November 2, 2012
An independent United Nations expert today voiced continued concern about the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), and urged the Government to re-think its focus on military expenditure and to allocate resources to improve the living standards of its people. “I continue to be concerned with both the human rights and humanitarian situation in the country,” the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, Marzuki Darusman, told reporters ahead of his briefing to the General Assembly. He added that it is very concerning that some 16 million people in the DPRK – of a total population of 25 million – continue to suffer from varying degrees of chronic food insecurity and high malnutrition.
(Excerpt from a UN Press Release)
October 31, 2012
European Court of Human Rights Finds Poland Violated Rights of 14-Year-Old Rape Victim
In the case of P and S v. Poland, the European Court of Human Rights issued a decision yesterday finding that Poland had violated several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in connection with its treatment of a 14-year old rape victim.
The victim was raped in April 2008 and the rape resulted in a pregnancy. When she attempted to obtain an abortion with the consent of her parents, the Polish hospital refused. The hospital then released details of the victim's situation to the media and her case became national news. When the applicant and her parents went to another hospital in an attempt to obtain the abortion, the applicant was removed from her parents' custody and detained in a juvenile home. After a hearing, the victim was released to her parents and was able to obtain an abortion. However, the state brought criminal charges against her for unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor and brought charges against her parents for attempting to coerce her into having an abortion. Both of those cases were eventually dropped.
The Court found that Poland's actions violated Convention Article 8 (right to respect for private life), Article 5 (right to liberty and security), Article 3 (prohibition on torture and inhumane, cruel or degrading treatment or punishment). With respect to Article 8, the Court stated:
"The Court is of the view that effective access to reliable information on the conditions for the availability of lawful abortion, and the relevant procedures to be followed, is directly relevant for the exercise of personal autonomy. It reiterates that the notion of private life within the meaning of Article 8 applies both to decisions to become and not to become a parent . . . Having regard to the circumstances of the case, the Court concludes that the authorities failed to comply with their positive obligation to secure to the applicants effective respect for their private life. There has therefore been a breach of Article 8 of the Convention." The Court also found that "the disclosure of information about the applicants’ case was neither lawful nor served a legitimate interest" and, thus, also violated the right of privacy under Article 8.
The Court further held that Poland violated Article 5 of the Convention by removing the victim from her parents' custody and keeping her detained. Finally, the Court "conclude[d], having regard to the circumstances of the case seen as a whole, that the [victim] was treated by the authorities in a deplorable manner and that her suffering reached the minimum threshold of severity under Article 3 of the Convention." As a result of these violations, the Court awarded reparations to the victim and her mother.
The full text of the decision may be found here.
US-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement Enters Into Force
The U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement entered into force today. Here is a statement about it from the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:
Today, the U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA) enters into force, marking an historic milestone and bringing us closer to our goal of an unbroken network of free trade agreements in the Western Hemisphere. By eliminating tariffs and other barriers, the TPA will significantly liberalize trade in goods and services between our countries, enhancing competitiveness and supporting jobs. It’s an example of the Obama Administration’s commitment to economic statecraft and deepening our economic engagement throughout the world.
Almost all U.S. exports of consumer and industrial products to Panama will now be duty-free with remaining tariffs phased out over ten years. Nearly half of all current trade will receive immediate duty-free treatment with most of the remaining tariffs eliminated within 15 years. This agreement will also preserve duty-free access for Panamanian goods previously granted under trade preference programs and help strengthen the Panamanian economy.
Not only will this reinforce the ties between our economies and create jobs, it secures our strategic partnership with a key partner. I want to thank President Martinelli for his leadership on the entry into force of the TPA and look forward to both countries fully realizing the promise of this agreement.
Freedom of Religion and the Right to Convert
A United Nations independent expert last week urged the international community to consistently respect, protect and promote the human right to freedom of religion or belief in the area of conversion. “The right of conversion and the right not to be forced to convert or reconvert belong to the internal dimension of a person’s religious or belief-related conviction, which is unconditionally protected under international human rights law,” the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, said in a news release, issued as he presented a report on his work to the UN General Assembly.
