Hijab Law in Iran Over the Decades: the Continuing Battle for Reform

Iranian woman standing in the middle of Iranian protests for equal rights for women; image via Shutterstock

By Dr. Sahar Maranlou, Essex Law School

Protests have quickly spread across Iran calling for a change in the law after the death of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, in the custody of the morality police.

The young woman was accused of violating rules on wearing hijab in public. The term hijab is an Arabic word meaning cover. However, it has been used to refer to different types of covering since 1970, from a long-sleeved coat, pants and scarf to the Islamic government’s preferred form of dress, chador, which is a loose-fitting black cloth covering the entire body.

Two quite different forms of law, from opposite ideologies, have been used to try to control women and the covering of their hair and body in the last 90 years.

The first attempt to use hijab as the subject of legislation was in 1936 by a new monarch, Reza Shah (1925-1941), who wanted to force women to remove the veil in public under his “unveiling” order. The shah’s vision of modernity, influenced by Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, included changing what Iranian women wore.

From 1941 to 1979 there was no law that instructed women what to wear, but many women still wore headscarves either as a statement against the monarchy or because their choices were restricted by patriarchal values such as namus (honour) and the strict control of male members of the family.

The 1979 Islamic revolution introduced the idea of hijab law. On March 8 1979, thousands of Iranian women marched in the street, protesting the idea of imposing hijab with slogans such as “freedom of choice in clothes”. Wearing hijab became obligatory for all Iranian women from April 1983. Since then, all women have been legally obliged to wear hijab in public, even non-Muslims and foreigners visiting Iran.

Over the years, the Islamic government has introduced even more legal measures and social restrictions to enforce mandatory hijab laws. Criminal punishment for those violating the law was introduced in the 1990s and ranged from imprisonment to fines.

However, there was a different shift in policing the way women in Tehran dressed, starting in January 2018. According to this new decree, women who did not observe the Islamic dress code no longer faced fines or imprisonment but rather had to attend Islam educational classes. “Women will no longer be taken to detention centres, nor will judicial cases be filed against them,” said local media reports citing Tehran police chief General Hossein Rahimi.

In such cases the morality police, Gasht-e Ershad, usually escort women to a police van and then to a class. The women are then required to sign a form saying they will not commit the “bad hijabi” offence again, and forced to take part in police-organised “guidance” to learn how they should observe Islamic values. This new order only applies in the capital Tehran – but even there, women who broke the dress code repeatedly could still be subject to legal action.

Beyond the discriminatory aspects of the mandatory dress code, one important legal issue is that the crime of “bad hijabi” or “improper hijab” is not defined by the law. Because the law is very loosely drawn, enforcers such as the morality police can choose to interpret it differently and crack down on women in various ways.

Path to law reform

Iran’s existing laws and legal practices draw from different sources, ranging from constitutional law, legislation and government bylaws to customs and Islamic principles.

Article 146 of the constitution binds the judge who “endeavours to judge each case on the basis of the written law. In case of the absence of any such law, s/he has to deliver his judgment on the basis of authoritative Islamic sources”.

The way Iranian women dress differs across different parts of the country and according to cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds, political views and religious beliefs. The mandatory hijab law is not only about taking away women’s control of their bodies in public. It affects every aspect of everyday life in Iran. For example, it forces the segregation of the sexes and promotes censorship (women are not allowed to appear without hijab on TV or in movies).

During the last few decades, Iranian women’s groups have fought to change this law. Every day, they have fought the state’s notion of “proper dress” by choosing what they wear, their fashion, their make-up, the way they walk out of their houses. In every step they take in public, they have challenged the discriminatory law that can stop and tell them that their personal choices are “improper”. In doing so, they put themselves at risk of criminal punishment ranging from imprisonment to fines.

Even though compulsory hijab has been instituted, criminalised and promoted as the main Islamic state gender policy, women’s efforts to negotiate their rights have been brave and remarkable. This continuing quest for justice, gender equality and freedom of choice has been embodied in the “women, life, freedom” slogan.

In these protests, both in the streets and on social media, Iranian women (and men) are calling for the obligatory hijab law to be abolished. Surveys suggest public opinion is widely behind a change in the law. Opposition has grown over the last few weeks, driven by social media and hashtag activism. There is hope that public demands to reform the obligatory dress code in Iran will create change.


