Human Rights Committee: Finland’s Oversight of Indigenous Politics Constitutes Violation

Sami and Finnish flags flying in Hetta
Credit: Htm via Wikimedia Commons

In two recently released decisions, United Nations Human Rights Committee determined that the Finnish government interfered with Sámi individuals’ rights to political participation and culture when a national court expanded the group of people authorized to vote, or run as candidates, in the Indigenous group’s parliamentary elections. [OHCHR Press Release: Finland] While the Committee and other UN human rights bodies have raised concerns about this issue before, these are the first complaints to be decided concerning the Sámi people’s self-determination. The Committee has given Finland six months to submit a report outlining the progress it has made in implementing the decisions. [OHCHR Press Release: Finland] One other communication on the same matter is pending before the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). See Human Rights Committee, Sanila-Aikio v. Finland, Views of 1 November 2018, UN Doc. CCPR/C/124/D/2668/2015, para. 4.2.

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ECtHR’s Second Inter-State Reparations Judgment Orders Russia Compensate Expelled Georgians

Courtroom of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg
Credit: Adrian Grycuk via Wikimedia Commons

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has issued its second ever monetary judgment in an inter-State case, ordering Russia to pay the Georgian government 10 million euros as reparations for Russia’s collective expulsion of thousands of Georgian nationals between 2006 and 2007. See ECtHR, Georgia v. Russia (I) [GC], no. 13255/07, ECHR 2019, Judgment of 31 January 2019 (Just Satisfaction). The judgment on reparations follows the Court’s 2014 judgment on the merits of the case, in which it found that Russia’s mass expulsion of Georgians violated the European Convention on Human Rights. See id. at para. 2. If Russia complies with the judgment, Georgia will be responsible for distributing the 10 million euros to a group of 1,500 identified victims, awarding 2,000 euros to each person who was expelled and awarding an additional 10,000 to 15,000 euros to those who had also been detained and ill-treated. See id. at paras. 77, 79. This judgment applies and builds on the Grand Chamber’s 2014 just satisfaction judgment in Cyprus v. Turkey, in which it ordered Turkey to pay 90 million euros in just satisfaction for the enforced disappearance of 1,456 people and various violations against the Greek Cypriots of the Karpas peninsula, by Turkish authorities, dating to 1974. See ECtHR, Cyprus v. Turkey, [GC], no. 25781/94, Judgment of 12 May 2014 (Just Satisfaction).

This case is the first of four cases that Georgia has brought to the ECtHR against Russia since 2007. The second case, concerning Russia’s alleged violation of the European Convention during the 2008 Russo-Georgian conflict, is currently pending before a Grand Chamber. See ECtHR, Cases pending before the Grand Chamber. The third case, which concerned Russia’s detention of several Georgian nationals, was voluntarily dropped by Georgia after Russia released the individuals from detention. [ECtHR: New Complaint] The fourth case, filed in August 2018, concerns alleged violations of rights along the border between Georgian-controlled territory and Abkhazia and South Ossetia. [ECtHR: New Complaint] The International Criminal Court (ICC) has also opened an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the 2008 Russo-Georgian conflict. See ICC, Situation in Georgia.

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Human Rights Experts Condemn Continuing Internet Shutdowns in African Countries

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.

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ICC Acquits Former Ivory Coast President of Crimes Against Humanity

ICC Trial Chamber I acquits Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé from all charges
Credit: ICC via Flickr

Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo was acquitted of crimes against humanity earlier this month when the International Criminal Court (ICC) found insufficient evidence of a common plan or policy to attack civilians during the 2010-2011 post-election violence in the Ivory Coast. See ICC, Prosecutor v. Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé, ICC-02/11-01/15, Oral Decision of Trial Chamber I on the Prosecutor’s Request under Article 81(3)(c)(i) of the Rome Statute, 16 January 2019. The ICC Appeals Chamber has decided Gbagbo and his co-defendant Charles Blé Goudé must remain in custody at least until it reviews the Trial Chamber I’s order to release them, at a hearing scheduled for February 1. [ICC Press Release: Delay] Once the Trial Chamber’s written judgment is filed, the Office of the Prosecutor may appeal the acquittals. [ICC Press Release: Acquittal] ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has confirmed her office will continue its investigations into the Ivory Coast situation, which currently includes pre-trial proceedings against Simone Gbagbo, wife of Laurent Gbagbo, who was granted amnesty for her role in the conflict by current Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara last year. [ICC: Bensouda; Guardian: Simone Gbagbo; BBC]

