In December, several universal and regional human rights bodies and experts will assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through the consideration of State reports, country visits, and thematic and contentious hearings. Two United Nations treaty bodies will continue their sessions that began in November on issues concerning racial discrimination and torture. Ten United Nations special procedures mandate holders and groups of experts will conduct country visits across five continents in December, and one UN group of experts will hold sessions. Regionally, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will continue its session and hold thematic hearings on specific human rights issues in the United States and Canada. The European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) will hold sessions, and the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hear two cases related to the right to assistance of counsel and the application of Islamic law in national courts, respectively.
We are pleased to share our latest newsletter. It details the newest additions to the Online Resource Hub, recent engagement with the African and Inter-American human rights systems, upcoming events, and new members of the IJRC team. Read the November 2017 newsletter below, or open the PDF. For the latest in human rights developments, visit the News Room and IJRC Daily.
The United Kingdom announced yesterday its withdrawal of its candidate for a spot on the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, allowing Judge Dalveer Bhandari of India to be elected as the sole candidate. [UN News Centre] After ten rounds of voting, another round was due to take place yesterday but was canceled following the announcement. [Guardian] Previous rounds of voting had elected four candidates to take four of the five empty seats on the Court, but as of Monday morning the final open seat remained undecided between Judge Dalveer Bhandari of India and Judge Christopher Greenwood of the United Kingdom. [Washington Post] A candidate must secure a majority of votes in both the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly to win a seat; Judge Bhandari had a majority of votes in the General Assembly, and Judge Greenwood had a majority in the Security Council. [Washington Post] This will be the first time that the United Kingdom is not represented in the composition of the Court. See ICJ, All Members.
The conversation surrounding this election is part of a broader debate on the composition of international courts and whether they are representative of the populations they serve. The GQUAL Campaign has focused on whether courts are representative by gender, and there is increased debate over whether the developing world and Asia are adequately represented on international courts and tribunals. [GQUAL Campaign] One consideration in the election is the tension between the General Assembly and the Security Council, where some members of the General Assembly feel that their voice is not being heard or is being downplayed by the permanent members of the Security Council – China, Russia, United States, United Kingdom, and France. [Times of India; Guardian] Additionally, with Judge Bhandari remaining on the Court, there will be four judges from Asia on the Court, one more than prior to the elections, and one fewer judge representing the western European and other States on the Court. [EJIL: Talk!] See ICJ, All Members. Read more
The Sixth Committee – an intergovernmental committee that considers legal questions in the United Nations General Assembly – finished late last month its consideration of a draft article that asserts State officials do not have immunity from the prosecution of crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, crimes of apartheid, torture, and enforced disappearance in a foreign criminal jurisdiction; the debate arose from a draft article from the International Law Commission (ILC), a group of international legal experts who prepare draft conventions and codify existing rules of international law. The ILC will put forth the draft article as a recognition of existing State practice or as a proposal for a future international convention. See ILC, About the Commission. [UN Press Release: Debate Ends] The Sixth Committee debated the contents of the ILC’s most recent report released during its 69th Session, which included the ILC’s draft of its provisionally adopted Article 7 on international crimes for which immunity from rationae materiae jurisdiction (subject matter jurisdiction) does not apply. See International Law Commission, Report of the International Law Commission at its sixty-ninth session, UN Doc. A/72/10, 4 August 2017, para. 140.
The draft of Article 7 originated from the report of a special rapporteur – a member of the ILC – appointed to address the issue of State officials’ immunity. Some ILC members expressed disagreement with the special rapporteur’s position that States’ practice supports the finding of exceptions to State officials’ immunity – the substance of Article 7. The ILC provisionally adopted the text with only 21 of the 34 members voting in favor of it. [UN Press Release: Immunity] The Sixth Committee’s two-day discussion on the draft law mirrored many of the arguments that were debated within the ILC before its provisional adoption of Article 7, namely whether the basis for the Article is supported by customary international law, whether procedural requirements may address impunity, the balance between prosecution of State officials and State sovereignty, and the ILC’s view of Article 7’s function as either the codification of existing law or the development of law. See Report of the International Law Commission, at VII.C., 180–183. [UN Press Release: Immunity] Read more
In the last two months, the Organization of American States (OAS) held unprecedented hearings to gather witness testimony on the situation in Venezuela to determine whether to refer the State to the International Criminal Court (ICC). [OAS Press Release: First Session; OAS Press Release: Second Session] In the sessions of hearings held so far, the OAS has heard testimony from activists, former members of the Venezuelan government and judiciary, and former members of the Bolivian National Armed Forces, among others; their testimony has described arbitrary arrests and detention, extrajudicial killings, and cruel and degrading treatment. [Moreno Ocampo] Luis Moreno Ocampo, a former ICC prosecutor and current Special Adviser on Crimes against Humanity (Special Advisor) at the OAS, convened the two public sessions of hearings – one in September and one in October – at the OAS headquarters in Washington, D.C.; he may convene additional sessions in November. [OAS Press Release: Adviser; OAS Press Release: First Session; OAS Press Release: Second Session]
In July, the OAS Secretary General, Luis Almagro, designated Moreno Ocampo as Special Adviser, and as such, Moreno Ocampo is tasked with analyzing, studying, and debating the ongoing situation in Venezuela with interested parties to determine whether the State committed crimes against humanity and can be referred to the ICC. [OAS Press Release: Adviser] Accordingly, the sessions were held to examine whether the abuses by the Venezuelan government rise to the level of crimes against humanity and if they were committed in a widespread and systematic manner. [OAS Press Release: First Session; OAS Press Release: Second Session; Moreno Ocampo] The testimony gathered in the sessions will contribute to a final report, along with information submitted by additional organizations; the Independent Panel of International Experts, appointed by the OAS Secretary General in September, will review the report and recommend it to the Secretary General. [OAS Press Release: Independent Panel] This is the first time that the regional body has held sessions with the purpose of referring a Member State to the ICC. Read more
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.