This article was first published on The Conversation and is reproduced on the ELR Blog under a Creative Commons Licence. View the original article here.

International Guidelines Help Promote and Protect Human Rights in Phillippines

The United Nations (UN) has recommended international guidelines developed through a partnership between Julie Hannah, at Essex Law School, and the United Nations Development Programme should be used in the Philippines to improve and protect human rights.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has recommended the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy form part of the UN joint action plan to improve the human rights situation in the Philippines.

Julie Hannah, who is the Director of the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy based at the Human Rights Centre, said:

“We are delighted to see the Guidelines form one of the United Nation’s key recommendations to the government of the Phillippines to advance more humane and just responses to drugs in the country. Vigilance and accountability will continue to be critical to ensure the Guidelines are utilised in a comprehensive system of reforms necessary to support justice and healing for the communities so deeply affected by the punitive and violent drug control efforts of recent years. It is an honour to play a very minor role in supporting the tremendous advocates at the Commission on Human Rights as well as civil society colleagues and friends in the country.”

Improving human rights in the Philippines

This recent UN report examines progress made on the implementation of the United Nations Joint Programme on Human Rights (UNJP), agreed by the Government of the Philippines and the UN on 22 July 2021.

This three-year UN joint programme was developed to implement Human Rights Council Resolution 45/33 which outlined specific areas, including drug control, for capacity-building and technical cooperation for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines.

The OHCHR’s recommendation that the new Philippines administration ‘revise legislation and policies in line with a human rights-based approach and the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy’ followed a national consultation convened in 2021.

This consultation involved the Philippines Commission on Human Rights, the OHCHR and national stakeholders to review the current efforts on drug policy reform in the Philippines in light of the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy. This was subsequently followed by meetings organised by the UNJP in April this year with government, health officials and academia to propose a draft roadmap to transition the national drug policy framework towards a public health and human-rights centred system to enable voluntary community-based treatment and rehabilitation for drugs.

More about the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy

The International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy are the result of a multi-year collaborative effort between academics, UN entities and civil society addressing Health, Development and Criminal Justice.

They were developed by the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy and the United Nations Development Programme in collaboration with the GPDPD, GIZ on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.


This piece was first published on the University’s news web pages and is reproduced on the ELR Blog with permission and thanks.

The House of Lords Committee Inquiry into Migration Partnership Between UK and Rwanda: Essex Law School Academics’ Written Evidence Cited in the Committee’s Final Report

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On 10 June 2022, the House of Lords International Agreements Committee, chaired by Baroness Hayter, launched an inquiry into the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the UK government and the government of the Republic of Rwanda for the provision of an Asylum Partnership Arrangement. 

The UK-Rwanda MoU was published by the Government on 14 April 2022. It is a political agreement under which anyone who is deemed to have arrived illegally in the UK since 1 January 2022 may be relocated to Rwanda. Although their claim for asylum in the UK would not be considered, they would be able to claim asylum in Rwanda. However, concerns were raised by academics, legal practitioners, third-party stakeholders and activists in relation to the choice of an MoU as a tool for implementing the arrangement.

The UK-Rwanda MoU is an important agreement, which may have far-reaching consequences for individuals and their rights. Unlike formal international agreements (treaties) that are subject to formal parliamentary scrutiny arrangements under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, an MoU is not a treaty. Rather, it is a political arrangement between the UK and Rwanda, which is not designed to be binding in international law.

On 18 October 2022, the Lords Select Committee published its 7th Report of Session 2022–23 on the UK-Rwanda asylum agreement, citing written evidence submitted by Professor Theodore Konstadinides and Dr Anastasia Karatzia of the Essex Law School (para. 32).

Prof. Konstadinides and Dr. Karatzia questioned, in particular, whether an MoU is an appropriate vehicle for the relocation of asylum seekers deemed to have arrived illegally in the UK, “especially given: (a) the implications it has for individual rights, and (b) the assurances and safeguards included in the MoU, particularly those relating to inspection and monitoring, a relocated individuals’ access to legal assistance, and data protection which give rise to legitimate expectations as to the other party’s conduct.” They argue that such commitments would be better protected by a formal treaty.

