OOO Regnum v. Russia: extending reputational rights to legal entities?

By Juncal Montero Regules (UHasselt)

On 8 September 2020, the Third Section of the European Court of Human Rights delivered its judgment in OOO Regnum v. Russia (application no. 22649/08), a freedom of expression case concerning reputational rights of a legal person. The Court found that OOO Regnum, an electronic news outlet, had suffered a violation of its right to freedom of expression when the domestic courts declared it had published news which amounted to defamation against the claimant company, a private corporation. The judgment adds up to a number of cases where the ECtHR is unclear as to the place of the right to corporate reputation under the European Convention on Human Rights. OOO Regnum sheds no light on this question: the Court’s reasoning adds to confusion about the matter while leaving the door open for the recognition of reputational rights of legal persons.

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The Challenges of Saying ‘I do’ for same-sex couples: The Human Rights Centre submits a Third Party Intervention in transnational same-sex marriage case

By Claire Poppelwell-Scevak (PhD Researcher at the Human Rights Centre, Ghent University) and Sarah Den Haese (PhD Researcher at the Human Rights Centre, Ghent University)

The Human Rights Centre of Ghent University[1] (Belgium) recently submitted a third party intervention (TPI) before the European Court of Human Rights in the communicated case of Szypuła v. Poland and Urbanik and Alonso Rodriguez v. Poland. The issue is the restrictive marriage eligibility measures in Poland that prevent Polish nationals who are in a same-sex relationship from enjoying their right to marry abroad in countries which allow for same-sex marriage (in these two cases, Spain). In our submission, we argue that this case raises important issues under the right to marry (Article 12 ECHR), taken alone and in conjunction with the prohibition of discrimination (Article 14 ECHR), providing the Court with an important opportunity to clarify the scope of the right to marry, specifically in a transnational context, of same-sex couples. Further, we invite the Court to clarify the obligations weighing on both of the member states concerned. An overview of the facts as well as a summary regarding our main arguments are provided hereunder.

Facts

The application consists of two cases, the first concerned Mr Szypuła and his partner, and the second involved Mr Urbanik and his partner Mr Alonso Rodriguez. Both couples wished to marry in Spain, where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2005. However, if one of the prospective spouses is not a Spanish national, then it is a requirement under Spanish law that the couple submits a marriage eligibility certificate as proof that neither person is currently married. In Poland, this marriage eligibility certificate requires the name and gender of the intended partner. This requirement thus notifies the Polish authorities of the possibility that a same-sex marriage will be contracted abroad.

Mr Sypuła and his partner applied for this marriage eligibility certificate in October 2010 at the Warsaw Civil Status Office. They were denied this certificate and pursued this decision to the Supreme Court where their cassation appeal was rejected in 2014. Similarly, Mr Urbanik applied for this marriage eligibility certificate in July 2014 indicating that he intended to marry his partner in Spain. His request for this certificate was denied as the Warsaw Civil Status office stated that ‘it would be contrary to the Polish law according to which marriage could only be concluded between a man and a woman’. Mr Urbanik’s final domestic appeal was dismissed in October 2015.

Third Party Intervention Arguments

Our TPI focused on four distinct arguments, the first was the Court’s interpretation of Article 12 in the context of same-sex couples. The Court has acknowledged that Article 12 can ‘no longer […] in all circumstances be limited to marriage between two persons of the opposite sex’ (Schalk and Kopf v. Austria, para 61; Oliari and Others v. Italy, para 140). The issue has been, to date, for the Court that Article 12 cannot be interpreted so as to ‘impose an obligation’ on a Member State to allow for same-sex couples to marry (Schalk and Kopf, para 61-63). However, in this case, the issue was not that the couples had been barred from getting married in Spain. In fact, their right to marry had been granted by Spain when same-sex marriage was legalised in 2005. The problem was that the Polish Government were actively interfering with the applicants’ enjoyment of this right by not granting a marriage eligibility certificate to the couples on the basis of their sexual orientation. The central tenet of our Article 12 argument, therefore, rests on Poland being obliged under Article 12 to not hinder the effective enjoyment of its nationals of their right to marry in another country.

This argument is novel in the sense that Article 12 and same-sex marriage have always been discussed by the Court from the perspective that the impediment to Article 12 is based in the Member State where the same-sex couples wish to marry. However, the applicants’ situation provides a distinct difference as they have prima facie been granted this enjoyment of the right to marry by Spain, and it is Poland that is interfering with their enjoyment of the said right.

Our second argument turned to the issues raised under Article 12 in conjunction with Article 14. We argue that differential treatment based solely on the grounds of sexual orientation is unacceptable under the Convention (Salguiero da Silva Mouta v. Portugal). However, the wide margin granted to Member States under Article 12, has allowed for Member States to continue denying same-sex couples access to marriage. That being said, where ‘a difference in treatment is based on sexual orientation, the State’s margin of appreciation is narrow’ (Abdulaziz, Cabales and Balkandali v. the United Kingdom; Konstantin Markin v. Russia) and ‘differences based on sexual orientation require particularly serious reasons by way of justification or [….] particularly convincing and weighty reasons’ (X and Others v. Austria). Importantly, this case, once again, revolved around the discriminatory actions stemming from the Member State of nationality (Poland), not the Member State (Spain) which had granted the applicants access to marriage. In this sense, our submission highlights the difficulty in conceiving ‘weighty reasons’ that could justify a Member State hindering its nationals from contracting a marriage abroad.

Furthermore, we invite the Court to take into consideration the situation for LGBTQI+ people living in Poland and the harassment they experience in their day-to-day lives. This is a particularly crucial facet of our submission because the wide margin the Court has granted to Member States under Article 12 is based on the Court’s implicit presumption of good faith that Member States are reserving marriage for different-sex couples on the basis of Convention compliant grounds. For example, the Court’s finding in Schalk and Kopf, that the institution of marriage has ‘deep-rooted social and cultural connotations which may differ largely from one society to another’ allows for Member States to limit marriage to different-sex couples under the Convention.However, we argue that this presumption of good faith needs to be considerably restricted where there is evidence of large-scale exclusion and discrimination of a minority group, the likes of which can be clearly witnessed in Poland.

Lastly, our final argument focuses on the applicability of private international law rules. Contrary to what one might think, private international law is in essence national law and regulates the relationship between different (national) legal systems. The question whether a Polish national can marry his same-sex partner in Spain is thus governed by Spanish private international law rules. Moreover, private international law rules also determines the applicable law and stipulate if and how a marriage validly contracted abroad can be recognised. With regard to (same-sex) marriages, there are no international or supranational instruments dealing with the question of international jurisdiction, applicable law and/or recognition. As a result, each State has their own rules in place. However, national legislators (when drafting private international law rules) and administrative authorities and judges (when applying private international law rules) are bound by the rights and guarantees enshrined in the ECHR, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

As stated above, Article 12 ECHR does not oblige Member States to legalise same-sex marriages. Currently, each Member State can freely determine whether or not it allows same-sex marriages. In our TPI, we argue that the right to reserve the institution of marriage for heterosexual couples does not entail the right to hinder its nationals from marrying (as a same-sex couple) abroad. By allowing Member States to prevent their nationals from contracting a marriage abroad, their national restrictions are given extraterritorial application. The Spanish requirement for non-nationals to present a marriage eligibility certificate places a State like Poland, which does not allow for same-sex marriage, in a position where it can circumvent both ECtHR and CJEU case-law by effectively preventing access to same-sex marriage in another country altogether. While the ECtHR has made clear that Member States are obliged to have a legal framework in place providing for the recognition and protection of same-sex unions (Oliari and Others v. Italy and Orlandi and Others v. Italy), the CJEU has ruled that the same-sex spouse of a mobile Union citizen must be granted a right of residence irrespective of whether national law allows same-sex marriages (Coman and Others).

