Human Rights Day 2018: Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70

Visualization of States’ ratification of universal human rights treaties
Credit: OHCHR

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the seminal proclamation adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948. See UN General Assembly, Resolution 217 A(III), Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 10 December 1948. The UDHR’s adoption followed that of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, making it the first UN instrument recognizing the basic principles of human rights. Over the subsequent decades, many of the rights recognized in the UDHR have been made legally binding through specialized UN human rights treaties and the development of customary international law. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet stated that the UDHR “has passed from being an aspirational treatise into a set of standards that has permeated virtually every area of international law.” [OHCHR: 70th]

While the rights set forth in the UDHR have since become widely accepted, attacks and repression against human rights defenders have spiked in recent years. [GuardianAmnestyUN News] UN human rights experts recently noted “the appalling fact that between 2015 and 2017, on average, one person was killed every day while standing up for human rights.” [OHCHR: Defenders

At the International Justice Resource Center, the UDHR’s values are central to our beliefs and our work. If you value IJRC’s efforts to make human rights protections more accessible to our readers and others around the world, please consider making a year-end donation

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Suspected War Criminal Arrested in Central African Republic, Transferred to ICC

Alfred Yekatom makes first appearance before the ICC
Credit: ICC-CPI via Flickr

Alfred Yekatom, the first person to be transferred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in connection with the Court’s investigation into crimes committed in the Central African Republic (CAR) since 2012, made an initial appearance before the Court’s Pre-Trial Chamber II on November 23. [ICC Press Release: Alfred; FIDH] Mr. Yekatom is alleged to have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity between December 2013 and August 2014 in the context of the CAR’s ongoing conflict between the Seleka and the Anti-Balaka armed groups. [ICC Press Release: Yekatom] Yekatom is accused of having commanded an anti-balaka group that carried out killings, torture, forced displacement of Muslim civilians and looting and destruction of Muslim homes and places of worship, in western CAR. CAR authorities delivered Yekatom to the ICC on November 17 in compliance with the ICC’s November 11 warrant for his arrest. [ICC Press Release: Situation] On April 30, 2019, the Court will hold a hearing to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to support the allegations against him and, if so, to transfer his case to the Trial Chamber. [ICC Press Release: Yekatom]

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December 2018: United Nations and Regional Human Rights Bodies in Session

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)

In December, 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. Two United Nations treaty bodies will continue reviewing States’ progress, with regard to the elimination of torture and racial discrimination, in sessions that began last month. Four UN special procedures will conduct country visits in December, and two UN working groups will hold sessions.

Regionally, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) will be holding public sessions.

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

Texas Executes Man in Contravention of Multiple International Legal Decisions

Texas Department of Criminal Justice
Credit: Larry D. Moore via Wikimedia Commons

The American state of Texas executed 64-year-old Mexican national Roberto Moreno Ramos on November 14, contravening the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and several human rights bodies, which had concluded he was entitled to a retrial or new sentencing hearing because of due process violations related to his trial, and should not be subjected to the death penalty because of his psychosocial disabilities. [OHCHR Press Release] Mr. Moreno Ramos, a Mexican citizen who had been arrested on suspicion of murder in 1992, was not afforded consular assistance or prompt, effective legal representation. See IACHR, Merits Report No. 1/05, Case 12.430, Roberto Moreno Ramos (United States), 28 January 2005. He is the sixth Mexican national to be executed in defiance of the ICJ’s 2004 judgment in Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mexico v. United States) ordering the “review and reconsider[ation]” of convictions and death sentences because of authorities’ failure to respect the rights of Mexican nationals and the Mexican government to consular information and notification. [Mexican Government Press Release]

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UN Human Rights Committee Clarifies, Expands Guidance on Right to Life

