Category Archives: Human Rights

Deportation of the Rohingya people as a crime against humanity and the territorial jurisdiction of the ICC

Alessandra M De Tommaso (PhD student in international law, Middlesex University (London); alessandra.detommaso@gmail.com)

  1. Introduction

On 9 April 2018, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the International Criminal Court (ICC, or the Court) submitted a request pursuant to article 19(3) of the Rome Statute establishing the ICC (or the RomeStature, or the Statute) seeking a ruling on whether the Court may exercise its jurisdiction “over the alleged deportation of the Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh”. On 11 April 2018, the President of the Pre-Trial Division, Judge Antoine Kesia‐Mbe Mindua, assigned the matter to Pre-Trial Chamber I for further determination. On 7 May 2018, the Pre-Trial Chamber issued a decision inviting Bangladesh to submit its observations on the Prosecution’s request.

Article 19(3) of the Statute grants the Prosecutor the power to request a ruling from the Court on a question of jurisdiction or admissibility.[1]To date, this is the first time that the OTP submits a request pursuant to article 19(3).  In the case at hand, the need for such a ruling arises from the exceptional circumstances of the situation concerning the Rohingya people. Indeed, in this case, only the receiving State (Bangladesh) has accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction, while the originating State (Myanmar) has neither ratified the Rome Statute nor accepted the Court’s jurisdiction underarticle 12(3) of the Statute.

In its Request, the OTP addresses two legal issues: (i) the definition of deportation as a crime against humanity pursuant to article 7(1)(d) of the Statute; and (ii) the scope of the Court’s territorial jurisdiction under article 12(2)(a) of the Statute. This post provides a brief overview of the arguments submitted by the OTP, focusing in particular on the observations concerning the inherent transnational character of the crime of deportation and its implications on the territorial jurisdiction ofthe ICC.

  1. Deportation as a crime against humanity under the Rome Statute

The first issue addressed by the Prosecutor concerns the definition of deportation as an independent crime against humanity distinct from the crime of forcibletransfer. The Rome Statute lists both crimes under article 7(1)(d), which reads as follows:

“For the purpose of this Statute, ‘crime against humanity’ means any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack:

[…]

(d) Deportation or forcible transfer of population;”[2]

Although included under the same provision, deportation and forcible transfer should be interpreted as two separate offences.[3]Indeed, as argued by the Prosecutor, deportation requires that the victim is forced to cross a de factoor de jureinternational border, whereas forcible transfer refers to internal displacement.[4]Such a distinction has constantly been recognised in the copious jurisprudence of the ICTY on the matter.[5]To provide a recent example of that, in 2016, the Trial Chamber in Prosecutor v Radovan Karadzic observed:

‘488. The elements of deportation and forcible transfer are substantially similar. Deportation and forcible transfer are defined as: (i) the forced displacement of one or more persons by expulsion or other forms of coercion, (ii) from an area in which they are lawfully present, (iii) without grounds permitted under international law. There is an important distinction between the two crimes; for deportation, the displacement of persons must be across a de jureborder between two states or, in certain circumstances, a de factoborder, and for forcible transfer, the removal may take place within national boundaries.’[6]

Interestingly, it is from the case law of the ICC that some uncertainty may still arise on the legal standing of deportation as an autonomous crime. In the Rutocase, Pre-Trial Chamber II described ‘deportation or forcible transfer’ under article 7(1)(d) of the Statute a ‘unique crime’ with ‘two labels’, leaving any concrete determination on the distinction existing between the two labels to the Trial Chamber.[7]In recalling this precedent, the OTP contests that it was in the intention of the Pre-Trial Chamber II to conflate the two crimes and observes that in many other occasions the ICC Pre-Trial Chambers have implicitly recognised the distinct nature of the two crimes by confirming charges ‘onlyof forcible transfer and notdeportation’.[8]

Therefore, the OTP concludes that deportation under article 7(1)(d) of the Statute is anautonomous crime, requiring the forcible displacement of persons across an international border. It followsthat deportation has an inherently transnational component and ‘is not completed until the victim has been forced to cross a de jureor de facto international border’.[9]

  1. The scope of the territorial jurisdiction of the Court under article 12(2)(a) of the Statute

The transnational character of deportation implies that not all legal elements of the crime occur on the territory of a single State. By definition, indeed, the crime is established only when the victim crosses the border of the State where he or she lawfully resided, to enter the territory of a different State. No particular issues arise when both the originating State and the receiving State are Parties to the Statute. But what happenswhen only one of the two States has ratified the Rome Statute?

Pursuant to article 12(2)(a) of the Statute, the Court may exercise its territorial jurisdiction when ‘the conduct in question’ occurred on the territory of a State Party or of a State that hasaccepted the Court’s jurisdiction.[10]The Statute provides no guidance on how the term ‘conduct’ should be interpreted in the context of article 12(2)(a) of the Statute. Thus, the Court is left with the task of establishing whether the term ‘conduct’ refers only to the criminal conduct or includes also its consequences, and whether the provision applies to the partial commission of a crimeon the territory of a State Party or requires all the elements of the crime to occur on that territory.[11]Narrowly interpreted, the provision might restrict the Court’s territorial jurisdiction only to instances where the whole conduct (understood as the physical manifestation of the criminal act/omission) took place on the territory of a State Party, irrespectively of its consequences.

In its Request, the OTP firmly refuses such a narrow interpretation. First of all, the Prosecutor argues that the correct way of interpreting article 12(2)(a) of the Statute is to read the term ‘conduct’ as a synonymous of ‘crime’, so to include the criminal act/omission and its consequences.[12]The Prosecution then argues that the ‘conduct’ requirement under article 12(2)(a) of the Statute means that ‘at least one legal element of an article 5 crime must occur on the territory of a State Party’.[13]Indeed, the OTP submits that excluding the Court’s territorial jurisdiction when only some of the elements of a crime occurred on a State Party’s territory would be inconsistent with ‘the general and long-establishedapproach of the international community in exercising criminal jurisdiction’ and would go against the object and purpose of article 12(2)(a).[14]

Applying this interpretation of article 12(2)(a) of the Statute to the crime of deportation, the Prosecution submits that the ICC may exercise itsterritorial jurisdiction ‘eitherif the originating State is a State Party to the Court orif the receiving State is a State Party to the Court’.[15]In case of deportation, indeed, it is not relevant that the coercive acts took place only on the territory of a State not Party, ‘since the coercion and the movement of the victim [across the border] are distinct legal elements under article 7(1)(d)’.[16] In the Prosecutor’s own words:

“… in adopting the Statute as a whole, the drafters manifestly intended to grant the Court ‘jurisdiction over the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole’. This expressly included the crime of deportation, which has an inherently transnational character. If it was understood arguendo that article 12(2)(a) jurisdiction was only established where all the elements of a crime were committed on the territory of a State Party, this would exclude the Court’s jurisdiction over deportation—which requires one element that always occurs beyond the territory of the victims’ State of origin—unless both States are Parties to the Rome Statute.”[17]

Thus, it is the Prosecutor’s conclusion that, in the situation concerning the Rohingya people, the circumstance that the receiving State (Bangladesh) is a State Party may trigger the Court’s territorial jurisdiction even though the originating State (Myanmar) is not a Party to the Statute.

  1. Conclusion

The Prosecution’s Request should be saluted as a positive attempt to bring justice to the Rohingya people.[18]From a more general perspective, the Request should also be welcomed for its interesting insights in the interpretation of the Court’s territorial jurisdiction in connection with those crimes which have an inherently transnational character. Even if the judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber will not adopt the broad interpretation of article 12(2)(a) of the Statute submitted by the Prosecution, the latter’s request may give them the opportunity to clarify one of the still untouched issues concerning the territorial reach of the Court’s jurisdiction. However, it is not unrealistic to suppose that the Pre-Trial Chamber may refrain from embracing the Prosecutor’s interpretation of article 12(2)(a), as a similar determination may stir complaints from States not Parties to the Statute, fearing  future ‘interventions’ by the Court.Rohingya

[1]Article 19(3) of the Rome Statute.

[2]Article 7(1)(d) of the Rome Statute.

[3]Prosecution’s Request for a Ruling on Jurisdiction under Article 19(3) of the Statute, ICC-RoC46(3)-01/18-1, 9 April 2018, para 13.

[4]Ibid., , paras. 15-2.7

[5]See e.g. Gotovina et al. case(Judgment) IT-06-90, 15 April 2001, para. 1740; Kristíc case (Judgment) IT-98-33-t, 2 August 2001, para. 521; Krnojelac case(Judgment) IT-97-25-T, 15 March 2002, para. 474; Karadžić case(Public Redacted Version of Judgment Issued on 24 March 2016 – Volume I of IV) IT-95-5/18-T, 24 March 2016, paras 488-490.

[6]Karadžić case(Public Redacted Version of Judgment Issued on 24 March 2016 – Volume I of IV) IT-95-5/18-T, 24 March 2016, para 488.

[7]Ruto case(Decision on the Confirmation of Charges Pursuant to Article 61(7)(a) and (b) of the Rome Statute) ICC-01/09-01/11-373, 23 January 2012, para 268.

[8]Prosecution’s Request for a Ruling on Jurisdiction under Article 19(3) of the Statute, ICC-RoC46(3)-01/18-1, 9 April 2018, para 26 [emphasis in the original].

[9]Ibid., para 26.

[10]Article 12(2)(a) of the Rome Statute.

[11]See, on this regard, Michail Vagias, ‘The Territorial Jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court – A Jurisdictional Rule of Reason for the ICC?’ (2012) 59 Netherlands International Law Review 43, 44; Jean-Baptiste Maillart, Article 12(2)(a) Rome Statute: The Missing Piece of the Jurisdictional Puzzle, EJIL: Talk! https://www.ejiltalk.org/article-122a-rome-statute-the-missing-piece-of-the-jurisdictional-puzzle/(last accessed on 9 May 2018).

[12]Prosecution’s Request for a Ruling on Jurisdiction under Article 19(3) of the Statute, ICC-RoC46(3)-01/18-1, 9 April 2018, para46.

[13]Ibid., para 28.

[14]Ibid., paras 25 and 29.

[15]Ibid., para 28 [emphasis in the original].

[16]Ibid., para 28.

[17]Ibid.,para 49.

[18]See Human Right Watch, ICC Prosecutor’s Unprecedented Bid to Bring Justice to Rohingya, 10 April 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/04/10/icc-prosecutors-unprecedented-bid-bring-justice-rohingya(last accessed on 9 May 2018).

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The dismissal of the revision request in the case of Ireland v UK

 Introduction*

On 20 March 2018 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has dismissed, by six votes to one, the Irish Government’s request to revise the 1978 Ireland v UK judgment.[1]

The case concerned the use, by British authorities, of ‘disorientation’ or ‘sensory deprivation’ techniques on men detained under emergency powers during Northern Ireland’s civil strife. The so-called ‘five techniques’ consisted in hooding, wall standing in stress position for long periods of time, sleep deprivation, subjection to noise, food and water deprivation. The conclusion reached in 1978 by the ECtHR was that, although the techniques ‘undoubtedly amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment’, ‘they did not occasion suffering of the particular intensity and cruelty implied by the word torture as so understood’.[2]

The revision request, submitted under Rule 80 § 1 of the Rules of Court, aimed at obtaining a different legal qualification of the techniques: the Irish Government produced newly discovered evidence, on the basis of which it was alleged that the 1978 judgment should have considered the techniques as torture.[3]

The five techniques have been used by other Governments’ agencies in Afghanistan, Iraq and detention facilities such as Guantanamo, and the 1978 judgment has been cited by the 2002 ‘Torture Memo’ to justify the conclusion that the use of similar techniques by the United States did not amount to torture. It is therefore not surprising that the dismissal of the revision request has provoked strong reactions among human rights activists.