To protect nationals from States prohibiting same-sex marriages, the national legislation of States allowing same-sex marriages can make use of the habitual residence as a connecting factor or can invoke the positive public policy exception when the applicable law is determined by the nationality of the prospective spouse. For example, in the Netherlands (Article 28 Book 10 Dutch Civil Code), Luxembourg (Article 171 Luxembourg Civil Code) and Sweden (Ch. 1 § 1 Act (1904:26 p. 1) on Certain International Relationships on Marriage and Guardianship), the civil status registrar will apply its own law (allowing same-sex marriage) even if the (one of the) prospective spouse(s) are/is not a national. The country of habitual residence is decisive. In Austria (Article 17 Austrian Code of PIL) and Belgium (Article 46 Belgian Code of PIL), on the other hand, nationality is the only connecting factor. This means that the civil status registrar will have to apply foreign law. However, if the designated law precludes same-sex marriage, the civil status registrar will apply his own law (allowing same-sex marriage) and thereby circumventing the prohibition on same-sex marriage.

Unfortunately, the use of habitual residence as a connecting factor or the presence of a positive public policy exception does not always guarantee the right to get married. Member States allowing same-sex marriage often also demand documentary evidence: a birth certificate, a certificate of legal capacity to marry, a certificate of marital status, etc. By requesting documents originating from Member States prohibiting same-sex marriage, the latter States can still prevent the formation of a same-sex marriage by simply refusing to issue the requested documents. As held above, we argued in our TPI that by refusing to issue these documents, Member States overstep their margin of appreciation. Although Member States have the right to prohibit same-sex marriage on their territory, they cannot prevent their nationals from making use of the right to get married in a country allowing same-sex marriage.

In addition, we criticise the unwillingness of the Spanish authorities to contract the marriage without the requested marriage eligibility certificate. Although the case has only been lodged against Poland, the refusal of Spain could also give rise to human rights violations. Bearing in mind the genesis and spirit of the EU Regulation 2016/1191 on promoting the free movement of citizens by simplifying the requirements for presenting certain public documents in the European Union, EU nationals should be protected against bureaucratic procedures. If a person’s personal information, nationality, marital status, etc. has already been established, there is no need to request more recent or a specific type of documents.


[1] For the Human Rights Centre the team consisted of Prof. Dr. Eva Brems, Sarah Den Haese, Dr. Laurens Lavrysen, Claire Poppelwell-Scevak, Anne-Katrin Speck, Prof. Dr. Jinske Verhellen, and Judith Vermeulen.

Aghdgomelashvili and Japaridze v Georgia: a further step in the direction of Article 3’s dignitarian promise?

By Natasa Mavronicola (University of Birmingham) and Laurens Lavrysen (Human Rights Centre, Ghent University)

On 8 October 2020, the European Court of Human Rights delivered a judgment in the case of Aghdgomelashvili and Japaridze v Georgia. The case concerns a police raid on the office of an LGBT organization in Tblisi. During this raid, police officers subjected the applicants to homophobic and transphobic insults, threats, and humiliating strip-searches. In its judgment, the Court found both a substantive and a procedural violation of Article 3 (the right not to be subjected to torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) in conjunction with Article 14 ECHR (prohibition of discrimination). The present contribution will first discuss the facts of the case and the Court’s judgment, before zooming in on the relationship between discrimination and Article 3. We conclude that the judgment constitutes a welcome step in cementing the nexus between discrimination and the wrongs proscribed by Article 3 ECHR, and the significance of this interconnection. We argue, however, that a more principled approach to the question of substantive violation of Article 3 would recognise as degrading any humiliating treatment with a discriminatory motive or intent.

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New publication: Coercive Human Rights – Positive Duties to Mobilise the Criminal Law under the ECHR

I’m excited to announce the publication of ‘Coercive Human Rights – Positive Duties to Mobilise the Criminal Law under the ECHR’ by Hart Publishing. In this book, which was edited by Natasa Mavronicola (University of Birmingham) and myself, a whole host of esteemed scholars discuss the development by the European Court of Human Rights of duties to mobilise the criminal law towards protection from and redress for human rights violations. You will find the abstract below. You can find the table of contents and a sample chapter on the publisher’s website, where you can also order the book (use the code UG6 at the checkout to get 20% off your order!).

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European Court of Human Rights single-judge decisions (still) deny justice and risk weakening UN treaty body system

By Justin M. Loveland

The European Court of Human Rights has made important contributions to the development of international human rights jurisprudence, influencing not only the domestic jurisprudence of its member European states but the practices of states outside the European system, other regional human rights systems, and international law more broadly. This well-deserved influence is in danger, however, as the Court’s continued practice of issuing bare admissibility decisions in single-judge formation undercuts its leadership role in articulating human rights law, denies relief to individuals who may have a legitimate human rights claim, and threatens to diminish the protective role of both the Court and UN treaty bodies at a time when infringements of a broad range of human rights are on the increase.

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The case of Muhammad and Muhammad v. Romania: the first Grand Chamber judgment on article 1 of Protocol Nr. 7 ECHR (procedural safeguards with regard to expulsion of aliens)

By Bahija Aarrass (Assistant professor of administrative and migration law at the Open University Netherlands)

In the judgment in the case of Muhammad and Muhammad v. Romania, the Grand Chamber  of the European Court of Human Rights held that there had been a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 7 of the ECHR, which provides for procedural safeguards relating to the expulsion of aliens. The case concerned proceedings as a result of which the applicants, Pakistani nationals living lawfully in Romania as students, were declared undesirable and deported on the basis of national security reasons. They allegedly engaged in activities in support of a fundamentalist Islamist group linked ideologically to al-Qaeda. The Court has previously dealt with numerous cases concerning expulsion of aliens because of vague ‘national security reasons’. But this is the first judgment of the Grand Chamber in which this provision has been dealt with substantively. It resulted in an elaborate judgment laying down several principles for the assessment of national procedures relating to the expulsion of aliens.

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A camel’s nose under the tent: the Court’s failure to discuss evidence in B.G. and Others v France

By Anne-Katrin Speck,[*] PhD Researcher within the ERC-funded project DISSECT: Evidence in International Human Rights Adjudication at Ghent University

Timing can be a peculiar thing sometimes. On 10 September 2020, a Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled on the case of B.G. and Others v France,[†] finding that the accommodation conditions endured for several months by an asylum-seeking family in a tent camp in France had not amounted to inhuman or degrading treatment. At the very same time, news channels were showing flames raging in Moria, Europe’s largest refugee camp, on the Greek island of Lesvos. A horrific fire had broken out there the day before, and would leave many thousands of refugees without shelter and access to basic services. The handing down of the judgment and the Lesvos fire are assuredly unrelated events. Yet, their coincidence is a stark reminder that the living conditions in camps for people fleeing their country are as grave a concern as ever.

