Category Archives: international human rights

ECtHR: Failure to Provide Psychiatric Treatment Rendered Life Sentence Irreducible

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Courtroom_European_Court_of_Human_Rights_02

European Court of Human Rights
Credit: Adrian Grycuk

On April 26, 2016, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found that a life sentence was de facto irreducible because the applicant was denied medical treatment that could have positively affected his pardon requests and, consequently, held that the Netherlands violated the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), See ECtHR, Murray v. the Netherlands [GC], no. 10511/10 ECHR 2016, Judgment of 26 April 2016, para. 127. The applicant was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1979. Id. at para. 15. The judgment of the domestic court of first instance included a psychiatrist report which stated that, while he was criminally liable for the act, he suffered from a “pathological disturbance” and advised that he undergo treatment to avoid relapsing and committing further crimes. Id. at para. 12. Before the European Court, he argued that because he never received such treatment, the life sentence was irreducible and he was denied any hope of release. Id. at para. 87. In its 2013 judgment, a chamber of the ECtHR found no violation of Article 3 because the applicant’s case had been reviewed, providing a prospect of release, and the State may refuse to pardon a prisoner where that person poses a danger to society. See ECtHR, Murray v. the Netherlands, no. 10511/10, Judgment of 10 December 2013, at paras. 54-59.

The Court’s decision expands on the precedent of Vinter and Others v. the United Kingdom, in which it held that whole-life sentences without possibility of review violate Article 3, to consider the duty to provide an opportunity for rehabilitation in the context of a prisoner in need of treatment for mental health problems. See ECtHR, Vinter and Others v. the United Kingdom [GC] nos. 66069/09, 130/10 and 3896/10, Judgment of 9 July 2013. The decision in Vinter, among others, has given rise to tensions in the United Kingdom, with some politicians calling for measures to limit the ECtHR’s authority in the country’s legal system. [BBC] Read more

UN Committee Finds Denial of Accommodation for Jury Duty Discriminatory

Disabilities: 5th session of Conference of the States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities starts today
Disabilities: 5th session of Conference of the States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities starts today

State Parties to the ICPRD hold a convention at the UN on best practices and challenges
Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) recently found that Australia violated the rights of two deaf people who were called up for jury service but told that they could not participate because sign language or real-time steno-captioning could not be provided. See CRPD, Gemma Beasley v. Australia, Communication No. 11/2013, Views of 25 April 2016; CRPD, Michael Lockrey v. Australia, Communication No. 13/2013, Views of 25 April 2016. In two separate opinions, the CRPD found that Australia violated both individuals’ rights to equality and non-discrimination, accessibility, access to justice, and freedom of expression and access to information as guaranteed under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (ICRPD). See CRPD, Gemma Beasley v. Australia; CRPD, Michael Lockrey v. Australia.

While the CRPD has discussed the right of accessibility previously, these two cases are the first instance of the CRPD finding a violation of accessibility in the context of jury duty and in the context of the need for sign language or real-time steno-captioning accommodations. However, these cases build off of the CRPD’s past comments on accessibility as one of the main principles of the ICRPD that should be viewed in relation to equality and nondiscrimination. States must provide reasonable accommodation, the CRPD has commented, when a person with a disability needs it in a particular situation in order to enjoy rights on an equal basis with other members of society. See CRPD, General Comment No. 2 (2014) Article 9: Accessibility, UN Doc. CRPD/C/GC/2, 22 May 2014, paras. 4, 26. Read more

Gambia Criticized for Most Recent Detentions, Mistreatment of Protesters

Yaya_Jammeh
Yaya_Jammeh

President Jammeh
Credit: Jagga

Human rights monitors have criticized Gambian authorities’ detention and alleged torture of political protesters, including the reported death in custody of a political opposition leader, as the international community pays closer attention to a government known to carry out extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary arrests. [okayafrica; HRW] The Gambian government has charged protestors associated with the opposition party with rioting, illegal protest, and incitement to violence following demonstrations for electoral reforms and subsequent protests of the death in custody of United Democratic Party (UDP) official Solo Sandeng, who was reportedly tortured to death in State custody earlier this month. [News24]

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and several non-governmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and ARTICLE 19 have condemned the alleged actions, which potentially implicate the rights to life, free expression, free assembly, and the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, and urged Gambia to investigate Sandeng’s death and release the detained protestors. [ACHPR Press Release; OHCHR Press Release; HRW] These recent repressive movements are part of a larger pattern of silencing opposition voices in Gambia that has characterized President Jammeh’s rule for more than a decade. See Human Rights Watch, State of Fear (2015). Read more

Regional Forum on Business and Human Rights Convenes in Qatar

A general view during the United Nations Forum Business and Human Rights. 4 December 2012. Photo by Jean-Marc FerrŽ
A general view during the United Nations Forum Business and Human Rights. 4 December 2012. Photo by Jean-Marc FerrŽ

First annual business and human rights forum in Geneva
Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

