ECtHR’s Lost Opportunities in its Transformative Rulings: Queer Interpretation of Right to Privacy and Protection from Discrimination

European Court of Human Rights © Christian Lemâle

Previous year the European Court of Human Rights [‘the Court’ or ‘ECtHR’] delivered some significant rulings strengthening ECtHR’s jurisprudence on Article 8 and Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights [‘Convention’] concerning Queer rights. The author in this article revisits three rulings of the ECtHR to argue that, nevertheless of being progressive rulings, the Court did fall short in addressing some major issues.

Firstly, in AM v. Russia, the Court ruled that Russian Court violated Trans individual’s rights under Article 8 read with Article 14 of the Convention by ending all contact between a trans woman and her children without a balanced and reasonable assertion of the legitimate interests [see here & here].

In the AM case, the Russian authorities and the applicant’s wife argued that the applicant is suffering from Transsexualism and further contended that the applicant’s intention to disclose her gender transition information to her children will impact their mental health and psychological development. This institutionalised prejudice of Russian authorities, nevertheless of ‘homosexuality propaganda law’ being held as unconstitutional in the state, exacerbates the ‘vicious wheel’ connected with prejudiced perceptions against trans individuals and a lack of education and awareness on Queer rights. The Court fails to address this elephant in the room, that how these prejudiced notions could impact the children’s education and perception about their parent’s gender identity.

When addressing the ‘best interests of the children’s, the Court had the chance to conceptualise the children’s right to non-discrimination on the grounds of their parents’ gender identity under Article 2 Convention on the Rights of the Child [‘CRC’], and the right to preserve personal relations and direct communication with both parents continuously under Article 9/3 CRC. Further, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comment no. 14 also stipulates their right to receive information on Queer Community challenges as well as gender identity and transition under Article 13 CRC and the right to education under Article 28 and, Article 29 of the CRC. Arguably, the ECtHR could have delved into significant length concerning the challenges with utilizing negative preconceptions about transgender individuals to rationalize restraining relationships and communication between transgender parents and their children.

In the second ruling, the Fedotova v. Russia, the Court ruled that Russia’s failure to provide same-sex couples with the opportunity to have their relationships formally acknowledged in form of a marriage, or in any other form is in violation of Article 8 & 10 [see here and here].

Nevertheless, the application was brought for recognition of same-sex marriage, the Court doesn’t feel adequate to discuss Article 12 [‘right to marry’] anywhere in the ruling. The Court concluded that the moral views of the majority cannot be used to deny sexual minorities access to forms of legal recognition. Taking reference from queer interpretations of the ECHR (here and here), which consider the inherent heteronormative (i.e. bi-genderism) notion of most of the Convention’s rights and how to transgress this dialectic. Regardless of the fact (which is still unclear), whether the applicant didn’t include Article 12 or not, the Court itself could have incorporated Article 12 of its own volition.

Not only Supreme Courts of other jurisdictions [the US and South Africa] but also the international institutions like Inter American Court of Human Rights [‘IACtHR’] have rejected the anti-majoritarian notion. It can be argued, that the Court’s rationale of Schalk and Kopf v. Austria, i.e. the appreciation of the majority opinion, remains viable. Furthermore, it can be argued that the ECtHR entirely embraces Article 12’s “heterosexual structure,” principally rendering the article inapplicable to same-sex relationships.

The second issue is the necessity of the non-discrimination principle under Article 14. The applicants did claim on Article 14, however, the Court concluded that it was not relevant because it heretofore ruled the violation of Article 8. Since Dudgeon v. UK, it has been a well-established tenet of the ECtHR that rules that discrimination does not need to be investigated if it is not “a crucial element of the case“. It is unrealistic to contend that the lack of legal recognition does not have a severe discriminatory intent in a nation where same-sex individuals are continuously stigmatised and marginalised, where even the Constitutional Court supported the law on prohibition on “homosexuality propaganda.”

Lastly, in the  X v. Poland case, the Court ruled that there had been a violation of Articles 8 and 14 of the Convention after the domestic courts had refused to grant custody of the child on the grounds of the mother’s sexual orientation [on mother’s relationship with another woman].

Nevertheless, the observations that the Court concluded in its rationale, which was first observed in the Hoffmann v. Austria and have been repetitively reaffirmed in many of its rulings about allegations of discriminatory treatment against divorced parents, the Court overlooked an outstanding opportunity to state unequivocally that a parent’s sexual orientation does not influence their parental capabilities. The Court could have gone a step forward like it did in Vojnity v. Hungary, where the Court made clear that parents’ religious beliefs per se cannot influence their capacity to raise their children.

In Atala Riffo v. Chile, the IACtHR concluded that the Chilean Courts’ judgement to take children from their homosexual mother’s custody based on her sexual orientation was discriminatory, emphasising that ‘an abstract reference to the child’s best interest… without specific proof of the risks or damage to children that could result from the mother’s sexual orientation’ is not acceptable’

What is more disappointing is that the third-party intervention also highlighted Poland inequalities and prejudices in legal and practical matters concerning rainbow families and the attitude towards the Queer community being negative and Queerphobic. Later, the same was also emphasized by Judge Wojtyczek in his dissenting opinion. However, the Court still neglected to address this concern.

Conclusion: The Test Continues

These judgements are undoubtedly significant and are progressive in protecting trans parents’ rights, same-sex marriage recognition and discrimination on gender identity & sexual orientation. The author doesn’t question their contribution, however, the abovementioned arguments do signify the ECtHR’s inherent narrow approach in Queer Interpretation of Article 8 and 14. The ECtHR’s upcoming opportunities here, here and here, will further demonstrate the extent to which the Court is inclined to tread unprecedented ground in terms of acknowledging rainbow family relationships.

“Conflicting areas”: Brazilian energy planning at odds with the protection of Indigenous Peoples and the Amazon Rainforest

Fernanda Frizzo Bragato*

Lara Santos Zangerolame Taroco*


Amazon is the largest tropical rainforest globally, and Brazil is home of 60% of its full extension. Although the Amazon rainforest is an essential global repository of carbon, mitigating climate change,[i] it also awakens deep economic interests, given its potential in untapped natural resources and rich biodiversity. 