However, the dismissal is correctly grounded on technical arguments which derive logically from the Court’s case law, and it should not be read as a rejection of the opinion according to which the techniques amount to torture. The present post analyses the dismissal and argues that it should be welcomed as a proof of the Court’s consciousness of the extent of its own interpretative powers.[4]

The 1978 judgment

Ireland v UK was the first interstate application lodged before the ECtHR. Its exceptional nature lied also in the fact that the respondent Government had acknowledged the violation for which the applicant state had set in motion the proceedings.[5] Thus, before the Court it needed not to be established whether the five techniques had been used: what was disputed was the amount of damages caused by them, a key factor for their legal qualification under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR, or the Convention).

Article 3 ECHR prohibits ill-treatments of two kinds: ‘torture’ and ‘inhuman and degrading treatments’. The dividing line between the two notions has been clarified progressively by the Court’s case law,[6] but in 1978 it was already clear that the severity of the treatment played a significant role in the distinction.[7]

The European Commission issued a report and concluded, by a unanimous vote, that, while it was clear that the techniques resulted in no physical injury, the available evidence did not allow to establish the exact degree of their psychiatric after-effects;[8] however, in light of their systematic application and of the underlying purpose (i.e., extracting information from prisoners) they amounted to torture.

The Court, to whom the case was subsequently referred, reached a different conclusion. While sharing the view that the five techniques amounted to inhuman and degrading treatments, having regard to other instruments of international law,[9] it concluded that the notion of torture is meant to attach ‘a special stigma to deliberate inhuman treatment causing very serious and cruel suffering’.[10] In the light of the factual findings, the Court concluded that the five techniques did not occasion ‘suffering of the particular intensity and cruelty implied by the word torture as so understood’.[11]

The revision request

The revision request lodged by Ireland was grounded on Rule 80 of the Rules of Court, which reads as follows:

‘A party may, in the event of the discovery of a fact which might by its nature have a decisive influence and which, when a judgment was delivered, was unknown to the Court and could not reasonably have been known to that party, request the Court, within a period of six months after that party acquired knowledge of the fact, to revise that judgment.’

The Irish Government alleged that in 2014 it had become aware of previously secret documents, including medical reports by Dr. L (one of the experts heard by the Commission), which if known to the Court at the time of the judgment, would or might have had a decisive influence.[12] The documents demonstrated that in 1978 it was already clear that the effects of the five techniques could be substantial, severe and long-lasting, thus justifying their legal qualification as ‘torture’.[13]

The UK contested the revision request, alleging, inter alia, that it was not grounded on new facts but aimed at acquiring new evidence, and that, even assuming it was grounded on new facts, these did not have a decisive influence.[14]

The 2018 revision judgment

The 2018 judgment is grounded on two premises.

The first premise is the need to apply a restrictive interpretation. The Court recalls that revision is an exception to the rule of finality of judgments, which is not provided for by the Convention but by Rule 80 of the Rules of Court.[15] In order to protect legal certainty (essential element of the rule of law) revision can only be allowed in exceptional circumstances, which must be subject to strict interpretation: accordingly, where doubts remain as to whether or not a new fact actually could have a decisive influence on the original judgment, legal certainty must prevail and the final judgment must stand.[16]

The second premise is the need to take into account the temporal aspect of the revision request. The Court underlines that the new facts grounding the request occurred almost 40 years after the original judgment. Since then, the Court’s case law on the notion of torture has considerably evolved; the long-term effects of a treatment when distinguishing between torture and inhuman treatment are now particularly relevant.[17]

On the basis of these premises, the Court concludes that there is no certainty that the alleged new fact (‘namely that Dr L. misled the Commission regarding the effects of the five techniques)[18] could have a ‘decisive influence’ on the original judgment. Indeed, there is no certainty that, had the Court been aware of the fact that the five techniques could have severe long-term psychiatric effects, in the light of the case‑law on Article 3 of the Convention as it stood at the time, this would have led to a qualification of the techniques as torture. [19]

Analysis

As underlined by Judge O’Leary in her dissenting opinion, the judgment has undeniably some flaws. For instance, it reduces the ground for revision relating to the discovery of new documents to the fact that ‘Dr L. misled the Commission regarding the effects of the five techniques’.[20] However, the Irish Government had relied on various documents, not limited to those demonstrating Dr L.’s allegedly misleading statements.

Furthermore, the reasoning given for the assessment of non-relevance of the new facts is inter alia grounded on the assertion that ‘the original judgment does not mention the issue of possible long-term effects of the use of the five techniques in its legal assessment’.[21] While it is true that the 1978 Court’s judgment made no reference the possible long-term effects of the five techniques, the Commission had clearly taken into account the issue when making its own assessment. Thus, it cannot be said that the topic was completely unknown to the European judges.

These flaws, although regrettable (for they expose the judgment to potential criticism), are not substantial, and they certainly do not render the judgment a rejection of the opinion according to which the techniques amount to torture. What needs to be borne in mind is the double premise on which the judgment was grounded: the need to apply a restrictive interpretation to revision requests, and the temporal dimension of the Ireland v UK request for revision.

The ECtHR conceives the Convention as a ‘living instrument’, which must be interpreted in the light of present-day conditions.[22] For this reason, it applies extensively the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Convention, often demonstrating a certain activism.[23] For instance, its case law as to the rights of post-operative transsexuals has considerably evolved during time, shifting from non-recognition to recognition in a lapse of less than 20 years.

In this context, the Court’s dismissal of Ireland’s revision request is equivalent to admitting that it is impossible to evaluate with sufficient certainty how evidence discovered today on the long-lasting effects of ill-treatments would impact on a judgment issued well before the establishment of a clear case law under which long-lasting effects determine the difference between ‘inhuman treatments’ and ‘torture’.

Conclusion

The 2018 judgment by which the ECtHR dismissed the revision request in the case of Ireland v UK is clearly not a rejection of the opinion according to which the brutal interrogation techniques which were at the origin of the case amount to torture.

On the opposite, one could argue that the Court knew that the five techniques would amount to torture under the current case law on Article 3 ECHR: however, it also knew that this case law has developed considerably over the last forty years, and for this reason it acknowledged the impossibility of reaching an impartial and sufficient certain conclusion for a period in which such case law was not yet available.

By this judgment, the Court has demonstrated a willing restraint in the exercise of its powers, motivated by the extraordinary nature of the request, that is, the revision of a final judgment issued 40 years ago. Conclusively, the judgment should be welcomed as a proof of the Court’s consciousness of the need to handle with due care the powerful interpretative tools at its disposal.

 

 

 

 

* The views in this post represent the personal opinion of the author in her private capacity.

[1] Ireland v. the United Kingdom, no. 5310/71, Judgment (revision) 20 March 2018.

[2] Ireland v. the United Kingdom, § 167.

[3] Ireland v. the United Kingdom, §§ 21-27.

[4] For other commentaries to the decision see: Iulia Padeanu, Why the ECHR Decided not to Revise its Judgment in the Ireland v. The United Kingdom Case, and Michael O’Boyle, Revising the verdict in Ireland v UK: time for a reality check? both on http://www.ejiltalk.org.

[5] The respondent Government had ‘conceded.. that the use of the five techniques was authorised at ‘high level’’, see § 97 of the judgment.

[6] See, among other authorities: Selmouni v. France [GC] no. 25803/94, ECHR 1999‑V Gäfgen v. Germany [GC], no. 22978/05, ECHR 2010

[7] As recalled by the Court at paragraph 167 of the 1978 judgment, Article 1 in fine of Resolution 3452 (XXX) adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 9 December 1975 declares: ‘Torture constitutes an aggravated and deliberate form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’.

[8] At that time the European Commission of Human Rights shared adjudicatory functions with the ‘old’ Court.

[9] Particularly, Resolution 3452 (XXX) adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 9 December 1975: see § 167 of the judgment.

[10] Ireland v. the United Kingdom § 167.

[11] Ibidem.

[12] Ireland v. the United Kingdom, §§ 19-44.

[13] Ireland v. the United Kingdom, §§ 61-67.

[14] Ireland v. the United Kingdom, §§ 46-60.

[15] Ireland v. the United Kingdom §§ 93, 122.

[16] Ireland v. the United Kingdom § 122.

[17] Ireland v. the United Kingdom § 124.

[18] Ireland v. the United Kingdom § 96.

[19] Ireland v. the United Kingdom §§ 125-135.

[20] Ireland v. the United Kingdom § 96.

[21] Ireland v. the United Kingdom §§ 134.

[22] Tyrer v United Kingdom  (1978) Series A no 26, par 31; Marckx v Belgium (1979) Series A no 31, par 41.

[23] For references on this topic, see D. Sartori, Gap-Filling and Judicial Activism in the Case Law of the European Court of Human Rights, Tulane European and Civil Law Forum, 29, 2014.

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The Use of Force of Turkey in Rojava after the Capture of Afrin. Consequences for International Law and for the Syrian Conflict.

On 20 January 2018 Turkey initiated a military operation in the territory of Northern Syria, also known as Rojava: an area under Kurdish administration which is increasingly gaining international legitimacy as a result of both its struggle against the Daesh and its model of a system of governance based upon respect for human rights and multicultural coexistence . To date, the main attacks have targeted the Region of Afrin (one of the three cantons of Rojava – the other two being Jazira and Kobane) which was captured by Turkey on the 18 March of this year. However, Turkey has expressed its intention to expand the attacks in the rest of Northern Syria and possibly in the territory of Iraq. The military operation was given the Orwellian name of Operation Olive Branch

The present analysis argues that Operation Olive Branch constitutes a violation of ius ad bellum and amounts to a crime of aggression. Furthermore, the continuation of attacks violates the 30-day ceasefire established by the Security Council in Resolution 22401 of 24 February 2018. Furthermore, reports from the field indicate a pattern of war crimes.

The strategic importance of Turkey in the maintenance of the equilibrium of the region has silenced the reaction of most actors in the area, as well as of the international community. The acquiescence towards the violations committed by Turkey in Northern Syria risks undermining the current interpretation of the fundamental tenets of self-defence as a legitimate basis for use of force, and, from a political perspective, risks jeopardising the Syrian peace process.

The Olive Branch Operation as a War of Aggression

Since 20 January 2018, Turkey has been carrying out military operations in Rojava, and on 24 March, it declared itself to have established full control over the region of Afrin. The area is controlled by the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, also known as Rojava or Syrian Kurdistan. Turkey argued for the legality of the intervention in a letter to the Security Council sent on 22 January of the same year.

Turkey bases the legitimacy of its actions on art. 51 of the UN Charter, thereby invoking the principle of self-defence, against a “threat of terrorism”. According to the document, this threat undermines Turkish national security, as well as the territorial integrity of Syria, and regional and international security.

However, there are fundamental flaws in Turkey’s argument that its actions were legal under international law. The Turkish justification falls within the evolving legal regime of self-defence against imminent terrorist attacks in territories which are not under the control of any State. Notwithstanding the complexity and fluidity of the legal issues at stake, it seems uncontroversial that, in the present case, the use of force of Turkey is blatantly illegal. First, Turkey is required to clearly substantiate its allegation that an armed attack took place (ICJ, Armed Activities in the Territory of the Congo (2005), para. 146). In this case, however, Turkey merely mentions general “threats of terrorism”, not even imminent, occurring at its Syrian border. In addition, self-defence against a non-state actor, such as Rojava, would, arguably, only be legitimate only in presence of large scale attacks (ICJ Congo v. Uganda 2005, para. 147): a circumstance which does not arise in the present case. The argument that the operation was intended to safeguard the territorial integrity of Syria is also problematic, in that the Government of Damascus has denounced it as an act of aggression, in a letter to the UN Security Council.

