Volume 22, Issue 3

JHR Symposium: Free Speech, Free Press and Human Rights

By: Galina Arapova

Volume 22, Issue 2

New Issue: Volume 21, Issue 1

Volume 20, Issue 2

Volume 20, Issue 1

Protecting Humanity’s Cradle of Civilization: Advancing the Right to Self-Determination for Indigenous Peoples in the Middle East & South Caucasus

By: Panossian, Lisabelle | April 1, 2024

During this paper’s drafting, an indigenous people’s independent government collapsed. For over thirty years, the Republic of Artsakh was a de facto independent region inside the internationally-recognized borders of Azerbaijan. The region comprised of an indigenous Armenian majority—until September 2023. In December 2022, Azerbaijani authorities blocked the only road that connected Nagorno-Karabakh to the outside world. This blockade resulted in shortages of food, medical supplies, and fuel, the severity of which was especially felt during a harsh winter. After experiencing starvation and preventable medical complications under a nine month-long blockade, the Azerbaijani government launched a military incursion on the Republic of Artsakh—claiming it was an “anti-terrorist offensive.” By September 2023, under mounting pressure from the crippling blockade and a large-scale military offensive by Azerbaijan, the Republic of Artsakh’s government signed a decree announcing its dissolution by January 2024—officially transferring control over the Artsakh region to Azerbaijan. By October 2023, nearly the entire Armenian population of Artsakh fled their homes in a mass exodus. For the first time in the region’s history, the majority of Artsakh’s indigenous population no longer lived on their native land. How did we get here? Well, Nagorno-Karabakh—known to its indigenous Armenian population as Artsakh—was not always encompassed within Azerbaijan’s internationally-recognized borders. In fact, for the majority of the region’s history, it was an autonomous region that later fell under Azerbaijani authority after post-Soviet era colonization. On December 10, 1991, the Republic of Artsakh (formerly the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic) held a democratic referendum—where ninety-nine percent of Nagorno-Karabakh residents voted in favor of independence from Azerbaijan. That same year, the Republic of Azerbaijan’s Supreme Council abolished Nagorno-Karabakh from possessing autonomous status. For over thirty years, the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh witnessed the Republic of Azerbaijan deny their desire for independence—ultimately culminating in an ethnic cleansing of their native land. Further, the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh cannot directly fight for their interests themselves under international law, given that they have no international legal personality. When it came to advocating for their independence—and attempting to avoid forcible displacement from their ancestral homes—the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh had nowhere to turn. Advancing the right to self-determination under international and domestic laws was their only hope for a sustainable and peaceful future. Yet, the right to self-determination maintains a nebulous meaning under international law, despite being deeply rooted in key legal documents. The United Nations General Assembly explicitly declared that indigenous peoples have a right to self-determination in the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). However, there is no authoritative answer regarding what indigenous people’s right to self-determination precisely entails. This article analyzes three distinct indigenous groups in the Middle East and South Caucasus to argue for the advancement of their right to self-determination under their respective regions’ domestic constitutional provisions and international law, namely: (a) Armenians in the autonomous Nagorno-Karabakh region of the internationally-recognized borders of western Azerbaijan; (b) Assyrians in the Nineveh Plains of northern Iraq; and (c) the Talysh in southern Azerbaijan (“the selected groups”). The selected groups do not encompass all indigenous groups in the Middle East and South Caucasus. But analysis of these groups can provide an “indigenous peoples” lens to what a right to self-determination can look like in the Middle East and South Caucasus through a comparative analysis. Each selected indigenous group has undergone a shared history of seeking autonomy over their native lands—with such efforts met with violence ranging from outright dismissal to ethnic cleansing by their respective governments in power. Legal instruments for indigenous groups to at least partially assert self-determination and autonomy over their ancestral lands generally exist. However, authoritative legal bodies have not interpreted or implemented these rights to their fullest potential. But even though the implementation of indigenous people’s rights under international law “is far from perfect,” recognition of the selected groups’ indigeneity under international law may introduce important rights recognized by the UN in the UNDRIP. It may open a door to international recognition of rights to autonomy, and it may play a meaningful role in the administration of natural resources on their historic lands. Regional inter-governmental organizations also have their own human rights protection frameworks covering their respective geographic regions. Iraq is a member state of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (the “OIC”) and the Arab League. Azerbaijan is a member state of the Council of Europe, Organization for Security & Co-operation in Europe (the “OSCE”), and the OIC. The OIC is “a peripheral grouping and a marginal player” in the public international legal field and has a defunct judicial body. The Arab League has also received consistent criticism “for disunity and poor governance”—being more representative of states’ autocratic regimes than its citizens. Although the OSCE organized the Minsk Group to facilitate diplomatic cooperation between Armenia and Azerbaijan with regards to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, it has been decried as meaningless and ineffective in resolving the conflict. Lastly, Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe explicitly rejected a proposed protocol potentially granting national minorities a right to self-determination inside the Council’s member states. Moreover, protections for minorities in the European Court of Human Rights do not include an explicit right to self-determination. Given the considerations above, this article does not review these regional legal mechanisms that may provide a right to self-determination. This article only articulates and addresses important legal and policy issues that arise when considering each group’s right to self-determination under domestic and international law.

