Launching a Global Campaign Against Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan

Three items to share on this, the one-year anniversary of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan:

Register and attend what promises to be a riveting discussion on Global Strategies for Countering Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan on Friday 19 August 2022, with courageous Afghan women human rights defenders like Shaharzad Akbar and Zarqa Yaftali and international partners like the University of Michigan’s Professor Karima Bennoune and Human Rights Watch’s Heather Barr. Register here.

View filmmaker Ramita Navai’s documentary Afghanistan Undercover, about which noted interviewer Terry Gross of the program Fresh Air remarked in her interview with Navai: “I feel like the world isn’t watching as carefully anymore. And your documentary was a wake-up call to me. . . . things have gotten so dire for women there.”

Read Professor Bennoune’s powerful analysis The Best Way to Mark the Anniversary of Taliban Takeover? Launch a Global Campaign Against Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan, which explains why “it is critical to commit to a more effective and principled global response, and to do so by recognizing this grave set of abuses for exactly what it is: gender apartheid.”

Time to act, UN Human Rights Committee

Afghanistan, which ratified the ICCPR in 1983, was last reviewed by the UN Human Rights Committee in 1995 – and it was a truncated review at that. The Afghan head of delegation was unable to be present due to delays en route, so the Chair suspended the review that had barely begun, saying that consideration of the report would be resumed at a subsequent meeting.

No subsequent review has ever taken place. Instead, there has been one postponement after another, as shown by the timeline below.  Why the neglect by the premier human rights treaty body authorized to monitor compliance with civil and political rights?  

Prompted by concerns we heard from Afghan women human rights defenders and Afghan human rights defenders more broadly, three of us wrote to the Human Rights Committee last week urging them to schedule a review of Afghanistan without further delay: Felice Gaer, Former Vice Chairperson and member, Committee against Torture, and Director, Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights; Karima Bennoune, Professor of Law, University of Michigan, and immediate past UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; and yours truly, Stephanie Farrior, professor of international law for 30 years and past Legal Director of Amnesty International. We await a response. The Committee has reportedly already set its calendar of reviews for the next several years. If a review of Afghanistan is not already scheduled, it should be, and without yet more delay.  

Afghanistan has seen significant political turmoil in the years since that partial Committee review held in 1995 – from the Taliban, to the Karzai government after the US invasion and now, back to the Taliban, which is not recognized by the United Nations as the official representative of Afghanistan. This has not prevented other UN human rights treaty bodies from holding a review of the implementation of their treaty in Afghanistan (see below).

The Human Rights Committee did schedule review of Afghanistan for March 2000, but the government requested and received a postponement.  

The review was next scheduled to take place in October 2001, and in the preceding session in May, the Committee developed its “List of issues prior to reporting.” However, the events of 9/11 intervened, and the Committee decided “to postpone review of implementation of the Covenant in Afghanistan to a later and more favorable date.” A concern expressed in that meeting by the late Sir Nigel Rodley and shared by other Committee members at the time was that their statement postponing the review “should not be interpreted in such a way as to suggest that the Committee will henceforth no longer consider the reports of States Parties in which an armed conflict is taking place.” Christine Chanet added that the presence of armed conflict does not only not prevent consideration of a state party, but it actually “adds to the concerns of the Committee.”

It was not until a decade later, in July 2011, that a review of Afghanistan was once again on the table, when the Human Rights Committee announced it would develop a “List of issues prior to reporting” at its July 2012 session.  It did indeed adopt a list of issues at that 2012 session, but in the ensuing ten years, no review of implementation of the Covenant in Afghanistan was ever scheduled or held.

Today, the human rights situation in Afghanistan is dire. For women and girls, as a journalist quoted in Amnesty International’s recent report has stated, “it’s death in slow motion.” For some, it’s more than one can bear. According to UN News: “The situation for women is so desperate in Afghanistan that they are committing suicide at a rate of one or two every day, the Human Rights Council has heard.”

