Prosecution of Environmental War Crimes at the ICC: Exalted Thresholds

This post traces the history of Article 8(2)(b)(iv) (“Article”) of the Rome Statute (“Statute”) – the codification of the first international environmental war crime. The author argues that the Article’s exacting standard renders it toothless.

Countries today are in agreement that the environment is a ‘global common’; a resource shared by one and all, not limited by sovereign boundaries. Time and again, the international community has entered into agreements to motivate member state(s) to protect and reinvigorate the environment. For instance the Paris Agreement, Kyoto Protocol and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change are all aspirational frameworks pushing states to rethink their relationship with the environment. However, there are no real legal ramifications for the non-performance of these agreements, and their observance has largely been left open to the whims of politics and diplomacy. Moreover, these agreements are limited to state responsibility and do not percolate down to actions of individuals or other non-state actors.

International frameworks with legal consequences, such as the AP-1 to the Geneva Convention, (“AP-1”) are traditional in nature. These frameworks recognize international responsibility of states for ‘environmental destruction’ only in the backdrop of internationally recognized crimes perpetrated against ‘mankind’, such as genocide, crimes against humanity, or recently, crimes of aggression. International conventions such as the UN Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile use of Environmental Modification Techniques, 1976 (“ENMOD”), removed the need to situate environmental destruction in the backdrop of a concomitant international crime. Notwithstanding, the thrust of ENMOD depends on “damage, destruction or injury” caused to the state. The terms “damage, destruction or injury” have canonically been interpreted in an anthropocentric form, meaning consequent damage to the civilian population.

Eclipsed by climate change and environmental destruction, with rising temperatures and sinking cities, mankind today has been brought face to face with a harsh reality. The environment, as a victim ofcorporate negligence, wanton human behaviour, and silent sufferers of armed conflict, has borne countless losses. The repercussions of such prolonged environmental neglect and degradation are both far ranging and immutable. Recognizing the need for inter-generational equity; the international community through its collective duty to preserve and secure the environment conferred it with independent legal protection. With the Statute in force, and the establishment of the ICC in 2002, the world saw the advent of the first ecocentric war crime.

Ingredients of Article 8(2)(b)(iv)

Successful prosecution under this Article requires that conjunctive benchmarks of “widespread, long term, and severe” damage to the environment be met in the context of an international armed conflict. The meanings of these terms are not defined within this Article, the Statute, or in secondary sources of interpretation as per the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, 1969. The lack of a definition is exacerbated by Article 22 of the Statute which states that “ambiguity” should be interpreted favourably towards the accused.

The preparatory material of the Statute refers heavily to ENMOD and AP-1. Under these conventions the term “widespread” has a geographical bearing, and typically a damage of 100 square kilometres or upwards satisfies the element of “widespread” damage.

The term “long-term”, as the ordinary meaning suggests, has a temporal connotation. It refers to the continued effects of an attack. “Long-term” under AP-1 means negative environmental effects lasting a minimum of 10 years. Given the difficulty in evaluating lasting environmental damage at the time of the attack, it is likely that the drafters of the Statute viewed the quantum of 10 years as a range for understanding the term “long-term” and not a minimum threshold. Environmental impact assessments need to be carried out to gauge long-term effects of an attack. These involve significant costs and questionable efficacy.

Similarly one may look to AP-1 to understand the term “severe”, which refers to the potency of damage on the human and non-human environment. This interpretation takes us back to an anthropocentric approach; an otherwise progressive provision once again ties itself to civilian damage as a crucial factor in affixing international criminal responsibility.

Mens Rea and Military Objectives

The environment has often been the subject of wartime military attack, be it the scorched earth policy of the Napoleonic Wars to the use of  “Agent Orange” during the Vietnam War. The Article seeks to recognize the military’s strategic needs in conducting an offensive against the environment; it rationalizes that the damage being “widespread, long-term and severe” should also be “clearly excessive to the concrete and direct overall military advantage.” The Office of the Prosecutor, ICC opined that “clearly excessive” does not pertain to instances of collateral damage, which is purely a function of the proximity between civilians and military targets. Similarly in Prosecutor v Milan Martic, the ICTY held that any ensuing harm to civilian objects, such as the environment, cannot be justified in the “absence of closeness” between such objects and the legitimate military target.

