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POST WRITTEN BY: Lucia Martinez Maroto, LLM Comparative Law student (Spring 2015)

Persecuted, discriminated, expelled and excluded, the Roma minority in Europe is under constant harassment. In 2013, the socialist government of François Hollande in France forcibly evicted about 19,300 Roma from the land they were occupying, which is just a continuation of the persecution suffered by the minority throughout time. Many refer to them as “gypsies” but the Roma consider that name derogatory.

It has been estimated that 10 to 12 million Roma people live in Europe, constituting the largest minority in Europe. Despite their large population and the large period of time they have lived in Europe – over 1,000 years – they continue to be ostracized, persecuted and suppressed. According to the European Agency for Fundamental Rights, 90% of Europe’s Roma live in poverty, and “one in five Roma in the European Union experienced racist violence.”

In France the issue is becoming increasingly important as the forced eviction policy for Roma initiated by Jacques Chirac continued during the Sarkozy administration, is now being implemented by President François Hollande.

More than 200 Roma living in a precarious camp near Bobigny (north-eastern suburbs of Paris) were forcibly evicted from their homes, and many of them were not even offered alternative accommodation. “This forced eviction throws whole families – with children, sick and elderly – in the street, and deprive them of their basic rights,” said John Dalhuisen, Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International.

Since the application of the anti-Roma policies, thousands of Roma have been forcibly evicted from their houses, constituting a violation of the right for respect for private and family life, the prohibition of discrimination and the right to adequate housing protected by the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. These individuals are usually put on the street, giving them no opportunity to put an end to their precarious situation and creating a vicious circle. Granted the Roma had essentially squatted on the land but the manner the evictions have been carried out without offering any housing alternatives violated human rights of the Roma.

Thomas Hammarberg, former European Commissioner for Human Rights, summarizes the ordeal: “In Europe, the various groups of Roma were subject to five centuries of shameful repression since they arrived in India after a long migration. The repressive methods were varied: from slavery to the slaughter, through forced assimilation, expulsion or internment. Some methods have changed, but not receiving treatment.”

Forced evictions constitute a great violation of human rights and have a very high human cost, causing racial segregation and discrimination, impoverishment, and physical and psychological trauma. However, Europe seems unable or unwilling to integrate the Roma population despite the constant human rights violations committed against the minority, creating a new category of “unwanted people.”

Gay Rights

The issue of gay rights has become a common issue on the international front. For example, Puerto Rico has recently placed a ban on same-sex marriage, even though 32 U.S. states have legalized gay marriage. Russian anti-gay laws have been enacted, and India has overturned a 2009 court decision that legalized consensual gay sex.

In 2013, two cases went before the High Court of Singapore, regarding the constitutionality of a statute, which essentially bans any gay male intimate relations. The High court was the first to deliver judgments within the jurisdiction regarding the constitutionality of this statute. The first case involved a defendant charged with a criminal offense for having oral sex with another man in a public bathroom stall. The second case involved two plaintiffs involved in a sexually intimate and romantic relationship; they filed their own application with the court challenging the constitutionality of the statute banning gay relations. Both cases involved Article 12(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore as it states “All persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law.”

The High Court ultimately upheld § 377A of the Singapore Penal code, “which criminalizes acts of “gross indecency” between two men, whether they occur in public or private.” The Court held that “the provision was not inconsistent with the guarantees of equality before the law and equal protection of the guarantees of equality before the law and equal protection of the law” The three parties appealed.

Today, the highest court of Singapore affirmed this holding. The three men were unfortunately denied their equal protections under the law, as the 76-year-old statute was not overturned. The court stated in their decision: “”Whilst we understand the deeply held personal feelings of the appellants, there’s nothing that this court can do to assist them . . . Their remedy lies, if at all, in the legislative sphere.” The law was retained by Singapore’s Parliament, in 2007, to “protect public morality.” Singapore may be a traditionally conservative society, but does that give them the right to deny these men equal protection under the laws of their constitution, or their fundamental human rights?

The Highest Court has wrongfully set a precedent legally enforcing discrimination against gay men. Anti-gay laws and the criminalization of homosexuality, like § 377A of the Singapore penal code, are clearly violations of human rights.  Do you agree with the court, however, that a remedy for this law must be addressed as a legislative matter? Isn’t one of the main functions of the highest court in a State to place a “check” on laws that violate constitutional rights? Do you think any international forums or organizations can take a stance in protecting individual citizens who have been denied their rights by a domestic judiciary system?

