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 email@example.com by July 1, 2019. [ACHPR Press Release]
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has, for the first time, referred a case involving an alleged extrajudicial killing of a transgender woman to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR). The IACHR’s referral, filed on April 30, 2019, indicates that trans activist Vicky Hernández was killed – likely by State agents – during a government-imposed curfew in 2009, amid a broader context of attacks against LGBT persons in Honduras, and that the State subsequently failed to adequately investigate her death. [IACHR Press Release] The IACHR describes the case as an opportunity for the Court to “develop jurisprudence on violence against LGBT people, particularly trans women” and to again consider the human rights implications of the 2009 coup d’état in Honduras. [IACHR Press Release] The IACHR referred the case to the Court after determining that Honduras failed to comply with the recommendations set out in its merits report, which was recently made available in English on the IACHR’s website along with the letter of submission to the Court.
In its first advisory opinion, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) considered the parental rights, under French law, of intended mothers to children born abroad through a surrogacy arrangement. See ECtHR, Advisory Opinion concerning the recognition in domestic law of a legal parent-child relationship between a child born through a gestational surrogacy arrangement abroad and the intended mother, Request no. P16-2018-001, Advisory Opinion of 10 April 2019. The Court established that intended mothers, whether biological or not, should have the possibility of obtaining legal recognition in France of their relationship with the child where the intended (and biological) father has been legally recognized and where the intended mother is identified as the “legal mother” in the foreign birth certificate. The advisory opinion is the Court’s first since the entry into force, in 2018, of Protocol No. 16, which authorizes the highest courts of States parties to request opinions from the Court on the interpretation or application of the to the European Convention on Human Rights with regard to specific legal questions. [IJRC] It remains to be seen how France will continue with the domestic proceedings that were postponed pending the ECtHR’s opinion. See Advisory Opinion concerning the recognition in domestic law of a legal parent-child relationship between a child born through a gestational surrogacy arrangement abroad and the intended mother, Advisory Opinion of 10 April 2019, at para. 18.
This advisory opinion emanates from the facts and events of the ECtHR’s judgment in the 2014 Mennesson v. France (no. 65192/11) case. See id. at para. 10. In that case, two children born in the United States via a surrogacy arrangement were denied legal recognition, in France, of their relationship with their intended parents, even though that relationship was legally recognized in the U.S. See id. at para. 10. The European Court decided that there had been no violation of any party’s right to respect of their family life, but that the children’s right to respect for private life had been violated. See id. at para. 11. The Court reasoned that the right to respect for private life included the ability to determine details of one’s identity, which includes the identification of one’s legal parents. See id. at para. 12.
This ruling expressly noted that it can never be in the best interests of the child to deny legal recognition of the relationship between children and their “intended” and biological father. See id. at para. 13. Since that ruling, French courts have allowed the registration of the intended father as the legal father, if he was also the biological father of the children in question, but did not provide the same recognition to the intended mother. See id. at para. 14. The only option under French law is for an intended mother to adopt her spouse’s child, provided she is married to the biological and intended father. See id. In 2017, the Mennessons, acting as their children’s legal representatives, requested a new decision regarding their appeal against the Paris Court of Appeals’ 2010 decision to annul the legal recognition of both parents’ relationship with their two children. The French Court of Cassation requested an advisory opinion from the European Court for the purposes of re-examining that appeal. See id. at paras. 16-17.
The Advisory Opinion
The French Court of Cassation requested this advisory opinion on October 12, 2018. See id. at para. 1. On December 3, 2018 the five-judge panel of the Grand Chamber accepted the request, which raised two questions for the ECtHR:
1. By refusing to enter in the register of births, marriages and deaths the details of the birth certificate of a child born abroad as the result of a gestational surrogacy arrangement, in so far as the certificate designates the ‘intended mother’ as the ‘legal mother’, while accepting registration in so far as the certificate designates the ‘intended father’, who is the child’s biological father, is a State Party overstepping its margin of appreciation under Article 8 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms? In this connection should a distinction be drawn according to whether or not the child was conceived using the eggs of the ‘intended mother’?
