European Rights Watch

France Violated Rights of French Children Detained in Syrian Detention Camps by Failing to Repatriate Them, UN Committee Finds

By: Holly Popple

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Senior Associate Editor

GENEVA, Switzerland — France violated French children’s rights by failing to repatriate them from Syrian detention camps in which they were detained for years in dangerous conditions, according to new findings issued by the UN Child Rights Committee.

Detainees at a detention camp in northern Syria in 2019. Photo courtesy of The New York Times.

The Child Rights Committee, which monitors States parties’ adherence to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, issued its findings after considering three separate cases filed by a group of French nationals whose relatives were currently detained in Rawj, Ayn Isa, and Hawl camps in northeastern Syria, which is under the control of Kurdish forces.

The three cases involved 49 children who were detained in these camps due to their parent’s alleged ties with Da’esh, an ISIL terrorist group. Of those 49 children for whom the cases were brought, 38 remain detained in these camps without a timeline for release. Most of these children are under twelve and many are as young as five years old.

In these findings, the Committee condemned France’s failure to repatriate these children based on the lack of due consideration given to the best interests of the child victims when reviewing requests for repatriation, in part due to the inhumane and life-threatening conditions endured by detainees. Committee member Ann Skelton commented on the state of the camps, saying, “The children are living in inhuman sanitary conditions, lacking basic necessities including water, food and healthcare, and facing an imminent risk of death.” She recounted the fact that since 2021, 62 children have reportedly died in the camps and called on France to take immediate action to protect the children. This immediate action refers to repatriation when viable but includes additional measures in the meantime meant to mitigate the health and safety risks of detainees while they still reside in Syria.

Health concerns from unsanitary conditions are far from the only issue that implicates human rights violations occurring in these camps. Children are deprived of their right to education, liberty, security, life, and freedom from violence. Physical violence, psychological trauma, harassment, violent extremism, and trafficking are rampant in these camps and pose a daily threat to those who live there.

Many countries have been hesitant to repatriate these children due to both legal and practical concerns, citing national security concerns and logistical difficulty in ascertaining the identity and nationality of the children as top reasons for the failure of repatriation of the children thus far. However, the interests in protecting these children from the harm they endure from continuing to be detained in these camps cannot be justified by the fact of their parent’s alleged ties to ISIL. France and other countries that have the power to repatriate these children must take action to prevent more human rights violations and return them to their country of origin.

For further information, please see:

HIR – French Children in Syria: The Repatriation Question – 13 May 2021

OHCHR – Convention on the Rights of the Child – 2 Sept. 1990

OHCHR – France Violated Rights of French Children Detained in Syria by Failing to Repatriate Them, UN Committee Finds – 24 Feb. 2022

OHCHR – The World Must Bring Children Home from Syrian Detention Camps – 22 Sept. 2021

OSJI – European States’ Obligations to Repatriate the Children Detained in Camps in Northeast Syria – Jul. 2021

UN News – France Violated Rights of French Children Detained in Syrian Camps – 24 Feb. 2022

Navalny Faces Additional Charges in Russia

By: Hannah Gavin

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

MOSCOW, Russia — Putin’s strongest opponent, Aleksei A. Navalny faced new charges in court this Tuesday. Additional charges included embezzlement and contempt of court. These charges have the potential to extend his imprisonment by 15 years. Navalny faced these charges from a Penal Colony outside of Moscow where he is currently serving what should be the last year of his sentence.

Nalvany at his hearing on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of The Guardian.

In February of 2021, a Moscow appeals court rejected Navalny’s appeal of an original 2014 sentence for embezzlement. Navalny was originally sentenced to two years and eight months. On appeal, the judge reduced Navalny’s sentence by just 45 days. Navalny was poisoned in August of 2020 by Putin and nearly died while at a hospital in Germany. When recovered, Navalny chose to return to Russia, knowing he would be imprisoned.

The new charges come amid tense escalations in the potential military action soon to occur by Russia in the Ukraine. Russia has been deploying troops as well as missiles and other tactical equipment to the Ukrainian border. Although this has not yet escalated into violence, the World has been waiting with bated breath to see what the Kremlin chooses to do. Aleski Navalny spoke at the end of January urging western nations to take a harsher stance against Russian military action in Ukraine. In response to the United States’ meetings following Putin’s demands, Navalny stated “instead of ignoring this nonsense, the U.S. accepts Putin’s agenda and runs to organize some kind of meetings. Just like a frightened schoolboy who’s been bullied by an upperclassman.”