But how bad is too bad? When are the living conditions in a camp so harsh as to attain a level of severity that is impermissible under the Convention? Who ought to prove this, and how can they? This post focuses on these evidentiary questions. We shall see that the Court’s treatment of evidence in B.G. and Others may prove to be the camel’s nose. According to this purported Arab proverb, once you allow a camel to stick its nose under your tent, the camel is bound to end up inside. Thus, a seemingly minor decision will have much wider, undesirable consequences. Much in the same manner, the Court’s approach to evidentiary issues in B.G. and Others, while unlikely to receive much attention, may have serious repercussions.

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An Endeavor Towards More Situational Positive Obligations Stemming from Article 2: Case of Kotilainen and others v. Finland

Elina Pekkarinen is a university instructor and PhD candidate in Tampere University. Her dissertation concerns the contextual interpretation of rights laid down in the European Convention

Introduction

On 17 September 2020, the European Court of Human Rights delivered its judgement in the case of Kotilainen and others v. Finland (application no.62439/12). The ECtHR found that Finland had violated the substantive aspect of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights when the local police refrained from seizing a weapon from a person who subsequently committed a school shooting. The Court was satisfied that the national authorities complied with the requirements emanating from the procedural aspect of Article 2. The rest of the applicants’ complaint, which concerned Articles 5, 6 and 13 of the Convention, was declared manifestly ill-founded.

In Kotilainen and others, the Court emphasised the duty of diligence which poses special obligations to national authorities when they are dealing with matters that include a particularly high risk to life. Moreover, the Court concluded that an obligation to uphold the legislation regulating the lawful possession of firearms does not only require, from the national authorities, that they intervene in activities where the risk to life is imminent, but also in activities that cause concrete suspicions about the compliance of requirements regarding the possession of a firearm.

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Privacy International and others v United Kingdom: Hacking Admissibility Decision and the Risk of ‘Deference Ping Pong’

By Daniella Lock (Doctoral Candidate and Teaching Fellow, UCL Faculty of Laws, University College London)

Last month, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) handed down a decision that the application regarding the compatibility of the exercise of UK hacking powers made in Privacy International and others v United Kingdom was inadmissible. This was on the basis that the applicants had not exhausted domestic remedies. The Court reached this conclusion despite a case having been brought to the UK Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), in Privacy International and Greennet v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and ors, and a fifty-six page judgment being issued on the lawfulness of hacking (referred to ‘Computer Network Exploitation’ or CNE). This post sets out the reasoning of the Court and argues that while the decision itself is understandable, the reasoning underpinning it risks creating a process of ‘deference ping pong’. Deference ping pong – an ingenious phrase gratefully borrowed from Professor Colm O’Cinneide after a discussion on this issue – refers to a process by which the domestic courts and Strasbourg repeatedly defer to each other on key issues, usually with the consequence that substantive scrutiny of the state is ultimately avoided.

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Catch 22: The Interim Measures of the European Court of Human Rights in the Conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan

By Prof Kanstantsin Dzehtsiarou (University of Liverpool, Editor-in-chief of the European Convention on Human Rights Law Review)

On 29 September 2020, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR or Court) granted interim measures in the inter-state application of Armenia against Azerbaijan related to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. Through these measures the Court demanded Armenia and Azerbaijan not to breach human rights of the civilian population. On 6 October 2020, the Court extended the already broad interim measures to ‘all States directly or indirectly  involved in  the conflict, including Turkey, to refrain from actions  that  contribute to breaches of the  Convention rights of civilians, and to respect their obligations under the Convention’. It was at least the third time that the Court granted such measures in the context of the inter-state cases. Interim measures were also requested and granted in Georgia v Russia and Ukraine v Russia. I commented on the effectiveness of these measures in previous interstate cases here and here. Unfortunately, the current case provides further evidence that the Court’s interim measures in inter-state cases suffer from two key challenges: first, they are vague and their legal value is unclear; second, their impact almost entirely depends on the political reality on the ground. One can argue that the latter challenge can be applicable to every decision of the Court but when interim measures are issued in “the heat of the moment”, the costs of compliance for the parties can be too high.

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Systematic push back of ‘well behaving’ asylum seekers at the Polish border: M.K. and Others v. Poland

Francesco Luigi Gatta, Research Fellow, UCLouvain, EDEM

On 23 July 2020, the ECtHR delivered its judgment in the case M.K. and Others v. Poland, concerning the removal of certain Russian families to Belarus, after they had repeatedly and unsuccessfully tried to lodge asylum applications at the Polish border. With an encouraging decision, the Court found – unanimously – multiple violations of the Convention, unmasking a wide State practice of systematic push back of asylum seekers at the borders between Poland and Belarus.

The Court adds a new chapter to its growing case-law concerning border controls, collective expulsions of migrants and push back practises at land borders. For the first time, following the judgment in N.D. & N.T. v. Spain, it explicitly performs the ‘own culpable conduct test’ or the ‘N.D. & N.T. exception’, methodically assessing the applicants’ behaviour at borders. It also provides some insights about individual assessments and interviews to be performed by border authorities.

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Placing gender equality in the workplace at the forefront of social rights in Europe: equal pay and equal opportunities under the scrutiny of the European Committee of Social Rights.

By Maria Kotsoni, a PhD Researcher at the Department of Law of the European University Institute

Recently, the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) adopted a series of decisions on equal pay and equality of opportunity between women and men in the workplace. This is the first time the ECSR reviewed states’ compliance on these matters in the context of the collective complaints procedure, therefore establishing comprehensive standards of protection.  Following the collective complaints lodged by the non-governmental international organization University Women of Europe, it assessed the compliance with these standards of all the fifteen Member States to the European Social Charter (ESC) that have ratified or acceded to the Additional Protocol providing for a system of collective complaints, namely Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia and Sweden. The decisions were adopted on 5 and 6 December 2019 and became public on 29 June 2020.  

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Substantive equality as the driving force behind reasonable accommodations for pupils with disabilities: the case of G.L. v. Italy

By Merel Vrancken (UHasselt)

In G.L. v. Italy, the first section of the European Court of Human Rights decides on yet another case regarding the principle of inclusive education and the right to reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities. The two most recent cases on inclusive education (Dupin v. France and Stoian v. Romania, decided at a committee level) seemed to have marked a turn in the Court’s appraisal of the right to education and the principle of non-discrimination. With G.L. v. Italy, however, the Court seems to return to its earlier case law, namely that of Çam v. Turkey and Enver Şahin v. Turkey. In the judgment at hand, the ECtHR gets back in line with its promising line of case law on the inclusion of pupils with disabilities and sets a valuable next step in the direction of substantive equality.

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European Court President Spano’s Visit to Turkey and Its Repercussions

By Hakan Kaplankaya (Former Turkish diplomat, jurist, INSTITUDE member)

Robert Spano, President of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), paid an official visit to Turkey upon the invitation of the Turkish Minister of Justice between 3-5 September 2020. He was accompanied by Saadet Yüksel, national Judge of Turkey and Hasan Bakırcı, Deputy Section Registrar at the Court. In respect to the events and meetings held during this visit, Spano and the Strasbourg Court have been harshly criticized for undermining its independence, neutrality and ethical rules. Thus, it would not be wrong to stress that the reputation of the young and ambitious President of the Court has been considerably damaged at an early stage of his tenure.