In its final report, the Lords Select Committee criticised the UK government for having avoided any meaningful parliamentary scrutiny. It emphasised that, during the course of its inquiry, it “routinely heard” from witnesses that the UK-Rwanda MoU was inconsistent with the UK’s obligations under international law. However, the Committee refrained from offering any conclusions on the compatibility of the MoU with the UK’s international obligations, given the ongoing proceedings before the High Court concerning proposed deportations under the controversial agreement.

The Committee received 19 written submissions from academics, NGOs and lawyers, as well as a submission from the UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency. The written evidence can be accessed here.

Examining the Transformational Power of Environmental Law

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By Professor Karen Hulme, Essex Law School

I wanted to share some highlights of last week’s IUCN Third International Environmental Law Conference in Oslo. The title of the four-day conference was ‘The Transformative Power of Law: Addressing Global Environmental Challenges’.

The backdrop of the conference was not lost on the 400+ participants (with more joining online), with the ongoing destruction being inflicted on Ukraine, devastating hurricanes in central and northern America, recent unprecedented heatwaves in Europe and massive floods in Pakistan. Thus, we heard about the importance of the rule of environmental law in the face of such unprecedented and monumental threats to human and environmental security – including the triple threat of climate change, the fastest rate of biodiversity loss on record, and escalating global pollution levels.

Yet, there was also time to celebrate what is, indeed, a monumental anniversary year in environmental circles, with the recently celebrated 50th anniversary of the 1972 Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment, and its successor landmark instruments (1982 World Charter for Nature, 1992 Rio Earth Summit, 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development) plus anniversaries of the three 1992 treaties on Climate Change, Biological Diversity and Desertification; and the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention. Finally, in my own area, it is also 45 years since the adoption of the 1977 Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions which included provisions for the first time on the protection of the environment in armed conflict. 

One of the best Plenary sessions in my opinion was that composed of the Supreme Court Justices from around the world. They were tasked with answering the conference’s themed question in relation to the ‘transformative power’ of the judiciary. We all know that members of the judiciary have a very difficult job to do at times, and their bravery in the face of Government repression often draws little attention or goes largely unnoticed. While several justices argued that their role on the bench was a rather restrained one, due to their own particular legal systems, others demonstrated a more creative, transformational approach to their role in interpreting the law. Often the need for such creativity stems from Government inaction on existing promises. Fewer are more legendary than WCEL’s former Chair, Dr. Parvez Hassan, who in 1994 argued the landmark public interest litigation case of Shehla Zia vs. WAPDA in the Pakistan Supreme Court, citing similar rulings in the Indian Supreme Court, to expand the human right to life to also include the right to a healthy environment.

Among the many excellent panellist contributions though were the words of Dr. Emmanuel Ugirashebuja, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Republic of Rwanda and former President of the East African Court of Justice. He spoke of the wider ripple effects that just initiating a legal case can create. While in some situations, he said, simply the commencement of a legal action might force the Government or other public actor to drop a planned environmentally-damaging project, or at least to mitigate its potential environmental impacts. Yet, Dr. Ugirashebuja also said that such litigation may also give the judges a vital opportunity they can then use to advance legal interpretations to better protect the environment in the future.

The final day also saw an interesting panel covering a wide range of new and emerging norms of international environmental law. Dr. Nick Bryner reminded us that since Covid, many states had rolled back on their environmental promises and reduced their mitigation efforts, arguing that other emergencies now needed to take precedence. Note the timely World Bank Report on just this topic in relation to escalating poverty levels. But, he said, under the norm of non-regression, removing environmental protections should only be done where the science has changed, thus where such measures are no longer scientifically necessary – not due to political expediency. Clearly, with the triple planetary threats facing the planet, now is also not the time to be regressing on environmental protection.

Professor Nicholas Robinson suggested a principle of resilience, notably of building resilience into environmental impact assessments to ensure that planned projects are resilient to such threats as climate change. And finally, Professor Michel Prieur’s words focused on the lack of legal indicators in relation to implementation and compliance. The Sustainable Development Goals, he said, contained only indicators of a scientific or economic nature, and thus legal indicators are much needed to ensure states fulfil their legal obligations.

