IACHR 174th Period of Sessions, November 2019 (Quito, Ecuador)
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The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has published a report on corruption and human rights with the goal of analyzing corruption in the Americas from a human rights perspective, and highlighting the relevant human rights standards at play. [IACHR Press Release (Spanish)] The report from the region’s principal human rights oversight body examines the factual situation and provides an overview of corruption’s multidimensional impact on democracy, the rule of law, inequality, impunity, and the enjoyment of human rights. See IACHR, Corrupción y derechos humanos: Estándares interamericanos (2019) [Spanish only]. In particular, the report analyzes how corruption relates to specific thematic areas that are of interest to the Commission, such as the right to freedom of expression and economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, as well as its impact on vulnerable groups. See id. at para. 6. In addition to identifying key recommendations in which the IACHR calls on States to investigate acts of corruption and implement protection mechanisms for members of the press and individuals who denounce and report acts of corruption, among others, the report proposes a roadmap for the development and implementation of comprehensive public policies to address corruption in all levels of government. See id. at paras. 7-11.
Security Council Considers Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace
Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider
As oversight bodies call for restraint amid ongoing protests in Haiti, the United Nations is ending its 15-year peacekeeping mission in the country. [IACHR Press Release; UN News: Protests] On October 16, 2019, a special political mission, the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH), replaced the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH), shifting the UN’s focus from law enforcement to governance. [UN News: Security Council] The UN Secretary General appointed Helen Meagher La Lime, a citizen of the United States, as the Special Representative for Haiti to head the BINUH, which is charged with promoting and strengthening political stability and peaceful relations, good governance, and human rights. [UN Press Release] The MINUJUSTH and its predecessor, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), leave behind a mixed legacy, marred with controversies ranging from sexual abuse to a cholera epidemic. The new special political mission will begin its work in the midst of an economic crisis, fuel and food shortages, and ongoing violent protests against President Jovenel Moïse that have resulted in at least 30 deaths since September 2019. [Washington Post; UN News: Security Council]
ACHPR in Session
On September 18, 2019, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) published a decision finding Cameroon responsible for violating the rights to freedom of expression, non-discrimination, and property of a media company and its director, when it failed to create an independent licensing authority that could grant the company’s radio station a broadcasting license. See ACommHPR, Open Society Justice Initiative (on behalf of Pius Njawe Noumeni) v. the Republic of Cameroon, Communication No. 290/2004, Merits Decision, 25th Extraordinary Session (2019). Drawing and elaborating on jurisprudence from other regional and international human rights bodies, the Commission concluded that the lack of independent and transparent licensing procedures limits diversity in broadcasting and is contrary to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter). See id. at para. 171.
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The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will, for the first time, address States’ obligations to prevent gender-based violence against female journalists in conflict zones, in the case of Jineth Bedoya Lima, a Colombian journalist who was kidnapped, tortured, and raped despite the State’s prior knowledge of threats against her due to her work as a journalist. [IACHR Press Release; CEJIL (Spanish only)] On July 16, 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) presented Bedoya Lima’s case to the Court because Colombia has so far failed to implement the IACHR’s recommendations in its merits report, which was issued in January 2019. [IACHR Press Release; CEJIL] The IACHR’s decision to refer the case to the Court marks the latest step in Bedoya Lima’s fight against impunity, and presents an opportunity for the Court to develop its jurisprudence on States’ obligations related to sexual violence against female journalists and restrictions on press freedom. [IACHR Press Release; CEJIL] The merits report is not yet available online.
ACHPR Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information
Credit: Lawrence Mute via Twitter
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) is revising its Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa to address new technological advances, online activity, and internet restrictions throughout Africa, and is requesting input from stakeholders. [ACHPR Press Release] The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa invites comments from civil society, States parties, and others on a new draft Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa. [ACHPR Press Release] The Draft Declaration, currently available in English, French, and Portuguese, follows from a series of resolutions adopted by the African Commission in 2012 and 2016, mandating updates that better address the impact of the internet and digital technologies on the right to freedom of expression and access to information. [ACHPR Press Release] Civil society submissions should be emailed to the Secretariat of the African Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org by July 1, 2019. [ACHPR Press Release]
In a new declaration on the impact of the use of algorithms on democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers warns that artificial intelligence and other machine-learning technologies must not be used to unduly influence or manipulate individuals’ thoughts and behavior. See Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, Declaration by the Committee of Ministers on the manipulative capabilities of algorithmic processes, Decl(13/02/2019)1, 13 February 2019. The first of its kind, the declaration calls on States to take steps to ensure that technologies facilitating algorithmic persuasion, particularly those that “micro-target” individuals, do not interfere with people’s ability to enjoy their human rights and to make independent political, personal, and purchasing decisions. See id. at paras. 8, 9. The Declaration, which builds on ongoing study and analysis by Council of Europe organs, adds to the growing body of guidance and recommendations concerning the regulation of machine learning to safeguard human rights, including from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression. Read more
ACHPR Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, Lawrence Murugu Mute
Credit: Lawrence Mute via Twitter
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.
European Court of Human Rights
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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
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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
The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights
Credit: UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré
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