The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Rejects Assange Complaint Against Ecuador

By: Justin Furry

Special Feature Reporter

Last month, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights rejected the request for precautionary measures requested by the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange against Ecuador. Assange has been taking refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy since 2012 to avoided being extradited to Sweden, where authorities were seeking to question him as part of a sexual assault investigation. Although that investigation was later dropped, Assange fears he could be extradited to and face charges in the United States, where WikiLeaks is currently being investigated by federal prosecutors.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Photo Courtesy of AP Photo.

Assange’s complaint against Ecuador arises out of new set of rules imposed by Ecuador. In October 2018, Ecuador forced Assange to comply with a new “cohabitation protocol.” These new rules forced Assange to take responsibility for his maintenance, health, food, cleaning and laundry expenses, as well putting restrictions on who could visit him and when. The Ecuadorian government has said that if Assange fails to comply with the new rules, then it would lead to a potential withdrawal of Assange from asylum.

Assange says Ecuador is seeking to end his asylum and is putting pressure on him by isolating him from visitors and spying on him. A friend who regularly visits Assange says he complains privately that the Ecuadorian government recently removed embassy diplomats who were sympathetic to Assange and replaced them with officials who are much less friendly towards him. Assange’s lawyers have also cited media reports suggesting Ecuador’s president Lenin Moreno had tried to reach an agreement with the United States on handing over Assange to the United States government in exchange for debt relief.

Assange’s complaint to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights argued the existence of a “potential risk” to his situation in the embassy for the conditions that regulate his asylum granted in 2012. Assange also demanded that he be protected from extradition to the United States. In November 2018, United States federal prosecutors mistakenly made public a document which suggested that Assange had been secretly indicted by the United States. United States Officials have denied that Assange has been charged and his name mistakenly appeared in the document in an apparent “cut and paste error.”

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights announced its decision to reject Assange’s complaint through a statement issued by the United State’s Attorney General’s Office. The Attorney General’s Office stated “(t)he decision was based on the fact that the request filed by Assange did not comply with the requirements of gravity, urgency and irreparable harm provided for in Article 25 of the Rules of Procedure of the IACHR.” Although the Commission rejected Assange’s complaint against Ecuador, they did remind Ecuador of an international law which states “that no state should deport, return or extradite someone to another country where that person might face human rights abuses.”

With his complaint against Ecuador being rejected, it seems like only option for Assange is to comply with the new rules imposed by Ecuador or possibly face a withdrawal of his asylum.

For further information, please see:

Reuters – Human rights agency rejects Assange complaint against Ecuador – 14 March 2019

Telesur – IACHR Denies Precautionary Measures Requested by Assange – 13 March 2019

Telesur – IACHR Requests Information on Assange’s Condition – 1 February 2019

Sputnik International – OAS Requests Info on Assange’s Conditions in Ecuadorian Embassy in UK – 1 February 2019

What Have We Learned From the Rwandan Genocide?

The legacy of Rwanda’s genocide has some compelling messages about the impact of hate speech and why words matter.

By: Cora True-Frost

A memorial to the thousands who were killed in and around the Catholic church during the 1994 genocide is seen outside a church in Ntarama, Rwanda on Friday. Photo Courtesy of The Associated Press.

THIS FIRST WEEK OF April marks the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, a three-month long massacre during which Hutu militants killed an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus after the Hutu president was killed. The international community responded to the atrocities late, and then sought accountability after the genocide by establishing the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda (ICTR) to try those most responsible.

It is important that we remember the horror of the genocide and reflect on the mistakes made, in order to work toward a more peaceful future. One of the main takeaways from the ICTR’s atrocity trials is that words matter.

The world of the Rwandan genocide may to most people seem far removed from the United States. It does not to me. I am a law professor who grew up an Army brat, often abroad. I graduated high school in Nuremberg in the former West Germany – the site of the famous Nuremberg Tribunal held in the wake of the Holocaust. I know that words matter. Always mindful of the horrors of the Holocaust and the ways that democratic majorities can scapegoat and dehumanize minorities, my professional focus has been in constitutional and international law.

The law, and particularly international criminal trials, should teach us about past mistakes. The legacy of Rwanda’s genocide has some compelling messages for American people about the power of our words, and the danger of hate speech. Few of us are immune to the polarizing media coverage. Our leaders and media pundits use generalizations about cultures and fear-mongering to drive home support for policy in a very profound and impactful way. Creating hate as opposed to understanding will lead to repeat mistakes. This week in particular, we should heed the legacy of Rwanda’s genocide, reminding our nation of what can happen when we don’t identify and speak about the impact that fear has on our united psyche.

