Category Archives: international human rights

UN Human Rights Committee Condemns “Burqa Ban,” Countering European Court

Human Rights Committee
Human Rights Committee

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

November 2018: United Nations and Regional Human Rights Bodies in Session

Human Rights Council Tenth Session Participants
Credit: UN Photo/Pierre-Michel Virot

In November, 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. Five United Nations treaty bodies will meet to review States’ progress with regard to civil and political rights, women’s rights, enforced disappearances, torture, and racial discrimination. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group will also be in session and will conduct interactive dialogues with representatives from 14 States. Eleven UN special procedures will conduct country visits this month, and two UN working groups will hold sessions.

Regionally, the African Commission of Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR), the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Children (ACERWC), and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will be holding public sessions. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hear arguments in three cases.

The UN treaty body sessions, the public hearings of the European Court, and the public hearings of the IACHR may be watched via UN Web TV, the African Court’s YouTube channel, the European Court’s website, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ website or Vimeo page, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.

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Australia Urged to Act as Health Conditions of Asylum Seekers Worsen

Welcome refugees to Australia – refugee protest march
Credit: Takver via Flickr

International pressure on Australia is mounting as concerns grow regarding the conditions in its offshore facilities in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, where thousands of asylum seekers and refugees have been detained since 2012. Those monitoring the situation at the facilities warn of a dire health emergency as people, many of them children, remain without access to the critical physical and mental healthcare. [UN News] In recent weeks, more individuals have been medically evacuated to Australia from Nauru than in the previous two years combined as a result of worsening conditions at the Nauru detention center. [UNHCR Press Release; The Conversation] While no one has been medically evacuated out of Papua New Guinea this year, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has reported several cases of self-harm and attempted suicide in the past month alone. [UNHCR Press Release] This situation has developed as a result of Australia’s current “offshore-processing” policy requiring that all refugees and asylum seekers attempting to enter the country by boat be detained at these offshore detention centers for processing, which can go on indefinitely. [NY Times; Guardian: UN Body] In addition to international concern and pressure, the detained asylum seekers and refugees and hundreds of people in Australia have protested this policy. [Al Jazeera; Quartz] The majority of detainees are from Iran or are stateless. See Refugee Council of Australia, Operation Sovereign Borders and Offshore Processing Statistics.

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Peruvian Supreme Court Overturns Fujimori Pardon

Lima, Peru. Palacio de Justica
Credit: Murray Foubister via Wikimedia Commons

On October 3, 2018, the Supreme Court of Peru overturned the pardon granted to former President Alberto Fujimori and ordered him to complete his sentence for crimes against humanity committed by his administration in the 1990s. [Reuters] Pursuant to a request submitted by massacre victims’ family members, the Supreme Court found that the humanitarian pardon lacked a legal basis and contravened Peru’s human rights obligations. [Guardian; IACHR Press Release; Bloomberg: Arrest; teleSUR] Advocates and human rights experts hailed the decision as a positive step in the fight against impunity. [NYTimes] Fujimori has 14 years left to serve on his sentence, and has appealed the ruling. [NPR; Reuters] In the days following the decision, Fujimori was hospitalized; the Peruvian Congress introduced legislation to grant him house arrest; his daughter Keiko, a prominent politician, was arrested on corruption charges; and the Fujimori-era sterilization of Indigenous women was again under scrutiny. [Reuters; BBC; Bloomberg; IACHR Video] Former President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who pardoned Fujimori in late 2017, resigned earlier this year and is under investigation for corruption, including in connection with the pardon. [HispanTV]

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Children’s Rights Violated in U.S. Criminal Justice System, IACHR Reports

IACHR Launches Report on Children and Adolescents in the United States Adult Criminal Justice System. Credit: IACHR
IACHR Launches Report on Children and Adolescents in the United States Adult Criminal Justice System. Credit: IACHR

IACHR launches report in October 2018
Credit: IACHR

In a new report and interactive website, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has detailed flaws in the United States’ prosecution and incarceration of children, urging reforms to ensure that minors are not tried or sentenced as adults. IACHR, The Situation of Children in the Adult Criminal Justice System in the United States (2018). The report, released in September 2018, examines the legal framework that allows children to be tried in the adult criminal system in light of the State’s international legal obligations, the current status of children within the criminal system, and the conditions children face during their incarceration in adult facilities. See id. According to the IACHR, as of 2016, approximately 200,000 children were tried each year in U.S. adult criminal courts, and were held in adult penitentiaries in violation of their right to special protection and to be tried in a specialized juvenile system. [IACHR Press Release] While the U.S. has taken steps to reduce the number of children coming into contact with the adult criminal justice system, individual American states maintain laws and practices that allow children to be incarcerated in adult facilities. [IACHR Press Release] The report highlights the State’s failure to protect the rights of children in this respect, and recommends specific reforms. [IACHR Press Release] Read more

Ethiopia: Mass Arrests Seen as Setback Amid Recent Progress

President Isaias Afewerki and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sign the Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship
Credit: Yemane Gebremeskel via Wikimedia Commons

In recent weeks, the Ethiopian government has retreated from democratic reforms by arresting more than 1,200 individuals, killing several dozen, sending arrestees to “rehabilitation” camps, and shutting off mobile internet access as violence and protests reached the capital. [NYTimes: Arrests; Quartz] Among other reforms, new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had welcomed previously-outlawed opposition groups to return to Ethiopia and reopened the border with Eritrea, in keeping with a peace agreement signed earlier this year. [BBC; Amnesty International] Attacks and hate speech against ethnic minorities, and clashes with supporters of the returning opposition groups, have surged over the past year and displaced 1.5 million people; many have taken to the streets in peaceful protest, and civil society has criticized the government for arresting and killing protesters rather than protecting people from attacks. [Amnesty International] The violence continues to claim lives across the country. [Al Jazeera]

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European Court: UK’s Mass Interception of Online Communications Violated Rights

European Court of Human Rights
European Court of Human Rights

European Court of Human Rights
Credit: CherryX via Wikimedia Commons

On September 13, 2018, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that the United Kingdom’s bulk collection of online communications and its collection of data from communication service providers (CSPs) violated the rights to privacy and freedom of expression. See ECtHR, Big Brother Watch and Others v. the United Kingdom, nos. 58170/13, 62322/14, 24960/15, ECHR 2018, Judgment of 13 September 2018. Although the Court did not rule that mass collection is inherently a violation of privacy, disappointing many privacy advocates, the ECtHR held that such programs must have adequate safeguards to protect against abuse. [Sky News]

The decision is the first time that the ECtHR has reviewed the UK’s surveillance program since whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013, which revealed cross-border government surveillance efforts, including those by the UK intelligence agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) to intercept millions of private communications. [Guardian] The ECtHR did not consider the legality of the 2016 legislative amendments to the UK’s surveillance program, which followed the Snowden disclosures and are currently being challenged domestically. [Guardian] Read more

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