and generate vast amounts of data” that “are used to train machine-learning technologies. . . to predict and shape personal preferences, to alter information flows, and, sometimes, to subject individuals to behavioral experimentation.” See id. at para. 4. Additionally, the Committee warns that the ability to infer “intimate and detailed information” from the data collected “supports the sorting of individuals into categories,” which allows companies to reinforce discrimination along cultural, religious, legal, and economic lines. See id. at para. 6.

The Committee of Ministers concludes that machine-learning technologies, when coupled with mass collection of data, pose a danger for democratic societies if these technologies are used—by either public or private entities—to “manipulate and control not only economic choices but also social and political behaviours.” See id. at para. 8. Moreover, the Committee notes that machine-learning tools are demonstrating an increasing ability to “not only to predict choices but also influence emotions and thoughts and alter an anticipated course of action, sometimes subliminally.” See id. at para. 8. The Committee emphasizes that the 47 Member States to the Council of Europe have an obligation to protect democracy, human rights, and the rule of law during the rapid social transformation that is occurring as the result of recent advances in technology. See id. at para. 1.


The Declaration makes five specific recommendations about how States should address the risks to democracy and human rights posed by machine learning. The first is that States should pay attention to the inter-disciplinary nature of this concern and ensure that the above concerns do not fall between the mandates of current administrative agencies. See id. at para. 9(a). Second, States should consider enacting laws that regulate the collection and use of personal data that go beyond preexisting privacy protections. See id. at para. 9(b). In addition, States should specifically legislate against forms of “illegitimate interference,” which would include forms of persuasion and interference that compromise democratic principles. See id. at para. 9(d). Lastly, the Committee asserts that States should both promote a public debate on the issue of what counts as permissible persuasion and empower users of digital technologies by promoting digital literacy, including awareness of data collection. See id. at para. 9(c) and 9(e).

Recent Developments under Human Rights Law Concerning AI

International human rights experts and civil society have sought to address the human rights impact of machine-learning and algorithmic decision-making. [OHCHR; UNDP; AccessNow; Data&Society] Most recently, in a 2018 report to the UN General Assembly, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression released the first such report examining the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithmic decision-making on the information environment; a response to these technologies “are now a critical part of the information environment – they are found in every corner of the internet, on digital devices and in technical systems, in search engines, social media platforms, messaging applications, and public information mechanisms.” [OHCHR]

Importantly, the Special Rapporteur’s report proposes a human rights framework for the design and use of these technologies by States and private actors. [OHCHR] Drawing primarily on the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, privacy, non-discrimination, and an effective remedy, the Special Rapporteur finds that States should ensure that human rights are at the core of private sector design of these technologies. See id. at paras. 60-63. This requires that States update and enforce data protection regulations with respect to machine-learning technologies. See id. at para. 63. Moreover, States should enact policies that create a diverse and pluralistic information environment, which may include the regulation of technology monopolies in the area of artificial intelligence. See id. at para. 64.

With respect to the responsibility of private companies, the Special Rapporteur found that companies should create and apply guidelines for the deployment of artificial intelligence that are grounded in human rights principles and informed by civil society. See id. at para. 65. Additionally, companies should be transparent and open for audit concerning the use of artificial intelligence on their platforms and services. See id. at paras. 66, 69. Companies should also prevent discrimination by the teams designing their artificial intelligence systems and discrimination in the actual system design, which may include monitoring outcomes that may be discriminatory, removing discriminatory data, and implementing measures that compensate for discriminatory data. See id. at para. 67.

Additional Information

The Council of Europe, based in Strasbourg, France, is an intergovernmental organization with 47 Member States. The Committee of Ministers, a decision-making body charged with monitoring the implementation of several human rights treaties including the European Convention on Human Rights, is composed of the ministers of foreign affairs of the Member States. Additionally, the European Court of Human Rights, the European Committee of Social Rights, and the Commissioner for Human Rights all operate under the auspices of the Council of Europe.

For more information about the European Human Rights System or the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub. To stay up-to-date on international human rights law news, visit IJRC’s News Room or subscribe to the IJRC Daily.

