Balancing Competing Interests: Muslim Women v. the European States

The aim of this post is to examine whether, under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’), a balance can be done between the right to wearing of religious clothing in public places (particularly, burqa and niqab) and the right of States to set a pluralist and democratic society. It further concludes that a successful balance can be done based on this provision, although the outcome might be influenced by the historical and cultural background of the European States.

Article 9 of the ECHR ensures everyone the “freedom of thought, conscience and religion” which includes, inter alia, the freedom of manifest the own religion either alone or in community with others and in public or private.[1] It also includes the right not to act contrary to one’s conscience and convictions and the right to wear religious clothing and symbols.[2] Furthermore, States must ensure this right to everyone within their jurisdiction,[3] remain neutral and impartial,[4] refrain from interference in its exercise or provide a legal justification thereof, and refrain from interference in intra or inter-denominational conflicts.[5]

Consequently, the right to manifest one’s beliefs is not an absolute one, and it can be subjected to limitations as long as they fulfil the conditions set in Article 9(2).[6] According to this provision, any limitation shall be prescribed by law and be necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.[7] It is precisely this test the one applied by the European Court of Human Rights (‘ECtHR’) when balancing interests related to the freedom of religion.[8]

However, at first glance, it can be noticed that the wording of this provision is vague and ambiguous, and what is considered as “necessary in a democratic society” usually drives to philosophical debates in which a unique answer cannot be reached. It is, therefore, the role of the ECtHR to decide whose interests should be granted more weight on a case-by-case basis, since the rules in this sphere rely upon the specific domestic context.[9]

The ECtHR has exclusively decided whether the ban on wearing clothing designed to conceal one’s face in public places violates Article 8, 9, 10 and 14 ECHR in the case of S.A.S. v France.[10] In this regard, the French national ban on the wearing of burqa and niqab in public places was considered legitimate and justified as far as it seeks to guarantee the conditions of “Vivre ensemble” as an element of the “protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.[11] Yet, this decision outlines further interests at stake beyond the freedom of religion in the abstract.

On one side, Muslim women wear the full-face veil as an important part of their social and cultural identity.[12] Indeed, to force them to remove this clothing might lead not only to intersectional discrimination against Muslim women (in a violation of Article 14 ECHR),[13] but also to the reinforcement of negative stereotypes and Islamophobia that could lead to their exclusion and alienation of European societies.[14]

On the other hand, States usually allege national security interests to justify the interference to this right, even though the ECtHR has stated that it cannot be used as the sole basis for this aim.[15] Additionally, they have interest in preserving the respect for the “minimum set of an open and democratic society”, linked to the observance of the minimum requirements of life in society, the equality between men and women and the respect for human dignity.[16]

In this line, the ECtHR has afforded States with a wide margin of appreciation to enact any law necessary to limit the wearing of burqa and niqab,[17] but in hand with a European supervision of both the kind of laws and the decisions applied.[18] For this reason, when assessing the French law and applying the test within Article 9(2) ECHR, the ECtHR concluded that the right to others to live in a space of socialization which makes “living together” easier was the prevalent interest; but it also pointed out that no State can assess the legitimacy of religious beliefs or the way they are expressed,[19]  and that a fair treatment of people from minorities shall be ensured in order to avoid any abuse of dominant position.[20]

In conclusion, States that banned the use of burqa and niqab based their argumentations in a model of a society deeply rooted in the cultural tradition of secularism of Western Europe (as opposed to the model held by Muslims, in their majority immigrants) that unsurprisingly has been followed by the ECtHR.[21] Notwithstanding, Article 9 ECHR presents a mechanism for balancing clashing interests and provides the ECtHR with the opportunity to adjust those to any given context through flexible interpretation. The fact that the outcome of this balancing does not satisfy our ideological preferences, does not mean that Article 9 does not enable the balance of both-side interests when interpreting and applying it.

[1] Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms as amended by Protocols No. 11 and No. 14 (‘ECHR’) [1950] ETS No.005, Article 9(1).

[2] European Court of Human Rights (‘ECtHR’) Guide to Article 9 (2015) [18]-[37].

[3] ECHR, Article 1.

[4] ECtHR (fn 2) [37].

[5] Ibid [168].

