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 Poetry of Rights

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By Charilaos Nikolaidis, Essex Law School

Human rights are not simply rights, they are also quintessentially human; and the human experience is filled with emotion. Dr Nikolaidis argues that human rights can be understood as emanating from emotions that we are perceived to share.

Art in general and poetry in particular can provide a great service in helping us explore and bring these emotions to the fore, thereby reinforcing the distinctively human character of human rights, while also enabling us to understand them as something more than moral or legal constructs.

The regulatory and legal facet of human rights is a fundamental aspect of democratic justice systems. But so is the personal, emotional facet, which prompts us to celebrate, communicate, debate and re-imagine the nature and content of human rights – within and beyond the courtroom – in a more empathetic and inclusive manner, with reference to the emotions that underpin them.

In his new article, published Open Access in the journal of Law and Humanities, Dr Nikolaidis advances the idea that a sharper focus on the personal facet of rights can help promote the regulatory one “by making the justice system more sensitive and responsive to the emotions of individuals, thus rendering it more open and relatable”.

The article can be accessed in full here.

Church of Sweden Apologizes to Sami for Involvement in Colonial Oppression & Past Abuses

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By Ebba Lekvall, Essex Law School

“Today, we acknowledge [these past abuses], and, on behalf of the Church of Sweden, I apologise.”

Those were the words of the Archbishop of the Church of Sweden, Antje Jackelén, as she led the reconciliation service in Luelå Cathedral this past Sunday (23 October), and officially apologised to Sweden’s indigenous population for the Church’s involvement in past colonial oppression and abuses. This is part of the Church’s reconciliation process and efforts in dealing with a dark past that has included forced Christianisation, destruction and desecration of Sami religious places and objects, active participation in grave looting in search of Sami remains, deprivation and suppression of Sami identity and culture.

The Sami are the only indigenous people of Europe and their traditional land – Sápmi – stretches across half of modern-day Norway and Sweden, as well as part of Finland and Russia. It is estimated that there are around 100,000 Sami in Sápmi, with 20,000-40,000 in Sweden.

Source: https://samer.se/karta

The Sami are believed to have lived on this land for thousands of years. In Sweden, colonisation of Sápmi began in the early 14th century but really took off in the 17th century when silver was discovered. This led to Sami populations being driven further to the north and west, which led to centuries of conflict between the Sami and colonisers as the Sami saw their rights, including to land and water, being curtailed. These rights are still being violated today in breach of international human rights law and Sweden has been criticised by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples for its treatment of the Sami, including for the lack of protection for their right to their lands and resources.

The Church of Sweden was instrumental in the oppression of the Sami, who were forced to convert to Christianity (through methods like fines, imprisonment and even the death penalty) and to attend church, where their language and traditional joik singing was banned. As part of the Christianisation of the Sami, the Church also defaced Sami religious sites and destroyed drums used in traditional ceremonies. This contributed to the loss of traditional Sami religion and culture.

In addition, the Church was the main force in organising so-called “nomad schools” for Sami children, which were run between 1913 and 1962. Like the residential schools for indigenous children in Canada, these were boarding schools and based on racist ideology. However, unlike the Canadian schools, the purpose was not necessarily to assimilate Sami children into Swedish citizens. Rather, the schools in Sweden were created based on the understanding that reindeer-herding Sami should live according to what the Church considered to be as close to their nature as possible, whereas non-nomadic Sami should be assimilated into white Swedish society. Therefore, the children of reindeer herders were sent to the nomad schools, where they were provided sub-standard education, where Swedish was the language of instruction and where their own language was banned. Consequently, generations of Sami lost their language.

The Church was also involved in other racist policies. In 1922, the State founded the Institute for Eugenics. Its director, Herman Lundborg, believed in racial purity and argued that ideas about the equal worth of peoples was an illusion (he became an inspiration for German eugenics researchers whose work laid the foundation for many Nazi policies). Lundborg conducted his “research” on the Sami people which led to trauma, lasting generations. He travelled to Sápmi and measured skulls and faces of the Sami, and also collected information about eye and hair colour. He photographed each person, sometimes naked, and a catalogue of pictures with public access is still kept at the library at Uppsala University. Church representatives had a close relationship with Lundborg and they acted as points of contact between Lundborg and the schools and villages he visited.