In his report, Mr. Bielefeldt analyses the patterns of abuses that are perpetrated in the name of religious or ideological truth claims in the interest of promoting national identity or protecting societal homogeneity, or under other pretexts such as maintaining political and national security. “While some undue restrictions on the rights of converts or those trying non-coercively to convert others are undertaken by State agencies, other abuses, including acts of violence, stem from widespread societal prejudices,” the Special Rapporteur said.
“Violations in this sensitive area also include forced conversions or reconversions, again perpetrated either by the State or by non-State actors,” he added. “In addition, the rights of converts or those trying non-coercively to convert others are sometimes questioned in principle.” In this context, he emphasized, the rights of the child and his or her parents must also be guaranteed.
On the issue of conversion, the independent expert noted that in addition to being exposed to manifestations of social pressure, public contempt and systematic discrimination, converts often face “insurmountable administrative obstacles” when trying to live in conformity with their convictions. “In some States, converts may also face criminal prosecution, at times even including the death penalty, for such offences as ‘apostasy,’ ‘heresy,’ ‘blasphemy’ or ‘insult’ in respect of a religion or the country’s dominant tradition and values,” he said.”
On the matter of the right not to be forced to convert, Mr. Bielefeldt stated that converts are often exposed to pressure to reconverting to their previous religion. “Such pressure can be undertaken both by Government agencies and by non-State actors, including by directly linking humanitarian aid to an expectation of conversion,” he added noting also that he was particularly concerned about pressure or threats experienced by women, sometimes in the context of marriage or marriage negotiations, to convert to the religion of their husband or prospective husband.
On the topic of the right to try to convert others through non-coercive persuasion, Mr. Bielefeldt observed that many States impose tight legislative or administrative restrictions on communicative outreach activities, and that many such restrictions are conceptualised and implemented in a flagrantly discriminatory manner. “For instance, in the interest of further strengthening the position of the official religion or dominant religion of the country while further marginalizing the situation of minorities,” he said. He added, “Members of religious communities that have a reputation of being generally engaged in missionary activities may also face societal prejudices that can escalate into paranoia, sometimes even leading to acts of mob violence and killings.”
On the issue of the rights of the child and his or her parents, the Special Rapporteur said he had received reports of repressive measures targeting children of converts or members of religious minorities, including with the purpose of exercising pressure on them and their parents to reconvert to their previous religion or to coerce members of minorities to convert to more socially ‘accepted’ religions or beliefs. “Such repressive activities may violate the child’s freedom of religion or belief and/or the parents’ right to ensure an education for their children in conformity with their own convictions and in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child,” he said.
Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not United Nations staff, nor are they paid for their work.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
October 30, 2012
The Mladic Files
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum holds an event in Chicago on Wednesday, November 14, 2012. Michael Dobbs, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Goldfarb Fellow, will discuss the Hague trial of Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military leader who is accused of orchestrating Europe's deadliest massacre since World War II. He will discuss some of the documents, video recordings, and intercepted phone calls that shed light on Mladic's personality and motives.
The program will be held twice on November 14, 2012. The first discussion will be at noon at the Kirkland & Ellis law firm, 300 N. LaSalle Street, in Chicago. The second will be held at 7 p.m. at Am Shalom, 840 Vernon Avenue, in Glencoe, Illinois. The programs are free and open to the public, but advance reservations are requested. Call 1-847-604-1924.
Constitutional Democracy in Turkey
The Henry Morris Lecture in International and Comparative Law will next be held on Tuesday, November 6, 2012, at noon at the Chicago-Kent College of Law. The speaker is Dr. Bertil Emrah Oder, Dean and Professor of Constitutional Law at Koc Unversity Law School in Turkey. She will examine Turkish constitutionalism through the evolution of its constitutions. She'll also review ongoing debates about whether Turkey should pass constitutional amendments or draft a new constitution.