[6] Ibid [23].

[7] ECHR, Article 9(2).

[8] In this regard, Leyla Şahin v. Turkey [GC], no. 44774/98, ECHR 2005-XI [110], Biblical Centre of the Chuvash Republic v. Russia, no. 33203/08, 12 June 2014 [58], between others.

[9] Leyla Şahin v. Turkey (fn 8) [109].

[10] S.A.S v France [GC], no. 43835/11, ECHR 2014.

[11] S.A.S. v France [157].

[12] Ibid [79].

[13] Ibid, intervention of ARTICLE 19 [92]-[94].

[14] Ibid, intervention of Human Rights Centre of Ghent University [98].

[15] ECtHR (fn 2) [31].

[16] S.A.S. v France, Explanatory Memorandum of the Bill’s transcription [25] and Judgment of the Belgian Constitutional Court of 6 December 2012 B.21.

[17] S.A.S. v France, [129].

[18] Ibid [131].

[19] Ibid [55].

[20] Ibid [128].

[21] See the cases of France, Belgium and Austria.

Tango and International Law

Tango is part of the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity since 2009.

It does not only embrace the dance -which is the most known feature of this marvellous tradition-, but it also includes musicians, composers, interprets, songwriters, teachers of the art and the national living treasures. Just to mention some of my favourite ones:  Manzi, Cadícamo, Discépolo, Trolio, Piazzola, Rivero, Gardel, Goyeneche and Sosa.

Tango was developed by the urban lower classes in Buenos Aires and Montevideo in the Rio de la Plata basin. As a dance, it has influences from the descendants of the African slaves and the Native American and European culture in the figure of the ‘criollos’. Their wide range of customs, beliefs and rituals merged and transformed into a distinctive cultural identity, which remains today as a national brand for Argentina and Uruguay.

However, it was not until the 20th century that tango was brought to Europe: the first tango craze took place in Paris, followed by London, Berlin and other capitals around the continent. Certainly, the rhythm played by the ‘bandoneonistas’ remind us the streets of Montmartre; while the nostalgic and dramatic -though greatly romantic- lyrics make us think about the Italian roots of their characters. All in all, the music, dance and pure poetry of tango both embodies and encourages diversity and cultural dialogue, which characterizes the Argentian and Uruguayan society nowadays.

But… what does it mean that Tango forms part of the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity?

First, that it must be safeguarded at the international level. All those States which have ratified the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage have a duty to safeguard, ensure respect and raise awareness of its importance; providing for international cooperation and assistance to this end (Article 1).

Second, at the national level, Argentina and Uruguay are compelled to take the necessary measures to ensure that tango still alive through the adoption of general policies aimed at promoting it in their societies; fostering artistic studies and the creation of institutions for training in the management and transmission of tango, ensuring forums and spaces intended for its performance; ensuring access to tango while respecting customary practices governing it; provide educational, awareness-raising and information programmes particularly to young people; and ensure the widest possible participation of communities, groups and individuals that enrich, maintain and transmit the tango to the new generations (Part III).

As far as I could have seen when I was in Argentina, tango is not only promoted -which can be related to economic interests, given the rising amount of tourists that visit “Caminito” every year- but it is also highly internalized in the peoples: everyone listened to it at home while drinking mate with their relatives on Sundays.

Personally, I absolutely love it and I am glad to have discovered today that it is part of the international law: two passions in one.

As a gift, the masterpiece of ‘Adios Nonino’, one of my favourite tangos:



II Experience in the Philip C. Jessup Int’l Law Moot Court Competition

One year ago I was writing the first part of this post: see it here (Spanish version).

Today, I see myself recovering from one of the most wonderful moments of my academic life. Every time I think about what happened on Friday, and what we are going to do in the future, I feel this kind of comfortable sentiment that every tear dropped, every inhumane effort, every hour of lack of sleep have worth it. Everything for that moment in which we were sitting before the Court, and we take our hands waiting for the President to say the magical words… and suddenly, I saw myself surrounded by my team, crying like babies. 