Human Rights Committee: Finland’s Oversight of Indigenous Politics Constitutes Violation

Sami and Finnish flags flying in Hetta
Credit: Htm via Wikimedia Commons

In two recently released decisions, United Nations Human Rights Committee determined that the Finnish government interfered with Sámi individuals’ rights to political participation and culture when a national court expanded the group of people authorized to vote, or run as candidates, in the Indigenous group’s parliamentary elections. [OHCHR Press Release: Finland] While the Committee and other UN human rights bodies have raised concerns about this issue before, these are the first complaints to be decided concerning the Sámi people’s self-determination. The Committee has given Finland six months to submit a report outlining the progress it has made in implementing the decisions. [OHCHR Press Release: Finland] One other communication on the same matter is pending before the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). See Human Rights Committee, Sanila-Aikio v. Finland, Views of 1 November 2018, UN Doc. CCPR/C/124/D/2668/2015, para. 4.2.

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Human Rights Experts Condemn Continuing Internet Shutdowns in African Countries

ACHPR Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, Lawrence Murugu Mute
Credit: Lawrence Mute via Twitter

A number of African countries have drawn international criticism amid a wave of internet shutdowns aimed at restricting access to information and discourse on social, economic, and political issues. Between December 2018 and January 2019, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Gabon, and Zimbabwe cut off access to the internet in response to protests. [ACHPR Press Release: Shutdowns] Human rights groups and experts have condemned these moves as illegal acts of repression, citing violations of the rights to freedom of expression and access to information. [ACHPR Press Release: Shutdowns; OHCHR Press Release; Access Now Press Release] While the internet shutdowns in Africa contribute to a trend of increasing shutdowns around the world, the international response demonstrates that internet access is now recognized as essential to the exercise of human rights.

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ICC Acquits Former Ivory Coast President of Crimes Against Humanity

ICC Trial Chamber I acquits Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé from all charges
Credit: ICC via Flickr

Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo was acquitted of crimes against humanity earlier this month when the International Criminal Court (ICC) found insufficient evidence of a common plan or policy to attack civilians during the 2010-2011 post-election violence in the Ivory Coast. See ICC, Prosecutor v. Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé, ICC-02/11-01/15, Oral Decision of Trial Chamber I on the Prosecutor’s Request under Article 81(3)(c)(i) of the Rome Statute, 16 January 2019. The ICC Appeals Chamber has decided Gbagbo and his co-defendant Charles Blé Goudé must remain in custody at least until it reviews the Trial Chamber I’s order to release them, at a hearing scheduled for February 1. [ICC Press Release: Delay] Once the Trial Chamber’s written judgment is filed, the Office of the Prosecutor may appeal the acquittals. [ICC Press Release: Acquittal] ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has confirmed her office will continue its investigations into the Ivory Coast situation, which currently includes pre-trial proceedings against Simone Gbagbo, wife of Laurent Gbagbo, who was granted amnesty for her role in the conflict by current Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara last year. [ICC: Bensouda; Guardian: Simone Gbagbo; BBC]

The Gbagbo judgment is the most recent in a line of prominent losses by the ICC Prosecutor, including the acquittal, on appeal, of former Congolese Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba in 2018 and the Court’s dismissal of charges of crimes against humanity against Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice-President William Ruto in 2015 and 2016, respectively. [IJRC: KenyaIJMonitor: Gbagbo; IJMonitor: Bemba] The ICC Prosecution’s recent failures have raised concerns among some about the Court’s ability to hold accountable those individuals who violate international criminal law. [IJRC: YekatomGuardian: ICC; Guardian: Gbagbo] Gbagbo, the first former head of State to be taken into ICC custody, has the right to request compensation for the seven years that he has spent in detention. See Rome Statute, art. 85(3).

