Human Rights Committee Chairperson Yuval Shany at the 123rd Session
Credit: UN Web TV
The United Nations Human Rights Committee has concluded that France’s ban on face coverings in public violates the rights of women who wear full-face veils for religious reasons, a conclusion directly at odds with a European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgment from 2014. Compare Human Rights Committee, Hebbadj v. France, Communication No. 2807/2016, Views of 17 July 2018, UN Doc. CCPR/C/123/D/2807/2016 and Human Rights Committee, Yaker v. France, Communication No. 2747/2016, Views of 17 July 2018, UN Doc. CCPR/C/123/D/2807/2016 with ECtHR, S.A.S. v. France [GC], no. 43835/11, ECHR 2014, Judgment of 1 July 2014. The Committee’s views, published on October 17, 2018, concluded that two women’s criminal convictions under the 2010 ban violated their rights to freedom of religion and to non-discrimination under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The Human Rights Committee rejected France’s argument, which had been accepted by the ECtHR, that the ban was proportionate to, and the least restrictive means of achieving, the State interest in promoting the conditions for “living together” in a democratic society. In response to IJRC’s questions, the Human Rights Committee Chairperson, Yuval Shany, also noted that the Committee does not apply the ECtHR’s unique “margin of appreciation” doctrine, which gives European States latitude in balancing individual rights against State interests, particularly in areas where there is little consensus among States on a specific social issue. Read more
Human Rights Council Tenth Session Participants
Credit: UN Photo/Pierre-Michel Virot
In November, 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, and the review of individual complaints. Five United Nations treaty bodies will meet to review States’ progress with regard to civil and political rights, women’s rights, enforced disappearances, torture, and racial discrimination. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group will also be in session and will conduct interactive dialogues with representatives from 14 States. Eleven UN special procedures will conduct country visits this month, and two UN working groups will hold sessions.
Regionally, the African Commission of Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR), the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Children (ACERWC), and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will be holding public sessions. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hear arguments in three cases.
The UN treaty body sessions, the public hearings of the European Court, and the public hearings of the IACHR may be watched via UN Web TV, the African Court’s YouTube channel, the European Court’s website, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ website or Vimeo page, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.
Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty present his report after missions to China, Mauritania, and Saudi Arabia at a 35th Session of the Human Rights Council.
Credit: UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré
The United Nations expert on poverty and human rights is calling attention to the privatization of traditionally public goods and services as an increasingly common, but largely overlooked human rights problem. See Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, UN Doc. A/73/396, 26 September 2018, paras. 2, 4, 56. In his new report, presented to the UN General Assembly on October 19, 2018, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, criticizes the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the UN for promoting privatization without adequately addressing potential human rights outcomes. See id. at paras. 14-15, 18-20. While the Special Rapporteur emphasizes that privatization is “premised on fundamentally different assumptions from those that underpin respect for human rights,” he urges international bodies and human rights advocates to more boldly challenge privatization and assert the economic and social rights at risk. See id. at paras. 38, 68-73, 82, 87. The Rapporteur’s report comes on the heels of the Special Rapporteur’s country visit to the United States, which received significant media attention after the Special Rapporteur criticized the Trump administration for “gutting” the nation’s safety net. [Washington Post]
The “Flags Way” at the Palais des Nations, seat of the UNOG
Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré
In October, 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 the review of individual complaints. Four United Nations treaty bodies will meet to review States’ protection of the rights of children; economic, social, and cultural rights; civil and political rights; and the rights of women. Five UN rapporteurs and one UN independent expert will conduct country visits this month, and two UN working groups will hold sessions.
Regionally, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will be in session and will hold public hearings on a range of issues and countries. The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hear arguments in two cases, one on the right to not be tried twice for the same crime and one concerning the Norwegian courts’ assessment of a mother’s fitness to regain custody of her son. Additionally, the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) will be in session to assess States’ implementation of the labor rights provisions of the European Social Charter.
The UN treaty body sessions, the public hearings of the European Court, and the public hearings of the IACHR may be watched via UN Web TV, the European Court’s website, and the Inter-American Commission’s website or Vimeo page, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.