Sources: BNA Bloombergjus.uio.no, ACG, Singapore Infopedia

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Every year in Mexico about 600,000 people die from chronic illnesses, such as heart and lung diseases, HIV or cancer. Patients battling these chronic illnesses must cope with crippling symptoms such as pain, breathlessness, anxiety, and depression. Access to palliative care and pain medication is critical in order to provide patients with proper and humane care. During the end of life, patients want to enjoy time with their friends and family; rather, than bed ridden with chronic pain.

In 2009, Mexico passed a law that grants patients given less than six months to live access to palliative care. Palliative care is the treatment of a specialized medicine dose to severely or terminally ill patients. Human Rights Watch highlights Remedios, a 73-year patient with pancreatic cancer, who lives in a small town about three hours away from Mexico City. Remedios was bedridden and was unable to eat or spend anytime with her family. After being referred to the National Cancer Institute in Mexico City she was informed that her cancer was terminal and sent her to the palliative care team. Remedios was given a low dose of morphine and she was able to control her pain, eat again, and spend time with her family. Remedios has to take several buses to get to Mexico City, although this is manageable, as her symptoms get worse the trip will become extremely hard. While palliative care treatment has increased greatly in Mexico, it still needs to provide more accessible treatment to Mexican citizens.

The access to palliative care in Mexico is still limited, with only a few dozen public healthcare centers that officer the specialized care, and fewer provide home palliative care. The cost of treatment is relatively low, for example morphine costs pennies per dose; rather, the cost of training staff can be costly. Others are concerned that the drugs given for treatment will be sold on the streets. Some doctors will not prescribe morphine because the prescription includes the patients’ address, and doctors do not want this information to end up in the wrong hands.

The World Health Organization considers palliative care an essential part of healthcare systems and recommends that all countries implement healthcare policies that promote patient access to palliative care. Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” I believe that the denial of palliative care to chronically or terminally ill patients is cruel and inhuman treatment. Subjecting terminally ill patients to unnecessary pain and a lack of treatment is a violation of human rights.

Do you think a failure to provide a countries’ citizens access to palliative care is a violation of human rights? Does every human have the right to die with dignity?

 

Source: Human Rights Watch – Summary; Human Rights Watch; The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Picture: Human Rights Watch

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The Presidential Symphony Orchestra of Turkey recently dropped three compositions by the Turkist pianist Fazil Say after a conflict emerged between the pianist and the Turkish government concerning the current conditions of freedom of speech in Turkey.

Fazil Say has been a “vocal critic of the government”, but the original issue seems to have developed from an incident involving Mr. Say, an atheist, and statements he made on Twitter, insulting Islam. Mr. Say received a 10 month suspended sentence and certain public officials are refusing to work with Mr. Say and have subsequently cancelled scheduled concerts.

What makes this problem particularly interesting is that Turkey is seeking European Union membership. In order to do so, however, a country must subscribe to specific EU provisions and policies. Part of the membership requirement mandates the “stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities”.

The European Union has already addressed the shortcomings of freedom of expression and in a report filed this month cited areas that need to be looked into in order to accept Turkey into the EU. Furthermore, Mr. Say sent a letter to the Turkish government speaking out against the government’s “oppression of the arts” in general.

But doesn’t Turkey have an argument here for autonomy and a right to define democracy as applies best to the values of its people? The European Union mandates “institutions guaranteeing democracy”, but what should be the threshold? Democracy is an abstract idea, and doesn’t it make sense that different countries will define it differently?

Sources: New York Times, New York Times, Aydinlik

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Currently, there are no laws in Afghanistan that specifically prohibit sexual harassment or protect victims. Afghanistan’s new government should be taking steps to stop the sexual harassment of women in education, employment and public life.

On October 5, 2014, President Ashraf Ghani stated that the levels of sexual harassment in schools was “shocking.”  He subsequently ordered the Ministry of Education to report every incident of sexual harassment in schools to take action against harassers and further directed ministries to develop a plan to resolve the problem of sexual harassment in educational settings. According to Human Rights Watch, a major problem is that government institutions lack effective policies to prevent and punish sexual harassment.

Heather Barr, a senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch stated, “The Afghan government should promptly enact a law against sexual harassment and ensure that every government institution develops and implements an anti-sexual harassment policy.”

