Category Archives: international human rights

Sri Lanka Pardons War Criminal, Rejects Human Rights Council Commitments

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa
Credit: Jorge Cardoso via Wikimedia Commons

Efforts to secure accountability for the atrocities of Sri Lanka’s civil war faced another setback in March 2020 when Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pardoned one of very few individuals convicted of committing atrocities during the conflict. [OHCHR Press Release: Pardon] President Rajapaksa, himself an accused war criminal, ordered the immediate release of former army Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake, convicted in 2015 for the murder of eight Tamil civilians (commonly referred to as the Mirusuvil massacre) in 2000. [NYTimes] A spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) condemned the pardon as “an affront to victims and yet another example of the failure of Sri Lanka to fulfill its international human rights obligations to provide meaningful accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other gross violations of human rights.” [OHCHR Press Release: Pardon] Civil society organizations have expressed similar reactions, with Amnesty International accusing Sri Lanka of using the COVID-19 pandemic “as an opportunity to release those convicted for heinous crimes.” [Amnesty International: Pardon] More than 10 years later, those accused of atrocities during the 26-year conflict have largely avoided accountability in the rare civil and criminal proceedings in Sri Lanka and abroad, and given the government’s reluctance to investigate alleged perpetrators. [Reuters]

Ratnayake’s Pardon & Political Context

President Rajapaksa pardoned Ratnayake on March 26, 2020. Ratnayake’s pardon reverses one of the rare convictions of military officers alleged to have committed atrocities during in Sri Lanka’s civil war. [HRW: Pardon] He was sentenced to death in 2015 for the murder of eight civilians from the Tamil ethnic group – including three teenagers and one five-year-old – in 2000, following a trial that lasted over a decade. [Reuters] The eight civilians were internally displaced persons (IDPs) who were killed in the village of Mirusuvil when they returned to gather their belongings after the village was shelled. [Amnesty International; NYTimes] In 2019, Sri Lankas’s Supreme Court unanimously rejected Ratnayake’s appeal and upheld the conviction. [Al Jazeera] His case was “widely cited as a rare instance of accountability, amid lingering concerns over impunity for war-crimes committed” in the context of Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war. [The Hindu]

President Rajapaksa and his predecessor Maithripala Sirisena have recently made several decisions that further call into question the possibility of accountability. In 2019, former President Sirisena appointed Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva as Sri Lanka’s army chief, an individual who faces serious allegations of human rights violations, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. [NYTimes; OHCHR Press Release: Appointment] In August 2019, various UN independent experts stated that “[i]t defies understanding that a person suspected of leading in the commission of serious violations of human rights and international human rights law will be put at the head of an institution which stands to be investigated for these violations and reformed to avoid their recurrence” in reference to Silva’s appointment. [OHCHR Press Release: Appointment] The UN also announced that Sri Lankan troops would no longer be permitted to participate in UN peacekeeping, and the U.S. banned Silva from entering its territory. [HRW: Army Chief; Guardian] Moreover, the experts questioned Sri Lanka’s “commitment to a genuine transitional justice process.” [OHCHR Press Release: Appointment]

President Rajapaksa, who began his presidential term in November 2019, is a retired army officer who served as defense secretary during the final stages of Sri Lanka’s civil war and has also been accused of ordering war crimes during that time. [HRW: Pardon; NYTimes] As a candidate he promised to release “war heroes” jailed on “baseless” offenses and since taking office, he has made several controversial appointments to his cabinet. [NYTimes] President Rajapaksa has since appointed retired general Kamal Gunaratne, who is also implicated in alleged war crimes, as defense secretary. [HRW: Pardon] According to Human Rights Watch, Gunaratne is currently responsible for leading Sri Lanka’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. [HRW: Pardon]

Efforts at Accountability

Government efforts to investigate and prosecute conflict-era atrocities have been limited and delayed. In response, some groups have sought accountability before foreign courts. International Truth and Justice Project is behind, and has documented, several civil cases in the U.S. and other countries. One led former Sri Lankan general Jagath Jayasuriya to flee his ambassador posting in Brazil to return to Sri Lanka, where he has apparently not faced prosecution. [AP] In April 2019, the Center for Justice & Accountability filed a civil suit against now-President Rajapaksa for his alleged role in the killing of journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge when he was Secretary of Defense; a U.S. federal court dismissed the case after determining that Rjapaksa was entitled to official immunity.  See CJA, Wickrematunge v. Rajapaksa.