In light of the dire situation in Afghanistan, the Human Rights Committee could take action and schedule a long overdue review of the civil and political rights situation there. The Committee’s Rule of Procedure 70 allows for review of a state party in the absence of a report. In this case, the last report submitted by Afghanistan could be updated with the significant body of information documented by UNAMA, the UN Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan, and human rights NGOs.  In addition, Afghan human rights defenders are keen to submit shadow reports. They are also keen to see every human rights mechanism engaged to the extent possible, to keep up international attention and pressure.

In a situation where the de facto entity in control of a state’s territory is not a recognized government, the Committee could nonetheless follow normal procedures and send an invitation to participate in a review to the office of the Permanent Mission of Afghanistan in New York. The UN-recognized (former) government officials could attend, present an oral (or written) report – or not. It should be noted that Rule of Procedure 68.2 allows for consideration of a report if the state party does not send a representative.   

The timeline below shows year after year after year of postponements of a review of Afghanistan by the Human Rights Committee. Other treaty bodies have engaged in periodic reviews of Afghanistan in the years when the Human Rights Committee was not scheduling a review, most recently the Committee against Torture in 2017-2018, and CEDAW in both 2016 and 2020.

It is time for the UN Human Rights Committee to re-engage, and schedule a review as soon as possible, given the critical situation there and the importance of continued international scrutiny. The record of neglect by the Human Rights Committee means that there has been no authoritative analysis of the implementation of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in Afghanistan for 27 years. The Committee should correct this situation promptly.  

October 1991: Afghanistan submitted 2nd periodic report to the UN Human Rights Committee. 

October 1995: Committee began review of the 2nd report, but soon suspended the review due to the absence of the head of delegation caused by travel delays. “The Chairman said that consideration of the report of Afghanistan would be resumed at a subsequent meeting,” and the Committee requested the Government of Afghanistan to submit information updating the report before 31 May 1996 for consideration at” its session in July 1996.  No additional information was received.

The next mention of Afghanistan in Summary Records after October 1995:

October 1999: The Committee invited Afghanistan to present its report at its March 2000 session. The State party asked for a postponement.

November 1999:  The Committee discussed and adopted a list of issues to be taken up in connection with the consideration of the second periodic report of Afghanistan.  Materials used in the preparation of the list included the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan and a report by Amnesty International on the situation of women in Afghanistan.

May 2001: The Committee decided to consider the situation of Afghanistan during its session in October/November 2001, applying Rule of Procedure 68.2, which allows for consideration of a report if the state does not send a representative.

October 2001: The Committee decided to postpone consideration of Afghanistan to a later date, “pending consolidation of the new Government.” “The Committee has very serious concerns regarding the implementation of the provisions of the Covenant in Afghanistan, particularly with regard to the situation of women in Afghanistan, public and extrajudicial executions, and religious intolerance. . . . Despite the fact that, with the current situation of armed conflict in Afghanistan, other serious concerns concerning the protection of the rights guaranteed by the Covenant have been added, the Committee considers that reviewing the report would not be productive in the current situation. [The Chairman] has therefore decided to postpone consideration of the report to a later and more favorable date for the purposes of article 40 of the Covenant.”

Continued postponements: In succeeding annual reports, the Committee duly recorded the previous postponements, but never scheduled a review:

A/58/40(Vol.I)    2002-2003

A/59/40(Vol.I)    2003-2004

A/60/40(Vol.I)    2004-2005

A/61/40(Vol.I)    2005-2006

A/62/40(Vol.I)    2006-2007

A/63/40(Vol.I)    2007-2008

A/64/40(Vol.I)    2008-2009

A/65/40(Vol.I)    2009-2010

A/66/40(Vol.I)    2010-2011

May 2011: “Afghanistan accepted the new optional procedure on focused reports based on replies to the list of issues prior to reporting. It is thus waiting for the Committee to adopt a list of issues prior to reporting.”

July 2011:  The Committee report notes: “The timetable for consideration of reports posted on the Committee website would . . . take account of the States parties for which a list of issues prior to reporting was to be adopted in July 2012, namely Afghanistan, Croatia, Israel, San Marino and New Zealand.”

July 2012:  The Committee adopted a list of issues prior to reporting on Afghanistan with a deadline of 31 October 2013 for its response. In the Committee’s July 2012 LOIPR includes the following  “Please provide any other information on measures taken to disseminate and implement the Committee’s previous recommendations (CCPR/C/AFG/CO/2), including any necessary statistical data.”