Sexual harassment has proven to be a major problem in Afghanistan since women and girls have had struggles in regaining their rights after they were shut out of education and employment during Taliban rule until 2001.  While there has been significant progress in improving girls’ access to education and allowing women to become a part of the Afghan parliament and civil service, there is still sexual harassment in women’s employment and in their public life.  Imagine simply walking down the street only to be constantly sexual harassed. You then try to seek help from the police and report these threats only to receive no assistance. This is a daily experience for women and girls in Afghanistan.

Even more unsettling is the sexual harassment of women in the workplace, including government, which has become a serious problem. Government institutions have made scarce efforts to stop sexual harassment and to help victims. The only government agency that has made an effort to fix this problem is the Independent Directorate of Local Governance. This agency’s “anti-harassment policy guideline” explains its commitment in the government’s 2007-2017 National Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan to be able to adopt a policy against sexual harassment as the basis for the guideline.  The agency further prepared a description of harassment and steps a victim can take, such as anonymously seeking the assistance of a Conflict Resolutions Committee.

The area of unemployment with extremely high levels of harassment and even sexual assault is the police force. The government has failed to provide women working in this environment with safe working conditions which accounts for the under two percent of females on the police force. Afghanistan’s 2009 Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW Law) is not being enforced since Afghani society is male dominated with women constantly feeling degraded and disrespected in their public lives. In addition, many women do not even feel that they are able to speak with a man who is not their relative to report a crime or even discuss EVAW issues such as domestic violence, rape, or forced marriage.

Women and girls in Afghani society should be able to not only feel safe walking down the street but in their schools and jobs. Why do you think Afghanistan has not adopted specific laws prohibiting sexual harassment or to protect victims? What types of laws do you think should be put in place to help women? What can we do internationally to increase awareness the issue of sexual harassment?

Source: Human Rights Watch, Afghanistan: Fight Rampant Sexual Harassment 

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landmine

A recent announcement from the Obama administration pledges that the United States will finally conform to the requirements of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, with the exception of the Korean Peninsula. The new US landmine policy bans the use, production, and acquisition of antipersonnel mines. Additionally, under the new policy, the US will encourage other states to comply with the requirements as well.

So what is the Mine Ban Treaty? And why has it taken the US so long to conform?

Under the Mine Ban Treaty, signatories are prohibited from the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of antipersonnel mines. Parties are obligated to identify and destroy current stockpiles, provide assistance to mine victims, and support mine risk education. According to a 2008 Landmine Monitor Report by the UN, 15,000- 20,000 people are killed every year from landmine explosions—80% of which are innocent civilians. Recently, landmines have been used as acts of terror; however, they have also been used as methods of protection. Historically, landmines were used to protect an occupying force from attack. One of the problems is identifying and removing mines that were left behind from previous land occupants. The purpose of the Mine Ban Treaty is not just to prevent new mines from deployment; it is also to prevent old mines—not originally intended to kill innocent civilians—from doing exactly that.

It is undoubted that the US has taken a stance on the issue. In addition to the new landmines policy, the US has taken other affirmative measures to prevent the loss of civilian life. For one, the US has not produced an antipersonnel mine since 1997. So why has it taken so long for the US to officially comply with the Treaty if it is clear that they do not condone the usage of mines? And why is there an exception for the Korean Peninsula?

The US currently has landmines deployed along the Korean Peninsula to prevent North Korea from invading South Korea. Seemingly, it is a well-grounded reason for carving an exception in the Treaty. However, should the US have the authority to create their own exception? Opponents of this exception propose (1) the US does not need to protect South Korea, (2) even if they do, they can simply turn over the landmines to South Korea and uniformly comply with the Treaty, and (3) if the objective is to protect South Korea, the US, and other Parties, can employ less hazardous and less life-threatening measures to accomplish the same goal. Proponents of the exception argue that removing every single mine would be too costly and prevent the US from using resources where they are most needed. Do you think the US should be allowed an exception under the Treaty? Does the US have an obligation to protect South Korea? And lastly, can you think of any alternative measures the US can use in protecting South Korea so they can fully comply with the Treaty?

Sources: HRW, Mine Ban Monitor, UN Global Issues,  LA Times

Image: Thought Leadership Leverage

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Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) was established in 2004 as an elite anti-crime and anti-terrorism unit of the Bangladesh Police. Although RAB has been successful in arresting terrorists, Human Rights Watch accuses RAB of numerous deaths. Since 2009, “the Awami League, have allowed the force to operate with impunity, leading to serious and systematic abuses.” In opposition, the Awami League has stated that RAB needs to be disbanded but “it has failed to take serious action despite hundreds of killings since it came to power.”

