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News Clips – October 25, 2010

October 25, 2010 Leave a comment
  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights begins holding hearings today in its 140th Period of Sessions.  Issues to be discussed today include the Situation of Environmentalists in Mesoamerica, and Discrimination against the Transsexual, Transgender, and Transvestite Population in Brazil.  See the week’s schedule of hearings here.  Webcast of some hearings is available here.
  • The IACHR has called on the United States to suspend the execution of Jeffrey Timothy Landrigan, following its grant of precautionary measures in Landrigan’s favor last week.  The Commission subsequently held that the U.S. violated the rights of Landrigan, who is scheduled to be executed tomorrow, when he was sentenced to death by a trial judge rather than a jury using a procedure later found to be unconstitutional, but was never granted a new sentencing hearing.  The Commission requested the immediate suspension of his execution. [IACHR] Amnesty International USA questioned Landrigan’s defense counsel’s failure to present mitigating evidence of his neuropsychological health and raised concerns that the state of Arizona may have obtained the drug used for lethal injections, sodium thiopental, from a non-FDA-approved source. [AI USA]  Landrigan’s application for stay of execution and habeas petition  – on the grounds of possible actual innocence – are pending before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
  • The European Court of Human Rights has found Russia in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights for arbitrarily and discriminatorily denying authorization for gay rights marches in Moscow, in its judgment in Alekseyev v. Russia.
  • Canadian Omar Khadr has pleaded guilty to war crimes charges before a Military Commission in Guantánamo, as part of an agreement which will likely limit his prison sentence and provide for his return to Canada, while avoiding the controversy of trying Khadr for crimes he allegedly committed as a juvenile. [AI] Amnesty International urges the U.S. government to comply with its obligations to investigate Khadr’s allegations of torture and abuse while in custody.
  • Another mass killing in Ciudad Juárez has claimed the lives of 14 individuals at a teenage boy’s birthday party, following the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers’ visit to Mexico and her call for a reformed, independent judiciary capable of handling the increased incidence of violent crime, ensuring access to both defendants and victims, and prosecuting human rights offenders in the ordinary – rather than military – courts. [NYT]
  • Human Rights Watch calls on Turkey to investigate the arbitrary detention and beating of five transgender activists in Ankara by police officers in May 2010, as well as drop the charges against the activists. [HRW]
  • The ICC Trial Chamber III has rejected former DRC vice president Jean Pierre Bemba Gombo’s double jeopardy claim, making way for his trial to begin on war crimes and crimes against humanity charges related to the Movement for the Liberation of Congo’s activities in the Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003. [RNW]  The situation in the CAR was referred to the ICC prosecutor in 2005 and the warrant for Bemba’s arrest was issued in 2008.
  • Cholera continues to take lives in Haiti, as fears grow of the disease spreading to camps for earthquake survivors. [Washington Post]
  • The Associated Press reports that “[a] group of Israeli reservists critical of the military’s treatment of Palestinians has released new photos that appear to show Israeli soldiers abusing Palestinians” [Washington Post] Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has called attention to torture allegations in Palestinian detention in the West Bank. [HRW]
  • Vietnam has attracted criticism for recent, continued arrests of Vietnamese political bloggers and critics. [HRW]
  • The United Arab Emirates Federal Supreme Court has ruled that husbands have a right – under the penal code – to “chastise” their wives and children using violence and coercion, provided they leave no physical marks. [HRW]
  • Last week, the Burundi government denied that police arbitrarily executed 22 rebels, accusing the president of the Association for Protection of Detainees and Human Rights of making false accusations and insisting that the rebels were killed in combat. [RNW]
  • Strikes and fuel shortages persist in France as workers protest President Sarkozy’s decision to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 to balance the social security budget. [Washington Post]