The International Justice Resource Center (IJRC) in collaboration with the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA) and the Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA) will hold a training from 09:00 to 10:30 on October 30, 2017 at the Kairaba Hotel in Banjul, The Gambia, ahead of the 61st Ordinary Session of the African Commission of Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR). The training, which will take place at the seat of the ACHPR in Banjul, seeks to provide human rights defenders, advocates, and victims with updated tools and strategies for conducting research on sources in international human rights law, State compliance with human rights obligations, and national legislation and jurisprudence. As part of its 61st Ordinary Session, which begins on November 1, 2017, the ACHPR will celebrate its 30th anniversary; the ACHPR will use the commemoration to assess the progress of the Commission and to develop strategies for the future promotion of human rights in Africa. [ACHPR: Anniversary] IJRC invites all attendees of the 61st Ordinary Session and preceding NGO Forum to attend this training. For more information, see IJRC’s event flyer and training description.
IJRC also wishes to call attention to the recent arrest in Tanzania of ISLA executive director, Sibongile Ndashe, and 12 other advocates. These human rights defenders were arrested while participating in a workshop on planned litigation to challenge Tanzania’s restrictions on clinics and lubricants helping to stop the spread of HIV. [HRW] The police arrested the lawyers and activists for “promoting homosexuality,” a crime that reportedly does not appear on the Tanzanian criminal code; although they remained in detention, they had yet to be formally charged as of October 25, 2017. [ISLA; Daily Nation] Tanzania is among the countries that still criminalize same-sex conduct. See ILGA, Sexual Orientation Laws in the World – Criminalisation. Authorities have carried out similar arrests over the past year, as part of an intensified crackdown on the LGBT community. [AP; NewsDeeply; Guardian] IJRC has signed on to calls for their immediate release without charge, and looks forward to seeing our ISLA partners in Banjul. Read more
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 United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) recently announced the publication of the Standards of Conduct for Business to fight discrimination against lesbian, gay, bi, trans, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. [OHCHR Press Release] The Standards of Conduct for Business build upon the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the UN Global Compact – which collectively contain UN standards directed at businesses to respect and protect human rights, and remedy rights violations – to offer guidance to companies on how businesses should treat LGBTI people in the workplace and how businesses can promote LGBTI rights in the marketplace and in the community. See UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Tackling Discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, & Intersex People: Standards of Conduct for Business (2017), 1, 5-6. Several businesses, including Accenture, Baker McKenzie, BNP Paribas, The Coca-Cola Company, Deutsche Bank, EDF, EY, Gap Inc., Godrej, IKEA Group, Microsoft, Oath, Orange, SAP, and Spotify, have already shown public support for the Standards of Conduct for Business. [OHCHR Press Release] The commentary from the OHCHR accompanying the Standards of Conduct for Business explains that domestic legal reforms alone are not enough to create inclusive communities, and, therefore, the OHCHR notes that the corporate sector not only has an obligation to respect human rights but also holds significant influence in curbing human rights abuses. See UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Tackling Discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, & Intersex People: Standards of Conduct for Business, 15. The standards also bring together two areas in human rights protection that the international community is increasingly recognizing – businesses’ responsibility to respect, protect, and remedy human rights and violations thereof, and the human rights of LGBTI persons. [IJRC: SOGI; IJRC: Forum] Read more
In a recent opinion, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) held that Tanzania’s failure to protect an individual with albinism from violence and discrimination constitutes a violation of the country’s obligations under the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (ICRPD). [OHCHR Press Release] See Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Mr. X v. Tanzania, Communication No. 22/2014, Views of 31 August 2017, UN Doc. CRPD/C/18/D/22/2014, paras. 8.1-8.7. The case concerned a man who was attacked and dismembered by men who targeted him due to his albinism. [OHCHR Press Release] Although the victim claimed to know the identity of the perpetrators, Tanzanian prosecutors dropped his case and failed to continue their investigation. [OHCHR Press Release] See CRPD, Mr. X v. Tanzania, para. 2.2. In its August 31, 2017 communication, the CRPD held that failing to investigate and prosecute an attack resulting in dismemberment as the result of the victim’s albinism constitutes discrimination based on a disability in violation of the ICRPD. See id. at paras. 8.1-8.4. In addition to a violation of the right to non-discrimination under Article 5 of the ICRPD, the Committee also held that Tanzania violated the rights to prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, and to personal integrity under articles 15 and 17 of the Convention, respectively. See id. at paras. 8.5-8.7. Tanzania has one of the highest rates of albinism in the world, and people with albinism in the country frequently face various forms of violence and discrimination, both of which are often conducted with impunity. See Human Rights Council, Resolution 28/75, Report of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee on the study on the situation of human rights of persons living with albinism, UN Doc. A/HRC/28/75, 10 February 2015, paras. 18, 26-34. Read more