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The United Nations Human Rights Committee has issued new legal guidance on the right to life under Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), expanding its interpretation of government obligations to protect reproductive rights and address climate change, among other topics. See Human Rights Committee, General comment No. 36 (2018) on article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on the right to life, UN Doc. CCPR/C/GC/36, 30 October 2018. General Comment No. 36 replaces the Human Rights Committee’s two previous general comments on the right to life, both published in the 1980s. See id. at para. 1. It incorporates many developments with respect to the right to life under Article 6, such as States’ obligations with regard to the availability of “safe and legal abortion,” the development and sale of weapons, and extra-territorial activities. See id. at paras. 8, 65. Other issues addressed in the general comment include police brutality, the death penalty, and nuclear weapons. See id. at paras. 5, 13, 62, 66. In conjunction with the publication of General Comment No. 36, the Human Rights Committee announced that it will begin working on the next general comment in 2019, which it provisionally decided will be on the right to peaceful assembly. [OHCHR Press Release]
Inter-American Court hearing in Cuscal Piraval et al.
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The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) for the first time held a State responsible for violating the progressive realization principle, determining that Guatemala’s inaction to extend healthcare services to people with HIV/AIDS contravened its duty to progressively achieve the full realization of the right to health, among other violations. [IACtHR Press Release] In Cuscul Piraval et al v. Guatemala, published on October 25th, the IACtHR concluded that Guatemala violated the rights to health, integrity, and life of dozens of people with HIV and their family members. [IACtHR Press Release] The Court found that while charitable and humanitarian organizations had provided some care for HIV-positive patients, Guatemala’s public health system had failed to ensure access to essential healthcare for those with HIV, in spite of national legislation and programs intended to address the known gap in services. See IACHR, Merits Report No. 2/16, Case 12.484, Luis Rolando Cuscul Piraval et al. (Guatemala), 13 April 2016. This case marks a major development in the economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights jurisprudence in the Inter-American System. Read more
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights at its November 2015 session
A recent case involving capital punishment in Botswana required the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) to consider the adequacy of appointed counsel and clemency procedures, hanging as a method of execution, the death row phenomenon, and whether notice is required prior to imposition of the death penalty. See ACommHPR, Interights & Ditshwanelo v. Botswana, Communication No. 319/06, Merits Decision, 57th Ordinary Session (2015). The case concerned a prisoner who was secretly hanged to death without advance warning to him or his family, who were then denied the opportunity to bury him. In its decision, published on June 28, 2016, the Commission declined to “suddenly” hold that the death penalty itself was an arbitrary deprivation of the right to life, but it signaled growing discomfort with capital punishment and held that execution by hanging constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of Article 5 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Further, it held that a prisoner must be informed in advance of the time and place of his execution and have a prior opportunity to meet with family or seek spiritual comfort.
The case also involved several procedural peculiarities. Botswana failed to participate in the proceedings before the ACHPR, leaving the Commission to rely on the complainant organizations’ submissions. Although the complainants requested provisional measures to prevent the victim’s execution, the ACHPR was unable to convey the request to the government before he was hanged, on the day after the Commission received the complaint and request. Finally, in the time since the complaint was submitted in April 2006, one of the complainant organizations, INTERIGHTS, has closed. Read more
The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR), European Union (EU), World Bank, and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) are sponsoring the 2nd Continental Judicial Dialogue, entitled “Connecting National and International Justice” from November 4 to 6, 2015 in Arusha, Tanzania. The dialogue will bring together members of national, regional, and continental courts and human rights bodies to share information for improving judicial administration, ensuring access to judicial protection of human rights within the African continent, and exchanging information and jurisprudence.
The proposed topics of discussion include: judicial reforms; recent developments and trends in human rights jurisprudence, particularly with respect to the interpretation and application of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Banjul Charter), regional human rights instruments and domestic constitutions; continuing judicial education and management of judicial institutions; and experiences from other continents. See AfCHPR, Concept Note for the Second African Judicial Dialogue: “Connecting National and International Justice.”
President of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Justice Augustino Ramadhani, stated that the dialogue will include 200 delegates from African Union Member States, among them chief justices, presidents of supreme courts and constitutional courts, and members of academia, national judiciaries, and the media, among others. Justice Ramadhani also stated the dialogue will address human rights concerns with respect to electoral processes and noted that the dialogue will take place shortly before Uganda and other African countries are preparing for or holding elections. [KFM]
For more information about the Second Continental Judicial Dialogue, including the draft program and concept note, visit the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ website dedicated to the dialogue. Read more
A Women’s Prison in Pétionville, Haiti
Credit: UN Photo/Victoria Hazou
On May 22, 2015, the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ) gathered in Vienna and adopted the Mandela Rules, which are revisions to the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMR), the leading international principles on the treatment of prisoners, which had not been updated since they were drafted in 1955. The Mandela Rules honor the late South African President Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for 27 years by the country’s apartheid regime. [UNODC Press Release] See U.N., Econ. & Soc. Council, U.N. Standards Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Mandela Rules), E/CN.15/2015/L.6/Rev.1 (2015). The Mandela Rules will be presented to the UN General Assembly for approval in the fall. [ACLU Blog]
Human Rights Council UPR Working Group
Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré
The Human Rights Council is close to concluding its 22nd Session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group which began on May 4 and will conclude on May 15, 2015 to examine 14 States’ human rights records. [OHCHR Press Release] During these Working Group discussions, UN Member States are reviewing the human rights practices of Belarus, Liberia, Malawi, Mongolia, Panama, Maldives, Andorra, Bulgaria, Honduras, the United States, Marshall Islands, Croatia, Jamaica, and Libya (listed in the order of their scheduled reviews). [OHCHR: Universal Periodic Review Timetable]
The IACtHR in Session
Last month, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued its Annual Report 2014, summarizing the Court’s structure, jurisprudence, and activities throughout 2014. The Report discusses the Court’s functions, summarizes the status of cases before the Court, breaks down the Court’s budget, and describes additional activities the Court undertook in 2014. See Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Annual Report 2014. The majority of the Report focuses on the hearings that the Court held, cases that were submitted to the Court, and judgments that the Court delivered in 2014. See id. at 12–33, 39–66.
On November 5, U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, presented her annual report to the U.N. General Assembly. The Special Rapporteur highlights the obstacles faced by individuals living in extreme poverty when they attempt to access courts and other remedies. Linking access to justice to numerous other human rights, her report concludes that States have an obligation to ensure impoverished individuals have full and effective access to justice systems, and provides recommendations to States on how to remove existing barriers. Read more
Source: US Mission to Geneva
On September 27, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a contentious resolution on the relationship between human rights and traditional values. Though only two pages long, the resolution reignited concerns that State claims of traditional values might be used to thwart the existing human rights framework rather than strengthening it. Specifically, human rights advocates remain wary of traditional values language because it remains unclear exactly what defines “traditional values.”
The tabling of Resolution A/HRC/21/L.2 prior to the Council’s Advisory Committee final report on traditional values and human rights, which is expected next year, further strengthened doubts regarding the intentions of the States who sponsored the resolution. In 2009 the Human Rights Council tasked the Advisory Committee with investigating this topic, and the Advisory Committee issued a preliminary report in June 2012, which remains open for State and civil society consultations. Although the resolution on traditional values acknowledged that the Advisory Committee’s report was not yet finished, this did little to assuage criticism that the resolution could make it easier for States to evade their responsibilities under human rights law. Read more