  • Serbia is urged to prosecute two war crimes suspects, Goran Hadzic and Ratko Mladic, as the European Commission considers Serbia’s application to join the EU. [HRW]
  • Jailed Iranian human rights defender Nasrine Sotoudeh enters her eighth week of detention in solitary confinement, where she is reported to be on a hunger strike. [LA Times Blog]
  • Cuban journalist and political prisoner, Guillermo Fariñas, has been awarded the Sakharov Prize given by the European Parliament to recognize those who “combat intolerance, fanaticism and oppression”.  Fariñas has been leading a hunger strike in prison to advocate for the release of prisoners in poor health who want to stay in Cuba. [RNW]
  • Following a YouTube video depicting the torture of two Papuan men by Indonesian officials, Amnesty International is calling for an investigation of torture allegations against Indonesian security forces in Papua province over the past two years. [AI]
  • A Virginia man has pleaded guilty in federal district court to attempted material support of terrorism and communicating threats, in connection with his online threats to South Park creators and advocacy of Somali Al-Qaeda affiliate, Al-Shabaab. [Washington Post]
  • The Iraqi Supreme Court has ordered Parliament to meet within two weeks, finding the suspension of the current legislative session – due to legislators’ failure to reach consensus on the formation of the next government – unlawful. [Washington Post]
  • A New York Times article reports on the crumbling state of public housing in the United States, as budget constraints force residents to wait years for necessary repairs. [NYT]
  • The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has temporarily stayed enforcement of the District Court’s injunction against the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy regarding sexual orientation in the U.S. armed forces, in order to consider the federal government’s appeal in Log Cabin Republicans v. USA.
  • Twice this month, Iranian authorities have used amputation as punishment by cutting off the hand of two Iranians convicted of theft, raising concerns that the practice is regaining favor. [Huffington Post]
  • Thousands protested in Argentina following the death of labor activist Mariano Ferreyra last week during demonstrations for better pay and benefits for railway workers. [Impunity Watch]
  • The Telegraph reports, “The US is withholding assistance to Pakistani military units accused of human rights abuses, according to American officials, sparking outrage in a country where CIA drones are blamed for killing hundreds of civilians”. [Telegraph]
  • 1.3 million votes have been cancelled in Afghanistan’s recent election, following findings of fraud and irregularities. [BBC]  Meanwhile, President Hamid Karzai is taking heat for accepting funding from Iran. [BBC]
  • The African Union has reported that the Central African Republic, along with the DRC, Sudan and Uganda, are working together to defeat the Lord’s Resistance Army, in part by creating a joint brigade and classifying the LRA as a terrorist organization. [RNW]
  • A New York Times editorial questions U.S. government treatment of material witnesses in terrorism cases, following the Supreme Court’s decision to hearAshcroft v. al-Kidd, a suit by an American citizen held in detention and subjected to strict probation-like restrictions for fifteen months, as a material witness. [SCOTUSblog]  Former Attorney General John Ashcroft appealed the Ninth Circuit’s decision holding he was not entitled to absolute immunity against the suit.
  • The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture warned last week that Greek detention facilities are dangerously overcrowded as they continue to receive irregular migrants seeking to enter Europe from Turkey, and called on the EU to address the migrant detention issue. [OHCHR]
  • Last week, Tibetan students marched in protest of reported government plans to institute a Chinese-only language policy in classrooms. [Impunity Watch]
  • The European Commissioner for Human Rights calls attention to the plight of institutionalized persons with disabilities in his latest comment.
  • A U.S. federal district court judge in Kansas has ruled that Human Rights Watch and a researcher must disclose their notes and sources in the trial of a Rwandan charged with illegally obtaining U.S. citizenship by lying about his participation in the Rwandan genocide. [AP]
  • Mark Lyttle, a mentally disabled U.S. citizen of Puerto Rican descent who was wrongly deported to Mexico is suing the U.S. government after Lyttle, who apparently has a history of mental illness and speaks no Spanish, was deported without court-appointed counsel or an opportunity to present evidence of his citizenship. [Impunity Watch]

