The Inter-American Court of Human Rights
On January 9, 2018, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), the judicial organ of the human rights system in the Americas, published an advisory opinion holding that Member States of the American Convention on Human Rights have an obligation to permit transgender individuals to change their name and gender on identity documents, to recognize same-sex marriage, and to ensure the economic rights of those in same-sex relationships. [IACtHR Press Release (in Spanish only)] See I/A Court H.R., Obligaciones Estatales en Relación Con el Cambio de Nombre, la Identidad de Género, Y los Derechos Derivados de un Vínculo Entre Parejas del Mismo Sexo. Advisory Opinion OC-24/17. 24 November 2017, para. 229 (in Spanish only). In 2016, Costa Rica filed a request for the advisory opinion, asking the Inter-American Court to clarify two questions arising under the American Convention. The first question was whether States are obligated to provide procedures for name, photo, and gender changes in accordance with an individual’s gender identity, and whether Costa Rica’s practices conform with this obligation. The second question was whether States are obligated to recognize the economic rights derived from a bond between same-sex persons. [IACtHR Press Release] See Obligaciones Estatales en Relación Con el Cambio de Nombre, la Identidad de Género, Y los Derechos Derivados de un Vínculo Entre Parejas del Mismo Sexo. 24 November 2017, para. 1. The Inter-American Court answered in the affirmative to Costa Rica’s questions. [IACtHR Press Release] The finding applies to all 23 States parties to the American Convention.
The opinion has received international recognition for its advancement of LGBTQ rights; the recently appointed Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, has expressed that “the protections described by the Court in this Advisory Opinion will have an extremely positive impact in addressing stigma, promoting socio-cultural inclusion and furthering legal recognition of gender identity.” [OHCHR Press Release] Although Costa Rica is one of several Latin American countries that do not currently permit same-sex marriage, officials from the Costa Rican government are willing to embrace the Court’s opinion, with Costa Rica’s Vice-President Ana Helena Chacón quoted as saying that the decision would be adopted “in its totality.” [Reuters; BBC]. Read more
President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski
Credit: Cobot156 via Wikimedia Commons
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), two United Nations special rapporteurs, and one UN working group recently condemned Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’s decision to issue a humanitarian pardon on December 24, 2017 to former President Alberto Fujimori, who was convicted and sentenced in 2009 to 25 years in prison for murder, kidnapping, and crimes against humanity during his presidency; the IACHR and the UN human rights experts question whether the decision meets international human rights legal requirements, and asserts that it undermines the efforts of victims and witnesses who brought Fujimori to justice. [IACHR Press Release; OHCHR Press Release; HRW: Pardon] See Resolución Suprema No. 281-2017-JUS (2017) [Spanish Only]. The pardon, issued officially for humanitarian reasons due to Fujimori’s health, absolves Fujimori of his convictions and releases him from his sentence. [IACHR Press Release] Peru is obligated under international human rights law to investigate alleged rights violations and punish perpetrators, and not to implement pardons or amnesty laws that undermine the rights to a fair trial and to judicial protection. [IACHR Press Release; OHCHR Press Release]
Some Peruvians and UN experts believe that the pardon was politically motivated because of a potential connection between Fujimori’s pardon and the cancelled impeachment proceedings against President Kuczynski; the impeachment proceedings were dropped just three days after the impeachment hearing of President Kuczynski, who survived a removal vote with the help of a 10-person coalition that crossed party lines to abstain from the removal vote, led by Fujimori’s son Kenji Fujimori. Seven of the 10 lawmakers communicated with Fujimori leading up to the vote. [Reuters; HRW: Pardon; OHCHR Press Release] President Kuczynski’s decision triggered street protests and unrest in Peru. [OHCHR Press Release; Guardian: Pardon] Read more
Palais des Nations
Credit: UN Photo/Violaine Martin
In January 2018, 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, interactive dialogues, country visits, and hearings. One United Nations treaty body will meet throughout January to assess States’ compliance with their treaty obligations related to the rights of the child. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group will also be in session and will conduct interactive dialogues with representatives from 14 States. Three UN special procedures mandate holders will conduct country visits, and an additional special procedure working group will hold sessions. Regionally, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) and the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) will be in session, and the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hear two cases related to the rights of liberty and security, the right to freedom of assembly, the right to a fair trial, and the limitation of restrictions on rights.
The UN treaty body’s session may be watched via UN Web TV. The IACtHR’s session may be viewed on its website or Vimeo page, and the ECtHR’s hearings may be viewed on its webcast.
