Belgium violated the ECHR by extraditing a terrorist to the USA despite an interim measure by the Strasbourg Court: Trabelsi v. Belgium

The Trabelsi case is noteworthy for two reasons. Firstly, because of the blatant disregard by Belgium of the interim measure issued by the European Court of Human Rights. Secondly, because of the application of the reasoning from Vinter v. UK – in which the Court found that life without parole is incompatible with Article 3 ECHR – to the context of extradition proceedings. The Court finds that the applicant’s extradition by Belgium to the USA, where he ran the risk of being convicted to life without parole and despite an interim measure to the contrary, was in violation of Articles 3 and 34 ECHR. This blog post will first highlight the latter violation, before questioning the Court’s reasoning with respect to the former one.

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Education in prison: right to education only protects access in case of ‘existing’ educational facilities (Velyo Velev v. Bulgaria)

In Velyo Velev v. Bulgaria, the Court found a violation of the right to education (Article 2 Protocol 1) in a case concerning the refusal to allow a prisoner to enrol in a secondary school operating inside the prison. While the judgment should be hailed for explicitly affirming that remand prisoners also enjoy the right to education, it is unfortunate that the Court continues to construct the scope of Article 2 Protocol 1 in a very narrow fashion. As a result the Court fails to provide genuine substance to the right to education in a prison context. Continue reading

Strasbourg Court fails to adequately protect trade union freedom: secondary strike action only considered to be an ‘accessory’ aspect of Article 11 (R.M.T. v. UK)

According to the Strasbourg Court’s established case law, the right to strike action is protected by Article 11 ECHR (e.g. Enerji Yapi-Yol Sen v. Turkey), which more generally protects the right of trade unions to strive for the protection of their members’ interests (e.g. Demir and Baykara v. Turkey). In the recent case of R.M.T. v. UK, the Court for the first time had to rule on a case concerning so-called secondary strike action, i.e. a strike organized by trade union members in one company in support of a strike initiated in another company. The United Kingdom is one of the few Council of Europe member states – together with Austria, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – in which a total prohibition on secondary strike action is in place. In its judgment of 8 April, the Court nonetheless did not consider such a blanket ban to be contrary to Article 11.

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Shitting in ‘closed’ overall not ‘degrading’ according to Strasbourg Court

If you look up the word ‘degrading’ in the dictionary, chances are that you find a picture there of a person who cannot help shitting him- or herself. In the case of Lindström and Mässeli v. Finland, the Strasbourg Court however did not consider that state authorities necessarily inflict ‘degrading treatment’ when they are responsible for bringing a prisoner in such a situation. The case concerns prisoners who were put in ‘closed’ overalls they were unable to remove, which resulted in them shitting themselves because the prison guards did not bring them in time to a toilet. According to the Court, this did not amount to a violation of Article 3 ECHR. The Court did find a violation of Article 8, but as will be argued below, since the protection offered by this provision is lower, it cannot be a genuine alternative for the applicability of Article 3.

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New publication: Shaping Rights in the ECHR

We are happy to announce the publication of the book “Shaping Rights in the ECHR – The Role of the European Court of Human Rights in Determining the Scope of Human Rights”, edited by Eva Brems and Janneke Gerards, and published by Cambridge University Press. The book consists of a collection of papers presented at a seminar our research team co-organized together with Prof. Gerards (Nijmegen University) in March 2012 in Ghent.

This is the abstract:

“In fundamental rights adjudication, a court first has to determine whether the interest at stake falls within the scope of the fundamental right invoked. Whether or not an individual interest falls within the scope or ambit of one of the fundamental rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights determines whether or not the European Court of Human Rights can decide on the merits of a case. This volume brings together a variety of legal scholars in order to examine the scope of fundamental rights. Topics range from the nature of human rights and the real or imagined risk of rights inflation to theories of positive obligations and social and economic rights. It contains contributions of a theoretical nature as well as analytical overviews of the ECtHR’s approach. In addition, comparisons are made with domestic, EU and international law.”


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Failure to protect minor against stepfather filming her naked violates Article 8: Grand Chamber agrees with our third party intervention in Söderman v. Sweden

On 12 November, the Grand Chamber issued its judgment in the case of Söderman v. Sweden (formerly known as E.S. v. Sweden), finding that Sweden had failed to comply with its positive obligation to protect the applicant’s right to respect for private life (Article 8 ECHR). According to the Grand Chamber, neither a criminal remedy nor a civil remedy existed under Swedish law that could have enabled the applicant to obtain effective protection against the violation of her personal integrity.

The case concerns a fourteen year old girl who discovered that her stepfather had attempted to secretly film her naked – he had hidden a video camera in the laundry basket in the bathroom, directed towards the spot where she normally undressed. The stepfather was not convicted because under Swedish law this act did not qualify as sexual molestation or attempted child pornography, nor was there a general prohibition in Swedish law against filming an individual without his or her consent.

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Transforming the right to property

Reading Strasbourg case-law on a systematic basis, I always feel uncomfortable when I see the Court’s expansive protection in the field of Article 1 Protocol 1. Basically, that is because I don’t really like the idea of a human right to property for a number of reasons. Firstly, a right to property takes the present distribution of wealth across society for granted, and requires justification for redistributive state action. Thereby it does not question the mechanisms that distribute wealth among individuals, despite the fact that it is clear that maldistribution can both cause or result from human rights violations. By protecting the status quo, the right to property can undermine the transformative potential of human rights.  Secondly, and related, those who have the most property obviously have a larger claim to property protection, disproportionately empowering the most advantaged vis-à-vis the least advantaged. Thirdly, upholding the right to property itself can amount to violations of human rights. Slavery is of course the most shocking example, but also think of how intellectual property rights restrict access to medicines affecting the right to health, or how the right to property can be mobilized to restrict access to fora for social action, affecting the freedom of expression. Fourthly, the right to property does not by itself distinguish between the kinds of property it protects, thereby principally placing the poor man’s means of subsistence on the same footing as the millionaire’s yacht. While it is clear how the former relates to foundational principles of human rights such as human dignity, in the latter case the link seems non-existent. Why should human rights at all care about the millionaire’s yacht?

Should we then do away with the human right to property? Perhaps that’s stretching my fundamental unease with the right to property too far. Surely no one would want to go back to the days of communist Europe. The question thus remains how the right to property can be transformed in such a way as to relate better to what we as human rights lawyers care about. The recent judgment in the case of N.K.M v. Hungary (see Ingrid’s blog post here)  and R.Sz. v. Hungary may indicate the way forward.

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