For those interested in seeing what those previous recommendations were: Per the UN Library Services, “despite the fact that document CCPR/C/AFG/Q/3 clearly mentions CCPR/C/AFG/CO/2, this document symbol is not recorded in any other source or index and according to the historical research above, the second report issued in 1992 was never fully considered – so no formal documented outcome must have been issued.”

Over the ten years that have passed since it adopted the list of issues, the Human Rights Committee has never reviewed implementation of the Covenant in Afghanistan.

2013-2014: The Annual Report notes the Committee’s adoption of a list of issues prior to reporting on Afghanistan with a deadline of 31 October 2013 for its response. “This report has still not been received.”

Note: The Human Rights Committee’s Rule of Procedure 70 allows for consideration of a State Party in the absence of a report.

2014-2019: The next five Annual Reports of the Human Rights Committee stop giving the prior history of postponed reviews, and only mention Afghanistan in the list of states that are 10 or more years overdue in submitting a report.

There is no further mention of Afghanistan in Annual Reports or Summary Records.

RELINQUISHMENT TO THE GRAND CHAMBER: THE CLIMATE CHANGE CASE

INTRODUCTION:

On Friday, 29th April, the European Court of Human Rights [ECtHR] declared that the Swiss Climate Case [Verein KlimaSeniorinnen and Others vs Switzerland] was relinquished to the Grand Chamber. The competent Chamber of the ECtHR relinquished authority to the Grand Chamber in compliance with Article 30 of the ECHR and Rule 72 (1) and (2) of the Rules of the Court. This relinquishment can be utilized, firstly, when the 7 judges agree that the issue raises a ‘grave question impacting the interpretation of the ECHR or its Protocols, or secondly, where there is a chance of deviating from preceding case laws’. 

FACTUAL BACKGROUND:

The Swiss Climate Case involves a complaint filed by a Swiss Association and its members [a group of elderly individuals] who are protesting against the effects of global warming on their health and living standards. The applications mentioned three primary issues: first, insufficient climate policies in Switzerland that infringe upon the right to life and health under Articles 2 and 8 of the ECtHR; second, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court dismissal of their cases on irrational grounds, in breach of Article 6 of the Convention; and third, the courts and Swiss officials non-compliance with the subject-matter of their complaints, in breach of Article 13 of the Convention. 

The significance of the Swiss Climate case is that it will be the first case of climate change adjudicated by the ECtHR. Although Duarte Agostinho and Other was the first case to bring up the topic of climate change, the Swiss Climate Case and Agostinho address different legal issues.

RULE:

The competent Chamber of the ECtHR relinquished authority to the Grand Chamber in compliance with Article 30 of the ECHR and Rule 72 (1) and (2) of the Rules of the Court. This relinquishment can be utilized, firstly, when the 7 judges agree that the issue raises a ‘grave question impacting the interpretation of the ECHR or its Protocols, or secondly, where there is a chance of deviating from preceding case laws’.

In the case of Tatar vs Romania, the Court emphasized that pollution can damage the personal and family sphere of an individual because pollution damages the individual’s well-being and health. Further, the government has a responsibility to safeguard its people by governing and controlling the authorization, establishment, functionality and security of industrial operations, particularly those that are hazardous to the environment and human health. 

ANALYSIS:

i.                        VICTIM STATUS: 

The admissibility stage, particularly the acknowledgment of ‘victim status’ will be the initial obstacle for the Swiss Climate Case. According to Article 34 of the Convention, applicants can allege ‘to be the victim of an infringement’ of the rights in the Convention by one of the states.  If the claim is an omission to undertake appropriate measures mandated by a constructive obligation, the legal evaluation will invariably need at least an inquiry into whether the complainants have victim status.  Further, to be a victim of an infringement, the applicant must demonstrate that he/she was ‘directly impacted’ by the actions complained of, like in the current case, the allegedly omitted implementation of necessary actions despite an international duty binding upon Switzerland. 