Prof. Hulme, Chair of the WCEL Specialist Group on Environmental Security and Conflict Law, presenting at the IUCN 3rd International Environmental Law Conference in Oslo (Oct. 2022)

There were plenty more plenary sessions as well as some 34 parallel sessions to choose from covering plastic pollution, nature-based solutions, rights of nature, wildlife crimes, BBNJ and sea-bed mining developments, energy governance, reversing the biodiversity decline, the rights of future generations, and on armed conflict and ecocide. Consequently, the discussion was very rich and varied. There were many mentions of the need to achieve the goal to be nature positive by 2030, as well as for a circular economy, including in relation to UNEA’s plastics pollution treaty currently being drafted, and the need to change consumption and production patterns to meet the biodiversity post-2020 framework due to be discussed (and hopefully adopted) at December’s CBD COP 15.

With July’s adoption by the General Assembly of a resolution recognising the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, Professor David Boyd, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to a healthy environment advocated the need for the right now to be enshrined in all legal instruments, such as the new plastics treaty, the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework and in a Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, amongst others.

The IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law (WCEL) website will showcase many of these presentations shortly, and for environmental lawyers please note that the WCEL is the legal branch of the International Union of Nature Conservation (IUCN), and you can become a member here – membership is free. There are many specialist groups of WCEL which you may like to join also, including environmental security and conflict law, climate change, biodiversity, oceans law, ethics, water and wetlands, soils, as well as the early career group, and two task forces on the plastics treaty and rights of nature.

IUCN WCEL 2022 Oslo International Environmental Law Conference

Prof. Karen Hulme has particular interests in environmental law, the laws of armed conflict and environmental rights. She is also the Chair of the WCEL Specialist Group on Environmental Security and Conflict Law.

A Study on Ignorance and Blame

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The adage ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse’ is significantly inaccurate. Ignorance and mistake of law do, under certain circumstances, exclude responsibility both in national and international criminal law.

Dr. Antonio Coco‘s recently published monograph The Defence of Mistake of Law in International Criminal Law updates the existing reviews of law and practice on the topic, aiming to go a step further: it takes the analysis of mistake of law as a starting point for systematic observations about international criminal law in general.

First, the book defines the contours of the defence of mistake of law in the general theory of criminal law, distinguishing it from cognate defences and highlighting, most notably, its connection with superior orders.

Secondly, it gives an overview of the possible approaches to the defence, offering examples from national law as terms of reference for the subsequent analysis of international criminal law.

Thirdly, it surveys the relevant law and practice of international criminal tribunals, with a focus on the International Criminal Court, and it contemplates offences for which a defence of mistake of law may potentially succeed.

Finally, the author tries to interpret what the rules on mistake of law applicable before international criminal tribunals imply about the purpose of punishing individuals and the legitimacy of such punishment.

Published by OUP

Whilst the discourse on international criminal law is more and more concerned with global politics, The Defence of Mistake of Law in International Criminal Law brings back the focus on the appropriateness of imposing a guilty verdict on the individual defendant, a human being constituting the basic unit of each society.

Rethinking International Law from Amazonian Onto-epistemologies: the Kukama People and the Amazonian Waterway Project

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Cristina Blanco, PhD candidate at the School of Law, University of Essex, was awarded the PhD Fieldwork Grant 2021-22 by the Socio-Legal Studies Association (SLSA). Cristina’s research focuses on the interactions between Amazonian onto-epistemologies, international law (IL) and human rights in the context of an investment project.

In the Amazonian rivers, water flow varies significantly with the seasons. During the dry season, low water levels hinder the navigation of large vessels. Although the peoples inhabiting the Amazon rainforest have travelled and traded using these rivers over centuries, the fluctuating navigability prevents uninterrupted large-scale transport. This is the main reason why the Peruvian state is promoting the “Amazonian Waterway”, an infrastructure project that consists of removing sediments from the bottom of the main Amazonian rivers.

The Amazonian Waterway is far from being an isolated project. It rather reflects the neoliberal developmental paradigm favoured by IL (Escobar 2011, Pahuja 2011, Eslava 2019). In addition to generating serious socio-environmental impacts, the project hides a profound conflict of ways of understanding the world.