2. In the event of an answer in the affirmative to either of the two questions above, would the possibility for the intended mother to adopt the child of her spouse, the biological father, this being a means of establishing the legal mother-child relationship, ensure compliance with the requirements of Article 8 of the Convention?
See id. at paras. 2, 9. Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects the right to respect for private and family life.
State’s Refusal to Legally Recognize “Intended Mother”
In consideration of the first question, the ECtHR prioritized two factors: 1) the best interest of the child; and, 2) the scope of the margin of appreciation afforded to France in fulfilling its human rights obligations. See id. at para. 37. With respect to the best interests of the child, the European Court noted that while the State may have an interest in preventing individuals from undergoing procedures to assist their reproduction efforts that are legally precluded domestically, children who are conceived via such arrangements stand to face substantial hardships in the absence of the legal recognition of the relationship to their parents. See id. at paras. 39, 40. Specifically, the ECtHR stated that the children’s right to respect for private life under Article 8 of the European Convention is negatively impacted when domestic law does not recognize the legal relationship between children conceived via assisted reproduction methods, such as surrogacy, and their intended mother. See id. at para. 40. The Court further stated that an “absolute impossibility of obtaining recognition of the relationship between a child born through a surrogacy arrangement entered into abroad and the intended mother is incompatible with the child’s best interests.” See id. at para. 42.
With respect to the State’s margin of appreciation, an important factor – determined on a case-by-case basis – is the existence of legal “common ground” between States in Europe. See id. at para. 43. The ECtHR considered relevant laws among other Council of Europe States and acknowledged the low level of consensus on this issue, which would suggest a greater margin of appreciation. See id. However, the ECtHR also noted that the margin of appreciation may be restricted in cases in which particularly important issues of identity, such as the legal recognition of a parent-child relationship, are at stake. See id. at paras. 43-44. Thus, the ECtHR concluded that the State’s margin of appreciation is reduced given the circumstances outlined in this case. See id. Considering the best interests of the child and the reduced margin of appreciation, the Court stated that Article 8 “requires that domestic law provide a possibility of recognition of a legal parent-child relationship with the intended mother, designated in the birth certificate legally established abroad as the “legal mother.” See id. at para. 46.
Methods of Legal Recognition
With regard to the second question posed, the ECtHR considered Convention required a specific type of legal recognition of the parent-child relationship when there was no biological relationship between the child and intended mother. See id. at para. 48. The opinion states that the best interests of the child dictate that the period of legal uncertainty surrounding children’s relationship with their parents should be as brief as possible, but that this did not require that State adopt the exact details of birth certificates created abroad. See id. at paras. 49-50. Based on the lack of legal consensus within Europe and the Court’s view that an “individual’s identity is less directly at stake” when there is no biological relationship at issue, the Court concluded that it falls within States’ margin of appreciation to decide how exactly to recognize the parent-child relationship. See id. at para. 51. Therefore, alternatives including adoption by the intended mother may satisfy Article 8 so long as the process can be completed “promptly and effectively” and “in accordance with the best interests of the child.” See id. at para. 55. The ECtHR noted that it was not within the scope of its opinion to make a determination on the adequacy of French adoption law. See id. at para. 58.