The Trial of Laurent Gbagbo

On October 3, 2011, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor began its investigation into the Ivory Coast’s 2010 post-election crisis. See ICC, Gbagbo and Blé Goudé Case. Within two months, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Gbagbo, and Ivorian and French troops quickly arrested and transferred him to The Hague in November of 2011. [IJMonitor: Gbagbo] Gbagbo remained in pre-trial detention in The Hague for over four years before the ICC trial officially began on January 28, 2016. [ICC Press Release: Opening]. The Court joined Gbagbo’s case with that of another Ivorian politician involved in the conflict, Blé Goudé, and charged both defendants with four counts of crimes against humanity, for acts of murder, rape, other inhumane acts (or in the alternative attempted murder), and persecution. See ICC, Gbagbo and Blé Goudé Case.

The trial spanned approximately three years, with the Prosecutor taking 231 hearing days to present evidence and calling 82 witnesses to testify on behalf of the prosecution’s case. [ICC Press Release: Acquittal] Once the Prosecutor concluded the presentation of evidence, Gbagbo’s defense team filed a motion for acquittal and immediate release of the defendant without presenting any evidence, alleging that the prosecution did not meet its burden of proof. [ICC Press Release: Acquittal] Similarly, Blé Goudé’s defense team presented a motion alleging that there was no case for the defense to answer to with respect to the charges against Blé Goudé and seeking that the charges be dismissed. [ICC Press Release: Acquittal]

On January 15, 2019, the judges, with one dissenting, announced their judgement finding that the Prosecutor’s evidence was insufficient to sustain a conviction and that the Prosecutor failed to demonstrate several elements of the crimes as charged, “including the existence of a ‘common plan’ to keep Mr Gbagbo in power, which included the commission of crimes against civilians ‘pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organisational policy’; and the existence of patterns of violence from which it could be inferred that there was a ‘policy to attack a civilian population’.” [ICC Press Release: Acquittal] As a result, both Gbagbo and Blé Goudé were acquitted on all counts. [ICC Press Release: Acquittal]

Response to the Acquittal

Prominent human rights organizations have called the acquittal “disastrous” and a “crushing disappointment” for the victims, and some are worried that the acquittal could lead to further violence. [Guardian: Gbagbo; Amnesty] The news of Gbagbo’s acquittal has already sparked scattered protests in the Ivory Coast’s capital, Abidjan. [Al Jazeera] While supporters celebrate the Court’s announcement, victims express frustration and disappointment with what rights groups perceive to be a denial of justice. [Reuters: Politics] The Ivorian government has stated that they will allow Gbagbo’s return, and have “urged calm, forgiveness and reconciliation.” [Al Jazeera]

Background on the 2010-11 Ivory Coast Conflict

The case against Gbagbo concerned his alleged involvement in a four-month conflict that arose Gbagbo refused to transfer power to the current Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara after losing the 2010 elections. [Guardian: Gbagbo] Approximately 3,000 people were reported to have died during the conflict, and hundreds of thousands were forced to flee. [Reuters] It was alleged that Gbagbo ordered murders and gang-rape in his bid to retain control of the country. [Guardian: Gbagbo] The conflict came to an end when French and United Nations forces intervened and apprehended Gbagbo. [Guardian: Surrender]

Gbagbo’s capture marked the end of his 10-year rule of the Ivory Coast. [Guardian: Gbagbo] Now that he is free to return to the Ivory Coast, there is some indication that he intends to run in the next election in 2020. [Reuters: Politics] Despite the ICC acquittal, Gbagbo may nonetheless have to serve a 20-year sentence upon returning to the Ivory Coast due to a conviction for misappropriating funds that a domestic court entered against him in absentia while he was detained in The Hague. [Reuters]

Additional Information

The ICC was established by the Rome Statute, and officially opened in 2002. See ICC, About. The Court has the competence to hear four types of crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. See Id. The ICC has had a total of 28 cases, of which the Court issued final convictions in six cases (eight trial convictions, two of which were overturned on appeal). See id. For more information on the International Criminal Court, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub. To learn more about the Ivory Coast’s human rights obligations, see IJRC’s Ivory Coast Factsheet. To stay up-to-date on international human rights law news, visit IJRC’s News Room and subscribe to the IJRC Daily.

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