On August 8, 2019, the Follow-up Mechanism to the Belém do Pará Convention (MESECVI) presented a new general recommendation providing guidance to States in addressing “the high number of missing women and girls in some countries” of the Americas and the inadequacy of available data on this type of violence against women. [MESECVI Press Release] The document is the second-ever general recommendation issued by MESECVI, the body charged with overseeing implementation of the Inter-American Convention to Prevent, Punish and Eradicate Violence Against Women, also known as the Belém do Pará Convention. See Inter-American Commission of Women, General Recommendation of the Committee of Experts of the MESECVI (No. 2): Missing Women and Girls in the Hemisphere, Doc. MESECVI/CEVI/doc.250/18, 5 December 2018. It adds to the Inter-American human rights doctrine on State obligations to prevent, punish, and redress disappearances of women and girls, and analyzes the connections between such disappearances and other types of violence against women, including femicides, trafficking, and sexual exploitation. See id. at 4.
Nuon Chea, a former high-ranking official in the Khmer Rouge, died on August 4, 2019 while serving a life sentence imposed by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). [ECCC Press Release: Chea; HRW] In 2014, the ECCC convicted Chea, also known as “Brother No. 2,” of orchestrating the forced removal of approximately two million people and directing the torture and killing of more than 14,000 people at a Cambodian detention center. [HRW] His death has prompted renewed scrutiny of the search for justice in Cambodia and the role of the ECCC, a United Nations-backed tribunal tasked with prosecuting senior Khmer Rouge leaders and other individuals “most responsible” for the atrocities carried out under the regime, from 1975 to 1979. [HRW] The ECCC has initiated four principal cases, involving 10 defendants, since it began operating in 2006; in that time, it has completed the trials of three defendants, all of whom were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. See ECCC, Key Events; ECCC, Introduction to the ECCC. Civil society and others have criticized the ECCC for being long overdue in convictions and for addressing only a fraction of Khmer Rouge’s crimes, resulting in impunity for many other senior Khmer Rouge leaders and current government officials. [HRW] The tribunal faces serious obstacles and pushback, in particular from uncooperative government members and Cambodian Prime Minister and former Khmer Rouge official, Hun Sen, who does not require government members to produce evidence. [HRW]
On July 16, 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rejected a complaint by Nikolay Alekseyev, a well-known Russian lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activist, due to posts he made on his social media sites that the ECtHR considered “personally offensive and threatening.” See ECtHR, Zhdanov and Others v. Russia, nos. 12200/08 and 2 others, Judgment of 16 July 2019, para. 83. While the Court went on to find that Russia violated the remaining applicants’ rights to non-discrimination and freedom of association by refusing to register three organizations that advocate for LGBT rights, the Court did not reach the merits of Alekseyev’s complaint. Instead, it found his application inadmissible as “an abuse of the right of application,” pursuant to Article 35 of the European Convention on Human Rights. See id. at paras. 76-86. A majority of the judges agreed with Russia’s argument that Alekseyev abused the right to petition the European Court when he published social media posts describing the European Court’s judges in derogatory, sexist, and threatening terms in response to a previous ruling by the Court in a separate case. See id. In that case, the Court had denied him and others monetary compensation after finding Russia responsible for human rights violations in connection with authorities’ refusal to authorize public LGBT events. See id.
The European Court is not the only human rights oversight body whose rules allow it to reject human rights complaints because of the complainant’s offensive or abusive language, but such provisions and their application to speech made or published outside of the complaint proceeding raise concerns regarding due process, access to justice, and freedom of expression. Three judges on the ECtHR issued a dissenting opinion challenging the Court’s reasoning in dismissing Alekseyev’s application and warning that the precedent set in the Court’s judgment may impact individuals’ ability to access the Court in the future and infringe on their right to freedom of speech. See ECtHR, Case of Zhdanov and Others v. Russia, nos. 12200/08 and 2 others, Judgment of 16 July 2019 (joint partly dissenting opinion of Judges Keller, Serghides, and Elósegui).
In August, 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. Three United Nations treaty bodies will hold sessions to assess States’ progress regarding the prevention of torture, the elimination of racial discrimination, and the rights of persons with disabilities. Five UN special procedures will conduct country visits in August. Additionally, the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention will hold a session in Geneva. Of the regional bodies, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will hold a special session this month.
The UN treaty body sessions may be watched via UN Web TV. The public hearings of the IACtHR may be viewed on the IACtHR’s Vimeo page. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will, for the first time, address States’ obligations to prevent gender-based violence against female journalists in conflict zones, in the case of Jineth Bedoya Lima, a Colombian journalist who was kidnapped, tortured, and raped despite the State’s prior knowledge of threats against her due to her work as a journalist. [IACHR Press Release; CEJIL (Spanish only)] On July 16, 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) presented Bedoya Lima’s case to the Court because Colombia has so far failed to implement the IACHR’s recommendations in its merits report, which was issued in January 2019. [IACHR Press Release; CEJIL] The IACHR’s decision to refer the case to the Court marks the latest step in Bedoya Lima’s fight against impunity, and presents an opportunity for the Court to develop its jurisprudence on States’ obligations related to sexual violence against female journalists and restrictions on press freedom. [IACHR Press Release; CEJIL] The merits report is not yet available online.
