Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Notes and Comments Editor
NEW ZEALAND – On January 7, 2020, the UN Human Rights Committee took a step towards protecting future climate refugees in its ruling of Ioane Teitiota v. New Zealand.
Ioane Teitiota, a national of Kiribati, sought refugee status in New Zealand. Teitiota claimed refugee status based on the changes to Kiribati’s environment caused by sea-level rise associated with climate change. A refugee and protection officer declined to grant Teitiota refugee status. Teitiota appealed, but the Immigration and Protection Tribunal (IPT) dismissed Teitiota’s case in June 2013. Over the next two years, Teitiota applied to the High Court, Court of Appeal, and Supreme Court for leave to appeal the IPT’s decision. However, all three refused to grant leave to appeal. In September 2015, Teitiota and his family were deported from New Zealand to Kiribati.
In February 2016, Teitiota brought a case against the New Zealand government at the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC). Teitiota claimed that by forcibly returning him to Kiribati, New Zealand violated his right to life under Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Specifically, Teitiota argued that the rise in sea level and other climate change effects had caused Kiribati to be uninhabitable. Further, Teitiota claimed that there were violent land disputes caused by the increasingly scarce habitable land. Finally, Teititiota argued that environmental degradation made subsistence farming difficult, and saltwater contaminated Kiribati’s freshwater supply.
The HRC noted that while the right to life under Article 6 of the Covenant must be interpreted broadly, there is a high threshold for proving a real risk of a violation exists. With the high threshold in mind, the HCR ultimately rejected Teitiota’s claim.
Notably, the HRC expressly recognized the sudden-onset and slow-onset events caused by climate change that created a real risk that Kiribati may become submerged. However, the HRC found that this risk was not imminent as required for a violation under Article 6. Further, the HRC highlighted the Kiribati Government’s current efforts to curb climate change and noted that there was still time for intervening acts by the international community to combat climate change.
Additionally, the HRC rejected Teitiota’s claim regarding violent land disputes caused by increasing unhabitable land. The HRC stated that Article 6’s “risk to life” must be personal and that a situation of general violence was not enough. Since Teitiota was never personally threatened or involved in an instance of land violence, the land violence failed to be a violation under Article 6. Finally, the HRC determined that while farming and freshwater access became increasingly difficult, it was not impossible, and therefore, Teitioa’s deportation did not violate Article 6.
Although Teitiota’s claim was unsuccessful, many regard the HRC determination as ground-breaking. The ruling set forth new standards that could facilitate the success of future climate refugee claims. Namely, the standard that states must consider human rights violations caused by the climate crisis when considering asylum seekers’ deportation. With this landmark first step towards recognizing climate refugees and the number of climate-related refugees likely rising, it will be interesting to see how states handle these claims in the future.
ARUSHA, Tanzania – On October 1st, 2002 Christopher Jones and Erasto Samson were alleged to have stolen valuables from Habibu Saidi and assaulted him with a machete strike to the face. Jones was a second-hand clothes street trader in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
After a trial in the Morogoro District Court, Jones and Samson were found guilty of the charges on February 13th, 2004, and were both sentenced to thirty years in prison and twelve cane strokes, a form of corporal punishment. Jones had filed appeals for his conviction to the High Court of Tanzania on February 26th, 2004 but was dismissed. Jones then filed with the Court of Appeal of Tanzania on September 21st, 2005. The Court of Appeal of Tanzania responded on March 27th, 2009 by amending his sentence to remove the twelve cane strokes but otherwise denying action on his thirty-year term of imprisonment.
Jones had alleged to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in an application received by the Court on May 11th, 2015 that he was wrongly convicted of the offense against Habibu Saidi as the victim incorrectly identified some of the stolen items. Jones argued that the applied sentence was incorrect because the statute used in his conviction was amended in 2004 to allow a sentence of thirty years. Finally, Jones alleged that the United Republic of Tanzania failed to provide him with counsel or any form of legal assistance as promised under the 1977 Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania. For the injustices Jones alleges to have suffered he asks for his guilty verdict to be reversed, to be immediately released from prison, and to issue Tanzania to pay an order of reparations.
Tanzania’s response to the Court states that Jones has not invoked the jurisdiction of the court and should be dismissed. Tanzania goes further and says that even if jurisdiction was invoked then Jones’ complaint should be dismissed for being inadmissible under Rules of the Court and that the Court itself has no jurisdiction to compel Tanzania to release Jones from prison via order. Tanzania asks for the Court to find that its treatment of Jones did not violate the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the 1977 Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania. Tanzania also requests that the court find Jones’ sentence to not be excessive or discriminatory.
