Guest Lecture: Dr Jane Rooney: Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights in Armed Conflict

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By Noelle Quenivet

On 14 March 2018 the Centre for Applied Legal Research welcomed Dr Jane Rooney, Lecturer at the University of Bristol, to present a paper on ‘Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights in Armed Conflict’. Dr Rooney began by explaining that she was challenging the commonly held view that human rights law and the European Convention on Human Rights more particularly subject States to a higher threshold than international humanitarian law.

To support her key argument Dr Rooney took the example of internal disturbances that are not covered by international humanitarian law as they do not reach the required levels of violence and organisation of non-State actors. In such instances Article 2 ECHR becomes of paramount importance. Under this provision force may not be used unless absolutely necessary and so the European Court of Human Rights will examine whether force has been used in a proportionate manner as well as how the operation was planned and controlled. As she explained, Article 2 ECHR contains two types of positive obligations (substantive and procedural) and negative obligations. With regard to negative obligations, Dr Rooney observed that they are never looked at in an extra-territorial context. She added that even in an internal context they are only examined in cases relating to terrorism, high levels of violence and internal disturbances but not armed conflicts. As a result a human rights paradigm is applied because the situation at hands is not one that falls within the remit of international humanitarian law. A law-enforcement perspective is thereby espoused.

Dr Rooney focused her attention on three cases against Russia: Isayeva (2005), Finogenov et al (2011) and Tagayeva et al (2017) as they provided good examples of high levels of violence yet not necessarily falling within the scope of international humanitarian law. The first case relates to the bombardment of civilians leaving the siege of Grozny, the second examines the hostage crisis in a Moscow theatre and the third looks at the hostage take-over of school in Beslan.

In McCann et al the European Court of Human Rights scrutinised the planning of the operation as and applied an honest belief test to establish whether the principle of proportionality had been complied with. Yet, in Armani da Silva (2016) the Court applied a subjective test of proportionality. Dr Rooney argued that it seemed that increasingly the European Court of Human Rights was adopting a rather deferential attitude towards the State. For example in Finogenov it used the margin of appreciation doctrine to allow the State a certain degree of discretion. Usually, the Court sets out the test and applies it. Another exampled used by Dr Rooney was the use of poisonous gas. In Finogenov the Court deemed it proportionate whereas under international humanitarian law such weapons (ie riot control agents) are banned. Dr Rooney pinpointed that whilst political considerations were embodied in international humanitarian law this was not the case of human rights law. Was it however possible that the Court was building political considerations into its jurisprudence?

In an armed conflict paradigm, force will be used and individuals will be killed but the principles of distinction, discrimination and proportionality will set the limits to the use of force. In other words the use of force is intimately related to the designation of people in an armed conflict.  The reason for this is that international humanitarian aims to protect those who are not taking part in hostilities. The principle of proportionality under this legal regime allows for incidental loss of civilian life but only on the basis that it is proportionate to the military advantage. Thus international humanitarian law is more permissive in relation to the lethal use of force.
In Tagayeva the Court appeared to use international humanitarian law to decide on the legality of the attack carried out by the Russian forces with a view to freeing the hostages in the school. After all it did refer to Article 51(4) of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions and Articles 1 and 2 of the Protocol III to the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects (Incendiary Weapons) in describing the relevant legal framework. However, it turns out that although the Court mentioned international humanitarian law it did not use it. In fact the Court examined whether the basic principles on the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials had been complied with. Here the Court examined whether a legal framework was in place on the national level, concluding that it had failed to set the key principles of the use of force as required by the Convention. In fact the Court seemed to focus its attention on the negative obligation of Article 2 ECHR, investigating the planning and control as well as the investigation after the attack. It observed that Russia had failed to take precautionary measures although it was aware that the individuals had travelled to North Ossetia, similar attacks had been carried out and no warning was issued to the school administration. As for the investigation since no inventory of the weapons used was made, the evidence was disposed of summarily, etc it failed to comply with the principles of Article 2 ECHR. Interestingly, as the Court concentrates on issues prior and after the attack it seems that it is using these tools to deter States from using force, stressing the importance of working on prevention and investigation and the need for States to put in place appropriate measures to avoid the recurrence of such unlawful uses of force.

The European Court of Human Rights defers to the state on proportionality of use of force on the grounds that the judiciary is not equipped with the expertise or democratic legitimacy for making such a decision that is vital to national security. An evaluation of the jurisprudence indicates that adopting a human rights/law enforcement paradigm can result in a more permissive regime of use of force than under the armed conflict paradigm.  International humanitarian law should serve as a point of reference for the European Court of Human Rights in ‘internal’ disturbances, especially where the alternative is a more permissive regime of use of force on the part of the state; where politics dictates the characterisation of the violence as a domestic disturbance rather than an armed conflict; as well as its characterisation as internal or transboundary. Dr Rooney concluded by stating that there needs to be further assessment of the cross-section between counter-terrorism and armed conflict regimes in order to clarify our expectations of state behaviour in these difficult circumstances.