Category Archives: security & rule of law

Ethiopia: Mass Arrests Seen as Setback Amid Recent Progress

President Isaias Afewerki and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sign the Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship
Credit: Yemane Gebremeskel via Wikimedia Commons

In recent weeks, the Ethiopian government has retreated from democratic reforms by arresting more than 1,200 individuals, killing several dozen, sending arrestees to “rehabilitation” camps, and shutting off mobile internet access as violence and protests reached the capital. [NYTimes: Arrests; Quartz] Among other reforms, new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had welcomed previously-outlawed opposition groups to return to Ethiopia and reopened the border with Eritrea, in keeping with a peace agreement signed earlier this year. [BBC; Amnesty International] Attacks and hate speech against ethnic minorities, and clashes with supporters of the returning opposition groups, have surged over the past year and displaced 1.5 million people; many have taken to the streets in peaceful protest, and civil society has criticized the government for arresting and killing protesters rather than protecting people from attacks. [Amnesty International] The violence continues to claim lives across the country. [Al Jazeera]

Read more

European Court: UK’s Mass Interception of Online Communications Violated Rights

European Court of Human Rights
European Court of Human Rights

European Court of Human Rights
Credit: CherryX via Wikimedia Commons

On September 13, 2018, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that the United Kingdom’s bulk collection of online communications and its collection of data from communication service providers (CSPs) violated the rights to privacy and freedom of expression. See ECtHR, Big Brother Watch and Others v. the United Kingdom, nos. 58170/13, 62322/14, 24960/15, ECHR 2018, Judgment of 13 September 2018. Although the Court did not rule that mass collection is inherently a violation of privacy, disappointing many privacy advocates, the ECtHR held that such programs must have adequate safeguards to protect against abuse. [Sky News]

The decision is the first time that the ECtHR has reviewed the UK’s surveillance program since whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013, which revealed cross-border government surveillance efforts, including those by the UK intelligence agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) to intercept millions of private communications. [Guardian] The ECtHR did not consider the legality of the 2016 legislative amendments to the UK’s surveillance program, which followed the Snowden disclosures and are currently being challenged domestically. [Guardian] Read more

Guatemala and Nicaragua Reject UN Human Rights Monitors Amid Turmoil

Protesters in Managua
Credit: By Voice of America, via Wikimedia Commons

Two Central American governments ended their cooperation with the United Nations on specific human rights initiatives and sought to exclude UN representatives from their territories in late August 2018. In Guatemala, President Jimmy Morales announced on August 31 he would not renew the mandate of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) when it expires in 2019 and barred CICIG head Iván Velásquez from reentering the country, despite a Supreme Court order rejecting a previous attempt to expel him. [IACHR: Guatemala; NYT] Since 2007, CICIG has assisted national authorities in prosecuting corruption, and recently announced an investigation into President Morales for illegal campaign contributions. [NYT]

Also on August 31, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega rescinded an invitation to a fact-finding team from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), just after OHCHR published a report on authorities’ human rights violations against protesters since demonstrations against the Ortega government began in April 2018. [Al Jazeera; IJRC: Nicaragua] The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), OHCHR, and civil society have expressed concern at these developments. [IACHR: Guatemala; IACHR: Nicaragua; OHCHR Press Release: Concern; HRW: Nicaragua; HRW: Torture] Observers fear the crises in both countries will continue to worsen. [NYT: Authoritarianism] Read more

UNODC Publishes First Handbook on Management of Violent Extremist Prisoners

United Nations meeting on preventing violent extremism
Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) launched a Handbook on the Management of Violent Extremist Prisoners and the Prevention of Radicalization to Violence in Prisons on January 16 aimed at strengthening prison management of violent extremist prisoners while upholding prisoners’ human rights. [UN News Centre] The handbook, one in a series of UNODC resources meant to help States implement the rule of law and reform criminal justice systems, makes recommendations to ensure adherence to fundamental human rights, international standards, and good practices in the management of violent extremist prisoners. States are increasingly considering holistic methods to address violent extremism, the handbook notes, which include persuading individuals to disengage with violence and reintegrate into society; prisons, UNDOC suggests, have an important role in implementing that approach. See Handbook on the Management of Violent Extremist Prisoners and the Prevention of Radicalization to Violence in Prisons, UN Office on Drugs and Crime, October 2016, at 1, 4-5. Using existing international standards, and in particular the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules), the handbook provides guidelines on prison staff recruitment and training; risk management; prevention of radicalization in prison; social reintegration; post-release support; and fair, humane, and non-discriminatory treatment of prisoners. See id. at 1-2, 7. The handbook is the first UN guidance tool to address radicalization to violence and violent extremism in prison settings. Read more

Colombians Reject Peace Deal Heralded by International Community, Negotiations Continue