The Gbagbo judgment is the most recent in a line of prominent losses by the ICC Prosecutor, including the acquittal, on appeal, of former Congolese Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba in 2018 and the Court’s dismissal of charges of crimes against humanity against Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice-President William Ruto in 2015 and 2016, respectively. [IJRC: KenyaIJMonitor: Gbagbo; IJMonitor: Bemba] The ICC Prosecution’s recent failures have raised concerns among some about the Court’s ability to hold accountable those individuals who violate international criminal law. [IJRC: YekatomGuardian: ICC; Guardian: Gbagbo] Gbagbo, the first former head of State to be taken into ICC custody, has the right to request compensation for the seven years that he has spent in detention. See Rome Statute, art. 85(3).

The Trial of Laurent Gbagbo

On October 3, 2011, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor began its investigation into the Ivory Coast’s 2010 post-election crisis. See ICC, Gbagbo and Blé Goudé Case. Within two months, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Gbagbo, and Ivorian and French troops quickly arrested and transferred him to The Hague in November of 2011. [IJMonitor: Gbagbo] Gbagbo remained in pre-trial detention in The Hague for over four years before the ICC trial officially began on January 28, 2016. [ICC Press Release: Opening]. The Court joined Gbagbo’s case with that of another Ivorian politician involved in the conflict, Blé Goudé, and charged both defendants with four counts of crimes against humanity, for acts of murder, rape, other inhumane acts (or in the alternative attempted murder), and persecution. See ICC, Gbagbo and Blé Goudé Case.

The trial spanned approximately three years, with the Prosecutor taking 231 hearing days to present evidence and calling 82 witnesses to testify on behalf of the prosecution’s case. [ICC Press Release: Acquittal] Once the Prosecutor concluded the presentation of evidence, Gbagbo’s defense team filed a motion for acquittal and immediate release of the defendant without presenting any evidence, alleging that the prosecution did not meet its burden of proof. [ICC Press Release: Acquittal] Similarly, Blé Goudé’s defense team presented a motion alleging that there was no case for the defense to answer to with respect to the charges against Blé Goudé and seeking that the charges be dismissed. [ICC Press Release: Acquittal]

On January 15, 2019, the judges, with one dissenting, announced their judgement finding that the Prosecutor’s evidence was insufficient to sustain a conviction and that the Prosecutor failed to demonstrate several elements of the crimes as charged, “including the existence of a ‘common plan’ to keep Mr Gbagbo in power, which included the commission of crimes against civilians ‘pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organisational policy’; and the existence of patterns of violence from which it could be inferred that there was a ‘policy to attack a civilian population’.” [ICC Press Release: Acquittal] As a result, both Gbagbo and Blé Goudé were acquitted on all counts. [ICC Press Release: Acquittal]

Response to the Acquittal

Prominent human rights organizations have called the acquittal “disastrous” and a “crushing disappointment” for the victims, and some are worried that the acquittal could lead to further violence. [Guardian: Gbagbo; Amnesty] The news of Gbagbo’s acquittal has already sparked scattered protests in the Ivory Coast’s capital, Abidjan. [Al Jazeera] While supporters celebrate the Court’s announcement, victims express frustration and disappointment with what rights groups perceive to be a denial of justice. [Reuters: Politics] The Ivorian government has stated that they will allow Gbagbo’s return, and have “urged calm, forgiveness and reconciliation.” [Al Jazeera]

Background on the 2010-11 Ivory Coast Conflict

The case against Gbagbo concerned his alleged involvement in a four-month conflict that arose Gbagbo refused to transfer power to the current Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara after losing the 2010 elections. [Guardian: Gbagbo] Approximately 3,000 people were reported to have died during the conflict, and hundreds of thousands were forced to flee. [Reuters] It was alleged that Gbagbo ordered murders and gang-rape in his bid to retain control of the country. [Guardian: Gbagbo] The conflict came to an end when French and United Nations forces intervened and apprehended Gbagbo. [Guardian: Surrender]