United Nations Investigations & Proposed Tribunal

In 2014, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights established the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) to investigate alleged human rights violations in the country committed by government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) from February 2002 to November 2011. In a 2015 OHCHR report on Sri Lanka, the OHCHR confirmed “patterns of grave violations” and urged for the “creation of a hybrid special court” to address allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity, finding that Sri Lanka’s criminal justice system “lacks a reliable system for victim and witness protection and has been corrupted by decades of emergency, conflict and impunity.” [UN News]

While Sri Lanka voluntarily committed to provide accountability and redress for all human rights violations committed during the civil war in UN Human Rights Council resolution 30/1 on the Promotion reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka, and reaffirmed this commitment in 2017 and most recently in Human Rights Council resolution 40/1 in 2019, it has consistently rejected the establishment of a hybrid special court. [Amnesty International: Hybrid Court]

Most recently, in February 2020, Sri Lanka announced that it would no longer honor its commitments in resolutions 30/1 and 40/1 to “establish a judicial mechanism with a special counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law,” among others. See Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to UN, Foreign Relations Minister meets UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The announcement follows previous statements by now President Rajapaksa, declaring that once his government took office, Sri Lanka would no longer cooperate with the UN Human Rights Council, and would instead prioritize purely domestic reconciliation and accountability. [Amnesty International: Withdrawal] In response, civil society organizations have called on the Human Rights Council to establish an international accountability mechanism and conduct international investigations and prosecutions to ensure justice for the victims of the conflict. [Amnesty International: Withdrawal; HRW: Accountability]

Sri Lanka Conflict

The country experienced a period of turmoil and conflict between the army and the LTTE rebels who fought for Tamil independence. [Washington Post] The civil war lasted over two decades and ended in 2009 with the LTTE’s defeat. As part of this conflict, both government forces and rival Tamil groups committed serious human rights violations. See IJRC, UN Report Highlights Human Rights Violations in Sri Lanka and Urges Creation of Hybrid Court. The UN estimates that at least 40,000 individuals from the Tamil ethnic group died during the last few months of the civil war, but despite credible allegations of atrocities by military officials during the country’s civil war, military officers have rarely faced justice in Sri Lanka. [NYTimes]

Additional Information

To learn more about international humanitarian lawinternational criminal law, or internationalized or hybrid criminal tribunals, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

Human Rights Bodies: Schedule & Procedural Changes amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Joint virtual briefing for Member States on the COVID-19 pandemic
Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Universal and regional human rights oversight bodies have postponed or cancelled their upcoming sessions and suspended some procedural deadlines as a result of the developing COVID-19 pandemic, while striving to maintain other activities. Beginning in mid-March 2020, almost all human rights bodies have suspended their meetings and travel through at least April, and quarantine measures in many of the bodies’ host countries are – or soon will be – further impacting the way staff and appointed experts can carry out their work. While most human rights bodies can continue some of their work remotely, no plans have yet been implemented to enable any body to virtually conduct sessions, dialogues with States, or fact-finding visits through technology or other means. As more information becomes available, this post will be updated. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.