In their latest reports to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health and the Special Rapporteur on violence against women addressed the ongoing issue of forced or coerced sterilizations of Indigenous women in Canada’s public healthcare institutions. See Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health on his visit to Canada, UN Doc. No. A/HRC/41/34/Add.2, 19 June 2019, paras. 83-84; Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences on her visit to Canada, UN Doc No. A/HRC/41/42/Add.1, 3 June 2019, paras. 58-61. This issue has been gaining increased attention within Canada and internationally; these reports reiterate and build upon the recommendations already made to Canada to take steps to remedy and prevent this human rights violation. See IJRC, Forced Sterilization of Indigenous Women in Canada. The special rapporteurs presented their reports at the 41st Regular Session of the Human Rights Council, which concluded on July 12, 2019, following their visits to Canada in 2018. The International Justice Resource Center (IJRC) has been actively supporting Canadian advocates in their international human rights advocacy regarding the forced sterilization of Indigenous women, and welcomes these latest responses.
In a new position paper, the chairpersons of the 10 United Nations human rights treaty bodies have shared their plans to increase the accessibility and efficiency of their work monitoring States’ implementation of their human rights treaty obligations. [OHCHR Press Release] Proposed changes include holding interactive dialogues with States in their own geographic regions (rather than in Geneva), conducting periodic reviews even when the State has failed to submit its report, making the simplified reporting process available to States for all reviews, and allowing civil society members to participate in briefings via video conference. See OHCHR, Treaty Body Chairpersons Position Paper on the future of the human rights treaty body system, July 2019. The position paper, adopted at the treaty bodies’ 31st annual meeting in New York, is the latest development in their ongoing efforts to implement the UN General Assembly Resolution 68/268 on Strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body system. [OHCHR Press Release] These measures are a response to challenges facing the treaty bodies, including limited resources, a growing backlog of State reports and communications, lack of State compliance with recommendations, and varying working methods among treaty bodies.
On June 28, 2019, the 49th General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) re-elected Commissioners Margaret May Macaulay (Jamaica) and Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño (Panama) to serve a second full term on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and elected two new commissioners, Julissa Mantilla Falcón (Peru) and Edgar Stuardo Ralón Orellana (Guatemala). [OAS Press Release] By January 2020, when the elected commissioners begin their terms, the IACHR’s composition will consist of five female commissioners and two male commissioners – the highest female to male ratio in the history of the IACHR. Mantilla Falcón was endorsed as a qualified commissioner in the 2019 report by the Independent Panel for the Election of Inter-American Human Rights Commissioners, a part of the Initiative on Transparency and Election Monitoring housed at American University’s Washington College of Law. See Mariclaire Acosta, et al., Abridged Version of the Report from the Independent Panel of Experts for the Evaluation of Candidates for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (2019). However, the Panel and civil society members objected to Ralón Orellana’s nomination and election, citing concerns over his limited human rights experience as well as his independence and impartiality.
The International Labour Conference of the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted an “unprecedented Convention and accompanying Recommendation” during its June 2019 meeting, setting new global obligations and outlining measures for ILO Member States to take in addressing violence and harassment in the context of work. [ILO Press Release: Conference] The Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019, a legally binding instrument, covers violence and harassment, including on the basis of gender, in all sectors of the economy and all work-related activities, and expressly indicates that such violence or harassment may amount to human rights violations. [ILO Press Release: Conference] It requires States to implement legislation, training, monitoring, and avenues of redress and support in order to prevent and remedy these practices; it also calls on States to address the particular needs of vulnerable groups and those impacted by domestic violence. See Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019, arts. 6-11. The Convention represents the first new legally binding instrument adopted by the Labour Conference since 2011, when it adopted the Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189). [ILO Press Release: Convention] The Convention will enter into force one year after two ILO Member States ratify it, and will come into force for States parties one year after their ratification. See Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019, art. 14.
In July, a number of 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. Three United Nations treaty bodies will hold sessions to assess States’ progress regarding the rights of women, civil and political rights, and the prevention of torture. The Human Rights Council will continue its consideration of the overall human rights situations in 15 countries. Three UN special procedures will conduct country visits in July. Additionally, the UN Working Group on mercenaries and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will hold sessions in Geneva. Of the regional bodies, the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) will be in session and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hold two Grand Chamber hearings.
The UN treaty body sessions may be watched via UN Web TV. The public hearings of the ECtHR may be viewed via the ECtHR’s website. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.