Additionally, liability under this Article is confined to wrongdoings by military operatives in leadership positions. It provides a safe harbour to individuals without decision making powers in the military chain of command. “Leadership positions” are determined on the basis of an individuals’ say on the nature, timing, type, extent, and the general scope of the military attack. The military advantage is also qualified by the terms “concrete and direct”. The International Committee of the Red Cross has reflected that these terms do not justify “barely perceptible” military advantages. A military officer ordering an attack is required to demonstrate the potential military advantage and its nexus with the environmental attack.

Conclusion

Environmental crimes had been codified prior to 2002 under several international treaties in an anthropocentric fashion. This approach detracted from the damage caused to the environment, an object worthy of protection in and of itself. While the Article is certainly a harbinger in delinking environmental protection and damage from civilian harms, its exacting standard renders it toothless.      

Unsurprisingly, we are yet to see a single prosecution or investigation launched under this provision. Particularly in the context of gross environmental damage during recent day international armed conflicts, such as the Syrian War and the Ukraine War which are plagued by indiscriminate bombing, non-differentiation between military and civilian objects, and chemical warfare, which has the potential to pollute the lands and waterways of the country for generations to come. The ICC, as the only international court equipped to prosecute and convict individuals for crimes of international magnitude is wanting in realizing its potential.

April 18 – Ukraine Panel

Please join us for this upcoming panel on the conflict in Ukraine – organized by the American Society of International Law, Transitional Justice and the Rule of Law Interest Group, and co-sponsored by the AALS International Law and International Human Rights Law Sections.

April 18, 2022

12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. EST

The Ukraine Conflict: Expert Roundtable on Transitional Justice and International Criminal Law Issues

Organized by the Transitional Justice and Rule of Law Interest Group, American Society of International Law; co-sponsored by the AALS International Law and International Human Rights Law Sections

Panelists:

Milena Sterio, The Charles R. Emrick Jr. – Calfee Halter & Griswold Professor of Law, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law (moderator)

Vladyslav Lanovoy, Professor, Law Faculty, Universite Laval (Canada)

Pavlo Pushkar, Head of Division, Department for the Execution of Judgments, European Court of Human Rights

Margaret deGuzman, James E. Beasley Professor of Law, Temple University Beasley School of Law and Judge of the Residual Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals

Rebecca Hamilton, Associate Professor, Washington College of Law, American University

Leila Sadat, James Carr Professor of International Criminal Law, Washington University School of Law and  Special Advisor on Crimes Against Humanity to the ICC Prosecutor

Milena Sterio is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Zoom Information:

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https://csuohio.zoom.us/j/84851000100

Meeting ID: 848 5100 0100

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Refugee and Asylum Law: Towards the Centrality of Human Rights

I am pleased to announce that the UN Audio Visual Library of International Law has released my second lecture titled “Refugee and Asylum Law: Towards the Centrality of Human Rights”. It is available here

The lecture first gives an overview of the definition of a refugee according to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, including the elements of well-founded fear of persecution, nexus to protection categories, the principle of non-refoulement, and exclusion and cessation clauses. It then addresses the cost of seeking asylum, examining the risks of refugees at sea, the phenomenon of “crimmigration”, urbanization, and warehousing of refugees. This followed by a presentation of the elements of the “return turn”, including application of “safe third country/first country of asylum”, reference to internal flight alternatives, and stringent credibility analysis. There is brief presentation of the challenges regarding contemporary causes of flight, such as climate change and natural disasters. It concludes by referring to the contribution of the human rights courts and commissions from the Inter-American, European, and African human rights systems in articulating the procedural and substantive rights of refugees and migrants- who are all human beings.

Adoption as Secondary to Childbirth: India’s Maternity Benefit Act

The joyous moments of childhood often include parents cheering on their children on their simplest yet the most beautiful achievements. Sadly, not all children are able to share ‘firsts’ or experience the thrill of their gleaming parents on their achievements. These children who are left abandoned or have lost their parents often feel a disconnect with the world, the feeling of not belonging. According to a recent report of National Commission for Protection of Children’s Rights (NCPCR), at least 10094 children were orphaned during the pandemic. Adoption, thus, presents an opportunity for these children to live a happy and secure life. 

