In multiple countries, allegations of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church have led to lawsuits against dioceses and clergy, and the establishment of investigation and claims commissions. However, because of the relatively muted response of the Holy See to the scandals, in some countries, victims have also filed tort suits in domestic courts against the Holy See directly. This has, for instance, happened in the United States, but also in Belgium. In 2011, a group of victims filed suit in the District Court of Ghent against, among other defendants, the Holy See. The victims asked the court to hold the Holy See liable in tort for its failure to take action against the abuses. The District Court and, subsequently, the Court of Appeal dismissed the claim on the ground that the Holy See enjoys immunity from suit. Claiming that their right of access to a court under Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) had been violated, the victims went on to file an application against Belgium at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). On 12 October 2021, the ECtHR rendered its judgment in the case (J.C. and others v Belgium, only available in French).
Universal jurisdiction is a tool to provide accountability for international crimes, such as war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity and torture. As these crimes shock the conscience of mankind, the universality principle allows any state to bring to justice perpetrators of such crimes, regardless of the place where the crimes were committed or the nationality of the presumed offender or victim. While many states formally provide for universal jurisdiction in their criminal codes, they do not often exercise it. And when they do so, they tend to be motivated by national interests rather than international community interests (see Ryngaert 2019, Kontorovich 2019 and Mégret 2015 for scholarly observations).
On 8 January 2021, the Seoul Central District Court of South Korea rejected Japan’s State immunity plea in a case brought by twelve ‘comfort women’ who were forcibly subjected to systemic sexual enslavement by the Japanese military before and during World War II (an English translation of the judgment is available here). The court held Japan liable for these practices and entitled each of the women to 100 million KRW (approximately 77,000 EUR). In this post, we note that this decision is in tension with the judgment of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Jurisdictional Immunities Case (Germany v Italy; Greece intervening, 2012). In this judgment, the ICJ held that a foreign State, even if accused of committing international crimes, remains entitled to immunity from jurisdiction under customary international law. However, we also argue that international law in this field may be in flux, in the sense that an exception to State immunity regarding international crimes may be emerging. Furthermore, even if such an exception has not emerged just yet, domestic courts may refuse to give effect to relevant international immunity norms to the extent that they clash with constitutionally protected fundamental rights, such as the right of access to a court.
Vliegen is slecht voor het klimaat, en de coronacrisis is slecht voor vliegmaatschappijen zoals KLM. Nederland komt met miljarden euro’s over de brug om KLM te steunen, maar aan die noodsteun zijn geen harde klimaatvoorwaarden verbonden. Greenpeace stapt daarom naar de rechter: volgens de milieuorganisatie mag de Staat deze uitgelezen kans om te zorgen dat KLM meer doet voor het klimaat niet zomaar laten liggen. Zodoende rijst de vraag of de noodsteun aan KLM in de huidige vorm onrechtmatig is. In deze blog verken ik een aantal argumenten van Greenpeace, en bespreek ik of de Staat op het eerste gezicht in strijd handelt met een ongeschreven zorgvuldigheidsplicht.
Op 18 september 2020 stelde het Nederlandse kabinet Syrië middels een diplomatieke nota internationaalrechtelijk aansprakelijk voor grove mensenrechtenschendingen, in het bijzonder foltering, die door het Syrische regime sinds 2011 zouden zijn gepleegd. De Kamer werd hiervan gelijk op de hoogte gebracht. De Syrische regering reageerde afwijzend op de nota en beschuldigde Nederland er op haar beurt van op onrechtmatige wijze Syrische ‘terroristen’ te hebben gesteund. De Nederlandse actie is vermoedelijk de opmaat voor een juridische procedure tegen Syrië voor het Internationaal Gerechtshof. In deze post bespreek ik de internationale rechtsbasis en juridische implicaties van dit opmerkelijke Nederlandse optreden. Tevens verwijs ik naar enkele internationale precedenten hiervoor.