Navalny’s imprisonment came as no surprise to him or the international community. As for the additional charges, Navalny claims Putin planned this to coincide with his potential invasion of the Ukraine. Hope does not remain high for Navalny in his pursuit of justice against these additional charges. Navalny has claimed that the hearing was purposely held in a remote area. Additionally, his lawyers were blocked from bringing their laptops to court which contained necessary legal documents.

Although whether or not Navalny will face another decade or more in Russian prisons is unknown, the outlook for his case seems grim given Putin’s continuous attempts to suppress the opposition. Navalny will have his next hearing in this case on Monday.

For further information, please see:

NYT – Navalny Appears in Penal Camp Court to Face More Charges – 15 Feb. 2022

Time – Alexei Navalny Urges Biden to Stand Up to Putin – 19 Jan. 2022

Georgian State Failed to Properly Protect LGBT Demonstrators

By: George Rose

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

STRASBOURG, France — On May 17, 2013, members of the LGBT community in Georgia planned and obtained permits to hold a vigil on the steps of parliament on International Day Against Homophobia. Many former Soviet countries still have laws outlawing homosexuality, with Georgia legalizing same sex marriage in 2015. While the LGBT community was planning their vigil, members of the Orthodox Church began planning a counter demonstration, citing this as a spread of “homosexual propaganda”.

The demonstration when violence broke out.
Photo curtesy of the New York Times.

While a peaceful counterdemonstration may not have been a problem, peace was not the outcome at the demonstration. Once the members of the Orthodox Church’s counterdemonstration arrived, they quickly overrode the police barriers erected around the parliament building. The Orthodox protesters became violent, videos show priests brandishing various weapons, going as far as using stools from bars and shops, shouting “kill them”. One LGBT demonstrator remarked that she had been assaulted by members of the Orthodox Church, she recalled seeing blood on the ground and was unsure if it was hers or not. After the violence broke out, the police loaded the LGBT demonstrators onto a minibus, however, the members from the Orthodox church smashed through the windows to attack those on board. In the aftermath of the attack, eight members of the LGBT demonstration were hospitalized, as well as three police officers. Following the attack on the LGBT demonstrators, Georgia’s Prime Minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili vowed that those who promoted the violence would be punished. However, the LGBT rights groups are still waiting for proof that the government has held those who promoted violence, accountable.

In a case brought against Georgia in the European Court of Human Rights, the court ruled that Georgia had been complacent by failing to properly protect the LGBT groups. The court reasoned that the use of police officers who were unarmed, thus protecting the demonstrators with a thin line of police officers, was not adequate protection. Further, the court found that in video footage, several officers allowed the violent members of the Orthodox Church within reaching distance of the LGBT demonstrators.

The court ordered Georgia to pay €193,500 to the applicants, with €10,000 reserved to an applicant who had suffered a concussion, and €6,000 for an applicant who had been humiliated by police officers.

For further information, please see:

The European Court of Human Rights – Press Release: Unprecedented Violence against LGBT Demonstrators

The New Yorker – What Was Behind Georgia’s Anti-Gay Rally? – 23 May 2013

The New York Times – Crowd Led by Priests Attacks Gay Rights Marchers in Georgia – 17 May 2013

NPR – Anti-Gay Riot in Tblisi Tests Balance Between Church, State – 30 Jul. 2013

When Parents Disagree, Prioritization of Paternal over Maternal Surname Ruled Discriminatory

By: Sallie Moppert

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

STRASBOURG, France — In a Chamber judgment handed down on October 26, 2021 by the European Court of Human Rights, it was ruled that Spain’s practice of prioritizing the paternal surname over the maternal surname in parental disputes was discriminatory. The case before the court was León Madrid v. Spain and it arose from legislation in Spain that required, in a dispute between parents, a child would be given the father’s last name first, followed second by the mother’s last name.

Members of the European Court of Human Rights appear in Chamber. Photo courtesy of Jean-Francois Badias.

