Category Archives: international human rights

ECtHR: Mandatory Co-ed Swim Class Does Not Violate Religious Freedom

European Court of Human Rights
Credit: David Betzinger/ Council of Europe

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) unanimously held last week that requiring two Muslim girls below the age of puberty to participate in a school’s compulsory mixed gender swim class did not violate their parents’ right to religious freedom under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention). See ECtHR, Osmanoǧlu and Kocabaş v. Switzerland, no. 29086/12, Judgment of 10 January 2017. In its January 10th decision, the ECtHR heavily deferred to the State’s policy and findings in prior national proceedings, particularly with regard to Switzerland’s conclusion that the compulsory swim course was necessary for the social integration of students of foreign origin and equality between the sexes. In weighing the interests of the State and the parents, the Court noted that significant accommodations – such as full-body swimsuits – were available to mitigate any negative impact on the parents’ freedom of religion. See id. The ECtHR ruling is the first to address the narrow issue of religious freedom protections within the context of a compulsory school sporting activity requiring the exposure of the body. [Huffington Post] Read more

António Guterres Assumes UN Secretary General Office, Calls for Peace

Secretary General António Guterres takes the oath of office
Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The new United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, recently appealed to Member States to join him in committing to ensuring and sustaining peace and has further called for a holistic approach to the UN’s work through close coordination between the UN’s three pillars: peace and security, sustainable development, and human rights policies. Guterres, who assumed office on January 1, 2017, replacing Ban Ki-moon, will hold the post for a five-year period, ending December 31, 2021. While only a few days in to his term, Guterres’ initial remarks have shed light on his goals and priorities and include an appeal for peace, a call to the UN to support sustainable development and the Paris Agreement on climate change, and a notice to the UN as an organization to prepare for change in its internal management structure. See United Nations, Secretary-General-designate António Guterres’ remarks to the General Assembly on taking the oath of office. On linking the three pillars, he has said, “there is no peace without development and no development without peace; it is also true that there is no peace and sustainable development without respect for human rights.” [UN News Centre: Photo Feature]

Guterres was chosen for the role after the UN implemented a more transparent selection process, which included dialogues with Member States and civil society. [UN News Centre: Guterres; IJRC] Guterres, who is fluent in Portuguese, English, French, and Spanish, previously served as the 10th UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) from June 2005 to December 2015, as Portugal’s Prime Minister from 1995 to 2002, and as president of the European Council in 2000. [UN News Centre: Photo Feature] Read more

Inter-American Commission Finds Undocumented Migrants Entitled to Workplace Protections

The petitioners’ representatives at the Inter-American Commission
Credit: IACHR

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) recently released a decision vindicating the rights of two undocumented workers in the United States whose employers denied them medical benefits and wage replacement after they were injured on the job, in a context of domestic jurisprudence and policy limiting labor protections for undocumented migrants. See IACHR, Merits Report No. 50/16, Case 12.834, Undocumented Workers (United States of America), 30 November 2016. The IACHR ultimately found that the U.S. violated the workers’ rights to equality before the law and social security benefits enshrined in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (American Declaration). See id. This significant decision is the first to address the employment rights of undocumented migrants in the Americas and builds on the IACHR’s doctrine related to discrimination on the basis of immigration status. It includes a list of recommendations to the U.S. to ensure policies and practices that promote equal treatment and due process for undocumented workers. See id. Read more

IACtHR Holds Bolivia Responsible for Forced Sterilization in Landmark Judgment

The Inter-American Court hears from the parties in I.V. v. Bolivia
Credit: IACtHR

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) examined for the first time the issue of informed consent to medical treatment and forced sterilization, in its judgment in I.V. v. Bolivia, released last week. [IACtHR Press Release (in Spanish)] The case involves a Peruvian refugee who was sterilized by a tubal ligation performed without her informed consent in a Bolivian public hospital in 2000, resulting in permanent loss of her ability to conceive a child. See I/A Court H.R., I.V. v. Bolivia. Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations and Costs. Judgment of 30 November 2016. Series C No. 329, paras. 64-65 (in Spanish). I.V. had been admitted to a public hospital to give birth and was sterilized, immediately after doctors performed a Caesarean section, purportedly to prevent potential complications if I.V. were to become pregnant again in the future. See id. at paras. 63-64.

