International Community Questions Fairness of Election As Hungary Re-elects Orbán

Hungarian Parliament
Credit: Andrew Shiva via Wikimedia Commons

International election observers, civil society, and protesters have raised concerns over the fairness of Hungary’s April 8 parliamentary elections in which the incumbent prime minister, Viktor Orbán, and his Fidesz party secured a strong majority, winning 133 of 199 parliamentary seats; media bias and intimidation of independent journalists as well as xenophobic and intimidating rhetoric, civil society and election observers have noted, steered the election outcomes in favor of Fidesz. [Guardian: OSCE; HRW; Reuters: Protest] The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), an intergovernmental body that monitors the elections of Member States, found that the incumbent Fidesz party exploited its current position in power to “[undermine] contestants’ ability to compete on an equal basis” through the use of intimidating rhetoric, media bias, and the government’s use of public money to support the campaign of the incumbent party to influence the voting public. See OSCE, Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions (2018), 1. Echoing the OSCE, civil society organizations raised concerns over Fidesz’s practice of smearing journalists and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that oppose the party’s views, and over the government’s support, announced a day after the election, of a law that would limit the activities of civil society working with migrants and refugees. [HRW; HHC Press Release] Protesters gathered in Budapest over the weekend referring to the election as unfair and calling for a free media. [Reuters: Protest] Before the election, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights raised concerns over the “racist and xenophobic” rhetoric of Orbán and the undermining of the independence of the press and the judiciary. [OHCHR Press Release] Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Hungary is obligated to ensure the rights to non-discrimination, to freedom of expression, to freedom of association, and to vote. Read more

Council of Europe Elects First Female Commissioner for Human Rights

Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights
Credit: Gunnar Vrang via Wikimedia Commons

On April 1, 2018, the recently elected Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe (COE), Dunja Mijatović, took office as the first female to hold the position. See COE, The Commissioner. Mijatović, a national of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was elected in January of this year by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), which elects the Commissioner as well as the judges of the European Court of Human Rights. [Council of Europe Press Release] Mijatović is recognized for her twenty years of experience working on human rights, particularly the right to freedom of expression. Most recently, she held the position of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Representative on Freedom of the Media and is the only woman to hold that position as well. See COE, Biography; OSCE, Harlem Désir. The Commissioner for Human Rights is tasked with the promotion and protection of human rights among the 47 Member States of the Council of Europe through discussions, guidance, and awareness raising on human rights. See COE, The Mandate. Gender parity in positions at supranational bodies is an ongoing concern and a goal that civil society and supranational bodies have pushed for through campaigns; in September 2017, the United Nations Secretary General unveiled an internal UN campaign for gender parity within the organization, and the GQUAL campaign, started in 2015, is a civil society-run effort to establish equitable representation of women in human rights bodies. [IJRC: GQUAL; UN News Centre] Read more

African Court Decides First Case on Right to a Nationality

African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Credit: AfCHPR

Last week, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) published its first ruling related to the right to nationality in the case of Anudo Ochieng Anudo v. Republic of Tanzania, stating that Tanzania violated Anudo Ochieng Anudo’s right not to be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality, right not to be arbitrarily expelled, and right to be heard by a judge; in finding these violations, the Court relied on Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 13 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and Article 7 of the ICCPR, respectively. See AfCHPR, Anudo Ochieng Anudo v. Republic of Tanzania, App. No. 012/2015, Judgment of 22 March 2018, paras. 88, 106, 117. At the age of 33, the complainant’s identity documents, issued by Tanzania, were investigated by immigration authorities and found to be based on fake documents, and the complainant was arrested, detained, beaten, and deported to Kenya, which subsequently found him to have irregular status and deported him back. See id. at paras. 4-12. The Court held that States have the burden of proof to show that the complainant does not have citizenship if the State claims the complainant’s identity documents, issued by the State, are flawed or fake. See id. at para. 80. The State failed to fulfill its burden in this case and failed to provide Anudo with an opportunity to contest his deportation. See id. at paras. 88, 106, 115. A lawyer at the Open Society Justice Initiative said the case “exposes the institutional weaknesses, discrimination, and flaws in legal frameworks on the right to nationality.” [OSJI]

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) have previously considered the right to a nationality through Article 5 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Banjul Charter), which grants the right to legal status, and under Article 6 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (Children’s Charter), which grants the right to nationality. The Court, which has jurisdiction to interpret all relevant applicable human rights treaties to a case, did not consider Article 5 in its decision. Read more

European Court Delivers Landmark Judgment on Universal Jurisdiction & Torture

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

On March 15, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) issued a landmark decision finding that States are not required to allow victims of torture to sue perpetrators in civil proceedings, in the absence of criminal proceedings, for compensation when the act of torture occurred outside of the territory of the State and the perpetrators are not nationals and are domiciled abroad. See ECtHR, Naït-Liman v. Switzerland [GC], no. 51357/07, ECHR 2018, Judgment of 15 March 2018, paras. 97, 217. Accordingly, the ECtHR Grand Chamber held that States are not obligated under international law to exercise universal civil jurisdiction over acts of torture. See id. at para. 203. Universal civil jurisdiction is the power of a domestic court to resolve claims for monetary compensation without there being any connection between the State where the case is brought and the underlying facts of the case. See id. at para. 177. Although the ECtHR recognized that States were obligated to exercise universal criminal jurisdiction over acts of torture, the ECtHR found that there was no similar obligation for civil claims that are wholly separate from a criminal proceeding. See id. at para. 97. This decision diverges from the position taken by the United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT) and various international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists, Redress Trust, and the World Organization Against Torture. See id. at paras. 52-53, 161, 167-68. The CAT maintains that States are obligated to award reparations for acts of torture, even if the torture occurs outside of the territory of the State, and to ensure that civil liability and redress is “available independently of criminal proceedings.” See id. at paras. 52-53, 161, 167-68; CAT, General Comment No. 3 (2012), UN Doc. CAT/C/GC/3, 13 Dec. 2012, paras. 22, 26. Read more

