This month, the International Criminal Court (ICC), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and United Nations special procedures mandate holders all took steps to expose Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s regime’s responsibility for human rights violations and international crimes committed against the Venezuelan population. On February 8, the prosecutor of the ICC announced that she opened a preliminary examination into the situation in Venezuela. The preliminary examination will study, since April 2017, the use of excessive force by State security forces to disperse and end demonstrations and the arrest and detention of thousands of perceived members of the opposition, some of whom have allegedly been subjected to abuse and ill-treatment during their detention. [ICC Press Release] On February 12, the IACHR published and presented to the Organization of American States its report on the human rights situation in Venezuela in 2016 and 2017, noting the deterioration of human rights in Venezuela, and in particular the political, economic, and social crisis in the country. [IACHR Press Release] A group of independent experts at the UN consisting of the Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context; Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; and the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights released a statement on February 9 that asserts that the degradation of human rights in Venezuela has led to the starvation, deprivation of necessary medicine, lack of necessary hygiene products, and deterioration of living conditions for a large number of Venezuelans. [OHCHR Press Release: Experts]
At the end of January, three international human rights bodies took substantial steps to ensure protection of children’s rights. On January 25, 2018, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) issued its first decision on the merits in the case K.Y.M. v. Denmark, holding that Denmark violated the International Convention on the Rights of the Child for failing to consider the best interests of a child during the course of proceedings over whether to deport the child and her mother. See Committee on the Rights of the Child, K.Y.M. v. Denmark, Communication No. 3/2016, Views of 25 January 2018, UN Doc. CRC/C/77/D/3/2016, para. 11.9. The decision held that Denmark failed to consider the likelihood that the applicant’s daughter would be subjected to female genital mutilation if she were returned to Somalia. See id. at para. 11.9. The complaint was the first to reach the merits stage before the CRC since the Committee was first authorized to receive complaints in 2014 under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a Communications Procedure.
The following week, on January 30, 2018, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) published their first ever joint General Comment, which elaborates on States’ obligation to end child marriage. [ACERWC Press Release] The General Comment addresses the causes and impact of child marriages, and provides guidance to States on their obligations to protect children at risk of child marriage by implementing legislative, institutional, and general reform measures. [ACERWC Press Release] Read more
The African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) recently published its holding that Mauritania violated the rights to protection from child labor and from child abuse, among other rights and obligations, established in the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (African Children’s Charter), due to the enslavement of two children. Two non-governmental organizations – Minority Rights Group International and SOS-Enclaves – submitted the complaint against Mauritania on behalf of two brothers, Said Ouid Salem, born in 2000, and Yarg Ould Salem, born in 2003, who alleged that they were victims of child slavery for 11 years. The Committee found that Mauritania failed to protect the applicants from slavery; to investigate, punish, and prosecute all the perpetrators responsible; and to provide a timely and adequate remedy for the applicants. Based in part on those findings, the ACERWC ultimately held that Mauritania violated its obligations under Article 1 (obligation to realize the rights in the Charter), Article 3 (right to non-discrimination), Article 4 (best interest of the child), Article 5 (obligation to ensure the survival and development), Article 11 (right to education), Article 12 (right to leisure, recreation, and cultural activities), Article 15 (right to protection from child labor), Article 16 (right to protection against child abuse and torture), and Article 21 (right to protection against harmful social and cultural practices) of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. See ACERWC, Decision on the Communication Submitted by Minority Rights Group International and SOS-Enclaves on Behalf of Said Ould Salem and Yarg Ould Salem against the Government of the Republic of Mauritania, Communication No.003/Com/003/2015, Merits Decisions, 30th Ordinary Session (2017), para. 97. Read more
On January 24, the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) published its 2017 conclusions regarding 33 States’ implementation of the European Social Charter’s provisions related to health, social security, and social protection, and found 175 instances of non-conformity out of 486 situations examined. [ECSR Press Release] Additionally, the ECSR was unable to adequately assess the situation in 83 cases due to lack of information. [ECSR Press Release] The ECSR emphasized the need for States to implement measures to improve workplace safety, maternal and infant mortality, social security benefits, and policies addressing poverty and social exclusion. See ECSR, European Social Charter Social Rights Monitoring 2017: Health, Social Security and Social Protection (2018), 1. The ECSR noted positive developments regarding the framework and adoption of measures with respect to health and safety at work as well as the extension of social security benefits with regards to healthcare and disability. See id. Three States (Greece, Iceland, and Luxembourg) failed to submit their reports on time for review by the ECSR; conclusions on those States will be issued at a later date in 2018. See id.