News Clips – October 3, 2010

October 3, 2010 Leave a comment
  • In Ecuador, a state of emergency remains in place following last week’s uprising of members of the military against President Correa’s government, prompting human rights defenders to call for a quick restoration of full civil liberties. [CEJIL] The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights condemned the attack against Correa. [IACHR]
  • Germany today commemorates 20 years of reunification and will use its experience to assist the South Korean government in moving forward with unification of the Korean Peninsula. [New York Times; VOA]
  • The UN fact-finding mission into the Gaza flotilla incident has issued its report, concluding that Israel used “unlawful” and “unnecessary” violence in its interception of a flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid in May and June of this year.  The report was adopted by the Human Rights Council. [UN; OHCHR]
  • The U.S. government has apologized for conducting medical experiments on Guatemalan prisoners, sex workers, psychiatric hospital patients, and soldiers from 1946 to 1948.  The tests purposefully infected approximately 1,500 Guatemalans with syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases between 1946 and 1948.  U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed outrage and regret, while Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom qualified the experiments as a “crime against humanity” and reserved the right to pursue legal redress. [CERIGUA; Reuters]
  • In Venezuela, a riot in the Tocoron prison, which is allegedly run by gang members, has claimed 16 lives. [Impunity Watch]  The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has previously expressed concern regarding the overcrowding and conditions in Venezuelan prisons, and last week expressed its concern at the discovery of a child prostitution ring operating out of a Paraguayan prison. [IACHR]
  • Uganda has charged detained Kenyan human rights defender Al-Amin Kimathi with terrorism and murder due to his role in representing the six Kenyans being prosecuted for the Kampala World Cup bombing. [HRW]
  • Cuba may release more political prisoners if they agree to leave the country. [AP]
  • Seven years after Liberia’s civil war, Prince Johnson, a current Liberian senator and former warlord who participated in atrocities committed during the war, has been certified to run for the presidency in next year’s election.  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia’s final report recommended that Johnson be banned from holding public office for 30 years and be prosecuted for crimes against humanity (p. 353). [AP]  The Special Court for Sierra Leone is managing the prosecution of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, in The Hague, for atrocities committed by Liberian and rebel forces under his direction in neighboring Sierra Leone, but the International Criminal Court has not opened an investigation into the crimes committed in Liberia during its civil war.
  • The UN Human Rights Council has confirmed that the right to water and sanitation is binding on States, as embodied in international treaties  [UN]
  • The U.S. Supreme Court begins a new term tomorrow with Justice Elena Kagan becoming the third woman on the court.  As quoted in the Washington Post, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stated, “When the schoolchildren file in and out of the court and they look up and they see three women, then that will seem natural and proper – just how it is.” Critics note that the the ideological divide among the 9 justices may be seen as partisan, in that each Supreme Court justice viewed as conservative was nominated by a Republican president and each justice viewed as liberal in his or her judicial philosophy was appointed by a Democratic president, which had not previously been true.  [Washington Post]  The Court’s docket this term will include cases related to immigration law, freedom of expression, criminal due process and other issues. [SCOTUSblog]  For an interesting commentary on the Roberts Court’s impact on American constitutional law thus far, see Barry Friedman and Dahlia Lithwick’s article on Slate.
  • The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has issued a report calling on Nepal to establish an independent body to receive and investigate citizen complaints, following its discovery that security forces are suspected of having committed dozens of extrajudicial killings since January of 2008. [UN]
  • As a series of teen suicides in the United States are attributed to school bullying on the basis of perceived sexual orientation, activist Dan Savage has initiated the It Gets Better Project on YouTube to offer messages of hope to LGBT teens. [ACLU]
  • The trial of former Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani for his alleged participation in the U.S. embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998 is set to begin tomorrow in federal court in New York City, drawing further criticism of the continued use of military commissions and detention abroad of terrorism suspects. [ACLU; HRW]
  • Indigenous Chilean prisoners have ended their hunger strike in protest of the terrorism charges levied against them in connection with their anti-poverty protests.  The end of the hunger strike was welcomed by the UN, but Human Rights Watch called on the Chilean government to amend its anti-terrorism laws and limit use of the military court system. [ UN; HRW]
  • Human Rights First urged the UNHCR to continue working to ensure equality and dignity in the treatment of LGBTI refugees, as governments and civil society met in Geneva to discuss the issue. [HRF]
  • The CIA has begun using armed drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in an expansion of the highly controversial use of targeted killings. [Washington Post]
  • Bahrain has issued a travel ban against several human rights defenders, preventing them from leaving the country. [HRW]
  • Mexican mayors’ lives are at risk in the country’s ongoing battle against drug trafficking. [Washington Post]
  • Britain has legally recognized  Druidry, an ancient faith whose followers worship the natural world, as a religion by approving the Druid Network’s application to be registered as a religious charity.  [Huffington Post]
  • Liu Xiabobo, a likely contender for the Nobel Peace Prize and Chinese dissident, is serving an 11-year prison sentence for subversion in connection with the publication of Charter 08, a proposal for peaceful democratic reform. [Washington Post]
  • One year after a massacre perpetrated by Guinea security forces claimed the lives of more than 150 people, the government has yet to prosecute the suspects, despite the ICC’s opening a preliminary examination. [HRW]
  • Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy has been convicted of spreading disinformation and falsifying maps, as the UN Special Rapporteur on Cambodia criticizes “disproportionate use of the law” against the press, activists and political leaders. [OHCHR; VOA]
  • The Thai government continues to invoke emergency powers to limit civil liberties, five months after anti-government protests were suppressed. [HRW]
  • Human Rights Watch calls for an investigation into a recent rash of police brutality and deaths in custody in Vietnam. [HRW]
  • In Zimbabwe, violence and arrests of activists have led to the disruption and suspension of community outreach meetings on Zimbabwean constitutional reform. [HRW]
  • The Global Migration Group, comprised of various intergovernmental organizations including the International Organization for Migration, urges States to ensure the fundamental rights of migrants in irregular situations. [OHCHR]
  • The Al-Jazeera network protested the arrest of two cameramen by NATO forces in Afghanistan. [Washington Post]  The cameramen were released two days later. [Al-Jazeera]
  • Following reports that Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi was to be allowed to vote in upcoming elections and be freed from house arrest, it remains unclear what action the military government will take. [The Hindu; AP]