Advisory Opinion Jurisdiction
On April 14, 2018, France became the tenth State to ratify Protocol 16 to the Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom, triggering its entry into force in August of that year. [ECtHR Press Release] This Protocol extended the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights to include advisory jurisdiction for States that have ratified Protocol 16. [ECtHR Press Release]
To request an advisory opinion, a State court must provide reasons for its request, provide the relevant legal and factual background of the case, and must have the issue currently pending before it. See Protocol 16, art. 1(3). The State may submit written comments and may take part in the hearing. See id. at art. 3. The President of the ECtHR may also invite other States or individuals to submit comments or take part in the hearing. See id. While the advisory opinion of the ECtHR is non-binding on the State, the aim is to give the domestic courts guidance on interpretation of the relevant provisions of the Convention that relate to the case before it. See id. at art. 5; Advisory Opinion concerning the recognition in domestic law of a legal parent-child relationship between a child born through a gestational surrogacy arrangement abroad and the intended mother, Advisory Opinion of 10 April 2019, at para. 25. The ECtHR does not have jurisdiction to assess the facts of a domestic case or to interpret domestic law. See Advisory Opinion concerning the recognition in domestic law of a legal parent-child relationship between a child born through a gestational surrogacy arrangement abroad and the intended mother, Advisory Opinion of 10 April 2019, at para. 25. Ultimately, the requesting court or tribunal must still decide the case itself. See id.
So far, 13 States in the Council of Europe have ratified Protocol 16. Those are Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Greece, Lithuania, Netherlands, San Marino, Slovenia, and Ukraine. See Council of Europe Treaty Office, Chart of signatures and ratifications of Treaty 214. An additional nine States have signed but not ratified Protocol 16. Those are Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Slovak Republic, and Turkey. See id.
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In June, several universal and regional human rights bodies and experts will review States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through the consideration of State and civil society reports and country visits. One United Nations treaty body will hold a session to assess States’ progress regarding the prevention of torture, and the Committee on the Rights of the Child Pre-Sessional Working Group will meet privately. The Human Rights Council will consider the overall human rights situations in 15 countries. Two UN special rapporteurs and one independent expert will conduct country visits in June. Additionally, the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and practice will hold a session in Geneva. Of the regional bodies, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) will be in session and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hold a Grand Chamber hearing.
The public hearings of the AfCHPR and the ECtHR may be viewed via the AfCHPR’s YouTube page, and the ECtHR’s website, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.
Governments’ failure to fully fund the United Nations now threatens the work of the UN human rights treaty bodies that review States’ compliance with their human rights obligations, making it likely that six of the 10 bodies will have to skip the sessions they have planned for later this year. [OHCHR Press Release; IPS] The chairs of the human rights treaty bodies have responded to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ notice of the funding shortfall with their own letter, also addressed to the UN Secretary General, highlighting the urgency of the situation and urging UN leaders and Member States to avert the impending crisis. [OHCHR Press Release] Experts warn that without the necessary funds, protections for global human rights will be dangerously reduced. [IPS] These cuts come at an especially sensitive time for the protection of human rights, as observers note the rise in right-wing and authoritarian governments, shrinking space for civil society, and a backlash on women’s rights. [IPS] While the OHCHR did not identify the specific reasons for the funding shortfall, the UN has recently warned of a funding shortage caused by the Member States’ chronic failure to make their assessed dues on time and in full, causing the UN to use up its reserves at a time when its largest contributor, the United States, is reducing its contributions. [UN News; IPI Global Observatory; IJRC]
The International Justice Resource Center (IJRC) has published its second report in an ongoing series examining the barriers to civil society’s engagement with supranational human rights oversight bodies. See IJRC, Civil Society Access to International Oversight Bodies: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (2019). This edition analyzes the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), a principal autonomous organ of the Organization of American States (OAS) charged with addressing human rights conditions and human rights violations in the 35 OAS Member States. The 65-page report focuses on the informal policies and practical factors, as well as formal rules, that help or hinder civil society’s participation in IACHR sessions and other activities. The Executive Summary, which includes the report’s main findings and a complete list of recommendations to the IACHR, is available in both Spanish and English. Read more
