International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s Annual Report Previews Eight Possible Investigations

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda at the 18th Session of the Assembly of States Parties
Credit: ICC via Flickr

On December 5, 2019, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) published the 2019 Report on Preliminary Examination Activities, detailing the status of nine initial assessments by her office of possible war crimes, crimes against humanity, and acts of genocide around the world. See ICC, Report on Preliminary Examination Activities (2019), para. 14. The ninth annual Report covers the Office of the Prosecutor’s (OTP) activities and findings with respect to the status of situations in the preliminary examination stage during the period between December 1, 2018 and November 30, 2019. See id. at para. 17. In that time, the OTP concluded two preliminary examinations, resulting in one authorized investigation. It has eight ongoing preliminary examinations, into the situations of Venezuela, Colombia, Guinea, Iraq/the United Kingdom, Nigeria, Palestine, the Philippines, and Ukraine. See id. at para. 21. Further, at the request of the ICC Appeals Chamber, the Prosecutor filed a reconsideration of her previous decision not to request an investigation into the Gaza flotilla situation referred by Comoros. See id. at para. 20.

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As African Court Releases New Judgments, Tanzania Withdraws Individual Access

African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights session banner

African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights session banner
Credit: African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights via Flickr

Tanzania has announced it will no longer allow individuals and non-governmental organizations to submit complaints against it to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR), amid growing concern for human rights conditions in the country. [Amnesty International] When it withdrew its declaration under Article 34 of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Protocol) last month, Tanzania became the second State to do so, potentially leaving only eight States that accept the African Court’s individual complaints mechanism. See IJRC, African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The withdrawal follows years of Court judgments on Tanzania, principally on due process in criminal proceedings, and coincides with a new judgment holding that Tanzania’s mandatory imposition of the death penalty for murder convictions violates the human rights to fair trial and to life. [AfCHPR Press Release: Judgments; AfCHPR Press Release: Rajabu] The African Court is based in Arusha, Tanzania.

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December 2019: UN Treaty Bodies & Regional Bodies in Session

European Committee of Social Rights
Credit: ECSR

In December, 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 and country visits. Two United Nations treaty bodies will be in session to assess States’ progress regarding the prevention of torture and the elimination of racial discrimination. Seven UN special procedures will conduct country visits in December. Additionally, two UN Working Groups will hold sessions in Geneva, Switzerland. Of the regional bodies, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR), the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR), and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will be in session.

The UN treaty body sessions, the AfCHPR public hearings, and the ECtHR’s Grand Chamber hearings, may be watched via UN Web TV, the African Court’s YouTube channel, and the ECtHR’s website, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.

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ECtHR Holds Violent Arrest in front of Child Constitutes Ill-Treatment

Delivery of Judgment, European Court of Human Rights
Credit: ECtHR

In its first judgment to directly consider the issue, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has held that violently arresting a parent in front of a child may constitute inhuman or degrading treatment of the child, in violation of the Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. See ECtHR, A v. Russia, no. 37735/09, Judgment of 12 November 2019. In the case of A v. Russia, Russian police beat and arrested A’s father in front of her when she was nine years old, leaving her with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a neurological disorder, among other health complications. See id. The Court found that the State authorities violated Article 3 when they violently arrested A’s father outside her school, in spite of knowing she was likely to be present (and was present), and when they failed to effectively investigate the family’s allegations that the police used excessive force. See id. at paras. 75-82. The judgment has implications for other situations where authorities arrest parents by force in front of their children, and comes as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by every country in the world except the United States of America, celebrates its 30-year anniversary this month.

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Recent Developments Highlight Increased Collaboration Among Human Rights Bodies

Signing of the MOU between the UN and the World Economic Forum
Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias

Over the past several months, supranational human rights bodies have announced a flurry of joint events and agreements, highlighting some specific rights challenges and the increasing importance of technical collaboration. Between September and November 2019, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) were among the bodies that entered into cooperation agreements or hosted events to formalize and enhance collaboration in the implementation of human rights instruments. While there are many other examples over the past decade, it is noteworthy that these collaborations appear to be happening with increasing frequency, formality, and transparency.

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IACHR Announces Results and Changes in Efforts to Reduce Backlog

Assistant Executive Secretary for Petitions and Cases, Marisol Blanchard Vera (far right), IACHR 173 Period of Sessions
Credit: IACHR via Flickr

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which has long faced a significant backlog in its resolution of individual complaints, has announced developments in the implementation of its Special Procedural Backlog Reduction Program, approved in its Strategic Plan 2017-2021. [IACHR Press Release: Stages] According the IACHR’s press release on its 2019 conclusions, to date, the IACHR has achieved record results in terms of the number of petitions it reviews, decisions it adopts, and friendly settlements it approves. [IACHR Press Release: Stages] It also expects to notify States and petitioners of a record number of decisions to open petitions for processing in 2019. [IACHR Press Release: Stages] The IACHR attributes the increases to the addition of 21 individuals to its case system team in the last two years, largely thanks to the regular fund budget increase from the Organization of American States. [IACHR Press Release: Stages]

The IACHR has also made logistical and procedural changes in its handling of petitions. Most recently, the IACHR adopted Resolution 1/19 limiting the opportunities for petitioners to request review of a decision by the IACHR to reject a petition at the initial review stage. [IACHR Press Release: Initial Review] It also continues to implement Resolution 1/16, allowing the IACHR to consider the admissibility and merits of certain petitions together (rather than in separate stages and reports). Other efforts include increased facilitation of friendly settlements, using template reports for similar cases, and archiving petitions after three years of inactivity (rather than five). [IACHR Press Release: Stages]

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November 2019: UN Treaty Bodies, UPR Working Group & Regional Bodies In Session

UPR Reports Reviewed
Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc FerrŽ

In November, 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 and country visits. Five United Nations treaty bodies and one pre-sessional working group will hold sessions to assess States’ progress regarding women’s rights, civil and political rights, the prevention of torture, and the elimination of racial discrimination. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group will also be in session and will conduct interactive dialogues with representatives from 14 States. Ten UN special procedures will conduct country visits in November. Additionally, two UN Working Groups will hold sessions in Geneva, Switzerland. Of the regional bodies, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) will be in session.

The UN treaty body sessions may be watched via UN Web TV. The public hearings of the IACtHR and the IACHR may be viewed via the IACtHR’s Vimeo page and the IACHR’s YouTube page, respectively.

To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.

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European Court Holds Secret Surveillance Did Not Violate Employees’ Privacy

Delivery of Grand Chamber judgment in López Ribalda and Others v. Spain
Credit: ECtHR

Overturning a previous chamber decision, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held that employees’ right to privacy was not violated when a Spanish supermarket used visible and secret cameras to record public areas of the store when it suspected significant theft by employees. See ECtHR, López Ribalda and Others v. Spain [GC], nos. 1874/13 and 8567/13, Judgment of 17 October 2019. Despite domestic law and international standards requiring that individuals be notified of video surveillance, the Grand Chamber held that the State had not exceeded its “margin of appreciation” under the European Convention on Human Rights (European Convention) when domestic courts rejected the applicants’ constitutional claims and upheld their dismissal, given that there was a “weighty justification” for the use of covert surveillance and the applicants had not used domestic legal safeguards to challenge the surveillance under data privacy laws. See id. at paras. 131, 134-37. This judgment expands the European Court’s doctrine on the legitimate use of surveillance in the workplace. See ECtHR, Factsheet – Surveillance at Workplace (Oct. 2019).

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UN Transitions from Peacekeeping to Governance, amid Crisis in Haiti

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]

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