January 2017: Child Rights and Social Rights Committees in Session
In the month of January, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and the European Committee of Social Rights will convene to assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations by reviewing State reports and assessing individual complaints. In addition, three UN special rapporteurs will conduct country visits and the UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice will meet privately. The UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Situations will meet to review communications alleging gross human rights violations. Finally, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights will hear two cases – one concerning the extradition of a British national to the United States and one concerning a welfare recipient’s freedom to choose her place of residence.
UN treaty body sessions may be watched via UN Web TV and public hearings of the European Court can be viewed on the Court’s website. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.
Committee on the Rights of the Child 74th Session
The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) will hold its 74th session from January 16 to February 3 in Geneva, Switzerland. According to its programme of work, the CRC will engage in interactive dialogues with Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Estonia, Georgia, Malawi, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Serbia regarding their implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and, for some of those States, its optional protocols. The Democratic Republic of the Congo and Malawi are both under review for reports submitted pursuant to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography. The Committee will review in this session Estonia’s and Malawi’s submitted reports on compliance with the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.
Upon the conclusion of these discussions and after reviewing each State’s submitted report and civil society’s alternative reports if available, the CRC will issue concluding observations, which address the Committee’s concerns and contain recommendations for each State.
The CRC is also authorized to receive individual complaints by children concerning alleged violations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by States that have accepted this procedure. It considers those complaints privately and, to date, has only issued one decision concerning a complaint.
To view session documents, including State reports and information from civil society, visit the 74th session webpage. The session webpage also provides links to the pages where the webcast and audio recordings will be posted in the future.
UN Special Procedures
Various UN special procedures have activities scheduled for January. Three special rapporteurs will perform country visits and one working group will hold a private session in New York.
The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights is scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia from January 8 to 19.
The Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes is scheduled to visit the United Kingdom from January 16 to 27.
The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders is scheduled to visit Mexico from January 16 to 24.
The Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice is scheduled to hold its next session from January 23 to 27 in New York. Sessions are closed to the public.
These special procedures are tasked by the Human Rights Council with monitoring and reporting on specific human rights concerns throughout the world. During country visits, independent experts assess the overall human rights situation of a country as well as issues specific to their thematic focus. Experts often meet with members of civil society, government officials, and representatives of national human rights institutions in that country. Following each visit, experts prepare and submit reports to the Human Rights Council. See OHCHR, Country and Visits of Special Procedures.
Working Group on Situations 19th Session
The Working Group is a component of the Human Rights Council’s complaint procedure and is composed of five appointed members who serve one-year terms (renewable once). The group meets twice a year for five days at a time to review communications received from the Working Group on Communications. Based on its findings, the group prepares a report for presentation to the Human Rights Council on consistent patterns of gross human rights violations and makes recommendations to the Council regarding responsive measures.
European Committee of Social Rights 290th Session
The European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) will hold its 290th session from January 24 to 27 in Strasbourg, France. The ECSR assesses States’ compliance with the European Social Charter, which protects economic and social rights. During its sessions, the ECSR reviews collective complaints, examines national reports, and follows up on the Turin process, which aims to improve implementation of the Charter at the continental level.
According to the ECSR’s calendar for national reporting, in the year 2017, it will consider State reports concerning the Charter rights on health, social security, and social protection from France, Greece, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Bulgaria, Ireland, and Finland. The ECSR will consider simplified reports on the same topic from the Netherlands, Sweden, Croatia, Norway, Slovenia, Cyprus, and the Czech Republic. The States’ reports were due in October 2016. The Committee adopts and publishes conclusions at the end of the calendar year on each State’s compliance with the relevant provisions of the European Social Charter. The Committee’s conclusions may also include recommendations.
The European Committee of Social Rights is a regional human rights body that oversees the protection of certain economic and social rights in most of Europe. In addition to the reporting system, the Committee also receives collective complaints against States on violations of the European Social Charter.
More information, including a session agenda and synopsis, will be available on the ECSR’s sessions webpage.
European Court of Human Rights: Grand Chamber to Hear Two Cases
In January, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hold Grand Chamber hearings in two cases. See ECtHR, Calendar of Hearings. The first concerns the extradition of a suspected criminal to the United States and the second concerns the freedom to choose one’s place of residence in the context of a social welfare recipient.
Harkins v. the United Kingdom
Harkins v. the United Kingdom involves a British national who currently resides in the United Kingdom and is wanted for murder in the United States. The applicant was indicted in the United States in 2000 and arrested in the United Kingdom in 2003. In requesting his extradition, the United States guaranteed the United Kingdom that the death penalty would not be on the table in Harkins’ case. [ECtHR Press Release: Harkins]
The applicant contested the extradition before the European Court, citing Article 3 (the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) and Article 6 (the right to a fair trial) of the European Convention on Human Rights. He claimed that even if he does not receive the death penalty, the mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for a first-degree murder conviction constitutes inhuman or degrading treatment. [ECtHR Press Release: Harkins]
In its 2012 chamber judgment, the Court found that a life sentence would not be a violation, given that the applicant was an adult at the time of the alleged crime, has no known psychiatric disorder, and allegedly committed the murder during an attempted armed robbery. Moreover, if he did receive a life sentence and this was found to be disproportionately punitive, his sentence could be reduced. [ECtHR Press Release: Harkins]
The applicant first brought legal action before national courts and in 2007 submitted an application again before the European Court, which found no Convention obstacle to Harkins’ extradition. However, in light of subsequent Court rulings, including Vinter and Others v. the United Kingdom, the applicant renewed domestic legal proceedings and then submitted a second application to the European Court. In Vinter, the Court held that life imprisonment without the possibility of review violates Article 3 of the Convention. In considering Harkins’ arguments, UK national courts held that the European Court’s jurisprudence had not changed so as to make the applicant’s extradition a violation of the Convention. [ECtHR Press Release: January] The question of whether, or when, life imprisonment violates the European Convention is an ongoing debate at the Court. See ECtHR, Factsheet: Life Imprisonment. The Grand Chamber has held that such sentences must be de facto reducible. [IJRC]
The Grand Chamber will hear this case on January 11. In the meantime, Harkins’ extradition has been suspended.
Garib v. the Netherlands
Garib v. the Netherlands concerns a single mother of two who sought to relocate her family, but was denied the requisite housing permit. The applicant, whose only source of income is social welfare, moved to the Tarwewijk district in Rotterdam in 2005 and in 2007 sought to move to another property in the same area. By the time of the proposed move, the Tarwewijk district, which houses high numbers of unemployed persons, had been designated as an area in which taking up new residence required a housing permit. [ECtHR Press Release: January]
The applicant requested such a permit, but her request was denied because she did not meet the length of residence criteria (a minimum of six years living in Rotterdam immediately prior to the request) or qualify under any of the relevant exemptions. Citing Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 (freedom of movement and freedom to choose one’s residence) of the European Convention on Human Rights, the applicant claimed that the housing permit requirement unjustifiably interferes with her rights. [ECtHR Press Release: January]
In its chamber judgment, the Court found no violation, stating that the permit requirement is proportional to the government’s legitimate aim – namely, to “reverse the decline of impoverished inner-city areas and to improve the quality of life.” Moreover, the permitting process contains numerous safeguards to protect those who would not ordinarily qualify for the permit. [ECtHR Press Release: January]
The applicant requested that the Grand Chamber review the case, and it will hold a public hearing to hear from the parties on January 25.
For more information about UN treaty bodies, the European Court of Human Rights, the European Committee of Social Rights, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, and the UN special procedures, or for upcoming sessions and hearings, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.