The United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights held its first Asia Regional Forum on Business and Human Rights from April 19 to 20 in Doha, Qatar, bringing together governments, business representatives, trade unions, civil society organizations, affected communities, academics, and others to discuss the region’s implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (“Ruggie Principles”). [OHCHR Press Release: First UN Regional Forum] The Asia Regional Forum explored serious ongoing human rights challenges in the region and potential approaches to enhance corporate due diligence and accountability with regard to respect for human rights. This event is part of a series of regional forums on the impacts of business and human rights organized by the UN Working Group, and follows the 2014 African Regional Forum and the 2013 Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Forum. The Asia Regional Forum will also inform the UN Working Group’s yearly UN Forum on Business and Human Rights to be held in Geneva, Switzerland from November 14 to 16, 2016. See OHCHR, 2016 Asia Regional Forum on Business and Human Rights. Read more

Kosovo Panel: Health Conditions in UN Camps Violated Human Rights

Security Council Meeting
Security Council resolutions 1160 (1998), 1199 (1998), 1203 (1998), 1239 (1999) and 1244 (1999)
Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (S/2015/303)
- Farid Zarif, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).
- Hashim Thai, Representative of the Kosovo authorities
will addresses the Security Council meeting on the UN Assistance Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).
Security Council Meeting Security Council resolutions 1160 (1998), 1199 (1998), 1203 (1998), 1239 (1999) and 1244 (1999) Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (S/2015/303) - Farid Zarif, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). - Hashim Thai, Representative of the Kosovo authorities will addresses the Security Council meeting on the UN Assistance Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) addresses the UN Security Council
Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

The United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) violated the human rights of people who lived in its camps following the 1999 conflict there by exposing them to unsafe living conditions and lead poisoning, according to the body established to evaluate human rights complaints against UNMIK. On April 8, 2016, the Human Rights Advisory Panel rendered its opinion in the case of N.M and Others v. UNMIK, which involved 138 complainants who lived in UN camps that were built on contaminated land. [Human Rights Advisory Panel Press Release] UNMIK established the camps were established to temporarily house people displaced by fighting between Serbian and Kosovar armed groups. [Human Rights Advisory Panel Press Release] The complainants, members of the Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities in Kosovo, claimed to have suffered from lead poisoning and other health problems caused by both contamination from the nearby smelting and mining complex and by poor hygiene and living conditions in the camps. [Human Rights Advisory Panel Press Release]

The Panel, the only body ever established to consider rights abuses by a UN field mission, found that the conditions violated multiple human rights treaties, including the European Convention on Human Rights (European Convention), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). [Human Rights Advisory Panel Press Release; NY Times] The decisions of the Panel are non-binding, and it is up to UNMIK whether to accept and act on the recommendations made. However, the decision is seen as a long-fought victory for the affected individuals, who suffered miscarriages, stillbirths, developmental disorders, paralysis, and death. [NY Times; Human Rights Advisory Panel Press Release] The UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák-Ndiaye, and UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Chaloka Beyani, both recently urged the UN to provide compensation and an apology to the victims in light of the Panel’s decision. [OHCHR Press Release] Read more

ECtHR: No Violation in Police Killing of London Bombing Suspect

Courtroom_European_Court_of_Human_Rights_03
Courtroom_European_Court_of_Human_Rights_03

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

On March 30, 2016 the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held that the United Kingdom had fulfilled its procedural obligations under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to conduct an effective investigation into the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes by government agents, who wrongly suspected him of terrorist activity. See ECtHR, Armani Da Silva v. the United Kingdom [GC], no. 5878/08, ECHR 2016, Judgment of 30 March 2016, paras. 16, 29-37, 286. The police officers were investigating the July 2005 suicide bombings in the London Underground when they mistook de Menezes for a known suspect because he used a doorway that also led to the apartment building where the suspect lived. Id. at paras. 29-30. None of the officers involved were prosecuted for the killing.

The procedural obligation under Article 2, which the Court held that the United Kingdom had met, requires an effective investigation that is sufficient to determine the factual circumstances around the incident, including whether the use of force was justified under those circumstances, and subsequent punishment of the agents responsible when appropriate. Id. at para. 286. The Court held, setting a precedent for future cases involving State authorities’ use of lethal force, that simply because it was State authorities that used lethal force does not require prosecution of those individuals if the evidence suggests that a conviction is unlikely. Id. at para. 272-73. Read more

RightsCon Silicon Valley 2016: Intersection of Human Rights and Technology

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IMAG1076

Edward Snowden speaks on a panel at RightsCon 2016
Credit: IJRC

RightsCon, an annual conference on technology and human rights, took place in San Francisco this year with three days of panel discussions. The conference brings together human rights defenders, lawyers, engineers, government officials, corporate representatives, and technologists to discuss technology’s benefits as a tool for protecting human rights and its pitfalls as a catalyst for rights abuses.

The conference was held from March 30 to April 1, 2016 and included over 250 sessions and more than 1,000 participants. The conference featured speakers such as the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye; the Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information at UNESCO, Frank William La Rue; the OSCE Special Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović; the President and Chief Legal Officer of Microsoft, Brad Smith; transparency activist Edward Snowden; Executive Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Cindy Cohn; and, Ron Wyden, the United States Senator for the state of Oregon. The panel discussions addressed topics including freedom of expression, violent extremism, government surveillance of communities of color, online harassment, digital tools for human rights defenders, and the right to privacy. The following brief descriptions represent a portion of the discussions that took place at RightsCon this year. Read more

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