The Amazonian indigenous peoples conceive the territory as a space inhabited by human and non-human entities, a conception that challenges the very definition of what we call “nature”. The sharp distinction between humans and non-humans that governs the Western world and underlies modern (international) law is not necessarily present in Amazonian cosmologies (Viveiros de Castro 2004, De la Cadena 2010, Descola 2013).

For the Kukama-Kukamiria people, for instance, the territory is inhabited by different “categories of people” living in a “plurality of worlds” (Tello 2014). The river is an (aquatic) world in itself, inhabited by beings endowed with their own subjectivity and intentionality (Rivas 2011). Therefore, thinking from the Amazon means not only standing in a geographically different place but also thinking onto-epistemically different.

In this scenario, the main problem the research seeks to explore is that IL does not take this onto-epistemic diversity seriously. Instead, it frames the issue as a cultural question of relevance to indigenous collective rights. While such rights play an indispensable role in protecting indigenous worldviews, they are insufficient to prevent their elimination.

This, in turn, has important implications in areas as critical as the Amazon. Trying to make sense of IL from the Amazon, this case study provides the opportunity to explore how to move from the impact of IL in the Amazon (historically aimed at its internationalisation) to enable the influence of Amazonian epistemologies on IL. This exercise of “Amazonising IL” enables us to reveal the epistemological richness of the Amazonian cosmovision and explore its potential for rethinking IL.

The research has three main methodological components. Substantively, it is a socio-legal research that takes as the unit of analysis the interactions between IL, human rights and the Amazonian worldview relevant to the case study. In analytical terms, it has an interdisciplinary approach theoretically informed by Amazonian studies and critical approaches to IL. As for the empirical component, it uses a case study method based on qualitative analysis of documentary and visual information, as well as in-depth semi-structured interviews.

The fieldwork was possible thanks to the valuable support of the SLSA.

Bibliographic references

De la Cadena, M. (2010). “Indigenous cosmopolitics in the Andes: Conceptual reflections beyond “politics”.” Cultural anthropology 25(2): 334-370. https://anthrosource.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1548-1360.2010.01061.x

Descola, P. (2013). Beyond nature and culture, University of Chicago Press. https://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/B/bo9826233.html

Escobar, A. (2011). Encountering development: The making and unmaking of the Third World, Princeton University Press. https://press.princeton.edu/books/paperback/9780691150451/encountering-development

Eslava, L. (2019). The Developmental State: Independence, Dependency, and the History of the South. In: The Battle for International Law: South-North Perspectives on the Decolonization Era. J. von Bernstorff and P. Dann, Oxford University Press: 71-100. https://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-battle-for-international-law-9780198849636?cc=gb&lang=en&

Pahuja, S. (2011). Decolonising international law: development, economic growth and the politics of universality, Cambridge University Press. https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/decolonising-international-law/7E8B4FB0AAECFD08355914EE41DDB5C7

Rivas Ruiz, R. (2011). Le serpent, mère de l’eau: chamanisme aquatique chez les Cocama-Cocamilla d’Amazonie péruvienne, Paris, EHESS. http://www.sudoc.abes.fr/cbs/xslt/DB=2.1//SRCH?IKT=12&TRM=160329019&COOKIE=U10178,Klecteurweb,D2.1,E192cfbd9-1f1,I250,B341720009+,SY,QDEF,A%5C9008+1,,J,H2-26,,29,,34,,39,,44,,49-50,,53-78,,80-87,NLECTEUR+PSI,R95.151.73.225,FN

Tello, L. (2014). “Ser gente en la Amazonía, fronteras de lo humano: aportes del pueblo kukama.” Amazzonia indigena e pratiche di autorappresentazione. Milano, Franco Angeli: 39-48. https://www.francoangeli.it/Ricerca/scheda_libro.aspx?Id=21593

Viveiros de Castro, E. (2004). Perspectivismo e multinaturalismo en la América indígena. Tierra adentro: territorio indígena y percepción del entorno. A. Surrallés and P. Hierro. Copenhague, IWGIA: 37-82. https://www.iwgia.org/images/publications/0331_tierra_adentro.pdf

New Legal Protections for the Environment in Relation to Armed Conflict

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By Professor Karen Hulme (School of Law, University of Essex) and Elizabeth B. Hessami (Johns Hopkins University)

Nature and conservation are inevitably harmed during armed conflict. The laws of armed conflict do provide some measure of legal protection for nature, but these rules are limited and vague. The recent adoption by the International Law Commission (a legal body within the United Nations) of a set of Draft Principles for environmental protection in relation to armed conflict is to be lauded. This post will briefly examine some of the main additions to the law in this area.