Framework of Maternity law in India

In India, firstly, there is no scope of paternal or paternity leave and the leave is limited to the extent of mothers. The Indian legislation is drafted in such a way that it is believed only women have the sole duty of nurturing and taking care of their child. Thus, fathers are kept out of the purview of the legislation of granting paternity benefits. On the other hand, it is often seen that employers refuse maternity leave for adoptive mothers because the law does not mandate it. Adoptive mothers are treated to be a class apart from biological mothers and provide an absolute legislative cover to the latter and an exceptional layer to the former.

Under the current Maternity Benefit Act (1961), according to Section 5(4), a woman is allowed a maternity leave of 12 weeks only if the adopted child is below 3 months of age. If a woman adopts a child who is more than 3 months of age, she is not considered for maternity leave at all. On the other hand, biological mothers are allowed a maternity leave of 26 weeks. The most unsettling aspect is the age limit of the adopted child that is set in the Act. 

After the 2017 amendment, The Maternity Benefits Act has considered adoptive mothers to be deserving of a maternity leave, but the amendment doesn’t solve the cause. Not only is it treating adoptive mothers unequally, but is also snatching away a secured life of the adopted child. Firstly, the age limit of 3 months of the adopted child is keeping adoptive mothers outside the purview of the Act because the adoption process itself is very time-consuming. Secondly, it is disincentivizing adoption of children who are not a newborn baby. Thirdly, it is remiss to think that only children in the 0-3 months of age require continuous care and support. 

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UN Special Rapporteurship on Afghanistan

On Friday 1 April, the UN Human Rights Council relinquished an opportunity to put talk into action and send an important message to the Taliban by appointing what would have been the first woman UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Afghanistan.   (All those who held the position during its previous existence from 1984-2005 were men.)  

The UN Consultative Group, the body that screens Special Rapporteur applications (made up this year of three men and a woman, representing El Salvador, Malaysia, South Africa and Canada), had short-listed five candidates: four women — three of whom are Muslim or of Muslim heritage — and a man.  As the candidates’ applications show, all five short-listed candidates were well-qualified, all five had relevant experience, and several had considerable direct experience in Afghanistan and other conflict zones.   

CONSULTATIVE GROUP REPORT TO HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL PRESIDENT
Short-listed Candidates for the Position of
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan

First nameLast nameNationalityGender
LeilaALIKARAMIIslamic Republic of IranF
RichardBENNETTNew ZealandM
KarimaBENNOUNEUnited States of AmericaF
KamalaCHANDRAKIRANAIndonesiaF
Kimberley Cy.MOTLEYUnited States of AmericaF

Despite having such highly qualified women candidates for the position . . . the Human Rights Council appointed the only man on the shortlist.  Curiously, in sending its recommendations of candidates to the Council president, the Consultative Group significantly understated relevant experience in its bios of the two women finalists among the final three (Leila Alikarami and Karima Bennoune), even omitting any mention of one candidate’s direct experience in Afghanistan.

Moreover, there was virtually no mention of women’s human rights in the Consultative Group’s entire report on this mandate (except for a brief reference in Alikarami’s bio) — including no mention of any experience at all that the candidate they ranked first might have in this area.   This despite the fact that the Council resolution creating the mandate emphasizes women’s rights and calls on the use of a gender perspective throughout the work of the mandate.    

The new mandate-holder, Richard Bennett, does have considerable experience on and commitment to human rights in Afghanistan, and deserves support in his critically important work.  The statement in his application that if appointed he would give priority to the human rights of women and girls is welcome indeed.  One wonders about the message the Human Rights Council sends, though, as it joins a long list of countries and organizations that are sending all-male delegations to Kabul.  The timing is especially unfortunate coming a week after the Taliban refused to reopen secondary schools for girls, reneging on an earlier pledge to do so.     

UN General Assembly Emergency Session on the Ukraine

Pursuant to the Uniting for Peace Resolution A/RES/377 (V) 3 November 1950, the General Assembly will hold an Emergency Session on the Ukraine at 10 a.m. New York Time, you may watch on UN WebTV

The letter submitted by the Ukraine is available here

It should be noted that although the primary formal mechanisms of accountability may be limited, there remain alternative forums, such as fact finding mechanisms, reports by UN human rights treaty and charter bodies as well as European institutions, as well as peoples tribunals.