In February 2018, 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, country visits, interactive dialogues, and hearings on individual complaints. Four United Nations treaty bodies will be holding sessions throughout February on issues related to children’s rights, prevention of torture, the rights of persons with disabilities, and the rights of women. The UN Human Rights Council and several of its working groups will also be in session to review communications as well as thematic and country-specific reports. Two UN special rapporteurs will carry out country visits, and two special procedures working groups will hold private sessions on the topics of forced disappearances, and business and human rights.
Regionally, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will be in session, and will hold public hearings during those sessions. The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hear arguments in one case on the alleged violation of due process rights during domestic criminal proceedings, including the right to a fair trial, the right to adequate preparation of a defense, and the right to examine a witness.
The UN treaty body sessions and the public hearings of the European Court, Inter-American Commission, and Inter-American Court may be watched via UN Web TV, the European Court’s website, the Inter-American Commission’s website, and Vimeo, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has called on the Tunisian government to respect demonstrators’ rights following the protests that began around January 8, continuing through January 14, and have resulted in almost 850 arrests. [UN News Centre; NY Times: Arrests; BBC: Gas] In addition to mass arrests, the police have responded to the protests with tear gas and violence, which the State claims is justified by some protesters’ vandalism, theft, and aggression, despite reports of these tactics also being used against peaceful protesters. [BBC: Gas; Amnesty International] January 14, 2018 marks the seventh anniversary of the 2011 protests that culminated in the ousting of Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, following his 23 year-long rule. [BBC: Gas] While Tunisians gathered to commemorate this date, the demonstrators also protested the recent 2018 Finance Act, which took effect on January 1, 2018, and imposes austerity measures such as an increase in taxes on specific goods and services, including food and gas prices. [CNN; NY Times: Economic; Al Jazeera] As a party to several universal human rights treaties, and to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Tunisia is obligated to ensure the human rights to freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, to freedom of peaceful assembly, and to freedom of expression, which the OHCHR has urged the government to abide by. [UN News Centre] See OHCHR, Ratification Status for Tunisia; African Union, List of countries which have signed, ratified/acceded to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Read more
On January 9, 2018, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), the judicial organ of the human rights system in the Americas, published an advisory opinion holding that Member States of the American Convention on Human Rights have an obligation to permit transgender individuals to change their name and gender on identity documents, to recognize same-sex marriage, and to ensure the economic rights of those in same-sex relationships. [IACtHR Press Release (in Spanish only)] See I/A Court H.R., Obligaciones Estatales en Relación Con el Cambio de Nombre, la Identidad de Género, Y los Derechos Derivados de un Vínculo Entre Parejas del Mismo Sexo. Advisory Opinion OC-24/17. 24 November 2017, para. 229 (in Spanish only). In 2016, Costa Rica filed a request for the advisory opinion, asking the Inter-American Court to clarify two questions arising under the American Convention. The first question was whether States are obligated to provide procedures for name, photo, and gender changes in accordance with an individual’s gender identity, and whether Costa Rica’s practices conform with this obligation. The second question was whether States are obligated to recognize the economic rights derived from a bond between same-sex persons. [IACtHR Press Release] See Obligaciones Estatales en Relación Con el Cambio de Nombre, la Identidad de Género, Y los Derechos Derivados de un Vínculo Entre Parejas del Mismo Sexo. 24 November 2017, para. 1. The Inter-American Court answered in the affirmative to Costa Rica’s questions. [IACtHR Press Release] The finding applies to all 23 States parties to the American Convention.