The advancement of deforestation in the region backs to the 1960s, when the military took power and adopted economic plans to develop and integrate the Amazon into the rest of the country.[ii] In that period, the government boosted the opening of roads, the discovery of minerals, and the beginning of agricultural colonization in region.[iii] For instance, the herd grew from just 2 million in 1970 to around 80 million heads in 2010. Until 1975, deforestation affected less than 1% of the forest, reaching almost 19% in 2013. Social conflicts caused by violent land tenure disputes also intensified in the late 20th century due to the increasing availability of lands through recently opened roads and the intensification of land grabbing. [iv]   

In the civil-military dictatorship, studies discovered “the existence of an immense hydraulic potential in the Amazon region, mainly on the Tocantins and Xingu rivers.” [v]  The government then initiated the construction of hydroelectric power plants in the region, marked by environmental impacts and violation of the indigenous rights.

Since then, Brazil has been largely relying on hydropower as the main source of electricity generation.[vi] According to the National Energy Plan – 2050 (thereinafter PNE 2050), [vii] which came out in 2020, hydroelectricity supplied almost 2/3 of the electricity demand in October 2019.[viii]

In 1988, the new Constitution restricted the exploitation of hydroelectric resources in Indigenous lands, and environmental legislation established protected biodiversity zones. Convention no. 169 of the ILO, ratified by Brazil in 2002,[ix] reinforced this restriction by providing the FPIC with indigenous peoples before undertaking, or authorizing, any resources’ exploitation within their lands.

Brazil also ratified, in 1998, the Convention on Biological Diversity,[x] and created the National System of Nature Conservation Units in 2000, which established several Conservation Units. In 2004, Brazil reserved more than 500 thousand square kilometers for new Conservation Units. This effort resulted in an expressive reduction in deforestation, which fell from almost 28 thousand square kilometers in 2004 to around 5.8 thousand square kilometers in 2013.[xi]

Nonetheless, the electricity plans continued to prescribe hydroelectricity as the primary energy source, including its exploitation in protected areas, such as Amazonian Indigenous lands and conservation units.

The 2030 National Energy Plan (thereinafter PNE 2030), published in 2007,[xii] identified hydroelectric energy as the main source of energy generation, contributing for 79% of total generation, and 70% of the Brazilian energy potential in the Amazon and Tocantins/Araguaia basins. The document mentioned the existence of “issues” to be solved by the National Congress, citing as an example the possibility of “exploitation of energy potential in Indigenous lands”. [xiii]

In addition, the Decennial Energy Expansion Plan 2006-2015 (thereinafter PDEE 2006-2015)[xiv] pointed out that 41% of the Amazon Biome’s total area comprises “conflicting areas.” This expression refers to legally protected areas that make it impossible or difficult to expand energy production. Of the 41% mentioned, 16% are Conservation Units, and 25% are Indigenous lands. Moreover, neither the PDEE 2006-2015 nor the PNE 2030 mentioned Indigenous demands for more land demarcations in the Amazon. The non-demarcation of Indigenous lands leads the main claims and conflicts involving Indigenous Peoples in Brazil.[xv]

The Growth Acceleration Program (thereinafter PAC),[xvi] formulated by the Federal Government in 2007, provided energy infrastructure as one of its four pillars. The PAC maintained the creation of the Belo Monte HPP, and planned to build another 31 plants in the country’s northern region. Recently, the PNE 2050 also predicted the high participation of hydroelectricity as the country’s primary energy source.

Unlike the previous plans, the PNE 2050 mentions the “socio-environmental complexity for hydroelectric expansion,” [xvii] given that the hydroelectric potential is located predominantly in “areas of high socio-environmental sensitivity, especially in the Amazon region, which has half of its extension covered by legally protected areas.”[xviii]

According to the PNE 2050, 77% of the identified hydroelectric potential overlap with legally protected areas in the national territory, such as Indigenous lands or conservation units. Only 23% of the potential capacity of hydroelectric plants does not overlap with protected areas, which makes it difficult to reconcile “the purposes of a Conservation Unit with the expansion of energy supply.” [xix]  However, the PNE 2050 does not propose any alternative for the overlaps.

Considering the 204 conservation units in the Brazilian Amazon, which comprises around 104 thousand hectares,[xx] the energetic Brazilian plans look inconsistent with the urgent need to curb deforestation.  Likewise, deforestation within Amazonian conservation units jumped from 441km2 in 2018 to 953km2 in 2019, increasing more than 110%.[xxi]  In 2019, the Amazon was the Brazilian biome most affected by deforestation, amounting to 63.2% of the country’s deforested area (totaling 770,148 hectares). [xxii] The total deforested area increases every year. It is estimated that  20% of the rainforest has already been deforested, close to the tipping point, rated between 20-25%,[xxiii] in which ecosystemic changes would cause an irreversible cascade effect.

Also, the impacts of the electricity sector in Indigenous lands are severe and irreversible. Among them, the following stand out: the relocation of communities to other regions, often accompanied by disruptions in their livelihood; the flooding of large land parcels, including sacred areas, such as traditional burial sites, and rich biodiversity; the invasion of traditional lands; the decrease of hunting, fishing and the reduction of arable areas; and the proliferation of insect populations, including arthropods and mollusks, leading to increased incidences of malaria and other infectious diseases.[xxiv]

Considering the Brazilian history and the horizon of 2050, the incompatibility between what is defined by the government’s planning and protected areas – called inappropriately “conflicting areas”-  seems extremely clear. Therefore, state planning for the energy sector predicts conflict situations that tend to escalate in the following years, leading to more human rights violations against Brazilian indigenous peoples and increasing deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.


* Professor at UNISINOS Law Graduate Program. CNPQ Researcher. Coordinator of UNISINOS Human Rights Center. E-mail: fbragato@unisinos.br.

* Law PhD Candidate at UNISINOS. Law Master Degree from Vitoria Law School  – FDV. Member of Unisinos Human Rights Center. E-mail: larasantosz@hotmail.com.

[i] HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH. Rainforest Mafias. How violence and impunity fuel deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon. 2019. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/brazil0919_web.pdf . Access on: Nov 09, 2021.

