A couple of months ago, the negotiations on the EU’s accession to the ECHR resumed, with what was termed the sixth meeting of the 47+1 group – the ad hoc negotiation group involving all 47 Council of Europe and the EU. From 24–26 November, the 47+1 group held their 7th meeting, and the last of 2020. Some progress was made, but from reading the report it is becoming increasingly clear that no immediate breakthroughs are in sight.
In this post I will, using publicly available sources (primarily the meeting report), briefly summarize and take stock of the progress made. I begin by listing the issues that were not dealt with at all during the 7th meeting, and then turn to the issues there were the subject of negotiations at the 7th meeting. Finally, I will say a couple of words about other business at the 7th meeting, notably the exchange of views with representatives of civil society.
From 29 September to 1 October 2020 the so-called 47+1 Group, which consists of representatives of all Council of Europe Member States and the European Union, held their first formal negotiation meeting on the EU’s accession to the ECHR since the 2013 Draft Accession Agreement (DAA) was rejected by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Opinion 2/13. When it was handed down back in December 2014, I characterized Opinion 2/13 as a “direct and unequivocal attack on the accession agreement” by the CJEU. In the same post, I also predicted that it would be “very difficult to satisfy the CJEU’s objections by way of amending the accession [instruments]”.
The fact that it has taken almost six years for the negotiations to properly restart is a testament to these difficulties. At the same time, the resumption of the accession negotiations signals that the parties indeed believe that it is possible to satisfy or circumvent the CJEU’s objections in Opinion 2/13 – or, perhaps, that some of the objections no longer hold water.
Respect for human rights and the rule of law are among the European Union’s foundational values proclaimed in TEU article 2. The Lisbon treaty’s merging of the EU’s three pillars, together with the elevation of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights to the level of primary law, ensured a sufficient level of substantive human rights protection across all the Union’s activities. However, the right to an effective remedy – enshrined in Article 47 of the Charter , as well as in regional and global human rights treaties – requires available and effective procedural mechanisms for holding human rights violators to account. When it comes to the availability and functioning of such mechanisms, which I will refer to as accountability mechanisms, there is less uniformity and significant gaps.
These gaps are increasingly becoming visible in the area of immigration and asylum, where the powers of the Union and its agencies have been rapidly expanding over the last few years, in response to the so-called “migration crisis” of 2015. In a post on this blog written back in April, Melanie Fink highlighted the lack of access to human rights accountability mechanisms in relation to Frontex.
CSDP missions form part of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). While the Lisbon Treaty merged the former three pillars into one Union, the CFSP remains a markedly intergovernmental part of an increasingly supranational Union. Still, acts under the CFSP heading remain Union acts. Horizontal rules of EU law – such as the Charter of Fundamental Rights – therefore also apply to the CFSP, and thus to CSDP missions. Since the Union does not have its own military forces, CSDP missions are made up by contingents of units provided by the Member States. These units are put under the joint command of an Operations Commander. Up the chain of command from the Operations Commander, we find first the Council’s Political and Security Committee, and at the very top the Council itself.
From a legal perspective there are two key challenges for establishing that the Union is responsible, as a matter of substantive law, for human rights violations by CSDP missions:
First, whether the conduct that is alleged to represent a human rights violation is attributable to the Union.
Second, whether the conduct attributable to the Union constitutes a violation of a provision of its human rights law obligations.
The issue of attribution is particularly problematic with regard to CSDP missions, such as NAVFOR Operation Sophia. While the Operations Commander of the mission exercises what is in military parlance known as “operational command and control”, the Member States retain a certain degree of control over their troops. At the very least they retain the right to withdraw them at any time, as well as disciplinary jurisdiction. But contributing Member States often insist on, and are granted, even further “caveats” – for example the right to refuse to carry out individual orders from the Operations Commander. Untangling exactly which actor is responsible for a particular act or omission – the Union or/and (one or more) of its Member States – can therefore be very difficult. Yet, there are situations where the conduct of participating military contingents could be attributable to the Union, and the Union will also often share responsibility with (one or more) of its Member States through its complicity.
The second issue, establishing whether a course of conduct attributable to the Union constitutes a violation of its human rights obligations, is comparatively easier. The Charter of Fundamental Rights contains a modern catalog of human rights provisions that are also applicable to the conduct of CSDP missions. In contrast to most other international organizations, the Union in other words offers a high level of human rights protection as a matter of substantive law.