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Expert Calls for Greater Accountability for Sexual Abuse by UN Personnel

Jane Connors delivers remarks at the high-level meeting on the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse
Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

The latest report by the United Nations Victims’ Rights Advocate (VRA) reviews the progress made in 2019 to address sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations personnel, and calls on the international community to dedicate additional resources to supporting and protecting victims and ensuring accountability. [UN News] Jane Connors, the first-ever UN Victims’ Rights Advocate is responsible for strengthening the institutional responses to sexual violence and abuse by peacekeepers and other personnel, and her latest report identifies many developments while calling on the international community to “address the root causes of sexual exploitation and abuse, including gender inequality and the deep power imbalance between [UN] personnel and those whom we are mandated to protect and aid.” See Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse – Report of the Secretary-General, 17 February 2020, para. 4. Connors mentions particular challenges, including high turnover within the UN, resolving paternity claims, protecting victims’ confidentiality while promoting accountability, providing material assistance to victims, and identifying and addressing sexual exploitation and abuse in the many countries without dedicated UN victims’ rights advocates in the field. See id.

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Human Rights Bodies Respond to Coronavirus, Some Suspend Scheduled Sessions

UN Secretary-General António Guterres attends COVID-19 briefing
Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc FerréŽ

Various supranational human rights bodies have cancelled or limited meetings in response to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) assessment of the global risk posed by the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the increasing number of travel restrictions imposed by national governments. [NGO CSW; HRC Bureau Meeting; WHO Press Release: Feb 28] Civil society’s participation has been hardest hit, most notably by the decisions to reduce the 64th session of Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) from two weeks to one day, and to cancel all side events at the United Nations Human Rights Council’s ongoing session. [NGO CSW; France24; VOA] Some human rights monitoring bodies and civil society organizations have also reminded States of their human rights obligations in the context of preventing the spread of coronavirus. [ACHPR Press Release; OHCHR Press Release; Amnesty International] On its webpage, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, for one, encouraged participants in its March session to use videoconferencing to participate remotely. The human rights bodies’ decisions to cancel or modify meetings come after a February 28 letter from the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres.

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March 2020: UN Treaty Bodies, Human Rights Council, and Regional Bodies in Session

European Committee of Social Rights
Credit: Council of Europe

In March, 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 two pre-sessional working groups will be in session to assess States’ progress regarding economic, social and cultural rights; children’s rights; civil and political rights; the rights of persons with disabilities; and, migrants’ rights. The Human Rights Council will continue to hold its first of three regular sessions in 2020. Seven UN special procedures will conduct country visits in March. Additionally, two UN Working Groups will hold sessions in Geneva, Switzerland. Regionally, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will hold public sessions. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will also hold a Grand Chamber hearing.

The UN treaty body sessions, the ECtHR’s Grand Chamber hearing, and the public hearings of the IACtHR and the IACHR may be watched via UN Web TV, the ECtHR’s website, and the IACtHR’s Vimeo page and the IACHR’s YouTube page, respectively. Civil society members wishing to attend sessions should monitor updates related to the spread of the COVID-19 (Corona) virus, which may result in cancelled sessions or meetings and/or additional health checks.

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

UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies

Five of the 10 UN human rights treaty bodies will meet this month to review certain States parties’ implementation of their treaty obligations. They are the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the Committee on the Rights of the Child; the Human Rights Committee; the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and, the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. Further, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Pre-sessional Working Group and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Pre-sessional Working Group will begin their review of State reports and develop “list of issues” following their discussions on State reports. Through the State reporting procedure, treaty bodies review States’ reports and responses to a specific list of issues, receive additional information from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and national human rights institutions (NHRIs), engage in an interactive dialogue with each State’s representatives, and then adopt concluding observations detailing the progress and remaining challenges in the State’s implementation of the treaty. Through a simplified reporting procedure, treaty bodies may invite States to respond only to questions (list of issues) prepared by the treaty body, rather than submitting a comprehensive report and also responses to a subsequent list of issues.

Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) will continue to hold its 67th Session, which began on February 17 and will end on March 6, 2020, in Geneva, Switzerland. According to its tentative programme of work, during the session, the CESCR will hold interactive dialogues with Belgium, Benin, Guinea, Norway, and Ukraine to assess their compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights. The Committee will also hold closed discussions. To view session documents, including State reports and civil society submissions, visit the CESCR’s 67th Session webpage.

