Date of this Version
Human Rights Brief (2005) 12(2): 9-11.
First paragraph: On November 16, 2004, the European Court of Human Rights issued its judgment in Issa and Others v. Turkey, a case involving the alleged extrajudicial killings of Iraqi Kurds by Turkish security forces in Iraq. Issa marked one of the few times the Court considered a case in which a State Party to the European Convention on Human Rights (Convention) was accused of committing human rights abuses not only outside its physical territory, but outside Europe itself. Issa and its predecessors provide direction on an important question before the Council of Europe: to what extent does the Convention impose responsibility on States Parties for human rights violations committed abroad?
Conclusion: Given the likelihood of continued extraterritorial interventions in the foreseeable future, States Parties to the Convention should expect to be held accountable before the Court for their actions abroad. Based on the limited jurisprudence and mixed interpretations in these cases, however, it is unclear what form that accountability will take. Issa seems to extend the potential areas covered by the Convention in dramatic ways. One wonders if the Court will narrow its approach to extraterritorial jurisdiction in future cases. It may be argued that by setting a high evidentiary threshold in Issa, the Court has made it difficult to successfully establish when a nation exercises jurisdiction through its control while acting abroad, particularly in covert operations. Still, the Court has affirmed continuously the principle that States Parties to the Convention are responsible for human rights violations committed abroad, and jurisdiction flowing from effective control is both consistent in theory and makes common sense. What is clear is that the European Convention on Human Rights’ long arm will likely remain active for the foreseeable future.