Tarakhel v. Switzerland: Another Step in a Quiet (R)evolution?

This guest post was written by Nesa Zimmermann, Ph.D. candidate and teaching assistant at the University of Geneva, Switzerland (*)

The Court’s recent ruling in Tarakhel v. Switzerland became famous almost before it was delivered. The case has received strong media attention, and some claimed the judgment signified “the end of the Dublin system”. However, the importance of the Tarakhel judgement should not be overrated. For one thing, it remains yet to be seen to what extent the Court’s ruling can and will be applied to other cases. Besides, even though the case has been called a “principled decision in favour of vulnerable persons”, it consists, from a scholarly point of view, of a series of adjustments: a case contributing to the evolution of existing case law rather than a revolution on its own. Continue reading

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

Vulnerability and Economic Abuse in Domestic Violence Reasoning: T.M. and C.M. v. Moldova

T.M. and C.M. v. Moldova is one of the latest instances of domestic authorities’ passivity in protecting women against domestic violence. At the root of this passivity was a failure to understand the seriousness and extent of the problem and its discriminatory effect on women. This was reflected in misconceptions about both the nature of domestic violence and the reality of many of its victims. In dealing with this failure, the Court issues a strong judgment: (i) it reinvigorates the definition of domestic violence by renewing attention to non-physical forms, notably economic abuse and (ii) it refines the links between domestic violence victims’ vulnerability and the content of State positive obligations. Continue reading

New publications: Vulnerability in the case law of the European Court of Human Rights

As we announced earlier, Lourdes Peroni and I have  written an article together which analyzes the development of the vulnerable group concept in the Strasbourg case law. I am happy to say that this article has now been published as:

Lourdes Peroni & Alexandra Timmer, Vulnerable Groups: the Promise of an Emergent Concept in European Human Rights Convention Law, 11 International Journal of Constitutional Law (2013), p. 1056-1085 (link is to the full-text article!).

This is the abstract:

The concept of “vulnerable groups” is gaining momentum in the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. The Court has used it in cases concerning Roma, people with mental disabilities, people living with HIV and asylum seekers. Yet the appearance of the vulnerable group concept in the Court’s legal reasoning has so far escaped scholarly attention. Drawing on theoretical debates on vulnerability and equality as well as on the Court’s case law, this Article offers a descriptive and normative assessment of the concept. Reasoning in terms of vulnerable groups opens a number of possibilities, most notably, the opportunity to move closer to a more robust idea of equality. However, the concept also has some inherent difficulties. This Article argues for a reflective use of the concept and points out ways in which the Court can avoid its pitfalls.

In relation to ECtHR case law, the concept of vulnerability proved to be a rich topic for research. Widening the inquiry beyond “vulnerable groups” to vulnerability more generally, I  have written a second piece which has also just been published:

Alexandra Timmer, “A Quiet Revolution: Vulnerability in the European Court of Human Rights”, in: Martha Fineman & Anna Grear (eds.), Vulnerability: Reflections on a New Ethical Foundation for Law and Politics (Ashgate), p. 147-170.

Again, the abstract:

Without occasioning much comment, the European Court of Human Rights is increasingly relying on vulnerability reasoning. This chapter analyses that development. First it discusses the concept of vulnerability and its relationship to human rights on a theoretical level, particularly drawing on the work of Martha Fineman. Through an emphasis on universal vulnerability, Fineman’s work invites a reimagining of the human of human rights law. This chapter then examines and critiques how the Court conceives of vulnerability: it charts who are vulnerable according to the Court, and why.
The ability of vulnerability, the chapter argues, is that it allows the Court to prioritize between different claims. Vulnerability reasoning likewise enables the Court to extend certain positive obligations. Vulnerability considerations are thus at the frontlines of the Strasbourg case law. However, as a social institution the Court is also vulnerable in and of itself. This is a reality that the ECtHR will have to take seriously in order to endure as a supranational human rights court. The Court’s legal reasoning about vulnerability, and the revolutionary potential of that reasoning, is therefore ultimately limited by the Court’s own vulnerability.

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.

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

Forthcoming Publication on Vulnerable Groups in the Court’s Case Law

This post was written by Alexandra Timmer and Lourdes Peroni

Alexandra and I are happy to announce the forthcoming publication of our joint Article “Vulnerable Groups: The Promise of an Emerging Concept in European Human Rights Convention Law.” The piece will be published in the International Journal of Constitutional Law – I•CON.

In this Article, we critically examine the development and consequences of the concept of “vulnerable groups” in the Strasbourg case law. Our analysis includes a number of high-profile cases, from M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece, to V.C. v. Slovakia, Alajos Kiss v. Hungary, Kiyutin v. Russia and the recent case of Horváth and Kiss v. Hungary.

The Article was an excellent opportunity to reflect and work together on issues of common interest, such as non-discrimination, equality and vulnerability.

Here is the abstract:

The concept of “vulnerable groups” is gaining momentum in the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. The Court has used it in cases concerning Roma, people with mental disabilities, people living with HIV and asylum seekers. Yet the appearance of the vulnerable group concept in the Court’s legal reasoning has so far escaped scholarly attention. Drawing on theoretical debates on vulnerability and equality as well as on the Court’s case law, this Article offers a descriptive and normative assessment of the concept. Reasoning in terms of vulnerable groups opens a number of possibilities, most notably, the opportunity to move closer to a more robust idea of equality. However, the concept also has some inherent difficulties. This Article argues for a reflective use of the concept and points out ways in which the Court can avoid its pitfalls.