Armed conflict pollutes and destroys the environment, often leaving a permanent scar on the landscape and biodiversity of affected states. The Russian conflict in Ukraine, for example, demonstrates the devastation caused to fauna and flora when states engage in warfare on a massive scale in areas rich in biodiversity. It also witnessed a horrifying few weeks as the world saw what happens when warfare takes place in a nuclear-powered state. Thus, from the destruction of targets in forests or protected areas, to collateral harm caused by oil spills in the marine or desert environment, toxic chemical pollution from abandoned munitions, destruction of agricultural lands, and destruction of wildlife – armed conflict inflicts a multitude of harms on the natural world.

The WCEL Specialist Group on Peace, Security and Conflict has, therefore, been following closely the work of the International Law Commission (ILC) on its programme of work on the Protection of the Environment in relation to Armed Conflict. In May 2022 the ILC adopted the final version of its recommended 27 Draft Principles, sending them to the General Assembly for final consideration before adoption. Many of the Draft Principles are already rooted in international law, while some provide best practice guidance.

The culmination of over ten years work, there is no doubt that the Draft Principles represent a significant moment in the advancement of legal protection of the wartime environment. Before the creation of the Draft Principles, the current ILC Special Rapporteur, Ambassador Marja Lehto, opined that there was no “coherent legal framework for the protection of the environment in relation to armed conflict”. The approval of the ILC mandate by states, therefore, reflected an acceptance that the law in this area was inadequate, ill-defined and outdated. Certainly, there are limited treaty rules protecting the war-torn environment, particularly in civil wars – the most prevalent type of conflict. Thus, the Draft Principles draw together an extensive body of rules covering both international armed conflicts as well as civil wars (non-international armed conflicts) and are addressed to a wide range of non-state actors.

Two key dimensions of the ILC’s analysis warrant fanfare. Innovative was the decision to take a holistic approach, ensuring analysis of the legal protections afforded not just during conflict, but prior to the outbreak of conflict and post-conflict. Methodologically unique, this temporal approach allowed for the second innovative approach, namely a focus beyond the laws of armed conflict. Any area of law today is a complex web of interactions between hitherto distinct areas of law. Throwing off the shackles of a pure laws of armed conflict analysis, the ILC undertook a comprehensive analysis of the issues, drawing from areas such as environmental law, human rights law, arms control and business and human rights obligations. Having said that, it is still less than clear how these other legal regimes apply during the combat phase of conflict.

The Draft Principles are, thus, a blend of treaty law, including the laws of armed conflict, and novel guidance or best practice (known as ‘progressive development’) – which states and other actors are encouraged to follow. For example, Draft Principle 16 reiterates the clearly established treaty rule that pillage of natural resources is prohibited (effectively theft during conflict), and Draft Principle 14 the equally clear application of the foundational laws of armed conflict to the environment, such as the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions. Novel rules are included on cooperation for post-conflict environmental assessments and remedial measures (DP 24) for example. A key one of which is the obligation for removal of toxic or other hazardous remnants of war (DP 26).

The novel structure has certainly helped the Special Rapporteurs to approach the issues from new angles, highlighting novel issues for consideration. One example being the post-conflict part, which analysed obligations of environmental remediation, liability and cooperation – issues which are generally omitted from legal instruments and are proving rather elusive in the current Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The recent humanitarian crisis created by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, when added to the plethora of other events causing people to flee their homes and lands, such as climate-related events, has pushed the number of IDP’s and Refugees above an estimated 100 million people globally according to UNHCR. Thus, displaced people must be considered during armed conflict, as must the environment that they are inhabiting. Environmental protection of lands housing displaced persons is, therefore, a welcome addition to the Draft Principles, particularly in a world where displacement is increasing at a dramatic pace. Draft Principle 8 on Human Displacement takes a novel look at the issue, recommending that states not only ‘protect the environment where they are located’, but also provide ‘relief and assistance for such persons and local communities’. Importantly, environmental protection also extends to areas of transit.

