Courtroom of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg
Credit: Adrian Grycuk via Wikimedia Commons
The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has issued its second ever monetary judgment in an inter-State case, ordering Russia to pay the Georgian government 10 million euros as reparations for Russia’s collective expulsion of thousands of Georgian nationals between 2006 and 2007. See ECtHR, Georgia v. Russia (I) [GC], no. 13255/07, ECHR 2019, Judgment of 31 January 2019 (Just Satisfaction). The judgment on reparations follows the Court’s 2014 judgment on the merits of the case, in which it found that Russia’s mass expulsion of Georgians violated the European Convention on Human Rights. See id. at para. 2. If Russia complies with the judgment, Georgia will be responsible for distributing the 10 million euros to a group of 1,500 identified victims, awarding 2,000 euros to each person who was expelled and awarding an additional 10,000 to 15,000 euros to those who had also been detained and ill-treated. See id. at paras. 77, 79. This judgment applies and builds on the Grand Chamber’s 2014 just satisfaction judgment in Cyprus v. Turkey, in which it ordered Turkey to pay 90 million euros in just satisfaction for the enforced disappearance of 1,456 people and various violations against the Greek Cypriots of the Karpas peninsula, by Turkish authorities, dating to 1974. See ECtHR, Cyprus v. Turkey, [GC], no. 25781/94, Judgment of 12 May 2014 (Just Satisfaction).
This case is the first of four cases that Georgia has brought to the ECtHR against Russia since 2007. The second case, concerning Russia’s alleged violation of the European Convention during the 2008 Russo-Georgian conflict, is currently pending before a Grand Chamber. See ECtHR, Cases pending before the Grand Chamber. The third case, which concerned Russia’s detention of several Georgian nationals, was voluntarily dropped by Georgia after Russia released the individuals from detention. [ECtHR: New Complaint] The fourth case, filed in August 2018, concerns alleged violations of rights along the border between Georgian-controlled territory and Abkhazia and South Ossetia. [ECtHR: New Complaint] The International Criminal Court (ICC) has also opened an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the 2008 Russo-Georgian conflict. See ICC, Situation in Georgia.
A military parade in Bolivia
Credit: Richard12sep.1993 via Wikimedia Commons
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
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights during the 21st Extraordinary Session
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) recently launched General Comment No. 4 on the right to redress for victims of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment or treatment, which was previously adopted during the 21st Extra-Ordinary Session of the ACHPR. See ACommHPR, General Comment No. 4 on the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights: The Right to Redress for Victims of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Punishment or Treatment (Article 5), (adopted at the Commission’s 21st Extra-Ordinary Session, held from February 23 to March 4, 2017). Launched on May 8, the General Comment provides an authoritative interpretation of the scope of the right to redress, and States parties obligations, under Article 5 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter). The General Comment addresses the obligations to provide prompt, full, and effective redress; to ensure rehabilitation; to protect against intimidation and reprisals; and to provide redress for collective harms. See id. [IRCT Press Release] Additionally, the General Comment offers guidance on the right to redress within the contexts of sexual and gender-based violence, armed conflict, transitional justice processes, and violence carried out by non-State actors. See General Comment No. 4 on the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights: The Right to Redress for Victims of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Punishment or Treatment (Article 5), (adopted at the Commission’s 21st Extra-Ordinary Session, held from February 23 to March 4, 2017). According to the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) – a global civil society organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of torture survivors – this General Comment takes a significant step towards achieving protections for victims of torture and other ill-treatment in the region due to its victim-centered approach to rehabilitation and to its acknowledgement that redress should be provided to victimized communities in addition to individual victims. [IRCT Press Release] Read more
Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo at the International Criminal Court
Last week, in two separate cases, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued its first decision on sentences for witness tampering and first order for a convicted war criminal to pay reparations to victims. A chamber of the ICC delivered a decision on March 22 regarding the sentences of five convicted individuals in the case of The Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, et al. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity in March of last year and was convicted of another charge – offenses against the administration of justice – in October 2016, along with members of his legal team. In last week’s decision, the Court added a year to Bemba’s existing 18-year sentence for witness tampering. [IJRC: Bemba] See ICC, The Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, Aimé Kilolo Musamba, Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo, Fidèle Babala Wandu and Narcisse Arido, ICC-01/05-01/13, Decision on Sentence pursuant to Article 76 of the Statute, 22 March 2017. Another chamber of the Court issued an order on March 24 awarding collective and individual reparations to 297 victims of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by Germain Katanga in 2003 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The ICC ordered Katanga to pay each victim 250 dollars. See ICC, The Prosecutor v. Germain, ICC-01/04-01/07, Decision on Reparations pursuant to Article 75 of the Statute, 24 March 2017 (available in French). The March 24 decision marks the first time the ICC has ordered a convicted war criminal to pay reparations to victims. Read more
Italia Mendez and Norma Jimenez speak at the IRCT symposium on the right to rehabilitation
The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) held a symposium in Mexico City last week entitled Delivering on the Promise of the Right to Rehabilitation that brought together over 300 people, including clinical professionals, lawyers, researchers, and policymakers, from around the world to discuss rehabilitation of torture survivors. [IRCT Press Release] The IRCT is a membership-based organization consisting of more than 150 organizations and is focused on ensuring rehabilitation services are available for torture victims and on defining what those services should entail. See IRCT, About the IRCT. To this end, the IRCT aims to hold symposiums every three years so that those working on rehabilitation may share their developments and together create new ideas. [IRCT Press Release] Under Article 14 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, victims of torture have a right to “as full rehabilitation as possible.”