Furthermore, the Kurdish institutions controlling the region of Afrin, and other groups active in the area, are not designated as ‘terrorist’. Turkey defines the Kurdish administration in Northern Syria as the PKK/KCK/PYD/YPG terrorist organisation. In so doing, Turkey equates the Turkish Kurds organization, the PKK, (Kurdistan Workers’ Party Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê) to the Kurdish administration of Northern Syria (PYD,  Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat, Democratic Union Party) and its militia (YPG, Yekîneyên Parastina Gel, People Protection Units). While the PKK is considered to be a terrorist organization by several states, including the US and the EU (but not other states or entities, inter alia, the United Nations), the Syrian institutions are not listed as terrorist organisations. On the contrary, they receive military support in the fight against Daesh from the international coalition Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve.

In its declaration to the Security Council, furthermore, Turkey affirms that it targets Daesh activity in the region of Afrin. The Syrian army, however, has denied that ISIS has a presence in the area.

With the attack in Northern Syria, Turkey invoked the principle of self-defence against a potential threat of terrorism, in the absence of an armed attack, and against a group which is not largely acknowledged as being terrorist. In so doing, Turkey violated the prohibition to use force, in blatant violation of the fundamental tenets of self-defence as a legitimate basis for use of force.

The tacit acceptance of the abuse of the self-defence principle to carry out military operations may contribute, under certain conditions, to a normative change in the prohibition to use force. An extensive interpretation of self-defence, and the tolerance of non-authorised military operations, may extend the possibility to use force beyond the current limits established under international law, and allow States to justify acts of aggression with arguments of self-defence against threats of terrorism.

The violation of Resolution 22401 and Reports of War Crimes

On 24 February 2018, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 22401, which demands “a durable humanitarian pause for at least 30 consecutive days throughout Syria”. The Resolution was adopted following the increase in violence by the Syrian army in Ghouta and Idlib, which are specifically mentioned in the document. Conversely, because Afrin is not mentioned in the document, Turkey has argued that its military operation in Afrin is not covered by the Resolution, and that the Resolution does not prohibit the use of force against the Kurdish targets.

While specifically referring to Ghouta and Idlib in the context of humanitarian crises and the escalation of violence in the territory of Syria, the Resolution clearly states that the only exception to the ceasefire, imposed “throughout Syria” relates to the operations against Daesh and Al Qaeda. The humanitarian pause, therefore, is fully applicable in relation to Northern Syria and the Turkish attacks against Kurdish militia, therefore, fall squarely within the scope of the Resolution.

During the military operation, Turkish forces are reported to have perpetrated a pattern of serious violations of international humanitarian law. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has denounced deliberate attacks against civilian populations. The Syrian Observatory for Human rights reports the mutilation of female fighters, the use of gas weapons, the execution of refugees, and the bombing of an hospital, all of which constitute a pervasive pattern of war crimes.

The silence of the international community

From January 2018, Turkey has been perpetrating grave violations of international law including: a violation of the ius ad bellum regime; failure to adhere to a UN Security Council Resolution; and a pattern of violations of humanitarian law.

The Syrian Government immediately denounced the aggression against its territorial integrity, but the strategic importance of Turkey as a key regional power and as a NATO member, has hindered a strong international reaction against the aggression. The United States, the European Union and most of the international community have only expressed concern for the humanitarian situation.

This is regrettable due to the fact that, on a political level, the armed conflict between Turkey and the Kurdish area of Northern Syria jeopardises the possibility of an end the Syrian conflict. The Kurdish administration of Northern Syria manages an important part of the territory of the country. The Kurds are currently establishing an extremely progressive regime based on democratic confederalism, feminism, social ecology and human rights. Additionally, Syrian Kurds have renounced to the struggle for statehood and have indicated that would accept to constitute a federation under the control of Damascus.

The federal proposal of Kurdish Syria could, in principle, obtain the support of the different actors involved in the conflict, and inspire a possible path to reach the end of hostilities as well as towards rebuilding a post-conflict Syria. First, the acceptance of an autonomous region within the Syrian State could lead to an agreement with the central Government of Damascus. Second, the US are militarily supporting the Kurdish administration in the fight against Daesh, obtaining the liberation of the “capital” Raqqa in October 2017. Third, Russia, a federation itself, and a supporter of the current Syrian Government, does not exclude federalism as a possible model of administration for the post-conflict country. The consistent opposition of Turkey, however, has excluded the Syrian Kurdish representation from the international talks in Geneva and Astana.

The main challenge to this potential solution is indeed the exclusion of the PYD from the Peace talks, which is due to the opposition of Turkey as well as of other Syrian rebel groups, including other Kurdish groups. Its participation in this international forum would have strengthened the Rojava administration, in terms of both its stability in the field and its visibility as an ambitious model, for the international community and in particular for Syria, to administer a multicultural society.

Conclusion

Turkey is perpetrating grave international crimes, within the territory of Syria, against Kurds. Given the key role of Turkey in the region, the international community does not appear to be able to condemn the violations. In so doing, however, international law loses its effectiveness and risks allowing further abuses in the legal regime governing the use of force. This could contribute to a normative change in the definition of legitimate self-defence. Furthermore, the Rojava administration, which has been labelled by Turkey as a terrorist organisation, is among the main actors in the fight against Daesh. Finally, it is the only democratic model of governance in the Syrian territory, promoting the respect of human rights and multicultural coexistence. With its military campaign in Northern Syria, Turkey seriously weakens position of one of most relevant actors in the peace process for the region and one of the few players representing democracy, human rights and multicultural coexistence in the post-conflict Syria.

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The Italian legislation on foreign and unaccompanied minors between international principles and EU good practices: is a new de iure condendo perspective needed?

  1. Introduction

Over the past few years, the European Union has adopted a number of Directives relating to migrant rights. In particular, European Union Directive 2013/33/EU, laid down standards for the reception of applicants seeking international protection, while Directive 2013/32/EU established common procedures for the granting and withdrawal of international protection. In Italy, these Directives were implemented by means of legislative decree n. 142 of 2015 (hereinafter dlgs n. 142/2015)Law n. 47, of 7 April 2017, (hereinafter Lg. n. 47/2017), and legislative decree n. 220, of 22 December 2017 (hereinafter dlgs. N. 220/2017).

This post will focus on the recent Italian legislative developments in relation to unaccompanied minors. Following an overview of the legislation and the guidelines issued by the European Union, the post will highlight some outstanding issues relating to the existing body of legislation in the field and will seek to address whether a new legislative perspective is needed.

  1. The international principles and EU guidelines.

On 19th September 2016, the General Assembly of United Nations, adopted the ‘New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants’ (hereinafter the NY Declaration), through resolution 71/1. In Section I, para 3, the Declaration states that ‘We are witnessing in today’s world an unprecedented level of human mobility. More people than ever before live in a country other than the one in which they were born. Migrants are present in all countries in the world. Most of them move without incident. In 2015, their number surpassed 244 million, growing at a rate faster than the world’s population. However, there are roughly 65 million forcibly displaced persons, including over 21 million refugees, 3 million asylum seekers and over 40 million internally displaced persons’ (NY Declaration, Section I, para 3).

One of the main concerns for the United Nations, as well as for other supranational non-State actors, such as the European Union, is that, as has been demonstrated, a high degree of human mobility increases the number of unaccompanied children among migrants. The NY Declaration sets out a number of commitments towards migrant and unaccompanied children. One of these is the ‘equality’ clause at paras 5 and 6, which affirms the equality between migrants and refugees in terms of entitlement to international human rights protection. It includes this among the priorities of the international community, recalling established principles like the ‘best interests of the child’ and the special status of children as ‘vulnerable’ (paras 58 – 59 NY Declaration). In relation to the procedure granting international protection to third country nationals and migrants, the declaration affirms States’ commitment to ensuring “access for children to child-appropriate procedures” (para 70, NY Declaration).

The European Union, which is currently facing huge inflows of migrants through the European-African route, has shared the same concern for guaranteeing the adequate protection of third country national minors, especially unaccompanied children, in accordance with the principle of the best interests of the child. The ‘EU Guidelines for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of the Child (2017) – Leave no child behind’, issued on the 7th of March 2017, recalled, established and pointed out some examples of good practice. The tool is general in nature and is, therefore, applicable to all the sensitive situations which could require the safeguarding of the rights of children: the management of migration certainly falls within its scope.

On this specific point, on the 12th of April 2017, the European Commission, recalling the NY Declaration itself, addressed the ‘Communication on The protection of children in migration’ (COM(2017) 211 final) to the EU Parliament and the Council, highlighting the best practices applicable to migrant and unaccompanied minors. In this document the Commission highlights several improvements requested of EU Member States with the aim of complying with EU standards relating to the identification procedure, the (adequate) standard of reception and the effective access to status determination procedures. All of these matters should be addressed by the EU Member States, in the Commission’s view, in accordance with the Council proposal for a Common European Asylum system (COM(2016) 467 final), the Council of Europe Guidelines on child-friendly justice and the EASO (European Asylum Support Office) recommendation and practices on age assessment procedure in Europe.

  1. The Italian legislation on foreign and unaccompanied minors.

At the same time that the European Commission issued its communication, Italy began its own reform process of the legislation on unaccompanied children, with the aim of complying with the new obligations established. It also issued its response to alleged violations which gave rise to Infringement proceedings opened against Italy in 2014 by the European Commission about the matter at stake. The allegations, made in a letter issued on the 11th of July 2014, listed several violations of Directive 2003/95/EU and Directive 2003/9/EU committed by Italy. In particular, it was stated that the Italian asylum system failed to grant both an expeditious and adequate procedure for the minors seeking international protection, and a high standard of conditions for their reception in the territory.

Lg n. 47/2017 aimed to integrate the already existent discipline of reception, international protection and the asylum procedure, as well as introducing regulations on unaccompanied children, regardless of their status as refugees, asylum seekers or any other status.

The law focuses on some key points, grounded on the principle of the best interests of the child, namely: the definition of the unaccompanied minor as a vulnerable subject; the principle of non-refoulement and the special return policy; the creation of a national database aimed at collecting and sharing data on unaccompanied and foreign minors at both the national and European level; and the introduction and the reaffirmation of some significant procedural guarantees in the identification and determination of the age of minors. Regarding the latter point, the law introduced a significant modification to dlgs 142/2015, by adding a new art. 19-bis. The provision establishes some mandatory steps to be followed in the reception of a foreign minor, regardless of the status of the child. These include: the medical procedures needed to determine the age of the child (which should be as non invasive as possible); an informative interview, conducted by qualified personnel; the judicial appointment of a legal guardian; an investigation on the family situation and conditions of family life; and the duty to fully inform the minor about his/her own right to apply for any form of international protection. Also particularly significant are the provisions of Art. 15 (the right of the minor to be heard in any judicial proceedings on their own interests) and Art. 16 (the right to legal representation in any proceedings and the assistance of a lawyer of their own choice).

These two specific guarantees comply with the universal principle of the effective participation of minors in proceedings involving their own interests, which, in the case of unaccompanied minors and asylum-seekers, needs to be protected even further, due to the special vulnerability of the applicants involved.

Dlgs 220/2017 builds upon Lg. n. 47: in particular, Art. 2 significantly modifies the procedure to appoint a guardian. In line with the request by the EU to grant an adequate and expeditious procedure in a specialized and streamlined system, the competence for this is assigned to the Youth Court, instead of the Civil Litigation Section of the Ordinary Tribunal.

As regards the procedure to apply for international protection, dlgs. 220 significantly modifies the clause included in Art. 19 bis of the Law Decree n. 13/2017 (converted into Law n. 46/2017 – hereinafter the Decreto Minniti). The latter, which significantly reformed the regulation of reception and asylum/international protection procedures, provided for a ‘clause of non applicability’ of the regulation to unaccompanied minors. This aimed to exclude sensitive and vulnerable minors from the general regulation.

Notwithstanding the several recent reforms, the Italian immigration system does not yet provide for a special regulation and procedure for unaccompanied minors seeking international protection. Furthermore, in excluding unaccompanied minors from its scope, the Decreto Minniti de facto created a normative vacuum. The dlgs 220/2017 solves the issues by referring, even in the case of unaccompanied minors, to the applicability of Decreto Minniti in the part relating to the international protection and asylum seeking procedure and to any other related administrative procedure.