Colombian Peace Agreement Ceremony Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Colombian Peace Agreement Ceremony

Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

On Sunday, October 2, 2016 Colombians headed to the polls to vote on a peace agreement to end the 52-year war with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerillas. [The Guardian: Voters] Contrary to what the polls had predicted, the peace deal referendum was rejected by a 0.4 percent margin. [The Guardian: Voters] The deal was the result of four years of negotiations between the government, led by President Juan Manuel Santos, and the FARC. The agreement instituted a ceasfire and initiated the demobilization of fighters through a process that will continue to be overseen by the United Nations. [UN News Centre] It also included provisions that would have cut off FARC’s ties to the drug trade, required FARC guerillas to turn in their weapons and transition to a political movement that would allow FARC leaders to participate in government, and permit rebel leaders to confess and avoid jail time through special tribunal proceedings, while granting amnesty to fighters. [The Guardian: Brexit]

The peace deal, while criticized for compounding impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity, was largely seen as an opportunity to move towards peace. [Amnesty International: No Vote] With the no vote and the remaining uncertainty over the future of Colombia and FARC’s activities, officials have re-entered negotiations. [The Guardian: Brexit] Meanwhile, the Norwegian Nobel Committee  recognized President Santos’ efforts, awarding him the Nobel Peace Prize this past week. [Nobel Prize] Read more

ECtHR: Police Violated Due Process Rights of London Bombing Suspect


The European Court of Human Rights
Credit: CherryX via Wikimedia Commons

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held last week that the United Kingdom did not violate the rights to access to counsel and to a fair trial when, without an attorney present, authorities questioned three men suspected of involvement in the July 21, 2005 London bombing attempt; the State did violate those rights, the ECtHR held, when questioning a fourth man who was initially brought in as a witness and was later convicted of assisting one of the bombers after the fact. See ECtHR, Ibrahim and Others v. the United Kingdom [GC], nos. 50541/08, 50571/08, 50573/08 and 40351/09, ECHR 2016, Judgment of 13 September 2016, para. 86. The decision partially reverses a Chamber decision of December 2014, which found no violations in any of the interviews or trials.

Within days of the attempted bombings, all four applicants were questioned by police. See id. at para. 17. The first three were arrested and questioned without an opportunity to consult a lawyer so the police could more readily elicit any relevant information regarding future attacks, a practice known as “safety interviews.” See id. at para. 64. The fourth applicant was interviewed as a witness and not in a safety interview, but became a suspect in the course of that interview. See id. at paras. 140, 300. The Grand Chamber held that there were not the same compelling reasons to delay his exercise of his rights and his witness statement should not have been used against him at trial. See id. at paras. 300, 310, 311. This is the first case before the ECtHR to address the right to legal assistance in the context of a safety interview, a technique allowed in the United Kingdom under its domestic terrorism legislation. Read more

UN Working Group Finds China Is Arbitrarily Detaining American Citizen

Seong -Phil Hong, Chairperson Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention addresses the Human Rights CouncilCredit: UN Photo / Jean-Marc FerrŽé

Seong-Phil Hong, Chairperson Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, addresses the Human Rights Council.
Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc FerrŽé

In a recently released opinion, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) found that China has arbitrarily deprived Sandy Phan-Gillis, an American citizen, of liberty because she has been denied access to counsel and not been brought before a judicial authority. See WGAD, Communication Concerning Phan (Sandy) Phan-Gillis, Opinion No. 12/2016 (People’s Republic of China), 3 June 2015, UN Doc. A/HRC/WGAD/2016. Phan-Gillis, a business consultant from Texas who regularly visited China for work, was arrested by Chinese authorities near the border into Macau at the conclusion of a business trip in late March of 2015. [Newsweek] Six months after her arrest, Chinese authorities announced that they detained Pahn-Gillis for suspicion of stealing state secrets, but they have yet to formally charge her. [Newsweek] She has also not had access to counsel and has not appeared before a judge. See WGAD, Communication Concerning Phan (Sandy) Phan-Gillis, para. 18. The Working Group requested China to either release Phan-Gillis from custody or provide her with access to effective legal counsel. See WGAD, Communication Concerning Phan (Sandy) Phan-Gillis, para. 25. This opinion marks the first time in the Working Group’s 25-year history that it has found China responsible for detaining an American citizen arbitrarily. [NYT] Read more

News Clips – July 8, 2016

Human Rights Bodies’ Activities

  • The UN Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution supporting online users’ human rights and criticizing internet shutdowns. [Access Now; TechCrunch]
  • The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met with civil society representatives from the Philippines, Myanmar, and France ahead of those States’ interactive dialogues with the CEDAW Committee, which also took place this week as it began its 64th session. [OHCHR Press Release]
  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has suspended its planned July (and October) sessions amid an ongoing, critical financial crisis. [IJRC]
  • The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights held a special meeting this week in Thailand to review its work, complete its annual report, and address new areas of work, including its Judicial Colloquium on the Sharing of Good Practices regarding International Human Rights Law and Human Rights Cases in Domestic Courts. [AICHR Press Release]