If I learnt something from this (second) experience of Jessup is that LOVE ALWAYS WINSTiffany E-aRashmi DhariaGeorgia Beatty and Nin J. Jitwarawong thank you guys for being always there for each other; for being extremely supportive and patient, and for being lovely friends with the feet on the ground. I am so proud of all of you. After 5 challenging months meeting 7/7, you have already got my heart.

Thank you also to Sophie Schiettekatte, Felipe Silvestre and Charlotte S LH because, without you coaches, this would have been impossible! We learnt a lot from you, and you made us the better version of ourselves. You have dealt not only with your issues but also with ours; you have been there for us in the good and, most importantly, in the bad moments. You are inspiring humans and I admire you precisely for who you are and what are you doing.

I would like also to thank all that people that supported us since the very first time: primary to our families; they always believed in us and gave us breath to continue in the distance (I miss you so much, daddy, mommy and Andy); secondly to all the PhD Candidates, Professors and other academic staff that took their time to judge us during the training. We really appreciate it and we hope to have had fulfilled your expectations as students from Leiden Univ. It was an honour to have all your feedback.

Personally, I would never have imagined doing what I did on Friday, and I am truly impressed and grateful. Definitely, WE ARE A PINEAPPLE!

Now it’s time to start thinking about how a team of British, French, Indian, Thai, and Spanish people will represent HOLLAND in Washington (with all the respects to the Dutch people).

The Lotus dictum under consideration

Since the ninetieth century, a shift towards positivism is found under international law.[1] This paradigm embraces the absence of general international law different from the specific treaties concluded between independent States. Precisely, Dionisio Anzilloti’s decisions as a judge at the P.C.I.J. propagated this voluntarist approach in continental European countries.[2] One of the most remarkable dictum in this sense was the Case of the S.S. “Lotus”[3] where the P.C.I.J. expressed this idea of international law governed by States, either as subjects and objects of the law itself.

Put in its context, Lotus dictum may appear suitable in the international law realm of 1927. However, issues related to (i) sources of international law and (ii) international law subjectivity, among others, have evolved since then. Accordingly, the purpose of this essay is to demonstrate how these arguments continue to be valid up-to-date in some of their statements, albeit at the same time they are outdated in others.

Continue reading, here.



[1] H. Scupin, ‘History of International Law, 1815 to World War I.’ Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law (OPIL 2001), paras. 1-8.

[2] F. Lachenmann, ‘Legal Positivism.’ Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law (OPIL 2011), para. 28.

[3] The Case of the SS “Lotus” (France v. Turkey) [1927], P.C.I.J. Series A No 9, at 18.

El “Escudo de Privacidad” en tela de juicio.

En verano del año pasado, el acuerdo Privacy Shield entre la UE y EE.UU. vino a sustituir, por orden expresa del TJUE, al acuerdo Safe Harbor. Basado en un mecanismo de auto regulación, el “Escudo de Privacidad” permite hoy en día a 1.969 empresas tecnológicas estadounidenses garantizar al ciudadano europeo que sus datos serán protegidos en la nube. Y cuando se dice “protegidos”, quiere decir que no formarán parte de softwares como Prism o Upstream, utilizados por agencias gubernamentales de EE.UU. -entre ellos, la NSA- en sus funciones de vigilancia masiva.

No obstante, los legisladores europeos no tuvieron en cuenta una variable inesperada, quizás, pero fundamental en su hipótesis de trabajo: el factor Trump.

El pasado 25 de enero, el actual Presidente de EE.UU. adoptó la Orden Ejecutiva de Seguridad Pública, por la que autoriza a las agencias y departamentos ejecutivos a vigilar y tratar los datos de todos aquellos que no sean ciudadanos estadounidenses; esto es, “inmigrantes que viajan a EE.UU. para cometer crímenes“, a quienes, en principio, la ley de protección de datos estadounidense les excluye.

Es lógico que ante la ausencia de especificidad en lo que podríamos denominar el target group de dicha medida, la Comisaria Europea Jourová haya viajado a EE.UU., buscando unas aclaraciones que, al menos, aún no se han hecho públicas -si es que las ha habido-. La vaguedad de las declaraciones de Trump, por suerte o por desgracia, no nos pilla de imprevisto.