Credit: konferenzadhs via Pixabay

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has issued new legal guidance on the right to life under Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), expanding its interpretation of government obligations to protect reproductive rights and address climate change, among other topics. See Human Rights Committee, General comment No. 36 (2018) on article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on the right to life, UN Doc. CCPR/C/GC/36, 30 October 2018. General Comment No. 36 replaces the Human Rights Committee’s two previous general comments on the right to life, both published in the 1980s. See id. at para. 1. It incorporates many developments with respect to the right to life under Article 6, such as States’ obligations with regard to the availability of “safe and legal abortion,” the development and sale of weapons, and extra-territorial activities. See id. at paras. 8, 65. Other issues addressed in the general comment include police brutality, the death penalty, and nuclear weapons. See id. at paras. 5, 13, 62, 66. In conjunction with the publication of General Comment No. 36, the Human Rights Committee announced that it will begin working on the next general comment in 2019, which it provisionally decided will be on the right to peaceful assembly. [OHCHR Press Release]

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UN Human Rights Committee Condemns “Burqa Ban,” Countering European Court

Human Rights Committee
Human Rights Committee

Human Rights Committee Chairperson Yuval Shany at the 123rd Session
Credit: UN Web TV

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has concluded that France’s ban on face coverings in public violates the rights of women who wear full-face veils for religious reasons, a conclusion directly at odds with a European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgment from 2014. Compare Human Rights Committee, Hebbadj v. France, Communication No. 2807/2016, Views of 17 July 2018, UN Doc. CCPR/C/123/D/2807/2016 and Human Rights Committee, Yaker v. France, Communication No. 2747/2016, Views of 17 July 2018, UN Doc. CCPR/C/123/D/2807/2016 with ECtHR, S.A.S. v. France [GC], no. 43835/11, ECHR 2014, Judgment of 1 July 2014. The Committee’s views, published on October 17, 2018, concluded that two women’s criminal convictions under the 2010 ban violated their rights to freedom of religion and to non-discrimination under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The Human Rights Committee rejected France’s argument, which had been accepted by the ECtHR, that the ban was proportionate to, and the least restrictive means of achieving, the State interest in promoting the conditions for “living together” in a democratic society. In response to IJRC’s questions, the Human Rights Committee Chairperson, Yuval Shany, also noted that the Committee does not apply the ECtHR’s unique “margin of appreciation” doctrine, which gives European States latitude in balancing individual rights against State interests, particularly in areas where there is little consensus among States on a specific social issue. Read more

November 2018: United Nations and Regional Human Rights Bodies in Session

Human Rights Council Tenth Session Participants
Credit: UN Photo/Pierre-Michel Virot

In November, 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. Five United Nations treaty bodies will meet to review States’ progress with regard to civil and political rights, women’s rights, enforced disappearances, torture, and racial discrimination. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group will also be in session and will conduct interactive dialogues with representatives from 14 States. Eleven UN special procedures will conduct country visits this month, and two UN working groups will hold sessions.

Regionally, the African Commission of Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR), the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Children (ACERWC), and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will be holding public sessions. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hear arguments in three cases.

The UN treaty body sessions, the AfCHPR’s public hearings, the public hearings of the European Court, and the public hearings of the IACHR may be watched via UN Web TV, the African Court’s YouTube channel, the European Court’s website, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ website or Vimeo page, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.

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Australia Urged to Act as Health Conditions of Asylum Seekers Worsen

Welcome refugees to Australia – refugee protest march
Credit: Takver via Flickr

International pressure on Australia is mounting as concerns grow regarding the conditions in its offshore facilities in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, where thousands of asylum seekers and refugees have been detained since 2012. Those monitoring the situation at the facilities warn of a dire health emergency as people, many of them children, remain without access to the critical physical and mental healthcare. [UN News] In recent weeks, more individuals have been medically evacuated to Australia from Nauru than in the previous two years combined as a result of worsening conditions at the Nauru detention center. [UNHCR Press Release; The Conversation] While no one has been medically evacuated out of Papua New Guinea this year, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has reported several cases of self-harm and attempted suicide in the past month alone. [UNHCR Press Release] This situation has developed as a result of Australia’s current “offshore-processing” policy requiring that all refugees and asylum seekers attempting to enter the country by boat be detained at these offshore detention centers for processing, which can go on indefinitely. [NY Times; Guardian: UN Body] In addition to international concern and pressure, the detained asylum seekers and refugees and hundreds of people in Australia have protested this policy. [Al Jazeera; Quartz] The majority of detainees are from Iran or are stateless. See Refugee Council of Australia, Operation Sovereign Borders and Offshore Processing Statistics.

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