Category Archives: Universal system

Human Rights Bodies: Schedule & Procedural Changes Amid COVID-19 Pandemic (June 2020)


IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of LGBTI Persons participates in virtual panel on the “Recognition of Gender Identity in Latin America”
Credit: IACHR via Twitter

Universal and regional human rights oversight bodies have postponed or cancelled their upcoming sessions and suspended some procedural deadlines as a result of the developing COVID-19 pandemic, while striving to maintain other activities. Beginning in mid-March 2020, almost all human rights bodies have suspended their meetings and travel through at least June, with the United Nations treaty bodies postponing all in-person meetings through August 2020. Moreover, quarantine measures in many of the bodies’ host countries are further impacting the way staff and appointed experts can carry out their work. Many human rights bodies have adopted measures that will enable them to continue some of their work remotely and some have begun to hold virtual meetings. On May 1, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights became the first human rights body to announce that it would hold a virtual period of sessions in July 2020.

As more information becomes available in the month of June, this post will be updated. For future or past monthly updates on human rights bodies’ schedule & procedural changes, see the IJRC monthly overviews. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.

*Last updated June 1, 2020

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Human Rights Committee Finds Russia Responsible for Torture of Chechens

Meeting with Head of the Republic of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov
Credit: Presidential Executive Office, Kremlin

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has found Russia responsible for violating the rights to fair trial and to be free from torture of six Chechen men who were unlawfully detained and tortured, in the North Caucasus region, between September 2004 and February 2005 before being convicted of terrorism related charges. See Human Rights Committee, Taysumov et al. v. Russia, Communication No. 2339/2014, Views of 11 March 2020, UN Doc. CCPR/C/128/D/2339/2014. The Human Rights Committee reminded Russia of its obligation to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into the torture allegations and to prosecute those responsible, as well as to compensate the complainants and implement measures to provide “full redress” for the violations. See id. at para. 11. While Russia is obligated to submit to the Committee an update on the measures it has taken to comply with the judgment within 180 days of this judgment, in the past, Russia has failed to conduct effective investigations and hold perpetrators accountable for similar human rights violations. See id. at paras. 2.10, 12. In similar cases brought before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), Russia has often paid the compensation ordered by the Court, but has refused to prosecute the individuals allegedly responsible for torture. [Open Democracy; HRW] Relatedly, the victims in this case had first complained to the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled the application inadmissible, without explanation, in 2012. See Human Rights Committee, Taysumov et al. v. Russia, paras. 8.3.

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OHCHR & Human Rights Committee Address Derogations During COVID-19

Michelle Bachelet UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Credit: UN Photo/Violaine Martin

The United Nations Human Rights Committee and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) have published new guidance on derogations from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in light of reports indicating that States have or are considering implementing emergency measures in response to the COVID-19 health crisis. [OHCHR Press Release] While some States have notified the United Nations Secretary General of their intent to derogate from their human rights obligations, as required by Article 4 of the ICCPR, many States parties to the ICCPR have “resorted to emergency measures…without formally submitting a notification of derogation.” See Human Rights Committee, Statement on derogations from the Covenant in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic, UN Doc. CCPR/C/128/2, 24 April 2020. The Human Rights Committee and the OHCHR have clarified the requirements that States must meet when limiting or restricting human rights, and elaborated on the specific steps that States must take to derogate from certain rights under international human rights law. See OHCHR, Emergency Measures and COVID-19: Guidance (2020). While derogations are permitted when states of emergency are declared, both of the OHCHR and the Human Rights Committee emphasize that measures “suspending rights should be avoided when the situation can be adequately dealt with by establishing proportionate restrictions or limitations on certain rights.” See id.

From the data available in the United Nations Treaty Collection (UNTS), it appears that 13 States (Armenia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Georgia, Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Palestine, Peru, and Romania) have notified the Human Rights Committee of derogations to the ICCPR. News reports indicate that many more have enacted states of emergency, with varying restrictions and human rights implications. For a growing collection of such stories, see the National responses to the 2019-20 coronavirus pandemic page on Wikipedia. There are 173 States parties to the ICCPR.