The modification of the non applicability clause of the Decreto Minniti by the dlgs. 220 suggests a proposal de iure condendo. The total absence of a comprehensive code of procedural and substantial provisions specifically for the protection of the foreign and unaccompanied minors seeking international protection would suggest to intervene to fill the gap.

Italian legislation currently in force encompasses a significant number of different regulations: the comprehensive code of immigration law (Decreto legislativo, testo coordinato, 25/07/1998 n° 286, G.U. 18/08/1998), as integrated and amended; dlgs 145/2015, implementing directives 2013/33/EU and 2013/32/EU; the most recent so-called Decreto Minniti, converted into Law n. 46/2017; Law n. 47/2017 on unaccompanied children; and, lastly, dlgs n. 220/2017. The last three tools supposedly amended the Code of immigration law. This situation creates an uncomfortable patchwork of regulations.

  1. Final remarks

The current legislative framework is so fragmented and convoluted that it would appear to run counter to the fundamental principles as well as objectives set out by supranational bodies and with which the Italian system is trying to comply.

From a strictly legislative point of view, the recent reforms in Italian legislation deserve to be acknowledged as being formally consistent with European Union regulations and guidelines, as well as with the international principle of the best interests of the child.

However, the fragmentation in the relevant legislative tools creates a confused framework that makes it difficult to really cater for the most vulnerable category of migrants (children), who deserve to be prioritized. In this sense, the adoption of a comprehensive code of regulation in the field could probably help Italian interpreters and front line operators to intervene as best as they can to ensure the highest standard of substantial and procedural guarantees for accompanied and unaccompanied minors seeking international protection.Berlin

 

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“IMPUNITY” FOR GROSS HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES? THE PARDON OF FUJIMORI

1. Introduction

On 24th December 2017, the Peruvian President Kuczynski granted a pardon to the former President Alberto Fujimori, convicted in 2009 as indirect perpetrator “by means of a criminal organised apparatus” for the aggravated kidnapping, aggravated murder and serious injuries, committed during the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta massacres.[1] Fujimori had already served 12 out of the 25 years of imprisonment to which he had been sentenced.

On 2nd February 2018, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) held a hearing in the monitoring compliance proceedings relating to the Barrios Altos case: on that occasion, victims of the massacre argued that Kuczynski’s pardon of Fujimori amounts to an infringement of the duties imposed on Peru by the Barrios Altos judgment. The decision of the Court is due shortly.

Meanwhile, the pardon has been strongly criticized by the Peruvian civil society, and by human rights activists worldwide. Not only was it controversial as to the procedure, timing and the alleged underlying motives leading to its adoption, but it also reignited the debate surrounding the admissibility of amnesties, pardons and other waivers of punishment for people convicted of gross human rights violations.

2. Issues of legitimacy, hidden motives and reasoning

Kuczynski’s pardon of Fujimori has raised a lot of criticism in Peruvian society, not only because the memory of the human rights abuses committed during the dictatorship is still alive and sensitive, but also because of the circumstances in which the measure was adopted.

Firstly, the pardon was granted surprisingly fast, almost without any opportunity for a debate, just a few days after a parliamentary motion to remove the current President of Peru, Pedro Paulo Kuczinsky, from his post on the basis of allegations of corruption. According to public opinion, the pardon would be the result of a quid pro quo agreement between Kuczinsky and the Fujimorist party Fuerza Popular, in order to get support against the impeachment.

Secondly, the measure was formally grounded on humanitarian reasons, which apply to cases of terminal diseases or poor health, rendering imprisonment a threat to life, health or integrity. In this regard, commentators have pointed out that, besides the need for a more detailed reasoning, the medical diagnosis about Fujimori’s health is rather doubtful. The former President was indeed receiving special medical attention in jail and in hospital, whenever needed. Furthermore, his personal doctor also participated in the Board recommending the release, thereby raising issues as to the impartiality of the Board itself.

3. The big issue: can international crimes be pardoned?

3.1. Strict vs. flexible interpretation of the duty

The evolution of International Human Rights Law and International Criminal Law in the past decades has led to the emergence of a duty to prosecute and punish those allegedly responsible for those crimes.[2] The scope of this duty and its content are still debated in case law and in scholarly literature; in this regard, we can recall the existence of two opposite views, referred to as the “human righters” and the “peace makers” positions.[3] The former maintain a strict interpretation of the duty, entailing a full ban on amnesties and pardons for international crimes/gross human rights (HR) violations, irrespective of the democratic legitimacy of the measure and of the context in which it is issued.[4] The latter purport a more flexible interpretation, according to which there would be room for these kinds of measures, as long as an exceptional context of transition so requires and insofar as they meet some legitimacy requirements. Therefore, whilst self-amnesties, self-pardons or blanket amnesties can never be accepted, an amnesty or pardon issued by legitimate democratic institutions, and made conditional to certain limits and requirements, might be considered as compatible with international norms.[5]

Yet, when adopting this second, more flexible interpretation, one should bear in mind that this flexibility can seemingly be justified by the existence of a transitional context,[6] in which specific goals, priorities and limits legitimate a partial modification of the rules for prosecution and punishment of offenders. One might doubt that Peru is still living in a transitional context: after the collapse of Fujimori’s dictatorship in 2000, the country has experienced a progressive strengthening of the recovered democratic institutions. Although the spectre of the Fujimorism (brought about by the dictator’s daughter Keiko) is still very alive, this is due to the citizens’ free choice in democratic elections. Therefore, it is difficult to argue that Peru is currently living a transitional process in which the need for peace, consolidation of the new institutions and social reconciliation are priorities over the claim for punishment of perpetrators of human rights abuses.

These considerations may cast doubts as to the grounds for granting this pardon, if not on the legitimacy of the pardon itself. However, it is this Author’s belief that some criticisms to the measure should be more carefully addressed.

3.2. The legal qualification of the facts

Fujimori was not formally convicted of crimes against humanity, but for ordinary crimes (kidnapping, murder and injuries). At one point the judgment qualified the facts as crimes against humanity.[7] However, the Supreme Court did not derive from this qualification any other consequence, such as the non-application of amnesties or of statutory limitations,[8] and it did apply the sentencing framework provided for by the Peruvian Criminal Code for the ordinary crimes of aggravated kidnapping and murder. The goal possibly pursued by the Court in qualifying the facts as crimes against humanity was to impose the maximum sentence and to send a strong message to society as to the gravity and blameworthiness of the offences.[9]

However, the offences for which Fujimori was sentenced, according to the judgment, were ordinary crimes. Therefore, they would not fall within the scope of the prohibition on amnesties and pardons that International Law sets out for international crimes. The IACtHR has argued that the duty extends to the wider category of gross HR violations.[10] But, whereas the agreement on the ban on (at least self and blanket) amnesties and pardons for international crimes is almost unanimous, its expansion beyond this category is much more controversial.[11]

3.3. Does a partial pardon entail impunity?

An issue deserving further consideration is whether the pardon granted to Fujimori actually entails a form of impunity (which is exactly what the international norm aims to avoid).

Leaving aside specific features of different legal systems, pardons, in contrast with amnesties, do not eliminate the criminal conviction, nor the assessment of facts contained in the judgment.[12] They exonerate only from serving the sentence, or, as in this case, a part of it. Actually, this measure does not deny Fujimori’s criminal responsibility, nor eliminate the part of the sentence that he has already served (which is half of the whole sentence imposed on him).

Consequently, one might wonder whether the international norm requires, besides criminal prosecution, the full serving of the sentence. On which grounds is the latter necessary? Does it really grant some kind of satisfaction to victims? And, despite the due respect and concern for the victims and their claims, should not the State take into consideration also other interests?

4. Conclusion

The pardon of former President Fujimori raised protests in Peru because of its allegedly political (and not humanitarian) nature and has fuelled the debate about the admissibility of amnesties and pardons for those held responsible for international crimes.

In fact, the pardon has highlighted the lack of clarity and consensus about the international duty to prosecute and punish international crimes, i.e. about its limits (the possibility of a flexible application in transitional contexts), its scope (its applicability beyond the category of international crimes) and its content (the requirement for a full serving of the sentence).

It will be interesting to see how the decision of the IACtHR, in the framework of the monitoring compliance proceeding in the Barrios Altos case, evaluates the compatibility of the measure with the duties imposed on the Peruvian State by the Barrios Altos judgment.

[1] Peruvian Supreme Court, Sala Penal Especial, Fujimori Fujimori, Alberto, exp. nº A.V. 19-2001, 7 April 2009. The judgment also qualifies the facts as crimes against humanity, but it does not formally use that label for the conviction: for more detail, see section 3.2 of this post. For a commentary on the judgment, see: K. Ambos, ‘The Fujimori Judgment: A President’s Responsibility for Crimes Against Humanity as Indirect Perpetrator by Virtue of an Organized Power Apparatus’, (2011) 9 Journal of International Criminal Justice, 137; J.M. Burt, ‘Guilty as Charged: The Trial of Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori for Human Rights Violations’, (2009) 3(3) International Journal of Transitional Justice, 384.

[2] K. Ambos, Treatise on International Criminal Law. Vol. I (OUP, 2013), 393-45.

[3] J. Chinchón Álvarez, Derecho internacional y transiciones a la democracia y la paz (Parthenos, 2007) 280.

[4] Ibidem, 437; M. C. Bassiouni, ‘The Need for International Accountability’, in M. C. Bassiouni (ed.), International Criminal Law, vol. III (New York, 1999), 6; N. Roht-Arriaza, L. Gibson, ‘The Developing Jurisprudence on Amnesty’, (1998) 20(4) Human Rights Quarterly, 843; C. Edelenbos, ‘Human rights violations: a Duty to Prosecute? ’, (1994) Leiden Journal of International Law, 5.

[5] K. Mcevoy, L. Mallinder, ‘Amnesties in Transition: Punishment, Restoration, and the Governance of Mercy’, (2012) 39(3) Journal of Law and Society, 410; K. Ambos, ‘The Legal Framework of Transitional Justice’, in K. Ambos, J. Large, M. Wierda (eds.), Building a future on peace and justice: studies on transitional justice, conflict resolution and development (Berlin, 2009), 19; L. Mallinder, ‘Amnesties’, in M. C. Bassiouni (ed.), The Pursuit of International Criminal Justice: A world Study on conflicts, Victimization, and Post-Conflict Justice, vol. I (Intersentia, 2010), 900; D. Orentlicher, ‘Settling Accounts Revisited: Reconciling Global Norms with Local Agency’, (2007) 1(1) International Journal of Transitional Justice, 10.

[6] D. Orentlicher, “Settling Accounts Revisited: Reconciling Global Norms with Local Agency”, International Journal of Transitional Justice, vol. 1, n. 1, 2007, 10, at 14 et seq.

[7] Point II and para. 710 of the reasoning.

[8] It has been argued that this interpretive strategy was unnecessary in this case, since no amnesty law was in force and the time for statutory limitations had not passed yet: see E. Maculan, ‘La respuesta a las graves violaciones de derechos humanos entre derecho penal e internacional. Observaciones sobre el caso Fujimori’, (2012) 14(5) Revista Electrónica de Ciencia Penal y Criminología, 1.

[9] Ibidem.

[10] IACtHR, Barrios Altos v. Peru, 14 March 2001, IACHR, Serie C No. 75, paras. 41 et seq.; Albán Cornejo y otros v. Ecuador, 22 November 2007, IACHR, Serie C No. 171, para. 111; in Bulacio v. Argentina, 18 September 2003, IACHR, Serie C. No. 100, paras. 116 et seq., the Court refers to the even wider category of “human rights violations” (with no gravity threshold required). For a critical overview of this case law, see: E. Malarino, ‘Judicial Activism, Punitivism and Supranationalisation: Illiberal and Antidemocratic Tendencies of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’, (2012) 12 International Criminal Law Review, 665.

