Palais des Nations by night, Geneva. Tuesday 5 November 2013. Credit: Violaine Martin via Flickr
In the month of September, several universal and regional bodies will be in session to 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 in September to engage with States regarding their treaty obligations related to the rights of persons with disabilities; the rights of migrant workers; children’s rights; and economic, social, and cultural rights. The UN Human Rights Council will be in session to review communications as well as thematic and country-specific reports. Seven UN special procedures will conduct country visits focusing on States’ international financial obligations, the rights of persons with albinism, the right to food, the independence of judges and lawyers, adequate housing, cultural rights, and LGBTI issues, respectively. Additionally, the UN working group focused on forced disappearances will be in session.
Regionally, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR), and the European Committee of Social Rights (ESCR) will all be in session. Finally, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights will hear one case related to the prohibition of collective expulsion of aliens and the right to an effective remedy.
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 Hearings & Sessions Calendar.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights
On January 9, 2018, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), the judicial organ of the human rights system in the Americas, published an advisory opinion holding that Member States of the American Convention on Human Rights have an obligation to permit transgender individuals to change their name and gender on identity documents, to recognize same-sex marriage, and to ensure the economic rights of those in same-sex relationships. [IACtHR Press Release (in Spanish only)] See I/A Court H.R., Obligaciones Estatales en Relación Con el Cambio de Nombre, la Identidad de Género, Y los Derechos Derivados de un Vínculo Entre Parejas del Mismo Sexo. Advisory Opinion OC-24/17. 24 November 2017, para. 229 (in Spanish only). In 2016, Costa Rica filed a request for the advisory opinion, asking the Inter-American Court to clarify two questions arising under the American Convention. The first question was whether States are obligated to provide procedures for name, photo, and gender changes in accordance with an individual’s gender identity, and whether Costa Rica’s practices conform with this obligation. The second question was whether States are obligated to recognize the economic rights derived from a bond between same-sex persons. [IACtHR Press Release] See Obligaciones Estatales en Relación Con el Cambio de Nombre, la Identidad de Género, Y los Derechos Derivados de un Vínculo Entre Parejas del Mismo Sexo. 24 November 2017, para. 1. The Inter-American Court answered in the affirmative to Costa Rica’s questions. [IACtHR Press Release] The finding applies to all 23 States parties to the American Convention.
The opinion has received international recognition for its advancement of LGBTQ rights; the recently appointed Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, has expressed that “the protections described by the Court in this Advisory Opinion will have an extremely positive impact in addressing stigma, promoting socio-cultural inclusion and furthering legal recognition of gender identity.” [OHCHR Press Release] Although Costa Rica is one of several Latin American countries that do not currently permit same-sex marriage, officials from the Costa Rican government are willing to embrace the Court’s opinion, with Costa Rica’s Vice-President Ana Helena Chacón quoted as saying that the decision would be adopted “in its totality.” [Reuters; BBC]. Read more
Commissioners Margarette May Macaulay and Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) presented a report on December 5, 2017 that, for the first time in the region, details Member States’ human rights legal obligations to address the situation of poverty and extreme poverty in the Americas through a human rights perspective. See IACHR, Poverty and Human Rights in the Americas (2017), para. 18 (in Spanish only). The Commission’s report acknowledges that poverty is interrelated with certain rights, both civil and political and economic and social, such as the rights to work, education, health, and access to justice, and, therefore, recommends that States focus on ensuring rights for all, including groups in vulnerable situations, as a method for addressing poverty and extreme poverty. See id. at paras. 12, 98, 494. The report also highlights the disproportionate impact of poverty on groups in vulnerable situations; recognizes the barriers to access to justice that poverty presents; and makes recommendations to Member States, such as taking a human rights perspective over a welfare approach to addressing poverty, among others. See id. at paras. 34, 98. Additionally, the report recognizes different definitions of poverty and extreme poverty, although it does not explicitly decide on definitions for each, but the report does state that extreme poverty is a grave problem that impacts the exercise and enjoyment of all human rights. See id. at paras. 2, 18. This is the first report since the IACHR established the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights. [IACHR Press Release: ESCER; IJRC] Read more
On December 4, 2017, the United Nations Human Rights Council appointed Victor Madrigal-Borloz as the new Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity to replace Vitit Muntarbhorn, who resigned for personal reasons. [OHCHR Press Release: Announcement] Madrigal-Borloz is expected to begin his term as the new Independent Expert on January 1, 2018. [OutRight International] The Human Rights Council first created this special procedure mandate in a resolution adopted in November 2016 after a controversial debate. [OHCHR Press Release: New Mandate] The mandate is up for renewal in 2019, at which time, assuming the mandate is renewed, Madrigal-Borloz will be able to serve an additional three years. [OutRight International] In addition to being the current Secretary General of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, Madrigal-Borloz has served on the Board of Directors of the International Justice Resource Center since 2011. Read more
UN Palais des Nations
Credit: Risuciu via Wikimedia Commons
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) recently announced the publication of the Standards of Conduct for Business to fight discrimination against lesbian, gay, bi, trans, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. [OHCHR Press Release] The Standards of Conduct for Business build upon the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the UN Global Compact – which collectively contain UN standards directed at businesses to respect and protect human rights, and remedy rights violations – to offer guidance to companies on how businesses should treat LGBTI people in the workplace and how businesses can promote LGBTI rights in the marketplace and in the community. See UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Tackling Discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, & Intersex People: Standards of Conduct for Business (2017), 1, 5-6. Several businesses, including Accenture, Baker McKenzie, BNP Paribas, The Coca-Cola Company, Deutsche Bank, EDF, EY, Gap Inc., Godrej, IKEA Group, Microsoft, Oath, Orange, SAP, and Spotify, have already shown public support for the Standards of Conduct for Business. [OHCHR Press Release] The commentary from the OHCHR accompanying the Standards of Conduct for Business explains that domestic legal reforms alone are not enough to create inclusive communities, and, therefore, the OHCHR notes that the corporate sector not only has an obligation to respect human rights but also holds significant influence in curbing human rights abuses. See UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Tackling Discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, & Intersex People: Standards of Conduct for Business, 15. The standards also bring together two areas in human rights protection that the international community is increasingly recognizing – businesses’ responsibility to respect, protect, and remedy human rights and violations thereof, and the human rights of LGBTI persons. [IJRC: SOGI; IJRC: Forum] Read more
Activists use rainbow color lights to mark Pride in Saint-Petersburg, Russia
Credit: Yury Gavrikov via Wikimedia Commons
On June 20, 2016, a chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that legislation in Russia banning the promotion of homosexuality, especially to minors, violated three gay activists’ rights to the freedom of expression and the prohibition of discrimination, enshrined in articles 10 and 14, respectively, of the European Convention on Human Rights. See ECtHR, Bayev and Others v. Russia, no. 67667/09, ECHR 2017, Judgment of 20 June 2017. Regarding the violation of the activists’ freedom of expression, the Court concluded that the law did not serve a legitimate goal to protect the morals or health of the public, and further held that it impermissibly deepened the stigmatization of the country’s homosexual minority, in contravention of the European Convention. See id. at para. 83. The law, the Court concluded, is discriminatory since it provides for different treatment solely on the basis of sexual orientation. See id. at para. 90. Civil society organizations have previously warned that Russia’s gay propaganda law has spread to other countries with proposals to enact similar legislation, including in other States that are subject to the European Court’s jurisdiction, such as Armenia, Latvia, and Lithuania. [Human Rights First; HRW] Read more