We'll use this discussion topic to explore how human rights advocates are engaging regional human rights mechanisms. Consider these questions below when sharing your comments in this discussion topic:
- Share examples of successful (or unsuccessful) instances of regional human rights mechanism engagement! Why did you do decide to implement this strategy/tactic? How did you do it? What was the process? What was the outcome? What was the impact?
- What challenges did you face? How were you able to overcome these challenges and barriers?
- After a decision is made by these institutions, how do you ensure it is implemented by the State? Share examples of successful (or unsuccessful) follow-up tactics.
Share your thoughts, experiences, questions, challenges and ideas by replying to the comments below.
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The Advocates for Human Rights, along with several partner organizations based in Cameroon, submitted three shadow reports for the African Commission's review of Cameroon last October. We're still awaiting the concluding observations (even though the website says they are available), so we can't report on the outcome yet. And we weren't able to attend the NGO forum or the session, so we still don't have a good sense of how things work on the ground. So it's been great this week to hear from people with a lot of expertise and experience with the African Commission.
In terms of basic nuts and bolts, we communicated with the Commission to confirm that reports were due 60 days before the start of the session. But repeated attempts to email our reports failed. Ultimately, we called the Commission again, they said to keep trying to email the reports (giving us a new email address to try), and then they said we also needed to send hard copies via DHL. Ultimately we got our reports in and received confirmation of receipt, but the deadline had long passed. Does anyone have any advice about these logistics? Is DHL really the only answer? Are the deadlines actually enforced?
I'd also love to hear people's thoughts on effective strategies for advocacy on LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex) rights at the African Commission. One of our shadow reports was on LGBTI rights in Cameroon. My initial thoughts are that even though the African Commission may not seem to be a particularly receptive audience for issues concerning LGBTI rights,* especially when compared with UN mechanisms or the other two main regional mechanisms, we shouldn't shy away from using the African Commission, especially if African NGOs are leading that advocacy. Often we hear from policymakers in Africa that LGBTI rights are a western invention. So perhaps a strong statement condemning violence targeting people based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity coming from the African Commission would be more powerful than a similar statement coming from a UN treaty body, or a European government, for example.
What's been the experience in the Inter-American system on LGBTI issues? The new rapporteurship on the rights of LGBTI persons seems like a great step.
*For example, the African Commission in 2010 denied observer status to the Coalition of African Lesbians on the grounds that "the activities of the said Organisation do not promote and protect any of the rights enshrined in the African Charter." The NGO Forum has tried to push for reconsideration, but it's not clear to me whether there has been any progress on this front.
Thanks, Amy, for raising this important issue.
The new Inter-American rapporteurship on the rights of LGBTI persons has been a great development, not least from the perspective of raising awareness and acknowledging the work of advocates in this area. To mention some of its activities, the Rapporteurship has held a number of conferences and workshops and convened expert meetings. It has also put out some really useful press releases (here and here), that take a region-wide look at how States are fulfilling, or failing to fulfill, their obligations with regard to LGBTI persons' human rights.
On this topic, I was also interested to see recently that the African Commission's Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa issued a press release expressing concern about the implications of Uganda's anti-homosexuality bill, which made me wonder whether this was the result of specific advocacy efforts by NGOs.
Fahamu is currently implementing a project called “Locating demands for accountability and transitional justice in African contexts”, which seeks to surface and reconceptualise African knowledge on justice, reconciliation and reconstruction; sharing learning between African civil society on long-term struggles for democratisation and constitutionalism and strengthening civil society participation in the African Union and in particular the African Court of Justice and Human Rights (hereafter referred to as the Court).
During the first year of the project implementation, Fahamu had the opportunity to work with organisations from Kenya, Burundi and Zimbabwe. During the second year of the project, Fahamu is working with organisations in Mali, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea. The interesting or rather strange fact is that few of those organisations knew about the African Court of Human and People’s Rights. Even those who were aware of the Court’s existence had not considered approaching it.
There is a sense of mistrust among many Africans with regards to the ability of national and regional courts to bring about justice to victims of violations of human rights. What complicates further the work of regional mechanisms such as the African Court of Justice and Human Rights is that member states play a major role in ensuring the success of the Court’s activities. In many cases, member states are, in one way or the other, involved in perpetrating violations of human rights.
For that reason, those organisations that Fahamu works with in the above-mentioned countries had not included the Court as one of the avenues of bringing about justice. Perhaps members of the civil society organisations could advocate for more powers and freedoms for regional mechanisms such as the Court in order to motivate many people to approach them. Another issue that ought to be the focus of civil society’s advocacy work is issue of adequate support including financial and human resources. Inadequate resources slow down the Court’s work thus unable to serve as many people as needed.