To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar. Read more
Commissioners Margarette May Macaulay and Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) presented a report on December 5, 2017 that, for the first time in the region, details Member States’ human rights legal obligations to address the situation of poverty and extreme poverty in the Americas through a human rights perspective. See IACHR, Poverty and Human Rights in the Americas (2017), para. 18 (in Spanish only). The Commission’s report acknowledges that poverty is interrelated with certain rights, both civil and political and economic and social, such as the rights to work, education, health, and access to justice, and, therefore, recommends that States focus on ensuring rights for all, including groups in vulnerable situations, as a method for addressing poverty and extreme poverty. See id. at paras. 12, 98, 494. The report also highlights the disproportionate impact of poverty on groups in vulnerable situations; recognizes the barriers to access to justice that poverty presents; and makes recommendations to Member States, such as taking a human rights perspective over a welfare approach to addressing poverty, among others. See id. at paras. 34, 98. Additionally, the report recognizes different definitions of poverty and extreme poverty, although it does not explicitly decide on definitions for each, but the report does state that extreme poverty is a grave problem that impacts the exercise and enjoyment of all human rights. See id. at paras. 2, 18. This is the first report since the IACHR established the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights. [IACHR Press Release: ESCER; IJRC] Read more
Council of Europe building in Strasbourg, France
Credit: Filip Maljković via Wikimedia Commons
On December 5, 2017, the Council of Europe’s (COE) Committee of Ministers triggered formal infringement proceedings against Azerbaijan for the State’s repeated refusal to comply with the 2014 judgment in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) case of Ilgar Mammadov v. Azerbaijan. [Council of Europe Press Release] The next step is for the ECtHR to review Azerbaijan’s compliance with Article 1 (obligation to ensure the rights and freedoms of the Convention) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in light of its previous ruling; if the Court finds the State in violation of the ECHR, Azerbaijan will be referred back to the Committee of Ministers, and it could lose its voting rights, or potentially even its membership, in the Council of Europe. See Statute of the Council of Europe (adopted 5 May 1949, entered into force 3 August 1949), ETS No. 001, art. 8. In the case that prompted the infringement proceedings, Ilgar Mammadov v. Azerbaijan, the ECtHR ruled that Azerbaijan’s detention of the political activist Ilgar Mammadov violates the right to liberty in the ECHR and is motivated by Azerbaijani officials’ desire to silence and punish Mammadov for criticizing the government; Mammadov remains in detention today. See ECtHR, Ilgar Mammadov v. Azerbaijan, no. 15172/13, ECHR 2014, Judgment of 22 May 2014, para. 143. [Council of Europe Press Release] This is the first time that the Committee of Ministers has initiated infringement proceedings, the only procedure by which Member States of the Council of Europe can be held accountable for failure to comply with a ECtHR’s judgment. [Council of Europe Press Release] The decision to bring infringement proceedings against Azerbaijan comes among continued concern over some countries’ non-enforcement of ECtHR judgments. See Pierre-Yves Le Borgen, Implementation of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights: 9th report (2017), para. 6. [EURACTIV; Open Dialogue Foundation] Read more
Justice Solomy Balungi Bossa of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights
On November 24, 2017, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) held that Rwanda violated Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza’s right to freedom of opinion and expression, as well as her right to an adequate defense. See AfCHPR, Ingabire Victoire Umuhoza v. The Republic of Rwanda, App. No. 003/2014, Judgment of 24 November 2017, paras. 173(viii)-(ix). Specifically, the African Court held that Rwanda violated the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) because the criminal conviction and sentence imposed on Ingabire for a speech that, the African Court found, did not minimize the genocide was a disproportional and unnecessary restriction on her freedom of speech; however, the Court further found that the law criminalizing the minimization of genocide may impose a legitimate restriction on the right to freedom of expression for purposes of preserving public order and national security. See id. at paras. 141, 161-163. The Court’s analysis on the right to freedom expression draws on the only other judgment from the Court to weigh on an alleged violation of that right and relies, as that previous judgment did, on comparative international human rights jurisprudence to develop the right to freedom of expression in its own case law, including to recognize that the right protects opinions that “offend, shock or disturb.” See id. at paras. 120-63; AfCHPR, Lohé Issa Konaté v. Burkina Faso, App. No. 004/2013, Judgment of 5 December 2014.