On May 7, 2019, the International Labour Organization (ILO) announced the launch of a new plan including a series of urgent interventions aimed at addressing the security, economic, and social integration needs of Venezuelan refugees and migrants in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. See ILO, Appeal: Venezuelan refugees and migrants in Latin America and the Caribbean. Under this proposed plan – developed together with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the Organization of American States (OAS) – the ILO has committed $2 million USD of its voluntary funds to support projects in the three countries that have received the majority of displaced people from Venezuela: Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru. [ILO Press Release] The ILO intervention is part of a broader appeal within the framework of the Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan (RMRP), a multilateral plan to coordinate a regional response to the unprecedented and growing “largest displacement of population in the modern history of Latin America and the Caribbean.” [ILO Press Release] Venezuela’s years-long economic and political crisis, which worsened in recent months following reactions by national and foreign authorities to Juan Guaidó’s attempt to claim the presidency from Nicolás Maduro, has resulted in an estimated 3.7 million people leaving the country and about seven million people in Venezuela in need humanitarian assistance. [UN News: Humanitarian Crisis]
On May 6, 2019, the International Criminal Court (ICC) reversed an earlier decision seeking intergovernmental follow-up on Jordan’s failure, in March 2017, to arrest then-Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, whom the ICC seeks to prosecute for alleged crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide in Darfur. In a split decision, the Appeals Chamber confirmed that Jordan had violated its international obligations when it failed to arrest Al-Bashir, but concluded that the Pre-Trial Chamber II had improperly exercised its discretion in referring Jordan for non-cooperation because it had not treated South Africa in the same way and because Jordan had sought to consult the Court on whether arresting Al-Bashir would conflict with its other international obligations, specifically regarding respect for Head of State immunity. See ICC, Prosecutor v. Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir, ICC-02/05-01/09-397, Judgment in the Jordan Referral Re Al Bashir Appeal, 6 May 2019, para. 2. Two judges dissented on that final point, arguing that the referral was proper. See ICC, Joint Dissenting Opinion of Judge Liz del Carmen Ibanez Carranza and Judge Solomy Balungi Bossa, ICC-02/05-01/09-397-Anx2, 6 May 2019.
In May, several universal and regional human rights bodies and experts will review States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through the consideration of State and civil society reports, country visits, and the review of individual complaints. Three United Nations treaty bodies will hold sessions to assess States’ progress regarding the elimination of racial discrimination, the prevention of torture, and the rights of children. The Human Rights Council Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review will consider the overall human rights situations in 14 countries. Seven UN special rapporteurs, two independent experts, and one working group will conduct country visits in May. Additionally, four UN working groups will hold sessions in Geneva. Of the regional bodies, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), and the European Committee on Social Rights (ECSR) will all be in session. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hold a Grand Chamber hearing.
The UN treaty body sessions may be watched via UN Web TV. The public hearings of the AfCHPR, IACtHR, IACHR, and ECtHR may be viewed via the AfCHPR’s YouTube page, the IACtHR’s Vimeo page, the IACHR’s YouTube page, and the ECtHR’s website, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.
The European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) has held Bulgaria responsible for Roma women’s inferior access to reproductive healthcare in public hospitals, specifically during pregnancy and childbirth. [ECSR Press Release] In a unanimous merits decision, the Committee found that Bulgaria’s failure to take proactive steps—including by addressing the much lower levels of health insurance coverage among Roma women, barriers to maternal care such as a lack of translation services, and significantly higher infant and maternal mortality rates—constituted a violation of the rights to health and non-discrimination under the Revised European Social Charte (the “Charter“). See ECSR, European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) v. Bulgaria, Complaint No. 151/2017, Merits, 5 December 2018. While the complaint also alleged that Roma women are routinely segregated in maternity wards, the ECSR ultimately determined there was insufficient evidence that this is a systemic practice. See id. at para. 93. In 2008, the ECSR found Bulgaria responsible for related gaps in access to healthcare services and worse health status among the Roma population; according to the more recent decision, the situation has not seen any improvement since then. See ECSR, European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) v. Bulgaria, Complaint No. 46/2007, Merits, 3 December 2008; ERRC v. Bulgaria, 5 December 2018, paras. 56, 85.