Permanent Representative of the United States to the UN
Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe
Civil society and other stakeholders warned of consequences to human rights defenders and victims of rights abuses when the United States formally announced last month its decision to withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council. [HRW: Blame; HRW: Oppose; OHCHR Press Release: Dialogue] The decision – effective June 19, 2018, over a year before the end of the State’s term, which would have expired on December 31, 2019 – marks the first time a State has voluntarily left the Human Rights Council before serving its full term. It is the second time, though, a State has failed to complete its full term on the Human Rights Council; Libya was removed from the Council in 2011. [UN General Assembly Press Release] See U.S. Department of State, Remarks on the UN Human Rights Council.
The primary reasons listed by the United States for its departure include the Council’s alleged anti-Israel bias; the membership on the Council of States that commit human rights abuses, including Cuba, Venezuela, China, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and a failure of the Human Rights Council to reform itself, including in the election process. See U.S. Department of State, Remarks on the UN Human Rights Council. Additionally, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, asserted that key human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were also responsible for the U.S.’s departure. [HRW: Blame; HRW: Oppose] Civil society organizations have rejected the Ambassador’s claims, and have spoken out against the move, expressing concern that countries like China and Russia will take advantage of the absence of the U.S. to weaken human rights protections and programs, among other consequences. [HRW: Blame; HRW: Oppose] The United States has made other withdrawals from international commitments since the start of 2017, including its departures from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Iran nuclear deal, and Paris Agreement. [IJRC: Paris Agreement; NYT: Iran Nuclear Deal; Washington Post: TPP] Read more
The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights
Credit: UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré
In June, the United Nations Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued the first ever UN report detailing human rights abuses in Kashmir. [OHCHR Press Release] See OHCHR, Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir (2018). The report seeks to draw attention to the victims of the human rights violations created by the political situation in the region, with a focus on abuses since the July 2016 killing of a militant leader by Indian security forces, which sparked violent protests throughout the region. [OHCHR Press Release] See OHCHR, Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir, para. 1. Among the human rights abuses, the report finds cases of unlawful use of force by security forces, enforced or involuntary disappearances, sexual violence, and limitations on education, expression, assembly, and association. [OHCHR Press Release] See OHCHR, Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir, paras. 32-164. Additionally, the report finds that perpetrators act with impunity and that victims do not have adequate access to justice. [OHCHR Press Release] To address the human rights concerns, the OHCHR calls for an independent mechanism to further investigate human rights allegations in the Kashmir region. See OHCHR, Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir, 48. Human rights experts have urged the Indian government to allow the creation of such an investigation. [HRW] Both States, India and Pakistan, have committed to, and are legally obligated to, ensure certain rights, including the rights to life, prohibition of torture and inhuman treatment, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and education. Read more
Palais des Nations, Geneva
Credit: UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré via Flickr
In the month of July, various universal and regional bodies 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. Three United Nations treaty bodies will meet in July to engage with States regarding their treaty obligations related to civil and political rights, the rights of women, and the prevention of torture. Further, civil society can register this month to participate in the sessions of two treaty bodies that will meet in August to engage with States regarding their obligations related to racial discrimination and the rights of persons with disabilities, respectively. The UN Human Rights Council and several of its working groups will be in session to review communications, thematic reports, and country-specific reports; select individuals to serve as special procedure mandate holders; and convene several panel discussions on the human rights of women, internally displaced persons, and on technical cooperation in the promotion and protection of human rights related to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will hold its annual session. Two UN special procedures will conduct country visits focusing on human rights and transnational corporations, and on the human rights situation in the Republic of Korea.
Regionally, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) may hear one case related to the prohibition of collective expulsion of aliens, and the European Committee of Social Rights and Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will be in session.
