Vallianatos and Others v. Greece: What is in there for Lithuania?

This guest post was written by Natalija Bitiukova*

Is it possible that having a discriminatory law allowing civil partnerships only for different-sex couples is better than having no law at all? After the Grand Chamber released its judgment in Vallianatos and Others v. Greece case, Lithuanian human rights advocates have realized that indeed it is. Contrary to a popular view that the judgment could become an easy-win for Lithuanian same-sex couples, it seems that the equal right to enter into a civil partnership will have to wait. Unfortunately, the ECtHR, in naming Greece and Lithuania as the only countries which provide for a form of registered partnership designed solely for different-sex couples, has counted them wrongly. Continue reading

X. v. Turkey: Why a Ruling on the Basis of Discriminatory Effects Would Have Been Preferable

A few weeks ago, the European Court of Human Rights released its judgment in X. v. Turkey. The case concerned a homosexual detainee who was put in an individual cell and under a very restrictive detention regime, after he complained about intimidation and harassment by heterosexual detainees with whom he shared a collective cell. On the ECHR Blog, our fellow academic and blogger Antoine Buyse heralded the judgment as “an important development in the Court’s case-law”: “[f]or the first time in its existence, the European Court of Human Rights found that a complaint related to sexual orientation discrimination yielded a violation of Article 3 ECHR.”

Inspired by the recent posts by Alexandra on “what constitutes racial discrimination?” and by Lourdes on “who should provide which standard of proof?”, I will argue that the Court should have gone beyond the formal approach to discrimination it displayed in X. v. Turkey. Rather than searching for discriminatory intent and motives, the Court should have primarily looked at discriminatory effects. I believe that a reasoning on the basis of discriminatory effects would have provided firmer ground to the Court’s finding of a violation of art. 14 juncto art. 3 ECHR. It would also have countered the – prima facie sensible – dissent of Judge Jočienė to the majority ruling.

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Anti-Gay Hate Speech: Vejdeland and Others v. Sweden

The Court has handed down a fascinating judgment on the freedom of expression. Vejdeland and others v. Sweden is the first time that the Court applies the principles relating to hate speech in the context of sexual orientation. A unanimous Court has ruled that Sweden did not violate the right to freedom of expression: the criminal conviction of the applicants for distributing leaflets that contained offensive statements about homosexuals did not breach the Convention. The judgment – which I will discuss below – is well worth reading, and so is the factsheet on hate speech that the Court has released on the occasion of this ruling. Continue reading

Blood Donations and the Permanent Exclusion of “Men Who Have Sex with Men”

In Belgium, as in many other European countries, homosexual men are not allowed to donate blood. To be more precise, not homosexual men are permanently excluded from donating blood, but “men who have sex with men”. “What’s in a name?”, you might ask. That is what I intend to find out in this post.

Reasonable arguments are invoked on each side of the blood donation debate: a concern for public health on one side and a struggle against stereotyping and discrimination on the other. But who is in the right here? Who has the law, and more particularly European human rights law, on its side? In this post I will attempt to offer a possible answer to these questions through the lens of the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights. Obviously, the Court not having ruled on this issue, what follows is based on my interpretation of the Court’s discrimination case-law, combined with ideas on how a homosexual applicant may argue a hypothetical case in front of it.

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2010: year of “profound moral views”?

2010 was a turbulent year for the European Court of Human Rights. The Court has been under fire both for usurping too much power and for achieving too little. The first type of critique is made by conservatives who recycle the old idea that an international court has no legitimacy to judge the situation on the ground in individual states; this year vocally proclaimed in for, for example, the Netherlands (in Dutch) and Russia. The second type of critique – that the Court is doing too little – refers primarily to the huge backlog in cases. The Court is not managing its workload; therefore we saw such initiatives as the Interlaken Conference.[1]  

 To my mind, the year was characterized by an intense debate about the legal relevance/importance of an individual society’s moral values.  The abortion case of A, B and C v. Ireland is the most recent of a series of high-profile cases, all delivered in 2010 and all essentially revolving around the question to what extent the Strasbourg Court should take national morality into account when determining whether human rights violations have taken place in a certain state.  Apart from the abortion case, I’m thinking here of cases concerning sexual orientation (Schalk and Kopf v. Austria and Alekseyev v. Russia) and sex discrimination (Konstantin Markin v. Russia). What follows is a brief review and a critique of A, B and C v. Ireland. Continue reading

Tolerant? Of course! But keep it private

Yesterday, the Court announced its judgment in Alekseyev v. Russia with an outcome readers can easily predict. For three years in a row, Russia banned gay marches in Moscow allegedly on safety grounds. From the statements made by the Mayor of Moscow and the Government’s observations before the Court, it was clear however that the main concern behind the ban was not exactly safety. The decisions of the Russian authorities, the Court noted, had been mainly guided by the prevailing moral values of the majority.

It is really hard to say which of the reasons advanced by the government to justify the bans is the most unacceptable. I find three of them particularly striking.

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Child maintenance and gender stereotypes: understanding J.M. v. the UK

A recent case, J.M. v. the United Kingdom, startled our research team. The case concerns a British child support rule that is at first glance counter-intuitive. The rule, from the Child Support Act 1991, states that the parent who does not have the primary care of the children is required to pay child support. So far little news. However, the amount of this support is reduced when the absent parent enters into a new relationship. The rule made no distinction between married and unmarried couples, but took no account of same-sex relationships. In this post I will highlight why the Court’s ruling is problematic and, moreover, why the underlying rule is deeply disturbing. Continue reading