On March 15, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) issued a landmark decision finding that States are not required to allow victims of torture to sue perpetrators in civil proceedings, in the absence of criminal proceedings, for compensation when the act of torture occurred outside of the territory of the State and the perpetrators are not nationals and are domiciled abroad. See ECtHR, Naït-Liman v. Switzerland [GC], no. 51357/07, ECHR 2018, Judgment of 15 March 2018, paras. 97, 217. Accordingly, the ECtHR Grand Chamber held that States are not obligated under international law to exercise universal civil jurisdiction over acts of torture. See id. at para. 203. Universal civil jurisdiction is the power of a domestic court to resolve claims for monetary compensation without there being any connection between the State where the case is brought and the underlying facts of the case. See id. at para. 177. Although the ECtHR recognized that States were obligated to exercise universal criminal jurisdiction over acts of torture, the ECtHR found that there was no similar obligation for civil claims that are wholly separate from a criminal proceeding. See id. at para. 97. This decision diverges from the position taken by the United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT) and various international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists, Redress Trust, and the World Organization Against Torture. See id. at paras. 52-53, 161, 167-68. The CAT maintains that States are obligated to award reparations for acts of torture, even if the torture occurs outside of the territory of the State, and to ensure that civil liability and redress is “available independently of criminal proceedings.” See id. at paras. 52-53, 161, 167-68; CAT, General Comment No. 3 (2012), UN Doc. CAT/C/GC/3, 13 Dec. 2012, paras. 22, 26. Read more
Category Archives: torture
The United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) recently published its General Comment 4 on the implementation of Article 3 (non-refoulement, or not deporting or extraditing an individual to a country where they are at risk of torture) of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention against Torture), replacing the CAT’s first general comment 20 years after its publication; the new General Comment reiterates existing standards, provides additional guidance on torture and non-refoulement under the Convention against Torture, and provides expanded guidance on how the Committee reviews communications that allege violations of Article 3. [OHCHR Press Release: CAT] The General Comment notably solidifies some of the decisions on Article 3 made in the CAT’s merits decisions, including that sending States must consider the actions of non-State actors as well as State actors when determining the risk of torture for a potential deportee, and that the State’s obligation to not deport an individual at risk of torture in the receiving State is absolute. The General Comment’s guidance on communications may assist individuals at risk of refoulement submit more effective claims to international bodies, which will likely help the Committee expedite the processing of complaints and address its extensive backlog; the Committee’s complaints involving Article 3 claims make up the majority of complaints submitted to the Committee. See CAT, General Comment No. 4 (2017) on the implementation of article 3 of the Convention in the context of article 22, Advanced Unedited Version, 9 February 2018, para. 7. [OHCHR Press Release: Statement; OHCHR Press Release: CAT] Read more
The African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) recently published its holding that Mauritania violated the rights to protection from child labor and from child abuse, among other rights and obligations, established in the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (African Children’s Charter), due to the enslavement of two children. Two non-governmental organizations – Minority Rights Group International and SOS-Enclaves – submitted the complaint against Mauritania on behalf of two brothers, Said Ouid Salem, born in 2000, and Yarg Ould Salem, born in 2003, who alleged that they were victims of child slavery for 11 years. The Committee found that Mauritania failed to protect the applicants from slavery; to investigate, punish, and prosecute all the perpetrators responsible; and to provide a timely and adequate remedy for the applicants. Based in part on those findings, the ACERWC ultimately held that Mauritania violated its obligations under Article 1 (obligation to realize the rights in the Charter), Article 3 (right to non-discrimination), Article 4 (best interest of the child), Article 5 (obligation to ensure the survival and development), Article 11 (right to education), Article 12 (right to leisure, recreation, and cultural activities), Article 15 (right to protection from child labor), Article 16 (right to protection against child abuse and torture), and Article 21 (right to protection against harmful social and cultural practices) of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. See ACERWC, Decision on the Communication Submitted by Minority Rights Group International and SOS-Enclaves on Behalf of Said Ould Salem and Yarg Ould Salem against the Government of the Republic of Mauritania, Communication No.003/Com/003/2015, Merits Decisions, 30th Ordinary Session (2017), para. 97. Read more
In February 2018, 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, interactive dialogues, and hearings on individual complaints. Four United Nations treaty bodies will be holding sessions throughout February on issues related to children’s rights, prevention of torture, the rights of persons with disabilities, and the rights of women. The UN Human Rights Council and several of its working groups will also be in session to review communications as well as thematic and country-specific reports. Two UN special rapporteurs will carry out country visits, and two special procedures working groups will hold private sessions on the topics of forced disappearances, and business and human rights.