On September 10, 2018, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC or Child Rights Committee) published its first decision involving sexual violence against a minor, finding that Cameroon had failed to adequately investigate, punish, and redress the rape of a 10-year-old girl. [ACERWC] The Child Rights Committee found that the State’s lack of due diligence also amounted to gender discrimination and a violation of the minor’s right to be free from torture or inhuman or degrading treatment. See ACERWC, Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa and Finders Group Initiative on behalf of TFA (a Minor) v. Cameroon, Communication No. 006/Com/002/2015, Merits Decision, 31st Ordinary Session (2018). The decision, which the minor’s representatives hailed as ground-breaking, diverges from a 2016 African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights decision in which it declined to find that Ethiopia’s failure respond with due diligence to the rape of a minor constituted gender-based discrimination. See ACommHPR, Equality Now and Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA) v. Ethiopia, Communication 341/2007, Merits Decision, 19th Extra-Ordinary Session (2016), paras. 133-34, 150. Read more
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
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton
Credit: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons
The United States is reportedly planning to withdraw all financial support from the United Nations’ key human rights bodies – the Human Rights Council and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) – and from the UN agency that provides humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees. [AP; CNN] John Bolton, the current U.S. National Security Advisor and former Ambassador to the UN, indicated the Trump administration wants to limit the work of the Human Rights Council, which it has accused of anti-Israel bias. [AP] In July, the U.S. gave up its seat on the Human Rights Council, an intergovernmental body that monitors human rights around the world. [IJRC: HRC] Similarly, the U.S. earlier reduced its funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), as part of an effort to influence the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. [Foreign Policy: UNRWA]
The U.S. is currently the largest contributor to the UN’s regular budget, and also makes substantial voluntary contributions to OHCHR and UNRWA. [AP] While the outgoing High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, stated that the funding cuts would not be “fatal” to OHCHR, any reduction in financial support will certainly affect the UN’s work on human rights and refugee assistance. [Washington Post: OHCHR] These developments follow a series of recent U.S. withdrawals from several other significant international commitments, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Iran nuclear deal, and Paris Agreement. [IJRC: Paris Agreement; NY Times: Iran Nuclear Deal; Washington Post: TPP]
Palais des Nations by night, Geneva. Tuesday 5 November 2013. Credit: Violaine Martin via Flickr
In the month of September, several universal and regional bodies will be in session to assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through the consideration of State and civil society reports, country visits, and the review of individual complaints. Five United Nations treaty bodies will meet in September to engage with States regarding their treaty obligations related to the rights of persons with disabilities; the rights of migrant workers; children’s rights; and economic, social, and cultural rights. The UN Human Rights Council will be in session to review communications as well as thematic and country-specific reports. Seven UN special procedures will conduct country visits focusing on States’ international financial obligations, the rights of persons with albinism, the right to food, the independence of judges and lawyers, adequate housing, cultural rights, and LGBTI issues, respectively. Additionally, the UN working group focused on forced disappearances will be in session.
Regionally, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR), and the European Committee of Social Rights (ESCR) will all be in session. Finally, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights will hear one case related to the prohibition of collective expulsion of aliens and the right to an effective remedy.
The UN treaty body sessions, the public hearings of the European Court, and the public hearings of the IACtHR, 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.
Secretary-General António Guterres (right) meets with Michelle Bachelet Jeria, President of Chile
Credit: UN Photo
On August 10, 2018, the United Nations General Assembly approved Michelle Bachelet’s nomination for the position of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. [UN News: Appointment] The General Assembly’s decision followed the UN Secretary General’s announcement on August 8 to nominate Bachelet for the position. [UN News: Nomination] Bachelet will serve a four-year term, beginning on September 1, 2018, with a possibility of renewal for a second four-year term. [UN News: Appointment] Bachelet is replacing Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, who began his term as UN High Commissioner in September 2014 and chose not to seek a second four-year term. [UN News: Appointment; NY Times: al-Hussein] Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein announced last December that he would not seek re-election because of the anticipated lack of support among “key world powers, including the United States, China and Russia.” [Reuters] He also was concerned that a second term would require him to be less outspoken in advocacy efforts and less independent given the current geopolitical climate. [NY Times: al-Hussein]
The Allée des Nations
Credit: Tom Page via Wikimedia Commons
During its 123rd Session, the United Nations Human Rights Committee issued its first decision on the privacy and equal protection implications of mandatory HIV/AIDS and drug testing for individuals seeking a visa extension. See Human Rights Committee, Vandom v. Republic of Korea, Communication No. 2273/2013, Views of 12 July 2018, UN Doc. CCPR/C/123/D/2273/2013. The case concerned an American English teacher, working in the Republic of Korea, whose application to renew her teaching visa was denied after she refused to submit to a mandatory HIV/AIDS and drug test. See id. at paras. 1-2.8. The Human Rights Committee held that the Republic of Korea’s policy of requiring mandatory drug and HIV tests from individuals who were not nationals of the State or of Korean ethnicity and who were seeking to obtain teaching visas constituted a violation of the right to equal protection and the right to privacy under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). See id. at paras. 8.5, 8.9. While this is the first case in which the Human Rights Committee has reviewed mandatory drug and HIV testing policies, another treaty body, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), issued a decision in 2015 on the Republic of Korea’s mandatory testing policy. [IJRC] The CERD found that the policy amounted to racial discrimination under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). The case before CERD did not discuss the right to privacy. [IJRC]