S.A.S. v. France: Missed Opportunity to Do Full Justice to Women Wearing a Face Veil

By Saïla Ouald Chaib and Lourdes Peroni

This week, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights published its long-expected judgment in S.A.S. v. France. The case concerns a ban on the wearing of face veils in the public space. Although the outcome of such highly debated cases is always unpredictable, we hoped that the Court would take this opportunity to bring procedural and substantive justice to the women wearing a face veil in Europe.[1] Alas, the Court disappointingly decided the case by granting a wide margin of appreciation to France and by consequently not finding a violation of any of the ECHR provisions invoked, in particular freedom of religion, the right to private life and non-discrimination. At the same time, however, the judgment contains some positive aspects, namely respect for several requirements of what is known as “procedural justice” and departure from previous case law portraying Muslim women as oppressed. In this post, we share our first impressions on what we think are some positive and negative aspects of the Court’s reasoning. Continue reading

Nel nome del padre (in the name of the father): the Court on the transmission of the father’s surname (Cusan and Fazzo v. Italy)

This guest post was written by Yaiza Janssens, PhD researcher and teaching/research assistant at the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University. Yaiza works on a project on the regulation of sexism in Belgian Law.

Cusan and Fazzo v. Italy concerned a challenge to transmission of the father’s surname to his children. The applicants in this case are an Italian married couple who – by mutual agreement – wanted to enter their daughter on the civil register under her mother’s family name, Cusan. The Italian authorities dismissed their request and the child was registered under her father’s name, Fazzo.

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S.A.S. v. France: A short summary of an interesting hearing

On Wednesday, our research team attended the Grand Chamber hearing at the European Court of Human Rights in the case of S.A.S. v. France, in which we submitted a third party intervention on behalf of the Ghent University Human Rights Centre. The case concerns the French law banning the face veil, a highly debated piece of legislation, which was also obvious from the amount of international press covering the hearing. I will first briefly discuss the content of our third-party intervention and then turn to a summary of the hearing which left a positive impression on us.

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Seminar Announcement: Stereotyping as a Human Rights Issue

The Human Rights Centre of Ghent University organizes a seminar on the topic of Stereotyping as a Human Rights Issue. The seminar will take place in Ghent on 4 December 2013.

The purpose of this seminar is to explore the topic of stereotyping from a wide human rights perspective. We will address questions like: How do invidious stereotypes affect the enjoyment of human rights? How came the language of stereotyping to be included in human rights treaties such as CEDAW and CRPD? Does human rights law manage to capture the harms of stereotyping? How could human rights law be improved in this respect? What potential has a focus on stereotypes to develop a more robust notion of equality in human rights law?

This is the program:  Continue reading

HIV-based employment discrimination: the ECtHR takes a strong stance in I.B. v. Greece

The Strasbourg Court has recently delivered its first judgment on the topic of HIV-based employment discrimination. I.B. v. Greece (judgment in French!) concerns a man who is HIV-positive and who was fired from his job, because his employer wished to keep the company running smoothly. What happened was that a group of I.B.’s co-workers, finding out about his HIV diagnosis, had called for his dismissal because they were afraid of contagion.

Although much of the legal reasoning in this judgment is familiar (notably from the landmark case of Kiyutin v. Russia), this ruling is notable for the strong message the Court sends about the harms of HIV-based stigma and discrimination. In this post I will highlight what are to my mind the most noteworthy aspects of this judgment, namely that the Court applies a social model of disability and that it uses the concept of vulnerable groups to narrow the margin of appreciation. The drawback of this judgment, I conclude, is that it does not give much support to HIV-positive people requiring some form of accomodation from their employer. Continue reading

The Court on Racial Discrimination (Part I): M. and Others v. Italy and Bulgaria

It’s fair to say that the Court’s record on racial discrimination is hesitant. Only as late as 2004 did the Court for the first time find that a State was guilty of racial discrimination.[1] This was in the Chamber judgment of Nachova v Bulgaria, which was later partly rescinded by the Grand Chamber in 2005. Since then, the Court’s jurisprudence on the topic of racial discrimination has rapidly expanded. The Court has delivered some strong judgments in the past years, most notably D.H. and Others v. the Czech Republic(2007). Yet the Court remains reluctant to find a violation of Article 14 of the Convention on the basis of race discrimination.

In the past few months, the Court has delivered several judgments on the topic. These cases illustrate the difficulties of the Strasbourg jurisprudence on race discrimination, but they also contain some promising new points of departurein the Court’s legal reasoning. First was B.S. v. Spain (24 July), concerning a sex worker of Nigerian origin who was harassed by the Spanish police. Then came M. and Others v. Italy and Bulgaria (31 July), about a Bulgarian Roma girl who alleged that she was trafficked to Italy and abused there by several men who held her hostage in a villa. Most recent is the case of Fedorchenko and Lozenko v. Ukraine (20 September), concerning a Roma man who complained that a police officer had set fire to his house. Five of the applicant’s family members died because of that fire.

In a two-post miniseries, Lourdes Peroni and I will discuss these three cases, which have to our knowledge not been picked up by other blogs. In the process we will revisit some of the major factors that continue to hamper the Court’s case law in the field of racial discrimination. In this post – the first half of the series – I will discuss M. and Others v. Italy and Bulgaria, which raises the question what racial discrimination is (or what counts as discrimination) in the eyes of the Court. Next week, Lourdes will discuss the Court’s standard of proof in cases that concern the investigation of racist violence. Continue reading

Gender equality and religious freedom in politics; Dutch SGP case declared inadmissible

The ECtHR has brought a turbulent Dutch legal saga to a close. In the highly interesting Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij v. the Netherlands, the Court has declared the complaint by the Dutch political party ‘SGP’ inadmissible. The SGP is, in the words of the Court, “a confessional political party firmly rooted in historical Dutch Reformed Protestantism” (par. 4). The party does not allow women to stand for election, as it believes that God teaches that men and women have different roles in life. It believes that “man is the head of the woman” and “participation of women in both representative and administrative political organs” is “incompatible with woman’s calling” (par. 9). After a prolonged debate and legal struggle in the domestic courts, the Dutch Supreme Court ruled that, on the ground of Article 7 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (‘CEDAW’), the State is obliged to ensure that political parties allow women to exercise their right to stand for election. The SGP complained to the Strasbourg Court that this ruling of the Supreme Court infringed Articles 9 (right to freedom of religion), Article 10 (right to freedom of expression) and Article 11 (right to assembly) of the ECHR.

Frankly, what I expected to find was a terse decision, basically referring to the State’s margin of appreciation. I was wrong. The reasoning is brief, but includes three steps that combine to make this a memorable ruling. I will discuss these steps below. By the way, this case has provoked a lot of controversy in the Netherlands over the past years (most of it is in Dutch, but see this article in the Human Rights Quarterly). With this post, I cannot do justice to the whole debate; I just aim to give you my first impressions of the decision. Continue reading