Y mientras ¿qué ocurre con nuestros datos?“, es una pregunta que me hago reiteradamente. De momento, las cosas siguen igual que hace 6 meses, hasta que se demuestre lo contrario; es decir, hasta que la próxima revisión de la aplicación y el cumplimiento del acuerdo por parte de la Comisión Europea, prevista en septiembre de este mismo año, demuestre que las agencias estadounidenses siguen rastreándonos en la red, leyendo nuestros “mensajes privados”, haciendo estudios a partir de los datos que decidimos, a veces inconscientemente, escribir en una red social cualquiera, etc.

No hay que olvidar que, por encima del derecho a la protección de datos, está la economía. El comercio digital transatlántico está valorado en 260 billones de dólares, lo que equivaldría a multiplicar por 200 veces el PIB del propio EE.UU.

Por tanto, el mapa que se nos presenta alinea, por un lado, a los gigantes tecnológicos, que quieren mantener su cuota de mercado en una región de altos niveles de desarrollo, y la Comisión Europea, que trata de que, en plena época de mareas y tribulaciones, el Privacy Shield salga a flote. [Por cierto, una cuestión a considerar será el papel de Reino Unido en esta nueva etapa, qué tipo de acuerdos firmará con la UE y con EE.UU. y la posible relación triangular.] Por otro lado, está EE.UU. y, lo que es aún más relevante: Trump y su afán proteccionista. Ciertamente, podría inferirse, mediante una simple relación de fuerzas, que los primeros tienen todas las cartas para ganar. Pero la reciente imprevisibilidad del Ejecutivo estadounidense puede sorprendernos de nuevo…




Mi experiencia en el Philip C. Jessup Moot Court Competition

Hace ya algunos meses que decidí presentarme para formar parte del equipo Jessup de la Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. No tenía todas conmigo, pero tras enviar el ensayo, rápidamente me llegó un correo confirmándome que iba a formar parte de una de las mejores experiencias que he vivido a lo largo de la carrera.

El Philip C. Jessup Moot Court Competition es una simulación de juicio ante la Corte Internacional de Justicia. En ella, dos equipos presentan dos oradores para defender cada una de las pretensiones de la parte demandante y demandada, respectivamente. En dicha competición se tratan cuestiones de relevancia y actualidad de Derecho Internacional Público. Este año, por ejemplo, el caso “The Sisters of the Sun” trataba temas como los acuíferos transnacionales, el Patrimonio de la Humanidad, los objetos culturales de los estados, y la posibilidad de pedir compensación por la acogida de refugiados.

No obstante, las Rondas Nacionales son sólo el final de un largo proceso que comenzó en septiembre, cuando el equipo tuvo que preparar los escritos de demanda y de contestación. Reconozco que al principio me sentí perdida, y aunque leía pilas de artículos y libros, me entró lo que comúnmente se denomina la fobia del folio en blanco. No obstante, con la ayuda de mis compañeros, algunos de los cuales ya estaban experimentados, empecé sin problema a escribir; aunque finalmente nuestro coach rehiciera prácticamente toda mi aportación, transformando el lenguaje en algo más del estilo “advocacy“. En este punto, me sentí muy mal, sentí que no estaba a la altura de mis compañeros, que no sumaba al equipo, sino todo lo contrario. Sentí que quizá no debía participar en las Rondas Orales porque eso de ser litigadora internacional “no era lo mío“.

Sin embargo, y una vez más gracias a mis compañeros, pude reconstruirme y ver las cosas desde otra perspectiva. Hoy quisiera agradecérselo tanto al equipo como al coach, pues he aprendido muchísimo de las críticas y eso me ha ayudado a mejorar cada día. De hecho, a partir de ese momento, tomé ejemplo de las correcciones e intenté realizar el resto del trabajo tal y como aparecía en ellas. Por eso, el resto del trabajo fue un mero trámite; y el resultado fue espectacular.

Una vez enviados los escritos, comenzamos con la preparación de las fases orales. Esta vez sin escapatoria me tocó ser oradora del Estado demandado junto con André del Solar. Al principio la idea me aterró, pero ahora estoy más que contenta y orgullosa de poder decir que me he enfrentado a Tribunales compuestos por expertos del Derecho y he defendido en una lengua extranjera a un Estado ficticio. Ha sido sin duda una de las experiencias más divertidas, y a la vez que más nervios me ha provocado (y alguna que otra lagrimilla). Mi compañero era excelente, y tomé su ejemplo para intentar acercarme lo máximo posible a su estilo de hacer el discurso.

