Category Archives: international human rights

Recent Developments Highlight Increased Collaboration Among Human Rights Bodies

Signing of the MOU between the UN and the World Economic Forum
Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias

Over the past several months, supranational human rights bodies have announced a flurry of joint events and agreements, highlighting some specific rights challenges and the increasing importance of technical collaboration. Between September and November 2019, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) were among the bodies that entered into cooperation agreements or hosted events to formalize and enhance collaboration in the implementation of human rights instruments. While there are many other examples over the past decade, it is noteworthy that these collaborations appear to be happening with increasing frequency, formality, and transparency.

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IACHR Announces Results and Changes in Efforts to Reduce Backlog

Assistant Executive Secretary for Petitions and Cases, Marisol Blanchard Vera (far right), IACHR 173 Period of Sessions
Credit: IACHR via Flickr

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which has long faced a significant backlog in its resolution of individual complaints, has announced developments in the implementation of its Special Procedural Backlog Reduction Program, approved in its Strategic Plan 2017-2021. [IACHR Press Release: Stages] According the IACHR’s press release on its 2019 conclusions, to date, the IACHR has achieved record results in terms of the number of petitions it reviews, decisions it adopts, and friendly settlements it approves. [IACHR Press Release: Stages] It also expects to notify States and petitioners of a record number of decisions to open petitions for processing in 2019. [IACHR Press Release: Stages] The IACHR attributes the increases to the addition of 21 individuals to its case system team in the last two years, largely thanks to the regular fund budget increase from the Organization of American States. [IACHR Press Release: Stages]

The IACHR has also made logistical and procedural changes in its handling of petitions. Most recently, the IACHR adopted Resolution 1/19 limiting the opportunities for petitioners to request review of a decision by the IACHR to reject a petition at the initial review stage. [IACHR Press Release: Initial Review] It also continues to implement Resolution 1/16, allowing the IACHR to consider the admissibility and merits of certain petitions together (rather than in separate stages and reports). Other efforts include increased facilitation of friendly settlements, using template reports for similar cases, and archiving petitions after three years of inactivity (rather than five). [IACHR Press Release: Stages]

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November 2019: UN Treaty Bodies, UPR Working Group & Regional Bodies In Session

UPR Reports Reviewed
Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc FerrŽ

In November, 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 and country visits. Five United Nations treaty bodies and one pre-sessional working group will hold sessions to assess States’ progress regarding women’s rights, civil and political rights, the prevention of torture, and the elimination of racial discrimination. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group will also be in session and will conduct interactive dialogues with representatives from 14 States. Ten UN special procedures will conduct country visits in November. Additionally, two UN Working Groups will hold sessions in Geneva, Switzerland. Of the regional bodies, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) will be in session.

The UN treaty body sessions may be watched via UN Web TV. The public hearings of the IACtHR and the IACHR may be viewed via the IACtHR’s Vimeo page and the IACHR’s YouTube page, respectively.

To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.

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European Court Holds Secret Surveillance Did Not Violate Employees’ Privacy

Delivery of Grand Chamber judgment in López Ribalda and Others v. Spain
Credit: ECtHR

Overturning a previous chamber decision, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held that employees’ right to privacy was not violated when a Spanish supermarket used visible and secret cameras to record public areas of the store when it suspected significant theft by employees. See ECtHR, López Ribalda and Others v. Spain [GC], nos. 1874/13 and 8567/13, Judgment of 17 October 2019. Despite domestic law and international standards requiring that individuals be notified of video surveillance, the Grand Chamber held that the State had not exceeded its “margin of appreciation” under the European Convention on Human Rights (European Convention) when domestic courts rejected the applicants’ constitutional claims and upheld their dismissal, given that there was a “weighty justification” for the use of covert surveillance and the applicants had not used domestic legal safeguards to challenge the surveillance under data privacy laws. See id. at paras. 131, 134-37. This judgment expands the European Court’s doctrine on the legitimate use of surveillance in the workplace. See ECtHR, Factsheet – Surveillance at Workplace (Oct. 2019).