Finally, the Court has to be as accessible as possible so that any African, not only those from member states that are party to the protocol establishing the Court can easily access it. The issue of accessibility can also be enhanced by establishing representations of the Court in different regions or countries within the continent.
In brief, Fahamu’s experience has been characterised by the fact that many of our partners did not know that the Court existed and even those who are aware of its existence are still facing multiple challenges as well as having some scepticism as to whether the Court can really bring about justice. The Court will have to do more to increase its public image and reputation.
I am curious about the current status or outcome of the political process at the level of the African Union (AU) to try to merge the African Court of Human and People's Rights with the African Court of Justice (thus expanding the African Court's mandate to also include international criminal law). (Sources consulted: 2008 Protocol, civil society letter here, and opinion article here.)
Does the 2008 Protocol still need more states' votes? What are civil society organizations' perspectives on this proposal?
Good question Charles. According to the African Union website only three States have so far ratified the protocol merging the two courts: http://www.africa-union.org/root/au/Documents/Treaties/list/Protocol%20on%20Statute%20of%20the%20African%20Court%20of%20Justice%20and%20HR.pdf So it looks quite a way off still. But would be great to hear from others (Ibrahima?) who have a better idea of the status
Jennifer shared a great question to the participants of this conversation, in our first discussion topic and I wanted to share it here to encourage you all to share specific examples of how these regional mechanisms have been engaged as part of a larger advocacy strategy:
The Advocates for Human Rights has participated with partners in bringing human rights issues before a couple of the regional mechanisms. We know that information from our submission to the ACHPR on LGBTI rights in Cameroon was also useful for the United Nations Human Rights Council during Cameroon's Universal Periodic Review last year. Can others share some good examples of how they have used cases/processes/outcomes from the regional human rights mechanisms in their larger advocacy strategy (whether national or international)?
Share your experiences and stories!
- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder
I'd like to share two things on this topic.
First, a series of videos that CEJIL produced during the process of reflection on the Inter-American System (2011 - 2013), a time during which various States of the region advanced proposals that would have altered some of the Inter-American System's (and especially the Commission's) core competencies. In order to bring the voices of victims and survivors into this political debate at the level of the Organization of American States, we produced videos featuring victims and advocates with whom we had worked in some of our most emblematic cases, so that they could tell stories of their experiences obtaining justice through the Inter-American System:
These videos aired on Canal Capital in Colombia and were re-broadcast in several settings. In addition to discussing realities of the region and outcomes in the IAS, they gave a voice to civil society that had been absent in those debates and, in the end, were decisive in defending some of the Inter-American System's core competencies.
Second, regarding Kristin's question, one practice that we've recently adopted for certain countries in which CEJIL works is to send short submissions outlining States' pendings obligations from Inter-American Court judgments and IACHR recommendations before the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, and other UN bodies and special mandate-holders, in order to amplify the achievements of the regional system and ensure coordination between the universal system and the regional system. Yesterday I mentioned a few examples of outcomes when we combine UN and IAS advocacy around given issues and cases.
As regards domestic advocacy, because of our particular impact litigation model we always try to litigate Inter-American System cases together with co-counsel from national or local human rights organizations, who are connected to social movements and civil society networks in their countries. There is also a significant amount of communications work that goes into implementation.
After all, once the judicial (or quasi-judicial) work of "winning" a case at the international level is finished, the political work of bridging the gap between rights and remedies begins. We have some publications about best practices in implementation of standards:
Wow, thanks for these great resources and examples, Charles! The videos are awesome - what a great way to show the power of these mechanisms. And it's so interesting to hear about you've used the acheivements from your cases in other ways, on the international and local levels.
I'd like to highlight your last point about how challenging it can be to actually implement (if that's the right word for this context) the judgements that are made. If any of you have examples of how you have successfully (or unsuccessfully) strengthened the implementation of judgements, please share those examples and lessons-learned here!
- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder
As we discussed earlier in the week, regional human rights advocacy can take a variety of forms. Many advocates will attest that litigation (or complaints procedures) can be most effective when part of a larger advocacy strategy. Moreover, achieving real accountability or reform often requires significant efforts towards implementation even after a favorable decision from a regional human rights body.
Regional human rights litigation has been part of campaigns that led to some remarkable and diverse advances in human rights. For example, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ decisions have led, directly and indirectly, to important changes throughout the hemisphere, including: enhanced criminalization of violence against women, new legislation protecting indigenous land rights, repeal or inapplication of amnesty laws that had prevented the prosecution of individuals responsible for serious human rights abuses, and the creation of an objective film classification system to prevent excessive censorship. As Charles has indicated, CEJIL has played a leading role in much of this advocacy and litigation.