In 2005, Josefa León Madrid gave birth to a child whose name was entered into the registrar of births using the two surnames that Josefa had, León Madrid, (Josefa’s father’s last name, followed by Josefa’s mother’s last name). After a non-marital paternity suit in 2006, the judge in the case ruled that the child in question would, in accordance with Spanish Law under Article 194 of the Regulation Implementing the Law on the registration of births, marriages and death, would be given two last names, her biological father’s first, followed by her mother’s second, due to parental disagreement. León Madrid challenged the ruling by the judge, requesting an inversion of her daughter’s last name (mother’s surname, then father’s), but the request was denied.

The Court found that the Spanish law prioritizing the father’s surname over the mother’s was discriminatory against women under Article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which prevents discrimination. The lack of equal protection under the law, the Court found, led to a difference in treatment exclusively due to the person’s gender: “The Court noted that two individuals in a similar situation – the applicant and the child’s father – had been treated differently and that the distinction was based exclusively on grounds of sex.”

The Spanish government denied the existence of discrimination in this practice, stating that the daughter could change her last names upon turning 18 years old. However, the Court found that the lack of ability to change the surname order of a child could have far-reaching impacts that go beyond equal protection under the law and gender discrimination:  beside the “unquestionable impact that a measure of such duration could have on the personality rights and identity of a minor, who would be obliged to give precedence to the surname of a father with whom she was only biologically related, the Court could not overlook the repercussions on the applicant’s life too: as her legal representative who had shared her daughter’s life since her birth, the applicant suffered on a daily basis from the consequences of the discrimination caused by the inability to change her child’s name.”

Article 194 has since been amended by Law no. 20/2011, which would allow a “civil status judge” to decide the order of surnames in parental disagreement, but, at the time of the case, because León Madrid’s daughter was already 16 years old, the amendment did not apply to her.

For further information, please see:

European Court of Human Rights – Automatic imposition of surname order, paternal followed by maternal, when parents disagree, is discriminatory – Oct. 26, 2021

Law Euro – León Madrid v. Spain (European Court of Human Rights) – Oct. 26, 2021

The Polish Power Struggle: Poland’s “Unprecedented” Pushback on EU Primacy and Rule of Law

By: Gabriella Kielbasinski

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Senior Articles Editor

WARSAW, Poland — The current reality: Poland and the European Union (EU) find themselves in a critical tug-of-war with dire implications for the future of rule of law and the primacy of EU law. Before addressing Poland’s latest pushback against EU primacy and rule of law, let’s look back at how the Polish judicial system has changed in order to accommodate such challenges to the most foundational tenants of EU law.

Thousands of Polish protestors group together in opposition of the changes to the Polish judicial system concerned about the threat to judicial independence and the future of rule of law. Photo Courtesy of BBC.

Since 2015, the Eurosceptic, right-wing Law and Justice Party (PiS) has increasingly taken control of Polish judicial bodies, including the Constitutional Tribunal, Supreme Court, and Prosecutor General’s Office. Organizations such as Human Rights Watch have noted that, under PiS’s influence, these courts “composition, independence, and functioning have been severely compromised.”

As PiS continued to infiltrate the should-be neutral judicial system, judges were replaced with PiS political allies. This raised many concerns about the overall integrity of Poland’s courts as they became increasingly politicized bodies. To reign in the remaining independent judges, PiS created a disciplinary process to sanction, and in some cases even remove, those who rule contrary to the party’s interests. This disciplinary regime continues to exacerbate the deterioration of judicial impartiality across the country.

Notably, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) weighed in on the aforementioned disciplinary system, holding that Poland’s disciplinary regime against judges is not compatible with EU law and should be immediately suspended. However, Poland has failed to comply with the order to disband it.

Looking now to 2021, on October 7th, the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that two core articles of the Treaty on European Union, Article 1 and Article 19, were “incompatible” with the Polish constitution asserting the “primacy of the Polish Constitution over EU Law.” This is a sharp deviation from the founding principles upon which the EU’s legal framework rests. Historically, primacy of European Union law was the precedent. In other words, where a conflict lies between EU law and national law, EU law should still prevail.