[11] K. Ambos, Treatise on International Criminal Law. Vol. I (OUP, 2013), 394-5; A. Seibert- Fohr, Prosecuting serious Human Rights Violations (OUP, 2009), 274 et seq.

[12] A. Gil Gil, ‘El tratamiento jurídico de los crímenes cometidos en el conflicto armado colombiano. La problemática jurídica en el marco de la dicotomía paz-justicia’, in A. Gil Gil, E. Maculan, S. Ferreira (eds.), Colombia como nuevo modelo para la justicia de transición (IUGM, 2017), 40.

 

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Can the effects of an ECtHR’s judgment be extended? The answer of the Italian courts as to the guarantees of criminal trial

Introduction

Under Article 46, paragraph 1, of the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’), “the High Contracting Parties undertake to abide by the final judgments of the Court in any case to which they are parties”. According to the European Court of Human Rights (‘ECtHR’), this provision implies that “a judgment in which the Court finds a violation imposes on the respondent State a legal obligation (…) to choose (…) the general and/or, if appropriate, individual measures to be adopted in their domestic legal order to put an end to the violation found by the Court and to redress so far as possible the effects”.[1] Thus, judgments issued by the ECtHR may require the interested State to adopt measures which go beyond the scope of the concrete case under review.

This interpretation of the provision is in line with the role of the ECtHR, a court whose task is not limited to solving disputes between parties but extends to the safeguard of general interests.[2] At domestic level it may raise the issue of whether and, in the affirmative, how, the effects of a judgment finding a violation of the Convention should be extended to other cases.

The present post analyses how the Italian system deals with this issue, with specific reference to the ECtHR’s judgments finding violations of the guarantees of criminal trial. First, it recalls the remedies developed by Italian courts to enforce the ECtHR’s judgments; then, it describes how these remedies are applied to extend the effects of an ECtHR’s judgment to other cases. It will be argued that the exceptional review under article 630 CPP is now to be considered as the “ordinary” remedy, both to enforce ECtHR’s judgments and to extend the effects of such judgments to similar cases.

The enforcement of ECtHR’s judgments

The Italian legislator has not yet dealt with the enforcement of ECtHR’s judgments finding violations of the guarantees of criminal trial comprehensively.[3] Thus, the enforcement of these judgments is mostly left to the interpretative efforts of the Italian courts, which, as described in a previous post, have relied on different solutions.

The Italian Court of Cassation has applied analogically two sets of procedural remedies: the “ricorso straordinario per errore materiale o di fatto”, an extraordinary appeal to correct material errors contained in the Court of Cassation’s judgments, under article 625bis Code of Criminal Procedure (‘CPP’);[4] and the “incidente d’esecuzione” procedure, providing remedies to deal with issues arising in the execution of a sentence, under articles 666 and following CPP.[5] In 2011 the Constitutional Court has added a further remedy, by declaring the partial unconstitutionality of article 630 CPP, insofar as it did not include ECtHR judgments finding a violation of criminal guarantees among the exceptional circumstances allowing the review of a final conviction.[6]

Therefore, the Italian system counts three different options to implement the ECtHR’s judgments finding violations of the guarantees of criminal trial and apply them to a case: the “ricorso straordinario per errore materiale o di fatto” under article 625bis CPP; the “incidente d’esecuzione” procedure under articles 666 and following CPP; the exceptional review of a final conviction under article 630 CPP.

The extension of ECtHR’s judgments to other cases

The issue of whether and how an ECtHR’s judgment finding violations of the guarantees of criminal trial may be extended to other cases was first examined by the Italian courts following the case of Scoppola v Italy (n.2).[7] The case originated in some amendments to the provision regulating the reduction of a life sentence, following trial under summary procedure. The ECtHR found a violation of the principle of legality in criminal law (Article 7 ECHR), as Italy failed to apply retroactively the more lenient law to Mr Scoppola.

The decision was implemented in Mr Scoppola’s case through the “ricorso straordinario per errore materiale o di fatto”.[8] With regard to individuals in similar positions, the Italian Government adopted a quite simplistic view, recalling “the possibilities offered by the procedure of incidente d’esecuzione to those in the same situation as the applicant in this case”.[9] However, the Court of Cassation had to intervene, following the refusal by a lower court to extend the effects of the Scoppola judgment through the “incidente d’esecuzione” procedure.

On that occasion, the Court of Cassation stated that the conclusions reached in Scoppola have general nature, and that the effects of a judgment finding a general and objective violation of the Convention should be extended to identical cases, notwithstanding the existence of a final domestic decision which would normally prevent reconsideration of the case.[10] The acknowledgment of limits to the res judicata principle, on the ground of an ECtHR judgment issued in a case other than the one under review, was in itself innovative.[11] Furthermore, the Court of Cassation deferred a question of constitutionality to the Constitutional Court, which took this opportunity to clarify that the “incidente d’esecuzione” procedure can be used when the issue at stake is a mere redetermination of the sentence to be imposed, whereas the exceptional review under article 630 CPP concerns trials that must be reopened.[12]

The distinction between these remedies and the “ricorso straordinario per errore materiale o di fatto” was the object of further examination by the Court of Cassation, following the case of Contrada v Italy (n. 3).[13] The case originated in the introduction, by way of interpretation, of a new crime. The ECtHR found a violation of the principle of legality in the case of Mr Contrada, because he had been tried and found guilty for facts committed before the moment in which the case law introducing the new crime had settled: which is to say, at a time when the crime was not yet clearly foreseeable.

Following this judgment, the Court of Cassation was confronted with appeals by individuals claiming to be in the same situation as Mr Contrada, and asking for an extension of the effects of the judgment to their cases.[14] In the first case, Mr Dell’Utri, an Italian politician, requested the annulment of his final sentence by way of “ricorso straordinario per errore materiale o di fatto” under article 625bis CPP. The Court of Cassation declared the remedy not applicable, underlying that -unlike the two previous cases in which this remedy had been used-[15] Mr Dell’Utri had no ECtHR’s judgment in his favour, nor had he asked for a mere modification of his conviction.[16] Mr Dell’Utri then applied for revocation or non-execution of his sentence, under articles 673 and 670 CPP. Both remedies operate in the executive phase of the judgment, and are thus species of the wider genus “incidente d’esecuzione”. The Court of Cassation recalled the judgment issued by the Constitutional Court in the post-Scoppola cases and clarified that, after 2011, the exceptional review introduced by way of interpretation under article 630 CPP has become the “ordinary” remedy to enforce ECtHR judgments.[17] This remedy may be applied not only to enforce a judgment in the specific case under the ECtHR’s review, but also to extend the effects of such judgments to similar cases; and not only for violations of Article 6 ECHR, but also when violations of Article 7 ECHR are at stake.[18] The “incidente d’esecuzione” procedure, to the contrary, may be used as a “residual” remedy only upon three conditions: that the ECtHR’s judgment has general nature; that the case at stake is identical to the one decided by the ECtHR; that execution does not require a previous declaration of unconstitutionality or any discretional evaluations by the execution judge.[19] Having assessed that in the case of Mr Dell’Utri these conditions were not met, the Court rejected his application.[20]

In the second and most recent case, the Court of Cassation recalled and fully endorsed these conclusions about the ambit of application of the “incidente d’esecuzione” procedure and of the exceptional review under article 630 CPP.[21]

Interestingly enough, in the lapse of time between these two judgments, a different section of the Court of Cassation rejected a request for extraordinary review lodged under article 630 CPP.[22] The refusal was grounded on the fact that the applicant was not directly interested by the ECtHR judgment of which he had asked enforcement, thus contradicting the Court of Cassation’s position developed since 2011 in the post-Scoppola cases, and reaffirmed in the post-Contrada ones.[23] As for now, the judgment remains a unicum in the case law of the Court of Cassation: however, it certainly demonstrates how a jurisprudential solution may be subject to revirements.

Final remarks

In the Italian legal system, the absence of a comprehensive legislative intervention on the enforcement of ECtHR judgments finding violations of the guarantees of criminal trial has led domestic courts to intervene. Procedural remedies are applied analogically (“ricorso straordinario per errore materiale o di fatto” under article 625bis Code of Criminal Procedure; “incidente d’esecuzione” procedure under articles 666 and following CPP), and a general remedy has been introduced (exceptional review of a final conviction under article 630 CPP).

The most recent developments of the Italian case law deal with the issue of how to extend the effects of an ECtHR judgment to cases other than the one under the ECtHR’s review. In the absence of any organic stance by the executive or by the legislative power, cooperation between higher courts seems to have led to a solution. According to a set of judgments by the Court of Cassation and the Constitutional Court, the exceptional review under article 630 CPP is now to be considered as the “ordinary” remedy, both to enforce ECtHR’s judgments and to extend the effects of such judgments to similar cases. The “incidente d’esecuzione” procedure, instead, represents a residual solution which may be used when the effects of the ECtHR’s judgments pertain exclusively to the execution phase and do not require the use of any discretional power by the judge.

Doubts have been cast on this conclusion by a recent conflicting judgment of the Court of Cassation, which, however, remains so far isolated. In any case, it must be pointed out that only a comprehensive legislative intervention could solve, once and for all, the issues of enforcement of the ECtHR’s judgments in the Italian system.

 

 

 

[1] Inter alia: Scozzari and Giunta v. Italy [GC], nos. 39221/98 and 41963/98, § 249, ECHR 2000‑VIII; Sejdovic v. Italy [GC], no. 56581/00, § 119, ECHR 2006‑II.

[2] Under Article 19 of the Convention, the Court’s task is to “ensure the observance of the engagements undertaken by the High Contracting Parties in the Convention and its Protocols”. On Article 49 ECHR: S.Bartole, P. DeSena, V. Zagrebelsky, Commentario breve alla convenzione europea per la salvaguardia dei diritti dell’uomo e delle libertà fondamentali, CEDAM Padova 2012, pp. 749 ff.

[3] Currently, the only legislative intervention has been the one allowing the reopening of proceedings celebrated in absentia, introduced by law 67/2014 with the specific aim of bringing the system in compliance with the numerous findings of violation by the ECtHR. On this topic, see: G. Di Paolo, La Rescissione Del Giudicato Ex Art. 625-Ter C.P.P.: Rimedio Effettivo O Meccanismo Virtuale?, Penale Contemporano 2015.

[4] E.g.: Cass sez VI, 12 novembre 2008, Drassich (2009) Cass Pen 1457.

[5] E.g.: Cass sez I, 1 dicembre 2006, Dorigo (2007) Cass Pen 1447. On this remedies in Italian criminal procedure: G. Lattanzi, E. Lupo, Codice di procedura penale: rassegna di giurisprudenza e di dottrina, VII / VIII, Giuffré Milano 2013.

[6] C Cost, sent n 113/2011.

[7] Scoppola v. Italy (no. 2) [GC], no. 10249/03, 17 September 2009.

[8] Cass., sez. V, 11 febbraio 2010, n. 16507, Scoppola.

[9] CM/ResDH(2011)66.

[10] Cass. pen., Sez. Un., ord. 19 aprile 2012 (dep. 10 settembre 2012), n. 34472, Pres. Lupo, Est. Milo, Imp. Ercolano.

[11] A wide number of commentaries is available on this judgment. By way of example, see: F. Viganò, Pena illegittima e giudicato. Riflessioni in margine alla pronuncia delle Sezioni Unite che chiude la saga dei “fratelli minori” di Scoppola, Penale Contemporaneo, 1/2014.

[12] C Cost, sent n. 210/2013.

[13] Contrada v. Italy (no. 3), no. 66655/13, 14 April 2015.

[14] The follow-up cases of the Contrada judgment have encouraged a wide scholarly debate. See, by way of example: F. Viganò, Il caso Contrada e i tormenti dei giudici italiani: sulle prime ricadute interne di una scomoda sentenza della Corte EDU, Penale Contemporaneo, 26.4.2016; A. Manna, La sentenza Contrada e i suoi effetti sull’ordinamento italiano: doppio vulnus alla legalità penale?, Penale Contemporaneo, 4.10.2016.