The UN treaty body sessions, the public hearings of the European Court, and the hearings of the Inter-American Court, may be watched via UN Web TV, the European Court’s website, and the Inter-American Court’s website or Vimeo, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol at the San Ysidro crossing
Credit: Josh Denmark
Recent changes in the United States’ immigration policies have drawn fresh condemnation from human rights experts and civil society, particularly as news spread that authorities had separated approximately 2,000 children from their parents at the country’s southern border. [IACHR Press Release; OHCHR Press Release; UNHCR Press Release] These changes include automatic criminal prosecution and detention of adults – including asylum seekers – entering the United States without authorization, separation and detention of children who crossed the southern border outside a port of entry with their parents, and a directive instructing immigration officials not to recognize a State’s failure to protect victims of gang violence and domestic violence as grounds for asylum. In response to criticism earlier this month, President Trump signed an Executive Order on June 20, 2018 to detain children and parents together, but that also raised concerns because it did not address the reunification of separated families and proposed modifying time limits on detention of families. [OHCHR Press Release: UN Experts] The policy changes add to long-standing human rights concerns related to U.S. immigration policy. This post reviews 10 of the primary principles implicated. Read more
OAS 48th General Assembly
Credit: Nelson Rodriguez/OAS via Flickr
On June 5, 2018, the Organization of American States (OAS) elected three judges to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), consisting of Judge Humberto Sierra Porto (Colombia), Eduardo Ferrer Mac-Gregor (Mexico), and Ricardo Pérez Manrique (Uruguay). [OAS Press Release] Judges Sierra Porto and Ferrer Mac-Gregor were re-elected after serving one full term on the IACtHR, while Judge-elect Pérez Manrique was elected to fill the seat of Judge Caldas, who resigned after accusations of domestic violence and whose term was set to expire this January. [OAS Press Release; IJRC: Resigns] See IJRC, Inter-American Court of Human Rights: 2018 Elections. The three elected judges were endorsed as qualified jurists in the 2018 report by the Independent Panel for the Election of Inter-American Human Rights Judges, a part of the Initiative on Transparency and Election Monitoring housed at American University’s Washington College of Law. See Carlos Ayala, et al., Informe Final del Panel Independiente Para la Elección de Jueces y Juezas Para La Corte Interamericana De Derechos Humanos (2018), 15, 25, 30-31 [in Spanish only]. The Independent Panel and Initiative on Transparency and Election Monitoring aims to promote civil society’s efforts to improve the election process of judges and commissioners in the Inter-American system. See Washington College of Law, Using Transparency to Strengthen the Inter-American Human Rights System. Civil society organizations welcomed the publication of the report and endorsed the report’s call for transparency in elections of human rights bodies. [OSJI Press Release; DPLF Press Release] Read more
Michel Forst, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré
On May 29, 2018, the international governing body for soccer, Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), launched a complaint mechanism for human rights defenders and journalists ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, garnering praise from United Nations experts and civil society members. [FIFA Press Release: Mechanism; OHCHR Press Release; CPJ Press Release; HRW: Daily Brief] The new complaint mechanism will accept complaints from human rights defenders and media representatives who allege that their rights have been infringed while engaging in work related to FIFA’s activities, which span around the globe. [FIFA Press Release: Mechanism] FIFA intends to address complaints through engagement with third parties, including State officials, using FIFA’s influence to prevent, mitigate, or remedy rights violations when they occur. See FIFA, Statement on Human Rights Defenders and Media Representatives (2018). The creation of this mechanism followed calls from civil society for FIFA to establish a process to address complaints from media and human rights defenders. [HRW: Press Freedom] The United Nations Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises called the mechanism “a very positive move.” [OHCHR Press Release] Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (Ruggie Principles), businesses such as FIFA have the responsibility to respect human rights, avoid complicity in human rights violations, and ensure that victims of human rights violations as the result of their business activities are adequately remedied. See Human Rights Council, Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, UN Doc. A/HRC/17/31, 21 March 2011, at 13, princ. 11. Read more
Palace of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland
Credit: Tom Page via Wikimedia Commons