News Clips – September 20, 2010

September 20, 2010 Leave a comment
  • In a heartbreaking blow to Afghan hopes for peace, several U.S. soldiers are under investigation for murdering at least three Afghan civilians last year as part of a rogue “kill team” that was allegedly formed when a staff sergeant who had served in Iraq in 2004 joined the platoon stationed in Kandahar province. [Washington Post]
  • The French Senate has approved a ban on the use of full-face veils in public, subject to a fine of 150 Euros ; the legislation will now be reviewed by the Constitutional Council [Impunity Watch; BBC]
  • On Thursday, the U.S. state of Virginia will execute Teresa Lewis, following her conviction for the 2002 deaths of her husband and stepson; she will be the first woman to be executed in the state in 98 years and is reported to have “severe learning difficulties”. [Guardian]
  • Polish police have detained exiled Chechen leader Akhmed Zakayev, who was granted asylum in the United Kingdom in 2003, but Polish authorities have not determined whether he will be extradited to Russia, where he is sought on charges of armed revellion, murder and kidnapping. [BBC; RNW]
  • Italy and Libya’s joint agreement to intercept would-be migrants at sea has led to several incidents where Libyan patrols have fired upon Italian boats in the mistaken belief that they were carrying migrants. [Impunity Watch; Human Rights Watch]
  • Ecuador and Colombia have met to discuss the plight of the approximately 135,000 displaced Colombians living in Ecuador, due to ongoing violence [Impunity Watch; ADN]
  • Leading Russian gay rights activist, Nikolai Alekseyev, has been released after being held by Russian authorities for two days while they allegedly pressured him to withdraw a complaint before the European Court of Human Rights. [Radio Free Europe]
  • A U.S. citizen has been released from Iranian custody after inadvertently crossing Iranian border from Iraq while hiking; meanwhile, while Amnesty calls attention to 30,000 held in Iran without trial and prominent Iranian human rights activist Shiva Nazar Ahari has been sentenced to six years’ imprisonment. [Guardian; NYT; Amnesty]
  • The Philippine National Police will support the installation of a human rights desk in every police station, following torture accusations levied against the police. [Manila Bulletin]
  • In Kyrgyzstan, human rights reporter Azimjon Askarov has been sentenced to life imprisonment on charges the Committee to Protect Journalists says are completely unfounded. [CPJ]
  • Peruvian President Alan Garcia approved a repeal of recent Legislative Decree 1097, amidst fears that the law would provide amnesty for security forces members accused of human rights violations. [Peruvian Times]  The repeal was viewed favorably by the IACHR, which had criticized the decree. [IACHR]
  • Citing “the lack of the right to legitimate defence in Rwanda today”, a French court has rejected Rwanda’s request to extradite Eugene Rwamucyo, a doctor wanted for his alleged involvement in the Rwandan genocide. [RNW]
  • Hamas and UN Relief & Works Agency clash over human rights curriculum in schools. [NPR]
  • The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders has released its annual report, Steadfast in Protest, provides a region-by-region analysis of government  protection (or repression) of the media and civil society (note that the Table of Contents is at the end of the 500-plus page report).  The report is choc-full of individual examples of human rights defenders who were subjected to harassment or prosecution, and instances of dissent which were stifled – particularly during elections – in 2009. [FIDH]
  • Human Rights Watch calls for the establishment of an international Commission of Inquiry for Burma, to investigate past abuses by the military and armed groups.  [HRW]
  • The U.S. Senate is poised to vote on legislation, which has been approved by the House of Representatives, and which would repeal the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy towards gay and lesbian members of the military. [ACLU]
  • Kashmiri separatists protest curfew laws and Indian occupation in bloody battles with Indian troops, in which at least three protesters have lost their lives, while Human Rights Watch calls for the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which protects members of the Indian military from prosecution and grants broad powers to use force and conduct warrantless arrests. [BBC; HRW]
  • UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing warns of the high rate of forced evictions in Kazakhstan. [OHCHR]
  • The IACHR has presented a case to the Inter-American Court involving Chilean courts’ denial of parental custody rights to a lesbian mother because of her sexual orientation.  Karen Atala’s petition is the first to be decided by the Commission relating to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. [IACHR]
  • UN expert calls on Sudanese authorities to investigate the September 2nd killing of dozens of civilians in North Darfur. [OHCHR]
  • A Reprieve investigator reports that the FBI has been deeply involved in the questioning and detention of individuals connected to the World Cup bombings in Kampala this year, the investigation of which has included the arbitrary detention of two Kenyan human rights defenders arrested in Uganda last week.  They had been working on behalf of three Kenyans subjected to extraordinary rendition and charged in Uganda for their alleged role in the Kampala World Cup bombings. [Huffington Post]
  • Organizations call for the immediate release of 19-year-old blogger being held incommunicado in Syria for nine months now.  [AFP; HRW]
  • Attacks against journalists threaten lives and freedom of expression in Mexico. [Impunity Watch]
  • The Costa Rican Supreme Court has ruled that the high crime rate in the country cannot justify arbitrary police checkpoints on public roads, which may be established only when there is substantiated evidence or actual notice of a crime having been committed. [CEJIL]
  • 18 protesters were injured, and one killed, in a confrontation between Peruvian police and protesters opposed to a dam and agricultural irrigation system which residents of Espinar fear would leave them without water. [Reuters; AlertNet]
  • In Thailand, planning for anti-government protests is underway as the fourth anniversary of the military coup approaches. [Democracy Now]