While the State has remained largely silent and has yet to apologise, the Church has taken the lead in redressing past abuses against the Sami and has begun a reconciliation process which has included mapping its involvement in abuses and holding Ságastamallat (conversation or dialogue in Sami) – where testimonies have been collected about the experiences of the Sami and consequences of the Church’s abuses. The first one took place in October 2011 and the second took place 21-22 October. Two more Ságastamallat are planned – one in 2026 and one in 2031. The Church will then have spent 20 years working on the process of reconciliation.

The current (and retiring) Archbishop has, for many years, made repeated public comments about the Church’s past abuses against the Sami, and called for Sweden to deal with its colonial past. Under her leadership, the Church published a White Paper – “The Sami and the Church of Sweden” – where the Church “examines its guilt and responsibility towards the Sami in [Sweden’s] colonial past.” The White Paper documents past abuses and violations committed. The Church has also published a book about the nomad schools – “When I was eight, I left my home and I have still not returned” – which contains ten testimonies from persons who attended these schools. In the preface, the Archbishop wrote: “The Church took part in the colonisation of Sápmi and actively contributed to exercising power and control over the Sami. We delivered theological thought models that could justify the colonial system. Church representatives also had a driving role in the creation of the nomadic schools at the beginning of the 20th century.”

Last November, the Church made an official apology in Uppsala Cathedral, the seat of the Archbishop. This apology was repeated this Sunday in Luleå – which was symboliccally important as Luleå is located in Sápmi. Both apologies were made in Church services that were live streamed and still available online. The services were conducted in both Swedish and Sami. Importantly, the traditional joik was also included, as were several testimonies, including about experiences in the nomad schools and a poem about the racial policies of the Church. Others spoke about the loss of identity across generations, and how the loss of language and land (including land still owned by the Church) has contributed to the loss of culture.

The Archbishop’s apology acknowledged that the Church “has contributed to and legitimised oppression” and that the apology was only one step “forward on the long road of reconciliation.” As part of this road to reconciliation, and linked to the apology, the Church also made eight commitments, including to increase knowledge and awareness of the Church’s historical abuse against the Sami and the consequences of this and to expand knowledge of and respect for the principles of indigenous rights within the Church of Sweden and in society, as well as to preach the Gospel in the Sami languages and in the Sami cultural context, with respect for the Sami spiritual and ecclesiastical tradition.

After centuries of oppression at the hands of the Church, this public apology is an important step in the work done by the Church as part of the ongoing process of reconciliation. However, the Archbishop also acknowledged that “we cannot determine how you will receive this apology. It is not our place to demand to know when a response will be given and what that response will be.” Representatives of the Sami Parliament in Sweden have said that in order for the Sami people to accept the apology, practical action from the Church is needed. It remains to be seen whether the Church is able to deliver on its eight commitments and how the apology will be received by Sami communities.

In further developments, and perhaps spurred on by the Church’s work, the government agreed with the Sami Parliament last year to create a truth commission to “identify and review from a historical perspective the policies the Sami were subjected to and the subsequent consequences for the Sami people.” Commissioners were appointed in June 2022 and are expected to deliver their report in 2025. Little information is currently available about the commission, including details about its mandate, but it does not seem to include a mandate to recommend reparations.

Given the State’s history of dragging its feet when it comes to acknowledging responsibility for its abuses against the Sami, both past and present, and the fact that it refuses to ratify the ILO 169 Convention on indigenous rights, this is perhaps unsurprising. But it would be a missed opportunity nonetheless. At the very least, any reparations provided to the Sami should include acknowledgement of responsibility and an apology. With the Church leading the way, one can only hope the State follows suit.

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.

Essex Law School Academics Succeed at the YERUN Research Mobility Awards

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We are pleased to announce that Dr Koldo Casla and Dr Fikayo Taiwo of the Essex Law School made successful applications for the 2022 YERUN Research Mobility Awards!