While Ingabire’s case was pending before the Court, Rwanda moved to withdrawal its declaration allowing individuals to appeal directly to the AfCHPR; while the withdrawal has gone into effect, it does not affect those cases that the Court already had jurisdiction over, including Ingabire’s case. [IJRC] See AfCHPR, Ingabire Victoire Umuhoza v. The Republic of Rwanda, App. No. 003/2014, Ruling on Jurisdiction, 5 September 2016. Read more
Genocide memorial near Srebrenica
Credit: Michael Büker via Wikimedia Commons
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has issued judgments in its final two cases ahead of the tribunal’s scheduled closure in December. On November 22, 2017, the ICTY – the ad hoc tribunal established by the United Nations to address war crimes committed after 1991 in the territory of the former Yugoslavia – convicted and sentenced Ratko Mladić, also known as the “Butcher of Bosnia,” to life imprisonment for genocide, crimes against humanity, and other war crimes. [ICTY Press Release: Mladić; HRW] In the wake of his conviction, the international human rights community has shown strong support for the Mladić decision, with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein hailing the judgment as a momentous conviction and describing Mladić as the “epitome of evil.” [OHCHR Press Release] On November 29, 2017, the ICTY issued a judgment on appeal in the case Prosecutor v. Prlić et al., which will be the Tribunal’s final decision. [ICTY Press Release: Prlić et al.] The Appeals Chamber upheld the sentences of the six individuals, who remain convicted of crimes against humanity, violations of the laws or customs of war, and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions for crimes committed against Bosnian Muslims. [ICTY Press Release: Prlić et al.] The ICTY, which has its seat in The Hague, Netherlands, will formally close on December 31, 2017 after 24 years of operation and concluding proceedings for 161 accused. [ICTY Press Release: Prlić et al.] See ICTY, Key Figures of the Cases. Read more
On December 4, 2017, the United Nations Human Rights Council appointed Victor Madrigal-Borloz as the new Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity to replace Vitit Muntarbhorn, who resigned for personal reasons. [OHCHR Press Release: Announcement] Madrigal-Borloz is expected to begin his term as the new Independent Expert on January 1, 2018. [OutRight International] The Human Rights Council first created this special procedure mandate in a resolution adopted in November 2016 after a controversial debate. [OHCHR Press Release: New Mandate] The mandate is up for renewal in 2019, at which time, assuming the mandate is renewed, Madrigal-Borloz will be able to serve an additional three years. [OutRight International] In addition to being the current Secretary General of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, Madrigal-Borloz has served on the Board of Directors of the International Justice Resource Center since 2011. Read more
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) recently published a report identifying the perpetual and systemic forms of discrimination suffered by indigenous women in the Americas. See IACHR, Indigenous Women and Their Human Rights in the Americas (2017). The IACHR composed the report in response to the regular information it has received on the pervasiveness of discrimination against indigenous women in the form of physical, psychological, and sexual violence; barriers to access to services; and other impacts on personal integrity. See id. at paras. 1-2. To gather information for the report, the IACHR drew from its hearings, examination of individual complaints, thematic reports, country visits, questionnaires, meetings with indigenous women, and cases decided by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. See id. at paras. 4, 13-29, 87. In the report, the IACHR identifies and examines three dimensions of discrimination: violence against indigenous women; access to justice; and the protection of their economic, social, and cultural rights.
Building on the IACHR’s previous work on discrimination against women and the rights of indigenous persons, the report purposefully interweaves existing standards on the rights of women and the rights of indigenous peoples to effectively protect indigenous women. See id. at paras. 11, 51, 58. The IACHR provides seven guiding principles and ultimately makes several recommendations to States. In particular, the guiding principles emphasize taking an intersectional approach to address the multidimensional discrimination indigenous women face, and both the guiding principles and the recommendations highlight the importance of involving indigenous women in policy making, processes affecting their rights, and in different levels of government. See id. at paras. 38-41, 44, 45, 231. Read more
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights holds a thematic hearing.
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 reports, country visits, and thematic and contentious hearings. Two United Nations treaty bodies will continue their sessions that began in November on issues concerning racial discrimination and torture. Ten United Nations special procedures mandate holders and groups of experts will conduct country visits across five continents in December, and one UN group of experts will hold sessions. Regionally, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will continue its session and hold thematic hearings on specific human rights issues in the United States and Canada. The European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) will hold sessions, and the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hear two cases related to the right to assistance of counsel and the application of Islamic law in national courts, respectively.
The UN treaty bodies’ sessions may be watched via UN Web TV. The IACHR sessions may be viewed on its YouTube channel. The ECtHR hearings may be viewed on its webcast.
To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar. Read more