Advocates have addressed a wide range of human rights issues at the regional level, as the following sampling of cases only begins to illustrate:
Decisions by regional bodies can also have an impact in other geographic places. Advocates can, and often do, cite judgments from other systems to support their arguments for accountability. For example, see this compilation of References to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights.
Additional Case Studies
In addition to the cases and strategies mentioned in this conversation, see the websites of the following organizations for other examples: Open Society Foundations, INTERIGHTS, REDRESS, IHRDA, Article 19, JUSTICE, and CEJIL, among others.
A few books provide in-depth case studies on human rights advocacy, including at the regional level, among them: Human Rights Advocacy Stories and Campaigning for Justice. For a personal look at the history and impact of the European Court of Human Rights’ judgments, I recommend A People’s History of the European Court of Human Rights.
See the European Court of Human Rights’ webpage on Landmark judgments for a select list of key decisions.
And, in the International Justice Resource Center’s News Room, we have featured some of the significant decisions from the African, European and Inter-American systems in recent years.
Information on Implementation & Impact
CEJIL’s Executive Director, Viviana Krsticevic, and Michael Camilleri review implementation of Inter-American decisions and judgments in their article, Making International Law Stick: Reflections on Compliance in the Inter-American Human Rights System.
In another article, James Cavallaro (now a member of the Inter-American Commission) and Stephanie Brewer take a critical view of compliance with the Inter-American Court’s decisions and suggest ways in which on-the-ground impact could be enhanced: Reevaluating Regional Human Rights Litigation in the Twenty-First Century: The Case of the Inter-American Court.
Thanks for sharing these great examples and resources, Lisa! One example that I found through your REDRESS link that was particularly interesting (and understandable to someone like me who is not a lawyer) is Leopoldo Garcia Lucero v. Chile:
Leopoldo Garcia Lucero was subjected to enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, physical and psychological torture and other ill-treatment in Chile under the Pinochet regime. Shortly after the military coup, on 11 September 1973, Mr García was arrested and taken to the National Stadium, the largest detention camp in Santiago, Chile's capital, for the imprisoned, tortured and executed in 1973. Mr García then spent more than a year in other concentration camps. During his imprisonment, he was repeatedly tortured. As a consequence of the beatings, he lost most of his teeth, his face was disfigured and his spine severely damaged. He has been disabled since then. In 1975 Pinochet’s government forcibly expelled him and put on a plane to the United Kingdom, where he received refugee status. Mr García and his family left behind all their relatives, friends and possessions.
REDRESS submitted a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2002 arguing that Mr. Garcia Lucero’s rights under Articles 8 and 25 of the American Convention on Human Rights had been violated as he has not been provided with an effective remedy and full and adequate reparation for what happened to him. The Commission found the case admissible in 2005. REDRESS had a working group meeting and formal hearing before the Commission in 2008 in order to try to reach a friendly settlement with Chile, but no agreement materialised. In 2011, the Commission sent the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for a hearing. Mr Garcia, his wife and three daughters are victims in the case.
In 2012, REDRESS made submissions to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in particular on the issue of admissibility, as the torture took place before Chile ratified the American Charter on Human Rights. Based on the Charter and the Court's own jurisprudence, REDRESS argued that violations of victims' rights to access justice (investigation, sanctions, adequate reparation) are independent from the so called ‘substantive’ violation of torture. In cases where the Inter-American Court has not been able to establish a substantive violation of article 3 (freedom from torture), for instance due to lack of evidence, it has found procedural violations under articles 3 and 13.
On 14 February 2013, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights specified the modalities of witness (including expert witness) participation in the case.The Court considered Mr García’s case on 20 and 21 March 2013. Mr García testified during the hearing that took place on 20 March.
On 28 August 2013, the Inter-American Court issued its judgment. It ordered Chile to pay Mr. García £ 20,000 in moral damages and ordered it to continue and finalise a criminal investigation “within a reasonable time.” It also urged Chile to provide adequate funding to Mr. García to cover the costs of his treatment in the UK for continuing medical and psychological ailments.
On 7 February 2014, Mr García received a formal apology and reparations from the Chilean government at its embassy in London. In doing so, the Chilean ambassador stated that "saying sorry does not erase physical or psychological pain; neither does it relieve the suffering of relatives and loved ones. However, it is an act of contrition. It makes us confront our shameful past acts, come to repent them, and ensure that they are never repeated."