Young European Research Universities Network (YERUN) is a network of young research universities in Europe seeking to have a true impact on the role and nature of academic pursuit. The competitive Research Mobility awards support early career researchers to establish new research collaborations within the YERUN network while providing a platform to promote multidisciplinary research.

Dr Koldo Casla will work alongside Marion Sandner (PhD candidate at Antwerp University) on the meaning of solidarity and responsibility in global politics and in international law, and the relationship between these two ideas and social rights. 

Solidarity is one of the unifying principles of a society. But does solidarity have a role in the international society? How is solidarity recognised in international human rights law? What are the implications of the recognition of solidarity within nations and between nations? In other words, if we are bound by solidarity, what do we owe each other, and what does this mean for human rights, and for social rights in particular? These are some of the key questions Koldo and Marion will be busy with in the next few months.

Dr Fikayo Taiwo will work with Martin Munu (PhD candidate at Maastricht University) on access to justice, regional economic integration and electronic commerce (e-commerce).

As access to justice is a sustainable development goal (SDG), the researchers will investigate the extent to which the nascent Agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) dispute resolution mechanism advocates this SDG for e-commerce disputes. Given the increasing popularity and complexity of e-commerce and the societal peculiarities on its availability and use across the continent, as well as the inspiration drawn from the World Trade Organisation Dispute Settlement Understanding (WTO-DSU), the researchers will consider any gaps in WTO rules and case law covering e-commerce with the objective of drawing any possible lessons for promoting access to justice under the AfCFTA, and contributing towards sustainable, inclusive socio-economic development in Africa.

The collaborations will last until the end of 2023. We look forward to announcing their findings. Watch this space!

Do EU Organic Regulations Promote Better Animal Welfare?

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By Eugénie Duval, Essex Law School

In the European Union (EU), the general concept of animal welfare is provided by the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU which considers animals as “sentient beings”. Briefly, animal welfare refers to the state of an animal that is healthy (both physically and emotionally) and has the ability to satisfy its behavioural needs. EU farm animal welfare legislation includes several acts laying down minimum standards for the protection of farm animals. However, these minimum standards fail to guarantee the welfare of farm animals. In contrast, the EU Organic Regulation 2018/848 and the Implementing Regulation 2020/464 provide detailed rules aiming to promote “high animal welfare standards”.

Adopted in 1991, the EU Organic Regulation was most recently revised in 2018, with the changes of this revision entering into force in 2022. One of the most significant updates is the expansion of the scope of the Organic Regulation (i.e., additional species and stages of production). Together with Benjamin Lecorps (Bristol Veterinary School), I have been invited by Alice Di Concetto (The European Institute for Animal Law & Policy) to contribute to a research note on the EU Organic regulations and their impact on animal welfare. This research note draws from my previous work on EU Organic regulations, where I first explored, together with two animal welfare scientists, how these regulations affect dairy cattle welfare[1] as well as other species farmed in the EU.[2]

Animal welfare standards in EU Organic regulations represent a significant improvement compared to the minimum standards. EU Organic regulations aim to provide animals with better protection from negative experiences, limiting pain or suffering induced by routing management practices.

For example, the use of cages and the practice of force-feeding (e.g., used for the production of foie gras) are prohibited in organic systems. Additional requirements aim to ensure animals’ needs are met, beyond the animals’ interest not to suffer. Organic farmers are required to provide their animals with the ability to express natural behaviours or access important resources (e.g., mandatory outdoor access; lower densities).

However, some challenges remain and animals in certified organic production still stand to benefit from further improvements yet to be implemented. On a number of aspects, EU Organic regulations provide exceptions (e.g., physical mutilations; tethering), use vague language or remain silent.

One of the main limitations  relates to the lack of emphasis by EU Organic regulations on the welfare of animals during transport. Apart from minor provisions, animals in organic agriculture are subjected to the same rules in the Transport Regulation that apply to non-organically produced animals. However, these rules are limited and there is evidence that they do not guarantee a good level of animal welfare during transport and need to be improved.[3]

If you are interested in knowing more about this research note, you can download it directly from our blog below:


[1] Eugénie Duval, Marina A.G. von Keyserlingk, Benjamin Lecorps, ‘Organic dairy cattle: Do European Union regulations promote animal welfare?’, Animals, 2020, 10, 1786.

