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
A military parade in Bolivia
Credit: Richard12sep.1993 via Wikimedia Commons
On September 14, 2017, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a press release, applauding the Bolivian government’s establishment of a Truth Commission on August 21, 2017. [IACHR Press Release: Bolivia] The Truth Commission will investigate allegations of grave human rights violations and crimes against humanity that occurred between November 4, 1964 through October 10, 1982, during the military and authoritarian rule of Bolivia. [IACHR Press Release: Bolivia; Amnesty International] See Ley N 879, Ley de la Comision de la Verdad, 23 December 2016 (Bolivia) (in Spanish only). The law establishing the Truth Commission, Law 879 of December 23, 2016, set its objective as “to solve the murders, forced disappearances, tortures, arbitrary detentions, and sexual violence, considered grave human rights violations, which were committed in Bolivia for political and ideological motives.” [IACHR Press Release: Bolivia] The Truth Commission, composed of five members, will remain in place for two years, during which time the members will carry out investigations and report on their findings. [IACHR Press Release: Bolivia]
The establishment of the Truth Commission follows a long period of widespread impunity, since 1982, for the grave human rights violations committed during the 18-year period, and its findings, the IACHR has noted, will contribute to ensuring justice for the victims’ families and to preventing further injustice. [IACHR Press Release: Bolivia; Amnesty International] Bolivia previously made efforts towards seeking and promoting truth; however, the government made little progress, and those efforts were limited to violations relating to forced disappearances. [IACHR Press Release: Bolivia] Representatives of the victims’ families as well as civil society, though, continued to advocate for the establishment of a Truth Commission to ensure that the violations will be “remember[ed], record[ed], and clarif[ied].” [Amnesty International] 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
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.
Venezuelan protesters demonstrating in May 2017
Credit: Jamez via Wikimedia Commons
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, condemned last week the recent violence and arrests that occurred in response to demonstrations around Venezuela’s election for a National Constituent Assembly – a powerful entity intended to replace the current legislature and rewrite the Venezuelan constitution. The election was reportedly tampered with by the Venezuelan government, prompting calls for an independent investigation into the legitimacy of the election, and the legislature now refuses to recognize the new assembly, which voted to remove Venezuela’s public prosecutor over the weekend. [New York Times: Tampering; Washington Post: EU; OHCHR Press Release; Washington Post: Lawmakers] The election, which featured allies of President Nicolás Maduro as the only candidates, was held amid growing concerns that the nation is moving dangerously toward a dictatorship. [New York Times: Tampering; Washington Post: EU] The vote spurred public demonstrations, protests, and violence, resulting in at least 10 deaths; the total deaths due to unrest in the country since April now totals at least 125. [CNN: Clash] Zeid also expressed concern over the two opposition leaders who were recently detained after advocating for Venezuelans to protest in response to the election. [OHCHR Press Release; Guardian]
The international human rights community has expressed concern over the situation in the State. In addition to Zeid’s comments, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) recently denounced Venezuela’s prohibition of public gatherings and suppression of journalism, calling on the State to adhere to its international human rights obligations. [IACHR Press Release: Election; IACHR Press Release: Expression] The European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) weighed in on the legality of the election through the publication of a preliminary opinion, finding the election threatened principles of democracy. As a State party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Venezuela is obligated to protect the rights to peaceful assembly, freedom of expression, due process, and participation in public affairs, among others. Read more
Civil society presents on the human rights situation in Honduras before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2017
The United Nations Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, visited Honduras last week to assess the human rights situation in the country – particularly regarding the protection of human rights defenders and indigenous peoples – a visit that took place in the context of continued threats to human rights defenders in the country. [OHCHR Press Release: Honduras; IACHR Press Release] Also last week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reported that three members of Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, COPINH) were attacked when last month they came across a blockade and were chased until they were able to get away. [IACHR Press Release] The IACHR has noted a pattern of attacks against human rights defenders in the country; in August 2016, independent experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) warned that Honduras was “one of the most dangerous countries for human rights defenders,” especially for defenders of the environment and of the right of indigenous peoples to land and territory. [IACHR Press Release] United Nations human rights experts and the IACHR have called on the State to end impunity for attacks against human rights defenders through improved investigations and prosecutions. [IACHR Press Release] See, e.g., Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples on her visit to Honduras, UN Doc. A/HRC/33/42/Add.2, 21 July 2016, paras. 86-93. Honduras is obligated to protect the rights to life and to humane treatment under several international human rights treaties to which it is a party. See, e.g., American Convention on Human Rights, arts. 4, 5; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, arts. 6, 7. This is the second visit to Honduras by a United Nations senior official since the country agreed to open a United Nations Human Rights Office in May 2015. [OHCHR Press Release: Honduras] Read more
The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons
Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré
Several universal bodies and experts and one regional court will review States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through the review of State reports, debates, review of individual complaints, and country visits in the month of August. Three United Nations treaty bodies will meet throughout August to engage with States regarding their treaty obligations related to torture, racial discrimination, and persons with disabilities. The UN Human Rights Council’s Advisory Committee will be in session and will host panel discussions and forums related to persons with leprosy, unaccompanied migrant children, contribution of development to the enjoyment of human rights, effects of terrorism on human rights, activities of vulture funds, and regional arrangements on human rights. Four UN special rapporteurs will conduct country visits and one working group will meet in Geneva, Switzerland to discuss issues pertaining to arbitrary detention. Regionally, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will be in session.
The UN treaty body sessions may be watched via UN Web TV. The IACtHR hearings may be watched on the Court’s website or on livestream. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar. To learn more about each human rights body, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub. Read more
The Inter-American Commission’s recent 163rd Extraordinary Sessions in Lima, Peru
On July 5, 2017, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) selected Soledad García Muñoz to be the first Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights (ESCER). [IACHR Press Release: Muñoz (in Spanish)] The mandate of the newly established Rapporteurship is to promote, protect, and defend economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights in the Americas by addressing issues such as poverty; pollution; and access to health care, education, potable water, and nutrition. [IACHR Press Release: Finalists] García Muñoz, of Argentina, was selected from a list of four finalists during the IACHR’s 163rd Extraordinary Period of Sessions. [IACHR Press Release: Finalists; IACHR Press Release: Muñoz] García Muñoz is a lawyer who has worked globally to protect human rights, including with various United Nations agencies, the Organization of American States (OAS), the International Organization for Migration, and the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, among others. [IACHR Press Release: Muñoz] She served as President of Amnesty International’s Section on Argentina and has substantial experience litigating before universal and regional human rights mechanisms. [IACHR Press Release: Muñoz] As Special Rapporteur, García Muñoz plans to work in coordination with other IACHR divisions to open a dialogue. [IACHR Press Release: Muñoz] She will take office on August 15, 2017 and serve a three-year term, which is renewable once. [IACHR Press Release: Muñoz] Read more