Asking Too Much: Why Regional Human Rights Courts Cannot Tackle Corruption

Should regional human rights courts, such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), expand their mandates to explicitly address corruption? Commentators have explored the possibilities of incorporating corruption into the human rights framework (see here and here), and in a previous post, Kaitlin Beach specifically explored the benefits of utilizing regional human rights courts to address corruption (see here and here). Kaitlin emphasizes certain advantages that regional human rights courts have, mainly their flexibility in the types of reparations they can demand. This enables them to order structural anticorruption changes at the state level, as opposed to simply issuing individual indictments.

Despite these advantages, though, we should not get our hopes too high about the role these courts can play in the fight against corruption. Indeed, the IACHR – which Kaitlin points to as her lead example for the productive role that regional human rights bodies can play in combating corruption – is currently burdened by its lack of compliance mechanisms, inefficiency, and financial instability. These setbacks have caused the IACHR to have only limited success in combating human rights abuses. To expect an institution that is still struggling to fulfill its original mandate to also take on an additional mission is unrealistic, and adding this additional burden would further strain the limited resources that courts like the IACHR have available to remedy human rights abuses.

Consider the following limitations of the IACHR, which are characteristic of other regional human rights bodies as well, and which make it unlikely that these institutions will be able to do what some anticorruption advocates hope: Continue reading

Coming Along for the Ride: Regional Human Rights Courts Should Demand Government Measures to Affirmatively Address Corruption

In an earlier post, I discussed an order by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights demanding that Brazil investigate and report on prison guards’ corruption. Mandating that a country review its own corruption seems to be a new step for an international judicial body. The approach suggests a way to more closely integrate corruption-related concerns into international human rights work: including corruption-specific mandates within broader holdings. Other international adjudicative bodies, particularly regional human rights courts, should follow this model.

The idea of directly adjudicating corruption through an international court has been floated but also strongly opposed. Some corruption commentators advocate making grand corruption a crime against humanity that could be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court (ICC). As discussed on this blog, Judge Mark Wolf has proposed an independent international anticorruption court, an idea that met with some tempered support and a good deal of opposition (see here, here, and Matthew’s concerns here). I agree that grand corruption does not belong in the ICC or an independent court. To reject grand corruption as a stand-alone offense to be prosecuted in international criminal tribunals is not, however, to reject that corruption should be addressed by international criminal tribunals where it is relevant. Existing bodies like regional human rights courts—the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), and the much newer African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, as well as other, even younger human rights bodies in Southeast Asia and the Middle East—should explicitly address corruption-related issues within the context of the large volume of human rights adjudication already taking place. As other commentators have already discussed, these regional human rights courts can fold corruption into their respective mandates and generate meaningful corruption-related law (see here, here, and here). Indeed, regional human rights bodies are already well-placed to highlight corruption where it emerges and to respond appropriately to both the existing situation and future concerns:

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Guest Post: Targeted Sanctions and Corruption–Legal Obstacles to a Magnitsky Act for the EU

Anton Moiseienko, PhD candidate at the Criminal Justice Centre, Queen Mary University of London, contributes the following guest post:

So-called targeted sanctions—imposing travel restrictions on, or freezing the assets of, a select group of people—remain in vogue as an instrument of foreign policy and as a supplement to criminal justice in many areas, such as counterterrorism, and yet targeted sanctions have not been widely used in counteracting corruption. The United States, however, is a notable exception, with its Presidential Proclamation 7750, which authorizes the US Secretary of State to issue entry bans against corrupt foreign officials (subject to a caveat that such determinations must be informed by US national interests), and the Magnitsky Act of 2012, enacted by the US Congress in response to the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer-turned-whistleblower, in a Moscow prison after he reported the embezzlement of US$230 million by high-ranked law enforcement officers. Strictly speaking, the Magnitsky Act is a human rights law rather than an anticorruption law. It authorizes the US President to blacklist (1) the individuals responsible for the prosecution and death of Mr. Magnitsky, and (2) those responsible for “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” if committed against the persons trying to expose the illegal activity of Russian officials or against human rights activists. Yet pervasive corruption is at the heart of Magnitsky’s case, as it appears that a ring of corrupt officials was complicit in his death.

The European reaction to the Magnitsky Act was ambivalent. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly adopted a non-binding resolution in 2012 calling upon member states to deny entry to, and freeze the assets of, the individuals on the US Magnitsky List––but to little effect. In contrast, a report by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (CoE) deemed US-style sanctions to be “a means of last resort” and advised against them. But despite the lack of governmental action, the public debate in Europe is not over (see, for example, here and here). With EU sanctions against Russia expanding continuously, it may be time to revisit the European debate on whether the EU should draw up its own Magnitsky List, or perhaps adopt a more general policy on targeted anticorruption sanctions.

If the EU or its individual member states proceed with Magnitsky List-style sanctions, they will have to reckon with their human rights laws—including the EU Charger of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. The most important potential legal difficulties are as follows: Continue reading