Draft Principles 10 and 11 on Corporate Due Diligence and Corporate Liability respectively require that states ensure business enterprises ‘exercise due diligence and protect the environment and human health’ in conflict-affected areas. These two provisions are an important addition to the field to deter corporate actors from preying on local populations and natural resources during such turbulent times, and preventing conflict financing through the exploitation and trade in such commodities.

Implementation of the Draft Principles will be the final step with states expected to implement them through domestic law and military manuals. They present a concise statement of law in one document, undoubtedly expanding the law on certain issues. Thus, the Draft Principles will undoubtedly serve as a point of dialogue for states to further the discussion of how to protect the environment during the conflict cycle.

Fernando Bordin wrote “Codification conventions and draft articles completed by the International Law Commission are often – and increasingly – invoked by courts, tribunals, governments and international organizations as ‘reflections of customary international law’.”

The Draft Principles, therefore, represent, an important opportunity to make a tangible, meaningful difference in the lives and environment of people caught in the crosshairs of conflict.


This article was first published on the website of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and is reproduced on the ELR Blog with permission and thanks. You can read the original piece here.

More about the authors:

Professor Karen Hulme, School of Law, University of Essex, UK, specializes in the legal protection of the environment during armed conflict. She has published on environmental human rights, environmental security, post-conflict obligations, the legality of specific weapons, as well as climate change, biodiversity/nature protection, oceans and protected areas. Karen is Chair of the IUCN WCEL Specialist Group on Environmental Security and Conflict Law.

Elizabeth B. Hessami

Elizabeth B. Hessami, J.D., LL.M. (Environmental Law), is a licensed attorney and Faculty Lecturer of International Environmental Policy and Environmental and Natural Resources Security for Johns Hopkins University. She has also served as a Visiting Attorney for the Environmental Law Institute (remote) for several years.

Investigating Allegations of Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Humanitarian Settings

Photo by Claudia Soraya on Unsplash

Professor Carla Ferstman is a member of the Justice Rapid Response (JRR) Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Justice Experts Roster. She recently wrote a research paper for JRR on the investigation of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) allegations involving children.

Along with Fabian Ilg, who is a Justice Rapid Response Roster Expert, Prof. Ferstman participated in a launch event: Investigating Allegations of Sexual Exploitation & Abuse of Children Occurring in Humanitarian Settings: Reflections from Practice (recording available). 

Prof. Ferstman and Fabian Ilg recently conducted an interview with JRR about the research paper. Their responses are reproduced on the ELR Blog below with permission and thanks.

Carla, As the author of the report, could you summarize the key findings and its recommendations?

The purpose of the report is to explain the key challenges to investigate allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse involving child victims. It is not a “how to” guide, but there are several clear messages to the report.

First, allegations of SEA involving child victims are likely to happen in settings that present unequal power dynamics. This will include fragile settings whether impacted by conflict, insecurity, weak governance, poverty, disease, or natural disasters. Because of this likelihood, all humanitarian agencies and organizations working in these environments need to actively prepare for such eventualities. Hoping that it won’t happen is simply not a good enough strategy. Active preparation includes having clear child-friendly policies in place, being proactive about uncovering child SEA, having specialist staff on hand, and taking effective steps to mitigate the risk of SEA involving child victims.

Second, agencies and organizations should ensure that their policies and practices maximize the rights of child victims. Ensuring the best interests of the child in relation to SEA investigations is not only about protecting children from psychological and other forms of harm during investigations; it also requires that children’s rights to information, to participate in investigation processes, to justice and to reparations are all maximized to the greatest possible extent. How child victims are consulted during SEA investigations should reflect their evolving capacities and their maturity. Third, agencies and organizations should recognize and address the conflicts of interest they often have when conducting SEA investigations. This includes ensuring children have access to independent advice and support about how best their interests, needs and rights can be respected during a SEA investigation and subsequently.

Being the first report of its kind, dedicated to exploring the issue of SEA investigations through a child-centered perspective, what do you hope it will achieve?

It is hoped that the report will raise awareness about a really complex issue that arises all too often in humanitarian settings.

Hopefully, it will spur agencies and organizations to action, so that the needs and rights of child victims can be met and so that accountability for this horrific crime can prevail.

Fabian, why do you feel that this project and paper are important and needed? 