The symposium lasted three days in Mexico City with plenary sessions each day, as well as concurrent breakout sessions on particular topics in the morning and afternoon. The subjects addressed ranged from dance and movement therapy to the use of evidence and support to victims in trials. This post will discuss select conversations in both the plenary and breakout sessions. Throughout the symposium, speakers and attendees focused on the need for agreed-upon global standards on rehabilitation and the need to put the survivors at the center of any approach. At the General Assembly following the symposium, IRCT members adopted the “Mexico Consensus,” a set of standards intended to guide States in providing rehabilitation services.
The agenda can be viewed on the symposium’s webpage, and the recordings of each session should be posted on IRCT’s YouTube channel. Read more
Hissène Habré in the Extraordinary African Chambers
Credit: Extraordinary African Chambers
Following a May 2016 conviction for crimes against humanity, the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC) issued an order on July 29 for Hissène Habré to pay monetary reparations to thousands of victims. The former president of Chad was sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes including murder, summary executions, kidnapping, rape, and sexual slavery committed during his 1982 – 1990 rule. [Guardian] Although his lawyers have appealed the conviction, the EAC ordered Habré to compensate each of his victims with what amounts to tens of thousands of dollars in Central African francs, totaling millions of dollars in reparations. [Guardian; Amnesty International] Habré’s conviction was the first time a court on the African continent has convicted a former head of state of crimes against humanity. [Amnesty International] Read more
Credit: Adam Thomas via Wikimedia Commons
The United Nations Human Rights Committee has found Australia in violation of the right to liberty protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) due to its continued detention of Guantanamo Bay prisoner David Hicks following his transfer to Australia, despite evidence that the American military proceedings against him had been unfair. See UN Human Rights Committee, Hicks v. Australia, Communication No. 2005/2010, Views of 5 November 2015. Mr. Hicks was formerly detained in Guantanamo Bay, but he accepted a plea bargain in exchange for a transfer to his home country, Australia. [OHCHR Press Release] In accordance with the plea agreement, Mr. Hicks pleaded guilty to providing material support to terrorists before a military commission. [NPR] After he was transferred to Australia, Mr. Hicks continued to serve the remaining seven months of his seven-year sentence. [UN News Centre] Last year, a U.S. court quashed his conviction, finding that material support did not constitute a war crime and he therefore should not have been subjected to military proceedings. [BBC]
The Committee held that States must not carry out a sentence that resulted from a clearly unfair trial and found that, in this case, Australia had sufficient knowledge of the procedural flaws that Mr. Hicks had experienced. [UN News Centre] The Committee went on to state that Australia should have investigated the matter further before enforcing the remainder of the sentence. See UN Human Rights Committee, Hicks v. Australia, Views of 5 November 2015, paras. 4.7-8. Australia, therefore, has an obligation to ensure that a sentence carried out within its territory was not the result of a trial that violated the ICCPR. Id. The Committee’s decision contributes to a growing body of human rights decisions on the detention, transfer, and custody of those individuals held by States as part of the “war on terror.” Read more
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) recently added a new section to its website concerning friendly settlements and published its Handbook on the Use of the Friendly Settlement Mechanism in the IACHR Petition and Case System (Handbook) to inform petitioners about the friendly settlement procedure and best practices. The friendly settlement process allows petitioners and States to engage in a dialogue to reach an agreement concerning reparations for the alleged victims in a non-contentious manner, and without obtaining a decision on the merits from the IACHR. As of July 2015, the IACHR has approved 121 friendly settlement agreements, in which the aggrieved parties have secured reparations including economic compensation, measures of restitution, measures of rehabilitation, measures of satisfaction, and guarantees of non-repetition. See IACHR, Friendly Settlements.
For more information about the impact of friendly settlement agreements, a catalog of agreements, and informational videos and graphics, visit the Commission’s new webpage dedicated to friendly settlement agreements. Read more
Internally displaced persons during Sri Lanka’s civil war
Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Ranveig
On September 16, 2015, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, released a report on the human rights violations, including unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, and gender-based violence, committed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and Sri Lankan government forces from 2002-2011. See Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Report of the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL), 16 September 2015 (hereinafter Report). The report concludes with a number of recommendations, including those of a general nature as well as more specific ones regarding institutional reforms, justice, truth and the right to know, reparations, and suggestions directed at the United Nations and Member States. See id. at 248-251.