The opinion has received international recognition for its advancement of LGBTQ rights; the recently appointed Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, has expressed that “the protections described by the Court in this Advisory Opinion will have an extremely positive impact in addressing stigma, promoting socio-cultural inclusion and furthering legal recognition of gender identity.” [OHCHR Press Release] Although Costa Rica is one of several Latin American countries that do not currently permit same-sex marriage, officials from the Costa Rican government are willing to embrace the Court’s opinion, with Costa Rica’s Vice-President Ana Helena Chacón quoted as saying that the decision would be adopted “in its totality.” [Reuters; BBC]. Read more
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), two United Nations special rapporteurs, and one UN working group recently condemned Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’s decision to issue a humanitarian pardon on December 24, 2017 to former President Alberto Fujimori, who was convicted and sentenced in 2009 to 25 years in prison for murder, kidnapping, and crimes against humanity during his presidency; the IACHR and the UN human rights experts question whether the decision meets international human rights legal requirements, and asserts that it undermines the efforts of victims and witnesses who brought Fujimori to justice. [IACHR Press Release; OHCHR Press Release; HRW: Pardon] See Resolución Suprema No. 281-2017-JUS (2017) [Spanish Only]. The pardon, issued officially for humanitarian reasons due to Fujimori’s health, absolves Fujimori of his convictions and releases him from his sentence. [IACHR Press Release] Peru is obligated under international human rights law to investigate alleged rights violations and punish perpetrators, and not to implement pardons or amnesty laws that undermine the rights to a fair trial and to judicial protection. [IACHR Press Release; OHCHR Press Release]
Some Peruvians and UN experts believe that the pardon was politically motivated because of a potential connection between Fujimori’s pardon and the cancelled impeachment proceedings against President Kuczynski; the impeachment proceedings were dropped just three days after the impeachment hearing of President Kuczynski, who survived a removal vote with the help of a 10-person coalition that crossed party lines to abstain from the removal vote, led by Fujimori’s son Kenji Fujimori. Seven of the 10 lawmakers communicated with Fujimori leading up to the vote. [Reuters; HRW: Pardon; OHCHR Press Release] President Kuczynski’s decision triggered street protests and unrest in Peru. [OHCHR Press Release; Guardian: Pardon] Read more
In January 2018, 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, and hearings. One United Nations treaty body will meet throughout January to assess States’ compliance with their treaty obligations related to the rights of the child. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group will also be in session and will conduct interactive dialogues with representatives from 14 States. Three UN special procedures mandate holders will conduct country visits, and an additional special procedure working group will hold sessions. Regionally, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) and the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) will be in session, and the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hear two cases related to the rights of liberty and security, the right to freedom of assembly, the right to a fair trial, and the limitation of restrictions on rights.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) presented a report on December 5, 2017 that, for the first time in the region, details Member States’ human rights legal obligations to address the situation of poverty and extreme poverty in the Americas through a human rights perspective. See IACHR, Poverty and Human Rights in the Americas (2017), para. 18 (in Spanish only). The Commission’s report acknowledges that poverty is interrelated with certain rights, both civil and political and economic and social, such as the rights to work, education, health, and access to justice, and, therefore, recommends that States focus on ensuring rights for all, including groups in vulnerable situations, as a method for addressing poverty and extreme poverty. See id. at paras. 12, 98, 494. The report also highlights the disproportionate impact of poverty on groups in vulnerable situations; recognizes the barriers to access to justice that poverty presents; and makes recommendations to Member States, such as taking a human rights perspective over a welfare approach to addressing poverty, among others. See id. at paras. 34, 98. Additionally, the report recognizes different definitions of poverty and extreme poverty, although it does not explicitly decide on definitions for each, but the report does state that extreme poverty is a grave problem that impacts the exercise and enjoyment of all human rights. See id. at paras. 2, 18. This is the first report since the IACHR established the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights. [IACHR Press Release: ESCER; IJRC] Read more