Ingrid Weurth in the LawFare blog correctly critiques the misuse of humanitarian arguments to justify territorial intervention:

“I have been arguing for years that expanding international law to focus on human rights and humanitarian objectives at the expense of territorial integrity has created credibility and other problems that weaken the international legal system as a whole.

Today, the international community should reinvest in norms of territorial integrity and sovereignty through international law, even at the occasional expense of humanitarian objectives (which should be pursued vigorously through other avenues). The work of the United Nations should focus on interstate peace and territorial integrity.”

I would argue that the UN work on peace cannot be divorced from human rights as it is defined as a purpose within the preamble of the UN Charter, as well as Article 55, while Article 56 places an obligation on Member States to cooperate to achieve respect for human rights. The orientation of the international order is the pursuit of a pro homine peace, as discussed in The Research Handbook on International Law and Peace.

Anti-LGBTQ+ Protests in Hungary: Limiting Representations of Homosexuality to Minors

In June 2021, the Hungarian Parliament amended various laws that limit the spread of information regarding homosexuality and sex reassignment (H&SR) for juveniles and school children. Among other things, the law: 1) prohibits minors from accessing material encouraging or depicting H&SR or any other type of deviance from one’s sex designated at birth; 2) forbids delivering instruction about the aforesaid information and restricts sex education in registered organizations; and 3) forbids broadcasts exhibiting H&SR while bringing a new rating – Category V (not intended for children) – to any such programming. On August 6, 2021, the scope of this decree was expanded to include places near churches and also in schools. 

These modifications are due to rising anti-LGBTQ+ views, which fall on the heels of previous legislative backsliding, including: 1) restrictions on same-sex marriage, as well as the heteronormative definition of conjugal relationships and family groups (2013); 2) university prohibitions on gender studies (2018); 3) denial of official gender acknowledgment by substituting ‘gender’ with ‘sex at birth’ in the Civil Registry (2020); and 4) the constitutional restriction on child adoption for unmarried adults (2020). 

Despite repeated requests from the European Commission (EC) and many European Union (EU) legislators, Prime Minister (PM) Viktor Orban’s government refused to remove the modifications. This comes after international condemnation of Hungary’s apparent association of sexual and gender identity [“SGI”] with pornography and pedophilia. In reaction, the EC has initiated a “rule of law” action against the Hungarian administration, claiming a breach of the values of dignity and equality as mentioned under Article 2 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Violations are likely to occur for a variety of reasons, including:

  1. Article 1 [dignity], 7 [expression & information], 11 [respect for private life], and 21 [non-discrimination] of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights for failing to substantiate the damage that such exposure has brought to children’s general well-being;
  2. Article 34 & 56 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU by failing to show that the limitations were properly reasoned, non-discriminatory, and ;
  3. Article 3 of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive, which imposes excessive and discriminatory constraints on the open dissemination of audio-visual media across borders; and 
  4. Disproportionate limitations on ‘information community services’ from other Member State under Article 3 of the E-Commerce Directive. Those limits may be enforced for the ‘safeguard of juveniles’ if there is a detriment to the cause or a substantial and grave danger of harm.
  5. Article 10 [ right to freedom of expression] & 14 [ right to non-discrimination] of the European Convention of Human Rights for limiting free discussions about gender identity and sexual orientation out of concern of ‘brainwashing youngsters’, and for expressly labeling LGBTQ+ material as undesirable and immoral.

The latest law of the Hungarian Parliament prohibits problems relating to the LGBTQIA+ population from being presented on prime time media. This has  the consequence of entirely eliminating the opinions of the community from public debate, thereby depriving them of their right to be heard. Similarly, while the amendments affected the rights of LGBTQIA+ people, their opinions were largely ignored during the legislative process. Furthermore, by prohibiting the simple representation of homosexuality to children, the legislation seeks to obscure the population. The purposeful obfuscation of the LGBTQIA+ population undermines its presence in society. As a consequence, familiarity and behaviorals standards are not sufficiently formed, thereby causing the interplay to be defined by the status quo inequality. 

