Category Archives: international human rights

Attacks on South Sudanese Civilians, Humanitarian Workers Prompt International Response

Security Council visits South Sudan.  12 August 2014

Arrival of SC Delegation at Juba International Airport.
Security Council visits South Sudan. 12 August 2014 Arrival of SC Delegation at Juba International Airport.

A United Nations Security Council delegation visits South Sudan
Credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

In South Sudan, opposing armed forces backing President Kirr and Vice President Machar may have committed war crimes by attacking civilians and humanitarian personnel and facilities in recent weeks, according to UN representatives, prompting a decision by the African Union to send additional troops to join the UN peacekeeping force there. [NPR; UN News Centre: Juba; OHCHR Press Briefing] Renewed outbreaks of violence in South Sudan have displaced tens of thousands and killed hundreds of civilians and humanitarian aid workers, amid widespread hunger and a suspected cholera outbreak. [UN News Centre: Juba; OHCHR Press Release; Reuters] While a ceasefire that began on July 11 has held, civilians continue to deal with the aftermath. [OHCHR Press Briefing; Guardian] International bodies have condemned the fighting and the targeting of civilians, UN peacekeepers, and UN compounds. [OHCHR Press Briefing; OHCHR Press Release; UN News Centre: Juba; UNICEF Press Release: Violence; ACHPR Press Release]

The recent fighting implicates South Sudan’s commitments under international law. As the UN Security Council reminded the State, civilians may not be targeted during armed conflict and humanitarian aid workers must be able to access those in need of their services. [UN News Centre: Juba] South Sudan is further obligated to respect and protect the rights to freedom from torture, the life of the child, and access to medical care for women and children, pursuant to the international human rights treaties it has ratified. Read more

UN Working Group Finds China Is Arbitrarily Detaining American Citizen

Seong -Phil Hong, Chairperson Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention addresses the Human Rights CouncilCredit: UN Photo / Jean-Marc FerrŽé
Seong -Phil Hong, Chairperson Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention addresses the Human Rights CouncilCredit: UN Photo / Jean-Marc FerrŽé

Seong-Phil Hong, Chairperson Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, addresses the Human Rights Council.
Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc FerrŽé

In a recently released opinion, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) found that China has arbitrarily deprived Sandy Phan-Gillis, an American citizen, of liberty because she has been denied access to counsel and not been brought before a judicial authority. See WGAD, Communication Concerning Phan (Sandy) Phan-Gillis, Opinion No. 12/2016 (People’s Republic of China), 3 June 2015, UN Doc. A/HRC/WGAD/2016. Phan-Gillis, a business consultant from Texas who regularly visited China for work, was arrested by Chinese authorities near the border into Macau at the conclusion of a business trip in late March of 2015. [Newsweek] Six months after her arrest, Chinese authorities announced that they detained Pahn-Gillis for suspicion of stealing state secrets, but they have yet to formally charge her. [Newsweek] She has also not had access to counsel and has not appeared before a judge. See WGAD, Communication Concerning Phan (Sandy) Phan-Gillis, para. 18. The Working Group requested China to either release Phan-Gillis from custody or provide her with access to effective legal counsel. See WGAD, Communication Concerning Phan (Sandy) Phan-Gillis, para. 25. This opinion marks the first time in the Working Group’s 25-year history that it has found China responsible for detaining an American citizen arbitrarily. [NYT] Read more

ECtHR: States Must Recognize Equal Eligibility, Vulnerability of LGBT Migrants

Courtroom_European_Court_of_Human_Rights_04
Courtroom_European_Court_of_Human_Rights_04

European Court of Human Rights
Credit: Adrian Grycuk

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found violations of the rights to non-discrimination and liberty in two recent cases involving applicants who identify as homosexual. In Taddeucci and McCall v. Italy, the ECtHR held Italy’s rejection of a family-based residence permit for an Italian man’s same-sex partner amounted to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation because while same-sex partners were not similarly situated to opposite-sex couples, they were treated the same as opposite-sex partners, resulting in a denial of rights. See ECtHR, Taddeucci and McCall v. Italy, no. 51362/09, Judgment of 30 June 2016 (French). In O.M. v. Hungary, the Court held that the State should have taken into account an asylum seeker’s vulnerability as a gay man as part of an individualized assessment required by domestic law before keeping him in detention, and should have done its best not to expose him to the same risks from which he was fleeing. See ECtHR, O.M. v. Hungary, no. 9912/15, Judgment of 5 July 2016. Both cases contribute to the growing body of case law that protects the rights and safety of persons who identify as homosexual or in a same-sex relationship. The O.M. case is apparently the first ECtHR decision to discuss the safety of an asylum seeker in detention who claims membership in a vulnerable group based on his sexual orientation, and Taddeucci and McCall joins the ECtHR’s growing jurisprudence on non-discrimination in the context of same-sex couples. Read more

ACHPR Finds Botswana’s Secret Hanging of Prisoner Was Cruel Treatment

The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights at its November 2015 sessionCredit: ACHPR
The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights at its November 2015 sessionCredit: ACHPR

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights at its November 2015 session
Credit: ACHPR

A recent case involving capital punishment in Botswana required the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) to consider the adequacy of appointed counsel and clemency procedures, hanging as a method of execution, the death row phenomenon, and whether notice is required prior to imposition of the death penalty. See ACommHPR, Interights & Ditshwanelo v. Botswana, Communication No. 319/06, Merits Decision, 57th Ordinary Session (2015). The case concerned a prisoner who was secretly hanged to death without advance warning to him or his family, who were then denied the opportunity to bury him. In its decision, published on June 28, 2016, the Commission declined to “suddenly” hold that the death penalty itself was an arbitrary deprivation of the right to life, but it signaled growing discomfort with capital punishment and held that execution by hanging constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of Article 5 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Further, it held that a prisoner must be informed in advance of the time and place of his execution and have a prior opportunity to meet with family or seek spiritual comfort.

