Category Archives: regional human rights protection

European Court: Syrian Migrant Faces Threat to Life Upon Return

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

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) issued a unanimous decision on Tuesday, February 14 preventing Russian authorities from removing a Syrian national to his home country because the security and humanitarian situation in Syria poses a threat to the rights to life and prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment. [ECtHR: Press Release] In addition to finding violations of the rights to life and prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, the ECtHR held that the applicant’s detention and order for removal were also in violation of the rights to an effective remedy and to liberty under the European Convention on Human Rights. [ECtHR: Press Release] In its analysis, the ECtHR emphasized the obligation to consider available reports on the situation in Syria during removal proceedings of Syrian nationals. The Court considered documentation of indiscriminate attacks on schools and other civilian areas that have resulted in civilian harm and civilian deaths, and it reiterated its position that a general situation of violence in a country of destination may be so intense that removal to that country would entail a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention (prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment). See ECtHR, S.K. v. Russia, no. 52722/15, ECHR 2017, Judgment of 14 February 2017, paras. 45-47. The European Court’s decision that civilians in Syria face a real risk of violations to the right to life and prohibition of inhuman treatment affects all States parties in Europe assessing asylum applications; almost 900,000 Syrians applied for asylum in Europe between April 2011 and October 2016. See UNHCR, Syria Regional Refugee Response. Read more

Refugee Crisis Reaches New Peak amid Ongoing Conflicts, Islamophobic Policies

Syrian refugees arrive in Greece
Credit: Ggia via Wikimedia Commons

In 2016, more than 65 million people were estimated to be refugees or internally displaced persons  – the highest number in history. [World Economic Forum] Many of the migrants who are fleeing their countries are unable to permanently resettle for a number of reasons, including the global underfunding of refugee support programs and national policies motivated by Islamophobia or isolationism. See Amnesty International, Refugees & Asylum. [Slate] Migrants face dangerous conditions and human rights abuses both during travel and once they reach host countries. Thousands of migrants have drowned while attempting to reach Europe by sea and the conditions of detention in more common refugee destinations may include overcrowding and a failure to provide basic necessities. [Independent; Human Rights Watch; Amnesty International]

Moreover, recent measures enacted by some governments are perpetuating Islamophobia and complicating travel or resettlement for those from Muslim-majority countries. [New York Times: Muslim; IJRC: Protests] An executive order recently implemented in the United States specifically targets migrants and refugees from certain Muslim-majority countries, temporarily prohibiting their entry into the United States. [IJRC: Protests]  The International Justice Resource Center, together with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and with the support of dozens of other organizations, yesterday submitted a letter to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights asking it to review this order in a public hearing. Migrants and refugees are protected against discrimination, among other human rights violations, under international law. Read more

Following Three Decades of Isolation, Morocco Rejoins African Union

African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

After more than 30 years of separation, Morocco has officially been admitted back in to the African Union (AU), the continent’s largest intergovernmental organization. [New York Times; Reuters] Morocco quit the African Union’s predecessor, the Organization of African Unity, in 1984 after the regional bloc officially recognized Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (Western Sahara) as a member. [BBC: Morocco] After a reported 39 to 9 vote at the 28th African leader’s summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on January 30, 2017, Morocco became the 55th member of the AU despite some opposition concerning its position on Western Sahara, a territory that Morocco considers part of its historic land. [Guardian; Reuters; Al Jazeera] Morocco also boasts a 110 billion-dollar economy, one of Africa’s largest, and its membership in the regional bloc could mean economic opportunity for the AU. [Reuters] Read more

ECtHR: U.K. “Whole Life Sentences” Now Compatible with ECHR

European Court of Human Rights

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held on January 17 that a United Kingdom prisoner’s “whole life” sentence does not violate Article 3 (the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) where the Secretary of State’s discretion to reduce the sentence is bound by domestic law that recognizes the binding nature of the ECHR and ECtHR jurisprudence. See ECtHR, Hutchinson v. the United Kingdom [GC], no. 57592/08, Judgment of 17 January 2017, para. 72. The decision contrasts with a prior Grand Chamber judgment in which the Court found a violation of Article 3 because, the Court found, the United Kingdom’s law offered no possibility of review or release for life sentences except in very limited circumstances. See ECtHR, Vinter and Others v. the United Kingdom [GC], nos. 66069/09, 130/10, and 3896/10, ECHR 2013, Judgment of 9 July 2013, para. 130.

The change in jurisprudence is attributable to domestic courts’ clarification of the law, which the Grand Chamber now views as compliant with the ECHR because it meets the relevant standards for the possibility of release and review. See Hutchinson v. the United Kingdom, Judgment of 17 January 2017, para. 70. Specifically, U.K. law allows the Secretary of State to reduce a life sentence at any time on compassionate grounds, which, the State claims, encompass more than end-of-life situations and will be interpreted in line with the ECHR. See id. at paras. 15, 56. A dissenting opinion criticized the Grand Chamber for “backtracking” on Vinter and Others. Read more

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

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

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