Greater respect needed for protective measures in urgent human rights cases, writes Prof. Joanna Harrington

New publication critiques Canada’s refusals to abide by interim measures requests

Sarah Kent - 26 November 2020

A new book chapter by Professor Joanna Harrington at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law aims to provide assistance to lawyers representing human rights complainants in cases pending before an international adjudication body.

As Harrington explains, “Often the focus in international human rights law is on the substance of the rights at stake, but matters of procedure also have their place, especially in asylum cases and cases of cross-border crime.”

“Interim measures requests are used to preserve the rights of the parties while a complaint is pending before an international court, committee or commission. Canada was an early supporter of international human rights adjudication, but sadly, has refused to give legal effect to what are in essence temporary stays of national proceedings.”

Harrington’s chapter, “The Legitimacy of Interim Measures from the Perspective of a State: The Example of Canada,” is part of a new book, Urgency and Human Rights: The Protective Potential and Legitimacy of Interim Measures (Asser Press, 2021), edited by professors Eva Rieter and Karin Zwaan of Radboud University in the Netherlands.

This new book brings together an international team of academics and practitioners with the aim of instilling greater respect from states for the protective power of interim measures in cases where counsel establish an urgent need for human rights protections.

Harrington is a widely cited international law scholar whose published work can be found in leading international and national law journals, as well as highly-valued edited collections. She is the author, co-author, or co-editor of six books, and regularly presents at international conferences, continuing legal education workshops, and community events.

From the abstract: “While Canada has long been supportive of the international legal protection of human rights, it has refused to abide by interim measures requests. The author critically discusses the practice of Canada, including its courts, as well as its public record of objection before the Human Rights Committee and the Committee against Torture. She argues that while Committee Views on the merits are not generally considered legally binding, states cannot automatically assume that their interim measures requests have no legal force. Yet in order to encourage state compliance, she stresses that process matters. She suggests that the UN Committees look at the procedural reforms made by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights as this would result in greater transparency and trust in the system. She also points out the need for making the format and terminology of UN documents more user-friendly for the domestic context. Finally, as to the substance of interim measures, she argues in favour of providing detailed reasons for interim measures decisions.”