Similar to Russia’s controversial ‘Gay Propaganda’ Law [2013], which, prohibited minors from being encouraged to engage in ‘non-traditional sexual unions,’ these modifications must be subjected to the same level of worldwide outrage and examination. Russian legislation made it illegal to make public declarations or posts about SGI, resulting in the imprisonment of numerous gay rights advocates. The European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) found an infringement of Article 10 [freedom of expression] & 14 [non-discrimination] following the petition of three such advocates. While the Russian government contended that societal acceptance of homosexuality was inconsistent with Russian societal norms and family ideals, the ECtHR cited a broad European agreement concerning the acknowledgment of gender identity and self-determination. The ECtHR found that the administration had failed to show how open homosexuality would have an adverse influence on Russian family ideals and norms. On the contrary, the Court found that sharing impartial information and scientific on SGI has a good impact on public health care and awareness. The right to exhaustive and non-discriminatory sexual education [Article 28], the right to acquire and transmit knowledge and thoughts of all forms [Article 13], and the right to receive contents targeted at devotional, social, physical well-being, and moral [Article 17] are all guaranteed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which binds both Hungary and Russia. The ECtHR stated in a detailed dissection of the claims made by Russian attorneys, by passing such laws, the Russian government promotes discrimination and ecnourages hompobhia, which is inconsistent with the values of fairness, diversity, and tolerance in a democratic country”. 

Opponents have compared the amendments with this propaganda, which according to independent experts has exacerbated societal hatred and fueled vigilante assaults against LGBT persons in the EU’s eastern neighbour. Nevertheless, if left unaddressed, the implications of these institutional reforms in Hungary could be disastrous. For one, this kind of nationalist discourse creates in-groups and out-groups, gaining support by inventing imagined concerns to the nation-state.  As a result, the LGBTQ+ group is regarded as a domestic threat as well as a foreign impact. The introduction of the phrase ‘gender ideology’ implies a refusal of fundamental sexual liberty and privacy rights. Conservative nationalists frequently give the phrase a stereotyped connotation, blaming it on so-called ‘Western liberal innovations’ of transgenderism, gender flexibility, and feminism, etc. 

As evidenced by multiple empirical studies performed over the last decade, Hungary’s persistent and intrusive effort against the LGBTQ+ community has left the population incredibly insecure in their own country. In 2010 & 2017, the Hatter Society conducted a comprehensive survey, finding that LGBTQ+ students face constant discrimination in schools.  According to a 2010 study [n=1991], 1 in every 5 students has faced discrimination at school. As per the findings of a 2017 survey, in an online poll of 928 LGBTQ+ students aged 13 to 21, more than 51% & 70% of participants indicated they had heard transphobic and homophobic statements from other classmates, professors, and school personnel regularly or often in the prior school session, respectively. In fact, 35% of those polled stated that the school officials never interfered. In addition, approximately 64% had experienced vocal and 22% had experienced physical abuse at school s due to their sexual identity. More than 56% of individuals who had revealed their sexual identity had been verbally abused (and 19% physically abused) in the prior school session. 

These emotions of uneasiness and insecurity at school can have a negative impact on an individual’s potential to not only achieve academically but also to create effective connections with classmates and participate in intra/inter-school activities. As per the Millennium Cohort Study, prejudice in academic institutions, resulting in a nearly threefold increase in degrees of depression, low-life contentment, and self-harm characteristics in LGBTQ+ adults as contrary to non-LGBTQ+ adults. This not only hinders physical and emotional development, but the atmosphere of disinformation and a lack of discussion produces a stagnant repressive environment for future generations. 

Hungary’s amendments, on the other hand, are certain to collide with the same legal currents that brought down its Russian equivalent. The post-COVID-19 rehabilitation package earmarked for Budapest [a sum of about 7.2 Billion Euros] has been vetoed by the European Commission. While PM Orban contends that the same is true in the case of the LGBTQ+ policy, the European Union has repetitively reiterated that it is founded on Hungary’s failure to follow through on anti-corruption and autonomous judiciary commitments. Hungary, therefore, has only a few months to answer to the European Commission and confronts imminent dangers of being directed to the European Court of Justice for a judgment. As an instant response, Orban pledged to hold a national vote on issues like facilitating gender identity workshops, the accessibility, and promotion of gender reassignment surgery, as well as the exposure of information that may influence a child’s gender identity. Nonetheless, no referendum has been conducted as of October 2021, with questions about its legitimacy still lingering. 

Persistent prejudices and the execution of prohibited legislation, as demonstrated in Russia’s history, are frequently unaffected by the simple favorable outcome of such judicial procedures. It is critical, then, to keep a constant eye out for such new and hidden forms of social tyranny. 

