A number of African countries have drawn international criticism amid a wave of internet shutdowns aimed at restricting access to information and discourse on social, economic, and political issues. Between December 2018 and January 2019, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Gabon, and Zimbabwe cut off access to the internet in response to protests. [ACHPR Press Release: Shutdowns] Human rights groups and experts have condemned these moves as illegal acts of repression, citing violations of the rights to freedom of expression and access to information. [ACHPR Press Release: Shutdowns; OHCHR Press Release; Access Now Press Release] While the internet shutdowns in Africa contribute to a trend of increasing shutdowns around the world, the international response demonstrates that internet access is now recognized as essential to the exercise of human rights.
Category Archives: thought, expression & association
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
This month the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (COE) adopted guidelines and recommendations on the rights of children in the digital environment for all Member States of the Council of Europe. See Committee of Ministers, Recommendation CM/Rec(2018) 7 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on Guidelines to respect, protect, and fulfil the rights of the child in the digital environment (2018). While the guidelines are non-binding, they derive their content, in part, from existing binding COE legal conventions, as well as other non-binding COE and United Nations standards and recommendations, on children’s rights, business and human rights, privacy, and internet governance. The guidelines focus, in particular, on the rights to non-discrimination, freedom of expression and information, freedom of association, privacy, education, and protection and safety, as well as access to remedies. See id. Recognizing the significant positive and negative influences the digital environment – which includes all information and communication technologies (ICTs) – has on children’s lives, the guidelines make recommendations to Member States to develop legislation and policies that protect and promote the rights of the child in the digital environment, to cooperate and coordinate with the COE and public and private stakeholders in those efforts, and to ensure that businesses and other stakeholders respect children’s rights. See id. at sec. 1. Read more
In June, the United Nations Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued the first ever UN report detailing human rights abuses in Kashmir. [OHCHR Press Release] See OHCHR, Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir (2018). The report seeks to draw attention to the victims of the human rights violations created by the political situation in the region, with a focus on abuses since the July 2016 killing of a militant leader by Indian security forces, which sparked violent protests throughout the region. [OHCHR Press Release] See OHCHR, Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir, para. 1. Among the human rights abuses, the report finds cases of unlawful use of force by security forces, enforced or involuntary disappearances, sexual violence, and limitations on education, expression, assembly, and association. [OHCHR Press Release] See OHCHR, Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir, paras. 32-164. Additionally, the report finds that perpetrators act with impunity and that victims do not have adequate access to justice. [OHCHR Press Release] To address the human rights concerns, the OHCHR calls for an independent mechanism to further investigate human rights allegations in the Kashmir region. See OHCHR, Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir, 48. Human rights experts have urged the Indian government to allow the creation of such an investigation. [HRW] Both States, India and Pakistan, have committed to, and are legally obligated to, ensure certain rights, including the rights to life, prohibition of torture and inhuman treatment, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and education. Read more
On May 29, 2018, the international governing body for soccer, Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), launched a complaint mechanism for human rights defenders and journalists ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, garnering praise from United Nations experts and civil society members. [FIFA Press Release: Mechanism; OHCHR Press Release; CPJ Press Release; HRW: Daily Brief] The new complaint mechanism will accept complaints from human rights defenders and media representatives who allege that their rights have been infringed while engaging in work related to FIFA’s activities, which span around the globe. [FIFA Press Release: Mechanism] FIFA intends to address complaints through engagement with third parties, including State officials, using FIFA’s influence to prevent, mitigate, or remedy rights violations when they occur. See FIFA, Statement on Human Rights Defenders and Media Representatives (2018). The creation of this mechanism followed calls from civil society for FIFA to establish a process to address complaints from media and human rights defenders. [HRW: Press Freedom] The United Nations Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises called the mechanism “a very positive move.” [OHCHR Press Release] Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (Ruggie Principles), businesses such as FIFA have the responsibility to respect human rights, avoid complicity in human rights violations, and ensure that victims of human rights violations as the result of their business activities are adequately remedied. See Human Rights Council, Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, UN Doc. A/HRC/17/31, 21 March 2011, at 13, princ. 11. Read more
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and United Nations experts have expressed concern over Nicaragua’s response to protests that began in opposition to President Ortega’s proposed social security reforms and led to violence, deaths, and the suppression of media attention. [NY Times: Protests; OHCHR Press Release; IACHR Press Release: Concern] The demonstrations started in Managua after President Ortega proposed changes that would require workers to pay higher contributions in to the social security system but would also lower benefits to pensioners. [NY Times: Protests] The protests’ geographic scope and protesters’ demands grew, sparking protests in other cities and covering a range of issues surrounding general discontent with the Ortega government. [NY Times: Protests; NPR] Universal and regional human rights bodies and experts have expressed concern with the use of force used by security forces and threats to protesters’ safety due to non-State actors’ responses, and called on Nicaragua to respect and protect human rights. [OHCHR Press Release; IACHR Press Release: Concern] The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reminded the State that it must respect people’s right to peacefully express their views and that tactics of repression in the context of demonstrations do the opposite. The regional human rights body also called on the State to investigate the deaths that occurred during the protest and asked to make a working visit to the State. [IACHR Press Release: Coordination; IACHR Press Release: Concern] The UN experts further added their concern over the State’s stigmatization of protesters. [OHCHR Press Release] Nicaragua is obligated to ensure and protect the rights to freedom of assembly, to freedom of expression, and to life under the American Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Read more