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Living with HIV/AIDS in Prison: Segregation and Othering Endorsed by the ECtHR in Dikaiou v Greece

By Vandita Khanna and Natasa Mavronicola

In Dikaiou and Others v Greece, the First Section of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) was called upon to determine, inter alia, whether the separate detention of six female prisoners living with HIV/AIDS amounted to ‘ghettoisation and stigmatisation’ in violation of the prohibition of discrimination (Article 14 ECHR) taken together with the right not to be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 3 ECHR). The ECtHR held that Greece had not violated Articles 3 and 14 ECHR. In this short piece, focusing on the question of segregated detention, we consider how the Court’s reasoning obscures, legitimises, and helps perpetuate the stigmatisation of prisoners living with HIV/AIDS, while failing to recognise the dignity-harm of segregated detention. We argue that the Court’s amplification of the ‘othering’ of an already vulnerable group fundamentally contradicts the core values of Article 3 and Article 14 ECHR.

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A right to regularize unlawful residence? Pormes v. Netherlands untangled

By Mark Klaassen (assistant professor of immigration law at the Europa Institute of Leiden University)

To what extent can irregular migrants rely on the protection of Article 8 ECHR to regularize their irregular residence? The European Court of Human Rights (the Court) has dealt with this issue before, in different cases with various factual backgrounds. The starting point of the Court has always been – and remains to some extent – that only in exceptional circumstances the state is under an obligation to regularize the stay of an irregular migrant. In my view – which I expressed before in ‘Between facts and norms: Testing compliance with Article 8 ECHR in immigration cases’ – the test to determine whether such obligation exists is unclear and would benefit from clear guidance from the Court.

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The Strasbourg Court Establishes Standards on Blocking Access to Websites

Atakan Güngördü is a qualified attorney in Turkey, currently pursuing an Adv. LL.M. in European and International Human Rights Law at Leiden University.

On 23 June 2020, European Court of Human Rights (the “Strasbourg Court” or the “Court”) delivered no less than four judgments against Russia (OOO Flavus and Others v. Russia, Bulgakov v. Russia, Engels v. Russia, Vladimir Kharitonov v. Russia) all of which concern the blocking of access to websites. The Court held that Russian authorities had violated the applicants’ right to freedom of expression on the internet, as well as their right to an effective remedy in all four cases.

These four judgments come as an important victory for the protection of online free speech in Russia and set precedents for other Member States to adopt or amend internet laws in line with the Court’s standards.

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Irony in Court: Marina v. Romania

By Dr Alberto Godioli*

Introduction

Due to its inherent link with elusiveness and ambiguity, humour makes it particularly difficult to draw a line between lawful and unlawful expression. The task of assessing the harm in a joke is notoriously complicated by strategies such as exaggeration, distortion or irony, which are typical of humorous expression in its various forms (from satire to parody). The legal challenges posed by humour become apparent in several cases lodged with the ECHR either by those responsible for a controversial joke (under Article 10), or by those who felt offended by a humorous remark (under Article 8 or 9). The list of humour-related cases handled by the Strasbourg Court is by now quite extensive and diverse – including, among others, satirical paintings depicting Austrian politicians (Vereinigung Bildender Künstler v. Austria), mocking remarks about a brand of potato chips (Kuliś and Różycki v. Poland), obscene cartoons about colleagues (Aguilera Jimenez and Others v. Spain), homophobic jokes (Sousa Goucha v. Portugal) and facetious references to the lifestyle of public figures (Ernst August von Hannover v. Germany).

In short, humour is a frequent feature in Strasbourg jurisprudence regarding freedom of expression; and this is bound to become an increasingly topical issue, due to the growing impact and circulation of offensive jokes in the digital age. On the other hand, as shown by recent scholarship, the Court’s approach to humour is still relatively inconsistent and unsystematic; this is mostly due to the lack of a shared terminology and clear distinctions between different types of potentially offensive humour. In order to tackle this gap, a closer interdisciplinary dialogue is needed between humour studies and the law. My blog post aims to illustrate this point by commenting on Marina v. Romania, a recent case concerning a satirical radio show; while the general outcome of the case is convincing, the Court’s handling of humorous speech is problematic in some respects, and points to persistent flaws in the current approach. Continue reading

The Lithuanian saga of limiting evidence in trials – the genesis and new cases

By Donatas Murauskas, Assistant Professor at Vilnius University Law Faculty

The European Court of Human Rights continues to deal with cases against Lithuania concerning equality of arms in trials. Earlier cases could be linked to the heritage of the Soviet rule and practices, recent cases are illustrations of increasing reliance on national security in (criminal) intelligence in discovering relevant facts to be used later in national proceedings. In all cases the law or state authorities limit possibilities of one party to challenge some of decisive or at least important evidence in judicial proceedings. The question arises every time – was the measure proportional or not? Continue reading

Defamation proceedings against Romanian MEP over anti-corruption comments violated Article 10

By Ronan Ó Fathaigh and Dirk Voorhoof

On 28 July 2020, the European Court of Human Rights held in Monica Macovei v. Romania that defamation proceedings against a sitting Member of the European Parliament violated the politician’s right to freedom of expression, under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court reiterated that there is ‘little scope’ for restricting political speech, and faulted the national courts for lacking ‘convincing reasons’ for interfering with an elected official’s expression on a matter of public interest. The judgment is a strong reaffirmation of the Court’s seminal 1992 Castells v. Spain judgment, with the Court applying its strictest test – ‘closest scrutiny’ – to interferences with a politician’s freedom of expression discussing a matter of public interest. It also clarifies that allegations of corruptive practices by members of parliament need to be situated in their context, in particular when they are part of a political debate on how to prevent conflicts of interests and lack of integrity by elected officials. Continue reading

Mugemangango v. Belgium: finally a Grand Chamber judgment on post-election disputes.

By Mathieu Leloup

Post-election disputes and the type of body that should handle them is a topic that comes up before the Court every now and again. In 2010, in the case of Grosaru v. Romania, the Court had indicated that a parliamentary body could not be seen as sufficiently impartial when it had to rule on a dispute about its own election results. After this judgment, it was generally accepted by Belgian constitutional scholars that the system of election disputes in Belgium, which is also parliamentary in nature, was not in line with the Convention standards. It was simply a matter of time until a Belgian case on the issue was brought before the Court.

With Mugemangango v. Belgium that time had arrived. A bit more than a decade after the Grosaru judgment, the Court was going to rule on the Belgian system of election disputes. Continue reading

The Miners’ Raid of June 1990 and the Questionable Execution of the Judgment in the Case of Mocanu and Others v. Romania

By Monica Pirvulescu

On 17 September 2014, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) delivered its final judgment in the Case of Mocanu and Others v. Romania (“the Case of Mocanu”). The ECtHR found a breach of the procedural aspects of Article 2 (right to life) and Article 3 (prohibition of torture) in the European Convention of Human Rights (“ECHR”) for lack of an effective investigation, and a violation of Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial) for the excessive length of the impugned proceedings. The Case of Mocanu concerned the flaws and delays in the domestic investigations that followed the violent crackdown of the anti-government demonstrations which had taken place in Bucharest in June 1990 (events known as the Miners’ Raid because of the implication of mineworkers in the suppression of the protests). The final judgment in the Case of Mocanu (“the Judgment”) was seen by the victims of the Miners’ Raids and by the Romanian society, in general, as a big victory of European justice and as a hope that those responsible for the violent events of June 1990 would be soon identified and punished. However, today, almost six years since the delivery of the Judgment and two years since the resolution of the Committee of Ministers (Resolution CM/ResDH(2018)229) closed the execution in the Case of Mocanu, the domestic proceedings regarding the investigation of the Miners’ Raids of June 1990 seem still far from being finalized. Continue reading

