Category Archives: health

Lack of Psychiatric Services in Language Detainee Understands Violates Rights

European Court of Human Rights
Credit: Adrian Grycuk via Wikimedia Commons

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held last week that Belgium violated the rights of Rene Rooman – a prisoner with mental health problems who only speaks German – because the State failed to provide access to a psychologist who could also speak German. See ECtHR, Rooman v. Belgium, no. 18052/11, ECHR 2017, Judgment of 18 July 2017 (in French). Following a criminal conviction in 1997, Rooman, a Belgian and German national, was put in detention and later placed in a psychiatric institution in Paifve. [ECtHR: Press Release] Rooman’s application before the ECtHR alleged violations of the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment and the right to liberty and security enshrined in articles 3 and 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights (European Convention), respectively. [ECtHR: Press Release] The ECtHR took into account prior efforts made by mental health bodies in the Paifve institution, but found that the national authorities’ failure to provide him with a psychologist who could speak German, one of three official languages in Belgium, was a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention because it caused Rooman distress that exceeded the unavoidable level of suffering that is inherent in detention. [ECtHR: Press Release] The ECtHR also considered whether there had been a violation of Article 5 (the right to liberty) but did not find a violation because Rooman was held in a facility appropriate for a person with a mental health disability. [ECtHR: Press Release] The European Court has previously held that when a State detains someone with a mental health disability and does not provide adequate medical care to the detriment of the detainee’s health, the State has violated the right to prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment. See, e.g., ECtHR, Claes v. Belgium, no. 43418/09, ECHR 2013, Judgment of 10 January 2013. Read more

UN Reports Civilian Casualties, Rights Abuses Remain High in Afghanistan

Tadamichi Yamamoto, head of UNAMA, at the UN Security Council
Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

On July 17, 2017, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released its mid-year report on the situation of civilians in Afghanistan, revealing that the level of civilian casualties remains high. [UNAMA Press Release] UNAMA confirmed a total of 5,243 civilian casualties (1,662 deaths and 3,581 injured) from January 1 to June 30, 2017, which represents a decrease of less than one percent from the same period in 2016, but reported an increase in deaths. See UNAMA, Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: Mid-Year Report 2017 (2017), at 3. The number of women and children killed and injured has increased this year, despite a decline in women and children casualties in 2016. [UNAMA Press Release] Civilian casualties in the first half of the year were primarily the result of anti-government forces’ use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), such as suicide bombs, in civilian-populated areas. See UNAMA, Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: Mid-Year Report 2017, at 3–4. Medical facilities and schools continue to be targeted, impeding Afghans’ access to health care and education. See id. at 13, 17–19.

In consideration of its findings, UNAMA recommends that anti-government forces stop targeting civilians, that government forces stop using weapons such as mortars and rockets that can have devastating effects in civilian areas, and that international militaries support and train Afghanistan’s national army, among other recommendations. [UNAMA Press Release] In a statement recognizing the high rates of death and injury recorded in the report, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights noted that the statistics on casualties do not depict the full extent of the loss and suffering, such as psychological trauma and displacement. [OHCHR Press Release] Afghanistan is a State party to the Rome Statute, Geneva Conventions, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and, therefore, the State must refrain from targeting civilians during non-international armed conflict and respect and protect the right to life.

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African Commission Declaration Recommends Expanded Protections for Human Rights Defenders

Reine Alapini-Gansou, the ACHPR Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, (right) sits with other ACHPR Commissioners
Credit: ACHPR

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPRrecently published the Cotonou Declaration on strengthening and expanding the protection of all Human Rights Defenders in Africa that recommends repealing harmful and discriminatory laws, ensuring compliance with existing international standards that impact human rights defenders, and developing standards on women human rights defenders, among other recommendations. Adopted earlier this year during the 2nd International Symposium on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in Africa held from March 27 to April 1, 2017, in Cotonou, Benin, civil society, national human rights institutions (NHRIs), and States in the region developed the Declaration. See ACommHPR, Cotonou Declaration on strengthening and expanding the protection of all Human Rights Defenders in Africa (adopted on 1 April 2017). The Commission’s Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Madame Reine Alapini-Gansou, organized the colloquium with the goal of strengthening the protection of human rights defenders in the pan-African region through an assessment of the progress made, and the development of new strategies capable of responding to the current needs of human right defenders. See ACommHPR, 60th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Intersession Activity Report (2017), para. 35. The Declaration identifies the abuse of counter-terrorism laws, undue restrictions on the right to freedom of association, violence and threats of violence against defenders and their families, reprisals, and the targeting of certain groups of defenders, among others, as challenges to the protection of human rights defenders, and recommends, in part, raising awareness through the documentation of violations and publication of reports. See Cotonou Declaration on strengthening and expanding the protection of all Human Rights Defenders in Africa (2017). This Declaration is one of seven declarations adopted by the ACHPR since its founding, and while the ACHPR has adopted resolutions on human rights defenders, the existing treaties, declarations, and general comments in the pan-African Human Rights System do not address human rights defenders specifically.

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July 2017: United Nations and Regional Human Rights Bodies in Session

Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland
Credit: Risuciu via Wikimedia Commons

In the month of July, various universal and regional bodies will assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations by engaging in interactive dialogues, considering State and civil society reports, conducting country visits, and reviewing individual complaints. Four United Nations treaty bodies will meet to engage with States regarding their treaty obligations related to the rights of women, civil and political rights, torture, and racial discrimination. A working group will meet to discuss complaints submitted to the Human Rights Council, an expert mechanism will meet to discuss the rights of indigenous peoples, and two UN special procedure mandate holders will conduct country visits. Regionally, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the European Committee of Social Rights will be in session. Additionally, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights will hear a case concerning the right to a fair trial in Croatia.

The UN treaty body sessions and the public hearings of the European Court and Inter-American Commission, may be watched via UN Web TV, the European Court’s website, and the Inter-American Commission’s website and Vimeo, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit IJRC’s Hearings & Sessions Calendar. Read more

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