The IACtHR’s judgment expands the Court’s jurisprudence on the principle of informed consent, the (infrequently cited) right to dignity under the American Convention on Human Rights, and a State’s obligation to ensure adequate training for medical professionals. The IACtHR affirmed that informed consent is an essential precondition to medical treatment that is based on respect for individuals’ autonomy, dignity, and freedom to make their own decisions. See id. at para. 159. The International Justice Resource Center (IJRC), together with the International Human Rights Clinic at Santa Clara University, submitted an amicus curiae brief to the Court which provided supplementary analysis on these concepts and the human rights implicated by forced sterilization of women, a practice that is regrettably common in the Americas and throughout the world. Read more

New Clips – December 31, 2016

UN Security Council adopts resolution on Israeli settlements
Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias

Civil Society

  • In Argentina this week, human rights advocate Milagro Sala, and other members of the organization Tupac Amaru, were sentenced to 2-3 years probation, or suspended prison, for “aggravated damage” after participating in a protest. [Telesur]
  • A United Nations agency condemned the murder of journalist, Larry Que, of the Phillippines, and called for an investigation into the death as a means of ensuring the safety of other journalists, and protecting freedom of information. [UN News Centre]
  • Bahrain released and re-imprisoned activist Nabeel Rajab for comments he made on social media about the war in Yemen and acts of torture allegedly taking place in prisons. [Guardian]
  • On Monday in Egypt, a new media law that establishes a body with the power to revoke licenses, fine, or suspend publications, broadcasters, and foreign media, was passed and signed into law, heightening concerns over the freedom of press in the region. [Al Jazeera]
  • In Bangladesh, workers in the garment factories protested job loss and workers pay. [Guardian]
  • In the wake of recent civil society suppression in Ecuador, UN Special Rapporteurs have offered technical assistance to the government to address problematic legislation, and called for a stop to the dissolution of environmental and indigenous rights groups. [OHCHR Press Release]

Migrants & Refugees

  • This week, 36 child asylum seekers who had been living in the informal Calais refugee camp in France initiated individual legal action against the United Kingdom for allegedly failing to process their asylum applications in a timely and appropriate manner. [Guardian]
  • In Germany, 20,000 more migrants and refugees have chosen to leave the country in 2016 than in 2015, as Germany’s immigration policies become more restrictive. [Al Jazeera]

Armed Conflict, Violence, & Humanitarian Crises

  • On Thursday, the Syrian Army announced the implementation of a cease-fire between government and rebel forces in much of Syria through a deal between Russia, Syria, Iran, and Turkey; the agreement did not include “terrorist organizations.”. [Washington Post]
  • This week, the Colombian Congress approved a revised peace deal that provides amnesty to thousands of FARC and army members accused of minor crimes. [BBC]
  • A second phase of an Iraqi operation intended to reclaim Mosul began on Thursday. [Al Jazeera]
  • On Wednesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported air strikes in eastern Syria, which were said to have killed 22 civilians, including 10 children. [Al Jazeera]

Environment

  • For the first time in Spain, an anti-pollution measure in Madrid will ban the use of about half of the private cars on roadways on Thursday between 6:30 AM-9:00 PM, with some exceptions, in an attempt to aid public health. [Guardian]
  • In Bangladesh this week, experts emphasized the water crisis imminent in the region due to water wastage, pollution, declining groundwater, and increased salinity. [Inter Press Service]

Politics

  • The United States Secretary of State reiterated the U.S. commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict following a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement building; the U.S. had abstained from that vote, opening a rift in U.S.-Israeli relations. [Guardian]
  • British Prime Minister Theresa May reportedly intends to campaign on a promise to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, an obligatory and binding human rights instrument for all European Union Member States, which gives the European Court of Human Rights jurisdiction over complaints against the United Kingdom. [Rights Info]
  • On Thursday, in response to alleged Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, the Obama administration moved to shut down Russian compounds in the U.S. and declare 35 Russians “persona non grata.” [Washington Post]
  • On Friday in Turkey, a parliamentary commission approved a draft of a constitutional amendment that would give the president and vice president complete executive powers, the amendment will go to a referendum most likely in the spring. [Al Jazeera]
  • This week, the UN Secretary General praised the newly inaugurated parliament of Somalia and encouraged it to fill empty seats (particularly with women), establish a permanent constitution, and improve its credibility. [UN News Centre]
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