Following the CESCR’s Session 67th Session, the CESCR Pre-sessional Working Group will hold its 66th Session from March 9 to 13, 2020, in Geneva, Switzerland. The CESCR Pre-sessional Working Group will begin its review of the State reports of the Czech Republic, the Congo, and Uzbekistan. It will also consider list of issues prior to reporting for Canada, Chile, France, and Italy to address in its simplified reporting procedure. For more information on the CESCR, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

Committee on the Rights of the Child

The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) will hold its 84th Extraordinary Session from March 2 to 6, 2020, in Apia, Samoa. According to the programme of work, the CRC will hold interactive dialogues with the Cook Islands, Micronesia, and Tuvalu to assess their compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Civil society members wishing to attend the CRC’s session must register through the Indico system before March 6, 2020. To view session documents, including State reports and civil society submissions, visit the CRC’s 84th Session webpage. For more information on the CRC, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

Human Rights Committee

The Human Rights Committee will hold its 128th Session from March 2 to 27, 2020, in Geneva Switzerland. According to its programme of work and annotated provisional agenda, the Committee will hold interactive dialogues with the Central African Republic, Portugal, Tunisia, and Uzbekistan to access their implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Further, the Committee will hold an interactive dialogue with Dominica in absence of a State report. The Committee’s task forces will also consider and adopt list of issues for Haiti, Kenya, Philippines, and Sri Lanka ahead of their interactive dialogues. Finally, the Human Rights Committee will consider list of issues prior to reporting for Burkina Faso, Montenegro, Somalia, and United Kingdom and Northern Ireland to address in its simplified reporting procedure.

According to the information note for NGOs and NHRIs, civil society members who would like to attend the Human Rights Committee’s session must register through the Indico system before April 3, 2020. To view session documents, including State reports and civil society submissions, visit the CCPR’s 128th Session webpage. For more information on the Human Rights Committee, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) will hold its 23rd Session from March 9 to 27, 2020, in Geneva, Switzerland. According to its tentative programme of work, the CRPD will hold interactive dialogues with Bangladesh, Djibouti, Estonia, Hungary, Lao, and Venezuela to assess their implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Civil society members who would like to attend the CRPD’s session must register through the Indico system before March 20, 2020. To view session documents, including State reports and civil society submissions, visit the CRPD’s 23rd Session webpage.

Following the CRPD’s 23rd Session, the CRPD will hold its 13th Pre-sessional Working Group from March 30 to April 3, 2020, in Geneva, Switzerland. The Working Group will begin its review of State reports from Angola, China, Hong Kong, Macau, Georgia, Indonesia, Malawi, and Mauritania to assess their compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Additionally, the Working Group will consider list of issues prior to reporting from Croatia to address in its simplified reporting procedure. Civil society members who would like to participate in the Committee’s pre-sessional working group must register through the Indico system before March 13, 2020. For more information on the CRPD, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

Committee on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families

The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (CMW) will hold its 32nd Session from March 30 to April 3, 2020, in Geneva, Switzerland. The CMW will hold interactive dialogues with Cabo Verde, Chile, Paraguay, and Rwanda to assess their compliance with the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. The CMW will also consider and adopt list of issues for Syria ahead of its interactive dialogue, and consider list of issues prior to reporting for the Congo and Nigeria to consider in its simplified reporting procedure.

According to the information note for civil society organizations and NHRIs, individuals interested in attending the session must register through the Indico system by April 3, 2020. To view session documents, including State reports and civil society submissions, visit the CMW’s 32nd Session webpage. For more information on the CMW, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

UN Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council, an intergovernmental deliberative body, will continue to hold its 43rd Session, which began on February 24 and will end on March 20, 2020, in Geneva, Switzerland. According to the session agenda, the Human Rights Council will review reports from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Secretary General, outcome reports from the Universal Periodic Review Working Group on specific States, and reports from UN special procedures mandate holders. The list of reports is available on the session’s webpage.