En definitiva, han sido tres días tan intensos que han parecido una semana. Entre café y café hemos podido conocer a estudiantes de otras Universidades, donde me gustaría destacar a los equipos de UPF y ESADE: ¡sois lo más!, ojalá nos veamos pronto.

En efecto, hemos trabajado muy duro para llegar hasta aquí, y esta ha sido la recompensa:

  • Subcampeones de las Rondas Nacionales de España
  • Premio al Mejor Escrito de Demanda (Best Applicant Memorial)
  • Premio al Mejor Escrito de Contestación (Best Respondent Memorial)
  • Segundo Premio al Mejor Orador a André del Solar 


No se puede estar más contenta, de verdad. Ha sido todo un honor para mí poder conoceros y trabajar con vosotros: Raúl Arribas, Jokin Beltrán de Lubiano, Miriam Ferradanes, Ana Olivares y André del Solar. Sé que el día de mañana seréis unos grandes profesionales, pero también que hoy sois unas grandes personas, y eso es lo que realmente cuenta. Me habéis hecho sentir cómoda de principio a fin, y esta experiencia sin vosotros no hubiera sido la misma. Todas mis felicitaciones.

Me metí en este proyecto porque me gusta el Derecho Internacional, pero salgo apasionada por el mundo del Moot Court. Es algo que recomiendo a todo el mundo, porque te hace crecer, aprender y desarrollarte tanto académica como profesionalmente. Gracias Pat por haberme insistido en que lo hiciera.

Y una vez más, y como siempre, darle las gracias al Prof. Carlos Espósito por haber apostado por mí de nuevo.



Reinventando el marco de la responsabilidad de la empresa multinacional como actor en la sociedad internacional

¿Dónde está la frontera entre la responsabilidad pública y privada en el ámbito de los Derechos Humanos?

Actualmente, asistimos a un cambio de paradigma en la manera de entender los Derechos Humanos. Ello no quiere decir que vayan a desaparecer o se vayan a convertir en otra cosa, sino que cada vez estamos más convencidos de la obsolescencia del modelo clásico nacido de las revoluciones francesa y norteamericana.

Dentro de la teoría general del Estado, G. Jellinek, a principios del siglo XX, plantea la caracterización de los Derechos Humanos como derechos públicos subjetivos. No obstante, hay ciertos hechos que parecen indicar que este modelo se queda corto. Algunos ejemplos reveladores son:

  • El artículo 19 de la Declaración Universal de los Derechos Humanos habla no sólo de la titularidad de los medios de comunicación, sino también del derecho de los ciudadanos a recibir informaciones y opiniones. Este hecho contrasta con los medios de comunicación privados, entre los cuales, en principio, no hay censura, pero hay una confluencia de intereses demasiado cerrada como para que esos medios informen libremente. Google trasladó en 2010 su motor de búsqueda a Hong Kong para evitar la censura impuesta por el gobierno chino. No obstante, Cisco Systems ha sido acusado y afronta dos causas en el Distrito de Maryland y de California Norte por cooperación con el gobierno chino en la violación al derecho a la libertad ideológica, a la información y el secreto de las comunicaciones. Una demanda semejante se ha presentado contra Yahoo en el Distrito de Delaware. Es decir, se trata de medios libres, de empresas privadas; pero el ejercicio de la censura por parte de regímenes autoritarios no podría ser llevada a cabo sin su cooperación. Por tanto, en la frontera de lo público/privado hay un consorcio de intereses que sirve para imponer la censura.

En el momento en el que estos Derechos se definen, existen medios de comunicación libres. Sin embargo, en el mundo contemporáneo, con el bombardeo de informaciones, de facto sabemos que no somos receptores de una información libre y veraz. Por ejemplo, una encuesta publicada por el Washington Post reveló que el 70% de los ciudadanos estadounidenses estaban convencidos de que Saddam Husseim estaba implicado en los atentados de las Torres Gemelas. Cualquier periodista serio sabe que eso no es cierto, pero la campaña de la Casa Blanca para tratar de justificar la guerra de Irak sistemáticamente difundió esta información y ningún periódico se atrevió a rebatirlo. No es que haya censura, pero en la práctica no llegó la información veraz a los ciudadanos.