In the case of Cordella vs Italy, the Court ruled that persons are ‘directly affected’ by the measures complained of if there is the persistence of a circumstance ‘of great environmental danger’, in which the environmental risk ‘will become potentially detrimental to the well-being and health of those who are subjected to it’. The Swiss climate case fulfills that standard because the Swiss authorities have not taken positive action to protect the elderly persons who will be subjected to intense heat waves in the future.

The applicant in Swiss Climate contended that the applicant organization should be given representative status for its members. This contradicts the previous precedent, as the Court does not consider petitions in the public interest [‘actio popularis’]. However, in the case of Fadeyeva, the court stated that because there is no  ‘right to nature preservation’ in the Convention, in cases of environmental deterioration ‘the involvement must personally affect the household, home or private affairs of the applicant’ to invoke Article 8 of the Convention. 

  1. POSITIVE OBLIGATION IN THE CONVENTION: 

Generally, positive duties are those which compel member states to undertake certain actions. They are essential where there is (I) a known and serious danger to the exercise of a right, and (II) the State has the potential to restrict, mitigate a danger or remedy its repercussions. A pre-requisite is that the State was aware of, or should have been aware of, the presence of a serious and imminent threat to a major legal value. In the case of Balmer-Schafroth and Others c. Switzerland, the Grand Chamber pointed to a ‘threat that was not just significant but also precise and, most importantly imminent’.

The two kinds of positive duties which have been recognized by the ECtHR to safeguard can co-exist in the same situation, whether it’s in the context of domestic violence or various other risks. The Swiss Climate case essentially turns on the issue of preventive positive duties under Articles 2 and 8 of the Convention. The applicants note the negative consequences of the absence of climate change prevention measures. See the case of Bevacqua and Others vs Bulgaria.

The case law and precedent of the Court acknowledging the duty to safeguard against widespread risks by legal and other actions [and the recognition that there can be potential victims, before damage has occurred] has conceptual implications on the evaluation of the victim status provision. If claims of omissions to act in respect to particular, one-time risks will receive preferential consideration over claims of breaches of duties to safeguard against potentially serious risks on a broader level, protection would be rendered ineffective. Certainly, the positive duties at issue in the current case are primarily directed at the law-maker [and as the Swiss Federal Tribunal stated, the duties are consequently of importance to political entities]. However, because of the lawful character of the duties, their invocation shouldn’t be considered inadmissible due to procedural grounds. 

CONCLUSION:

Humanity is facing a worldwide climate catastrophe that is already having devastating consequences for human rights. To avoid disastrous climate change and the wave of human rights abuses that would follow, immediate, comprehensive, and revolutionary reforms are essential. When States fail to adopt effective measures to accomplish the objectives of the Paris Agreement, international human rights courts may and should give adequate protection to elderly people or other vulnerable persons who are endangered by catastrophic heat waves and its related consequences. The Court’s reaction to this conclusion is expected to set the stage for how it handles future climate issues, and it will be echoed in the court rulings of domestic courts as well as various other human rights organizations. The ECtHR shall act as a Court of Law within the scope of its jurisdiction, always keeping in account that Convention protections must be practical and genuine, not fictitious.

Solidarity Activism in a time of Unpeace

For inspiration from amazing women who work for solidarity actions to assist the dis-empowered and vulnerable persons, including refugees, minorities, persons subjected to solitary confinement, and victims of atrocity crimes seeking truth, please see the video from the 2022 ASIL Roundtable including Noura Erakat, Maha Hillal, Azadeh Shashahani, Nia Houston, chaired by Cecilia Bailliet. The video is available here

Write on! State Consent to International Jurisdiction Project Calls for Abstracts

This installment of Write On!, our periodic compilation of calls for papers, includes calls to present at PluriCourts (University of Oslo), as follows:

The State Consent to International Jurisdiction (SCIJ) project, funded by the Research Council of Norway and conducted at PluriCourts (University of Oslo) is issuing a Call for Abstracts for its closing conference entitled “Beyond State Consent to International Jurisdiction”. This conference has been tentatively scheduled for September 29-30, 2022, at and will be held entirely online. Topics include consent to jurisdiction as compared to applicable law, interpretation methods, unique aspects of specific courts or legal systems that may facilitate or impede consent, redesigning consent in the context of international law reform. Deadline is August 25, 2022.