On March 23, 2011, members of RAB accused Limon Hossain, a 16-year-old child of being a criminal. RAB members then shot Hossain at point-blank range. A couple days later, Hossain’s leg had to be amputated in order to save his life. He additionally was not able to return home for more than six months because of medical reasons.

Asia director, Brad Adams, stated that said: “The Bangladeshi government needs to take action against the RAB officer who shot Limon, which led to a permanent disability, as well as those who perverted the course of justice by bringing phony charges against him.” Do you agree with him? I do agree with him 100 percent. RAB members should not able to shot a child at point-blank range just because they believe he is a criminal. These members need to be disciplined for their actions. However, instead of taking action against the RAB members responsible for Hossain’s injury the police took no action against his attackers. The police instead “filed several criminal charges against Hossain in an attempt to shelter RAB from accountability.”

This is not the only incident that has occurred by RAB members. Human Rights Watch and others have “long documented RAB’s responsibility for hundreds of extrajudicial killings and other serious human rights violations.” However, nothing has been done and no RAB member has ever been successfully prosecuted for these crimes. What do you think the Bangladesh government should do? Should the Bangladesh government disband RAB? If not what can the Bangladesh government do to control the RAB’s actions? The government should consider replacing the RAB entirely with a civilian force. Do you agree?

 

Source: Human Rights Watch

 Image: RanksITT

Tags: Bangladesh, Bangladesh Government, Rapid Action Battalion, RAB, Human Rights Watch, Awami League, Limon Hossain, Brad Adams, Police, Human Rights Violations, RAB members, Shot A Child

Ebola Infects Chocolate; Nestle On “High Alert”

The awful Ebola Virus epidemic that has already infected thousands and has also killed thousands, may have its’ eyes set on a pieces of chocolate. With Halloween just 6 days away, there are also other international ramifications of the Ebola virus that are in play (not just the spread of the terrible disease from one international citizen to the other causing exposure to different nations). The worst Ebola outbreak in history is believed to have began in December 2013 in Guinea and has spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia. As of two days ago, there has been a reported number of cases over 10,000 and over 4900 deaths. While the disease may not directly effect the chocolate supply by infecting the supply, it can disrupt prices and the supply output.

Where does chocolate, Halloween, and international commerce come into play? Well, the Ebola virus is wrecking havoc in 3 countries named above and two of those nations (Liberia and Guinea) share a border with the Ivory Coast also known as Côte d’Ivoire. The Ivory Coast is the world’s largest producer of cacao (producing about 33% of the world’s supply), which is the raw ingredient found in candies such as M&M’s, Butterfingers, and Snickers. At this time of the year, this is the dawn of harvest season for cacao.

The distribution comes in the form of producing the cacao. In August, the Ivory Coast closed its borders with Guinea and Liberia. The Ivory Coast depends on migrant workers from these countries to go and collect the cacao from the farms. This, coupled with fears Ebola will find its’ way into the Ivory Coast and wreck the havoc on the people and health care system like it did in Guinea, Sierra Lone, and Liberia has caused market prices to go on a roller coaster.

The normal trading range for cocoa futures is between $2,000 to $2,7000 per ton. In September, that price jumped to $3,400 per ton and has fluctuated from $3,050 per ton to $3,155 per ton a couple of weeks ago. Many of the world’s chocolate makers (Nestle, Mars, Hershey, Godiva, and Ghirardelli to name a few) have noticed and are worried of the price spikes and the overall safety of the supply.  Many have donated to the initiative Coca Industry Response to Ebola, run by the World Cocoa Foundation. Also, many companies that educated local farmers on how to best way to grow the crops to get the most yield, have included education of how to prevent the farmers from getting the virus and the precautions to stop further spread of the virus in West Africa.

Besides the horrific ramifications the virus has on humans anatomically, it also effects other sectors of life. Do you believe enough is being done to protect the world’s largest supply of cacao, which goes into many everyday guilty pleasures? What can other countries and international businesses do to keep the supply safe? Keep in mind the Ivory Coast has not reported a single case of Ebola.