  • Industria militar. A partir de la guerra de la ex Yugoslavia, y más tarde, de manera masiva, en la guerra de Irak, ciertas acciones militares fueron privatizadas. Hay empresas que se ocupan de estas actividades, de tal manera que las acusaciones por genocidio no se pueden dirigir contra los Estados. En 2011, Guinea Ecuatorial firmó un contrato con MPRI, una empresa de servicios militares dirigida por los colaboradores de D. Rumsfeld -el que fue Secretario de Defensa de EEUU en la época de los extraorinary renditions-, asesor actual de Guinea para la mejora de su historial de Derechos Humanos. MPRI había tenido el veto del gobierno de EEUU para participar en contratos internacionales de este estilo, hasta que lo levantó G. W. Bush durante su presidencia.

Otros ejemplos son el acaparamiento de tierras, las prospecciones forzosas de las empresas petrolíferas y la violación del derecho de los pueblos indígenas a elegir su propio modelo de desarrollo. El hecho de que haya síntomas de que la manera de delimitar el papel del Estado y el de las empresas está cambiando, nos obliga a replantear el modelo clásico de Derechos Humanos. Avanzamos a saltos según se produce algo que despierta la atención pública y ésta considera que no debe volver a ocurrir. Pero… ¿de qué pasado hablamos cuando decimos que los Derechos Humanos son enmiendas al mismo?

Hay una tesis tradicional retomada por Habermas que sostiene que la historia del reflejo constitucional de los Derechos Humanos es una enmienda al pasado de los países. Así, se entiende que todos los refugiados quieran ir a Alemania: el reconocimiento del derecho al asilo en Alemania es más generoso que en otros estados europeos, dado el gran volumen de desplazados tras la Segunda Guerra Mundial. Ello explica también que la Declaración de los Derechos del Hombre y del Ciudadano no incluyera el derecho a la vida. Los revolucionarios mataron a mucha gente, por lo que no pensaron en reconocer una circunstancia como ésta. Para ellos, los Derechos Humanos se sintetizan en tres: la libertad, la igualdad y la resistencia a la opresión. Por su parte, la Constitución alemana no reconoce los derechos de participación política. Existe una legislación electoral donde todos los alemanes tienen derecho al voto, pero cuando se redactó la Constitución los Aliados estaban ocupando Alemania, por lo que la soberanía no la detentaban los alemanes.

Esto es lo que actualmente se está quedando corto. El hecho de que Naciones Unidas haya aprobado los Principios Rectores sobre Empresas y Derechos Humanos tras el informe Ruggie, muestra cómo se está tomando conciencia de esta problemática y está siendo traducida normativamente. Las nuevas perspectivas encuentran dos cauces teóricos principales en los que asentarse, a saber:

    1. Doctrina de la eficacia horizontal de los derechos fundamentales: no hace falta hacer un cambio en los derechos, sino en la manera en que entendemos cómo funcionan los mismos. Los derechos fundamentales no sólo deben ser los que regulen las relaciones individuo-estado, sino también las relaciones entre los propios particulares, lo que también atañe a las empresas. Esta tesis minoritaria puede respaldarse en algunos hitos destacables de la jurisprudencia constitucional alemana (1958) o de la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (2003).
    2. Tesis de Amartya Sen. En términos económicos, se ha definido el desarrollo como el incremento del PIB. Pero si un país tiene un alto PIB y su sistema educativo y sanitario es deficiente, no debería dársele el nombre de país desarrollado. Así, la reformulación del concepto de desarrollo dio como resultado el Índice de Desarrollo Humano, que tiene en cuenta otras muchas variables. Sin embargo, todo esto nos obliga a cambiar nuestro concepto hacia otra nueva definición de desarrollo, consistente en el incremento de la capacidad de decisión de los individuos. Desde el punto de vista subjetivo, esto supone una ampliación de los márgenes de elección del individuo, tanto públicos como privados. En este sentido, el desarrollo avanza paralelamente sobre lo público y lo privado.

