COE Parliamentary Assembly Holds Hearings Following Investigation into Members’ Corruption

Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly
Credit: Council of Europe/ Candice Imbert

The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) Rules Committee is set to hold a hearing today, May 15, on its findings on a member of PACE’s compliance with the PACE Code of Conduct following an investigation on allegations of corruption among members of PACE in connection to Azerbaijan; the independent investigation concluded that some PACE members have violated the PACE Code of Conduct. See PACE, Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs Draft Agenda (2018). The PACE Rules Committee already held a hearing on four members mentioned in the conclusions of the investigation; issued findings on three, concluding only one violated the Code of Conduct; postponed the findings on the fourth member to today; and has dedicated itself to holding hearings on the conduct of the remaining PACE members mentioned in the report. [PACE Press Release: Findings]

Three former judges were appointed to carry out the investigation in May 2017, and nearly one year later, on April 15, 2018, the “Report of the Independent Body on the allegations of corruption within the Parliamentary Assembly” was released. The report found, among other conclusions, that several members of PACE who worked on issues related to Azerbaijan had conflicts of interest, and in one case, was accepting money in exchange for suppressing a report. See Council of Europe, Report of the Independent Body on the allegations of corruption within the Parliamentary Assembly (2018), xii, paras. 725-38. Following the release of the report, the Secretary General to PACE, Thorbjørn Jagland, observed in a public statement that PACE members have undermined the work of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and his own work to release a political prisoner in Azerbaijan. [Council of Europe Press ReleaseRead more

U.S. Supreme Court Limits Corporate Liability for Human Rights Abuses

Arab Bank, the defendant in Jesner v. Arab Bank
Credit: jo.schz via Flickr

On April 24, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Jesner v. Arab Bank that foreign citizens cannot sue foreign corporations for civil damages in U.S. federal courts for serious violations of international law, such as torture or extrajudicial killings. See Jesner et al. v. Arab Bank, PLC, No. 16–499, slip op. (April 24, 2018). The case was brought against Arab Bank by victims of several terrorist attacks occurring in Israel and the occupied territories. See id. at 1. The plaintiffs alleged that Arab Bank supported numerous terrorist attacks, including those that harmed the victims, by knowingly providing financial services to terrorists, such as accepting deposits it knew were donations used to fund the attacks and pay money to the families of suicide bombers. See id. at 1-3. The plaintiffs brought their case under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), which provides that United States federal courts may hear cases, brought by non-nationals, of tort committed in violation of international law. See id. at 1-2. The ATS is an exercise in universal civil jurisdiction, as it extends domestic judicial jurisdiction over actions that occurred abroad to foreign plaintiffs; it has historically been a means for non-U.S. citizens to seek redress for serious human rights violations committed outside of the U.S., although the Jesner decision and previous rulings limit the scope of the statute. See, e.g., Jesner, No. 16–499, slip op. at 1; Filártiga v. Peña-Irala, 630 F.2d 876 (2d Cir. 1980). Notably, the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum limited the scope of the ATS to cases that touch and concern the United States with sufficient force to overcome a presumption against the U.S. extending jurisdiction extraterritorially. See Kiobel et al. v. Royal Dutch Petroleum et al., 569 U.S. 108 (2013); Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, 542 U.S. 692 (2004). International human rights bodies disagree over whether States must exercise universal civil jurisdiction over specific human rights abuses, mainly torture, that occurred abroad and by a foreign defendant. [IJRCSee Naït-Liman v. Switzerland [GC], Judgment of 15 March 2018; CAT, General Comment No. 3 (2012), UN Doc. CAT/C/GC/3, 13 Dec. 2012, paras. 22, 26.

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May 2018: UN Treaty Bodies, UPR, and Regional Human Rights Bodies in Session

Human Rights Council 
Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

In the month of May, several universal and regional bodies will be in session to assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through interactive dialogues, the consideration of State and civil society reports, country visits, and the review of individual complaints. Four United Nations treaty bodies will meet throughout May to engage with States regarding their treaty obligations related to torture, racial discrimination, forced disappearances, and 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. Ten UN special procedures will conduct country visits focusing on human rights defenders, contemporary forms of racism, indigenous peoples, sale and sexual exploitation of children, effects of foreign debt, countering terrorism, housing, migrants, health, and torture. Three working groups will hold sessions on enforced disappearances, transnational corporations and other business enterprises, and private military and security companies.

Regionally, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), the African Court on Human and People’s Rights (AfCHPR), and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) will be in session. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will also be in session, and will hold public hearings during those sessions. Finally, the European Committee of Social Rights will be in session, and the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hear one case related to State obligations during an armed conflict.

The UN treaty body sessions and the public hearings of the European Court, the IACHR, and 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.