The case also involved several procedural peculiarities. Botswana failed to participate in the proceedings before the ACHPR, leaving the Commission to rely on the complainant organizations’ submissions. Although the complainants requested provisional measures to prevent the victim’s execution, the ACHPR was unable to convey the request to the government before he was hanged, on the day after the Commission received the complaint and request. Finally, in the time since the complaint was submitted in April 2006, one of the complainant organizations, INTERIGHTS, has closed. Read more

International Law Commission Adopts New Articles on Crimes against Humanity

Members of the International Law Commission in 2013Credit: UN Photo/Anne-Laure Lechat
Members of the International Law Commission in 2013Credit: UN Photo/Anne-Laure Lechat

Members of the International Law Commission in 2013
Credit: UN Photo/Anne-Laure Lechat

During its 68th session, the International Law Commission (ILC) adopted an additional five draft articles for a possible international convention on crimes against humanity. The new draft articles address criminalization under national law, establishment of national jurisdiction, investigations and inter-State cooperation, preliminary detention, the obligation to extradite or prosecute, and treatment of alleged offenders. See International Law Commission, Sixty-eighth Session (2016). The ILC Special Rapporteur on Crimes against Humanity, Sean D. Murphy, submitted his second report to the ILC, in which he provides background on these topics and proposes the text of articles 5 through 10. See ILC, Second report on crimes against humanity by Sean D. Murphy, Special Rapporteur, UN Doc. A/CN.4/690, 21 Jan. 2016. The ILC provisionally adopted draft articles 1 through 4 at its 67th session. Since he began spearheading the ILC’s work in this area in 2014, Murphy has highlighted the importance of a convention on crimes against humanity to fill a gap in international criminal law by complementing the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on a national level. See, e.g., Sean Murphy, Toward a Convention on Crimes against Humanity?, La Revue des droits de l’homme, 7 (2015). Read more

AfCHPR: Gaddafi’s Son’s Rights Violated by Secret Detention in Libya

800px-Demonstration_in_Bayda_(Libya,_2011-07-22)
800px-Demonstration_in_Bayda_(Libya,_2011-07-22)

Citizens hold demonstrations in 2011 protesting Muammar Gaddafi’s regime
Credit: ليبي صح

The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) has held that Libya violated the rights to liberty and fair trial by holding Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of former leader Muammar Gaddafi, in secret detention since 2011. See AfCHPR, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights v. Libya, App. No. 002/2013, Judgment of 3 June 2016. These breaches, the Court determined, violate Libya’s international obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which secures the fundamental rights to liberty and to have one’s cause heard in articles 6 and 7, respectively. The case was referred to the Court by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and decided on the merits without participation by the State, resulting in a judgment by default against Libya. See id. Saif al-Islam Gaddafi is also sought by the International Criminal Court, which has an open investigation into crimes against humanity allegedly committed under Muammar Gaddafi’s rule as his regime was challenged by the popular uprising of early 2011. See International Criminal Court, Libya. Read more

Human Rights Bodies Address Homophobia, Gun Violence after Orlando Attack

The_Stonewall_Inn_Vigil_(27558753192)
The_Stonewall_Inn_Vigil_(27558753192)

Vigil for Orlando victims outside Stonewall Inn in New York City
Credit: Elisa S

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), UN Security Council, and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) have urged States to address homophobia, gun violence, and terrorism in the wake of the recent nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida. [OHCHR Press Release; UN Press Release; IACHR Press Release] Early Sunday morning on June 12, 2016 Omar Mateen entered Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, and began shooting at the estimated 200 club-goers present for the “Hispanic party” hosted by the club that night. [CNN; IACHR Press Release] Mateen, who claimed allegiance to ISIS during the rampage, killed 49 people and wounded 53 more before being killed by police. [CNN] The Inter-American Commission and the OHCHR made recommendations to the United States to put in place measures to ensure non-discrimination and the elimination of violent attacks against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons and called for more robust gun regulation in response to the shooter’s use of quick-reload weapons that he purchased legally. [USA Today; OHCHR Press Release; IACHR Press Release]

The recommendations were made in view of human rights bodies’ determination that sexual orientation and gender identity are included in non-discrimination provisions of human rights treaties, and the OHCHR’s recent conclusion that without adequate regulation, civilian gun use has a negative impact on the realization of many human rights. See Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 20, Non-Discrimination in Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, UN Doc. E/C.12/GC/20, 10 June 2009, para. 32; UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human rights and the regulation of civil acquisition, possession and use of firearms, UN Doc. A/HRC/32/21, 15 April 2016. In related news, the European Court of Human Rights has again concluded that its Member States are not required to ensure marriage equality, or equal access to partner benefits, for same-sex couples. Read more

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