Regionally, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will be in session, and will hold public hearings during those sessions. The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hear arguments in one case on the alleged violation of due process rights during domestic criminal proceedings, including the right to a fair trial, the right to adequate preparation of a defense, and the right to examine a witness.
The UN treaty body sessions and the public hearings of the European Court, Inter-American Commission, and Inter-American Court may be watched via UN Web TV, the European Court’s website, the Inter-American Commission’s website, and Vimeo, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), two United Nations special rapporteurs, and one UN working group recently condemned Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’s decision to issue a humanitarian pardon on December 24, 2017 to former President Alberto Fujimori, who was convicted and sentenced in 2009 to 25 years in prison for murder, kidnapping, and crimes against humanity during his presidency; the IACHR and the UN human rights experts question whether the decision meets international human rights legal requirements, and asserts that it undermines the efforts of victims and witnesses who brought Fujimori to justice. [IACHR Press Release; OHCHR Press Release; HRW: Pardon] See Resolución Suprema No. 281-2017-JUS (2017) [Spanish Only]. The pardon, issued officially for humanitarian reasons due to Fujimori’s health, absolves Fujimori of his convictions and releases him from his sentence. [IACHR Press Release] Peru is obligated under international human rights law to investigate alleged rights violations and punish perpetrators, and not to implement pardons or amnesty laws that undermine the rights to a fair trial and to judicial protection. [IACHR Press Release; OHCHR Press Release]
Some Peruvians and UN experts believe that the pardon was politically motivated because of a potential connection between Fujimori’s pardon and the cancelled impeachment proceedings against President Kuczynski; the impeachment proceedings were dropped just three days after the impeachment hearing of President Kuczynski, who survived a removal vote with the help of a 10-person coalition that crossed party lines to abstain from the removal vote, led by Fujimori’s son Kenji Fujimori. Seven of the 10 lawmakers communicated with Fujimori leading up to the vote. [Reuters; HRW: Pardon; OHCHR Press Release] President Kuczynski’s decision triggered street protests and unrest in Peru. [OHCHR Press Release; Guardian: Pardon] Read more
In December, several universal and regional human rights bodies and experts will assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through the consideration of State reports, country visits, and thematic and contentious hearings. Two United Nations treaty bodies will continue their sessions that began in November on issues concerning racial discrimination and torture. Ten United Nations special procedures mandate holders and groups of experts will conduct country visits across five continents in December, and one UN group of experts will hold sessions. Regionally, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will continue its session and hold thematic hearings on specific human rights issues in the United States and Canada. The European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) will hold sessions, and the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hear two cases related to the right to assistance of counsel and the application of Islamic law in national courts, respectively.
In the last two months, the Organization of American States (OAS) held unprecedented hearings to gather witness testimony on the situation in Venezuela to determine whether to refer the State to the International Criminal Court (ICC). [OAS Press Release: First Session; OAS Press Release: Second Session] In the sessions of hearings held so far, the OAS has heard testimony from activists, former members of the Venezuelan government and judiciary, and former members of the Bolivian National Armed Forces, among others; their testimony has described arbitrary arrests and detention, extrajudicial killings, and cruel and degrading treatment. [Moreno Ocampo] Luis Moreno Ocampo, a former ICC prosecutor and current Special Adviser on Crimes against Humanity (Special Advisor) at the OAS, convened the two public sessions of hearings – one in September and one in October – at the OAS headquarters in Washington, D.C.; he may convene additional sessions in November. [OAS Press Release: Adviser; OAS Press Release: First Session; OAS Press Release: Second Session]
In July, the OAS Secretary General, Luis Almagro, designated Moreno Ocampo as Special Adviser, and as such, Moreno Ocampo is tasked with analyzing, studying, and debating the ongoing situation in Venezuela with interested parties to determine whether the State committed crimes against humanity and can be referred to the ICC. [OAS Press Release: Adviser] Accordingly, the sessions were held to examine whether the abuses by the Venezuelan government rise to the level of crimes against humanity and if they were committed in a widespread and systematic manner. [OAS Press Release: First Session; OAS Press Release: Second Session; Moreno Ocampo] The testimony gathered in the sessions will contribute to a final report, along with information submitted by additional organizations; the Independent Panel of International Experts, appointed by the OAS Secretary General in September, will review the report and recommend it to the Secretary General. [OAS Press Release: Independent Panel] This is the first time that the regional body has held sessions with the purpose of referring a Member State to the ICC. Read more