De Nederlandse Staat en milieuvereniging Urgenda zijn het erover eens dat de opwarming van de aarde beperkt moet blijven, maar ze zijn het erover oneens hoe snel de Nederlandse broeikasgasuitstoot moet worden gereduceerd. Urgenda wil een reductie van 25% voor 2020, de Staat vindt dat te snel en te ingrijpend, en richt zich liever op zijn klimaatdoel voor 2030. Urgenda krijgt in alle drie de instanties gelijk van de rechter. Waarom vinden Urgenda en de rechters dat de Staat veel extra klimaatmaatregelen in korte tijd moeten treffen? In deze blog sta ik stil bij enkele feiten uit het Urgenda-proces die het belang van Nederland bij adequate klimaatmaatregelen onderstrepen, en leg ik uit waar de 25% norm vandaan komt. Lees verder
Five years ago, I wrote a Ucall blogpost on the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Jaloud v the Netherlands (2014), which concerned the 2004 death of Mr Jaloud in southern Iraq. Mr Jaloud died from gunfire at a vehicle checkpoint which was at the time under the authority and control of Dutch troops participating in the Stabilization Force in Iraq (SFIR). It is recalled that the ECtHR held that the Dutch investigation into the circumstances surrounding Jaloud’s death failed to meet the standards required by Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and thus that the Netherlands had breached its procedural obligations regarding the right to life. The ECtHR’s judgment paved the way for further litigation regarding Jaloud’s violent death. Subsequent to the judgment, Jaloud’s father filed a civil suit against the Dutch State in the District Court of The Hague (hereafter ‘Hague District Court’), which rendered an interlocutory judgment on 20 November 2019. Lees verder
Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR or the Convention) provides that in time of war or other public emergencies a State may derogate from most of its human rights obligations. This derogation clause grants a State a wide discretion to determine the reasons and the duration of a derogation as well as the aptness of emergency measures. The rationale is that a State is best placed to determine what constitutes a public emergency and how to restore order in its territory.
Nevertheless, such a discretionary power inherently leaves room for abuse. In the context of derogations, worrisome practices are not scarce in our present times, where crisis and emergencies (under the notions of terrorism, mass migration etc.) are pronounced lightly. In this vein, it is of pivotal importance that States’ derogation practices are exposed to strict scrutiny by international supervisory mechanisms.
At the level of the Council of Europe (CoE), the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR or the Strasbourg Court) was the sole mechanism to exercise such a supervisory role. In addition, the Venice Commission has issued recommendations on certain derogation practices. However, it lacks the institutional mandate to engage in any meaningful supervisory function. This blog argues that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has, through its Resolution 2209 (2018), established a new layer of supervision of derogation regimes by empowering the Secretary General of the CoE to actively engage with derogation practices. This blog will, first, outline why the Strasbourg Court by itself is not capable to effectively supervise states of emergency and, second, whether this gap can be filled by the enhanced role of the Secretary General of the CoE. Lees verder
On 14 September 2019, I gave a presentation on cosmopolitanism and extraterritoriality at the annual conference of the European Society of International Law in Athens, Greece (panel on extraterritoriality). In this post I restate the main points of my presentation. This post also serves as a wrap-up of two research projects which I have carried out over the last five years, partly under Ucall auspices, on extraterritoriality and global values. These projects involved in total seven PhD researchers, whom I would like to wholeheartedly thank for their contributions. Two of these researchers were affiliated with Ucall (Lucas Roorda and Friederycke Haijer). A monograph bringing together the various parts of the project is forthcoming in spring 2020, provisionally titled ‘Selfless Intervention. The Exercise of Jurisdiction in the Common Interest’ (under contract with Oxford University Press). As cramming the research results of a large project into one blogpost is quite impossible, I will paint with a broad brush, and make choices. I will start by defining cosmopolitanism, and go on to explain how common interest-based reasoning may be inscribed into existing principles of jurisdiction, in particular territoriality. The first part of the post will be conceptual, while the second part will be more practical and doctrinal. Lees verder
In October 2018, the Central Criminal Court of the Spanish National Court (Audiencia Nacional) rejected the admission of two international rogatory commissions requested by the Argentinian courts in relation to the investigation of crimes against humanity. The alleged crimes relate to torture, murder, forced disappearance of persons and abduction of minors committed in Spain during the Francoist regime in the period between 15 July 1936 and 15 June 1977. These crimes are being investigated in Argentina under the principle of universal jurisdiction. This post analyses the legal arguments posed by the judicial authorities in Argentina and Spain to admit or reject the investigation into crimes against humanity committed during Franco’s dictatorship. Lees verder