[2] Eugénie Duval, “Le droit de l’Union relatif à l’agriculture biologique : la promotion d’un meilleur bien-être des animaux d’élevage ?”, in Isabelle Michallet (dir.), Bien-être et normes environnementales, Mare et Martin, 2022

[3] I am currently writing a paper comparing live animal transportation regulations in several jurisdictions, highlighting animal welfare challenges and future directions.

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.

Human Rights Centre Clinic: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Project (2021-22)

Charlotte Dickson, Ayşe Uzun Demir and Arne Vermeerbergen in UNHCR HQ

Over the Summer of 2021, the Human Rights Liaison Unit (HRLU) in the Division of International Protection (DIP) of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) negotiated with Essex’s Human Rights Centre (HRC) Clinic to coordinate a project with human rights and humanitarian law masters students to investigate the interaction between Special Procedure Mandate Holders (SPMHs) and UNHCR at headquarters, in the regions, and at country level.

In October 2021, Arne Vermeerbergen, Ayşe Uzun Demir, Charlotte Dickson and Parkhi Saxena took on this project. They came with varying degrees of prior knowledge, but for all of them, the scope and complexity of the project was a steep learning curve which they all took on with great enthusiasm. This was one of the six projects of the HRC Clinic of the University of Essex in 2021-22 (the annual report of the Clinic’s activities can be found here).

To give a brief overview of the scope of the project, there are 45 Thematic Mandate and 13 Country Mandate Holders, variously titled Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts or members of a Working Group. They are supported by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). They are a Charter mechanism and so are not tied to any particular human rights treaty, but they all have their own separate mandates.

Clearly, the Country Mandate Holders focus on human rights in that country, but the thematic SPMHs focus on their mandate globally; they may issue thematic reports, communications, statements and undertake country visits on their mandate followed by a country report. SPMHs change regularly and a new one may have more or less knowledge of persons within the mandate of UNHCR.

Initially limited to refugees, UNHCR’s mandate has expanded over the past eight decades to include stateless persons and conflict-driven internally displaced persons (IDPs) within the Global Protection Cluster. And UNHCR staff move in and out of headquarters and between countries and regional offices in the field.

Maintaining links in such circumstances is not straightforward and the Clinic Project was about improving communication along with expanding interaction. The Team needed to learn all about the Mandates, but also about UNHCR’s mandate and its operations, as well as the interaction between different parts of the UN: UNHCR, OHCHR, and the independent Mandate Holders.

The desk-based research showed that there was a wide variation in engagement by SPMHs with persons in UNHCR’s mandate, and sometimes there was no carry-over when the SPMH changed. While there is an obvious link between the Special Rapporteurs on the human rights of internally displaced persons and on the human rights of migrants, nearly every thematic SPMH has some relevance to refugees, IDPs and stateless persons – violence and discrimination against women might spark flight and be a constant threat during protracted displacement, minorities are often persecuted and have to flee, the threat to freedom of religion and belief is often the reason for seeking refugee status abroad, transitional justice may be essential for refugees and IDPs to feel it is secure to return. To substantiate the desk-based research, the Team also interviewed SPMHs, their OHCHR support teams and relevant sections in UNHCR HQ and the regions.

Their report made clear the need for greater training for SPMHs regarding UNHCR’s protection mandate, but also for improving awareness of the usefulness of SPMHs to UNHCR’s field operations – UNHCR achieves most of its successes through quiet diplomacy from its in-country missions to 137 countries. Over 80% of the 100 million forcibly displaced persons within UNHCR’s mandate are living in low- or middle-income countries, many that are not party to any refugee convention or even international human rights law treaty. A lot of what UNHCR does has to remain confidential, in much the same ways as the ICRC. However, SPMHs can and should speak out about rights violations and while SPMHs are there for every victim, they are also there for refugees, IDPs and stateless persons.

What the Team also highlighted was UNHCR’s cross-border perspective compared to SPMHs that either are mandated for one country or are carrying out country visits. While the independence of all parties needs to be maintained, the potential for coherent and coordinated intervention cannot be doubted.