In a recent opinion, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) held that Tanzania’s failure to protect an individual with albinism from violence and discrimination constitutes a violation of the country’s obligations under the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (ICRPD). [OHCHR Press Release] See Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Mr. X v. Tanzania, Communication No. 22/2014, Views of 31 August 2017, UN Doc. CRPD/C/18/D/22/2014, paras. 8.1-8.7. The case concerned a man who was attacked and dismembered by men who targeted him due to his albinism. [OHCHR Press Release] Although the victim claimed to know the identity of the perpetrators, Tanzanian prosecutors dropped his case and failed to continue their investigation. [OHCHR Press Release] See CRPD, Mr. X v. Tanzania, para. 2.2. In its August 31, 2017 communication, the CRPD held that failing to investigate and prosecute an attack resulting in dismemberment as the result of the victim’s albinism constitutes discrimination based on a disability in violation of the ICRPD. See id. at paras. 8.1-8.4. In addition to a violation of the right to non-discrimination under Article 5 of the ICRPD, the Committee also held that Tanzania violated the rights to prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, and to personal integrity under articles 15 and 17 of the Convention, respectively. See id. at paras. 8.5-8.7. Tanzania has one of the highest rates of albinism in the world, and people with albinism in the country frequently face various forms of violence and discrimination, both of which are often conducted with impunity. See Human Rights Council, Resolution 28/75, Report of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee on the study on the situation of human rights of persons living with albinism, UN Doc. A/HRC/28/75, 10 February 2015, paras. 18, 26-34. Read more
In October, 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, interactive dialogues, country visits, seminars, and hearings. Five UN treaty bodies will meet throughout October to assess States’ compliance with their treaty obligations related to civil and political rights; economic, social, and cultural rights; elimination of discrimination against women; the prevention of torture; and the rights of the child. The Social Forum of the UN Human Rights Council will be in session, and the UN Human Rights Council will also host thematic panel discussions, seminars, and working group discussions on climate change, migrants, and persons displaced across international borders; transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights; and the implementation of effective safeguards to prevent torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment during police custody. One working group will be in session on the issue of discrimination against women in law and practice, and eight other special procedures mandate holders will conduct country visits. Regionally, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), the European Committee on Social Rights (ECSR), and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will be in session.
The UN Human Rights Council’s and UN treaty bodies’ sessions can be watched via UN Web TV. The IACHR’s session can be watched on its YouTube channel, and the IACtHR’s session may be viewed on its website or Vimeo page. The ECtHR hearings can be viewed on its webcast.
On September 14, 2017, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a press release, applauding the Bolivian government’s establishment of a Truth Commission on August 21, 2017. [IACHR Press Release: Bolivia] The Truth Commission will investigate allegations of grave human rights violations and crimes against humanity that occurred between November 4, 1964 through October 10, 1982, during the military and authoritarian rule of Bolivia. [IACHR Press Release: Bolivia; Amnesty International] See Ley N 879, Ley de la Comision de la Verdad, 23 December 2016 (Bolivia) (in Spanish only). The law establishing the Truth Commission, Law 879 of December 23, 2016, set its objective as “to solve the murders, forced disappearances, tortures, arbitrary detentions, and sexual violence, considered grave human rights violations, which were committed in Bolivia for political and ideological motives.” [IACHR Press Release: Bolivia] The Truth Commission, composed of five members, will remain in place for two years, during which time the members will carry out investigations and report on their findings. [IACHR Press Release: Bolivia]
The establishment of the Truth Commission follows a long period of widespread impunity, since 1982, for the grave human rights violations committed during the 18-year period, and its findings, the IACHR has noted, will contribute to ensuring justice for the victims’ families and to preventing further injustice. [IACHR Press Release: Bolivia; Amnesty International] Bolivia previously made efforts towards seeking and promoting truth; however, the government made little progress, and those efforts were limited to violations relating to forced disappearances. [IACHR Press Release: Bolivia] Representatives of the victims’ families as well as civil society, though, continued to advocate for the establishment of a Truth Commission to ensure that the violations will be “remember[ed], record[ed], and clarif[ied].” [Amnesty International] Read more