Children in Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan
Credit: UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The ongoing civil war in Syria has uprooted more than in 4.2 million Syrian refugees and 7.6 million internally displaced persons, and these numbers are predicted to increase. [UNHCR Press Release] A survey of individuals at a UNHCR refugee camp in Turkey revealed that more than half of them left Syria because it is too dangerous to stay, often noting that government forces had destroyed their homes or threatened them with violence. [Washington Post] U.S. President Barack Obama stated that Syrian individuals seeking to enter the United States are “themselves victims of terrorism.” [International Business Times] Indeed, the numbers of registered refugees reported by UNHCR only include those fleeing Syria out of fear of persecution, and do not include economic migrants. See UNHCR, Refugees. Moreover, although coverage has focused heavily on the flows of people into Western Europe or across the Atlantic, nearly 90 percent of Syrian refugees have fled to neighboring countries, including Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. See UNHCR, Syria Regional Refugee Response.
However, in the aftermath of the recent terrorist attacks on Paris, some politicians in Europe and the United States have proposed limiting or stopping their countries’ acceptance of refugees and have encouraged public xenophobia. [NY Times: House Bill; Reuters: Europe; Spiegel] In response to the refugee crisis, human rights organizations such as Amnesty International have urged States to ratify the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention) and the 1967 Protocol, establish fair asylum procedures, and ensure access to basic services, such as health and education. See Amnesty International, The Global Refugee Crisis: A Conspiracy of Neglect (2015).
Leaving aside arguments of morality and decency, this post reviews governmental reactions to this humanitarian crisis in view of their existing international legal obligations with regard to accepting and hosting refugees. Read more
Composition of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in the case of Alex Thomas v. Tanzania.
On November 20, 2015, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) issued its judgment in the case of Alex Thomas v. Tanzania, which concerned a complaint brought a man serving a mandatory minimum thirty-year prison sentence for armed robbery. He alleged that the Tanzanian courts had violated his due process rights by trying him in absentia and by failing to resolve his appeal for more than eight years, during which time his request for legal aid also went unanswered. He also argued that Tanzania did not have jurisdiction to prosecute him for a crime that occurred across the border in Kenya. The African Court held that Tanzania had violated Mr. Thomas’ right to a fair trial, particularly his rights: to legal assistance, to be tried within a reasonable time by an impartial court, and to an appeal, as required under Article 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter). The tribunal also found the denial of due process to violate Article 14(3)(d) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). See AfCHPR, Alex Thomas v. Tanzania, App. No. 005/2013, Judgment of 20 November 2015, para. 161. The judgment marks the twenty-fourth application to be finalized by the African Court, which has now decided five of those complaints on the merits. See AfCHPR, Finalised Cases. Watch the African Court’s presentation of the judgment online. Read more
Participants in the NGO Forum
Credit: African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights
During its most recent session, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) welcomed two new commissioners; examined four States’ human rights records; heard activity reports from its special mechanisms; and focused particular attention on the rights of women, implementation of ACHPR decisions, its relationship with non-governmental organizations and with national human rights institutions, and the intersections between international humanitarian law and human rights standards. The 57th Ordinary Session took place from November 4 to 11 and 18, 2015 in Banjul, the Gambia and the agenda included consideration of the periodic reports of Algeria, Burkina Faso, Kenya, and Sierra Leone. Prior to the session, members of civil society gathered in Banjul for the NGO Forum and 31st African Human Rights Book Fair. Read more
The UN Security Council considers the situation in Burundi.
