United Nations Human Rights Council
Credit: UN Photo/Pierre-Michel Virot
In November, several universal and regional bodies will assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations, through the consideration of State and civil society reports, country visits, dialogues, and hearings on individual complaints. Six United Nations treaty bodies will be holding sessions in the month of November on issues related to civil and political rights, women, racial discrimination, and torture. The Universal Periodic Review Working Group will also be in session and will review nine State reports, holding interactive dialogues with those States’ representatives. Seven UN Special Rapporteurs and one working group expert will conduct country visits, and three working groups will be in session in Geneva, Switzerland. Regionally, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), and African Court on Human and People’s Rights (AfCHPR) will all be in session. The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hear three cases related to inhuman and degrading treatment in the context of the effectiveness of a criminal investigation, fair punishment in the context of suspension from public office as a penalty for conviction, and the legality of detention as a preventative measure.
The UN Human Rights Council’s and UN treaty bodies’ sessions may be watched via UN Web TV. The IACtHR’s session may be viewed on its website or Vimeo page, and the IACHR sessions may be viewed on its YouTube channel. The African Court sessions may be watched on its YouTube channel. The ECtHR hearings may be viewed on its webcast.
To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.
European Court of Human Rights
Credit: CherryX via Wikimedia Commons
On October 5, 2017, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) unanimously ruled that Norway violated a journalist’s rights under Article 10 (right to freedom of expression) of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) because the Supreme Court of Norway imposed a fine on her for refusal to testify on her source, who had already made himself known. See ECtHR, Becker v. Norway, no. 21272/12, ECHR 2017, Judgment of 5 October 2017. The Court’s decision turned on the fact that it was not necessary to the case to retrieve the journalist’s testimony, since the individual suspected of criminal activity was charged and convicted without her statement. See id. at para. 78. This case goes beyond the ECtHR’s existing jurisprudence on the application of the right to freedom of expression to the protection of journalists’ sources. Prior to this case, the ECtHR had yet to address the question of whether a court may compel testimony when the source’s identity has already been revealed by the source’s own admission. See id. at paras. 73-74. The ECtHR decided that a source’s own disclosure is not decisive of whether a journalist should be compelled to disclose the source in his or her own testimony. See id. at para. 75. Read more
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
In October, several universal and regional human rights bodies and experts will assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through the consideration of State and civil society reports, interactive dialogues, country visits, seminars, and hearings. Five UN treaty bodies will meet throughout October to assess States’ compliance with their treaty obligations related to civil and political rights; economic, social, and cultural rights; elimination of discrimination against women; the prevention of torture; and the rights of the child. The Social Forum of the UN Human Rights Council will be in session, and the UN Human Rights Council will also host thematic panel discussions, seminars, and working group discussions on climate change, migrants, and persons displaced across international borders; transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights; and the implementation of effective safeguards to prevent torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment during police custody. One working group will be in session on the issue of discrimination against women in law and practice, and eight other special procedures mandate holders will conduct country visits. Regionally, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), the European Committee on Social Rights (ECSR), and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will be in session.
The UN Human Rights Council’s and UN treaty bodies’ sessions can be watched via UN Web TV. The IACHR’s session can be watched on its YouTube channel, and the IACtHR’s session may be viewed on its website or Vimeo page. The ECtHR hearings can be viewed on its webcast.
To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar. Read more
Supreme Court of India
Credit: Legaleagle86 via Wikimedia Commons
At the end of August, the Supreme Court of India unanimously held that the Constitution of India specifically protects the right to privacy, which it concluded is inherent to constitutional guarantees of life and liberty pursuant to its Article 21 and, therefore, already exists as a fundamental freedom enshrined in the Constitution. See Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd) vs. Union of India, (2017) (India) (opinion of Chandrachud, J.), at 110, 254, 257, 262. The decision arose from a case challenging the constitutionality of the country’s system of using biometrics to identify individuals. For the case to move forward, the nine judges of the Supreme Court of India had to first determine whether the Constitution of India protects the right to privacy. See id. at 7. Affirming the right, the court’s decision was in accordance with international standards on privacy; the court confirmed that individuals have a zone of privacy limited by others’ rights and that the State may interfere with the right to privacy only through established law in pursuit of a legitimate aim and when necessary in a democratic society. See id. at 180-91, 242-46. The constitutional challenge to the biometric identification system will now resume, taking into account the privacy framework decided by the court.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) the ruling in the present case will not only have an impact on national policies concerning mandatory identification programs, but also other domestic issues, such as sexual orientation; the opinion explicitly states that sexual orientation is essential to privacy and identity, and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is counter to dignity. A challenge to India’s law criminalizing same-sex relations is also currently pending in court. [HRW] See id. at 124. The decision already overruled two prior domestic cases that held the right to privacy is not specifically protected under the Constitution of India. See Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd) vs. Union of India, (opinion of Chandrachud, J.), at 5. Read more
