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After a U.S. Agent Killed a 15-Year-Old at the Border, the Supreme Court Will Decide If He Can Be Sued in Federal Court

By: Dianne Jahangani

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

WASHINGTON D.C. – On November 12, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether a government officer can be brought before a federal court for violating a foreigner’s constitutional rights when the act took place on foreign soil.

On July 7, 2010, a young 15-year-old national of Mexico, Sergio Adrián Hernández Güereca, was playing on the Mexican side of the border, unarmed and unthreatening when an U.S. Border Patrol agent, Jesus Mesa, shot Sergio twice, ultimately killing him.

As a result, Sergio’s parents, on behalf of Sergio, brought this lawsuit against Mesa. However, Mesa claimed immunity as a government officer at work, stating that Congress had not created laws which assign liability to agents as well as stating that those killed on foreign soil cannot sue American officers. Yet, the case is not that simple, as the young boy was shot across the border and Mesa discharged his weapon while on American soil. This creates an interesting legal issue and calls into question the scope of the U.S. Constitution.

To date, the Department of Justice has concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute under a federal homicide charge and that prosecutors lacked jurisdiction because Hernández was neither within the borders of the U.S. nor present on U.S. soil.

Despite the DOJ’s initial decision, the plaintiffs asserted that Agent Mesa used deadly force without justification against Sergio Hernández, thus violating the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. On behalf of the Hernández parents, the Institute for Justice filed an amicus brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to allow the parents of Sergio to sue the federal officer in federal court stating the following:

“The Fourth Amendment protects citizens against the arbitrary use of deadly force at the border, at least in the context of a close range, cross border shooting in a confined area patrolled by federal agents.”

After waiting several years, on November 12, the plaintiffs will finally have the ability to present their case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Although this is certainly a legal victory for the Hernández family, they are still fighting an uphill battle, since lower courts have previously ruled against the family:

“The Hernandez family argues that Mesa violated their son’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unconstitutional governmental searches and seizures, his death being the ultimate seizure. But the Fifth Circuit interpreted the prior precedent to preclude the Mexican parents from suing, citing special factors like national security, law enforcement, and diplomatic relations as concerns.”

Even if the Supreme Court disagrees with the lower court’s findings and rules in favor of the Hernández family, the family must still make the argument that the agent violated their son’s constitutional rights. This ultimate ruling will have far reaching consequences as it will effectively extend the scope of the Constitution to outside the U.S. borders.

The decision rendered in this landmark case will ultimately determine the scope of the U.S. Constitution and power delegated to U.S. agents at the borders and national security.

For further information, please see:

Quartz – A US border patrol agent killed a child in Mexico. Can the parents sue him? – 26 Oct. 2019

Institute for Justice – U.S. Supreme Court Will Decide: May Parents of a Mexican Teen Killed by a Federal Officer Sue in Federal Court to Vindicate Their Son’s Rights – 25 Oct. 2019

ABC News – Supreme Court hears case of teen shot dead in Mexico by border agent in US – 21 Feb. 2019

U.S. Supreme Court – Hernandez v. Mesa – March. 20 2018

 NPR – Mom of Cross-Border Shooting Victim ‘Still Waiting for Victory’ – 27 June. 2017

The New York Times – An Agent Shot a Boy Across the U.S. Border. Can His Parents Sue? – 17 Oct. 2016

Read the Petitioners’ Brief Here.

Stoian v. Romania: Disabled Boy’s Right to Education Denied by European Court of Human Rights

By: Mujtaba Ali Tirmizey

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

BUCHAREST, Romania — On June 25, 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (“ECHR”), in a highly controversial decision, held that Romania did not deny the right to education and did not discriminate against a disabled boy and his single mother.

Stefan Stoian, now 18 years old. Photo Courtesy of Validity.

Stefan Stoian, a young boy with quadriplegia born in 2001, and his single mother, Luminita Stoian, complained that two state schools failed to accommodate Stefan and were mostly inaccessible for wheelchair users. They allege that learning was not customized with respect to teaching or testing the curricula, and the variety of therapies that Stefan required were not available. Luminita had to provide her son with personal assistance during school time, including carrying him around, helping him go to the toilet, and helping him with his physiotherapy exercises.

Luminita turned to a number of authorities in Romania to request the support that Stefan needed. The Government argued that both schools had adequate facilities and authorities had taken steps to enhance and modify them over time. They argued that he benefited from some educational support, physiotherapy, and occupational therapy, and he was also provided a personal assistant for short periods. Minimal change resulted from years of litigation and complaints, so Luminita turned to ECHR in 2013.

The complaint alleged a violation of the right to respect for private and family life, prevention of discrimination, and right to education violations, claiming that the authorities failed to take required measures to conform with their obligations under both national law and the European Convention. The Court noted that the authorities determined that Stefan should attend mainstream schools, which aligned with international standards. The Government admitted that there were delays in making sure that the school buildings in question met adequate standards.

The applicants also relied on United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which Romania ratified in 2011. It acknowledges the right to education in comprehensive settings for children with disabilities and requires governments to provide support (reasonable accommodation and personal assistance) to attain full participation and inclusion for children with disabilities in mainstream schools. The Court held that the authorities had not turned a blind eye to Stefan’s needs, but had apportioned resources to his schools to accommodate his special needs. There were certain issues along the way, but some of those problems had been generated by Luminita herself. As a result, the Court found that the authorities had complied with their obligations, and therefore, did not violate the Articles of the Convention.