First, I am very proud and glad to have had the opportunity to participate in this very important project and to bring in some of my own experience from the field while investigating different SEA cases involving children (CSEA) over many years, both as a JRR expert and as a professional in law enforcement.
 
This report is one of the most complete documents created about this topic and fills a large void. Over the past years, the focus to improve protection of CSEA victims has increased a lot. As a result, organizations working in the humanitarian sector have needed guidance and specific standards to prevent CSEA, as many CSEA cases still occur regularly all over the world. Now more than ever, it is very important to do the utmost to protect children, the most vulnerable human beings, to treat them with respect during this process, and to start helping survivors to make their future life as bearable as possible. This report provides the needed guidance in a comprehensive manner, and is therefore a perfect tool for all who may be involved with CSEA during their work.

As someone who has conducted SEA investigations, how do you have to adapt your approach to investigate SEA against children?

SEA investigations are very complex on different levels. CSEA investigations are an even greater challenge. In many cases, material evidence is missing and the victims’ voice is the only proof. Relationships of dependency and abuse of power are some of the usual modus operandi used by perpetrators, to make victims appear to have wanted the sexual contact. In court, judges follow the strong voice of the lawyers of the perpetrators and the statements of adults often have a much higher weight than that of children. Children are very vulnerable and can often not distinguish between right and wrong, and as such their judgement is viewed as limited. Furthermore, the chances of their re-victimization at a later point in time are sadly quite high.

This makes CSEA very different from SEA. We, as CSEA investigators, have a grave responsibility to protect these young victims, and must do so by putting them in the centre of the investigation. This starts with ensuring all their rights are protected during the investigation process. Among other things, to be interviewed is a very traumatic experience for a child. The victim-centred approach is in many ways the most critical step to support a child and provides them with the chance of having a bearable life in the future.

Investigations in Armed Conflict

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Investigations into alleged violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in armed conflict are crucial to the implementation of these bodies of law.

There are, however, numerous legal and practical challenges that arise when considering a State’s obligations under international law with regard to such investigations.

These include establishing the bases and scope of the duty to investigate under both bodies of law, and determining the way in which these investigations must be carried out.

Furthermore, addressing the framework for investigations in armed conflict necessarily requires an examination of the interplay of international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

In her new chapter in the latest edition of the Research Handbook on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Dr. Claire Simmons, a researcher at the Essex Armed Conflict and Crisis Hub (under Essex’s Human Rights Centre), focuses on the concept of effectiveness of investigations under international law.

Dr. Simmons addresses, in particular, the legal and practical challenges surrounding the conduct of investigations in armed conflict, taking into account the complementary way in which both bodies of law interact.

Research Handbook on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, edited by Robert Kolb, Gloria Gaggioli, and Pavle Kilibarda

Chapter full citation: Claire Simmons, ‘Investigations in Armed Conflict’, in Robert Kolb, Gloria Gaggioli, and Pavle Kilibarda (eds), Research Handbook on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law: Further Reflections and Perspectives (Elgar 2022).

Affordable, Clean Energy and Climate Action in Sub-Saharan Africa

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How can energy policy measures for realizing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy) and 13 (Climate Changes and Its Impact) in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) be framed toward achieving energy justice?

This position is quite challenging for developing countries that seek to resolve the rising inequality of access to modern and affordable energy systems as stipulated in SDG 7, whilst simultaneously working to meet their international obligations towards the attainment of SDG 13.

Both goals highlight interdependent and conflicting interactions that policymakers should be aware of whilst working to realize them.

Godswill Agbaitoro, Lecturer in Law at the University of Essex, and Kester Oyibo, an Associate at Punuka Attorneys & Solicitors in Lagos (Nigeria), aim to resolve this conflict by proposing some viable measures for a synergy between SDGs 7 and 13.

Their article in The Journal of World Energy Law & Business examines the paradoxical situation faced by countries in the SSA region and argues for a contextualization of the two goals within the energy justice framework.

The proposed approach entails a systematic transition from fossil fuels to low-carbon through socio-economic policies that take into account social injustices and further incorporate sustainable actions such as developing renewable energy technologies, diversification of energy options, energy efficiency, and regional alignments and/or cooperation.

The measures outlined in their article aim to help the SSA region achieve energy justice by 2030.