The Bitter Price of Being an Inactive Parent: Lyapin v. Russia

By Nadia Rusinova, attorney-at-law and lecturer in International private law at the Hague University

On 30 June 2020 the European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter: The Court) delivered its judgment on the case Ilya Lyapin v. Russia. The case addresses the divestment of parental rights from a biological father due to his inaction in exercising his parental responsibilities. This inaction led to a voluntary and prolonged separation from the child, already well integrated into mother’s new family from an early age, and subsequently served as a main reason for the domestic court to fully deprive the father from his parental rights and duties. What is striking – and will be discussed in this post – is the obvious and already acknowledged inflexibility of the Russian laws, the lack of proportionality when taking such drastic measures, and the inconsistent conclusion of the Court that the mere passive behaviour of the father appears to be enough to strip him of all his parental authority and to pose absolute restrictions in the restoration of contact with his son. Continue reading

Strasbourg v Kafka: Diplomatic Immunity of the Judges of the European Court of Human Rights

By Prof Kanstantsin Dzehtsiarou (University of Liverpool, Editor-in-Chief of the European Convention on Human Rights Law Review)

I have already written about the unprecedented pressure that the Ukrainian authorities place on the sitting judge of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR or Court) in my previous blogpost on the issue. A while ago, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine started investigating the fact that the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine accepted a friendly settlement and paid compensation in one of the cases pending before the Court. There was nothing unusual about that case except a significant amount of compensation that would perhaps even have been higher if the friendly settlement had not been concluded. The Anti-Corruption Bureau tried to implicate the husband of the sitting Ukrainian Judge, Georgii Logvynskyi, in this case. Mr Logvynskyi is a well-known lawyer and politician in Ukraine. In my previous blog, I argued that the Court needs to react to these attempts to put the whole Court in disrepute. Now the Court was forced to react as the Prosecutor General of Ukraine requested the ECtHR to lift the immunity of Mr Logvynskyi which derives from the immunity of his spouse – Judge Ganna Yudkivska of the ECtHR. The Court decided not to lift this immunity because of the pressure that the National Anti-Corruption Bureau placed on the witnesses in this case. As far as I know this was only the second time that the question of immunities of the ECtHR judges came before the Court and the first time when the request was denied in full. Continue reading

Baldassi & Others v. France:  Article 10 protects the right to call for a boycott of goods from Israel

This guest post was written by Robert Wintemute (a Professor of Human Rights Law at King’s College London, who gave some comparative-law advice to the lawyers for the applicants) (*)

Criticism of the policies of a government, and calls for peaceful action intended to put pressure on it to change its policies, would normally be considered political expression protected by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  But, since at least 1973, when Israel’s Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, wrote that “[a]nti-Zionism is merely the new anti-Semitism”, attempts have been made to characterise criticism of the Government of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as “anti-Semitic” (“anti-Jewish”), and therefore as a form of hate speech.  Describing Israel-Palestine as a situation of “apartheid”, and calling for a boycott of goods from Israeli settlements (built illegally in occupied Palestinian territory) or from anywhere in 1949-67 Israel, is especially likely to trigger this characterisation.  In Baldassi & Others v. France (11 June 2020), the European Court of Human Rights ruled unanimously (7-0) that Article 10 protects the right to call for a boycott of goods from Israel. Continue reading

Molla Sali v. Greece: a pyrrhic victory following just satisfaction judgment? 

By Adiba Firmansyah, LLB graduate from Middlesex University Dubai, soon to start as an LLM student at King’s College London

In its principal judgment in Molla Sali v. Greece, delivered on 19 December 2018, the Court held that there had been a violation of Article 14 ECHR in conjunction with Article 1 of Protocol No. 1. The case concerns a complaint by Ms Molla Sali, a widow to a Greek national from the Muslim minority, about the application of Sharia law to an inheritance dispute regarding her husband’s Greek and Turkish properties (a greater analysis of the merits of this case can be found here). The husband’s initial wish, expressed in a will drawn up in accordance with Greek civil law, to bequeath the whole of his estate to his wife (the applicant). However, the Greek courts considered that the will was devoid of effect and instead applied principles from Muslim inheritance law which, in Greece, applied specifically to Greeks of Muslim faith. The applicant was therefore deprived of 3/4 of her inheritance as a result, and the deceased husband’s sisters were subsequently recognised as joint beneficiaries.

The Court reserved the issue of just satisfaction under Article 41 to be decided at a later stage. In its just satisfaction judgment delivered on 8 June 2020, the Court held that it would be appropriate redress for the violations of the applicant’s rights if measures were taken by Greece so as to ensure that she retained the property left to her in Greece – but not in Turkey. It also held that if these measures are not taken within one year, Greece must pay the applicant pecuniary damages.

This judgment should be seen against the backdrop of the allocation of just satisfaction by the Court which has become increasingly controversial. As Abdelgawad notes, ‘Article 41 is probably one of the provisions which have raised the most important difficulties to judges over the years’. Given that the issue of just satisfaction is usually decided with scant legal reasoning and with only occasional allusions to equity and necessity as the foundational principles for the determination of compensation, the Molla Sali case therefore provided an opportunity for the Court to discuss the application of Article 41 in greater depth in a separate judgment.

Continue reading

Regulating Signals intelligence

Iain Cameron is professor in public international law at Uppsala University

Introduction

For European states, an important factor pushing towards better regulation of security agencies generally has been the ECHR. The work of “signals intelligence” agencies (collecting metadata and the content of electronic mail and voice communications) came to prominence following the allegations of “mass surveillance” made by former NSA-contractor Edward Snowden in 2013. Compared to law enforcement or internal security agencies, signals intelligence agencies tend to possess much more powerful computing facilities, and they thus have abilities to process and analyse vast amounts of data. Data, both content data (telephone conversations, email etc.) and metadata are collected in bulk and then analysed using selectors. The ECtHR has recently looked at the systems for regulation and control of signals intelligence operating in two states, Sweden and the UK, in the cases of Centrum för Rättvisa v. Sweden (CFR) and Big Brother Watch and others v. UK (BBW) (see blogposts for these cases here and here). Both these cases have been appealed to the Grand Chamber which held an oral hearing on 10 July 2019. A judgment is expected soon. The present blog article will look at four issues of principle at stake in the two cases, namely bulk collection, judicial authorization, notification and discrimination. In each of these issues, there is some tension between the regional (ECHR) and sub-regional (EU) human rights standards applicable to signals intelligence.

There were three basic questions in BBW: these concerned the UK rules on bulk collection, on metadata and on intelligence sharing. The majority of the Court found violations of Article 8 and Article 10 as regards the first two issues. In CFR the issue was more simply whether the Swedish signals intelligence law and practice as a whole satisfied Article 8 and the Court unanimously found that it did. Both cases involved many sub-issues, and were detailed examinations of the foreseeability, accessibility etc. of the laws, and their necessity in a democratic society (which mainly centered around the adequacy of the control systems). The Court applies eight criteria in making its assessment, developed from its case law on targeted interception, and the Weber and Saravia v. Germany case. It declined the offer to develop new or additional criteria, taking into account improvements in technology, and designed for bulk interception specifically (previously discussed by the Venice Commission). Continue reading

Human Rights Centre submits a third party intervention in case concerning the right to family life of transgender parents and their children

Judith Vermeulen is a doctoral researcher and a member of the Law & Technology research group, the Human Rights Centre and PIXELS at Ghent University.