The Inter- American Commission will present its Annual Report to the OAS in 30 minutes. The live webcast is available here:
This is a great conversation! Something I would be interested to hear from any of you is whether there have been any studies, informal or formal comparing and contrasting the effectiveness of the various regional human rights bodies - the time it takes to bring a case, percentage of successful and unsuccessful cases, how well known they are in their respective regions. What are the reasons for differences - length of time established, public profile, credibility, other. Maybe I am jumping the gun to the Thursday/Friday focus but these are issues that I would be curious to hear more about.
Susan Atwood, New Tactics program manager
Hi Susan, that is a great idea! I don't know of any such studies, but I would love to see one.
I don't have the exact statistics, but I understand that the African Commission and the African Court have received and dealt with far fewer cases than their counterparts in Europe and the Americas - is this because of age, resources, public profile etc?
While the different regional mechanisms have different 'characters' and work in their own ways, there are certainly areas in which they can learn from each other. Personally, I'd really like to learn more on how civil society has influenced the development (and growth?) of the work of the IACHR - what can activists from other areas learn from this?
Perhaps Charles can help share some insight on this topic, but in my understanding, civil society in the Americas has played a key role in the professionalization and development of the Inter-American Commission, its Executive Secretariat, and its mandate. Through regular engagement with the IACHR, organizations have been able to identify - and work to address - the ways in which the Commission could be more responsive to human rights conditions on the ground, better able to address violations in a timely manner, and more accessible to victims and advocates.
Through relationships with staff members at the Executive Secretariat, meetings with Commissioners, and advocacy around / participation in the Organization of American States' discussions, civil society organizations have helped advocate for or support: greater clarity and consistency in the Commission's internal practices, the professionalization of the Executive Secretariat, the development of thematic areas of focus, the election of qualified Commissioners, etc.
Civil society has also contributed greatly to the development and consistency of the Inter-American doctrine (including by presenting well-reasoned and thoughtful petitions and briefs that draw on Inter-American and other human rights jurisprudence); helped draw the Commission's attention to particular areas of concern (by requesting thematic hearings and meeting with rapporteurs and providing detailed information on human rights practices and conditions); and has supplemented the Commission's work through organizations' own reports, trainings, and public education activities.
Most recently, the important role of civil society in both defending the IACHR (from potential threats to its independence, resources, mandate, and functions) and holding it to high standards was evident in the "reform" process of the past 2+ years. Civil society used a range of techniques, including the amazing CEJIL videos Charles shared yesterday, to raise awareness of the risks posed by potential changes to the IACHR's mandate, encourage and support other stakeholders in making their voices heard, and disseminating information about the key dates and decisions.
During the process, IJRC published a few articles that provide additional details on civil society's critical role:
The photo below shows a hearing with civil society and the IACHR on the strengthening process (Credit: Juan Manuel Herrera/OAS).
This is a really interesting question, and the kind of information Susan is asking about would certainly be useful for advocates (and the regional human rights institutions themselves) in knowing what kinds of changes, resources, and practices would help increase efficiency and effectiveness, as Rachel has indicated. This information would also be useful in identifying gaps in awareness or understanding of a regional human rights body, both generally and in terms of complying with the requirements for submitting an admissible complaint. There is certainly a sense that the European Court of Human Rights is better known within the populations of its Member States and has a higher level of State cooperation, and that this is, at least in part, because of its particular legal structure, full-time functioning, greater financial and human resources, and longer history.
While I can't think of any recent, comprehensive statistical or qualitative studies that compare the regional human rights systems, some of this information can be gleaned from each body's annual reports. For example, the Inter-American Commission’s annual report includes detailed information on the number of petitions that advance through each stage, the level of compliance with previous recommendations, and the size of its backlog. The European Court of Human Rights provides similar information on its Statistics webpage.
From an advocacy perspective, individuals and organizations will only very rarely be in a position of choosing from among the regional human rights systems (since no country is a member of more than one regional complaints procedure). However, overlapping jurisdiction between a regional human rights body and a United Nations human rights treaty body (or even a UN special procedure) is much more common. In such instances, the complainant or advocate should likely consider the following questions:
It seems to me that a comparative analysis of these regional mechanisms might be of interest to a funder out there - probably not something New Tactics would propose but how about the Advocates/others? Think it would be exciting and valuable to so many HRDs and very helpful in learning lessons from the experiences of the different regions so that civil sociey could generate proposals for reforms..