[ii] PRATES, Rodolfo Coelho, Carlos José Caetano BACHA. Os processos de desenvolvimento e desmatamento da Amazônia. Economia e Sociedade, dez. 2011, v. 20, n. 3 (43), pp. 601-636. Available at: < https://www.scielo.br/pdf/ecos/v20n3/a06v20n3.pdf. Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[iii] IMAZON. A floresta habitada: História da ocupação humana na Amazônia. 2015. Available at: https://imazon.org.br/a-floresta-habitada-historia-da-ocupacao-humana-na-amazonia. Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[iv] IMAZON. A floresta habitada: História da ocupação humana na Amazônia. 2015. Available at: https://imazon.org.br/a-floresta-habitada-historia-da-ocupacao-humana-na-amazonia. Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[v] MINISTÉRIO DE MINAS E ENERGIA. Centro da memória da eletricidade no Brasil. Disponível em: http://memoriadaeletricidade.com.br . Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[vi] BRASIL. Presidência da República. II Plano Nacional de Desenvolvimento (1975-1979). Brasília, 1974. Available at: http://www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/leis/1970-1979/anexo/ANL6151-74.PDF . Access on Nov 9, 2021, p.65.

[vii] MINISTÉRIO DE MINAS E ENERGIA. Plano Nacional de Energia – PNE 2050. Brasília: EPP, 2020. Available at: https: https://www.epe.gov.br/pt/publicacoes-dados-abertos/publicacoes/Plano-Nacional-de-Energia-2050. Access on Nov 9, 2021, p.75.

[viii] U.S. Energy Information Administration. Hydropower made up 66% of Brazil’s electricity generation in 2020. Sep 7, 2021. Avaliable at: https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=49436. Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[ix] BRASIL. Decreto n. 10.088/2019. Anexo LXXII. Available at: http://www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/_Ato2019-2022/2019/Decreto/D10088.htm#anexo72. Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[x] BRASIL. Decreto n.2.519/1998. Available at: http://www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/decreto/d2519.htm. Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[xi] IMAZON. A floresta habitada: História da ocupação humana na Amazônia. 2015. Available at: https://imazon.org.br/a-floresta-habitada-historia-da-ocupacao-humana-na-amazonia. Access on Nov 9, 2021

[xii] MINISTÉRIO DE MINAS E ENERGIA. Plano Nacional de Energia 2030. Rio de Janeiro: EPE, 2007.Available at:https://www.epe.gov.br/pt/publicacoes-dados-abertos/publicacoes/Plano-Nacional-de-Energia-PNE-2030. Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[xiii] MINISTÉRIO DE MINAS E ENERGIA. Plano Nacional de Energia 2030. Rio de Janeiro: EPE, 2007.Available at:https://www.epe.gov.br/pt/publicacoes-dados-abertos/publicacoes/Plano-Nacional-de-Energia-PNE-2030. Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[xiv] MINISTÉRIO DE MINAS E ENERGIA. Plano Decenal de Expansão Elétrica: 2006-2015. Brasília: EPE, 2006. Available at:https://www.epe.gov.br/pt/publicacoes-dados-abertos/publicacoes/Plano-Decenal-de-Expansao-de-Energia-2015. Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[xv] CAVALCANTE, Thiago Leandro Vieira. “Terra Indígena”: aspectos históricos da construção e aplicação de um conceito jurídico. Revista História. Franca, v.35, 2016. Available at:http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0101-90742016000100501&lng=en&nrm=is. Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[xvi] MINISTÉRIO DO PLANEJAMENTO. Sobre o PAC. Available at:http://www.pac.gov.br/sobre-o-pac  Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[xvii] MINISTÉRIO DE MINAS E ENERGIA. Plano Nacional de Energia – PNE 2050. Brasília: EPP, 2020. Available at: https: https://www.epe.gov.br/pt/publicacoes-dados-abertos/publicacoes/Plano-Nacional-de-Energia-2050. Access on Nov 9, 2021, p.80

[xviii] MINISTÉRIO DE MINAS E ENERGIA. Plano Nacional de Energia – PNE 2050. Brasília: EPP, 2020. Available at: https: https://www.epe.gov.br/pt/publicacoes-dados-abertos/publicacoes/Plano-Nacional-de-Energia-2050. Access on Nov 9, 2021, p.80

[xix] MINISTÉRIO DE MINAS E ENERGIA. Plano Nacional de Energia – PNE 2050. Brasília: EPP, 2020. Available at: https: https://www.epe.gov.br/pt/publicacoes-dados-abertos/publicacoes/Plano-Nacional-de-Energia-2050. Access on Nov 9, 2021, p.80

[xx] ISA. Instituto Socioambiental. Placar de Unidades de Conservação. Pará – Belém do Pará. 2020. Available at: https://widgets.socioambiental.org/placar/ucs/674  Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[xxi]  NOTÍCIAS MPF. Ação do MPF requer atuação imediata do governo federal para combater desmatamento na Amazônia. 2020 Available at: http://www.mpf.mp.br/am/sala-de-imprensa/noticias-am/acao-do-mpf-requer-atuacao-imediata-do-governo-federal-para-combater-desmatamento-na-amazonia . Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[xxii] MAPBIOMAS. Relatório Anual do Desmatamento no Brasil – 2019. Available at: https://mapbiomas.org/relatorio-anual-do-desmatamento-do-brasil-aponta-perda-de-12-milhao-de-hectares-de-vegetacao-nativa-no-pais-em-2019 Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[xxiii] LOVEJOY, Thomas and Carlos NOBRE. AMAZON TIPPING POINT. Science Advances, Feb. 2018, Vol. 4, No. 2. Available at: https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/4/2/eaat2340  Access on Nov 9, 2021.

[xxiv] TADEI, W. P., 1994. Proliferação de mosquitos na Hidrelétrica de Tucuruí, Pará. In: A Questão Energética na Amazônia. Avaliação e Perspectivas Sócio Ambientais. Anais do Seminário Internacional, pp. 2-13, Belém: Núcleo de Altos Estudos na Amazônia, Universidade Federal do Pará/Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi; ARRUDA, M. E., 1985. Presença de plasmódio brasilianum em macacos capturados na área de enchimento do reservatório da usina hidroelétrica de Tucuruí, Pará. Memórias do Instituto Oswaldo Cruz, 80:367-369; BULCÃO, J. A. P., 1994. Proposta de um Modelo para Avaliação do Impacto dos Empreendimentos Hidroelétricos sobre as Doenças Transmitidas por Vetores com Especial Referência à Malária. Dissertação de Mestrado, Rio de Janeiro: Instituto Oswaldo Cruz, Fundação Oswaldo Cruz.; COUTO, R. C. S., 1996. Hidrelétricas e Saúde na Amazônia: Um Estudo sobre a Tendência da Malária na Área do lago da Hidrelétrica de Tucuruí, Pará. Tese de Doutorado, Rio de Janeiro: Escola Nacional de Saúde Pública, Fundação Instituto Oswaldo Cruz.

Question for the UN Human Rights Council: So, should only men apply?

