WilmerHale Conference Highlights Human Rights Issues Facing Small States

WilmerHale Conference Highlights Human Rights Issues Facing Small States

Firm News

WilmerHale, the Institute of Small and Micro States, and the British Institute of International and Comparative Law hosted a two-day conference titled Human Rights and Small States: Challenges, Resilience, and Advocacy on November 12–13, 2020. The conference was the fifth in a series that focuses on legal issues related to small states.  It was the first to be held fully remotely and drew participants from around the world.

The conference looked at the impact of global developments—including austerity measures, migration and displacement, the COVID-19 pandemic, and climate change—on human rights in small states and considered strategies for small states to address these issues. WilmerHale lawyers—Partner Steven Finizio, Counsel Santiago Bejarano, and Counsel Daniel Costelloe—moderated four of the panels. Professor Dr. Maxi Scherer, a Special Counsel at the firm, also spoke in one of the panel discussions.

The first day featured a keynote “fireside chat” between Imrana Jalal, chair of the World Bank Inspection Panel, and Margarette Macaulay, a commissioner with the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and former justice of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Ms. Jalal, from Fiji, and Ms. Macaulay, from Jamaica, shared their experiences of the effect of austerity measures on their communities. Both keynote speakers stressed the significance of civil society in safeguarding human rights and the importance of a fair tax system.

The keynote panel on the second day featured Professor Philippe Sands QC, the director of the Centre for International Courts and Tribunals at University College London, and Simon Mount QC, the Attorney General of the Pitcairn Islands. They focused on how small states can win “big” victories against larger and more politically powerful states, drawing on examples related to two archipelagos with complex legal relationships to the UK: the British Indian Ocean Territory of the Chagos Islands, and the Pitcairn Islands, a British Overseas Territory in the South Pacific.

Mr. Finizio, who co-hosted the conference, moderated two sessions on freedom of expression in small states. The panel discussed the cases of several journalists from small states who have been persecuted in response to their investigative journalism. Stanley Simpson, a journalist from Fiji, recounted his experiences as a journalist in a small state which has experienced political change, including a military coup, and lawyers from Media Defence discussed current issues faced by journalists, citizen journalists and independent media. Junkung Jorbateh, Executive Secretary for Media Council of The Gambia (MCG), described the changing legislative approach in and the impact on freedom of expression and information.

In other sessions during the two-day conference, Mr. Bejarano chaired a panel on austerity and human rights, which included a discussion of fair global tax systems, Mr. Costelloe was joined by former UN Special Rapporteur on Rights of Migrants and other speakers for a panel discussion on migration, and Professor Scherer examined how the use of technology can facilitate access to justice during a panel on access to justice in small states.

Mr. Finizio noted: “This year’s focus on human rights is particularly important given the challenges that have emerged for small states over the past year, specifically related to the COVID-19 pandemic and treatment of migrants, and the increasing pressure on free media around the world. We were again delighted to welcome the small states community—and all of those interested in the issues facing small states—for discussions of so many critical issues.” 

Petra Butler, Director, Institute of Small and Micro States (ISMS) added: “To provide a forum for a dialogue on human rights where small states’ stakeholders can discuss how small states can ensure the humanity of their societies seemed particular important this year. ISMS would like to thank the British Institute of International and Commercial Law, but in particular WilmerHale for their continuing support.”

Read a full report of the conference.

See the full agenda.

Watch the full conference.

Past conferences in this series include Regional Integration and Dispute Resolution (2016); International Financial Services and Small States (2017); Environmental Dispute Resolution and Small States (2018); and Small States, International Law and the Realisation of Rights (2019). All are available to watch in full.