En la declaración del derecho al desarrollo aprobado por la Asamblea General de Naciones Unidas en 1986, desarrollo es, por tanto, un concepto integral que supone el pleno disfrute de los derechos humanos y, como tal, es una responsabilidad conjunta de organizaciones públicas y privadas.


Extracto de la ponencia de I. Aymerich en el marco del curso de verano “La empresa como modo de innovación social: la promoción de los derechos humanos en el comercio internacional”




It is pretty curious how the Facebook Inc. creators and some employees refer to the corporation as a tool for increase the openness of its on-line social networking service and improve connections between people worldwide (1). Mark Zuckerberg’s (2) website was launched in 2004, and since then, the community of users has increased to account for 2 billion people. This means that if Facebook were a nation, it would be the most populated in the world (3).

Its functions are simple to understand: once a certain user is registered, he or she would be able to create his or her own profile, add other users as “friends”, post status updates, share photos or videos, exchange “private” and public messages, etc. Users can join common-interest user groups indeed (4). However, as soon as providing personal information is needed, several questions may come to us: What does Facebook do with all these pieces of information? What are the rules in this nation of Facebook? What are the consequences if anybody would breach them?

These are some unsolved inquiries that Facebookistan tries to bring forward.


As a Multinational Corporation (MNC), Facebook has more control over human, natural and financial resources than some of the States in which it operates (5). In addition, it is not bound by UN principles and other International Agreements held between those same States. Corcerning the right to privacy, international Human Rights law provides an universal framework for their promotion and protection (6). It is enshrined by several instruments, being outlined in its capital importance the article 12 of the UDHR. According to it, no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence […] Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks (7).

This statement contrasts with the fact that every Facebook user is being tracked without their conscious consent and all his or her movements are kept on record for roughly 20 years. The company leverages the extremely complex Privacy Policy that it offers to its users, who accept the Terms even before reading it. Furthermore, nobody is able to know what happens in its background or who is the responsible for the events that occur in it.

What Facebook doesn’t say is that it gets further data than those particularly provided by a certain user, associating him or her with a group of people that the individual is related to. Michal Kosinski’s computing model demonstrated that psychological and demographic statements could be guessed by the Likes people click, indeed. This means that a sort of arbitrary surveillance and collection of personal data is being accomplished, while users lose control of all their information flowing through the internet.

Resolution 68/167, adopted by the UNGA in December 2013, expresses this deep concern at the negative impact that surveillance and interception of communications may have on Human Rights. As highly intrusive acts, these activities violate the rights to privacy and to freedom of expression, being both essential pillars of modern democratic society.

Facebook knows how poweful information is, not only for governments but also for other companies. Following the rational choice theory, the principal aim of Facebook is to have the monopoly on data as personally specific as possible, over many years. In fact, in 2014, Facebook made 10 dollars per user, reaching a maket value estimated in 200 billion dollars, according to EDRi recent studies. Such a ‘success story’ is directly tied to the surveillance practices discussed earlier, therefore, its misuse and the violation of the right to privacy and the right to be forgotten have to be seen as the cornerstone of the Facebook Business Model and as such, as an element unlikely to change on its own.


As said before, Facebook has the power to violate Human Rights directly, assisting in trespasses, failing to prevent them, remaining silent or simply operating in States that systematically violate Human Rights (8), as we can see in the case of the Turkish Halklann Demokatik Partisi, where the media, in favour of the ruling party, prevents the proliferation of support actions for the Kurdish PKK-movement.

As the article 19 of the ICCPR (9) disposes, everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference and the right of freedom of expression, which includes the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds […] through any media of his choice. However, this exercise carries with it special duties and responsibilities, e.g., the freedom of speech is subject to several restrictions provided only by law; these are (i) the respect of the rights or reputations of others and (ii) the protection of national security or of public order, health or morals.

Censorship is the most striking limitation of these rights. To be legal, it must be justified in non-discrimination terms, so that the same censorship has to be applied in similar circumstances. The breach of this general principle is what Peter Ovig denounces in his book The Danish Case. Facebook has the monopoly for interpretation and enforcement its Community Standards, written in deliberately indeterminate terms. Only if users respect and carefully construe these rules, they would be able to stay in Facebook. Otherwise, a procedure for the appeal of decisions is not at their disposal. This implies that users are owed to censor themselves, having the CS negative implications on the independence of these individuals.