At its session concluded earlier this month, the UN Human Rights Council established two new country rapporteurships, one on Afghanistan, and one on Burundi.  The call for applicants has now been posted. However, even before any applications have been collected and reviewed, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights seems to have already decided that both appointees will be men, based on the Name of Mandate-holder column (click screen shot below to enlarge). They’ve done this for the two thematic mandate openings, as well.

UPDATE on 29 October 2021: I see that today the OHCHR has now fixed this issue on the country rapporteur page by removing the “Mr.” from the two open positions in the Mandate-holder column, and on the thematic rapporteur page it has removed the “Mr.” from this column for the newly-created thematic rapporteurship on climate change, but has still left in place the “Mr.” in the opening on the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.

FURTHER UPDATE, 5 November 2021: The OHCHR has now removed the remaining “Mr.” from the vacancy listing in the Mandate-holder column on the thematic procedures webpage.

A.M. & Ors. v Russia: Severing Contact Rights between Transgender Parents and their children violates Human Rights

Russia’s hetero-normative view of “family” and “traditional values” is the basis of its anti-LGBTQ+ policies. It infamously classified being transgender as a “medical impediment” and banned same-sex marriage and adoption by transgender persons in 2020. Social stigma against LGBTQ+ communities in Russia is often supplemented with discriminatory state policies.

A.M. & Ors. v Russia concerns one such instance of institutional bias against a transgender parent. The applicant, a transgender woman, had two biological children. After her transition, her ex-wife sought to restrict her contact rights with their children. She claimed psychological harm to them as a result of social marginalisation and exposure to “non-traditional” sexual relations, alluding to Russia’s infamous “gay propaganda laws” that prohibit the dissemination of information about the LGBTQ+ community to children. 

The Russian District Court’s decision, later affirmed by the Supreme Court, suspended the contact rights of the applicant. She, therefore, approached the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”). 

The ECtHR Decision

The ECtHR ruled that the Russian Court’s decision improperly balanced A.M.’s rights against the potential harm to her children because the Court had based its decision on a singular, highly-contested study that stated that a parent’s transition would negatively impact their children while recognising that there was a dearth of literature studying this phenomenon. The Russian Courts failed to examine the family situation to identify demonstrable harms to justify the suspension of the applicant’s contact rights. It was found that the decision was motivated by prejudice against her gender identity and hence violated Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights (“ECHR”).

Furthermore, the Court found that there was no justification for differential treatment except for A.M’s transition. Article 14 was previously applied by the ECtHR in Bayev v Russia to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in the context of Russia’s “gay propaganda laws”. In casu, since A.M.’s gender identity was the sole reason for her differential treatment from similarly-placed cisgender parents, the ECtHR found that Article 14 was violated in conjunction with Article 8. 

Stripping transgender parents of contact rights violates International Human Rights Law

International instruments and a slew of human rights case law support the conclusion of the ECtHR in A.M that the state-sanctioned separation of a parent from their child, solely on the basis of their gender identity, is violative of international human rights law.

UNHRC’s General Comment 16 requires the term “family” to be interpreted broadly. Arguably, this means that rainbow families must be brought within the ambit of the term as well. 

In relation to contact rights, the Convention on the Rights of Child, in Article 9(3), codifies a child’s right to maintain direct contact with both parents on a regular basis in instances of separation, unless contrary to their best interest. The term “best interest” was famously explained by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (“I-ACtHR”) in Atala Riffo v. Chile where it was held that “best interest” cannot be discriminatory on the basis of gender or sexual orientation of parents and that it is strictly limited to assessing impacts of negative parental behaviour. Therefore International Human Rights Law is clear on family rights being available to LGBTQ+ families sans discrimination. 

It must be noted that the Strasbourg Court has also ruled to protect the rights of rainbow families. In Salgueiro da Silva Mouta v. Portugal, a divorced father in a same-sex relationship was prohibited from visiting his child. Portuguese courts deemed that “the child should live in a traditional Portuguese family,” alluding to same-sex partnerships as “non-traditional” and therefore a legitimate ground to take away contact rights. The ECtHR held that such a decision violated Article 8 and Article 14 of the ECHR. 

The primary reason why domestic courts in the European Union have been hesitant to allow contact rights to LGBTQ+ parents is because they factor in societal prejudices against the children as harmful to their best interests. Therapy can be used as a progressive tool to bridge the gap between a conservative society and rainbow families. In A.V. v Slovenia the ECtHR ruled that states must take every measure necessary- including family therapy, to ensure that children adjust to changes in the family dynamics before suspending parental rights. In line with this decision, the potential social backlash against rainbow families cannot be a reason to suspend the contact rights of an LGBTQ+ parent. Instead, children must be given the opportunity to adjust to their parents’ identity with the state’s support. 

This would be in line with previous ECtHR rulings wherein the Court has created a positive obligation on the State under Article 8 of the ECHR to ensure that they take all practical measures necessary to ensure that parental contact rights are not frustrated. In Kılıç v. Turkey, the lack of civil mediation to mend familial relations was held to be a violation of Article 8. Therefore, Article 8 not only obliges states to not discriminate against the parent on the basis of their gender identity but also requires them to take measures to ensure that contact rights can actually be exercised.

Conclusion

The ECtHR’s judgement is a welcome reaffirmation of transgender persons’ family rights under the ECHR. It condemns factoring societal prejudices as a “harm” to children while deciding cases involving contact rights. However, it misses the opportunity to enforce states’ positive obligation to protect rainbow families under Article 8. 

In casu, the Court could have compelled Russia to facilitate family therapy as a part of its positive obligation to help children adjust to social biases against their parent’s way of life. Unfortunately, it missed the opportunity to do so. However, it is important to note that the joint concurring opinion of Judges Ravarani and Elósegui suggests family therapy to protect A.M.’s contact rights. This is in line with the aforementioned ruling in A.V. v Slovenia.

Such a position on family rights is particularly important as it allows LGBTQ+ persons to exercise their right to live and love freely with lesser fear of loss of contact and alienation from their family. It obliges the state to act on ushering in social acceptance of LGBTQ+ rights, thus enabling members of the community to enjoy their family rights at par with “traditional” families.

To build a more equal global system, the UN General Assembly must first turn to remedying the UN’s own past human rights violations

To build a more equal global system, the UN General Assembly must first turn to remedying the UN’s own past human rights violations

As the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, the main deliberative and policy-making body of the UN, meets this month to address and debate the most pressing issues around the globe, it must finally ensure reparations to survivors of human rights violations in Haiti who continue to live without justice and restitution and for which the UN bears responsibility.