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ACHPR Publishes Special Mechanism Rules Ahead of New Rules of Procedure

ACHPR 27th Extraordinary Session, The Gambia
Credit: ACHPR

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) has published new rules that partially clarify and formalize the work of the individuals and groups appointed to monitor and protect specific human rights and vulnerable groups on the Commission’s behalf. See ACommHPR, Standard Operating Procedures on the Special Mechanisms of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (2020). The new Standard Operating Procedures on the Special Mechanisms mandate specific procedures and conduct, and envision greater consistency and transparency with regard to the special mechanisms’ work, although some details remain unclear. The text refers to the forthcoming revised ACHPR Rules of Procedure, which the ACHPR adopted along with the new Standard Operation Procedures during its 27th Extraordinary Session, held from February 14 to March 4, 2020. See ACHPR, Final Communiqué of the 27th Extraordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. While the ACHPR’s 12 thematic special mechanisms share similarities with the rapporteurships of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), they are unique in that the working groups and committees include outside “expert members” who are not themselves ACHPR commissioners and who volunteer on a part-time basis. See ACommHPR, Standard Operating Procedures on the Special Mechanisms of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (2020). The IACHR similarly released new guidelines on the work of its rapporteurships in February 2020. [IACHR Press Release]

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Sri Lanka Pardons War Criminal, Rejects Human Rights Council Commitments

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa
Credit: Jorge Cardoso via Wikimedia Commons

Efforts to secure accountability for the atrocities of Sri Lanka’s civil war faced another setback in March 2020 when Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pardoned one of very few individuals convicted of committing atrocities during the conflict. [OHCHR Press Release: Pardon] President Rajapaksa, himself an accused war criminal, ordered the immediate release of former army Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake, convicted in 2015 for the murder of eight Tamil civilians (commonly referred to as the Mirusuvil massacre) in 2000. [NYTimes] A spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) condemned the pardon as “an affront to victims and yet another example of the failure of Sri Lanka to fulfill its international human rights obligations to provide meaningful accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other gross violations of human rights.” [OHCHR Press Release: Pardon] Civil society organizations have expressed similar reactions, with Amnesty International accusing Sri Lanka of using the COVID-19 pandemic “as an opportunity to release those convicted for heinous crimes.” [Amnesty International: Pardon] More than 10 years later, those accused of atrocities during the 26-year conflict have largely avoided accountability in the rare civil and criminal proceedings in Sri Lanka and abroad, and given the government’s reluctance to investigate alleged perpetrators. [Reuters] Read more

Human Rights Bodies: Schedule & Procedural Changes amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Joint virtual briefing for Member States on the COVID-19 pandemic
Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Universal and regional human rights oversight bodies have postponed or cancelled their upcoming sessions and suspended some procedural deadlines as a result of the developing COVID-19 pandemic, while striving to maintain other activities. Beginning in mid-March 2020, almost all human rights bodies have suspended their meetings and travel through at least April, with the European Court of Human Rights extending its exceptional measures to June 2020 and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to May 20, 2020. Moreover, quarantine measures in many of the bodies’ host countries are – or soon will be – further impacting the way staff and appointed experts can carry out their work. While most human rights bodies can continue some of their work remotely, no plans have yet been implemented to enable any body to virtually conduct sessions, dialogues with States, or fact-finding visits through technology or other means. As more information becomes available, this post will be updated. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.

*Last updated April 23, 2020 

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Expert Calls for Greater Accountability for Sexual Abuse by UN Personnel

Jane Connors delivers remarks at the high-level meeting on the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse
Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

The latest report by the United Nations Victims’ Rights Advocate (VRA) reviews the progress made in 2019 to address sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations personnel, and calls on the international community to dedicate additional resources to supporting and protecting victims and ensuring accountability. [UN News] Jane Connors, the first-ever UN Victims’ Rights Advocate is responsible for strengthening the institutional responses to sexual violence and abuse by peacekeepers and other personnel, and her latest report identifies many developments while calling on the international community to “address the root causes of sexual exploitation and abuse, including gender inequality and the deep power imbalance between [UN] personnel and those whom we are mandated to protect and aid.” See Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse – Report of the Secretary-General, 17 February 2020, para. 4. Connors mentions particular challenges, including high turnover within the UN, resolving paternity claims, protecting victims’ confidentiality while promoting accountability, providing material assistance to victims, and identifying and addressing sexual exploitation and abuse in the many countries without dedicated UN victims’ rights advocates in the field. See id.

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Human Rights Bodies Respond to Coronavirus, Some Suspend Scheduled Sessions

UN Secretary-General António Guterres attends COVID-19 briefing
Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc FerréŽ

Various supranational human rights bodies have cancelled or limited meetings in response to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) assessment of the global risk posed by the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the increasing number of travel restrictions imposed by national governments. [NGO CSW; HRC Bureau Meeting; WHO Press Release: Feb 28] Civil society’s participation has been hardest hit, most notably by the decisions to reduce the 64th session of Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) from two weeks to one day, and to cancel all side events at the United Nations Human Rights Council’s ongoing session. [NGO CSW; France24; VOA] Some human rights monitoring bodies and civil society organizations have also reminded States of their human rights obligations in the context of preventing the spread of coronavirus. [ACHPR Press Release; OHCHR Press Release; Amnesty International] On its webpage, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, for one, encouraged participants in its March session to use videoconferencing to participate remotely. The human rights bodies’ decisions to cancel or modify meetings come after a February 28 letter from the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres.

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