The question then is whether the high level of substantive human rights protection is matched by sufficient accountability mechanisms. It is particularly when answering this question that we see how the CFSP – and thus CSDP missions – is “subject to specific rules and procedures” (TEU article 24, emphasis added).
A second potential accountability mechanism at the Union level is the European Ombudsman. Its jurisdictionratione materiae in principle covers the entirety of the Union’s activities – including those of CSDP missions. Its jurisdiction ratione personae also seems broad, as it extends to complaints from all EU citizens and residents. However, note that this in practice excludes all those who are likely to be victims of human rights violations by CSDP missions: non-EU citizens that do not have their residence in the EU. This is particularly true in cases where CSDP missions are used to enforce migration policy, as was the case with Operation Sophia.
Interestingly, though, the lack of jurisdiction ratione personae does not render the Ombudsman completely ineffective. That is because in addition to receiving complaints, the Ombudsman can also open own-initiative inquiries. The Ombudsman has used this tool to circumvent the restrictions on its complaints-based jurisdiction. In cases where it has been considered appropriate, the Ombudsman has formally dismissed the complaint for lack of jurisdiction ratione personae and then immediately opened an own-initiative inquiry into the same facts. The European Ombudsman thus functions, indirectly and informally, as an accountability mechanism for CSDP missions.
Access is not alone enough to render the Ombudsman a sufficient accountability mechanism, though. Even when it acts as an accountability mechanism, the aggrieved individuals are not given party status, since the procedure is formally that of an own-initiative inquiry. Moreover, the findings of the Ombudsman are not binding. Although the Ombudsman as had a strong track-record in getting Union bodies and agencies to comply – even in CFSP matters – an unbinding decision is not fully compliant with the right to an effective remedy.
A third option for aggrieved individuals seeking to hold the Union to account is to sue it in domestic courts. While domestic lawsuits against international organisations are usually a hopeless endeavor due to the jurisdictional immunity, that is not the case when it comes to Union-led CSDP missions. That is because TFEU article 274 provides that, for cases falling outside the scope of the CJEU’s jurisdiction, “disputes to which the Union is a party shall not […] be excluded from the jurisdiction of the courts or tribunals of the Member States”. As mentioned above, the CJEU lacks jurisdiction in cases where CSDP missions are alleged to have caused human rights violations. However, even if the Union does not have jurisdictional immunity in these cases, further obstacles in practice render domestic courts ineffective as accountability mechanisms. As the pre-Brexit judgment by the UK High Court of Justice in the case of Tomanović et al. v. the European Union et al. illustrates, domestic courts tend to be weary of deciding cases involving international organisations. Moreover, even if all procedural hurdles are surmounted, the outcomes of domestic proceedings are only binding as a matter of domestic law in one Member State, and they are in practice unenforceable since the Union has immunity against the enforcement of judgments against it. With the Union thus in principle being free to ignore their judgments, recourse to the domestic courts of EU Member States cannot be regarded as a sufficiently effective accountability mechanism.
In addition to these general accountability mechanisms, some CSDP missions have established mission-specific accountability mechanisms. For those missions that have Status of Forces Agreements (meaning agreements with third states on the status of the mission, jurisdiction, immunities, etc.), an ad hoc claims procedure is usually established by the agreement. The procedure typically consists of negotiations, followed by assessment by a claims commission composed of representatives of the mission and the host state, and finally, if there is still no agreement, arbitration proceedings. However, various procedural limitations render them ineffective as human rights accountability mechanisms. Moreover, some missions, such as Operation Sophia, operate without any Status of Forces Agreements.
Another, and exceptional, example is the Human Rights Review Panel established to hold EULEX Kosovo to account. This is, to my knowledge, the only intentionally established human rights accountability mechanism with jurisdiction over a CSDP mission. While there is much good to say about the Human Rights Review Panel and its case-law, its main weakness is that it lacks the power to issue legally binding decisions. Thus, even the Human Rights Review Panel fails to fulfill all the requirements flowing from the right to an effective remedy.
As this brief survey reveals, the human rights accountability of CSDP missions is lacking. The right to an effective remedy is not respected. Potential accountability mechanisms are either unavailable or offer insufficient outcomes.
Reform of the accountability mechanisms applicable to CSDP missions is therefore needed. Such reform should happen by establishing mechanisms at the Union (or international) level because domestic courts are unable to provide an effective remedy, for the reasons explained above.