The overall theme for the meetings includes revitalizing the UN and respecting the rights of people. UN Secretary-General Guterres wants us to re-imagine the international system in the wake of COVID-19 and to address inequality by reforming global institutions like the UN to ensure power, wealth, and opportunity are shared more fairly. While these ambitions are commendable, the UN’s rhetoric does not line up with its (in)action. Among its other moral abdications, the UN has failed to take meaningful responsibility and offer restitution for human rights violations in Haiti, most notably with respect to a deadly epidemic that it caused and sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) of vulnerable women and girls perpetrated by its peacekeeping troops. The UN’s calls for a fairer global system and respect for human rights cannot hold water when they are failing to deliver on accountability to populations it is meant to serve.

The many challenges facing Haiti in the fulfilment of its population’s human rights are rooted in the policies of, and engagement by, foreign states and non-state actors. Of major concern is that foreign actors often fail to take responsibility where they don’t deliver on their promises and where their work directly causes more suffering. 

For example, the UN’s fifteen-year long peacekeeping presence in Haiti that ended in 2019 resulted in several human rights violations. In October 2010, ten months after a catastrophic earthquake, UN peacekeepers introduced cholera to Haiti, which had not previously had the disease. The result was one of the largest and deadliest cholera outbreaks of the 21st century that caused at least 10,000 deaths and infected almost a million. Families were further ravaged by the financial burdens of seeking medical care and losing breadwinners. In what one senior UN human rights official has called “the single greatest example of hypocrisy in our 75-year history,” the UN failed to accept legal responsibility for the epidemic, resulting in a pitiful response that has provided no compensation to victims, in violation of their internationally recognized right to effective remedy

The UN’s failure to provide redress for cholera victims has meant that Haiti was still recovering from cholera when COVID-19 hit and when, on August 14 of this year, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck its southern peninsula. The continuing devastating impacts of the epidemic on thousands of Haitian families has contributed to the country’s extreme vulnerability to man-made and natural disasters

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Read On! The Construction of the Customary Law of Peace:Latin America and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

I am happy to announce the publication of my book. It traces the evolution of peace as a normative value within the region. It examines challenges presented by structural inequality, corruption, and exclusionary practices made evident by recent protests. I interviewed the judges of the Court who explained the pluralistic nature of peace and their quest to provide a sustainable gendered peace through innovative reparation orders and recognition of the justiciability of socio-economic rights.

Cecilia Bailliet’s book is an insightful view on the relationship between peace, as the core value of international law, and regional human rights law in Latin America. Her meticulous analysis of legal doctrine, international norms, history, and current human rights challenges, coupled with first-hand knowledge of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, brings to light new understandings of how the Court articulates regional norms and principles on peace and human dignity. Anyone interested in Latin American human rights law should read Bailliet’s work.’
– Jorge Contesse, Rutgers Law School, US

https://www.e-elgar.com/shop/gbp/the-construction-of-the-customary-law-of-peace-9781800371866.html

The Right to Seek and Enjoy Asylum During COVID-19

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A Syrian boy poses for a picture during an awareness workshop on Coronavirus (COVID-19) held by Doctor Ali Ghazal at a camp for displaced people in Atme town in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, near the border with Turkey, on March 14, 2020. (Photo by AAREF WATAD / AFP)

In the words of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, “[i]f ever we needed reminding that we live in an interconnected world, the novel coronavirus has brought that home.” Though it is a problem common to all of us, the suffering is disproportionately more for the world’s most vulnerable groups, including refugees and asylum-seekers. These vulnerabilities are exacerbated by State practices limiting asylum as a response to the pandemic. Though public health emergencies allow States to impose certain limitations, this must be done in compliance with States’ relevant obligations under international law. This post provides a short overview of the most basic but key protections afforded to asylum-seekers and refugees under international law.

Though there is no internationally agreed upon legal definition of asylum, the UNHCR defines it as a process starting with safe admission into a territory and concluding with durable solutions, i.e., voluntary return in safety and dignity, local integration, or resettlement to another location or country. “Asylum-seeker” refers to individuals who are seeking international protection and have not yet been granted asylum by the receiving State. “Refugee” refers to someone who has left their country of origin and is unable or unwilling to return because of a serious threat to their life or freedom on the grounds listed under Article 1A(2) of the 1951 Refugee Convention, i.e., race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. Other regional instruments may provide different definitions to include other grounds for refugee status, such as a “massive violation of human rights” (e.g., the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees). Not every asylum-seeker will ultimately be recognized as a refugee, but every refugee is initially an asylum-seeker. In that regard, at the international level, refugee status entitles those who satisfy that criteria to a specific set of protective regimes laid out in the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol. However, asylum-seekers are still entitled to certain protections in compliance with the receiving State’s obligations under international law, regardless of being recognized as a refugee.

The right to seek and enjoy asylum is enshrined in various international and regional instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The UNHCR interprets the right to asylum to include respect for the principle of non-refoulement, admission to the territories of States, and being treated in compliance with the respective human rights and refugee law standards. Individuals seeking international protection would benefit from the human rights obligations that a State owes to its citizens without any discrimination.

But what are the main parameters of such protection during a pandemic?

The recently issued Human Mobility and Human Rights in the COVID-19 Pandemic: Principles of Protection for Migrants, Refugees, and Other Displaced Persons developed by a committee of established experts and practitioners, and endorsed by a 1,000 international experts, lays out 14 key principles applicable to all persons, irrespective of their immigration status. These principles are developed to elucidate the scope of relevant human rights obligations during emergencies as States and other relevant stakeholders navigate the pandemic response.

In the same vein, the Siracusa Principles on the Limitation and Derogation Provisions in the ICCPR (adopted by the UN Economic and Social Council and UN Human Rights Committee general comments on states of emergency and freedom of movement), provide complimentary guidance as they are critical in implementing the scope of limitations to human rights in public health and national emergency situations. The Siracusa Principles highlight that such limitation must be based on one of the grounds recognized by the relevant article; respond to a pressing public or social need; pursue a legitimate aim; and be proportionate to that aim (Principle 10). Any derogation measure must be “strictly necessary to deal with the threat and proportionate to its nature and extent” (Principle 39). Additionally, certain rights are non-derogable even in the events of public emergency, including the right to life and freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, or punishment among others.