For more information and submission of abstracts and bios, please visit https://www.jus.uio.no/pluricourts/english/news-and-events/news/2022/call-for-papers-beyond-state-consent.html

Read on! Gender and International Criminal Law

A newly released book entitled Gender and International Criminal Law, co-edited by Intlawgrrls contributors Indira Rosenthal, Valerie Oosterveld and Susana SáCouto, brings together leading feminist international criminal and humanitarian law academics and practitioners (many of them also Intlawgrrls contributors) to examine the place of gender in international criminal law (ICL). The book identifies and analyzes past and current narrow understandings of gender, before considering how a limited conceptualization affects accountability efforts. The authors consider how best to implement a more nuanced understanding of gender in the practice of international criminal law by identifying possible responses, including embedding a sophisticated gender strategy into the practice of ICL, the gender-sensitive application of international human rights and humanitarian law, and encouraging a gender-competent approach to judging in ICL.

Work On! Call for applications: 2022 International Disaster Law Course

The 7th Edition of the International Disaster Law Course is now open for application.

The Course is organized jointly by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the International Institute of Humanitarian Law of Sanremo, and in cooperation with the Italian Red Cross.

Speakers will include Eduardo Valencia-Ospina (Member of the International Law Commission, Former Special Rapporteur on the Protection of Persons in the Event of Disasters), Walter Kälin (Former Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons), Isabelle Granger (Global Lead, Disaster Law and Auxiliary Role, IFRC), Gian Luca Burci (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Former Legal Counsel, WHO), Giulio Bartolini (Editor-in-Chief Yearbook of International Disaster Law) along with other high-level speakers from academia and distinguished experts from international organizations.

The Course will take place in Sanremo (IT) from 26 to 30 September 2022 and online attendance is also allowed. More info and the application form are available here.

Feminist methods in international law 

Feminist methods in international law understood– A path to transformation: Asking “The Woman Question” in International Law / Cochav Elkayam-Levy


Methods matter and the discussion over feminist methods in international law is an important one. As Kathrine Bartlett famously noted, “thinking about method is empowering.” It makes us more aware of the nature of what we do and what we aim to improve in the law. Consequently, we can act more effectively when we examine legal structures and do it with a stronger sense of commitment to our feminist work. Methods are also the fundamental means by which we produce “valid knowing.” The discussion of feminist methods in international law is one that engages with the combination of rules and assumptions that shape and delimit our views about the exclusion of women’s experiences from this doctrine. Despite their significance, feminist methods in international law have been deserted. They seem neglected in ways that have weakened the sense of discipline that nurtures our feminist knowing. The prospect of clarifying some of the vagueness is the primary motivation for this new article. The article is dedicated to identifying, explaining and differentiating feminist methods in international law.
It then introduces the potential contribution of the method of asking the woman question – or what can be also termed as the gender question for broader inquiries about people of all genders – as a transformative question – for the work of many international lawyers on their path to developing feminist consciousness. It encourages a bold ambition to tackle structural barriers, embracing a commitment to transformative equality.
While this question seeks to highlight and address the continuing injustice that
women experience, it also allows scholars to see beyond the gender binary in ways that take into consideration a spectrum of genders and the impact of the law on people of all genders. It proposes clarity and promises a feminist sensitivity to any analysis of international law. Based on this method, the article develops a unique analytical model that tackles the distinctive structural ways in which the international legal system perpetuates women’s inequality.

The model is predicated on the evolving global idea of transformative equality – which I further develop in my research – asking us to reimagine the rules by which our society operates. It urges scholars to undertake a transformative reconstruction endeavor asking –

How would the law look like in a gender-just society? What rules would we have had women had a part in the design of the law? How would the law look like if women had equal social power? (pages 473-5).

It is intended to encourage transformative processes that confront entrenched social and legal gendered structures within the international legal system. It requires a complicated intellectual effort to reimagine the future as means to move toward a gender-just global system. Hopefully, reimagining the future will be the most empowering, fulfilling, and transformative result of this work.