Human Rights Without Borders

By: Chacon, Christian Gonzalez | January 30, 2024

In the current global context, millions of people are forced to migrate yearly for reasons ranging from persecution and violence, internal armed conflicts, and forced displacement, to lack of employment and climate change. In the Americas, we recently witnessed the phenomenon of the “migrant caravans,” where thousands of people, mostly from the Northern Triangle of Central America—El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala— were willing to walk hundreds of miles to enter the U.S.-Mexico border to escape poverty and violence in their countries. Another caravan of close to 10,000 migrants from the Northern Triangle of Central America including Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, as well as Venezuela, Haiti, and other countries, formed in Mexico in 2022 with the goal of entering the United States. The deteriorating political and economic situation in Venezuela over the past few decades has produced a humanitarian crisis in migration. There are currently at least six million Venezuelan migrants and refugees globally.

The extent and inhumanity of irregular migration is the symbol—and consequence—of the failure of the human rights project as a mechanism to guarantee global justice. There is an abyssal line that divides communities of rights and systems of oppression when it is not possible for migrants to move freely from one place to another.

International experts and scholars have suggested that the solution to dehumanization at the borders is a human rights-based approach to migration and border governance that ensures respect for migrants’ rights. This, however, sorely lacks the backing of hard law. Hence, in the context of migration, we hear repeatedly of “humanitarianism,” suggesting that our treatment of the other at the border is oriented by kindness and humanity, not legal mandate or duty.

This paper shall argue that the humanitarian discourse hides the fact that the core of the migration problem is that rights are linked to nationality and not to humanity. Rights are “trump cards held by individuals” that should be respected by the nation state of which one is a citizen or to which one belongs. Human rights fails to realize the ideal of universal justice because they naturalize the border, the Nation State, and sovereignty. In brief, we live in a context of human rights that seek to guarantee peace through the division and separation that sovereignty bestows, rather than through the construction of a global community of rights. I shall argue that we need to revitalize human rights as a project of global justice without borders. To do this, the community of human rights scholars must rethink the relationship of rights to the Nation State and move beyond its imagined and confined community.

If human rights seek to be a true project of global justice without borders, it needs to rethink the foundation of rights and head toward a foundation linked more to capabilities, harmony, and sustainability. Rights should be conferred on individuals not based on their nationality, but on their capabilities to flourish. Further, rights are not dependent merely on autonomy or sovereignty, they have a basis in a global community that seeks to restore peace and harmony between living beings. Rights serve the dual purpose of protecting us from the State while also fostering positive connections with other individuals.

SLAPP Suits: An Encroachment on Human Rights of a Global Proportion and What Can Be Done About It

By: Prather, Laura | December 3, 2023

Freedom of expression is the underpinning of all other freedoms. Yet, increasingly, journalists, citizens, advocacy groups, whistleblowers, academics, and media organizations are being targeted and subjected to judicial harassment for informing the public about matters of public concern, denouncing authoritarian regimes, and exposing wrongdoing. These meritless lawsuits do not seek to right a wrong, but rather to silence and intimidate critics. They are known as “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation” (“SLAPP” suits) and are on the rise globally. Because SLAPP suits are designed to inhibit ongoing investigations, stifle informed public debate, and prevent legitimate public interest reporting, they present a threat to democracy and strike at the core of human rights.

The antidote to SLAPP suits is the passage of Anti-SLAPP legislation. While the United States has a vast body of state legislative experiences passing Anti-SLAPP laws over the last thirty years, the passage of a federal Anti-SLAPP law has remained elusive. More recently, the European Union and the United Kingdom recognized the dangers SLAPP suits present to democracy, and both have catapulted into action to address them. Much can be learned from the swift international action of raising awareness, educating lawmakers and judges, pursuing accountability for lawyers, and maintaining best practices in the implementation of Anti-SLAPP laws.

Still, because this phenomenon is a global one, we should consider mining the lessons learned from the U.S. experience and scaling the EU and UK models to impede “forum shopping” by perpetrators who are willing to punish their exposers. The need to establish infrastructures for the development of supranational policies and consider best practices for addressing the rise of SLAPP suits is not just about protecting journalists from abusive behavior, but also about preserving the ability of the public to obtain accurate information, considering diverse interests and perspectives, and engage in vital discourse about their governments and communities.