[15] Cass sez VI, 12 novembre 2008, Drassich (2009) Cass Pen 1457; Cass., sez. V, 11 febbraio 2010, n. 16507, Scoppola.

[16] Cass., sez. V pen., sent. 14 marzo 2016 (dep. 8 luglio 2016), n. 28676/16, Pres. Bruno, Rel. Catena, Ric. Dell’Utri.

[17] Cass., sez. I pen., sent. 11 ottobre 2016 (dep. 18 ottobre 2016), n. 44193/16, Pres. Mazzei, Rel. Magi, Ric. Dell’Utri, p. 29.

[18] Ibid, p. 27.

[19] Ibid, p. 30.

[20] Ibid, pp. 35-40.

[21] Cass., Sez. I, sent. 10 aprile 2017 (dep. 27 novembre 2017), n. 53610, Pres. Mazzei, Rel. Rocchi, Ric. Gorgone.

[22] Cass. pen., sez. II, sentenza 20 giugno 2017 (dep. 7 settembre 2017), n. 40889, Pres. Fiandanese, rel. Recchione, ric. Cariolo.

[23] For a critical commentary of this decision: S. Bernardi, La Suprema Corte torna sui limiti di operabilità dello strumento della “revisione europea”: esclusa l’estensibilità ai “fratelli minori” del ricorrente vittorioso a Strasburgo, Penale Contemporaneo, 26.9.2017

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The UK and the right to life: Some preliminary remarks on the UK Government’s observations on the Draft General Comment no 36

In July 2017 the UN Human Rights Committee finalised the first reading of its Draft General Comment no 36 on article 6 (right to life) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). All stakeholders, including Member States, other UN and regional human rights mechanisms, National Human Rights Institutions, NGOs, research institutions, and academics were invited to provide their observations by 6 October 2017.  In November 2017, the UN Human rights Committee started the second reading of its Draft General Comment. This post aims to provide some preliminary remarks on the UK Government submissions, which should be interpreted while bearing in mind a significant difference between the UK position and the Draft Comment: according to the former, indeed, there is no hierarchical relationship among rights, and the right to life is not the ‘supreme’ right among all others, as it is, conversely, for the latter.[1] This post will focus on three specific areas of concern for the UK: the desirability of an international treaty banning any Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS), the relationship between the regimes of international human rights and international humanitarian law, the linkage between the right to life and any act of aggression.

 

On the ban of any Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS)

 

Starting from the assumption that in the development of new kind of weapons Sates should always consider the possible implications of such weapons for the right to life, the UN Human Rights Committee, at paragraph 12 of its Draft General Comment, holds that ‘the development for use in military operations of new lethal autonomous robotics lacking in human compassion and judgement, raises difficult legal and ethical questions concerning the right to life, including questions relating to legal responsibility for their use’. The Committee therefore concludes that this kind of weapons should not be developed or put in operation; neither in time of war or peace. The UK Government, on the contrary, considers that since it is unclear whether these weapons would ever be developed, it would be pointless to have an international agreement banning them pre-emptively.[2] Thus, the UK ‘strongly urges’ to delete the part relating to the need to avoid the development and/or ban of any LAWS. Yet, this conclusion seems to lie more on the non-existence of such weapons, which furthermore still lack of a definition, than on their legality under international law. In this respect, the UK aligns its positions to the other EU member states. As Veronique Caruana has pointed out, however, in the future we might witness «the continued development of a “class of systems capable of selecting targets and initiating the use of potentially lethal force without the deliberate and specific consideration of humans”». Considering that the issue has been broadly debated among governments, scholars,[3] and NGOs, the prospect of developing such weapons seems in fact to be a concrete possibility.

 

On the relationship between International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law

According to paragraph 67 of the Draft General Comment, the Covenant as a whole continues to apply in time of armed conflict,[4] as the two regimes of Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law (IHL) are complementary, rather than mutually exclusive. The UN Human Rights Committee concludes that during an armed conflict States have therefore an obligation to disclose, inter alia, ‘whether non-lethal alternatives for attaining the same military objective were considered. They must also investigate allegations of violations of article 6 in situations of armed conflict in accordance with the relevant international standards.’[5] In respect of both these points the UK Government submits that International Humanitarian Law is lex specialis applicable during an armed conflict,[6] and under this regime there is no rule imposing upon states an obligation to consider whether a non-lethal means was available.[7] Moreover, while it is admitted that States have an obligation to investigate breaches of IHL in accordance to international legal standards, they reject the submission that in time of an armed conflict such obligation to investigate would also apply to any violation of article 6 ICCPR.[8] This would be somehow equal to interpret the two regimes of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law as mutually exclusive, and might have serious implications when it comes to the implementation of the principles of proportionality and necessity, which are much more stringent within the context of the International Human Rights regime.[9] This would also place the UK far from the interpretation given by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) of the positive procedural obligations stemming from article 2 (Right to life) of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).[10] The ECtHR has indeed ‘held that the procedural obligation under Article 2 continues to apply in difficult security conditions, including in a context of armed conflict’.[11] In the opinion of the Strasbourg Court these obligations include a duty to carry out an effective investigation,[12] which might comprise criminal procedures, but also inquiries on state responsibility. [13] This might apply to cases of death of civilians as well as soldiers,[14] and can also require the investigators to ‘establish basic facts about the use of indiscriminate weapons’, when the former were ‘crucial for the assessment of the causal link between their use and the casualties’.[15] The Court has in fact found that the ‘use of explosive and indiscriminate weapons, with the attendant risk for human life, cannot be regarded as absolutely necessary’. [16]

 

 

On the implications for the right to life as a result of acts of aggression

 

The last two paragraphs of the Draft Comment no 36 are dedicated to the implications for the right to life in case of war, and even more specifically, in the event of the commission of any act of aggression contrary to the UN Charter. Paragraph 71, notably provides as follows: ‘States parties engaged in acts of aggression contrary to the United Nations Charter violate ipso facto article 6 of the Covenant. Moreover, States parties that fail to take all reasonable measures to settle their international disputes by peaceful means so as to avoid resort to the use of force do not comply in full with their positive obligation to ensure the right to life.’

The UK, at paragraph 34 of its observations, comments by stating: ‘We are rather surprised at the inclusion of paragraphs 70 and 71; these appear to be better suited to an aspirational document rather than a General Comment. We do not consider that the content is helpful, nor that it is within the Committee’s mandate.’ Thus, in the UK Government’s opinion the loss of lives resulting from the usage of an unlawful means, that is, in this specific case, an illegal war or an act of aggression, would not fall within the jurisdiction of the UN Human Rights Committee. It is however unclear where this limitation should be inferred from. In Europe, the Strasbourg Court has kept holding that article 2 ECHR (right to life) cannot be subject to any derogation, under article 15 ECHR, if not with regard to ‘lawful acts of war’.[17] A contrario, one might argue that all other means should be considered as unlawful and cannot find any justification under the ECHR. Moreover, it rests to be shown how, under which circumstances and towards whom such paragraphs might ever end up being in any way ‘unhelpful’.

 

Conclusion

 

The UN Human Rights Committee is currently at its second reading of the Draft General Comment no 36 on article 6 ICCPR (right to life). Between its first and second reading, the Committee invited all stakeholders to submit their observations. This post focused on the UK position on article 6 ICCPR, which significantly departs from the Draft Comment in many aspects. First, the UK while aligning itself with the position taken by all other EU member states, differs from the UN Committee’s Draft General Comment, when the Government considers it pointless to ban or refrain from developing any LAWS. In the opinion of the UK Government, in fact, these weapons have not been developed yet and a significant amount of uncertainty surrounds their future characteristics, effects and even definition. Second, while the UN Human Rights Committee considers the Covenant to apply during an armed conflict, the UK sees the regime of International Humanitarian Law as lex specialis and deems there exists no positive obligation to investigate any violation of article 6 ICCPR. Nor do they think they have any obligation to disclose whether any non-lethal means was available. This might have huge implications on the implementation of the principles of necessity and proportionality, which refer to different standards, depending on which regime, i.e., Human Rights Law or International Humanitarian Law, is indeed applicable. In this respect, the UK would put itself far from the stance of the ECtHR’s case law. Third, the UK considers the UN Human Rights Committee went beyond its jurisdictions, when it inserted paragraphs 70-71 in the Draft General Comment. These paragraphs concern the casual relation between any unlawful armed conflicts, or more specifically any acts of aggression contrary to the UN Charter, and an automatic violation of article 6 ICCPR. However, when it comes to any possible implications for the right to life, it is unclear where the UK could infer any limitation of the UN Human Rights Committee’s ratione materiae jurisdiction. Moreover, it rests to be shown how, and especially under which circumstances and towards whom, such paragraphs could be in any way ‘unhelpful’. In sum, the UK position on the right to life differs significantly from the UN Committee, and in many occasions this would be equal to a less comprehensive protection of the individuals’ right to life. This might find an explanation in the UK vision of human rights, which according to the Government’s observations relating to the Draft General Comment no 36, would not have any hierarchical relationship, so that the right to life would not be seen as ‘the supreme’ among all other rights any more.

[1] UK Governments, Comments on the UN Human Rights Committee’s Draft General Comment No 36, the right to life (6 October 2017) at 5. Cf Human Rights Committee, ‘General comment No. 36 on article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on the right to life’ (Revised draft prepared by the Rapporteur) available at < http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/CCPR/GCArticle6/GCArticle6_EN.pdf> visited on 5 December 2017. Cf Case of TagayevaaAnd Others v. Russia App no 26562/07  (ECHR, 13 April 2017) at 599.

[2] UK Governments, Comments on the UN Human Rights Committee’s Draft General Comment No 36, the right to life (6 October 2017) at 12.

[3] See, e.g., Nehal Bhuta, Claus Kreβ, Autonomous Weapons Systems: Law, Ethics, Policy (CUP 2016).

[4] Cf The relevant ECtHR’s case law. See William Schabas, The European Convention on Human Rights. A Commentary (OUP 2015) 154-55.

[5] UK Governments, ‘Comments on the UN Human Rights Committee’s Draft General Comment No 36, the right to life’ (6 October 2017) at 67. Cf William Schabas, The European Convention on Human Rights. A Commentary (OUP 2015) 156-58.

[6] Cf Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (Advisory Opinion) ICJ Reports (2004) 136, para. 106. See also Armed Activities on the Territory of the Congo (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Uganda) ICJ Reports (2005) 168, para. 216.

[7] UK Governments, ‘Comments on the UN Human Rights Committee’s Draft General Comment No 36, the right to life’ (6 October 2017) at 33.

[8] Ibid.

[9] As for the ‘absolute necessity’ requirement according to the ECtHR, see Case of McCann and Others v. The United Kingdom App no 18984/91 (ECHR, 27 September 1995) at 149; Case of Andreou v. Turkey App no 45653/99 (ECHR, 27 October 2009) at 55; Case of Putintseva v. Russia App no 33498/04 (ECHR, 10 May 2012) at 69. As for the proportionality requirement as developed by the ECtHR, see Case of Wasilewska and Kałucka v. Poland App nos 28975/04 and 33406/04 (ECHR, 23 February 2010) at 56-57; Case of Finogenov and Others v. Russia App nos 18299/03 and 27311/03 (ECHR, 4 June 2012) at 236. See also Conor Foley, UN Peacekeeping Operations and the Protection of Civilians: Saving Succeeding Generations (CUP 2017) 183.

[10] William Schabas, The European Convention on Human Rights. A Commentary (OUP 2015) 139. Cf Case of the “Mapiripán Massacre” v. Colombia (Inter-American Court of Human Rights, 15 September 2005) at 238.

[11] Case of Al-Skeini and others v. The United Kingdom App no 55721/07 (ECHR, 7 July 2011) at 164;Case of Mocanu and Others v. Romania App nos 10865/09, 45886/07 and 32431/08 (ECHR, 17 September 2014) at 319. See also Case of Benzer and Others v. Turkey App no 23502/06 (ECHR, 12 November 2013) at 184.