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UN Transitions from Peacekeeping to Governance, amid Crisis in Haiti

Security Council Considers Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace
Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

As oversight bodies call for restraint amid ongoing protests in Haiti, the United Nations is ending its 15-year peacekeeping mission in the country. [IACHR Press Release; UN News: Protests] On October 16, 2019, a special political mission, the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH), replaced the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH), shifting the UN’s focus from law enforcement to governance. [UN News: Security Council] The UN Secretary General appointed Helen Meagher La Lime, a citizen of the United States, as the Special Representative for Haiti to head the BINUH, which is charged with promoting and strengthening political stability and peaceful relations, good governance, and human rights. [UN Press Release] The MINUJUSTH and its predecessor, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), leave behind a mixed legacy, marred with controversies ranging from sexual abuse to a cholera epidemic. The new special political mission will begin its work in the midst of an economic crisis, fuel and food shortages, and ongoing violent protests against President Jovenel Moïse that have resulted in at least 30 deaths since September 2019. [Washington Post; UN News: Security Council]

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Special Rapporteur’s New Report Addresses Abuses in Reproductive Healthcare

Dubravka Šimonović, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women
Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

In her latest report to the United Nations General Assembly, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences outlined a human rights-based approach to the violence and mistreatment that many women suffer in reproductive health services, focusing specifically on childbirth and obstetric care. See Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences on a human rights-based approach to mistreatment and violence against women in reproductive health services with a focus on childbirth and obstetric violence, UN Doc. A/74/137, 11 July 2019. Noting a “lack of respect for women’s equal status and human rights,” the report highlights a number of human rights violations that women experience during childbirth and outlines the root causes of mistreatment during childbirth and obstetric violence. See id. It further calls on States to: collect reproductive health-related data, apply human rights and World Health Organization standards to maternity care, and to establish complaint and accountability mechanisms, among other recommendations. See id. at paras. 8-11, 81. While the report does not assert new or expanded interpretations of the relevant rights or obligations, it does synthesize many of the issues and adds to the growing body of international human rights guidance on ensuring informed consent in all reproductive health services. See id. at para. 14.

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Human Rights Committee Introduces Fixed Eight-Year State Review Schedule

Meeting with the Chairpersons of the United Nations Human Rights Treaty Bodies
Credit: Manuel Elias via UN Photo

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has announced changes that will generally reduce the frequency and comprehensiveness of its review of States parties’ implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). With its first Predictable Review Cycle, the Committee will review all 173 States parties to the ICCPR between 2020 and 2027. See OHCHR, The Predictable Review Cycle. The changes mean that each State party will be reviewed every eight years (instead of approximately every five years), the cycle will begin with a list of issues prepared by the Committee for the State to address (unless the State opts to submit a comprehensive report first), and each State will be reviewed even if the State does not participate. These are the latest developments in the Committee’s ongoing efforts to implement the UN General Assembly Resolution 68/268 on “Strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body system” and, more specifically, the Committee’s Decision on the Human Rights Committee on additional measures to simplify the reporting procedure and increase predictability. See id. The changes are also a response to challenges facing the Committee, including limited resources, a growing backlog of State reports, and lack of State compliance with recommendations and reporting deadlines. States that wish to opt-out of simplified reporting must notify the Committee’s Secretariat by December 31, 2019. See id.

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October 2019: UN Treaty Bodies & Regional Bodies in Session

Hearing before IACtHR
Credit: CorteIDH via Flickr

In October, universal and regional human rights bodies and experts will review States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through the consideration of State and civil society reports and country visits. Four United Nations treaty bodies and two pre-sessional working groups will hold sessions to assess States’ progress regarding enforced disappearances; economic, social, and cultural rights; women’s rights; children’s rights; and civil and political rights. Nine UN special procedures will conduct country visits in October. Additionally, three UN Working Groups will hold sessions in Geneva. Of the regional bodies, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), European Committee on Social Rights (ECSR), Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will all be in session. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hold a Grand Chamber hearing.

The UN treaty body sessions may be watched via UN Web TV. The public hearings of the IACtHR, IACHR, and ECtHR may be viewed via the IACtHR’s Vimeo page, the IACHR’s YouTube page, and the ECtHR’s website, respectively.

To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.

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African Commission Finds Violations in Cameroon’s Denial of Broadcasting License

CAL representative addresses ACHPR
ACHPR in Session

ACHPR in Session
Credit: IJRC

On September 18, 2019, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) published a decision finding Cameroon responsible for violating the rights to freedom of expression, non-discrimination, and property of a media company and its director, when it failed to create an independent licensing authority that could grant the company’s radio station a broadcasting license. See ACommHPR, Open Society Justice Initiative (on behalf of Pius Njawe Noumeni) v. the Republic of Cameroon, Communication No. 290/2004, Merits Decision, 25th Extraordinary Session (2019). Drawing and elaborating on jurisprudence from other regional and international human rights bodies, the Commission concluded that the lack of independent and transparent licensing procedures limits diversity in broadcasting and is contrary to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter). See id. at para. 171.

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