In light of the above, key principles pertaining to States’ treatment of asylum-seekers and refugees in a pandemic can be listed as follows:

Non-refoulement

The prohibition of return (to a real risk of persecution, arbitrary deprivation of life, torture, or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment) cannot be derogated from, even during a public health emergency. The cornerstone principle guaranteeing the right to seek and enjoy asylum is the principle of non-refoulement set forth under Article 33 of the 1951 Convention, which prohibits States from expelling or returning refugees “in any manner . . . where his life or freedom would be threatened.” The principle applies not only to removal, but also to refusal of entry. It applies to all refugees – even if their status has not been officially determined. The prohibition has attained the status of customary international law and is considered a jus cogens norm.

As the UNHCR clarified in its recent guidance on COVID-19 responses, imposing blanket measures to prevent refugees or asylum-seekers from admission or discriminating against certain nationals without demonstrating relevant evidence of a health risk or putting in place measures to protect against refoulement would violate the prohibition. However, in the US, the Department of Health and Human Services has implemented an order to suspend the introduction of persons into the US from certain countries and requiring their immediate repatriation. Belgium and the Netherlands have also suspended the right to asylum for newly arriving asylum-seekers due to COVID-19 despite the guidance from the European Commission stating that even though national authorities may take necessary measures to contain further spread of the pandemic, such measures should be implemented in a non-discriminatory way taking into account the principle of non-refoulement and obligations under international law. Closing borders altogether in these manners violates the principle of non-refoulement affecting the right to seek and enjoy asylum.

Measures on asylum-seekers upon entry

In all cases, non-discrimination, human rights, and dignity of all travelers must be respected. Relevant WHO regulations are given particular weight in the context of a limitation imposed on the ground of public health (Siracusa Principles, Principle 26). As defined by the WHO’s International Health Regulations, countries may impose relevant measures during pandemics as long as they are non-arbitrary, non-discriminatory, and proportionate. Similarly, medical examinations and other measures may be implemented for “travelers” (“a natural person undertaking an international voyage”) at ports of entry, but these measures cannot be “invasive.” Similarly, Article 13 of the EU Reception Conditions Directive lays out that EU Member States may proceed to a medical screening of applicants for international protection on public health grounds while such medical screening must comply with fundamental rights and the principle of proportionality, necessity, and non-discrimination. Furthermore, Article 19 of the Directive requires that applicants receive “the necessary health care, which shall include, at least, emergency care and essential treatment of illnesses and of serious mental disorders.” The European Commission specified that such health care would also include relevant treatment for COVID-19.

Non-discrimination

Lack of effective realization of non-discrimination undermines the right to asylum. Core international human rights treaties prohibit “discrimination of any kind” viz. refugees and asylum-seekers. In practice, however, migrants are less likely to benefit from relevant health and financial services due to lack of legal status and access to services. Moreover, migrants are often stigmatized and blamed for spreading viruses. In other cases, COVID-19 measures are applied in discriminatory manners as seen in Lebanon, where curfews have been applied more stringently towards Syrian refugees.

Equal treatment and non-discrimination with regards to the right to health are especially crucial in the context of COVID-19. As part of the right to health, States must provide access to food, water, sanitation, and shelter to all persons (UDHR Art. 25 and ICESCR Art. 12 in particular). States must refrain from practices reinforcing stigma and xenophobia and implement public health responses inclusive of all marginalized groups (see, in particular, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination Arts. 1.1, 2, 4; CERD Committee General Recommendation No. 30; and 1951 Refugee Convention, Art. 3).

Detention

Detention is a practical impediment to the implementation of the right to asylum. The UNHCR guidelines on the issue establish that a period of confinement may be imposed legitimately as a preventive measure in the event of a pandemic but that such confinement should be limited to its purpose and cease as soon as the necessary testing or treatment is complete. Detention must always be an exceptional measure of last resort and conducted in accordance with the principles of legality, necessity, and proportionality. Alternatives to detention should be considered, including regular reporting requirements, particularly when vulnerable groups are concerned. Human Rights Watch recently reported the arbitrary detention of nearly 2,000 migrants and asylum-seekers in Greece – including vulnerable groups like children, persons with disabilities, and pregnant women.

Detention constitutes a significant risk factor for contagious spread during a pandemic. Such detained people are highly vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19 mostly due to the inadequacy of detention conditions, overcrowding, limited supplies for personal cleaning, limited personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves, and poor access to health care. Detention of displaced persons is not permissible when such detentions pose serious threats to their health and life due to COVID-19. In addition to the adverse risks and impacts to the right to life and health, COVID-19 causes risk of indefinite detention as these people are neither admitted nor provided the option to return due to border closures.

Conclusion

Amidst a global pandemic, adhering to basic principles of international law vis-à-vis asylum seekers and refugees is vital. States cannot impose blanket measures banning asylum seekers and refugees from seeking and enjoying international protection and relevant considerations pertaining to immigration detention that are altogether key to the reinforcement of the right to seek and enjoy asylum. These principles impose clear obligations on States that they cannot simply choose to ignore during health emergencies – even global pandemics.

*This article reflects the personal views of the author and should not be attributed to the World Bank.

Tanzania Withdraws Jurisdiction from the African Court. What recourse remains for Tanzanians?

(photo credit)

On November 21, 2019, Tanzania withdrew from Article 34(6) of the African Charter’s Protocol: the provision by which States accept the competence of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights to receive cases from individuals and NGOs. Tanzania is only the second State—after Rwanda—to withdraw from Article 34(6). When Rwanda made its Article 34(6) withdrawal in 2016, the African Court mandated a notice period of one year for withdrawals and declared that the withdrawal would have no legal effect on cases pending before the Court.

Applying the Rwandan precedent to Tanzania’s withdrawal suggests that Tanzanians can only continue to file before the Court until the one-year notice period expires, on November 20, 2020. This change is significant, as individuals comprise the overwhelming majority of applications to the African Court.

Despite the closure of this important avenue for Tanzanians seeking remedies for human rights violations, there are other avenues through which Tanzanians can bring their claims. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the UN Treaty Bodies provide two such avenues.

A. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

The African Commission is a quasi-judicial body tasked with the interpretation of the African Charter. Distinct from the African Court, the Commission can hear complaints against States Parties to the African Charter, including Tanzania.