The Court’s holding that fundamental rights of persons of disabilities are predominantly a matter of resources that prohibits them from protection under the Convention is discouraging. Furthermore, how the Court reached their judgment is troublesome: the case was downgraded to a three-judge Committee level, facts were distorted, Government’s views were given more weight and meaningful scrutiny was not applied. This case exposes the degree to which children with disabilities are marginalized and denied justice, and they are running out of options regarding what litigation strategies may produce an encouraging result at the Court.

For further information, please see:

Strasbourg Observers – Stoian v. Romania: The Court’s Drift on Disability Rights Intensifies – 5 Sept. 2019

European Court of Human Rights – Romania Took Sufficient Steps to Make Reasonable Accommodation for Disabled Child to Attend School – 25 June 2019

Validity – Romania: Justice denied for Stefan Stoian after a decade of legal action – 28 June 2019

Russian Film Producer’s Freedom of Expression Rights Violated

By: Mujtaba Ali Tirmizey

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

MOSCOW, Russia — On September 10, 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) held that the refusal to grant a film reproduction license is a violation of Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights which concerns freedom of expression. 

Russian national, Sergey Pryanishnikov, is a producer who owns the copyright for over 1,500 erotic films. After receiving approval for public distribution of his films, Pryanishnikov’s application for a film reproduction license was rejected by the Russian Ministry of the Press in 2003 because he was deemed to be “involved in illegal production, advertising and distribution of erotic and pornographic material and films.”

In 2004, Pryanishnikov contested the rejection before the Commercial Court of Moscow, but the court upheld the decision. The court reasoned that while Pryanishnikov had never been officially charged with the distribution of pornography and had only been interrogated by the police as a witness, since no determination had yet been made in the criminal proceedings, “it could not be ruled out that he was involved in the illegal production of pornographic films.”

Later in 2004, the Appeal Court and Court of Cassation upheld the judgment of the lower courts with both courts using similar reasoning to make their decision. In 2005, relying on Article 10, Pryanishnikov filed a complaint with the ECHR.

The Court concluded that the refusal to issue a film reproduction license interfered with Pryanishnikov’s freedom of expression. The Court conceded that protecting morals and the rights of others, in particular shielding children from access to pornographic material, were justifiable goals. However, when determining whether the interference was also “necessary in a democratic society”, the Court noted that the lower court decisions had been based on assumptions rather than reasoned findings of fact. More specifically, the Russian courts did not rely on any document from the criminal case file indicating that Pryanishnikov was suspected of that offense. As a matter of fact, they had explicitly mentioned that he had been involved in the investigation as a witness rather than a suspect.

Additionally, the Court stated that the lower courts did not weigh either the impact their decision would have on Pryanishnikov’s ability to distribute all the films for which he had distribution certificates or his freedom of expression in general. In particular, they failed to perform a balancing test between the right to freedom of expression and the need to protect public morals and the rights of others, resulting in an unjustifiable restriction of freedom of expression. 

This decision is significant because it overturned four consecutive domestic judgments suppressing freedom of expression in Russia. Ideally, following this ECHR decision, citizens’ rights to freedom of expression in other member states will be respected more. By applying the suggested balancing test, future freedom of expression decisions might be more uniform and proportionally reasoned to reach sound judgments. 

For further information, please see:

European Court of Human Rights – Film Reproduction License Refused Because of Mere Suspicions: Violation of the Right to Freedom of Expression – 10 Sept. 2019

BAILII – Case of Pryanishnikov v. Russia – 10 Sept. 2019

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

U.S. Continues to Denounce Relations with the United Nations

By: Brianna Ferrante
Impunity Watch Reporter, North American Desk

The State department has ceased communications on all new and outstanding inquiries from special rapporteurs at the United Nations’ Human Rights Council.

Human Rights Council meeting. Photo Courtesy of The United Nations.
Special rapporteurs are a network of independent experts appointed by the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. The specialized division is tasked with acting as global monitors of human rights and war crimes around the world.
The most pertinent challenge facing the group is non-compliance with its investigatory processes by governments.  In addition,  persistent lack of resources coupled with weak measures that have little to no viable implementation methods further frustrate the the group’s objective. With a multitude of variables beyond its control, the special rapporteurs operation in this capacity is highly dependent on the influence of nations that demonstrate cooperation.
The United States has not responded to any UN requests for compliance on investigations into potential human rights abuses since May 7, 2018. There are currently 13 outstanding, unanswered investigation requests. The majority of these investigations are in relation to migrants at southern border.
The final May 7th correspondence occurred about a month and a half before Trump Administration formally announced it had withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council.
A January 14th report from the Human Rights Watch as part of its annual review contained its most recent “List of Issues” regarding the United States. The report was primarily focused on the country’s mass incarceration and disproportionate sentencing, along with proposed recommendations and additional past recommendations that had been on the same issue.
The continual denial of cooperation places the US among the likes of nations such as North Korea, who has traditionally denied any cooperation with UN investigations into its conduct.
According to a 2010 study by the Brookings Institute, America’s place in the global system yields immense influence over other nations, which makes its public non-compliance with the UN’s human rights efforts particularly problematic. While the nation serves as a catalyst for advancing human rights when its administration is readily and willing to comply with the council’s inquiries, continual refusal to do say establishes a precedent that could result in other nation’s following suit.
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