A potential first step towards reform could be to replicate EULEX Kosovo’s Human Rights Review Panel in other CSDP missions. While this will not by itself ensure sufficient human rights accountability, it is a step that can be taken easily, without e.g. amending the constituent treaties of the Union. Potential further steps could include expanding the jurisdiction of the CJEU, and the accession of the Union to the European Convention on Human Rights.
Finally, one has to highlight the potential that lies in the existing accountability mechanisms. Very few have taken advantage of the European Ombudsman’s extensive jurisdiction, and there is only one known example of a domestic court case against the Union involving the conduct of a CSDP mission, namely the above-mentioned case of Tomanovic et.al. v. The European Union. While these accountability mechanisms are by no means perfect, they do appear to be under-utilised. Hopefully, both this post and my book will make lawyers more aware of them and their potential.
Are international organizations accountable towards individuals when they violate human rights?
International organizations are becoming increasingly powerful. In recent decades states have steadily been conferring powers upon international organizations in order to solve transnational problems and to provide global public goods. As a corollary of their increasing powers, international organizations affect the lives of individuals across the globe – directly and indirectly – through their decisions and conduct. Consequently, they are also more capable of violating the human rights of individuals.
Legal scholars have reacted to these developments by studying whether and to what extent international organizations are responsible for human rights violations. The studies published so far have generally found that international organizations do have human rights obligations, that they sometimes do act in contravention of such obligations, and that when they do, international organizations are responsible as a matter of substantive international law towards individuals.
But accountability is more than responsibility. A power-wielder is accountable when there are procedural mechanisms available to hold it to account. My book, entitled The Human Rights Accountability Mechanisms of International Organizations, takes the debate on the accountability of international organizations one step further by analyzing and assessing the accountability mechanisms of international organizations. The book offers three main contributions:
A general framework for identifying, analyzing, and assessing the accountability mechanisms of international organizations.
Three case studies of the accountability mechanisms applicable in situations where international organizations wield significant power vis-à-vis individuals.
A sketch of the way towards reform that will ensure accountability.
The first contribution – a general framework for identifying, analyzing, and assessing the accountability of international organizations – is perhaps the most interesting for researchers. In the book, I develop a definition of international organization accountability mechanisms, as well as a detailed taxonomy of them.
I also propose a normative framework for assessing the sufficiency of such accountability mechanisms. This framework is built upon legal theory on the right to remedy, and both legal theory and social psychology research on procedural justice. On the basis of these theoretical approaches, I establish a concrete set of normative yardsticks against which to assess the accountability mechanisms of international organizations. These yardsticks are bundled in four groups, reflecting to the aspects of accountability mechanisms that they may be used to assess: access, voice, neutrality, and outcome.
While the scope of the book is limited to human rights accountability mechanisms, this framework for analysis and assessment is general. It can be used to analyze and assess the legal accountability mechanisms applicable to any international organization. Hopefully, other researchers will find this framework useful when engaging in case studies of the accountability mechanisms of (other) international organizations.
Second, my book contains three in-depth case studies of the human rights accountability mechanisms applicable to situations where international organizations wield significant power vis-à-vis individuals:
Detention in the International Criminal Court’s Detention Centre.
The EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy Missions.
Refugee camp administration by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
In each case study, I apply the above-mentioned framework to identify, analyze, and assess the relevant accountability mechanisms. Each case study chapter begins with an introduction of the organization, how it exercises power over individuals in the situation in question, and what the organization’s human rights obligations are. Then the applicable accountability mechanisms are identified, analyzed and assessed in light of the normative yardsticks; access, voice, neutrality, and outcome.
Third, I end the book with an overview of the tendencies and paradoxes observed, a discussion of their generalizability and implications, and finally a sketch of the direction a reform agenda should take. Specifically, I suggest that to enhance accountability by curtailing the jurisdictional immunity of international organizations is neither desirable, nor easier to achieve than the alternatives. I instead advocate reform at the international level, by establishing new accountability mechanisms with jurisdiction over international organizations.
In its judgment of 13 February 2019 in the case of Tomanović et. al. v. the European Union et. al., the English High Court of Justice dismissed several claims based on human rights violations by EULEX Kosovo. Although the High Court’s dismissal was ultimately based on the lacking incorporation of the Treaty provisions on the Common Foreign and Security Policy into domestic law, the judgment contains extensive obiter dicta discussing key Union law matters. In this Insight I summarize, contextualize and reflect critically upon the High Court’s reasoning. In particular, I focus on the extent of the Court of Justice’s jurisdiction over – and the application of the Foto-Frost principle to – the CFSP.