International election observers, civil society, and protesters have raised concerns over the fairness of Hungary’s April 8 parliamentary elections in which the incumbent prime minister, Viktor Orbán, and his Fidesz party secured a strong majority, winning 133 of 199 parliamentary seats; media bias and intimidation of independent journalists as well as xenophobic and intimidating rhetoric, civil society and election observers have noted, steered the election outcomes in favor of Fidesz. [Guardian: OSCE; HRW; Reuters: Protest] The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), an intergovernmental body that monitors the elections of Member States, found that the incumbent Fidesz party exploited its current position in power to “[undermine] contestants’ ability to compete on an equal basis” through the use of intimidating rhetoric, media bias, and the government’s use of public money to support the campaign of the incumbent party to influence the voting public. See OSCE, Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions (2018), 1. Echoing the OSCE, civil society organizations raised concerns over Fidesz’s practice of smearing journalists and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that oppose the party’s views, and over the government’s support, announced a day after the election, of a law that would limit the activities of civil society working with migrants and refugees. [HRW; HHC Press Release] Protesters gathered in Budapest over the weekend referring to the election as unfair and calling for a free media. [Reuters: Protest] Before the election, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights raised concerns over the “racist and xenophobic” rhetoric of Orbán and the undermining of the independence of the press and the judiciary. [OHCHR Press Release] Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Hungary is obligated to ensure the rights to non-discrimination, to freedom of expression, to freedom of association, and to vote. Read more
In the month of April, several universal and regional bodies will assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through interactive dialogues, the consideration of State and civil society reports, country visits, and the review of individual complaints. Four United Nations treaty bodies will meet throughout April to engage with States regarding their treaty obligations related to civil and political rights, economic and cultural rights, torture, racial discrimination, and migrant workers. One treaty body will meet as a pre-sessional working group to discuss economic, social, and cultural rights. Further, civil society can register this month to participate in the sessions of two treaty bodies that will meet in May on children’s rights and enforced disappearances, respectively. Eleven UN special procedures experts will conduct country visits focusing on minority issues, freedom of religion or belief, extreme poverty, torture and inhuman treatment, safe drinking water and sanitation, violence against women, the use of mercenaries, international solidarity, older persons, human rights defenders, and racial discrimination. Three working groups will hold sessions on the use of mercenaries, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary detention.
Regionally, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will all be in session. The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hear two cases related to the right to liberty and security and the prohibition of cruel or inhuman treatment.
The UN treaty body sessions and the public hearings of the European Court and Inter-American Court 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 Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) recently published its merits report in a case concerning the 1988 extrajudicial killing of Colombian human rights defender Valentín Basto Calderón, which has gone unsolved. See IACHR, Merits Report No. 45/17, Case 10.455, Valentín Basto Calderón et al. (Colombia), 25 May 2017. Bystanders Pedro Vicente Camargo, who was also killed, and his daughter Carmenza, who was injured, were also included as victims in the petition to the IACHR. At a time of armed conflict when State agents and paramilitaries frequently assassinated human rights defenders and community leaders, State agents had threatened Basto Calderón and harassed his family members. The State then failed to conduct a thorough and timely investigation of the events. See id. at para. 1. The International Justice Resource Center (IJRC) submitted an amicus curiae brief to the IACHR to provide supplementary analysis on this case, with a focus on Colombia’s obligations specific to human rights defenders. The Colombian Commission of Jurists represented the petitioners before the IACHR. In holding Colombia responsible for violations to the rights to life and humane treatment, among others, the IACHR took special note of the State’s specific obligations to protect and respect the rights of human rights defenders. Read more
In March 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 March on the rights of persons with disabilities; the rights of women; economic, social, and cultural rights; and civil and political rights. The UN Human Rights Council will continue its session from last month. Additionally, one UN rapporteur, two UN independent experts, and one UN working group will conduct country visits this month.
Regionally, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) will continue its session from last month, and will consider the admissibility and merits of pending complaints before the Court. The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hear arguments in three cases, two on the right to life and one on the right to property, and the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) will be in session. Additionally, 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 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.