The Human Rights Centre of Ghent University (Belgium)[1] submitted a third party intervention (TPI) before the European Court of Human Rights in the communicated case of A.M. and Others v. Russia. The issue is the restriction of a trans woman’s parental rights in view of her gender identity. In our submission, we argue that this case raises important issues under the right to respect for family life (Article 8 ECHR), taken alone and in conjunction with the prohibition of discrimination (Article 14 ECHR), providing the Court with an important opportunity to clarify the standards in the area of human rights protection of trans persons and children. An overview of the facts as well as a summary regarding our main arguments are provided hereunder. Continue reading

Beshiri et al. v. Albania: a nail in the coffin for compensation claims for properties nationalized during the communist regime in Albania?

Giulia Borgna, PhD. Attorney-at-law at Saccucci & Partners and Co-Editor at eXtradando

Rivers of ink have flowed on the issue of compensation for former owners whose properties had been nationalized during the communist regime in Albania. Over the past decades, domestic reparation schemes and findings of violation have chased one another in an exhausting role-play on the stage of the European Court: every compensation scheme passed by the Albanian Government in the attempt to solve this systemic and structural problem would, time and again, be repudiated by the Strasbourg Court. The recent inadmissibility decision in the case of Beshiri and Others v. Albania of 17 March 2020 marks a turning point in this seemingly never-ending confrontational drama. The Court decided to pull itself away from this tiresome complex situation and waved the white flag of surrender. Even though the umpteenth revised compensation scheme passed by Albania in 2015 failed to transpose the vast majority of the directions laid down in the pilot-judgment of Manushaqe Puto, the Court sanctioned this legislative scheme in the name of budgetary constraints and subsidiarity, albeit wedging the door open for possible future reconsiderations. Continue reading

The Grand Chamber Judgment in S.M. v Croatia: Human Trafficking, Prostitution and the Definitional Scope of Article 4 ECHR

By Dr Vladislava Stoyanova (Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Lund University)

With S.M. v Croatia, issued on 25 June 2020, the Grand Chamber delivered its first judgment under Article 4 (the right not to be held in slavery or servitude or to be required to perform forced or compulsory labour) concerning inter-personal harm, i.e. circumstances where one private individual has arguably abused another. The referral of the case to the Grand Chamber has to be viewed in light of the powerful and convincing dissenting opinion of Judge Koskelo attached to the Chamber judgment. An opinion, such as Koskelo’s dissent, was well overdue, given the definitional quagmire that the various Chamber judgments under Article 4 have caused. This quagmire started with Rantsev v Cyprus and Russia (see here) and has continued ever since (e.g. see Chowdury and Others v Greece, for an analysis see here and here). Continue reading

Remembering Paula Marckx

Earlier this week, we received the sad news that Paula Marckx passed away at the age of 94. Having lived a remarkable life as, amongst others, a journalist, model, pilot and entrepreneur, she will be remembered, first and foremost, for the case that bears her name in Strasbourg. Her death, little over a year after the 40th anniversary of the Marckx v. Belgium judgment, offers an occasion to delve into the history of the case and to reflect on the significance of Paula Marckx’s struggle for equal rights for her daughter Alexandra and the implications thereof for the development of European human rights law. Continue reading

An Azeri kills an Armenian soldier at a NATO training in Budapest: the ECtHR decides a rare case of State responsibility and presidential pardon

By Cedric Ryngaert and Kushtrim Istrefi

On 26 May 2020, the European Court of Human Rights rendered a chamber judgment in Makuchyan and Minasyan v. Azerbaijan and Hungary. The case concerns a soldier from Azerbaijan, R.S., who killed an Armenian soldier and attempted to kill another one while on a NATO training in Budapest. R.S. was sentenced by the Hungarian courts to life imprisonment for committing a serious hate crime. In 2012, following a request by Azerbaijan, R.S. was transferred to his home country to serve the rest of his sentence. However, upon his arrival in Azerbaijan, R.S. was pardoned and released. He was promoted in the army and his salaries since 2004 were reinstated. R.S. was appreciated and glorified as a national hero for what he did in Budapest.

The legal issues raised in the case are as unique as the facts. In this analysis, we examine three core issues addressed by the Court. The first issue was whether the acts of R.S. were attributable to Azerbaijan on the ground that the latter acknowledged and adopted them. The Court held that they were not, and accordingly, that Azerbaijan had not breached its substantive obligations under Article 2 ECHR, which protects the right to life. The second issue was whether, in failing to enforce the punishment of R.S., Azerbaijan had violated its procedural obligations under Article 2 ECHR. The Court ruled that it did indeed. The third question was whether Hungary violated the procedural limb of Article 2 ECHR by agreeing to transfer R.S. to Azerbaijan, a question which the Court answered in the negative. The Court’s decisions further develop European and potentially international (human rights) law, and therefore call for some closer analysis. Continue reading

No Room for Homophobic Hate Speech Under the EHCR: Carl Jóhann Lilliendahl v. Iceland

By Giulio Fedele (University of Rome “La Sapienza”, giulio.fedele@uniroma1.it)

Hate-speech against sexual minorities has become a pressing issue for the ECHR. Online media and social platforms boosted the possibilities one has to express both personal opinions and hateful comments, thus making it harder for the Strasbourg Court to draw the line of the protection afforded by the ECHR. As it is well known, freedom of expression (Article 10 ECHR) is one of the few rights of the Convention that comes with “duties and responsibilities”, especially when such expressions conflict with “the rights of others” (Article 10 § 2). Nevertheless, the Court has constantly emphasized that the Convention protects various ideas, regardless of their power to “offend, shock or disturb”, thus requiring a certain threshold of graveness in order to lawfully restrict this right. The case commented in this post, the decision in Carl Jóhann Lilliendahl v. Iceland of May 12th 2020, communicated on June 11th 2020, provides an example of the rigid viewpoint recently adopted by the Court towards expressions that amount to homophobic hate speech, seen as falling outside the scope of Article 10. The Court struck out the application of Mr. Lilliendahl, a 74-year-old convicted for hateful online comments about homosexuality, for being manifestly ill-founded. The judgement is closely related to the case of Beizaras and Levickas v. Lithuania (judgementblog post), previously issued in January 2020, where the Court required the responding State to investigate online homophobic comments promoting violence. In this regard, the decision of the Court in Lilliendahl is of particular interest since it contributes to the development of the Court’s radical disapproval towards homophobic hate speech. It also highlights the coherent application of different principles of the Convention aiming at the protection of vulnerable groups from expression of hatred and intolerance. Continue reading

Event Announcement: Conference “The ECHR turns 70: Taking Stock, Thinking Forward” postponed to 24-26 November 2021

We are delighted that our call for papers has attracted a huge interest from all over the world and we would like to thank everyone who submitted an abstract.

In view of the Corona crisis, we are moving the Conference to 24-26 November 2021. This will enable our participants to meet face to face which we believe will add to the discussion and the overall enjoyment of those attending the event.

We still want to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Convention in November 2020 and are therefore organising a smaller, bespoke, event on the original date: 20 November 2020. In particular, we are delighted that the European Court of Human Rights’ President, Judge Spano, and former President of the Court, Judge Sicilianos, will be in conversation with the Ghent Human Rights Centre’s Director, Professor Eva Brems. This will be streamed online.

Further information on both this celebratory event and the conference will be published in due time on this blog. You can also visit the conference website.