The Human Rights Council will select five individuals to serve as members of the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development; two individuals to serve as members of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights; the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons; the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia; the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context; the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and its consequences; the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; the Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights; the Special Rapporteur on the right to food; the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples; the Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children; the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; and, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. The Human Rights Council will also convene several panel discussions on topics including the rights of the child, the rights of persons with disabilities, the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and the International Decade for People of African Descent.

NGOs in consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) can be accredited to participate in the Human Rights Council’s sessions as observers, as described on the Council’s webpage on NGO participation. Relevant documents and further information regarding the issues that the Human Rights Council will cover during the session, including submissions from civil society and the Council’s agenda, is available on the Human Rights Council’s 43rd Session webpage. For more information about the Human Rights Council, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

Special Procedures

Seven independent human rights experts and monitoring bodies, known as UN “special procedures,” have country visits scheduled in March. Additionally, two working groups will hold private sessions in Geneva, Switzerland.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression agreed to visit the Maldives from March 1 to 8, 2020.

The UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons agreed to visit New Zealand from March 2 to 12, 2020.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples agreed to visit Denmark and Greenland from March 10 to 19, 2020.

The UN Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity agreed to visit Costa Rica from March 16 to 27, 2020.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health agreed to visit New Zealand from March 23 to April 3, 2020.

The UN Working Group on discrimination against women and girls agreed to visit Romania from February 24 to March 6, 2020.

The UN Working Group of experts on people of African descent agreed to visit Peru from February 25 to March 4, 2020.

The UN Working Group of experts on people of African descent will hold its 26th Session from March 30 to April 3, 2020, in Geneva, Switzerland.

The UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination will hold its 39th Session from March 30 to April 3, 2020, in Geneva, Switzerland.

During their country visits, these special procedures mandate holders will assess both the overall human rights situation in the country and the issues specific to their thematic focus. Experts also meet with civil society, government, and national human rights institutions when they visit a country. Their findings are published later in reports addressed to the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly. See OHCHR, Country and other visits of Special Procedures. To view the full list of forthcoming country visits, review the Special Procedures’ Visits document and visit the OHCHR website. For more information on each special procedure, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

Regional Bodies

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) will continue to hold its 27th Extraordinary Session, which began on February 19 and will end on March 4, 2020, in Banjul, The Gambia. The ACHPR reviews State compliance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights through its reporting procedure, assessment of individual complaints, fact-finding and promotional missions to States, and monitoring. For more information on the ACHPR, visit the IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will hold its 175th Period of Sessions from March 2 to 8, 2020, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. During the session, it will hold public hearings on a range of human rights concerns in the region, including in 12 countries. They are Brazil, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, and Venezuela. The calendar of hearings is available on the IACHR website. For more information on the IACHR, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

Inter-American Court of Human Rights

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will hold its 134th Regular Session from March 9 to 20, 2020, in San José, Costa Rica. During its sessions, the IACtHR typically holds public hearings on the merits of individual complaints and deliberates on contentious cases alleging human rights violations. For more information about the IACtHR, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

European Committee of Social Rights

The European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) of the Council of Europe will hold its 312th Session from March 23 to 27, 2020, in Strasbourg, France. The draft agenda has been published on the ECSR’s calendar, and the synopsis for this session will be published at a later date. During its sessions, the ECSR reviews States’ reports on their implementation of the European Social Charter, considers collective complaints alleging violations of the Charter, and follows up on the Turin process to improve implementation of the Charter at the continental level. According to the ECSR’s calendar for national reporting, the ECSR will consider State reports concerning employment, training, and equal opportunities from the Netherlands, Sweden, Croatia, Norway, Slovenia, Cyprus, and the Czech Republic throughout the 2020 calendar year. The ECSR will consider simplified reports on the same topic from France, Greece, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Bulgaria, Ireland, and Finland throughout the 2020 calendar year. Simplified reports focus on areas of non-conformity identified in the Committee’s previous conclusions. For more information on the European Committee of Social Rights, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