In the final judgment of the case by the Court, it found that Jones was not wrongly convicted as there was testimony by multiple witnesses beyond Habibu Saidi and he was apprehended on the scene of the robbery by authorities. On the allegation that Jones was not provided legal assistance by Tanzania, the Court found that Jones was never offered legal aide and thus Tanzania had violated Article 1 and 7 (1) (c) of the Charter. The Court ruled that Jones’ thirty-year sentence for armed robbery was correct as Tanzania had allowed a minimum sentence of thirty years for armed robbery since 1994. The Court ruled that Jones would be able to seek reparations for the failure of Tanzania to provide him with legal assistance.
On September 25th, 2020 the Court released its ruling on the reparations for Jones. Jones was not ordered to be set free as his conviction was found to be just by the Court. The only reparation to be granted to Jones was 300,000 Tanzanian Shillings for not being granted legal aid by Tanzanian authorities.
THE HAGUE, the Netherlands – On February 20, 2020, Pre-Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court (“ICC”) issued a decision granting the requests of 43 parties to submit amici curiae briefs regarding the Situation in the State of Palestine. The parties, representing nations, esteemed professors, human rights organizations, and legal associations, have until March 16, 2020 to file their observations.
Amici curiae, literally “friends of the court,” are individuals or
groups who are not parties to the case, but which have a strong interest in the
matter. Courts may authorize an
individual or group to become an amicus curiae, and submit information or
advice regarding issues in the case.
In the decision, the Court limited the scope of submissions only
to the issue of the Court’s jurisdiction in Palestine, specifically the
territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. At the root of the
issue is whether Palestine is a sovereign state capable of granting the ICC
jurisdiction over its territory.
Although Palestine acceded to the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding
document, Palestine’s recognition as a sovereign has been fiercely
contested. While 138 of the 193 United
Nations member states recognize the sovereign, the State of Palestine is not
currently recognized by any North American country, Australia, and most of
Each of the seven countries which have requested leave to file an
amicus brief indicated an intention to argue that the ICC does not have
jurisdiction in Palestine. Even countries
which have previously recognized the State of Palestine, such as Brazil, doubt
the Court’s jurisdiction there. These
countries reason that the ICC should only be involved in cases where
jurisdiction is undisputed, and indicate an unwillingness to “politicize the
Rome Statute.” This stance has drawn
criticism from many pro-Palestine individuals and organizations, which argue
opponents to ICC jurisdiction are attempting to shield Israel from the
possibility of international criminal prosecution for offenses allegedly
committed on Palestinian territory.
This issue of jurisdiction regarding the Situation in Palestine
could prove to be a pivotal decision for the development of the ICC. A ruling in favor of jurisdiction would be an
ambitious step for the Court in prosecuting human rights offenses, but may
cause the Court to fall out of favor with the Western nations which largely
comprise it. Alternatively, while a
ruling against ICC jurisdiction would be consistent with views of the nations
who do not recognize Palestine, it could set the precedent that the ICC will
only respond to the complaints of territories which are unequivocally
sovereign. This could leave individuals
who have suffered human rights offenses in unrecognized territories without recourse.
KINSHASA, Congo — On November 7, 2019, the Trial Chamber VI of the International Criminal Court (ICC) unanimously sentenced Bosco Ntaganda, nicknamed the “Terminator of the Congo,” to 30 years imprisonment. The time Ntaganda spent in the ICC’s custody, which is between March 22, 2013 to November 7, 2019, will however be deducted from this sentence. This sentence arose from the court’s previous decision in July 2019, which found Ntaganda guilty of 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Ntaganda’s conviction and sentencing are hallmark occasions for the ICC for a couple of reasons. First, Ntaganda is the first person the court has convicted of sexual slavery and crimes of sexual violence against his own troops. Second, this is the longest imprisonment sentencing the court has ordered since its creation. Many international human rights organizations find this decision and sentencing to be quite promising for future cases brought against international criminals. Specifically, Ida Sawyer, the deputy Africa director of Humans Rights Watch, stated that Ntaganda’s sentence “sends a powerful message that those who commit serious crimes against the people, no matter their positions, can be held to account.”
Despite the court not finding any real mitigating factors for Ntaganda’s case, the Trial Chamber believed that the conditions present did not warrant life imprisonment. As specified by the Rome Statute, life imprisonment may only be provided “when justified by the extreme gravity of the crime and the individual circumstances of the convicted person.” Thus, the Trial Chamber determined that the maximum sentence of 30 years allotted by the Rome Statute would suffice. The court also held that it would not be appropriate to impose a fine or forfeiture of proceeds in addition to the imprisonment.
Although the defense has 30 days to appeal this sentence, Ntaganda and his lawyers have already moved to appeal this. Also, the court still must determine how much compensation the victims should be awarded. Therefore, this is not the last time the ICC will hear Ntaganda’s name in its chambers.