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European Court of Human Rights to Implement Advisory Jurisdiction

European Court of Human Rights
Credit: CherryX via Wikimedia Commons

On April 14, 2018, France became the 10th State to ratify Protocol 16 to the Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom, which will, upon entry into force, extend the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to include advisory jurisdiction for States that have ratified Protocol 16. [ECtHR Press Release] France’s ratification triggered the protocol to enter into force, which it will officially do on August 1, 2018. [ECtHR Press Release] Advisory jurisdiction will allow the highest courts in those States that are a party to Protocol 16 to refer questions to the Court on its interpretation of State obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights or its protocols. Protocol 16 brings the European Court’s jurisdiction within the same practices as other regional human rights courts; the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights both may issue advisory opinions, as established in Article 4 of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 2(2) of the Statute of the Inter‐American Court of Human Rights in conjunction with Article 64 of the American Convention on Human Rights, respectively. The 10th ratification of Protocol 16 comes in the midst of ongoing reforms of the European Court, including the recent Copenhagen Declaration. The Copenhagen Declaration calls for reduction to the backlog of cases at the European Court, an increase in communication between States parties and the Court, and improvement in the domestic implementation of European Court judgments. Read more

International Community Questions Fairness of Election As Hungary Re-elects Orbán

Hungarian Parliament
Credit: Andrew Shiva via Wikimedia Commons

International election observers, civil society, and protesters have raised concerns over the fairness of Hungary’s April 8 parliamentary elections in which the incumbent prime minister, Viktor Orbán, and his Fidesz party secured a strong majority, winning 133 of 199 parliamentary seats; media bias and intimidation of independent journalists as well as xenophobic and intimidating rhetoric, civil society and election observers have noted, steered the election outcomes in favor of Fidesz. [Guardian: OSCE; HRW; Reuters: Protest] The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), an intergovernmental body that monitors the elections of Member States, found that the incumbent Fidesz party exploited its current position in power to “[undermine] contestants’ ability to compete on an equal basis” through the use of intimidating rhetoric, media bias, and the government’s use of public money to support the campaign of the incumbent party to influence the voting public. See OSCE, Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions (2018), 1. Echoing the OSCE, civil society organizations raised concerns over Fidesz’s practice of smearing journalists and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that oppose the party’s views, and over the government’s support, announced a day after the election, of a law that would limit the activities of civil society working with migrants and refugees. [HRW; HHC Press Release] Protesters gathered in Budapest over the weekend referring to the election as unfair and calling for a free media. [Reuters: Protest] Before the election, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights raised concerns over the “racist and xenophobic” rhetoric of Orbán and the undermining of the independence of the press and the judiciary. [OHCHR Press Release] Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Hungary is obligated to ensure the rights to non-discrimination, to freedom of expression, to freedom of association, and to vote. Read more

Council of Europe Elects First Female Commissioner for Human Rights

Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights
Credit: Gunnar Vrang via Wikimedia Commons

On April 1, 2018, the recently elected Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe (COE), Dunja Mijatović, took office as the first female to hold the position. See COE, The Commissioner. Mijatović, a national of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was elected in January of this year by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), which elects the Commissioner as well as the judges of the European Court of Human Rights. [Council of Europe Press Release] Mijatović is recognized for her twenty years of experience working on human rights, particularly the right to freedom of expression. Most recently, she held the position of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Representative on Freedom of the Media and is the only woman to hold that position as well. See COE, Biography; OSCE, Harlem Désir. The Commissioner for Human Rights is tasked with the promotion and protection of human rights among the 47 Member States of the Council of Europe through discussions, guidance, and awareness raising on human rights. See COE, The Mandate. Gender parity in positions at supranational bodies is an ongoing concern and a goal that civil society and supranational bodies have pushed for through campaigns; in September 2017, the United Nations Secretary General unveiled an internal UN campaign for gender parity within the organization, and the GQUAL campaign, started in 2015, is a civil society-run effort to establish equitable representation of women in human rights bodies. [IJRC: GQUAL; UN News Centre] Read more

African Court Decides First Case on Right to a Nationality

African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Credit: AfCHPR

Last week, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) published its first ruling related to the right to nationality in the case of Anudo Ochieng Anudo v. Republic of Tanzania, stating that Tanzania violated Anudo Ochieng Anudo’s right not to be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality, right not to be arbitrarily expelled, and right to be heard by a judge; in finding these violations, the Court relied on Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 13 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and Article 7 of the ICCPR, respectively. See AfCHPR, Anudo Ochieng Anudo v. Republic of Tanzania, App. No. 012/2015, Judgment of 22 March 2018, paras. 88, 106, 117. At the age of 33, the complainant’s identity documents, issued by Tanzania, were investigated by immigration authorities and found to be based on fake documents, and the complainant was arrested, detained, beaten, and deported to Kenya, which subsequently found him to have irregular status and deported him back. See id. at paras. 4-12. The Court held that States have the burden of proof to show that the complainant does not have citizenship if the State claims the complainant’s identity documents, issued by the State, are flawed or fake. See id. at para. 80. The State failed to fulfill its burden in this case and failed to provide Anudo with an opportunity to contest his deportation. See id. at paras. 88, 106, 115. A lawyer at the Open Society Justice Initiative said the case “exposes the institutional weaknesses, discrimination, and flaws in legal frameworks on the right to nationality.” [OSJI]

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) have previously considered the right to a nationality through Article 5 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Banjul Charter), which grants the right to legal status, and under Article 6 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (Children’s Charter), which grants the right to nationality. The Court, which has jurisdiction to interpret all relevant applicable human rights treaties to a case, did not consider Article 5 in its decision. Read more

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