The problem is that Facebook has become the mainstream media, and as such, has prevented some silent collectives from expressing themselves. Examples of these are the #MyNameIs coalition, the SNHR or other kinds of activism. Also for professional aims, either individual or collective, as promotion, advertising or attracting the general public attention, Facebook is an indispensable tool, as for many entrepreneurs being left out would be a step backwards.

Taking into account these wide range of utilities, the existence of Content Moderators becomes fundamental. These are normal workers hired by Facebook, and the ones responsible for deciding whether user-contributed content transgresses the CS or not. Owing to this, there lies the risk that the CS would be interpreted differently, according to the employees’ beliefs, preferences and values. In addition, these workers have long shifts and their payment is based on the content reviewed, so this frantic speed expected from them often makes them click on the wrong button, rendering this system not very accurate at all. Finally, attention must also be paid to the private police of Facebook, who are the users themselves. They enforce the terms of service and are able to report each other based on their personal considerations, with no democratic legitimacy whatsoever.


Nowadays, the system of justice in Facebook is completely dysfunctional. The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner in Ireland is responsible for claims against huge companies such as Apple, Google or Facebook in Europe. However, claimants can always move their cases to their national courts as consumers (10). With the recent occurrences, the Court of Justice of the EU has also become involved, having ruled in favour of the victims. In fact, in October 2015, the CJEU ruled that the data transfer pact, known as safe-harbour between the US an Europe was invalid, and that European citizens’ privacy had been breached by the NSA’s mass-surveillance programme (11). Facebook an other US companies operating in Europe can no longer transfer unlimited amounts of data to US without consulting National Data Protection Agencies.

For that reason, in the International scenario, Resolution 68/167 calls upon the States to take measures to put an end to violations of those rights and to create the conditions to prevent them. Those include, but are not limited to, ensuring that relevant national legislation complies with their obligations under international human rights law; and establishing existing independent, effective domestic oversight mechanisms capable of ensuring transparency and accountability for State surveillance of communications, their interception and the collection of personal data.

The need to provide an effective forum for victims looking for redress rises as urgent, as Max Schrems case and his platform (Europe v. Facebook) has demonstrated. In this field, there is ample room for research, where Public and Private International Law have a main role. Special attention must be paid to the recent developments in US doctrine and case law, given the fact that the US Alien Tort Claims Act has played a key role in attracting to the US many cases against corporations for violations of Human Rights. Jurisdictional issues -Human Rights litigation and non-judicial redress mechanisms-, applicable law issues and MNCs national and international obligations and standards of care are new legislative challenges which we must face, not only at the EU level, but also facilitating the access to EU-Members state courts for victims outside Europe (12).

On the other hand, people have the right to be forgotten if they so consent and the right to preserve their personal information, limiting its use and preventing the occurrence of abuses as Paolo Cirio’s experiment showed. In this sense, governments should ensure that communication surveillance regimes are consistent with Human Rights standards, committing further to specific areas of increased control and transparency. The notion of freedom we have in the Western Society is based on the idea that we can hide information from the others. Nonetheless, currently those values are disputed.

As George Orwell wrote in 1984: if you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.


(1) See
(2) Notice that Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes were the co-funders of the website.
(3) See
(4) For further information,
(5) Kieserman, B.J. (1999), “Profits and principles: promoting multinational corporate responsibility by amending the Alien Tort Claims Act”, The Catholic University Law Review, Vol. 4, Spring, p. 881.
(6) See
(7) Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations Department of Public Information, NY. Resolution 217 A (III) 10th December 1948, Paris.
(8) Clapham, A., & Jerbi, S. (2000). Categories of corporate complicity in human rights abuses. Hastings Int’l & Comp. L. Rev., 24, 339.
(9) International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights. General Assembly Resolution 2200A (XXI) 16th December 1966, UN Headquarters, NY.
(10) Regulation (EU) 1215/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 December 2012 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters (Brussels I bis), article 7.2.
(11) See CJEU’s Decision Invalidates Safe Harbor (October 2015)
(12) For further information,