On August 10, 2018, the United Nations General Assembly approved Michelle Bachelet’s nomination for the position of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. [UN News: Appointment] The General Assembly’s decision followed the UN Secretary General’s announcement on August 8 to nominate Bachelet for the position. [UN News: Nomination] Bachelet will serve a four-year term, beginning on September 1, 2018, with a possibility of renewal for a second four-year term. [UN News: Appointment] Bachelet is replacing Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, who began his term as UN High Commissioner in September 2014 and chose not to seek a second four-year term. [UN News: Appointment; NY Times: al-Hussein] Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein announced last December that he would not seek re-election because of the anticipated lack of support among “key world powers, including the United States, China and Russia.” [Reuters] He also was concerned that a second term would require him to be less outspoken in advocacy efforts and less independent given the current geopolitical climate. [NY Times: al-Hussein]
During its 123rd Session, the United Nations Human Rights Committee issued its first decision on the privacy and equal protection implications of mandatory HIV/AIDS and drug testing for individuals seeking a visa extension. See Human Rights Committee, Vandom v. Republic of Korea, Communication No. 2273/2013, Views of 12 July 2018, UN Doc. CCPR/C/123/D/2273/2013. The case concerned an American English teacher, working in the Republic of Korea, whose application to renew her teaching visa was denied after she refused to submit to a mandatory HIV/AIDS and drug test. See id. at paras. 1-2.8. The Human Rights Committee held that the Republic of Korea’s policy of requiring mandatory drug and HIV tests from individuals who were not nationals of the State or of Korean ethnicity and who were seeking to obtain teaching visas constituted a violation of the right to equal protection and the right to privacy under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). See id. at paras. 8.5, 8.9. While this is the first case in which the Human Rights Committee has reviewed mandatory drug and HIV testing policies, another treaty body, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), issued a decision in 2015 on the Republic of Korea’s mandatory testing policy. [IJRC] The CERD found that the policy amounted to racial discrimination under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). The case before CERD did not discuss the right to privacy. [IJRC]
In the past month, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights have called on Cameroon to launch an investigation into persistent reports of a deteriorating human rights situation in the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon, including to investigate a video showing the alleged extrajudicial executions of a woman and two children. [ACHPR Press Release: Allegations (French only); OHCHR Press Release] The conflict in Cameroon stems from tensions that arose in 2016 after the English-speaking communities in the State mobilized to demand respect of the English-speaking educational and judicial systems, and to demand more political autonomy. See HRW, These Killings Can Be Stopped: Abuses by Government and Separatist Groups in Cameroon’s Anglophone Regions (2018), 1. In response, the Cameroonian government violently suppressed the protests and arrested many of the demonstrators, which led to armed confrontations. See id. Most recently, the tensions between Anglophone separatists and the largely Francophone government of Cameroon have escalated as a result of separatists’ attacks targeting a Minister of Defense convoy in the country’s Southwest region and the government’s “heavy-handed response.” [OHCHR Press Release; Guardian] Cameroon is obligated, under international human rights law, to ensure the rights to life and to humane treatment, among other rights.
Earlier this month, the International Criminal Court (ICC) pre-trial chamber ordered the ICC to establish a system of disseminating public information to and conducting outreach activities with the affected communities and victims of the situation in Palestine, a situation currently undergoing preliminary examination at the Court. The decision recognizes victims’ right to be heard in the context of the ICC’s work, and requires that outreach activities explain the ICC’s jurisdiction with regards to the situation in Palestine; provide information on the Court, including on the role of victims at each stage of proceedings; and respond to victims’ concerns. See ICC, Situation in the State of Palestine, ICC-01/18, Decision on Information and Outreach for the Victims of the Situation, 13 July 2018, paras. 14-16. The pre-trial chamber’s order marks the first time that the Court has promoted information and outreach activities as early as the preliminary examination stage. [Al Jazeera]
In the month of August, various universal and regional bodies will assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through interactive dialogues, the consideration of State and civil society reports, and the review of individual complaints. Three United Nations treaty bodies will meet in August to engage with States regarding their treaty obligations related to the prevention of torture, the elimination of racial discrimination, and the end of discrimination against persons with disabilities. Further, civil society can register this month to participate in the sessions of four treaty bodies that will meet in September to engage with States regarding their obligations related to the rights of migrant workers; children’s rights; economic, social, and cultural rights; and the rights of persons with disabilities, respectively. The Human Rights Council’s Advisory Committee and the Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Communications will also be in session to review thematic human rights issues and individual complaints. Additionally, two UN working groups will hold sessions on issues of involuntary disappearances and arbitrary detention, respectively.
The UN treaty body sessions and the hearings of the Inter-American Court may be watched via UN Web TV and the Inter-American Court’s website or Vimeo, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.