CEDAW Committee Recommends a Gender-Based Approach to Environmental Disasters

Dalia Leinarte, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women
Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee) recently published a general recommendation on the adoption of a gender-based approach on the prevention of and response to climate change and environmental disasters. See Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, General Recommendation No. 37: Gender-related dimensions of disaster-risk reduction in the context of climate change, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/GC/37, 9 February 2018. The General Recommendation provides guidance to States on fully implementing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in the context of climate change and disasters; under the Convention, States parties have both general obligations to ensure gender equality as well as specific obligations to guarantee rights that may be negatively affected by climate change and natural disasters. See id. at para. 10. The General Recommendation warns that pre-existing gender inequalities are aggravated following a disaster and women become more susceptible to gender-based violence, but States parties must still guarantee the rights enumerated in the Convention. See id. at paras. 3, 10. The General Recommendation is one of several recent developments on international standards at the intersection of human rights and the environment; notably the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations related to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment recently called for the recognition of the right to a healthy environment at the universal level, and published guidance on children’s rights and the environment. [OHCHR Press Release] Read more

Committee Against Torture Issues New General Comment on Non-Refoulement

Jens Modvig, Chair of the Committee against Torture is joined by the Chair of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) recently published  its General Comment 4 on the implementation of Article 3 (non-refoulement, or not deporting or extraditing an individual to a country where they are at risk of torture) of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention against Torture), replacing the CAT’s first general comment 20 years after its publication; the new General Comment reiterates existing standards, provides additional guidance on torture and non-refoulement under the Convention against Torture, and provides expanded guidance on how the Committee reviews communications that allege violations of Article 3. [OHCHR Press Release: CAT] The General Comment notably solidifies some of the decisions on Article 3 made in the CAT’s merits decisions, including that sending States must consider the actions of non-State actors as well as State actors when determining the risk of torture for a potential deportee, and that the State’s obligation to not deport an individual at risk of torture in the receiving State is absolute. The General Comment’s guidance on communications may assist individuals at risk of refoulement submit more effective claims to international bodies, which will likely help the Committee expedite the processing of complaints and address its extensive backlog; the Committee’s complaints involving Article 3 claims make up the majority of complaints submitted to the Committee. See CAT, General Comment No. 4 (2017) on the implementation of article 3 of the Convention in the context of article 22, Advanced Unedited Version, 9 February 2018, para. 7. [OHCHR Press Release: Statement; OHCHR Press Release: CAT] Read more

ECtHR, Civil Society, & Academics Respond to Proposed ECtHR Reforms

European Court of Human Rights
Credit: Alfredovic via Wikimedia Commons

On February 5, 2018, the Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, the primary intergovernmental organization tasked with promoting human rights in Europe, circulated an advanced draft of the Copenhagen Declaration, the next stage in ongoing reform efforts of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), prompting civil society, academics, and the Court itself to respond to the proposal. See Danish Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, Draft Copenhagen Declaration (2018). Civil society and members of academia have warned against potential flaws in the draft, including, some argue, that it would lock the Court into deferring to State sovereignty. See AIRE Centre et al., Joint NGO Response to Draft Copenhagen Declaration (2018). [EJIL: Rewritten; EJIL: Dialogue; EJIL: Madsen and Christoffersen] In the midst of increasing discussion and at the request of the Chair of the Committee of Ministers, the European Court weighed in on February 19, 2018 with its own set of observations on the draft, which were primarily positive, despite civil society and academia’s opinions. See ECtHR, Opinion on the draft Copenhagen Declaration (2018), paras. 1, 5. The Declaration is part of the Interlaken process, a long-term reform process that aims to identify and implement measures to ensure the long-term viability of the European Court of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. The draft Declaration will set the stage for the next round of high-level talks on reform scheduled for April of 2018 in Copenhagen between State representatives; those talks will produce a final version of the Declaration. Previous declarations from similar talks have produced significant changes to the European human rights system, including amendments to the European Convention as well as changes in the European Court’s rules of procedure. See European Court, History of the Court’s Reforms. Read more

IACHR Holds Colombia Responsible for Unsolved Killing of Human Rights Defender

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights holds a hearing on Colombia
Credit: CIDH

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) recently published its merits report in a case concerning the 1988 extrajudicial killing of Colombian human rights defender Valentín Basto Calderón, which has gone unsolved. See IACHR, Merits Report No. 45/17, Case 10.455, Valentín Basto Calderón et al. (Colombia), 25 May 2017 (in Spanish). Bystanders Pedro Vicente Camargo, who was also killed, and his daughter Carmenza, who was injured, were also included as victims in the petition to the IACHR. At a time of armed conflict when State agents and paramilitaries frequently assassinated human rights defenders and community leaders, State agents had threatened Basto Calderón and harassed his family members. The State then failed to conduct a thorough and timely investigation of the events. See id. at para. 1. The International Justice Resource Center (IJRC) submitted an amicus curiae brief to the IACHR to provide supplementary analysis on this case, with a focus on Colombia’s obligations specific to human rights defenders. The Colombian Commission of Jurists represented the petitioners before the IACHR. In holding Colombia responsible for violations to the rights to life and humane treatment, among others, the IACHR took special note of the State’s specific obligations to protect and respect the rights of human rights defenders. Read more

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