News Clips – July 18, 2010

July 19, 2010 Leave a comment
  • Argentina legalizes same-sex marriage, becoming the second country in the Western Hemisphere to do so. [Washington Post]
  • The Pre-Trial Chamber I of the ICC has issued a second arrest warrant for Sudan’s President Al Bashir, who is wanted to face charges of genocide against the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups.  The first warrant was based on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. [ICC]
  • ACLU files suit alleging  U.S. “No Fly List” is unconstitutional, on behalf of individuals placed on the list without explanation or recourse, and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. [ACLU]
  • In its admissibility decision in Babar Ahmar and Other v. United Kingdom, the ECHR requested additional information from the parties and extended interim measures to suspend the extradition of the applicants to U.S., where they could face life imprisonment in supermax prisons. The Court sought further information on the conditions of detention in such prisons, the reach of the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, and the reducibility of the life sentences potentially imposed – in order to determine whether the transfer would constitute a violation of Article 3’s prohibition on inhuman or degrading treatment. [Huffington PostBBCECHR]
  • Jorge Rafael Videla, the former Argentina dictator whose de facto government was in power for most of the Dirty War years, has gone on trial again this month, in connection with the murder of 32 political prisoners in 1976. [BBCLa Nación]  Videla was previously convicted on kidnapping and other charges and later benefited from Argentina’s amnesty law, but began serving a life sentence in 2008 after his pardon was overturned [BBC].
  • IACHR welcomes the release of 7 Cuban political prisoners, which belatedly, partially complies with the Commission’s 2006 merits report in the case of several dozen journalists and human rights activists detained in Cuba, in which it recommended their release. [IACHR]
  • Attorney Lynne Stewart’s sentence has been increased on appeal to 10 years, following her2005 conviction of conspiring to aid terrorists for conveying messages on behalf of her client, who was detained on terrorism-related charges. [Democracy Now!]
  • Human Rights Watch calls on Iran to spare civilians in its military operations  surrounding Kurdish villages in Iraq. [HRW]
  • Human Rights Watch’s new publication Hellish Work denounces Philip Morris’ labor practices and exploitation of migrant workers in Kazakhstan. [NYT]
  • Internal Israeli report finds that the Gaza aid flotilla deaths were justified. [Impunity Watch]
  • President Medved says killer of human rights defender Natalya Estemirova has been identified, as European Commissioner for Human Rights calls on government to bring to justice those responsible. [VOA]
  • Zimbabwe faces continued allegations of human rights abuses in its diamond mines, as Kimberly Process and World Diamond Council approve Zimbabwean diamonds for sale. [NPR, Newsweek]
  • Conditions for Haitians displaced by earthquake are criticized, as nearly 2 million remain homeless.  [truthdig]
  • Last week, thousands commemorated the 15th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia-Herzegovina. [Impunity Watch]
  • IACHR laments deaths in Uruguay prison fire. [IACHR]
  • South Korean human rights commission to review chemical castration of sex offenders, approved by parliament last month. [Dong-a Ilbo; MSNBC]
  • Egyptian Bedouin rights activist freed following three years of detention under Egypt’s emergency law. [Impunity Watch]
  • Russian Duma expands Russian security services’ powers, amidst protests. [Business Week]