The Commission presents a viable alternative to filing with the Court in several ways. By turning to the Commission, Tanzanian applicants can continue to build jurisprudence in the African continent and pursue Tanzania’s compliance with its human rights obligations under the African Charter. Successful petitions enshrine human rights norms in Tanzania, as well as in all States Parties to the African Charter, and applicants can secure reparations for the harms they have suffered.

Additionally, the Commission has shown interest in ruling on human rights claims in Tanzania, despite Tanzania’s withdrawal. On November 22, 2019, just a day after Tanzania’s withdrawal, the Commission published a statement to Tanzania strongly urging its government to guarantee a range of public freedoms and to protect human rights activists. Tanzania’s withdrawal may only serve to heighten the Commission’s interest in the State’s human rights compliance.

Although the Commission can begin to fill the gap left by Tanzania’s withdrawal for individuals who have suffered human rights abuses, it is not a replacement for the Court. First, the Commission faces a severe backlog in cases: in June 2019, the Commission had 240 cases pending. If Tanzanians seek redress before the Commission in the same numbers as they did before the Court, they can expect to see prolonged delays in having their petitions heard.

Second, Tanzanian applicants may not always see favourable decisions from the Commission enforced at state level. Tanzania is required to submit biannual reports to the African Commission on its human rights compliance, but Tanzania has only submitted two such reports: one in 1992 and another in 2008. Because of this lack of data, as well as the minimal formal policy guiding these state-reporting measures, it is difficult for the Commission to monitor whether Tanzania is implementing its decisions and recommendations. Moreover, Tanzania does not appear to have enforced the one decision on the merits that the Commission decided against Tanzania.

Despite these complications, the African Commission can fill some of the gap that Tanzania’s withdrawal from the African Court will leave post-November.

B. UN Human Rights Bodies

The UN Treaty Bodies can also hear human rights claims against Tanzania.

Two of the UN Treaty Bodies have jurisdiction over Individual Complaints filed against Tanzania: the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee) and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD Committee). Tanzania ratified the Optional Protocol to the CEDAW in 2006 and the Optional Protocol to the CRPD in 2009, thus recognising the competence of both bodies to consider communications against Tanzania.  

Where claims allege a violation of either the CEDAW or the CRPD, Tanzanians may consider bringing an Individual Complaint to CEDAW or CRPD Committees, respectively. Though the Treaty Bodies present a wholly different forum for complaints than the regional human rights tribunals of the African Court and Commission, they go a long way to filling the gap left by Tanzania’s withdrawal.

The longevity and strength of the UN Treaty Bodies lends their judgments gravity and impact. Jurisprudence from both the CEDAW and CRPD Committees shines a light on, and seeks to remedy, human rights violations the world over. Tanzanian lawyers and activists bringing complaints before these Committees can use the international respect and clout of these bodies to their advantage, to build awareness of human rights issues in Tanzania and to support their in-country efforts.

Importantly, Tanzania generally complies with its administrative obligations under both the CEDAW and CRPD by submitting its periodic reports. Neither Committee has heard many Individual Complaints against Tanzania, though, which makes analysing the likelihood of their enforcement difficult. The CEDAW Committee has heard one Individual Complaint against Tanzania, following which Tanzania implemented some—but not all—of the Committee’s recommendations. The CRPD Committee has heard two complaints against Tanzania, with similarly mixed results. Though Tanzania’s limited track record on enforcement may raise questions about the utility of bringing claims to the Treaty Bodies after November 2020, it does not diminish the utility of the UN as way forward for Tanzanians who have suffered human rights abuses.

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From November 20, 2020, Tanzanian individuals and NGOs will be deprived of an important avenue through which to bring human rights claims. It is clear, though, that Tanzania’s withdrawal does not doom all human rights claims against the state. Individuals and NGOs must turn to alternative forums to fill the gap left by Tanzania’s withdrawal.

Meanwhile, international groups should recognise the critical work being done by domestic advocates to raise awareness of these changes within Tanzania.

How the 2020 Guinean Elections Might Impact Justice for the 28 September 2009 Massacre. (Part 2)

This blogpost is the continuation of “How the 2020 Guinean Elections Might Impact Justice for the 28 September 2009 Massacre. (Part 1)“, posted yesterday morning.

3. Civil society member Asmaou Diallo expressed skepticism about the eventuality of a trial in June 2020

Asmaou Diallo, a Guinean civil society member who lost her son in the 28 September 2009 Massacre, has been working tirelessly since 5 October 2009 with her local association “Association des Victimes, Parents et Amis du 28 Septembre” to achieve justice. She explained that victims need medical and psychological treatment: many raped women at the stadium have contracted HIV and other life-threatening diseases, and a lot of victims also cruelly lack the necessary support to heal from this traumatic experience. 

Considering the current national political agenda, Ms. Diallo expressed doubts that a trial in 2020 would effectively deliver justice to victims. In the past, Guinea has consistently been falling into cycles of violence and impunity, and since October 2019, violence in the streets has increased. Further, as President Alpha Condé wants to amend the Constitution to stay in power, Ms. Diallo fears that another 28 September massacre might occur.

In Ms. Diallo’s view, the trial will not take place in 2020. Since accused officials continue to hold positions of power and victims remain unprotected, she argued that the government most likely will hinder any possibility for justice to be delivered. 

4. Franco Matillana, from the ICC OTP, expressed trust towards the Guinean justice system

Last but not least, Franco Matillana outlined the ongoing ICC proceedings with respect to the situation in Guinea. As mentioned above, the OTP opened a preliminary examination more than 10 years ago, in October 2009. In its 2019 Report on Preliminary Examination Activities, the OTP concluded that there was a reasonable basis to believe that crimes against humanity pursuant to article 7 of the Rome Statute had been committed in the national stadium on 28 September 2009 and in the immediate aftermath. More precisely, it mentioned murder under article 7(1)(a), imprisonment or other severe deprivation of liberty under article 7(1)(e), torture under article 7(1)(f), rape and other forms of sexual violence under article 7(1)(g), persecution under article 7(1)(h), and enforced disappearance of persons under article 7(1)(i).

Currently, the preliminary examination is at phase 3, which means that the OTP is assessing the admissibility of this situation, notably in the light of the complementarity principle. This principle entails that national authorities are primarily responsible of delivering justice at the national level (article 1 of the Rome Statute). That said, even though the perspective of a trial in June 2020 means that many steps have yet to be completed within a short period of time, including the construction of the new courtroom in Conakry and the training of the magistrates, Franco Matillana expressed trust towards the Guinean authorities. According to him, a real and genuine cooperation exists between the ICC and Guinean national authorities. Mr. Matillana reminded that setting and announcing publicly a precise date for the trial is a good sign, as it showcases the commitment of the Guinean government to deliver justice. 