Although the day is otherwise a busy one with the U.S. elections taking place on the same day, it promises to be a good event. The lecture is free and open to the public. Registration is not required. Call 312-906-5090 for more information.
Turkey celebrated its national holiday yesterday.
Judicial Corruption and Threats to Human Rights
Corruption in judicial systems is threatening the protection of human rights, a United Nations independent expert said last week, urging governments to implement policies to strengthen the rule of law to combat this practice. “The pervasiveness of corruption in the judiciary and the legal profession, whether one off or endemic, is very worrying because it directly undermines the rule of law and the ability of the judiciary to guarantee the protection of human rights,” the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, told the General Assembly while presenting it with her latest annual report. “A judiciary that is not independent can easily be corrupted or co-opted by interests other than those of applying the law in a fair and impartial manner,” she said. “Strengthening the judiciary from within, as well as providing all the safeguards for its independence vis-à-vis other public officials and private actors, is essential in combating and preventing instances of judicial corruption.”
Ms. Knaul noted that corruption in the judiciary has the potential to victimize those that do not have the means to play by the informal rules set by a corrupt system. “Corruption in the judiciary discourages people from resorting to the formal justice system, thereby diverting dispute settlements towards informal systems that more than often do not abide by the basic principles of impartiality, fairness, non-discrimination and due process,” she said.
Mechanisms of accountability, the Special Rapporteur underlined, should be put in place to investigate acts of corruption and they should be developed with the full participation of the actors concerned. “I strongly believe that the existing international principles and standards on human rights and corruption provide adequate guidance on how to tackle judicial corruption while respecting the independence of the justice system and human rights,” she said.
Ms. Knaul also emphasized that judges, prosecutors and lawyers are in a unique position to tackle the wider phenomenon of corruption in other instances of the public and private sectors, and that “anti-corruption bodies should be established or developed to effectively assist judicial actors to combat corruption and to implement and strengthen transparency within the public sector.”
Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes.
(UN Press Release)
October 29, 2012
New Gender Equity Study Released
The World Economic Forum (WEF) has released a new gender equity study that rates 135 countries on five metrics to measure the degree of gender equity in the country: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. One basic conclusion from the study: there is a "strong correlation between a country’s gender gap and its national competitiveness. Because women account for one-half of a country’s potential talent base, a nation’s competitiveness in the long term depends significantly on whether and how it educates and utilizes its women."
Iceland is in the number one spot for the fourth year in a row. Northern European countries tend to dominate the top ranks, along with other Western developed nations such as New Zealand (6), Canada (21) and the U.S. (22). Non-western countries in the top 20 include South Africa, Cuba, Lesotho, Nicaragua and the Philippines. Japan is probably the lowest ranked developed country at 101. Many countries ranked in the bottom 10 in gender equity are Muslim countries, including Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Pakistan and Iran.
The Gender Gap Report may be found here.
Tajikistan takes another step towards joining the WTO
Tajikistan came one step closer to joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Friday when the Working Party on its accession approved the package spelling out its terms of entry to the organization. The package contains reforms to Tajikistan’s trade regime, market access schedules on goods and services, the Ministerial Decision and the Protocol of Accession. The Working Party will now send its accession recommendation to the General Council which is scheduled to meet December 11-12, 2012. It is expected that all the WTO members will approve these documents and accept Tajikistan as a WTO member. Tajikistan originally applied for WTO membership in May 2001. More information may be found on here.
Protecting Human Rights in Times of ConflictProtecting human rights during times of conflict is one of the greatest challenges that the international community faces today as evidenced by the crises in Syria, Mali and other parts of the world, a senior United Nations official said last week. “The protracted violence is an immediate reminder that the prevention of conflict and the protection of human rights in times of conflict remain among the most daunting challenges for the international community,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, told the General Assembly in New York. “Outright disrespect for international human rights and humanitarian law, let alone for human life, is an anachronism which cannot be tolerated. The UN must act to uphold the rule of law and protect human rights,” she added during her annual report on the work of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
In particular, Ms. Pillay urged States to take urgent and effective measures to protect the Syrian people. More than 20,000 people, mostly civilians, have died in Syria since the uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad began some 20 months ago. A further 2.5 million people urgently need humanitarian aid, and more than 340,000 have crossed the border to neighbouring countries, according to UN estimates. “There is no doubt that every Security Council member wishes to see an end to the ever-deepening conflict in Syria and to the violence affecting civilians,” Ms. Pillay said. “While taking into account important political concerns, it is urgent to find ways to avert the massive loss of civilians and human rights violations.”