U.S. Department of Justice Files Constitutional Challenge against Arizona Immigration Law

July 11, 2010 1 comment

The U.S. Department of Justice announced last week that it had filed a constitutional challenge to Arizona’s new immigration law, S.B. 1070 (discussed earlier on this blog here and here), seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against its enforcement.  The suit was filed on behalf of the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of State, which each have responsibilities related to immigration enforcement.

As summarized in the press release, the complaint alleges that the Arizona law “unconstitutionally interferes with the federal government’s authority to set and enforce immigration policy” and “will place significant burdens on federal agencies, diverting their resources away from high-priority targets, such as aliens implicated in terrorism, drug smuggling, and gang activity, and those with criminal records”.  Additionally, the government cited the potential for harassment of lawful immigrants and visitors, and pointed to the law enforcement community’s argument that the Arizona law undermines its efforts to gain the trust and cooperation of immigrant communities.

The Department of Justice also filed a motion for preliminary injunctive relief, seeking to suspend enforcement of the law while the suit is resolved.

As mentioned earlier on this blog, U.S.-based NGOs have also filed a constitutional challenge to the Arizona law and United Nations experts have expressed concerns about its compatibility with international human rights standards (here and here).  Last week, Human Rights Watch published its report Tough, Fair and Practical that urges federal immigration reform and recommends specific changes to ensure that “immigrant crime victims a chance to seek justice, protect workers, respect the private and family life of longtime residents, and provide fair treatment for immigrants who come before the courts”.  [HRW]

Attorney General Eric Holder also stated that, should the law survive the constitutional challenge and come into effect, the Federal government may again take legal action if it believes racial profiling is taking place. [LA Times]

ECHR Upholds Denial of Right to Marry to Same-Sex Couples

July 5, 2010 Leave a comment

On June  24, the European Court of Human Rights issued its decision in Schalk and Kopf v. Austria (App. No. 30141/04), concerning the right of same-sex couples to marry. (See the press release and judgment). Although the Court – for the first time – recognized that same-sex relationships fall within the purview of the Convention’s protection of ‘family life’, the Court held 4 to 3 that the Convention does not require States to allow same-sex couples to marry, and, accordingly, Austria’s denial of the right to marry was within the permissible margin of appreciation granted to States in interpreting the Convention’s protections of private and family life.

Although Austria recently enacted the Registered Parnership Act, which provides legal recognition of same-sex unions, such unions do not enjoy all the legal benefits of marriage, such as the right to adopt children or step-children or elect artificial insemination. Same-sex couples like Schalk and Kopf are still unable to enter into marriage contracts. At the time of their application, Austria offered no legal recognition of committed same-sex relationships and the couple had been continuously denied the right to enter into a marriage contract.

The applicants had alleged violations under Articles 12 (right to marry), 14 (private life) and 8 (family life) of the European Convention, in their 2004 application before the Court.