In recognition of their continued association with the project, the Team received the Essex Law School Bursary of the 2021-22 academic year. Furthermore, to promote their findings, the Team were invited by Peter Swiniarski of the HRLU, who hard worked with them all year, to speak at the UNHCR HQ in Geneva on 29 September 2022. They prepared over the Summer and then, with a little specific planning on the night before and in the morning, three of them in person, Arne, Ayşe, and Charlie, with Parkhi joining online from India as she prepared to take up her new position as Assistant Lecturer at Jindal Global Law School, presented in Lecture Room 4 in UNHCR to members of the HRLU and to about 40 field officers around the world.

A picture of the online presentation (inset: ongoing session in UNHCR HQ, Parkhi Saxena presenting online)

It was a fantastic success and the following day, a former Essex student, now based in Mogadishu for UNHCR, Sebastian Herwig, contacted Prof. Geoff Gilbert (who supervised the project) to congratulate them. This was insightful, beyond Masters-level, impactful research that will affect UNHCR, OHCHR and SPMHs as they all seek to enhance the human rights of persons within their mandates.

The Team summed up their year-long experience in a few words:

We were fortunate to work on a project that was incredibly interesting yet very challenging. We hope that the outcomes of our research can make a difference to UNHCR’s and SPMH’s work in building better lives for those forced from their homes.

Giving Nature A Voice

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Faith In Nature has become the world’s first company to officially appoint Nature to its Board of Directors. The precedent-setting move gives Nature a vote on key business decisions with Essex Law School academic and Co-Founder of Lawyers for Nature Brontie Ansell joining the Board as the first representative for Nature.

In a fundamental change to their corporate governance structure and in a first for the business world, the decision from the natural hair care and soap company gives the natural world a voice and a vote on the future of the business.

The company has formally amended its constitution, with the result that Nature is now represented on the Board by an individual who is legally bound to speak on behalf of the natural world. The nominated proxy will speak and vote on behalf of Nature, much as a guardian acts on behalf of a child in the courts of law.

This decision extends a growing legal precedent around environmental personhood – the attribution of legal rights to non-human entities – and presents a fresh opportunity for businesses wanting to reduce their environmental impact.

Simeon Rose, Faith In Nature’s Creative Director and driver of the initiative, said: “We’re delighted to be the first to do this but we don’t want to be the last. Our hope is that other businesses who take their responsibility to the natural world seriously will follow suit – and we’re really happy to share details of how and why we did this. We’ve always wanted Nature to be at the heart of what we do and this felt like this is the next serious step we could take to make that a reality. This is much more than spin: by changing our governance structure we are making sure we’re legally accountable and that what’s good for Nature informs our strategy.”

Rose’s vision has been realised by lawyers that helped pioneer the concept of environmental personhood, Paul Powlesland and Brontie from Lawyers for Nature, and Grant Wilson from Earth Law Centre. Earlier this year, the Earth Law Centre assisted with the high profile legal case to attribute legal rights to Nature in Panama. The legal process with Faith In Nature also received significant support and expertise from a pro bono team of corporate experts at international law firm Shearman & Sterling LLP.

In what will be a rotating position, Brontie will be the first board representative for Nature. Brontie is Director and Co-Founder of Lawyers for Nature and is also a Senior Lecturer in Essex Law School at the University of Essex.

Brontie said: “This will hopefully spark a big change in how the business world perceives and acts on its responsibility to the natural world. For too long Nature has been seen purely as an expendable resource: this kind of thinking has led us to the brink of ecological collapse. It can and must change.”

Grant Wilson at the Earth Law Centre, added: “The movement for the Rights of Nature is picking up momentum across the world, but businesses have been slow to recognise that they are a crucial part of this story. Making Nature a Director is a tangible step that businesses can take to ensure that their operations take into account the rights and needs of the natural world.”

The board representative will work in concert with a committee of environmental experts, to make Nature’s case on all major board decisions. Faith In Nature has decided to open-source the legal process to allow other companies to follow its lead.


This story was first published on the University of Essex’s news webpages and is reproduced on the ELR Blog with permission and thanks.

A Study on Ignorance and Blame

Photo by krakenimages via Unsplash

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.