Sources:

Politico

United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Washington Times

Images:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, and Politico

Bidness ETC

 

 

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On March 25, 2014, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) held by the smallest majority of four votes to three that the refusal of Denmark to grant family reunification to a Danish citizen of Tongolese origin and his Ghanaian wife did not violate Article 8 (right to family life) nor Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights. In many countries, family reunification is an accepted reason for immigration due to the presence of one or more family members in a certain country. As a result, it enables the rest of the family to immigrate to that country as well. There is a delicate balance that country’s try to find when enforcing family reunification laws. Countries try to balance the right of the family to live together with the country’s own right to control immigration.

For family reunification to be recognized in Denmark, the applicants’ ties to Denmark must be stronger than those to the country of origin. For couples, such as is the case here, the couple’s aggregate ties to Denmark must be stronger than those to the country of origin. In the case at hand, the applicants, Mr. Biao, is a Danish national of Togolese origin, and his wife Mrs. Biao, is a Ghanaian national. Mr. Biao lived in Togo until the age of 6. Then moved to Ghana where he lived until the age of 21. At the age of 22, he entered Denmark and acquired Danish nationality in 2002. By 2003, Mr. and Mrs. Biao were married, which is when Mrs. Biao applied for family reunification. That same year, the couple moved to Sweden and had a child with Danish nationality the following year. The Applicant and his wife were excluded from family reunification due to the wife’s attachment to Ghana. This “attachment” requirement of aggregate ties, however, do not apply to people who have been Danish nationals for 28 years or people who acquired Danish citizenship as young children and have lived in Denmark for more than 28 years. This is called the “28-year rule.” It is meant to cut down the numbers on forced marriages and family reunification immigration.

The couple here argues that this Rule gives differential treatment between born Danish nationals and those that acquire nationality later in life. The couple is essentially arguing that this Rule is creating discrimination among citizens. This differential treatment, the couple argues, constitutes discrimination on the basis of race and/or ethnic origin.

The Court held that it did not see any ethnic or religious discrimination. The Court stated that the language of the Rule does not make a distinction between Danish-born nationals and those who acquire Danish nationality later in life. Furthermore, the Rule does not distinguish between ethnically Danish nationals and ethnically non-Danish nationals. Finally, the Court states that the overall purpose of the Rule is to cut down on forced marriages and family reunification immigrations. The Court stated that marriages between a Danish national and a foreign spouse will last longer if the foreign spouse has experienced citizenship for a long period of time.

This case has been referred to the Grand Chamber and there will be a hearing on April 1, 2015.

How do you think the Court will decide? Is the 28-year rule really just discrimination among citizens? What are your thoughts about this Rule?

Source: ECHR

Image: Yahoo

BRITAIN TARANIS

Autonomous weapons, or commonly known as killer robots, are a rising phenomenon among a number of governments today. Essentially, the name killer robots speaks for itself. These weapons are designed to operate and selectively fire at targets without any human intervention. Nations such as the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, China, and Israel are developing and deploying these weapons for military operations. As technological advances have become persistently manifest in medicine, technology, and communication, these killer weapons have become the latest military breakthrough.

Undoubtedly, one of the leading incentives for governments to finance and develop these killer robots is to effectively reduce the number of human casualties during wartime. According to one roboticist, “in the interest of saving human lives, scientists have a responsibility to look for effective ways to reduce man’s inhumanity to man through technology….” However, these killer robots have raised major concerns and opposition from the Human Rights Watch and other non-governmental organizations. In fact, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is an international coalition working to prevent further development and use of these weapons.

The Human Rights Watch and other NGOs oppose these killer robots because they doubt that these weapons will be able to meet legal requirements. These organizations believe killer robots will result in conflicts that have more violations in the laws of war. Since these weapons are able to operate without human discretion, they pose a higher risk of malfunctioning and targeting civilians. Also, these weapons are less likely to use an appropriate and proportional amount of force, as required under the Geneva Conventions. “Scientists question the notion that robotic weapons could meet legal requirements … or have the functionality required for accurate target identification, situational awareness or decisions regarding the proportional use of force.” Evidently, these weapons have created a significant amount of controversy among the international community. Are these killer robots too dangerous for governments to be endorsing? Or are they simply another inevitable technological development?

Sources:
Human Rights Watch, Killer Robots Keeping Control of Autonomous Weapons

UN News Centre, UN meeting targets ‘killer robots’

Campaign to Stop Killer Robots

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