Observers have noted that this decision may create a dangerous precedent in which Poland can pick and choose which parts of EU law it will abide by. For independent judges struggling in Poland’s current judicial climate, this ruling inhibits their ability to rely on CJEU rulings or EU law in order to defend their decisions against PiS’s pressures. In other words, the October 7th decision has the power to wholly destabilize the already shaky legal framework of rule of law within Poland’s borders.

Moreover, human rights watchdogs have blown the whistle that this ruling not only curtails democratic interests in Poland, but also has the potential to hinder rule of law across the EU. Some world leaders worry that other EU states may follow suit after Poland, carefully selecting when EU law is binding based on the respective state’s self-interests. Sensing this potential for disaster, the European Commission was quick to respond calling out the serious concerns raised by the Polish Constitutional Tribunal and reaffirming that “EU law has primacy over national law, including constitutional provisions.”

Given the gravity of the harm at stake – the breakdown of the rule of law within the EU, it is unsurprising that other Europeans bodies also responded to the October 7th decision with decisive action: The European Parliament openly condemned the ruling; The EU has withheld €36 billion of stimulus funds for Poland; And, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has imposed a daily fine of €1 million for Poland’s noncompliance with EU rules and orders, the highest daily penalty ever imposed on an EU state. One thing is clear, as economic consequences continue to pile up for Poland, tensions across the parties involved have only grown. 

Most recently, it has been the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) pushing back against the actions of Poland’s courts. On November 8th, the ECHR ruled on a case in which two Polish judges were rejected for positions by Poland’s Chamber of Extraordinary Review and Public Affairs. The ECHR ruled that the judicial applicants had been denied a fair hearing because the Polish body which heard their case “isn’t an ‘independent and impartial tribunal established by law.” Rather, it is a politicized body composed of members who are mostly politicians, not judges. The ECHR called Poland’s current running of the courts a “blatant defiance of the rule of law.”

Notably, the ECHR’s decisions are legally binding, not merely advisory, upon the members of the Council of Europe (which Poland is a member of).

In response, on November 24th, the Constitutional Tribunal said that the ECHR has no power to question its appointment of judges, thus rejecting the ECHR’s November 8th rulings. In a move mirroring the Tribunal’s previous October 7th holding, the rationale rested upon a finding that European law was “incompatible” with the Polish Constitution. Specifically, the Tribunal found that Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights was “incompatible… in as far as it gave the [ECHR] the right to assess the legality of the appointment of the Tribunal’s judges.”

While proponents of Poland’s controversial judiciary exalted the decision as a win for Polish sovereignty, others expressed concern calling the decision an “unprecedented challenge against a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights.” Any hope that Poland’s October 7th ruling was a unique departure from previously held legal principles seems effectively crushed by this latest decision. Some opposition lawmakers have gone as far as to label the November 24th ruling as an attempt to “[push Poland] out of the group of democratic countries.”

In the coming days, the European community’s response to Poland’s bold challenge to an ECHR ruling has the potential to shape the EU’s legal landscape for years to come.

For further information, please see:

Balkan Investigative Reporting Network – BIRN Fact-Check: What the Polish Constitutional Tribunal Ruling Means in Practice – 18 Oct. 2021

BBC – Poland’s Top Court Ruling Marks Major Challenge to EU Laws – 7 Oct. 2021

Bloomberg – Poland Ordered by Top Human Rights Court to Fix Judicial System – 8 Nov. 2021

Deutsche Welle – Poland Court Says European Rights Pact ‘Incompatible’ with Constitution – 25 Nov. 2021

Euractiv – Poland Makes ‘Unprecedented’ Challenge to European Rights Pact – 25 Nov. 2021

European Commission – European Commission Reaffirms the Primacy of EU Law – 7 Oct. 2021

European Commission – Independence of Polish Judges: Commission asks European Court of Justice for Financial Penalties against Poland on the Activity of the Disciplinary Chamber – 7 Sept. 2021

Human Rights Watch – Poland’s Compromised Court Threatens Rule of Law in Europe – 13 Oct. 2021

Politico – Poland Hit with Record €1M Daily Fine in EU Rule-of-Law Dispute – 27 Oct. 2021

Reuters – Polish Tribunal Rules European Rights Court Cannot Question Its Judges – 24 Nov. 2021.