Judges of the European Court of Human Rights
In its first judgment to directly consider the issue, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has held that the State authorities’ failure to investigate online hate speech against a gay couple violated the couple’s rights to private and family life and constituted discrimination on sexual orientation grounds under the European Convention on Human Rights. [ECtHR Press Release] In the case of Beizaras and Levickas v. Lithuania, a same-sex couple posted a photo on Facebook of them kissing, and other individuals posted hundreds of homophobic comments in response, including threats of violence. See ECtHR, Beizaras and Levickas v. Lithuania, no. 41288/15, Judgment of 14 January 2020, paras. 6-11. The Court found that State authorities had refused to launch a pre-trial investigation, even though they were aware of the hate comments, in part due to their expressed disapproval of the applicants’ sexual orientation. See id. at paras. 16-23, 121. The Court held that the State failed to meet its positive obligation to investigate hate speech that could incite violence, resulting in harm to the applicants’ “psychological well-being and dignity” and constituting a violation of their rights to private life and non-discrimination. See id. at paras. 113, 117, 129. Because the Lithuanian authorities had routinely failed to address increasing homophobic hate speech, the Court also found a violation of the applicants’ right to an effective domestic remedy (Article 13). See id. at paras. 151-56. The Court’s judgment advances protections for LGBTI individuals, and has been perceived as a victory by LGBTI rights activists. [ILGA-Europe]
MONUSCO Peacekeepers on Patrol in Eastern DRC
Credit: UN Photo/Michael Ali
In a new report, a United Nations entity asserts that violent attacks, including sexual violence, between members of the Lendu and Hema community in the Democratic Republic of Congo since late 2017 may constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes. In January 2020, the Human Rights Division of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which together make up the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) in the DRC, published a report assessing violence in the DRC’s northeastern Ituri province in the context of inter-ethnic tensions between the communities of Hema herders and Lendu farmers. [OHCHR Press Release] The report documents widespread attacks against civilians, mainly targeting the Hema community and including women and children, between December 2017 and September 2019. See UNJHRO, Rapport public sur les conflits en territoire de Djugu, province de l’Ituri Décembre 2017 à septembre 2019 (2020) [French only]. In particular, the report finds that the attacks may constitute the crimes against humanity of murder, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence, among others – and, given that the events took place in the context of an internal armed conflict, may also constitute war crimes. See id. at paras. 78-81. The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that at least 556,000 people have fled from the Ituri province as a result of the conflict, and about 57,000 people have fled to neighboring Uganda to seek refuge over the past two years. [UN News: Report] The new report consolidates and expands upon previous reporting by UNJHRO and UNHCR on the conflict. [VOA; Al Jazeera; UN News: Flare-Up]
IACHR 174th Period of Sessions, November 2019 (Quito, Ecuador)
Credit: IACHR via Flickr
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has published a report on corruption and human rights with the goal of analyzing corruption in the Americas from a human rights perspective, and highlighting the relevant human rights standards at play. [IACHR Press Release (Spanish)] The report from the region’s principal human rights oversight body examines the factual situation and provides an overview of corruption’s multidimensional impact on democracy, the rule of law, inequality, impunity, and the enjoyment of human rights. See IACHR, Corrupción y derechos humanos: Estándares interamericanos (2019) [Spanish only]. In particular, the report analyzes how corruption relates to specific thematic areas that are of interest to the Commission, such as the right to freedom of expression and economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, as well as its impact on vulnerable groups. See id. at para. 6. In addition to identifying key recommendations in which the IACHR calls on States to investigate acts of corruption and implement protection mechanisms for members of the press and individuals who denounce and report acts of corruption, among others, the report proposes a roadmap for the development and implementation of comprehensive public policies to address corruption in all levels of government. See id. at paras. 7-11.
Human Rights Council UPR Working Group
Credit: UN Photo/Violaine Martin
In January, several universal and regional human rights bodies and experts will assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through country visits and the review of individual complaints. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group will also be in session and will conduct interactive dialogues with representatives from 14 States. Five UN special procedures will conduct country visits in January. Regionally, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR), and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will be holding public sessions.
The UPR session may be watched via UN Web TV, and the public hearings of the IACtHR and the ECtHR may be watched via the IACtHR’s website or Vimeo page and the ECtHR’s website, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.
Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe
Credit: Council of Europe
In a new recommendation to the Member States of the Council of Europe, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers warns that “unaccompanied and separated children are among the most vulnerable persons in the migration context,” and emphasizes that effective guardianship structures are necessary to protect the rights and best interests of unaccompanied children in migration. See Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, Recommendation CM/Rec(2019)11 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on effective guardianship for unaccompanied and separated children in the context of migration, CM/Rec(2019)11, 11 December 2019. In accordance with international and European legal standards, the Committee of Ministers outlines 18 principles in the recommendation, calling on Member States to implement a guardianship framework for unaccompanied and separated children; review national legislation and policies to ensure that the recommendation is implemented; translate and disseminate the recommendation to all relevant stakeholders; create a European “platform of experts” to assist and support States in strengthening their guardianship systems and facilitating cross-border cooperation; and, ensure that the Committee of Ministers monitors the guardianship system at the State level at regular intervals. See id. The principles seek to address the need for additional protections and assistance for children in migration. See id. at II, para. 1 (f); III.
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.
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.
European Committee of Social Rights
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.
Delivery of Judgment, European Court of Human Rights
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.
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.