Positive Obligations in Crisis

Dr Natasa Mavronicola is Reader in Law at Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham. She has written extensively on the right to life and the right not to be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. She is co-editor of Lavrysen & Mavronicola (eds), Coercive Human Rights: Positive Duties to Mobilise the Criminal Law under the ECHR, forthcoming with Hart Publishing (2020).

On the flip side of rights are wrongs. It is now indisputable that the State may wrong us as a matter of human rights law not only by actively mistreating us, but also by failing to protect us from certain harms. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) boasts a formidable jurisprudence on positive obligations borne by States to protect persons within their jurisdiction from grave threats to our life or physical or mental integrity. It is important to understand and apply these appropriately to the current crisis, particularly as positive obligations to protect life are being actively invoked, in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, to justify extensive (coercive) measures across Council of Europe States.

In this short piece, focusing on positive obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), I want to underline the following: (a) the State bears positive obligations to protect, rather than coerce; (b) the State’s positive obligations do not extend to duties to act unlawfully under the Convention; and (c) positive obligations must be responsive to, and entail ancillary obligations to determine, the relevant context and risk. Continue reading

Grimmark v. Sweden and Steen v. Sweden: no right for healthcare professionals to refuse to participate in abortion services, and framing strategies by anti-abortion actors.

This blogpost was written by Niklas Barke, PhD Candidate, Institute for Human Rights, Åbo Akademi University

On the 11th of March, the European Court of Human Rights (the Court) issued its decisions in Grimmark v. Sweden and Steen v. Sweden, two cases casting light on the issue of refusal by healthcare professionals to participate in abortion procedures. The Court in these fairly straight-forward decisions rejected the Applicants’ complaints as manifestly ill-founded. Rather, the Court found the Swedish authorities’ decision to not employ midwives who refused to participate in abortion procedures complied with Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention). These two cases are ground-breaking in that this is the first time that the Court decides on the issue of a purported right to refuse to carry out work duties in relation to abortion. Earlier cases relating to so-called conscientious objection have either related to other substantive issues, or been considered from the opposite perspective, that is, in relation to complaints that such refusal has impeded the possibilities to access legal abortion. Building on landmark cases such as R.R. v. Poland (2011) (blog posts here and here, P. and S. v. Poland (2012) (blog post here), Pichon and Sajous v. France (2001), Regner v. the Czech Republic (2017) (blog post here), Skugar and others v. Russia (2009), and Eweida and others v. the United Kingdom (2013) (blog posts here and here), the cases against Sweden follow the trajectory of previous case-law concerning abortion services, refusal to perform work duties, and the question whether there is a right to hold a certain work position. The Court also rejected the Applicants’ complaints under Articles 10 and 14 of the Convention, respectively. However, the focus of this comment will exclusively be on the decision under Article 9.

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Announcement: Webinar on Human Rights in the Time of Coronavirus (7 April)

Dear readers,

This week, an interesting debate took place on our blog regarding the necessity and/or desirability of derogation under Article 15 in the context of the Covid-19 crisis. The poll we launched yesterday on this question is still quite tight, indicating that many people continue to disagree on the path to take. At Strasbourg Observers, we are therefore very happy to support continued debate on this question in the form of a webinar, which will take place next Tuesday (7 April) at 4 pm UK time, 5 pm CET. Here is the announcement:

 

Human Rights in the Time of Coronavirus: Does England’s Lockdown Violate Human Rights Law?