Conflicts & Humanitarian Crises

  • The UN Security Council agreed to reauthorize the deployment of African Union troops in Somalia for an additional year, to improve stability and reduce the security threats posed by Al-Shabaab and other armed groups. [UN News Centre]
  • Amnesty International this week criticized the lack of investigation into war crimes committed by the Israeli military and Palestinian armed groups during the 50-day siege of summer 2014, when approximately 1,500 civilians died in the Gaza Strip. [Amnesty]
  • More than 280 people were killed as a result of last Saturday’s bombing in Baghdad, the worst such attack in Iraq since 2003. [Al Jazeera]
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross called on the parties to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine to stop attacking infrastructure on which civilians depend. [ICRC]
  • Many thousands have fled the South Sudanese city of Wau amid fresh fighting. [Al Jazeera]
  • An independent inquiry into the United Kingdom’s role in the Iraq war has culminated with the release of the so-called Chilcot report, which finds serious flaws in decision making by British intelligence and politicians, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair. [Washington Post; NYT]
  • A terrorist attack in Dhaka killed 20 people and prompted increased calls for the government of Bangladesh to improve justice and accountability while respecting human rights, particularly of civil society and members of the political opposition. [FIDH]

Human Rights Defenders & Civil Society

  • As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visits Beijing, China’s year-long crackdown on civil society has come under increased scrutiny. [AP; Amnesty]
  • Another Honduran activist, a colleague of slain environmentalist Berta Cáceres, has been killed. [The Guardian]
  • In Zimbabwe, citizens stayed home and businesses closed to protest government corruption and shortages. [The Guardian]
  • The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights joined other human rights bodies this week in condemning the murders of Kenyan human rights lawyer Willie Kimani and his companions. [ACHPR Press Release]
  • The human rights community mourns the death of Elie Wiesel, a Nobel Laureate, advocate, and Holocaust survivor, who died on July 2, 2016. [NYT; Enough Project; UN News Centre]

International & Domestic Courts

  • Following investigations and pressure from UN actors and civil society, Sri Lanka has agreed to establish, within a year, a special Sri Lankan court to try those responsible for human rights violations and war crimes committed during its internal armed conflict. [NYT]
  • A legal challenge to Brexit will proceed before a British court, which will be asked to determine whether parliament alone can initiate Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. [The Guardian]
  • Unconfirmed – and contested – reports are circulating that Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi has been released from custody in Libya, where he had been held in secret detention awaiting execution. [The Guardian; JiC]
  • A French court sentenced two former Rwandan mayors to life imprisonment on charges of crimes against humanity and genocide for their roles in the massacre of 2,000 people in a church, during the country’s 1994 genocide. [BBC]

Police Violence

  • Following the police killings of two black men, in Louisiana and Minnesota, earlier this week and the killing of five police officers by snipers at an otherwise peaceful protest against police brutality, in Texas last night, the United Nations Working Group of Experts on Persons of African Descent called on U.S. authorities to address the persistent lack of accountability for police killings. [OHCHR Press Release]
  • New Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is making good on his promise to violently crack down on the drug trade, with 45 people reportedly killed by police and civilians during his first week in office. [Al Jazeera]


ECtHR: No Violation in Police Killing of London Bombing Suspect


European Court of Human Rights
Credit: Adrian Grycuk via Wikimedia Commons

On March 30, 2016 the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held that the United Kingdom had fulfilled its procedural obligations under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to conduct an effective investigation into the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes by government agents, who wrongly suspected him of terrorist activity. See ECtHR, Armani Da Silva v. the United Kingdom [GC], no. 5878/08, ECHR 2016, Judgment of 30 March 2016, paras. 16, 29-37, 286. The police officers were investigating the July 2005 suicide bombings in the London Underground when they mistook de Menezes for a known suspect because he used a doorway that also led to the apartment building where the suspect lived. Id. at paras. 29-30. None of the officers involved were prosecuted for the killing.

The procedural obligation under Article 2, which the Court held that the United Kingdom had met, requires an effective investigation that is sufficient to determine the factual circumstances around the incident, including whether the use of force was justified under those circumstances, and subsequent punishment of the agents responsible when appropriate. Id. at para. 286. The Court held, setting a precedent for future cases involving State authorities’ use of lethal force, that simply because it was State authorities that used lethal force does not require prosecution of those individuals if the evidence suggests that a conviction is unlikely. Id. at para. 272-73. Read more

« Older Entries