Credit: UN Photo
Amid an ongoing human rights and political crisis in which hundreds have lost their lives, civil society and human rights bodies are calling on Burundian authorities to avoid inciting violence, put a stop to attacks against advocates and journalists, and cooperate with monitoring efforts. On November 12, 2015, the UN Security Council unanimously voted to adopt a resolution condemning the killings and human rights abuses in Burundi and threatening possible sanctions against responsible parties. [The Guardian] The resolution came at the same time as the United Nations (UN) and African Union (AU) met to discuss moving peacekeepers from the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo to Burundi. [The Guardian] The international and regional actions seek to end a spate of violence and repression that began in April 2015 surrounding the re-election of President Pierre Nkurunziza in a vote boycotted by the opposition. [VOA News] The political unrest, which has led to over 240 killings and an estimated 200,000 displaced, now threatens to devolve into civil war and mass atrocities that some are warning could resemble the 1994 Rwandan genocide. [VOA News] Read more
European Court of Human Rights
On November 5, 2015, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) released its judgment in Yagublu v. Azerbaijan, a case that has drawn international attention as representative of Azerbaijan’s crackdown on political dissent and freedom of expression. See ECtHR, Yagublu v. Azerbaijan, no. 31709/13, Judgment of 5 November 2015. The application concerned Tofig Yagublu, an independent Azerbaijani journalist and the deputy chair of the opposition Musavat party, who was detained and accused of inciting the violent anti-government riots he was covering for his newspaper. The Court held that by depriving the applicant of his liberty without having reasonable suspicion of a criminal offense, Azerbaijan violated his rights under Article 5 (right to liberty and security) of the European Convention on Human Rights (Convention). Read more
The Human Rights Committee during its 115th Session
Credit: UN Treaty Body Webcast
During the month of November 2015, six United Nations human rights mechanisms will meet in Geneva, Switzerland. The UN Human Rights Committee, Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee), Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group, Committee Against Torture (CAT), Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SPT), and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) will each be holding sessions, during which they will review States’ compliance with the relevant human rights standards, consider individual complaints, and discuss best practices. Video of the public portions of these sessions is available on UN Treaty Body Webcast or UN Web TV. Read more
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) recently added a new section to its website concerning friendly settlements and published its Handbook on the Use of the Friendly Settlement Mechanism in the IACHR Petition and Case System (Handbook) to inform petitioners about the friendly settlement procedure and best practices. The friendly settlement process allows petitioners and States to engage in a dialogue to reach an agreement concerning reparations for the alleged victims in a non-contentious manner, and without obtaining a decision on the merits from the IACHR. As of July 2015, the IACHR has approved 121 friendly settlement agreements, in which the aggrieved parties have secured reparations including economic compensation, measures of restitution, measures of rehabilitation, measures of satisfaction, and guarantees of non-repetition. See IACHR, Friendly Settlements.
For more information about the impact of friendly settlement agreements, a catalog of agreements, and informational videos and graphics, visit the Commission’s new webpage dedicated to friendly settlement agreements. Read more
The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR), European Union (EU), World Bank, and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) are sponsoring the 2nd Continental Judicial Dialogue, entitled “Connecting National and International Justice” from November 4 to 6, 2015 in Arusha, Tanzania. The dialogue will bring together members of national, regional, and continental courts and human rights bodies to share information for improving judicial administration, ensuring access to judicial protection of human rights within the African continent, and exchanging information and jurisprudence.
The proposed topics of discussion include: judicial reforms; recent developments and trends in human rights jurisprudence, particularly with respect to the interpretation and application of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Banjul Charter), regional human rights instruments and domestic constitutions; continuing judicial education and management of judicial institutions; and experiences from other continents. See AfCHPR, Concept Note for the Second African Judicial Dialogue: “Connecting National and International Justice.”
President of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Justice Augustino Ramadhani, stated that the dialogue will include 200 delegates from African Union Member States, among them chief justices, presidents of supreme courts and constitutional courts, and members of academia, national judiciaries, and the media, among others. Justice Ramadhani also stated the dialogue will address human rights concerns with respect to electoral processes and noted that the dialogue will take place shortly before Uganda and other African countries are preparing for or holding elections. [KFM]
For more information about the Second Continental Judicial Dialogue, including the draft program and concept note, visit the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ website dedicated to the dialogue. Read more
Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights
Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe
On August 4, 2015, Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights (Special Rapporteur) submitted his report evaluating the World Bank’s human rights policy to the UN General Assembly. The World Bank, whose goals are to eradicate poverty and promote shared prosperity, spent $61 billion supporting developing countries last year. See UN General Assembly, Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights (Philip Alston (Special Rapporteur)), A/70/274* (2015). [The Guardian] However, the Special Rapporteur’s report concludes that the World Bank’s policy regarding human rights is “incoherent, counterproductive, and unsustainable,” and this has generally created a “human rights-free zone.” [Open Democracy] In reaching this conclusion, the report examines the World Bank’s legal framework, policy analysis, and operations. The report emphasizes the need for the World Bank to adopt a comprehensive human rights policy, particularly because such a policy would require the institution to engage in a discussion of States’ obligations under international treaties and the interpretation of specific human rights, consider current development theory, and align itself with other lenders’ policies. The report concludes by making recommendations about the creation of a human rights policy at the World Bank. See Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, UN Doc. A/70/274*, 4 August 2015. Read more
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is holding its 156th session from October 17 to 28, 2015 in Washington, D.C. [IACHR Press Release] The IACHR will conduct public hearings in four cases on its docket, and receive information from States and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on the 53 human rights issues, ranging from the human rights situation of LGBTI people, to the silencing of human rights defenders in Latin America, to the right to nationality in the Dominican Republic.
Live webcasts of the hearings are on the IACHR website. Video recordings and photographs of past hearings may be quickly accessed on the 156th Session webpage (in Spanish only), or via the hearing search page. Read more