European Court of Human Rights
Credit: CherryX via Wikimedia Commons
On September 5, 2017, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that a private company’s decision to dismiss an employee, after monitoring and accessing his instant messages sent from the workplace, violated the employee’s right to respect for private and family life, enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. See ECtHR, Bărbulescu v. Romania [GC], no. 61496/08, ECHR 2017, Judgment of 5 September 2017, para. 141. The ECtHR held that Romanian authorities did not protect Bogdan Mihai Bărbulescu’s right to private life because the Romanian courts did not adequately balance Bărbulescu’s interest in privacy and the employer’s interest in monitoring communications sent from the workplace. The national courts, the European Court found, did not sufficiently assess the relevant factors of whether the employer gave prior notice to the employee that communications may be monitored; whether there was a reasonable justification for monitoring the employee’s communications; whether there were less intrusive measures available to the employer to achieve the same end; and the necessity of the disciplinary action taken against the employee. See id. at para. 124, 133, 139-41. This case adds to the ECtHR’s developing jurisprudence on the balance between the competing interests of an employee’s right to privacy and a private employer’s right to monitor communications; two previous cases determined that the State has a positive obligation to protect the employee’s right to privacy of telephone communications, email, and internet use that originates at work. See ECtHR, Halford v. the United Kingdom, no. 20605/92, ECHR 1997, Judgment of 25 June 1997; ECtHR, Copland v. the United Kingdom, no. 62617/00, ECHR 2007, Judgment of 3 April 20017. Read more
CICIG Commissioner Iván Velásquez speaks at the UN Embassy in Guatemala
Credit: US Embassy via Wikimedia Commons
On August 29, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court issued a temporary injunction to block President Jimmy Morales’ expulsion order against Iván Velásquez, head of a United Nations anticorruption panel, who just days earlier announced his intent to investigate Morales for alleged campaign finance violations in 2015. [Al Jazeera; New York Times] The UN International Committee against Impunity in Guatemala (known by its Spanish acronym CICIG) was formed 10 years ago to address the pervasive corruption problems in Guatemala. [Al Jazeera] In furtherance of its mission, CICIG currently seeks to strip Morales of his official immunity so that he may face a campaign finance investigation. [Washington Post] Morales announced his decision to expel Velásquez on August 27, citing “the interests of the Guatemalan people” and his aim to “strengthen . . . the rule of law and our institutions.” [Al Jazeera] The expulsion order sparked protests in defense of Velásquez and continues to draw international criticism. [New York Times] Representatives from the United Nations, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and the European Union (EU) have condemned Morales’ actions as beyond the scope of his authority and an unjustified interference with the work of CICIG. [UN News Centre; OHCHR Press Release; IACHR Press Release (in Spanish); EU Press Release] Read more
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights holds a thematic hearing
In the month of September, several regional bodies and universal bodies and experts will assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations by engaging in interactive dialogues, considering State and civil society reports, conducting country visits, holding hearings, and reviewing individual complaints. Five United Nations treaty bodies will meet throughout September to engage with States regarding their treaty obligations related to persons with disabilities; migrants and their families; enforced disappearances; children; and economic, social, and cultural rights. The UN Human Rights Council will be in session and will host panel discussions and forums related to unilateral coercive measures, the integration of the human rights of women throughout the United Nations system, the human rights of indigenous peoples, and the impact of intersecting forms of discrimination against women and girls. Four UN special rapporteurs will conduct country visits and one working group will meet in Geneva, Switzerland to discuss issues pertaining to enforced disappearances. Regionally, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR), and the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) will be in session.
The UN treaty body sessions may be watched via UN Web TV. The African Court sessions may be watched on its YouTube channel, and the IACHR sessions may also be viewed on its YouTube channel. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.
European Court of Human Rights
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The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held last week that Belgium violated the rights of Rene Rooman – a prisoner with mental health problems who only speaks German – because the State failed to provide access to a psychologist who could also speak German. See ECtHR, Rooman v. Belgium, no. 18052/11, ECHR 2017, Judgment of 18 July 2017 (in French). Following a criminal conviction in 1997, Rooman, a Belgian and German national, was put in detention and later placed in a psychiatric institution in Paifve. [ECtHR: Press Release] Rooman’s application before the ECtHR alleged violations of the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment and the right to liberty and security enshrined in articles 3 and 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights (European Convention), respectively. [ECtHR: Press Release] The ECtHR took into account prior efforts made by mental health bodies in the Paifve institution, but found that the national authorities’ failure to provide him with a psychologist who could speak German, one of three official languages in Belgium, was a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention because it caused Rooman distress that exceeded the unavoidable level of suffering that is inherent in detention. [ECtHR: Press Release] The ECtHR also considered whether there had been a violation of Article 5 (the right to liberty) but did not find a violation because Rooman was held in a facility appropriate for a person with a mental health disability. [ECtHR: Press Release] The European Court has previously held that when a State detains someone with a mental health disability and does not provide adequate medical care to the detriment of the detainee’s health, the State has violated the right to prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment. See, e.g., ECtHR, Claes v. Belgium, no. 43418/09, ECHR 2013, Judgment of 10 January 2013. Read more