Knowles Law Firm, PC practices in the area of international law with a primary emphasis on international human rights law. International law comprises both the public and private sectors. Public international law involves the law between nations, and private international law involves agreements in the private sector, including those to deal with cross-border disputes. The world in which we live is more inter-connected on a daily basis. In particular, the actions of countries and companies that have a global reach can affect individuals and their rights on a collective level all over the world.
International law comprises, treaties and conventions, customary international law, and jus cogens. The Statute of the International Court of Justice defines customary international law in Article 38(1)(b) as “a general practice accepted as law.” Countries are bound by customary international law, whether or not a country has signed or ratified a treaty that contains customary international law principles. Compelling law, known in Latin as jus cogens, involves law that countries accept as non-derogable rights, being rights that can not be avoided or violated. An example of jus cogens violations typically involve war crimes. Examples of customary international law violations involve conduct by states that permit or engage in slavery, genocide, torture, war of aggression, or crimes against humanity.
Article 38(1) of the Statute of the International Court of Justice sets out three forms of international law, which is either through conventions, custom, or general legal principles. A treaty requires a state to voluntarily consent to signing and ratifying the treaty to become obligated. Custom is derived from general customary conduct and practice of states along with opinio juris meaning that custom is established by a domestic existing legal obligation either through legislation or judicial opinion. Evidence of state behavior, scholarly articles, and judicial opinions of international courts assist in proving custom.
International law is implicated in many sectors, such as trade, the environment, the law of the sea, labor, territory, development and finance, and human rights.
INTERNATIONAL LAW AND HUMAN RIGHTS
“Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must — at that moment — become the center of the universe.” ―
Human rights and collective peoples’ rights on the international stage are found codified in treaties, domestically, or in customary international law. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948 following the close of World War II is a non-binding form of customary international law, which establishes norms that set forth universal individual concepts and rights. The UDHR stands for the concepts of dignity, liberty, and equality. Certain rights in the UDHR include, but is not limited to, the right to life, freedoms of thought and opinion, religion and conscious, peaceful association, and the prohibition of slavery and torture. In addition to the UDHR, the adoption in 1966 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the International Convention of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights set forth enhanced specific rights and protections afforded individuals. These three human rights instruments form what is commonly referred to as the International Bill of Human Rights. Other core human rights instruments include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1969)
- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1981)
- Convention Against Torture (1987)
- Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990)
- International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (2003)
- Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2008)
- International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (2010)
There also exists regional systems of human rights instruments, which extend and enhance the human rights of individuals found within these territories and which include the following:
- African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (1986)
- American Convention on Human Rights (1978)
- European Convention on Human Rights (1953)
HOW IS INTERNATIONAL LAW ENFORCED?
International law is enforced either on the domestic level, through international bodies, such as the United Nations, or through international courts, such as the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Of note, a country may only submit to the jurisdiction of a international court by agreement, such as domestically assenting, typically through legislative vote, to be a signatory to a treaty conveying jurisdiction. For example, signatory countries to the Treaty of Rome consent to jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. The United States signed the Treaty of Rome on December 31, 2000, but it has not ratified the treaty. Under the treaty, a country is not bound, if it has signed but ratified the treaty and “made its intention clear not to become a party to the treaty.” The United States has informed the United Nations Secretary General that it no longer intends to become a party to the treaty and therefore is not bound by the treaty. The ICJ entertains legal disputes only between countries and does not entertain jurisdiction over individuals, non-government organizations, companies, or other private entities.
REGIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS SYSTEMS
Established in 2001, the African Union comprises 54 member states and is a supranational union. The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights is the region’s principal human rights instrument. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) is a quasi-judicial body of the AU, which is delegated to promoting and protecting human rights and collective rights throughout the continent of Africa, as well as interpreting the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and considering individual complaints of violations of the Charter.
The Organization of American States (OAS) comprises 35 member states and is a supranational body based in Washington, DC. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is an autonomous organ of the OAS, also based in Washington, D.C. Along with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights based in San José, Costa Rica, The organization is a permanent body which meets in regular and special sessions several times a year to examine allegations of human rights violations in the continents of North America and South America. Its human rights duties stem from three documents, which include:
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights was established in 1979 with the purpose of enforcing and interpreting the provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights. The court can entertain cases of human rights violations by way of petition or referral.
In 1949, the Council of Europe was established. The Council is based in Strasbourg, France, and is comprised of all member states of the European Union, which also has its own human rights instrument known as the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The Council of Europe is oversees the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights.
The European Convention on Human Rights has since 1950 defined and guaranteed human rights and fundamental freedoms in Europe. All 47 member states of the Council of Europe have signed this Convention, and are therefore under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
The Council of Europe has also adopted the following:
- Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (2005)
- Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (2007)
- Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (2011)
The European Court of Human Rights is the only international court with jurisdiction to deal with cases brought by individuals rather than states.
KNOWLES LAW FIRM, PC AND INTERNATIONAL LAW
Attorney Brian M. Knowles is an admitted Solicitor to the Senior Courts of England and Wales. Also, Mr. Knowles is admitted to practice law in the State of South Carolina and Washington, D.C. Knowles Law Firm, PC can assist in providing legal advice on international law issues and concerns, in particular those related to cross-border disputes and human rights.