For people with experience working with the African Commission, can you comment on the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of shadow reporting? The Commission doesn't publish shadow reports online, so it's really hard to tell what issues have been raised and whether the concluding observations take them into account. And is there any sense of whether shadow reports have more influence when the author organizations attend the session and do direct lobbying with the Commissioners? Any case studies or examples would be really helpful.
Good question, Amy. Although Commission doesn't publish shadow reports, my sense is that they are effective. The Commissioners have limited sources of information for the review - the State's report, the outcomes of any country missions and any information received from NGOs. To make sure that the Commissioners actually see the report, I would send it to their individual email addresses (some of these are available on the website) or hand it to them in person. Attending the session and doing direct lobbying is the most effective way of making sure your concerns are heard.
The best way to assess whether your concerns have been raised would also be to attend the session in person. As has been noted, there are often long delays before the Concluding Observations are reported on the Commission's website (given that they need to be first adopted by the AU Assembly). Once they are published, the Concluding Observations contain a good amount of information but may not reflect some of the back and forth or nuances in the discussion. For example, I attended the review of Uganda in 2011. I was able to note that some of the issues that we had raised with Commissioners were also raised in the questions to the State (no way of knowing, of course, if that was actually due to our advocacy, but we think we made a contribution). I could also note that the State representatives, quite unusually, requested to consult in capital on all the questions and respond in writing before the next session. Normally they would consult by phone and respond later in the day. This request was quite reluctantly accepted. None of this was reflected in the report (http://www.achpr.org/files/sessions/49th/conc-obs/4th-2008-2010/achpr49_...), so having been there in person meant that we were able to follow up in our advocacy back in country. The same would true with other remarks made publicly during the session, but unlikely to be recorded in the official report.
I hope that helps! Some NGOs also tweet and webcast the session (depending on internet connection - it's notoriously bad in Banjul), but it can't be guaranteed that they'll pick up on all the points that interest you.
For more tips on engaging with the state reporting procedure, please see: www.ishr.ch/news/road-map-african-commission-human-and-peoples-rights
Great info and great resources - thanks for sharing this, Rachel!
For those of you interested to learn more about writing shadow reports you could take a look at our past online conversation on this topic where practitioners shared their experiences and lessons-learned.
If there are other examples of using shadow reports successfully or unsuccessfully with regional human rights mechanisms, please share those stories here!
- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder
Going back a little to the first three questions, I think there is interesting insight in both cited articles - Viviana's and Cavallaro's. In the first one, the authors claim that political dynamics and domestic legal structure can play a decisive role in implementation. The second one concludes that for a Court ruling to "rest on firm ground" civil society engagement and broad societal awareness are key factors. In our experience, I work at a Brazilian human rights organization called Justiça Global, what we do before starting ligitating a case and after it are as important as the litigation itself. Before presenting a case, building partnerships and networks with local actors are an indispensable part. It is not about an esporadic contact. There needs to be a solid and organic link between the organizations working the case. This does take a looot of time, but it makes all the difference once the litigation starts. We have bad experiences in cases where we worked with organizations that we didn't have this kind of connection - even if we did knew them for years and have worked with them before, but it was small and discontinued work - and good experiences when we did have this connection. Even if the litigation is not successful at a formal level, a ruling in our favor, in the second case we could better work around the apparent loss and come up with way to take some advantage of the situation - like expanding the network of involved actors.
Thank you, Eduardo for joining the discussion and raising these key points on the importance of:
For others interested, you can see Justica Global's work on their website: http://global.org.br/ which also gives a sense of the range of strategies that the organization uses to address human rights problems in Brazil, including through collaboration with other groups.
Would you be able to share an example of a specific case or situation in which these strategies were particularly important (or, more generally, what kinds of parternships have been productive in Justica Global's experience)? Thanks!
There is a failed attempt for precautionary measures that may fit. We've been working with an indigenous grass-roots movement called Cimi for a couple of years. We did not litigate cases together, but had other kind of cooperations - press releases, media campaigns and etc. After the forced disappearance of an important indigenous human rights defenders, they invited us for a strategic planning regarding possible international initiatives and after two days, we decided on presenting a request for precautionary measures. We worked on the facts for about a month and presented the case one or two weeks after that. In the end, we did not get the measures. The CIDH didn't issue any decision for more than a year. However, during that year we could strengthen our relations with Cimi, have a closer contact with the indigenous communities themselves and integrate a large initiative regarding the issue. Other organizations, like Fian, entered as co-petitioners during the year. We formed a stronger and more unified front. We had two or three fieldwork and started also to develop direct relations with the affected communities. Now, we have a couple more ideas on our minds and are starting a new phase, regarding international level ligitation and local level activies.