In arriving at its conclusion that Article 12 does not require that same-sex couples be allowed to wed, the Court relied heavily on current indicators of social and legal acceptance of such a right within Council of Europe Member States and, in the absence of regional consensus, held that States are best situated to “assess and respond to the needs of society” in light of the differing, “deep-rooted social and cultural connotations” attached to marriage in European societies.

Interestingly, in its analysis of Article 14 in conjunction with Article 8, the Court again turned to social acceptance of same-sex couples, this time finding that developing social attitudes towards and legal recognition of such relationships supported their inclusion under Article 8’s protection of family life.  The Court stated, “It is undisputed in the present case that the relationship of a same-sex couple like the applicants’ falls within the notion of ‘private life’ within the meaning of Article 8” (par. 90) and “[i]n view of this evolution [of social and legal acceptance] the Court considers it artificial to maintain that, in contrast to a different-sex couple, a same-sex couple cannot enjoy ‘family life’ for the purposes of Article 8” (par. 94). “Consequently the relationship of the applicants, a cohabitating same-sex couple living in a stable de facto partnership, falls within the notion of ‘family life’, just as the relationship of a different-sex couple in the same situation would” (par. 94).

However, in the absence of legal recognition of same-sex relationship in a majority of Member States, Austria’s law – although not conferring all the benefits of marriage – was sufficient protection for purposes of the Convention because it was consistent with other States’ practices. The Court found that, prior to Austria’s passage of the Registered Partnership Act, common practices among Member States would not have dictated that same-sex partners be legally recognized; accordingly, the majority held that Austria was under no obligation to have enacted the Act prior to 2010.

Although reiterating its understanding that disparate treatment based on sexual orientation requires “particular serious reasons by way of justification”, the Court found the Austrian law to fall within the “wide margin…usually allowed to the State…when it comes to general measures of economic or social strategy” because it had already held that Article 12 did not require that same-sex couples be given the same right to marry as different-sex couples. The Court therefore found it unnecessary to enter into an analysis of whether the Act’s disparate treatment pursued a legitimate aim and was reasonably proportional to the State’s aim.

The Court’s reliance on State practice and its failure to examine the legitimacy and proportionality of the disparate treatment were exactly the weaknesses highlighted by the three dissenting judges (Judges Rozakis, Spielmann and Jebens), who wrote:

8. Having identified a “relevantly similar situation” (paragraph 99), and emphasised that “differences based on sexual orientation require particularly serious reasons by way of justification” (paragraph 97), the Court should have found a violation of Article 14 taken in conjunction with Article 8 of the Convention because the respondent Government did not advance any argument to justify the difference of treatment, relying in this connection mainly on their margin of appreciation (paragraph 80). However, in the absence of any cogent reasons offered by the respondent Government to justify the difference of treatment, there should be no room to apply the margin of appreciation. Consequently, the “existence or non-existence of common ground between the laws of the Contracting States” (paragraph 98) is irrelevant as such considerations are only a subordinate basis for the application of the concept of the margin of appreciation. Indeed, it is only in the event that the national authorities offer grounds for justification that the Court can be satisfied, taking into account the presence or the absence of a common approach, that they are better placed than it is to deal effectively with the matter.

9. Today it is widely recognised and also accepted by society that same-sex couples enter into stable relationships. Any absence of a legal framework offering them, at least to a certain extent, the same rights or benefits attached to marriage (see paragraph 4 of this dissent) would need robust justification, especially taking into account the growing trend in Europe to offer some means of qualifying for such rights or benefits.

10. Consequently, in our view, there has been a violation of Article 14 in conjunction with Article 8 of the Convention.

Finally, the majority stated that it would not determine whether each aspect of Austria’s Registered Partnership Act satisfied the European Convention, because the applicants had not claimed to be directly affected by the provisions restricting parental rights.

Third-party interveners (amici) in the case included the FIDH, International Commission of Jurists, AIRE Centre, and ILGA-Europe.

June is also the month in which the United States celebrates LGBT Pride Month and cities around the world host Pride parades and other festivities to mark the anniversary of the gay community’s political empowerment following New York’s June 1969 Stonewall Riots.

For an understanding of laws granting legal recognition, the right to marry, or other benefits to same-sex couples, see these resources by ILGA-Europe (Europe), Human Rights Campaign (United States), NPR (United States), and Wikipedia (worldwide).

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