Gbagbo’s capture marked the end of his 10-year rule of the Ivory Coast. [Guardian: Gbagbo] Now that he is free to return to the Ivory Coast, there is some indication that he intends to run in the next election in 2020. [Reuters: Politics] Despite the ICC acquittal, Gbagbo may nonetheless have to serve a 20-year sentence upon returning to the Ivory Coast due to a conviction for misappropriating funds that a domestic court entered against him in absentia while he was detained in The Hague. [Reuters]

Additional Information

The ICC was established by the Rome Statute, and officially opened in 2002. See ICC, About. The Court has the competence to hear four types of crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. See Id. The ICC has had a total of 28 cases, of which the Court issued final convictions in six cases (eight trial convictions, two of which were overturned on appeal). See id. For more information on the International Criminal Court, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub. To learn more about the Ivory Coast’s human rights obligations, see IJRC’s Ivory Coast Factsheet. To stay up-to-date on international human rights law news, visit IJRC’s News Room and subscribe to the IJRC Daily.

Guatemala & Nicaragua: Cooperation with Human Rights Monitors Deteriorates

Press Conference by Foreign Minister of Guatemala
Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias

The governments of Guatemala and Nicaragua each recently issued decisions terminating cooperation with international and regional oversight bodies in critical areas of human rights, prompting strong criticism. [UN News: Nicaragua; IACHR Press Release: Guatemala; European Council Press Release] Escalating his September 2018 decision that Guatemala would not renew its agreement with a United Nations-backed anti-corruption investigatory body, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales unilaterally decided to expel the body prior to the agreement’s expiration and ahead of the next presidential election. [UN News: CICIG; NY Times; IJRC: Oversight] Additionally, in December 2018, the Nicaraguan government, amid mounting civil unrest, announced measures effectively barring two monitoring mechanism set up by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and stated that it would no longer accept IACHR visits. [IACHR Press Release: Nicaragua; UN News: Nicaragua] UN experts have resoundingly condemned the governments for disregarding their international legal obligations under these agreements and the human rights at stake in the absence of this oversight. [UN News: CICIG; UN News: Nicaragua]

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January 2019: United Nations and Regional Human Rights Bodies in Session

Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room of the Palace of Nations
Credit: Ludovic Courtès via Wikimedia Commons

In January, 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. One United Nations treaty body will hold a session to review States’ progress regarding children’s rights. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group will also be in session and will conduct interactive dialogues with representatives from 14 States. Two UN special procedures will conduct country visits in January, and the UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women will hold a private session. Regionally, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) and the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) will be holding public sessions.

The UN treaty body and UPR sessions may be watched via UN Web TV, and the public hearings of the IACtHR may be watched via the IACtHR’s website or Vimeo page. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.

UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies

One of the 10 UN human rights treaty bodies, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, will meet this month to review certain States parties’ implementation of their treaty obligations. Through the State reporting procedure, treaty bodies review States’ reports and responses to a specific list of issues, receive additional information from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and national human rights institutions (NHRIs), engage in an interactive dialogue with each State’s representatives, and then adopt concluding observations detailing the progress and remaining challenges in the State’s implementation of the treaty.

Committee on the Rights of the Child

The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) will hold its 80th Session in Geneva, Switzerland from January 14 to February 1, 2019. According to its programme of work, the CRC will consider the State reports of Bahrain, Belgium, Guinea, Italy, Japan, and Syria to assess their compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The CRC will also consider the State report of the Czech Republic for its compliance with the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

Civil society members looking to attend the CRC’s session must register through the Indico system before February 1, 2019. To view session documents, including State reports and civil society submissions, visit the CRC’s 80th Session webpage. For more information on the CRC, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review Working Group

The Human Rights Council’s UPR Working Group will hold its 32nd Session from January 21 to February 1, 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland. According to its tentative timetable, the Working Group will hold interactive dialogues with New Zealand, Afghanistan, Chile, Vietnam, Uruguay, Yemen, Vanuatu, Macedonia, Comoros, Slovakia, Eritrea, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, and Cambodia regarding their obligations under UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, human rights instruments to which the State is party, the State’s voluntary pledges and commitments, and applicable international humanitarian law.