CONCLUSION

The proposed legislative reforms are in violation of international and European human rights principles. Hungary has failed to fulfil its obligations as a member state by passing this law that targets homosexuals. The major argument given for doing so is to ensure that the mental and moral development is preserved. Moreover, in the matter of Alekseyev vs Russia, the ECtHR specifically stated that there is no scientific evidence to support the conclusion that the simple mention of homosexuality has a negative influence on children. The modifications leave no room for anything except one-sided and biased education, allowing stigmatisation and harassment of LGBTQ+ individuals to flourish.

Past Time for Respect for Indigenous Peoples and the Environment

Despite the challenges of 2021, it closed with some important milestones. At long last, the U.N. Human Rights Council recognized “the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment” and appointed a Special Rapporteur to focus on rights in the context of climate change. Additionally, the U.S. officially designated Indigenous Peoples’ Day on October 11. President Biden’s proclamation acknowledges “the centuries-long campaign of violence, displacement, assimilation, and terror wrought upon Native communities” and celebrates Indigenous Peoples’ “resilience and strength” and “immeasurable positive impact . . . on every aspect of American society.”

Violence against Indigenous Peoples and nature is deeply intertwined. For generations, Indigenous lands have been exploited as a “hunting ground” for resources with colonialism propped up by racial and gender hierarchies. In the U.S., Native American and Alaska Native women experience sexual assault at a rate 2.5 times higher than other women, with 86% of perpetrators non-Native men. For example, the oil boom in the Bakken region brought a 75% increase in sexual assaults and a 53% increase in violence with the influx of hundreds of transient male workers, housed in “Man Camps” near Indian territories. Moreover, with strained infrastructure and Indian tribes lacking jurisdiction to prosecute non-Indian defendants, there is often no accountability. Indigenous leaders have highlighted the link between sovereignty over land and bodily autonomy.

Against this backdrop of abuse, the climate crisis is displacing Indigenous communities at increasing rates and leading to economic instability, land disputes, and disruptions in social safety nets, contributing to increased risk of gender-based violence. Moreover, Indigenous leaders have been at the forefront of sounding the alarm on climate change and may also experience violence as retaliation for their actions as human rights defenders confronting environmental degradation. Further, the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted Indigenous Peoples, aggravating preexisting inequalities and resulting in heightened rates of infection and  increased environmental degradation, economic insecurity, and gender-based violence, threatening Indigenous cultures. 

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International Solidarity

Professor Cecilia M. Bailliet has been chosen to Chair the Expert Advisory Group to the UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and International Solidarity Obiora Okafor. Together with other members of the group, Bailliet will prepare a report and suggest revisions to the current draft declaration on the right to international solidarity.

In addition to Bailliet, the group consists of Professor Obijiofor Aginam of the UN University, Professor Mihir Kanade of the University of Peace in Costa Rica, Professor. Vesselin Popovski of the Jindal Global Law School, and Professor Jaya Ramji-Nogales of Temple University.

The group will present its report and recommendations for a revised draft in April 2022 to the Independent Expert who then will share with key states within the UN Human Rights Council in order to make a presentation to the Council for adoption.

The group benefits from the findings provided by the research assistance of UiO law students Solveig Hodnemyr and Julie Skomakerstuen Larsen and Johns Hopkins University student Jeff Baek. The right to solidarity is described as being part of “the second wave of third generation rights” including the right to peace (adopted as a Declaration by the UN General Assembly); the right to development (currently being drafted as a convention); and the right to a healthy environment (recognized by the UN Human Rights Council).

This work complements Professor Bailliet’s current project editing the Research Handbook on International Solidarity to be published by Edward Elgar 2022-23; it includes chapters by other women scholars (including Jaya Ramji-Nogales): Beate Sjåfjell, Alla Pozdnakova, Vasuki Nesiah, Sylvia Bawa, Usha Natarajan, Elizabeth Salmon, Karin Frode and Shyami Puvimanasinghe.

For those of you attending the 2022 ASIL Conference virtually, there will be a session on solidarity in Track 6 on Competing Values of International Law. This roundtable will include Noura Erakat, Maha Hillal, Azadeh Shashahani, Nia Houston, and Cecilia Bailliet.

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.