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international human rights

Great moments in international human rights law: “The European Court of Human Rights says France violated the rights of Somali pirates who had attacked French ships and has ordered compensation for them over judicial delays. The nine Somali pirates should get thousands of euros because they were not immediately brought before a French judge, the court ruled.” [BBC via Eugene Kontorovich]

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[reposted from Cato at Liberty]

Economic sanctions, when they have an effect at all, tend to inflict misery on a targeted region’s civilian populace and often drive it further into dependence on violent overlords. That truism will surprise few libertarians, but apparently it still comes as news to many in Washington, to judge from the reaction to this morning’s front-page Washington Post account of the humanitarian fiasco brought about by the 2010 Dodd-Frank law’s “conflict minerals” provisions. According to reporter Sudarsan Raghavan, these provisions “set off a chain of events that has propelled millions of [African] miners and their families deeper into poverty.” As they have lost access to their regular incomes, some of these miners have even enlisted with the warlord militias that were the law’s targets.

Congress added the provisions to Dodd-Frank in a fit of moral self-congratulation over making sure Americans had the chance to be ethical and thoughtful consumers of such products as jewelry and cellphones (as well as thousands of other products, as it turned out, from auto parts to the foil in food packaging). Publicly held companies would be required to report on their supply connections to “conflict minerals” such as tin, tungsten, and gold mined in war-torn areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Lawmakers assigned enforcement of the law to the Securities and Exchange Commission – a body with scant discernible expertise in either African geopolitics or metallurgy – and barbed it with stringent penalties for disclosure violations, to which are added possible liability in class-action shareholder lawsuits.

Reactions to this morning’s Post account frequently employ words like “unintended” or “tragic” to describe the effect on miners of the law, which people in the Congo soon came to call “Loi Obama” – “Obama’s law”.  Unintended and tragic? Maybe. But not unforeseen, because the signs that the law would backfire this way have been in plain sight for years now – as in this 2011 account by Prof. Laura Seay (via) of how “electronics companies now have a strong incentive to source minerals elsewhere, leaving Congolese miners unemployed.” Or this 2011 account by David Aronson in the New York Times of the “unintended and devastating consequences” that he “saw firsthand on a trip to eastern Congo.” Or this more recent paper by law professor Marcia Narine.

But although the evidence has been there for years, the will to believe in the law was too strong – a will fueled by anti-corporate campaigners who take it on faith that when brutalities in the underdeveloped world occur within two or three degrees of separation of the activities of multinational businesses, the right answer must be to blame and shame the businesses.

You might call it an expensive lesson for Americans too, if you assume that anything has been learned. A recent Tulane calculation found that the costs in business compliance have already topped $700 million, with billions more ahead should nothing change. Just this September, the U.S. government conceded that it “does not have the ability to distinguish” which refiners and smelters around the globe are tainted by a connection to militia groups. That is to say, the government has demanded of business a degree of certainty that it cannot achieve itself.  Courtesy of UCLA corporate law professor Stephen Bainbridge, here’s a flowchart of what complying might involve for a given business.

If the new Republican Congress wants to be taken seriously about fixing counterproductive regulation, it should make the repeal of this law an early priority. (& Bader)

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A bankruptcy judge has dismissed a purported human-rights theory outré enough to have drawn interest from both the United Nations and American legal academia, saying the law guarantees no right to draw water from the Detroit municipal system for free or at rates dependent on ability to pay [Detroit News; Aaron Renn/City Journal and more]

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Coo coo for conflict minerals

by Walter Olson on September 13, 2014

The U.S. government has conceded that it can’t actually tell “which refiners and smelters around the world are financially fueling violence in the war-torn Congo region.” However, under a law passed by Congress in a fit of moral self-congratulation, publicly held companies are still going to be subject to stringent penalties for disclosure violations if they screw up on the reporting of these ultimately untraceable connections. Time for repeal [Bainbridge, Emily Chasan/WSJ CFO Journal blog; earlier] Update: Cost of disclosure reported by Tulane study at $700 million [Bainbridge]

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“The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 12-6 in favor of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.” I’ve outlined the insuperable problems with the CRPD on many occasions, e.g. here (see also here, here, etc.). It’s not clear why Sens. Robert Dole and John McCain would think the best way to honor American military veterans is to yield up U.S. sovereignty over large swaths of domestic governance. [Reuters]

Decent articles on Stand Your Ground in the general press are relatively few, being far outnumbered by those that are sensationalist, axe-grinding or simply uninformed. So it’s nice to be able to recommend this one by Peter Jamison in the Tampa Bay Times [via Jacob Sullum].