Recommended Citation
Cochav Elkayam-Levy, A Path to Transformation: Asking “The Woman Question” in International Law, 42
MICH. J. INT’L L. 429 (2021).
Available at: https://repository.law.umich.edu/mjil/vol42/iss3/2
https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3543189

Write On! National Law Institute University Call for Papers

The National Law Institute University (NLIU), located in Bhopal, India, is accepting submissions for Vol. XXI, Issue 1 of the NLIU Law Review. The journal is peer-reviewed, published biannually by the students of the University. The Law Review aims to promote a culture of scholarly research and academic writing by bringing to the forefront, articles on subjects of interest to the legal profession and academia.

The NLIU Law Review does not restrict itself to any particular area of law and welcomes relevant and original contributions from all branches of law. The NLIU is accepting articles, case notes, legislative comments, and book reviews.

For more information on guidelines and citation standards, click here.

Submissions are due by July 15, 2022.

Interview with Philippa Webb (Part 2)

Question: You served as Special Assistant and Legal Officer to President Rosalyn Higgins of the ICJ. What did you gain from this experience?

Answer: I have to say that until now this experience has been the highlight of my international law career. While I was at the Court, I was lucky to see the progress of 15 cases from the institution of the proceedings to the delivery of the judgment. That was a wonderful insight that certainly informs my own practice now as a counsel and an advocate who appears before the Court. It was a very special experience to gain an insight into the working of the Court and also to see President Higgins in that role. She is obviously hugely successful and respected in international law with an outstanding reputation, but what I really appreciated was her human side. It was instructive to see the person at the top of the principal judicial organ of the UN, treat everyone with kindness, to make a genuine connection to people from all backgrounds, and to maintain interests outside of the law. She was, and is , a wonderful mentor.

Question: The Human Rights Council has decided to establish a Commission of Inquiry to look into the violations that have stemmed up from the Russian aggression in Ukraine which has been supported by the European Union. How else can International organizations act in order to prevent war situations faster and lessen their ramifications?

Answer: A lot of international activity has taken place since 24 February 2022. We have had the ICJ ordering Russia to suspend military operations in Ukraine; an order that has not been respected. We have had interim measures issued by the European Court of Human Rights, and expanded on two occasions. We have had a General Assembly Resolution with 141 states condemning Russian aggression. We have seen the fastest and most comprehensive response to an act of aggression by the international community compared to past events. Even so, we have also seen the weaknesses of our international institutions. We have seen the UN Security Council unable to act under Chapter VII because of the veto of the Russian Federation. That also has ramifications for the ICC because potentially it could have had jurisdiction over individuals via a Security Council referral to the ICC, but that is not possible. Technically, the provisional order of the ICJ, which is not being  respected by Russia at the moment, could be put before the Security Council for action  – but again the veto is blocking this route. We have an international political system that was designed nearly 8 decades ago and it is showing its inability to act in certain situations. This calls  for a reconsideration of our institutions. Are they fit for purpose? Do changes need to be made? Change would be very difficult because the veto is built into the UN system, but is there more that other UN principal organs or regional organisations can do? Is there more that coalitions of states can do? Is there more that national jurisdictions can do exercising universal jurisdiction? What about the role of civil society?

We need not be too discouraged by the weaknesses that have been exposed in the international system – we should use it as a motivation to deploy all the tools that we have. What I hope is that we are able to maintain and increase international action and not fall back into old patterns. This is the moment for international lawyers or any committed citizen of the international community to push for a better system.

Question: What message would you like to give to young women who are climbing up or aspire to step on the ladder for a career in public international law?

Answer: The first message I would say is go for it! It is a fascinating and important area of law.  Recent events have shown us how important international law is and how much work is left to be done. We need the next generation and their energy and ideas to help make changes. I tell my students that international law is a winding path and you have to be comfortable with some uncertainty about where your next position is coming from, where you have to move next, who your colleagues might be. It is not predictable like a commercial law path where you have clear timelines and steps to take until you retire. I think it is inspiring that an international law career does not require you to tick the right box. If you did not go to a particular university or you did not do that particular clerkship, you can still pursue this path. But you have to accept that it is a winding path, so always make the best first impression you can and be open to a bit of adventure along the way! 

(This interview was taken by IntLawGrrls Submissions Editor, Prerna Tara)