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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C.N. v. United Kingdom: the Court addresses domestic servitude

Amongst all the rightful concerns about the Strasbourg Court’s case-overload, I often find myself wondering about the cases that the Court isn’t getting. Some structurally occurring human rights violations aren’t receiving the attention of the Court – at least not in any amount that is proportionate to their scale. Domestic violence against women is one example, as is trafficking and domestic servitude. There is an extremely worrying dearth of judgments on these issues.

C.N. v. the United Kingdom, a case about a woman who was held in domestic servitude, is therefore a welcome ruling. This is just the fourth judgment in which the Court finds a violation of the prohibition of slavery, forced labor and servitude (Article 4 ECHR).[1] In this post I will highlight the most salient aspects of the Court’s reasoning. Continue reading

P and S v. Poland: adolescence, vulnerability, and reproductive autonomy

The Strasbourg Observers are delighted to publish this guest post by Johanna Westeson, Regional Director for Europe, Center for Reproductive Rights. The Center for Reproductive Rights represented the applicants in P and S v. Poland before the ECtHR; see the Center’s press release here.

This week, the European Court of Human Rights issued its decision in P and S v. Poland, a case of a Polish teenager who became pregnant as a result of rape and was humiliated, harassed, and manipulated in her quest for a legal abortion. Building on the landmark cases against Poland’s restrictive abortion practice, Tysiąc v. Poland (2007) and R.R. v. Poland (2011) (see blog posts here and here), this judgment further clarifies the Court’s stance that reproductive health services that are legal must also be accessible. It also develops important reasoning on the vulnerability of young rape victims as well as their right to personal autonomy in matters of reproductive choice. The Court establishes that P and S had been subjected to several violations of their rights under Article 8, Article 5, and Article 3. This is a groundbreaking case, particularly in regard to the sexual and reproductive rights of adolescents. It opens the door to legal challenges to regimes that restrict young people’s reproductive self-determination, such as parental consent laws and strict procedural requirements to prove rape as a requirement for access to legal abortion. 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

Court condemns forced sterilization of Roma woman

This post is co-authored by Lourdes Peroni and Alexandra Timmer

The Court has recently ruled in V.C. v. Slovakia, a case brought by a Roma woman who complained that she was sterilized without her informed consent. The judgment is no doubt a landmark decision with crucial implications for women belonging to minority ethnic groups. In this post, we argue the Court’s reasoning is spot on in several respects and outline the reasons why.  

Outline of the judgment

The applicant’s forced sterilization was in violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment) and Article 8 (respect for private and family life). The Court condemns the Slovakian government in strong terms. Continue reading