5. Concluding remarks 

            Justice and accountability for the 28 September Massacre are far from certain. The perspectives shared by all panelists at the side event suggest that the decisions and actions taken by Guinean authorities are likely to have a decisive impact on the foreseeable future. It must be emphasized that the Guinean presidential elections’ agenda is concerning: Guineans do not want the current President Alpha Condé to amend the Constitution to allow him to run for a 3rd term, and civil society groups are regularly demonstrating in the streets. In this context, Ms. Diallo’s fear of another 28 September Massacre seem well-founded. In any case, the fight for justice for the 28 September Massacre should not be side-tracked by the upcoming elections. It is a high time for the international community to wake up and take concrete action to pressure the Guinean government to ensure justice and accountability for victims of international crimes in Guinea.

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This blogpost and the author’s attendance to the 18th Assembly of States Parties to the International Criminal Court are supported by the Canadian Partnership for International Justice and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

How the 2020 Guinean Elections Might Impact Justice for the 28 September 2009 Massacre. (Part 1)

On the third day of the 18th Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the International Criminal Court (ICC), held in The Hague from 2 to 7 December 2019, a side event named “Guinea: A decade after, victims of the 2019 massacre are still waiting for justice” took place. It was co-organized by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Guinean civil society organizations Organisation guinéenne de défense des droits de l’homme et du citoyenMêmes droits pour tous and the Association des victimes, parents et amis du 11 septembre 2009. Moderated by Delphine Carlens, Head of the International Justice section at FIDH, the event featured panelists Drissa Traoré, FIDH Under-Secretary; Asmaou Diallo, President of the Association of Victims, Parents and Friends of the September 28 Massacre; and Franco Matillana, from the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor (OTP). As panelists shared their views on the prospects for justice for the September 2009 Massacre in Guinea, this blog post will elaborate on the key aspects of this enriching discussion. Specifically, it will summarize the context of the September 2009 Massacre, before turning to explore the ongoing judicial proceedings within the Guinean domestic legal system, victims’ perceptions of these proceedings, and the ongoing ICC preliminary examination.

Flyer of the event co-organized by the FIDH and Guinean civil society organizations, held in The Hague on 4 December 2019. 

1. What happened in Guinea on 28 September 2009?

On 14 October 2009, the ICC OTP announced the opening of a preliminary examination with respect to the situation in Guinea. It stated that this “preliminary examination focusses on alleged Rome Statute crimes committed in the context of the 28 September 2009 events at the Conakry stadium.” As Guinea is a State Party to the Rome Statute, having deposited its instrument of ratification on 14 July 2003, the OTP announced that it would investigate international crimes committed on the territory of Guinea or by Guinean nationals from 1 October 2003 onwards (Rome Statute, article 11). 

 The contextual background of the September 2009 Massacre is described in the subsequent OTP Reports on Preliminary Examination Activities (see e.g the 2019 report here). In December 2008, after the death of President Lansana Conté, who had ruled Guinea since 1984, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara seized power in a military coup. As the new head of State, he established a military junta, the Conseil national pour la démocratie et le développement (CNDD, orNational Council for Democracy and Development), and promised that this body would ensure that power is handed to a civilian president following presidential and parliamentary elections. However, as time went by, Captain Camara’s attitude and statements seemed to suggest that he might actually run for president, which led to protests by its political opponents and civil society groups. 

On 28 September 2009, the Independence Day of Guinea, an opposition group gathering at the national stadium in Conakry was violently repressed by national security forces. According to Human Rights Watch, they opened fire on civilians that were peacefully calling for transparent elections. Some civilians were shot, beaten, and even raped in daylight. According to the OTP’s 2019 Report on Preliminary Examination Activities, more than 150 people died or disappeared, at least 109 women were victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence, including sexual mutilations and sexual slavery, and more than 1000 persons were injured. Cases of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment during arrests, arbitrary detentions, and attacks against civilians based on their perceived ethnic or political affiliation are also mentioned in the 2019 OTP Report.

Ten years after the massacre, are Guinean victims any closer to see their tormentors be held accountable? One after the other, panelists at the ASP side event shared their points of view. 

2. Drissa Traoré, FIDH Under-Secretary, depicted the judicial landscape and pointed key issues

At the ASP side event, FIDH Under-Secretary Drissa Traoré critically depicted the ongoing judicial proceedings taking place within the Guinean domestic legal system with respect to the 28 September massacre. In February 2010, the case was referred by Guinean Prosecutors to a group of magistrates, before whom it progressed slowly amid political, financial, and logistical obstacles. Despite being charged, many senior officials remained in office. During the investigation, judges have heard the testimony of 450 victims and their their family members. The judicial process was still ongoing when, in 2018, the Minister of Justice Cheick Sako set up a steering committee tasked with the practical organization of the trial. Conakry’s Court of Appeal was identified as the final location for the trial. However, Minister Sako resigned from his position as Minister of Justice in May 2019, causing further delays in the organization of the trial.

In 2019, the newly appointed Minister of Justice, Mohamed Lamine Fofana, decided to reform the steering committee: even though this committee was supposed to meet once a week, in practice, it had met only intermittently. Mr. Fofana also announced that the trial would take place in June 2020, and the government decided to build a new courtroom for this trial to be held. Drissa Traoré stressed that the construction of this courtroom could be a pretext to delay the trial once again. At the time of the ASP, in December 2019, the construction had not begun, and the judges presiding over the trial had yet to be appointed and trained for a such a trial. 

To Drissa Traoré, it is imperative that the charged civil servants who remain in office be dismissed from their positions before the beginning of the trial. He also emphasized the necessity for victims and witnesses to be protected from and any undue pressure that could be exerted against them. 

Mr. Traoré also highlighted that the sociopolitical context in Guinea is currently strained. Guinean presidential elections will take place in 2020, and demonstrations are regularly taking place, accompanied by daily arrests and deaths. To Mr. Traoré, it is crucial that this trial takes place, as it would send a message that impunity for grave crimes is not tolerated in Guinea. 

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You can read the second part of the blogpost here:  How the 2020 Guinean Elections Might Impact Justice for the 28 September 2009 Massacre. (Part 2)

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This blogpost and the author’s attendance to the 18th Assembly of States Parties to the International Criminal Court are supported by the Canadian Partnership for International Justice and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.