In other news, a United Nations panel in Geneva monitoring compliance with international human rights law has questioned a wide range of United States domestic policies, including some states’ adoption of Stand Your Ground as well as lack of gun control and other offenses. “The committee is charged with upholding the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a UN treaty that the US ratified in 1992.” Another reminder that treaties have consequences, and that ratification of other purported human rights treaties, such as the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (CRPD), would not be without public consequences relating to many domestic policies. [Guardian]

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Although we call it “rent control,” the key thing it controls is often not so much what you can charge for a lodging as whether you can ever reclaim it. This recluse successfully held out for $17 million to relinquish his moldy, squalid rented lodging at what is now 15 Central Park West. [New York Post]

P.S. But at least the U.N. likes the idea. While on the subject of legal insanity in NYC real estate: Andrew Rice, New York mag, “Why Run a Slum If You Can Make More Money Housing the Homeless?” I wrote about the epic New York City homeless-rights litigation in Schools for Misrule, and more links are here.

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One (Hood v. AU Optronics) went for plaintiffs, the other (Daimler AG v. Bauman) for defendants, but both were unanimous, in another indication that the work of the Justices rises well above the silly caricature offered by critics like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (“wholly owned subsidiary of Big Business,” etc.) I explain at Cato at Liberty. While Justice Sotomayor in a separate concurrence took a different approach to the problems of general jurisdiction, it arrived at the same place with respect to the unreasonableness of suing Daimler in California over faraway conduct.

For more on the Warren outburst, see Ramesh Ponnuru last September. Earlier links on the AU Optronics case here and here. Similarly: Josh Blackman.

More: While concurring in the result of Daimler v. Bauman, Justice Sotomayor sharply differed on the reasoning, which resulted in some unusually strong language directed at her from Justice Ginsburg writing for the other eight Justices [Blackman] Eugene Volokh considers the foreign-law angle. (& welcome Amy Howe/SCOTUSBlog readers)

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London real estate values have soared, and a furor has broken out on the Left over one large landlord’s announcement that it no longer welcomes government-assisted tenants (related story on U.S. Section 8). According to at least one professor of law, international human rights treaties require the United Kingdom to take affordable housing steps [Aoife Nolan, HuffPo U.K.] Good to be aware of these things before we start ratifying any more of them…

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International law roundup

by Walter Olson on January 6, 2014

Gender governance quotas [Darren Rosenblum, Prawfs]

Just to be maximally unhelpful

by Walter Olson on September 12, 2013

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, who is also a University of Arizona law professor, weighs in on the tribal side in Baby Veronica case [Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations, earlier] Last year we discussed Mr. Anaya’s scolding of the U.S. government on Indian land claim issues. Just last week another official in the U.N. human rights apparatus upbraided the United States for hesitating to expose acquitted George Zimmerman to double jeopardy in the Trayvon Martin shooting.

United Nations “human rights expert” suggests that compliance with international human rights norms may require casting about for some way to re-prosecute George Zimmerman since the first prosecution didn’t come out as some hoped. [Volokh] As Hans Bader points out, Article 14, Section 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights forbids, as opposed to requiring, the exposure of defendants to double jeopardy.

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Once again it is rumored that the Senate will take up the U.N.-sponsored Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Once more the editorialists at the New York Times are promoting the treaty with some dubious — in some cases, easily disproved — claims about what it would and would not do. I look at the controversy in a new post at Cato at Liberty.

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Or would it instead be a human rights violation to let hunger-striking inmates starve? Or maybe both? Debra Saunders quotes my puzzlement at “the emotional atmospherics of hunger strikes, in which people are using other people’s morality as a weapon against them.” [San Francisco Chronicle/ syndicated]

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