 

The Recent ECtHR Judgment Kövesi v. Romania. Reactions of Romanian Authorities and Implications regarding the Rule of Law

By Dragoș Călin

In the recent judgment in the case Kövesi v. Romania (application no. 3594/19) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial) and Article 10 (right to freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights regarding the former anti-corruption directorate chief prosecutor Laura Codruța Kövesi, now the first European Public Prosecutor.

In fact, in February 2018, the Minister of Justice, Mr. Tudorel Toader, proposed that Kövesi be removed from office, referring, among other things, to three Constitutional Court decisions adopted in connection with the activity of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) and to public statements she had made. The Section for prosecutors of the Superior Council of Magistracy (SCM) refused by a majority to endorse her dismissal, largely rejecting the Minister’s criticisms of the prosecutor and finding no evidence that her management had been inadequate. In April 2018 the President of Romania, Mr. Klaus Iohannis, refused in turn to sign the dismissal decree, which prompted a complaint to the Constitutional Court (CCR) by the Prime Minister. Continue reading

(One More) Engaged Father(s) Before the ECtHR: Uzbyakov v Russia

By Alice Margaria (Research Fellow, Department of ‘Law & Anthropology’, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)

Fathers who want to be or remain involved in their children’s lives have become frequent applicants before the ECtHR. Underlying many of their complaints are national measures reflecting a ‘conventional’ understanding of fatherhood, where paternal care is attached scant or no relevance. Such understanding lay also at the roots of the decisions of Russian courts to reject Mr Uzbyakov’s attempts to be reunited with his youngest daughter who had been adopted by third parties, after her mother’s death. In dealing with the resulting application under Article 8, the ECtHR brings its contribution to ongoing conversations on what makes someone a (legal) father. Next to biology and the nature of the father-mother relationship, ‘new’ elements are attached weight in the Court’s reasoning: in particular, Mr Uzbyakov’s actual behaviour towards his children and his promptness in bringing legal actions in view of having his daughter returned. This judgment (4 May 2020) offers therefore a clear illustration of the (re)construction of fatherhood that is quietly taking place within the Court’s jurisprudence under Article 8 (alone or in conjunction with Article 14). Continue reading

Advisory Opinion No. 2: a Slightly Bigger Rodent

Little over a year ago, I wrote a blog post discussing the Advisory Opinion No. 1 issued under Protocol No. 16, with the title “The mountain gave birth to a mouse”. Last week, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights give birth to Advisory Opinion No. 2concerning the use of the ‘blanket reference’ or ‘legislation by reference’ technique in the definition of an offence and the standards of comparison between the criminal law in force at the time of the offence and the amended criminal law”, requested by the Armenian Constitutional Court. After a brief examination, my preliminary conclusion is that, this time, we’re dealing with a slightly bigger rodent – perhaps a rabbit but certainly not a capybara. In this contribution, I will discuss the new Advisory Opinion, focusing in particular on what further lessons can be drawn from it. The key takeaway from this blog post, compared to its predecessor, is that it provides a somewhat more meaningful contribution to the development of the case law. However, the messages given by the Court, regarding the kinds of questions it wants to respond to, are unlikely to spark a lot of enthusiasm among domestic courts to make use of the Advisory Opinion mechanism, potentially thwarting Protocol No. 16’s objective of encouraging judicial dialogue. Continue reading

Social media and applications to the ECtHR: connecting people in the name of human rights?

By Francesco Luigi Gatta, Research Fellow, UCLouvain, member of EDEM (Equipe droits européens et migrations)

In the era of the internet, social media and e-mails, the Strasbourg Court has been called to keep up with these ‘new technologies’. The ECtHR itself, for example, has an official Twitter account, used to give information and updates to the public. During the Covid-19 emergency, moreover, telework and electronic communication have enabled the Court to continue its essential activities (see the ECtHR’s press release: here and here).

Despite its undeniable usefulness, at the same time the use of internet has raised issues in terms of compliance with human rights. The Court has been dealing with an increasing number of questions relating to the freedom of expression, the right to respect for private life or the prohibition of discrimination, thereby developing its ‘new technologies’ case-law. Within this context, the social media-human rights nexus has also come to the attention of the Strasbourg judges, involving various issues such as hate speech (e.g. Beizaras and Levickas v. Lithuania, which concerned the discrimination, on the grounds of sexual orientation, of two men because of the authorities’ refusal to investigate homophobic comments posted on Facebook. For an analysis of the judgment, see here; for the issue of offensive comments on-line, see here).

But social media may have a direct impact on human rights also in terms of access to the ECtHR, as they may be used as a medium to lodge an application and/or to establish and maintain contact between the applicant and their representative. Accordingly, the Court has dealt with social media not only on its merits, but also from a procedural point of view, assessing the use of such modern and informal means of communication with regard to the admissibility of an application.

The topic of social media in the litigation before the ECtHR is addressed in this blogpost from two angles: the admissibility of the use of social media as a means to initially lodge an application to the Court (i), and to subsequently maintain the lawyer-applicant contact during the proceedings (ii). In each case, the legal framework is first briefly outlined, then some examples are provided. These are drawn from the ECtHR’s migration-related case-law, as situations involving migrants may typically pose major issues, given their often vulnerable and precarious conditions, for lawyers in terms of maintaining contact with the applicants. Continue reading

Pedersen et al v. Norway: Progress towards child-centrism at the European Court of Human Rights?

By Katre Luhamaa and Jenny Krutzinna, researchers at the Centre for Research on Discretion and Paternalism (University of Bergen)

Introduction

In February this year (2020), the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR, Court) delivered two further judgments relating to the Norwegian child protection system (Hernehult v. Norway and Pedersen et al. v. Norway). In both of these, the ECtHR concluded that Norway violated the right to respect for family life (Article 8) when implementing child protection measures. This analysis focuses on Pedersen et al. v. Norway, where the Court addressed the issues of adoption and post-adoption contact.

National adoption proceedings are often hidden from public scrutiny. Indeed, research into the legal practice of eight European states showed that there are minimal accountability measures available in these cases (Burns et al. 2019). Thus, the cases that face the international scrutiny of the ECtHR give us a rare insight into the national argumentation and practice and reveal the complexity of these public care measures.

Continue reading

Strasbourg Observers has got a new logo, we hope you like it!

Dear readers,

Last month, we celebrated our tenth anniversary. Now that our blog is entering its second decade, we decided that it was time to give it a brand new, more modern logo by way of a birthday present – a first step in the restyling of our website. We’re happy to be able to present the new logo to you today (see the top of the page), we hope you like it as much as we do! As with the old logo (see below), the eye in the logo symbolizes the diverse lenses through which our bloggers approach the Strasbourg case law.

With our new logo, we also plan to increase our online visibility. For this purpose, we also created a Strasbourg Observers twitter page. Please follow us if you want to stay informed on the publication of new blog posts via that medium.