We Americans know words matter. We famously have strong free-speech protections. We are outliers in the international community for refusing to penalize hate speech. However, even those of us with the strongest commitments to free speech understand that speech can be dangerous and even constitute incitement.

Indeed, many terrorist prosecutions turn on speech acts. The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda recognized the power of speech to lead to violence when it upheld the convictions of key figures in the genocide: Hassan Ngeze, former editor of the Kangura newspaper; Ferdinand Nahimana, an historian and founder of Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM); and Jean-Bosco Baryagwiza, a Rwandan diplomat and executive committee chairman of RTLM. The print and broadcast media fomented and disseminated statements of broad hatred of the Tutsi ethnic group through aggressive and demeaning rhetoric, even labeling the opposition as “inyenzi” (cockroaches) and calling for their extermination.

Today, our leaders’ rhetoric is running too close to past mistakes. Words matter. America’s highest leaders’ refer to undocumented migrants alternately as “rapists,” “bad guys” or “criminals” who “infest” our country. We Americans must demand change in that practice, and heed the lesson of the Rwandan tribunal: that there is often a thin line between hate speech and hate crime.

Professor Susan Benesch’s work on dangerous speech can be helpful in discerning that line. We can regard with extra vigilance: speech by powerful speakers who have a high degree of influence over their audience; situations in which an audience has grievances and fears; speech that either explicitly or implicitly calls for violence; contexts that include past acts of violence, including a lack of efforts to confront or solve these acts of violence; and means of dissemination that may be the primary or sole news source for the relevant audience.

In our country, reported hate crimes have risen three years consecutively, including a 17 percent rise from 2017 to 2018, according to the FBI. Indeed, the FBI director cites white nationalism and violent extremism as threats to the U.S., even as our president says he “does not really see white nationalism as a threat.” Our increasingly polarized media leaves a chasm of understanding between us Americans.

To honor the lives unnecessarily lost in the Rwandan genocide, we Americans can, while embracing our culture of free speech and free media, ensure that we treat all people, whatever their nationality, as human beings deserving of respect.

C. Cora True-Frost is an associate professor at the Syracuse University College of Law and director of Impunity Watch.

African Court Dismisses Unemployment Case Against Rwanda

By: Hannah Gabbard
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

ARUSHA, Tanzania – On May 11, 2018, the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) dismissed Chrysanthe Rutabingwa’s claim against the government of Rwanda as invalid.

Spectators at the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights. Photo Courtesy of AfCHPR on Twitter.

In 2001, Rutabingwa was fired from his position as an Audit and Evaluations Expert at the Ministry of Finance for allegedly disclosing confidential documents. Rutabingwa claimed that his dismissal was unfair and unconstitutional. In particular, Rutabingwa claimed that the Republic of Rwanda, for failing to solve Rutabingwa’s unemployment, violated his right to equality and equal protection, right to be heard, right of access to public services, right to work in equitable conditions and right to equal pay, and right to enjoy favorable work conditions.

Rutabingwa appealed to AfCHPR on November 10, 2014 against the Republic of Rwanda. He sought reimbursement of salaries dating back to 2001, government provided housing, reinstatement of public service employment, and $1,000,000 U.S. dollars for damages and humiliation.

In Rwanda, Rutabingwa filed in a court of first instance. Following their judgement, the High Court dismissed Rutabingwa’s claim. Rutabingwa never appealed to Rwanda’s highest court, the Supreme Court. AfCHPR dismissed Rutabingwa’s case for failing to exhaust local remedies in Rwanda before appealing to AfCHPR in Tanzania.

AfCHPR has ruled on four cases against the Rwandan government. As Rwanda’s withdrawal from the declaration that provides the court with jurisdiction took effect in 2017, AfCHPR can only proceed with cases filed prior to 2017.

For further information, please see:

African Union – Chrysanthe Rutabingwa vs. Republic of Rwanda Order – 11 May 2018

African Union – Chrysanthe Rutabingwa vs. Republic of Rwanda Judgement – 11 May 2018

The East African – Rwanda government wins longstanding court feud with sacked employee – 16 May 2018

EHCR Condemns Greece for Inhumane Treatment of Underage Migrants

By: Brianna Ferrante
Impunity Watch News, Europe

PARIS, France – The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has condemned Greece for their treatment of children refugees in a series of cases dating back as early as 2016.

Unaccompanied minors awaiting processing at detainment center in central Greece. Photo courtesy of Socrates Baltagiannis Photo

In its February 28th decision, the ECHR’s judgment ordered Greece to pay a total of €4,000 to each of nine migrants who were between the ages of 14 and 17 at the time of their detainment. Six of the individuals were from Syria, two were from Iraq, and one was from Morocco.