During the session, a group of three Human Rights Council Member States (or troika) will facilitate the review of each country. Representatives from the country being reviewed will give an oral presentation, which is followed by an interactive dialogue with UN Member States. The States make recommendations and comments, which the troika summarizes in a report, and the reviewed country can accept or reject the recommendations and comments. A final outcome report will then be adopted, and the country will report on its implementation of the recommendations during the following UPR cycle.

NGOs and NHRIs wishing to submit written information for the report must follow the OHCHR technical guidelines for stakeholders submissions for the 3rd cycle. For more information about past, present, and future UPR sessions, including timetables and lists of troikas, visit the UPR sessions webpage or visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

Special Procedures

In January, two special procedures will carry out country visits and one special procedure will hold a private session in New York.

The Special Rapporteur on minority issues is scheduled to visit Spain from January 14 to January 25, 2019.

The Working Group on arbitrary detention is scheduled to visit Bhutan from January 14 to January 25, 2019.

The Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and practice will hold its 24th Session from January 28 to February 1, 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland.

During their country visits, these special procedures mandate holders will assess the human rights situation as it relates to their thematic focus. Experts also meet with civil society, government, and national human rights institutions when they visit a country. Their findings are published later in reports addressed to the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly. See OHCHR, Country and other visits of Special Procedures. To view a list of forthcoming country visits, visit the OHCHR website. For more information on each special procedure, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

Regional Bodies

Inter-American Court of Human Rights

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will hold its 129th Regular Session from January 28 to February 8, 2019 in San José, Costa Rica. During its sessions, the IACtHR typically holds public hearings on the merits of individual complaints and deliberates on contentious cases alleging human rights violations. For more information about the IACtHR, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

European Committee of Social Rights

The European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) of the Council of Europe will hold its 304th Session from January 21 to January 24, 2019 in Strasbourg, France. The agenda and the synopsis for this session will be published on the ECSR’s calendar at a later date. During its sessions, the ECSR reviews States’ reports on their implementation of the European Social Charter, considers collective complaints alleging violations of the Charter, and follows up on the Turin process to improve implementation of the Charter at the continental level. According to the ECSR’s calendar for national reporting, the ECSR will consider State reports concerning the rights of children, the family, and migrants from France, Greece, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Bulgaria, Ireland, and Finland throughout the 2019 calendar year. The ECSR will consider simplified reports on the same topic from the Netherlands, Sweden, Croatia, Norway, Slovenia, Cyprus, and the Czech Republic throughout the 2019 calendar year. Simplified reports focus on areas of non-conformity identified in the Committee’s previous conclusions. For more information on the European Committee of Social Rights, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

UN Member States Adopt Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees

Visualization of States’ votes on Global Compact for Migration
Credit: Ahmedo Semsurî via Wikimedia Commons

More than 160 countries adopted the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration (Compact), the first-ever intergovernmental agreement negotiated to holistically and comprehensively cover all aspects of international migration, following a two-day conference in Marrakech, Morocco that took place from December 10 to 11, 2018. [UN News: Marrakech; NYT] The document presents a framework for international cooperation and proclaims States’ commitment to protect the rights of migrants and refugees in transit or in destination countries, regardless of their reasons for leaving their country or their migration status. See Global Compact for Migration, Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, 11 July 2018, para. 11. Although the Compact received broad support, it faced opposition and withdrawal by a number of States, including the United States, claiming concerns over migration flows and national sovereignty. [NYT] While an agreement on the rights of refugees already exists, the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, protections for people in transit that do not qualify for refugee status have generally remained unprotected by law or guidelines until now. [Washington Post]

On Monday, December 17, the vast majority of UN Member States also voted to adopt the Global Compact on Refugees, despite opposition from the U.S. [UN News: Refugees] Today, December 18, is International Migrants Day, the anniversary of UN Member States’ adoption of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, in 1990. See UN, International Migrants Day.

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