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In June, the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (the Assembly) elected four judges to replace vacancies on the 11-member African Court on Human and People’s Rights. [AfCHPR Press Release] See IJRC, African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights: 2018 Elections. The election occurred at the 33rd Ordinary Session of the Executive Council of the African Union in Nouakchott, Mauritania, during which the Assembly elected the following individuals: Imani Aboud (Tanzania), Stella Isibhakhomen Anukam (Nigeria), Ben Kioko (Kenya), and Blaise Tchikaya (Congo). [AfCHPR Press Release] See also AU Executive Council, Draft Agenda, AU Doc. EX.CL/Draft/1(XXXIII) (June 28-29, 2018), sec. X. Three of the judges were elected to six-year terms, while one judge was elected to serve a two-year term, being the remainder of the term for another judge who resigned prematurely. See IJRC, African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights: 2018 Elections. The judges will begin their terms at the first African Court session following the election, which is scheduled to begin on August 27, 2018 in Arusha, Tanzania. See AfCHPR, Calendar of Sessions. Read more
This month the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (COE) adopted guidelines and recommendations on the rights of children in the digital environment for all Member States of the Council of Europe. See Committee of Ministers, Recommendation CM/Rec(2018) 7 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on Guidelines to respect, protect, and fulfil the rights of the child in the digital environment (2018). While the guidelines are non-binding, they derive their content, in part, from existing binding COE legal conventions, as well as other non-binding COE and United Nations standards and recommendations, on children’s rights, business and human rights, privacy, and internet governance. The guidelines focus, in particular, on the rights to non-discrimination, freedom of expression and information, freedom of association, privacy, education, and protection and safety, as well as access to remedies. See id. Recognizing the significant positive and negative influences the digital environment – which includes all information and communication technologies (ICTs) – has on children’s lives, the guidelines make recommendations to Member States to develop legislation and policies that protect and promote the rights of the child in the digital environment, to cooperate and coordinate with the COE and public and private stakeholders in those efforts, and to ensure that businesses and other stakeholders respect children’s rights. See id. at sec. 1. Read more
Civil society and other stakeholders warned of consequences to human rights defenders and victims of rights abuses when the United States formally announced last month its decision to withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council. [HRW: Blame; HRW: Oppose; OHCHR Press Release: Dialogue] The decision – effective June 19, 2018, over a year before the end of the State’s term, which would have expired on December 31, 2019 – marks the first time a State has voluntarily left the Human Rights Council before serving its full term. It is the second time, though, a State has failed to complete its full term on the Human Rights Council; Libya was removed from the Council in 2011. [UN General Assembly Press Release] See U.S. Department of State, Remarks on the UN Human Rights Council.
The primary reasons listed by the United States for its departure include the Council’s alleged anti-Israel bias; the membership on the Council of States that commit human rights abuses, including Cuba, Venezuela, China, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and a failure of the Human Rights Council to reform itself, including in the election process. See U.S. Department of State, Remarks on the UN Human Rights Council. Additionally, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, asserted that key human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were also responsible for the U.S.’s departure. [HRW: Blame; HRW: Oppose] Civil society organizations have rejected the Ambassador’s claims, and have spoken out against the move, expressing concern that countries like China and Russia will take advantage of the absence of the U.S. to weaken human rights protections and programs, among other consequences. [HRW: Blame; HRW: Oppose] The United States has made other withdrawals from international commitments since the start of 2017, including its departures from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Iran nuclear deal, and Paris Agreement. [IJRC: Paris Agreement; NYT: Iran Nuclear Deal; Washington Post: TPP] Read more
In June, the United Nations Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued the first ever UN report detailing human rights abuses in Kashmir. [OHCHR Press Release] See OHCHR, Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir (2018). The report seeks to draw attention to the victims of the human rights violations created by the political situation in the region, with a focus on abuses since the July 2016 killing of a militant leader by Indian security forces, which sparked violent protests throughout the region. [OHCHR Press Release] See OHCHR, Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir, para. 1. Among the human rights abuses, the report finds cases of unlawful use of force by security forces, enforced or involuntary disappearances, sexual violence, and limitations on education, expression, assembly, and association. [OHCHR Press Release] See OHCHR, Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir, paras. 32-164. Additionally, the report finds that perpetrators act with impunity and that victims do not have adequate access to justice. [OHCHR Press Release] To address the human rights concerns, the OHCHR calls for an independent mechanism to further investigate human rights allegations in the Kashmir region. See OHCHR, Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir, 48. Human rights experts have urged the Indian government to allow the creation of such an investigation. [HRW] Both States, India and Pakistan, have committed to, and are legally obligated to, ensure certain rights, including the rights to life, prohibition of torture and inhuman treatment, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and education. Read more