Investigation discovered the police and border cells that underage migrants and refugees were being held in post-arrival were entirely unsustainable and isolated living conditions, particularly for the period of time they were held there which ranged from 21 to 33 days.

Complainants alleged that while in this period of “protective custody,” they were subjected to overcrowding within cells, a lack of heating, adequate ventilation or lighting, poor food quality, no outside time, and having to sleep on the floor. There was additionally little to no medical care. The migrants were later transferred to the Diavata refugee camp, and later to separate special facilities for minors.

The ECHR determined that given the length of the holding period, the conditions were degrading and constituted unlawful detention.

In its judgment of this matter: H.A. and Others v. Greece, the ECHR unanimously held Greece liable for violations of: 1) Article 3 prohibition on inhumane or degrading treatment; 2) Article 13 ensuring a right to effective remedy for Article 3 violations; and 3) Articles 5 §§ 1 and 3 ensuring a right to liberty and security / a right to speedy decision on the lawfulness of a detention measure.

The complainants also sought remedy on allegations the Diavata camp was similarly uninhabitable. However, the Court concluded the living conditions at the camp had not exceeded the threshold of seriousness necessary for being actionable under Article 3.

The court gave significant deference to a statement from the National Service of Social Solidarity (“EKKA”), a European committee against the torture and detainment of unaccompanied minors. The statement was in regards for living conditions for minority aged refugees: “holding minors for several days or weeks without providing adequate psychological or social assistance was unacceptable and an actionable deprivation of liberty protected under Article 5 § 1.

In rendering this judgment, the court’s reasoning parallels to its 2012 decision in which it condemned Italy for breaching fundamental human rights when the country’s coastguards intercepted Eritrean and Somali migrant vessels and mandated their recourse. This decision communicated that the facets of the European Convention are expected to be applied in the realm of migration control and treatment.

For more information, please visit:

The National Herald- ECHR Orders Greece’s Payment of Judgment to Migrants- March 1, 2019.

INFOMigrants- ECHR Slams Greece & France for its Treatment of Migrant Children- March 1, 2019.

DPA International- France & Greece Condemned For Treatment of Minor Refugees- February 28, 2019.

The Globe Post- Migrant Containment at All Costs- What is Left of European Humanity?- Feb. 14, 2019.

African Court and United Nations to Strengthen Relationship

By: Skylar Salim
Impunity Watch News, Africa

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — On February 9, 2019, an agreement was signed between the United Nations and the African Court on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) at the 32nd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of African States in Addis Ababa. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, and the president of the African court, Sylvain Oré, met and signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).

Sylvain Oré and Michelle Bachelet at the signing the MoU at the African Union‘s 32nd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of African State and Government. Photo courtesy of CaptialFM.

In September, 2018, ACHPR judges and UN human rights experts met to discuss the issue of the death penalty. This meeting in September drove the UN and the Court to negotiate and sign the MoU. The agreement is designed to strengthen the working relationship between the United Nations and the African Court. The African Court is an institution composed of judges from the African Union that meets four times a year.  The court works to enhance and protect human rights in Africa. Bachelet has noted that, “The Court is a critically important mechanism for the promotion and protection of peoples’ and human rights in Africa, and it is an invaluable partner in the region”. During the signing ceremony for the MoU, Oré stated, “The Court and the UN Office share common values on humanity, including the culture of promoting and protecting human rights.”

Through the agreement, the UN and the court will work toward supporting each other on international and regional levels. The agreement indicates that the institutions will work together when it comes to conceiving and implementing human rights standards in Africa, and what practices are best suited for regional courts such as the ACHPR. Possible activities discussed in the agreement include the UN increasing their knowledge of the practice and jurisprudence of the ACHPR, while the Court will work to understand the work done by the UN Treaty Bodies. Bachelet observed that, “[the UN] already had a good relationship with African human rights system as a whole.” She went on to note that, “however, with this agreement, we are taking it to another level. It will enable us to improve the synergies between the two organizations. The Court is a critically important mechanism for the promotion and protection of peoples’ and human rights in Africa, and it is an invaluable partner in the region.”

For further information, please see:

CapitalFMKenya — African Court Signs MoU with UN to Strengthen Relations — 11 February 2019

CNBC Africa — UN Human Rights Office and African Court on Human and People’s Rights Sign Cooperation Agreement — 11 February 2019

IPP Media — African Court and UN Rights Office Sign MoU to Strengthen Relations — 11 February 2019