On May 21, 2018, Qatar acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which will both come into force for the State in August. [HRW: Treaties] Qatar’s accession to these conventions included both formal reservations on articles to which Qatar will not consider itself bound by as well as statements by Qatar indicating how the government will interpret certain provisions, in accordance with Islamic Sharia law, the national constitution, and other national laws. Civil society has expressed concern at these reservations and statements, particularly as they relate to limitations on women’s rights and migrant workers’ rights. [HRW: Treaties] Including these most recent accessions, Qatar is now a party to nine United Nations conventions, obliging the State to guarantee the rights to equal protection and non-discrimination, among other rights. See OHCHR, Ratification Status for Qatar. Read more
African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Credit: AfCHPR via Flickr
On May 10, 2018, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) ruled that Mali’s Persons and Family Code violates international human rights standards on the State obligation to establish a minimum age of marriage for girl children; the right to consent to marriage; the right to inheritance; and the State obligation to eliminate harmful social and cultural practices for women, girl children, and children born out of wedlock. See AfCHPR, APDF and IHRDA v. Republic of Mali, App. No. 046/2016, Judgment of 11 May 2018, paras. 78, 95, 115, 125. The Association Pour le Progrès et la Défense des Droits des Femmes Maliennes (APDF) and the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA) brought the case against Mali to the African Court to challenge the domestic law’s compliance with three human rights treaties to which Mali is a party: the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (Children’s Charter), and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The Court found violations of all three treaties. This is the first time that the AfCHPR has applied provisions of the Maputo Protocol, which protects women’s rights in Africa. [IHRDA Press Release] Read more
Human Rights Council Tenth Session Participants
Credit: UN Photo/Pierre-Michel Virot
In the month of June, several universal and regional bodies will be in session to assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through interactive dialogues, the consideration of State and civil society reports, country visits, and the review of individual complaints. Two United Nations treaty bodies will meet in June to engage with States regarding their treaty obligations related to forced disappearances and children’s rights. Further, civil society can register this month to participate in the sessions of three treaty bodies that will meet in July to engage with States regarding their obligations related to discrimination against women, torture, and civil and political rights, respectively. The UN Human Rights Council and several of its working groups will be in session to review communications as well as thematic and country-specific reports. Four UN special procedures will conduct country visits focusing on torture, human rights defenders, enforced and involuntary disappearances, and the use of mercenaries, respectively.
Regionally, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will be in session, and will hold public hearings during those sessions. Additionally, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hear one case related to the State’s obligation to provide a prisoner access to psychiatric care in a language that the prisoner understands and that is an official language of the State.
The UN treaty body sessions, the public hearings of the European Court, and the public hearings of the IACtHR, may be watched via UN Web TV, the European Court’s website, and the Inter-American Commission’s website or Vimeo, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC’s Hearings & Sessions Calendar.
Roberto F. Caldas recently resigned from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights
Credit: CorteIDH via Flickr
On May 15, 2018, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) accepted the resignation of Judge Roberto F. Caldas, whose appointment to the Court will terminate immediately. [IACtHR Press Release] Caldas submitted his letter of resignation on May 14, following the revelation of allegations of domestic violence against him. [IACtHR Press Release] Caldas had served on the Inter-American Court since 2013, and his term was set to expire at the end of this year. [La Nacion] The body responsible for appointing Inter-American Court judges, the Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly, is expected to fill the vacancy at the next General Assembly meeting in June of this year. See Statute of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, OAS Res. 448 adopted by the General Assembly of the OAS at its Ninth Regular Session (1979), reprinted in Basic Documents Pertaining to Human Rights in the Inter-American System, OEA/Ser.L/V/1.4, rev. 13 at 205 (2010), art. 6(2) (Statute of the IACtHR). In commenting on the resignation, the President of the Inter-American Court emphasized that the Court condemns all forms of violence against women. [IACtHR Press Release] The Inter-American Court has ruled on several cases concerning the prevention of violence against women over the years. See, e.g., I/A Court H.R., Case of González et al. (“Cotton Field”) v. Mexico. Preliminary Objection, Merits, Reparations and Costs. Judgment of November 16, 2009. Series C No. 205. Read more