… since the last time I updated this blog. Much has happened in both my personal and professional life over the last 2 years: I’ve finished my PhD, got a Senior Lecturship at the UiO, and last (but definitely not least) a daughter. Additionally, I have published a few smaller things that I forgot to post about here:
Currently I am working on publishing my PhD thesis, entitled The Human Rights Accountability Mechanisms of International Organizations: A Framework and Three Case Studies. While you await its publication, you can enjoy this little teaser of an abstract:
International organizations are becoming increasingly powerful. As a consequence, they are now more capable than ever of violating the human rights of individuals. But how can international organizations be held to account for such violations? This thesis assesses the procedural mechanisms that may hold international organizations to account. First, a general framework for identifying, analyzing and assessing the accountability mechanisms of international organizations is established. Second, the general framework is applied to three distinct cases: the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy missions, Refugee camp administration by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and Detention by the International Criminal Court. The thesis concludes that in none of the three case studies do the existing accountability mechanisms fulfill the normative requirements set out in the general framework. However, there are significant variations between the cases, and between different types of accountability mechanisms. In light of these findings, the thesis puts forward some hypotheses applicable to international organizations generally.
Yesterday the Court of Justice of the European Union (the CJEU) delivered its judgment in the long-awaited Rosneft case (C-72/15, ECLI:EU:C:2017:236). The judgment clarifies some aspects of the CJEU’s jurisdiction over the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). Moreover, it is an important precedent in the field of EU sanctions law generally, and also resolve some questions of interpretation that are particular to the Russian sanctions.
In this blog post I will focus on what the judgment in Rosneft adds to the existing case-law on the review of CFSP decisions. Thus, I will not be discussing any of the more specific questions of EU sanctions law nor summarize the full 197 paragraph judgment. For those looking for a quick summary of the case, I refer to the succinct post by Maya Lester QC at the Sanctions Law blog.
This article demonstrates that it is doubtful whether the accountability mechanisms available in connection with operative missions conducted under the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) provide a sufficient level of protection when human rights are violated. The assessment of the CSDP accountability mechanisms—the Court of Justice of the European Union, domestic courts of EU Member States, and other mechanisms at the international level—is conducted in light of the requirements laid down in Article 13 of the European Convention of Human Rights. The consequences of the insufficiency of these mechanisms for the EU’s accession to the ECHR are also touched upon.
I just published a brief case note in the European Papers’ European Forum on case C-455/14 P H v. Council et al. . That case is the latest in a line of recent cases that help clarify and, arguably, expand the CJEU’s jurisdiction over the Common Foreign and Security Policy.
European Papers is a new (2016) open-access e-journal. And it is not only a journal, but also a forum for discussions of critical discussions of European legal issues through short, peer-reviewed pieces (“Insights” and “Highlights”). See EuropeanPapers.eu for more information about the journal and the European Forum.
July 26, 2016, the EFTA Court released a preliminary judgment in case E-28/15 Yankuba Jabbi v. Norway . The case concerned the free movement for persons under European Economic Area (EEA) law, specifically the derived rights of third-country nationals to free movement.
The subject-matter of the case may be of less interest to PluriCourts, however, in paragraph 71 the court discusses its own legitimacy. There the EFTA Court writes (emphasis added):
“Without independence in its adjudication no court could claim legitimacy. Every court must exercise its jurisdiction based upon the relevant legal sources. An essential legal source for the Court is the case law of the ECJ and the General Court. That case law must nevertheless be read in its context. Normally, this does not pose particular problems because the context is the same. However, when it comes to the legal sources in this case, the ECJ has partly ruled out the application of the Directive and instead applied the concept of Union citizenship in evolution of the free movement of persons in the EU.”
It is understandable that the EFTA Court felt the need to emphasize the importance of basing its judgments on relevant legal sources, given the difficult legal questions that arose.* Moreover, this is only a couple of sentences, and “legitimacy” is mentioned only once.
Still, I cannot remember having seen a reference to the concept of legitimacy comparable to this from the EFTA Court in any other decision of an international court or tribunal. But perhaps the readers of this blog know of more examples? If so, please add a comment or send a tweet in my direction (@StianOby).
*For those interested in an overview of the details of the Jabbi case, and the legal issues concerning the free movement of persons in the EEA, I recommend this great blog post written by Karin Fløistad – my colleague and author of a just-submitted PhD thesis on the EEA agreement in a revised EU constitutional framework for welfare services.