[12] See, for instance, See also Case of Benzer and Others v. Turkey App no 23502/06 (ECHR, 12 November 2013) at 198.

[13] Case of Al-Skeini and others v. The United Kingdom App no 55721/07 (ECHR, 7 July 2011) at 174.

[14] Smith v Secretary of State for Defence [2010] UKSC 29, at 70-72.

[15] Case of TagayevaaAnd Others v. Russia App no 26562/07  (ECHR, 13 April 2017) at 527.

[16] ibid at 609.

[17] Case of Al-Skeini and others v. The United Kingdom App no 55721/07 (ECHR, 7 July 2011) at 162.

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The Criminality of the Catalan Independence Referendum

Michelle Coleman, PhD Student in International Law at Middlesex University (London)

 

On 1 October 2017 a referendum vote in the Catalan region of Spain devolved into violence when police officers deployed by the national government attempted to prevent people from voting. According to some reports almost 900 people, including voters and potential voters, were injured. While recognising that there are disputed versions, this post follows the critics of the Spanish police’s actions, as described by the main NGOs and other academic bloggers.

 

This referendum asked the people of Catalonia whether they wanted the region to gain independence from Spain. This blog post explores the potential criminality that has arisen from participating in the referendum by organisers, voters and potential voters. Specifically, it will argue that participating in the referendum was not a per se criminal act. Participants could be investigated for crimes that occurred in the course of their participation, but not for the participation itself. Moreover, the police should not have targeted potential voters, using disproportionate force, because this violated the freedom of expression and did not fulfil the police’s duties of crime prevention or investigation.

 

Referendum’s Background and Constitutional Court Decision

 

Catalonia is an autonomous region in Northeastern Spain. The region’s quest for independence has a long history that has become more active in recent years. In January 2016, Carles Puigdemont was sworn in as the President of the Government of Catalonia. A staunch supporter of independence, he ran his campaign on the platform that he would hold a referendum on whether the region should become independent. The Spanish government has always opposed Catalan independence and the Constitutional Court found a previous move for Catalan independence to be unconstitutional in 2010.

 

On 19 September 2017 the Spanish Constitutional Court declared the proposed referendum unconstitutional on the grounds that there is no legal mechanism within Spanish law to allow a region to secede. They also held that the public prosecutor could investigate the leaders of the Catalan Parliament, as organisers of the referendum, for any potential crimes committed by organising the referendum.

 

Participating in an Unconstitutional Referendum is Not a Per Se Criminal Act

 

The Constitutional Court’s decision that the referendum was unconstitutional does not make participating in the referendum a criminal act. The decision merely means that the question that the referendum was asking was unconstitutional because there is no constitutional provision that allows for succession by referendum. As provided by the nullum crimen sine lege principle, an action is not a crime without a law criminally prohibiting that action at the time the action was committed. In Spain, there is no criminal law specifically prohibiting unconstitutional referendums, and because it is a civil law country, this law cannot be created by the Constitutional Court. Thus, the act of participating in the unconstitutional referendum is not a per se criminal act.

 

Just because there is no specific criminal law prohibiting unconstitutional referendums, does not mean that the act of holding or participating in such a referendum cannot result in a criminal charge. Holding or participating in the referendum may evidence a violation of an already existing criminal law. This is why the Constitutional Court stated that the public prosecutor could investigate the leaders of the Catalan Parliament; organising and holding the referendum may be evidence of treason, sedition, civil disobedience, misuse of public funds, and other crimes which already exist within Spanish criminal law. This is different however, from organising the referendum automatically becoming a criminal activity because the referendum’s topic has been held to be unconstitutional.

 

What About Voters or Potential Voters?

 

As explained above participating in the referendum itself is not a criminal offence. Further, while there is no fundamental right to vote in referendums, voting in a referendum is not in itself a criminal act, even if the referendum was held unconstitutional. Thus, voters and potential voters cannot be prosecuted for voting or attempting to vote in the referendum.

 

The situation for voters and potential voters is different from that of the organisers and Catalan leaders. Even without a right to vote in a referendum, voting itself is not a criminal act, it is merely an expression of opinion. Basically a referendum is someone is asking a question and someone else (a voter) providing their answer or opinion. This activity is protected under the right to freedom of expression. The fact that the referendum was declared unconstitutional does not change this; individual voters are still allowed to express their opinion on whether Catalonia should secede from Spain. Unlike organizing the referendum which could be evidence of crimes such as sedition, voting in the referendum does not have the same effect. Expressing an opinion against the Spanish government is not illiegal or criminal — people have been doing it for years. Thus, voters and potential voters merely participating in the referendum by stating their opinion are not committing a criminal act or providing evidence of a crime. They are exercising their right to express their opinions.

 

Of course, there can be some laws that were violated during the course of casting a vote. Among those crimes might be trespassing. Potential voters did not have proper permission to be on the property where the polling places were located. For example, many schools owned by the Spanish government. The Spanish government did not give permission for the public to use the school for holding an illegal referendum. Without proper permission, anyone entering the school for the referendum would be trespassing and could suffer criminal penalties. Whether trespassing occurred however was highly dependent on the situation. It would not occur in locations where the rightful owner of the property gave permission for the property to be opened to the public for the purpose of the referendum. Rightful owners have the ability to give permission for anyone to enter their property for any purpose they choose.

 

The Police Should Not Have Targeted Potential Voters

 

In an attempt to prevent the referendum from taking place, Spain’s paramilitary Civil Guard took charge of Mossos d’Esquadra (the Catalan police force). There were two ways for the police to prevent illegal elections from occurring: to focus on stopping the organisers and closing or preventing entry to any polling places or focus on potential voters and prevent them from entering a polling place or casting their vote. The first method focuses inward, on the referendum itself, while the second focuses outward on the general public. The police used both methods.

 

From the perspective of the Spanish government, closing or preventing entry to polling places may be a justified police action. The police are preventing crime by preventing an unconstitutional referendum, stopping individuals from trespassing in the polling locations, and perhaps even gathering evidence against organisers who may be liable. It is common to prevent property crime (such as trespassing) from occurring by protecting the property itself. This can be a legitimate method of suppressing an illegal action provided the police act within their normal powers. This can be done without focusing on potential voters outside of polling stations.

 

Police actions against voters and potential voters, who are not illegally inside polling locations, are not justified. Directing police actions toward potential voters wrongfully targets individuals who have not committed crimes. It punishes individuals by restraining them and restricting their movements and, at times, using violence against them. Essentially, targeting potential voters in the streets treats them in the same manner as those who are suspected of crimes. The result is not crime prevention or investigation but a stifling of freedom of expression. Yet, police officers may use force to restore public order. In that case, however, they should always comply with the necessity and proportionality requirements.

 

By focusing on the potential voters outside the occupied public buildings, the police acted as though they were the targets of crime prevention. The police took their crime prevention duties too far by targeting those whose actions were not criminal. In so doing the police exceeded the scope of their powers and reacted violently towards thousands of individuals who were merely expressing their fundamental right to freedom of expression. vote catalonia

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Gard and Others v. UK. Passive euthanasia of a minor patient and the limits to parental authority

Introduction

The case of Charles Gard (better known as “Charlie”) originates in the unfortunate conditions of a baby boy suffering from an incurable disease, whose life-sustaining treatment have been withdrawn on 28 July 2017 in accordance with UK law, notwithstanding his parents’ contrary will and after a legal dispute conducted before UK Courts and at European level.

The last stage of the dispute has been the decision issued by the European Court of Human Rights, First Section (“ECtRH”, or “Court”) on 27 June 2017, declaring inadmissible the application lodged against the United Kingdom by Charles’s parents, also on behalf of their son, for alleged violations of Articles 2 (right to life), 5 (right to liberty and security), 6 (right to fair trial) and 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”, or “Convention”).

The Court’s declaration of inadmissibility forms part of the developing body of European decisions on end-of-life situations. The present post describes the facts of the case and the ECtHR’s assessment on the complaints raised under Article 2 and 8 ECHR, focusing on two aspects of the decision: the use of the criteria developed in the recent Lambert judgment to assess whether domestic law regulating passive euthanasia is compatible with the Convention; the choice of expressly dealing with the issue of limits to parental authority in end-of-life choices concerning minors – issue which is likely to animate future debates on end-of-life situations.

 The case

Charles Gard was a baby boy suffering from a very rare and severe disease determining a progressive deterioration of his health since the age of two months and severely affecting his brain, muscles and ability to breath, so to require, inter alia, artificial ventilation.

In January 2017, the possibility of treating Charles with a form of therapy previously used on patients with a similar disease was being evaluated. In the meanwhile, the baby suffered from a severe epileptic crisis. In the light of the irreversible damages suffered by Charles’ brain, clinicians agreed that the therapy would be futile and that it would only prolong the baby’s suffering. They informed Charles’ parents of this conclusion and applied the UK High Court for an order stating that it would be lawful, and in the patient’s best interests, for artificial ventilation to be withdrawn and palliative care provided.

The High Court, noting the medical experts’ consensus on the fact that the treatment would have been futile and potentially painful for the patient, declared it lawful and in the patient’s best interest for artificial ventilation to be withdrawn.

Charles’ parents appealed on several grounds. Among them, it is worth recalling their argument according to which the ‘best interest of the child‘ criterion may be used only in cases whereby parents opposing a course of treatment do not have a viable alternative therapeutic option.[1]

The Court of Appeal dismissed this and the other arguments. Subsequently, the Supreme Court rejected the applicants’ request for permission to appeal on point of law. Charles’ parents applied the European Court of Human Rights, complaining, inter alia:

– on Charles’ behalf and on their own, of a violation of Article 2 ECHR (right to life), arguing that the hospital was blocking life-sustaining treatments and, thus, state authorities were violating their positive obligations to protect life;

– on their own behalf, of a violation of Article 8 ECHR (private and family life), alleging that there had been a disproportionate interference with their parental rights.

 The Court’s assessment on the complaints under Articles 2 and 8 ECHR.

Article 2 ECHR (right to life)

When analysing whether the applicants had locus standi on behalf of their son, the Court took the opportunity to point out that in end-of-life situations involving minors the parents’ role ‘is […] arguably to be accorded greater weight’ than in cases (such as Lambert) whereby the unconscious patient had had the opportunity to lead an adult life and express his views on end-of-life situations.

As to the substantive issue raised under Article 2, the Court examined not only the applicants’ complaint that the hospital was blocking access to life-sustaining treatment, but also the complaint (raised only at domestic level) that Charles’ right to life would be violated if treating clinicians were to withdraw artificial ventilation against his parents’ will.

With reference to the first complaint, the Court recalled its previous case-law, according to which positive obligations under Article 2 may include the duty for the State to put in place an appropriate legal framework to deal with access to experimental treatment; However, this cannot be interpreted as requiring access to unauthorised medicinal products for the terminally ill to be regulated in a particular way (Hristozov and Others v Bulgaria 2012). As the United Kingdom has a regulatory framework to deal with access to experimental treatment, which ‘is derived from the relevant European Directives’, the Court concluded that the applicants’ complaint under this head was manifestly ill founded.

As to the complaint concerning the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment (or ‘passive euthanasia’), the Court made use of the criteria elaborated by the Grand Chamber in Lambert and Others v France (GC 2015), according to which it should be assessed whether:

– A regulatory framework compatible with the requirements of Article 2 exists in domestic law and practice;

– The patient’s previously expressed wishes were considered, together with those of the persons close to him and the opinions of other medical personnel;

– There is the possibility to approach the courts in the event of doubts as to the best decision to be taken in the patient’s interests.