During her presentation, Ms. Pillay underscored that the challenge of addressing crises and protecting human rights has grown due to organized crime, terrorism, the proliferation of weapons and the exploitation of natural resources – all developing at a faster pace. While she acknowledged that much remains to be done to ensure human rights are respected all over the world, Ms. Pillay also noted there have been developments that indicate an enhanced attention to human rights in various countries. For example, OHCHR now has a field presence in 57 countries, and human rights advisers are working with governments to mainstream human rights. OHCHR has also expanded its technical cooperation considerably.
In addition, OHCHR has consistently supported the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, which has, over the past two years, steadily addressed urgent situations and mandated commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions to places where there have been reports of human rights violations, including Syria.
The UN human rights chief also highlighted the work of her office with respect to development, the rule of law, democracy, and against all forms of discrimination. “The growing recognition of the centrality of human rights in the peace, security, development and humanitarian agendas, and trust in OHCHR is very rewarding,” Ms. Pillay noted. However, she warned that financial constraints are limiting the resources required to support her office’s mandated activities. “While we continue to endeavour to fulfil such work, without sufficient resources, we are being compelled to do less with less,” the UN official said, and called on the General Assembly to renew its commitment to support OHCHR and maintain its momentum to promote and protect human rights all over the world.
October 28, 2012
Laos and the WTO
A vote on Friday fomally approved Laos's application to join the World Trade Organization. The Wall Street Journal, reporting on the developmnt, said that over the longer term, Laos's membership in the WTO "is expected to provide a bade of approval for the country that could make it easier for global firms to do business there, especially as manufacturers look for substitutes for China, where wages have risen rapidly." Patrick Barta, "Laos Comes of Age as a Trading Partner," Wall St. J., Oct. 27-28, 2012, at A9. Laos's membership also will "help make it easier for Southeast Asian leaders to make investors view the region as one giant market, with the ability to connect supply chaines acoress its 10 countries, all of which will now be subject to WTO mechanisms for the first time." Id.
Philippines Peace Agreement with Moro Islamic Liberation Front
A senior United Nations official has welcomed the recent peace agreement between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), establishing a framework for settling the decade-long conflict on the southern island of Mindanao. “This is a major step not only to bring peace and reconciliation to the region, but also to alleviate the plight of children affected by the conflict,” the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, said in a news release issued on Tuesday evening.
Earlier this month, the Philippines’ President Benigno Aquino announced that his Government had reached a preliminary agreement of autonomy with the MILF, which has been fighting for decades for an independent Islamic state on Mindanao. The new autonomous region will be named Bangsamoro. At the time of the announcement, a spokesperson for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the accord as a “landmark achievement,” and pledged full UN assistance in helping the parties implement the accord.
In August 2009, the MILF and the United Nations signed an action plan to halt and prevent the recruitment and use of children in the armed conflict on Mindanao. The MILF, with the world body’s support, has taken action to build awareness of its international obligations within their ranks and communities, as well as to provide alternatives to children to prevent their association with the armed group, according to Ms. Zerrougui’s office. In Mindanao, children associated with the MILF often perform tasks in support of combatants which expose them to clear risk.
“The MILF and the United Nations, with the much needed support of the international community, must seize the opportunity of this peace dialogue to fully implement the action plan to ensure that children have no role in armed groups,” Ms. Zerrougui added. Ms. Zerrougui also expressed concern over reports of recruitment and use of children by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters – a break-away faction of the MILF – and called for the release of children from their ranks as an immediate priority.
(UN Press Release)