European Court of Human Rights

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hold a hearing in the case M.A. v. Denmark (no. 6697/18) on March 18, 2020, in Strasbourg, France. See ECtHR, Calendar of Hearings. The case concerns a Syrian national, M.A., whose request for family reunion with his wife from Syria was denied by Danish authorities. [ECtHR Press Release] In 2016, the Danish Immigration Appeals Board denied M.A.’s request for family reunion because the applicant, M.A., had not possessed a valid residence permit for at least three years – a requirement under national law for individuals granted temporary protection – and the Immigration Appeals Board did not find any “special reasons, such as concern for the unity of the family, to justify reunion.” [ECtHR Press Release] M.A. initiated proceedings before national courts claiming that the legislation requiring individuals, like himself, with temporary protection to reside in the country for three years before they can become eligible for family reunion was discriminatory given that others who are granted a higher degree of protection, such as refugees, become eligible after one year. [ECtHR Press Release] In 2017, the Danish Supreme Court ruled against the applicant, finding that the differential treatment was justified. [ECtHR Press Release] Subsequently, the applicant submitted a complaint before the ECtHR alleging a violation of Article 8 (right to family life) and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) in conjunction with Article 8 under the European Convention of Human Rights. [ECtHR Press Release] In November 2019, the ECtHR chamber assigned to the case relinquished its jurisdiction to the ECtHR Grand Chamber.

For more information on the ECtHR, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

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European Court Allows Spain’s “Push Back” of Undocumented African Migrants

Delivery of Judgment, European Court of Human Rights
Credit: ECtHR

Overturning a previous chamber decision, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has held that Spain’s summary expulsion of two would-be migrants from Africa did not violate the European Convention on Human Rights because they were part of a large group that scaled the Melilla border fence between Morocco and Spanish territory. See ECtHR, N.D. and N.T. v. Spain [GC], nos. 8675/15 and 8697/17, Judgment of 13 February 2020, paras. 242-243. The judgment is the first time the Court has considered a migrant’s unauthorized entry to be relevant in this way, holding that the applicants were not entitled to protection from mass expulsion because of how they entered Spain. The Court relied on Spain’s assertion that the applicants could have sought asylum at a consulate or border crossing, despite evidence that Moroccan authorities prevented sub-Saharan migrants from reaching those places and that Spanish authorities did not actually have the relevant procedures in place at the time. Various third-party interventions in the case called on the Court to apply the Convention’s prohibition of collective expulsions, and human rights groups have criticized the Court’s ruling as “ignoring the reality at European borders” and of authorizing “violent push-backs everywhere in Europe.” [The Guardian; ECCHR; Amnesty] This is the Court’s first ruling on the issue of forcible return of migrants from a land border, adding to the European Court’s doctrine on collective expulsions. See ECtHR, Factsheet – Collective expulsions of aliens (Feb. 2020).

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Ongoing Atrocities in Myanmar Highlighted by ICJ Ruling, UN Expert

Yanghee Lee, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar
Credit: UN Photo/Jean Marc FerrŽ

Evidence of past and ongoing mass atrocities against the Rohingya in Myanmar took central focus in two significant developments last week, as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered the government to act to prevent genocide and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Myanmar issued her final end-of-mission statement. [UN News: ICJ; OHCHR Press Release: Statement] Also last week, the controversial government-created Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE) released the executive summary of its final report, in which it found evidence of possible war crimes but not genocide against the Rohingya. [Al Jazeera] Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court (ICC) is proceeding with an investigation into the situation in Myanmar, authorized in November 2019; and, the UN Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM) has begun collecting evidence of the most serious violations of international law, since becoming operational in August 2019.

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