Sunday, June 20, 2010

"Please Use Your Liberty to Promote Ours"

Burma's democratically elected president, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been under house arrest for almost 20 years. In a hand written letter smuggled out of Burma (Myanmar) she has made a desperate appeal to those in democratic nations to use their freedom to help her country break the bonds of oppression imposed by Burma's military government. "Please use your liberty to promote ours," Suu Kyi writes, and her aide adds "We are starving for it." The US State Department, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch all cite widespread egregious human rights violations committed by the Burmese military government. Take action here for Aung San Suu Kyi's release, it is so simple. See this UK Independent article for more information.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

European Court of Human Rights Issues Torture Ruling

Mr. Gäfgen lured an 11 year old boy to his apartment and murdered him. He then demanded 1 million Euros ransom from the boys parents, telling them their son was still alive. When Gäfgen collected the ransom German police monitored him and arrested him. Gäfgen told the police the boy was alive. Believing the boys life to be in grave danger the German police threatened Gäfgen with grave suffering if he refused to disclose the location of the boy. As a result, Gäfgen confessed to kidnapping and killing the boy and he told the police where the boy was buried. The police found the body and other physical evidence.

During his trial the German court refused to admit
Gäfgen's confession but it did allow the physical evidence found as a result of his confession - including an autopsy report on the victim's body. Later in the trial Gäfgen confessed again, and the court sentenced him to life in prison.

The police who threatened to use force were prosecuted and convicted in Germany.

In the ECHR,
Gäfgen argued that the threat by German police to cause him grave suffering was a threat to use torture in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights. He also claimed that admitting the physical evidence obtained through the confession caused his trial to be unfair in violation of Article 6 of the European Convention.

The ECHR ruled that the perceived risk to the 11 year old boy's life did not justify the threat to cause suffering and that Germany had violated Article 3. The Court reiterated that the prohibition in Article 3 is non-derogable, and there can be no justification for the use of torture or cruel inhuman or degrading treatment - even to save the life of a child.

However, the ECHR ruled that the threats against Gäfgen did not amount to torture but instead constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. In making this determination, the Court considered factors such as the duration of the suffering - less than 20 minutes, the absence of long-lasting physical or psychological effects, and the degree of suffering imposed.

The ECHR ruled that because Gäfgen confessed during the trial, the introduction of evidence obtained through the coerced confession was not necessary to prove guilt. His trial, therefore, was deemed fair.

The ECHR press release can be found here and the full decision is here.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Bush Acknowledges Ordering Waterboarding

In a Michigan speech this week Former President Bush stated "We Water-boarded Khallid Sheik Mohammad, I'd do it again to save lives." Human rights law experts agree that waterboarding is torture, and the United States has prosecuted waterboarding as torture. Has the President admitted to committing war crimes? If so, is there an obligation to prosecute? The Convention Against Torture, which the United States has signed and ratified, requires states to prosecute those who commit torture:

Article 7(1) The State Party in territory under whose jurisdiction a person alleged to have committed any offence referred to in article 4 is found, shall in the cases contemplated in article 5, if it does not extradite him, submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution.

What does the US response to torture allegations tell us about human rights law?

Amnesty Claims States Block Global Justice

Amnesty International, one of the oldest and most respected human rights groups in the world, criticized states for shielding allies who have committed grave violations. In its 2010 report Amnesty also accused states, like the U.S., of impeding the progress of global justice by refusing to join the International Criminal Court. Amnesty International is an international non-partisan advocacy group. The report details human rights issues in nations around the world. See a NY Times Article on the issues here and the 2010 report here.

Argentina Trying Former Intelligence and Military Officials

The trial of 5 former intelligence and military officials began this week in Argentina. The defendants are accused of kidnapping, torturing, and murdering left-wing activists during the country's military rule between 1976 and 1983. They allegedly ran the Automotores Orletti detention centre in Buenos Aires where more than 200 people are believed to have been kidnapped, tortured and killed during Operation Condor. The operation was designed to silence opposition and dissent by sending teams around Argentina and into other countries to track, monitor and kill dissidents. How did Argentina move from being a state where violations were committed with absolute impunity to becoming a state where even the highest officials are tried for violating human rights law? Can the United States learn from Argentina and its neighbors?

Spain Seeks Arrest Warrants for CIA Agents in Rendition Case

A Spanish prosecutor is asking for arrest warrants for 13 CIA agents who allegedly kidnapped Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen, and flew him to a secret prison in Afghanistan (JURIST Report). A Spanish newspaper has published the names of the accused agents. Consider the efforts of Spanish prosecutors in addition to HRC and CAT mechanisms discussed in the readings. What does the Spanish case tell us about the development of human rights law?