Webinar

7 April 2020, 4 pm (UK time)

https://zoom.us/j/335812961 Continue reading

To derogate or not to derogate? Poll on emergency Covid-19 measures

These are exceptional times. Covid-19 represents a threat to public health in Europe of an extent that is unprecedented in modern times. At the same time, the restrictions on normal life imposed by Council of Europe Member States in response to the outbreak are a test case for the ECHR regime. While the Strasbourg Court itself has temporarily suspended most of its activities, including the delivery of new judgments, the human rights pressures generated by the Covid-19 crisis continue to provide a source for vigorous debate within the ECHR community. An important question that currently divides the ECHR community  is whether or not States should make a derogation under Article 15 ECHR with a view to taking the necessary measures in response to the public health emergency. Via the poll below, we would like to enquire into the view of you, our readers, on the necessity and/or desirability of States making such a declaration. Continue reading

States should declare a State of Emergency using Article 15 ECHR to confront the Coronavirus Pandemic

By Alan Greene

Carl Schmitt is, without a doubt, the pre-eminent scholar on states of exception. However, his famous maxim of ‘Sovereign is he who decides on the exception’ has tainted the debate on emergency powers, emphasising their antagonistic relation to the legal order they are supposed to protect and downplaying their protective potential. In this post, I argue why Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) should be used to accommodate the emergency lockdown powers necessary to confront the Coronavirus pandemic. This is the closest we shall get to an ‘ideal state of emergency’—the very thing it was designed for. In contrast, far from protecting human rights, failure to use Article 15 ECHR risks normalising exceptional powers and permanently recalibrating human rights protections downwards. Continue reading

An inch of time is an inch of gold – the time factor in child abduction related proceedings: Balbino v. Portugal

This post was written by Nadia Rusinova who is attorney-at-law and lecturer in International private law at The Hague University.

On 29 January 2019 the European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter: The Court) delivered its judgment on the case Simoes Balbino v. Portugal which addresses procedural delay in the context of the attribution of the exercise of parental authority in child abduction cases and the obligations of the state under Art. 8 ECHR. A key factor, in this case, is the time factor in proceedings related to child abduction, under the Hague Convention and in general in proceedings related to children. In the present case, the Court has ruled in a rather unexpected way on the issue of how the wrongful removal of the child should be assessed in a pending parental dispute, and in particular, is the child abduction a factor which determines the procedural behaviour of the domestic courts.

In its previous case law, the Court had said that a national court could not order the return of the child, or enforce a return order, if it had not considered the child’s best interests (Neulinger and Shuruk v. Switzerland, B. v. BelgiumSneersone and Kampanella v. Italy). Later, in X. v. Latvia,  the most recent judgment on this matter delivered by the Grand Chamber, the Court explained that the consideration of the child’s best interests did not mean a detailed assessment of the entire situation, but instead an obligation to ‘genuinely take into account factors that could constitute an exception to the return’ (under Arts. 12, 13 and 20 of the Hague Convention), in particular if one of the parties invoked these factors. In Adzic v. Croatia the Court adds that the assessment must be done speedily, which is in line with the goal of the Hague  Convention. Subsequently, in its most recent judgment in Rinau v. Lithuania, the Court finds that the time it took for the Lithuanian courts to reach the final decision in the applicant’s case, the Lithuanian courts had ‘failed to respond to the urgency of their situation’ and the delay of two years already amounted to a violation of Art.8. The view of the Court in this case offers some challenging turns to the aforementioned precedent – namely on the issue of time proceedings –which will be discussed further below.

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COVID-19 and the European Convention on Human Rights

By Prof Kanstantsin Dzehtsiarou (University of Liverpool)

Our life has changed. The main if not the only topic that everyone is interested in is the ongoing pandemic. The World Health Organisation is one of the most popular international organisations at the moment. This crisis will undoubtably have a significant impact on how we live, travel and perceive our governments. These long-term effects will clearly be a subject of numerous dissertations, articles and monographs. This blogpost will make a very brief overview of the role of the European Convention on Human Rights in assessment of this crisis. In recent days a number of states (for example, Georgia, Estonia, Armenia, Romania, and Latvia) submitted their derogations from the ECHR under Article 15. When the situation calms down it would be very interesting to analyse the exact wording and utility of these declarations. Here, I will start by considering implications of Article 15 to the situation at hand. I will then briefly analyse how other Articles of the Convention can be engaged in the COVID-19 crises. Of course, this is only a suggestion, the real impact of COVID-19 will be seen in 5-6 years when measures taken by the Governments now will be analysed in judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. Continue reading