The Court concluded that the second complaint under Article 2 was also manifestly ill founded, considering the following reasons:

– The regulatory framework in place in the UK to deal with passive euthanasia is compatible with the requirements of Article 2 (as assessed in Glass v UK (dec) 2003, first case involving, inter alia, the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment in a minor patient whose parents oppose the treating clinicians’ choices);

– A guardian had been appointed expressly for ensuring that Charles’ wishes were taken into account, and the opinions of all medical personnel and parties involved (including the parents) had been adequately considered;

– UK domestic rules do impose a duty on clinicians to apply to courts in the event of doubts.

Article 8 ECHR (right to respect for private and family life)

Under Article 8, the applicants complained that the alleged lack of respect for their parental will constituted a violation of their right to private and family life.

The Court acknowledged that there had been an interference with the applicants’ rights under Article 8. However, this would not constitute a violation of Article 8 if: it was “in accordance with the law”, it pursued a legitimate aim (or aims), and it could be regarded as “necessary in a democratic society”.

With regard to the first two criteria, the Court found that the interference was lawful and that it pursued a legitimate aim (i.e. the protection of “health and morals” and “rights and freedoms” of a minor). As for the necessity test, the Court recalled the applicants’ argument that interference with their parental rights based on the ‘best interest of the child‘ test was unnecessary. In response to that, on the one hand,the Court pointed out that ‘there is a broad consensus – including in international law- in support of the idea that in all decisions concerning children, their best interest must be paramount‘; on the other hand, it clarified that, according to its case law, the necessity test requires ‘consideration of whether, in the light of the case as a whole, the reasons adduced to justify the measures are “relevant and sufficient”’. Also in consideration of the margin of appreciation doctrine (according to which, the less consensus among the Member States, the wider their margin of appreciation) the Court concluded that the decisions taken by the domestic courts did not show any element of arbitrariness and dismissed the complaint as manifestly ill-founded.

Final remarks

This is the first occasion in which the Court has applied the criteria developed in Lambert v. France to evaluate the compatibility of domestic laws regulating passive euthanasia with the Convention.

The body of Court’s decisions on end-of-life situations cannot be considered, yet, as case law. Still, the choice of applying to the Gard case the conclusions reached in Lambert can be regarded as a wilful development in that direction. In fact, the Court analysed the complaint relating to the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment even though this had been raised by Charles’ parents only before UK Courts: The choice of expressly dealing with this argument can be considered as an opportunity to apply the Lambert conclusions to a new case, thus reinforcing their ‘general criteria’ nature. Thanks to this choice, in future decisions on passive euthanasia cases the Lambert criteria might gain a more authoritative dimension.

In the Gard decision, the Court also considered the issue of limits to parental authority in end-of-life choices concerning minors. In analysing the applicants’ locus standi to raise a complaint under Article 2 on their son’s behalf, the ECtHR clarified that, in cases involving minors, the very early age of the patient is a factor that can be taken into consideration when determining the weight to be attributed to parents’ choices. At the same time, in analysing the complaint raised under Article 8, the Court pointed out that the ‘best interest of the child‘ criterion must always be paramount.

These clarifications are particularly welcome, if one considers that in the only previous comparable case (Glass v UK 2004) the Court had not explicitly confronted the issue of limits to parental authority in end-of-life choices concerning minors. Quite understandably, in the light of the context (i.e., a decision of admissibility, and not a judgment) the issue was approached with caution in Gard: however, it is now more likely that, in the future, other cases of this kind will be brought to the attention of the Court, when arguments concerning the limits to parental authority could play an even more relevant role.

[1] See par. 58 of the Court of Appeal decision

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The Government’s European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: How the exception relating to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union will impact on the protection of Human Rights in UK

Introduction

 

On 13 July 2017 the Government of the UK published the long-awaited European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, a single legislative measure which is planned to enter into force in March 2019, when the two-year Brexit negotiation process comes to an end. In brief, the bill will revoke the European Communities Act of 1972 and transpose European Union (EU) law, ‘wherever practical’, into UK law. Any European Court of Justice’s case law issued until March 2019 will also acquire the legal strength and authority of a UK Supreme Court’s decision.

Although Parliament will be able to vote on it no sooner than next autumn, the publication of the Bill has already resulted in a great amount of criticisms, above all, on the exclusion of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU (hereafter, ‘the Charter’) from the application of the Bill, pursuant to its section 5 (4). This post first argues that the Charter, as many EU laws, is currently part of UK domestic law, thanks to section 2(1) of the European Communities Act 1972; which contradicts the Government’s stance in this respect; then, it argues that after Brexit, and with regard to those cases currently governed by EU law, the exclusion of the Charter would diminish the level of protection of human rights in the UK. This notwithstanding the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), incorporated in UK law via the 1998 Human Rights Act will still be enforced, but it argues that the ECHR will not grant the same human rights protection.

 

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the European Convention of Human Rights

 

In 2000, at the Nice European Council, the EU Members States adopted the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, which in some respects is broader than the ECHR in that it enlists, in addition to civil and political rights, economic and social and societal rights. In 2009, the Charter became binding pursuant to article 6(1) of the Treaty of Lisbon, which assigned to the Charter ‘the same legal value as the Treaties.’ EU Member States have a duty to observe it only in application of the EU law, namely: when a national legislation transposes an EU directive; 
a public authority applies EU law; or a national court applies or interprets EU law.

 

The Treaty of Lisbon, under article 6 (2), provides that the EU “shall accede” to the ECHR. While the accession has not taken place yet, all EU institutions and Member States are in any case obliged to interpret the Charter in light of existing jurisprudence of the ECtHR. Under Article 52(3) of the Charter, States have a legal obligation to give the same meaning and scope to the rights of the two instruments, insofar as they correspond.

 

On the applicability of the Charter to the UK

 

In Lisbon, Protocol 30 to the treaty related to the application of the Charter of fundamental rights of the European Union to Poland and to the United Kingdom was adopted. This Protocol generated a significant confusion with respect to the legal effects on the UK. Some have argued that this implied a sort of opting out, so that the Charter has no legal value in the UK. Others embraced an opposite view, so that the Charter could have created new justiciable rights. To sort out this controversy, in 2014 the European Scrutiny Committee of the House of Commons published a report with the evocative title of ‘The application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in the UK: a state of confusion’. The Committee concluded that the Protocol had reaffirmed that the Charter has legal strength in so far as all national authorities had to apply and interpret EU law, but it did not create new independent rights. In this respect, the Charter is directly effective in the UK, by virtue of Section 2(1) of the European Communities Act 1972 which in its relevant parts reads as follows:

 

‘All such rights, powers, liabilities, obligations and restrictions from time to time created or arising by or under the Treaties, and all such remedies and procedures from time to time provided for by or under the Treaties, as in accordance with the Treaties are without further enactment to be given legal effect or used in the United Kingdom shall be recognised and available in law, and be enforced, allowed and followed accordingly'[emphasis added].

 

The Committee indeed recommended that, in order to disapply the Charter from the UK, ‘primary legislation be introduced by way of an amendment to the European Communities Act 1972’. Therefore, since the Charter has the same legal value as the Treaties, with respect of any EU law, it is automatically part of the UK domestic law, pursuant to the 1972 Act of Parliament. In fact UK Courts have often made reference to the Charter and checked its compatibility with the EU law as implemented in UK.[1] Furthermore, in 2013 the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice of the EU held:

 

‘where a court of a Member State is called upon to review whether fundamental rights are complied with by a national provision or measure which, in a situation where action of the Member States is not entirely determined by European Union law, implements the latter for the purposes of Article 51(1) of the Charter, national authorities and courts remain free to apply national standards of protection of fundamental rights, provided that the level of protection provided for by the Charter, as interpreted by the Court, and the primacy, unity and effectiveness of European Union law are not thereby compromised’ [emphasis added].

 

Consequently, it is surprising that under Section 5(4) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, ‘[t]he Charter of Fundamental Rights is not part of domestic law on or after exit’ [emphasis added].

 

On the protection of fundamental rights provided by the Charter and the ECHR

 

After Brexit, as provided by the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, any public authority or national court in the UK could keep on applying or interpreting what was originally EU law, as this would become, ‘wherever practical’, UK law. However, so far, the relevant EU law has been interpreted in the case law of the Court of Justice of the EU in light of the Charter. If the Charter were not applicable to the UK any more, this might result in then-former EU law being significantly different from its ‘original’ version at the moment of its transposition; furthermore, its interpretation would be left to decisions to be taken on a case-by-case basis. These two factors taken together might have serious consequences in respect to the certainty of the law.

Concerning the application of the law, as far as the rights overlapping with the ECHR are concerned, this would result in a different kind of protection. Indeed, those civil and political rights provided by the Charter, in compliance with one of the most fundamental principles of the EU law, have a direct effect in the UK as many EU laws do. But if the Charter had no effect in the UK after Brexit, victims of human rights violations could only rely on the ECHR. Yet, under section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998, while ‘[i]t is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right’, this does not apply to an act if

 

—(a) as the result of one or more provisions of primary legislation, the authority could not have acted differently; or (b) in the case of one or more provisions of, or made under, primary legislation which cannot be read or given effect in a way which is compatible with the Convention rights, the authority was acting so as to give effect to or enforce those provisions.

 

Thus, the kind of protection provided by the ECHR is not comparable to what people in the UK currently have in the application of EU law, thanks to the Charter and the European Communities Act 1972.

The same kind of reasoning would a fortiori apply to all those rights that are not protected by the Human Rights Act, including many economic and social rights, when they already are justiciable rights in the UK and in the application of EU law. Indeed, while it is true that the Charter did not add any new justiciable right, it is currently relevant when it comes to verify whether any EU law is compatible with it; to the contrary, domestic law (as all former EU legislation will become after the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is adopted) granting the same rights will not prevail over conflicting statutes.

 

Conclusion

 

On 13 July 2017 the Government of the UK published the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which is going to be discussed in Parliament no sooner than next autumn. Section 5(2) of the Bill, which is meant to enter into force when the UK actually leaves the EU, provides for the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU not to be considered domestic law in the UK at the moment of Brexit, nor after it. This post has shown how the Charter is currently part of UK domestic law, thanks to Section 2(1) of the European Communities Act 1972. It has also been argued that, should the Bill enter into force as it stands at the moment, there may arise a problem in terms of the certainty of the law because, lacking the possibility of making reference to the Charter when interpreting and applying it, former EU law would already miss something at the moment of its transposition and national authorities would be left with the burden of filling the gaps it would leave. As for the protection of fundamental rights in the UK, this might be subjected to a considerable change too. Indeed, concerning those civil and political rights that are also provided by the ECHR, national authorities are bound not to give priority to the Human Rights Act, incorporating the ECHR in the UK system, when this is in conflict with national legislation. Thus, the protection of these rights, when violated in application of a norm incorporated by the then former EU law, will be left to a different, less incisive, kind of remedy than that offered by the Charter (and many EU laws!) at present. This would be a fortiori true with regard to those rights, including economic and social rights, which are not protected by the Human Rights Act.

[1] See, for instance, [2017] EWCA Civ 431, [2017] EWCA Civ 397 at 74; [2017] EWHC 1174 (Admin) at 100-101; [2017] EWHC 931 (Admin) at 59; [2017] EWHC 577 (Admin) at 38; [2017] EWCA Civ 35; [2017] EWCA Civ 41 at 136; [2017] EWCA Civ 243 at 1; [2017] EWHC 331 (Admin) at 17; [2017] EWHC 827 (Admin) at 30; [2016] QB 1003 at [99]; [2017] CAT 9 at 80; [2017] UKUT 125 (IAC) at 34; [2017] UKFTT 167 (TC) at 435; on the Charter not conferring new rights nor expanding those rights stemming from EU law, see, e.g., [2017] EWHC 695 (QB) at 13-16; on the disapplication of a national measures conflicting with the Charter see, e.g., [2017] EWCA Civ 121 at 60; [2015] EWCA Civ 311, [2015] 3 WLR 409. Interestingly, the First Section of the ECtHR has recently reaffirmed the legally binding nature of the Charter in a case against the UK.May

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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