Blog9

 

Announcement: Webinar “Human Rights of Migrants, COVID 19 and the ECHR” (2 June 2020)

We’re looking forward to the fourth webinar from the #HRvsCOVID series on 2 June 2020 (5 pm CET, 4 pm UK time). The webinar will address the question of the human rights of migrants in the context of COVID-19. Here is the announcement of the upcoming webinar:

 Human Rights of Migrants, COVID 19 and the ECHR 

Webinar 

2 June 2020

5 pm CET/4 pm BTS 

Continue reading

The ECHR and the right to have a criminal record and a drink-drive history erased

By Jurij Toplak

The ECHR’s Article 8 guarantees a right to have data related to criminal procedures reviewed and, after some time and in most cases, removed. In this blog post, I will first summarise the case law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR or “the Court”) on the retention, review, and removal of data stored during a criminal procedure and the data on convictions, generally known as “criminal records”. I will focus on two judgments, issued on 13 February 2020. They are Gaughran v. the United Kingdom and Trajkovski and Chipovski v. North Macedonia. Then I will present and analyse cases currently pending before the Court and issues on which the Court will decide shortly. Continue reading

Access to healthcare and social distance during COVID pandemic cannot stop at the prison gate

By Maïté De Rue

Because they are often very populated places with poor living conditions, prisons present a high risk of contamination in a period of pandemic such as COVID-19. A number of countries have taken measures to decrease pressure on penitentiary institutions by releasing prisoners or decreasing the number of new arrivals. This approach is with no doubt an essential one, especially in light of overcrowding that characterizes many prisons around the world. However, this is not the only measure that States must take to respond to the health crisis, as many people will stay in prison. They have also the duty to organize the protection of health and life of prisoners.

What does such obligation concretely entail when facing a pandemic? The norms and standards developed by the Council of Europe, and in particular by the Court and the European Committee for the prevention of torture (CPT), and by the United Nations can help to answer this question and to define the main duties that define State obligations with regards to protecting prisoners against COVID-19. Continue reading

ATV ZRT v. Hungary: a missed opportunity to address Hungary’s oppressive Media Act

Guest Blogger: Nina de Puy Kamp, Paralegal at Leigh Day Solicitors, London UK*

Hungary’s Media Act 2010 (the Act) garnered much criticism for its chilling effects on free speech (UN, OSCE, EU, HRW).  The Act establishes a media regulator (appointed by the ruling party) to inter alia prohibit and impose fines for ‘imbalanced coverage’ and restrict non-disclosure rights of journalistic sources. ATV ZRT v Hungary concerned sections 12(3) and (4) of the Act which prohibits media service providers from adding ‘any opinion or evaluative explanation to the political news’ without ‘distinguishing it from the news [itself]’.  In its judgement, the Court expresses concern about the legal certainty of these provisions.  Nevertheless, it veers away from ruling on the Convention-compatibility of sections 12(3) and (4) of the Act.  Instead, the Court opts for a narrow ruling, finding a violation of Article 10 on the facts without triggering much needed legislative change. Continue reading

Herd Immunity and Lockdown: The Legitimacy of National Policies Against the Pandemic and Judicial Self-Restraint by the ECtHR

By Dr Vassilis P. Tzevelekos, Senior lecturer in Law, University of Liverpool School of Law and Social Justice; Editor-in-chief of the European Convention on Human Rights Law Review

The ongoing pandemic and the measures adopted to protect human life/health in response to the coronavirus seriously affect the enjoyment of fundamental human rights. The COVID-19 outbreak has led a number of states to derogate from their international human rights obligations. Other states have not (yet) formally derogated, but they have passed emergency legislation restricting rights through the usual means that are available within their domestic legal orders (for instance, regarding the author’s home country, see Karavokyris). This trend raises a number of interesting questions as to whether emergency laws amount to an unnotified, de facto derogation or whether states should declare a state of emergency (Greene, Scheinin). More generally, questions regarding the modalities (Istrefi, Holcroft-Emmess) and the lawfulness of derogations have arisen. Irrespective of whether restrictions to qualified/derogable human rights are made on the basis of a derogation clause contained in an international human rights instrument (such as Article 15 ECHR) or through the habitual route of ‘everyday life’ limitations, in both cases restrictions must ultimately satisfy the proportionality test. Proportionality is thus a common denominator. Continue reading

Reaching the dead-end: M.N. and others and the question of humanitarian visas

By Moritz Baumgärtel

M.N. and others v. Belgium confronted the ECtHR with the question whether Article 3 of the ECHR places an obligation on State Parties to provide short-term humanitarian visas in their foreign embassies and consulates to potential asylum seekers. The Court, assembled in its Grand Chamber, found the case to be outside the jurisdiction of the Convention and thus inadmissible. While many will look at this outcome with disappointment, it is above all expected. This post provides an initial evaluation focusing on the strategic merits of the case, the issue of extra-territorial jurisdiction, and the broader question of legal pathways to asylum. The argument, in short, will be that this decision may offer a chance to come to the overdue realization that the creation of such pathways is a political question, the answer to which cannot currently be found in European human rights law. Continue reading

‘Tell me your story, but hurry up because I have to expel you’ – Asady and Others v. Slovakia: how to (quickly) conduct individual interviews and (not) apply the ND & NT “own culpable conduct” test to collective expulsions

By Francesco Luigi Gatta, Research Fellow, UCLouvain, member of EDEM (Equipe droits européens et migrations)

On 24 March 2020, the ECtHR delivered its judgment in Asady and Others v. Slovakia, which concerned the expulsion to Ukraine of a group of Afghan nationals. With a controversial ruling (passed by a slight majority of 4 votes to 3 and accompanied by dissenting opinions) the Court declared that there had been no violation of the prohibition of collective expulsion under the terms of Article 4 of Protocol 4 ECHR.

The judgment is relevant for two reasons. First, it provides some (worrying) clarifications regarding the individualised examination of an alien prior to the expulsion, focusing on the conditions of the individual interview. Second, coming shortly after the Grand Chamber’s ruling in ND and NT v. Spain, it gave the Court an opportunity to reflect on the applicability of the exception of the “own culpable conduct” developed therein and to measure its impact on a case of collective expulsion at land borders. As it will be explained, however, this “hot potato” was only dealt with in the dissenting opinion and not by the Court, which avoided expressing itself on that point. Thus, it remains still unclear whether and how the new exception relates to the procedural test of the individualised assessment required by Article 4 of Protocol 4.

In general, Asady adds a new chapter to the fast-growing case law concerning this provision. After remaining ‘dormant’ for quite some time, it now represents a “rising star” in the migration-related litigation in Strasbourg, to such an extent that, basically, all the States forming the perimeter of the EU external borders have been involved in potential cases of collective expulsions. While initially the Court dealt with border practices aimed at tackling maritime migratory flows (e.g. Hirsi, Sharifi, Khlaifia), following the refugee crisis, it is now being called to assess the compatibility with the Convention of those conducted at land borders, including the so-called push backs. We will see if Asady will pave the way for similar decisions in cases involving the Eastern European borders which are pending against Croatia, Poland, Hungary, Latvia. Continue reading

Indiscriminate Covid-19 location tracking (Part II): Can pandemic-related derogations be an opportunity to circumvent Strasbourg’s scrutiny?

By Ilia Siatitsa and Ioannis Kouvakas

Yesterday, we argued that blanket mobile phone location tracking measures that aim at containing the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic cannot be regarded as strictly necessary due to their indiscriminate nature and the existence of less intrusive alternatives with potentially similar effectiveness. In this second blog post, we reflect on whether states could derogate from Article 8 in order to impose indiscriminate location tracking.

As of 24 April 2020, ten states, i.e. Albania, Armenia, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Moldova, North Macedonia, Romania, San Marino and Serbia have officially derogated from their obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) citing the public health emergency posed by the pandemic, while a domestic court has also attempted to do so on behalf of the United Kingdom! Six of these states Albania, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, North Macedonia and Romania – have explicitly included Article 8 (or the respective constitutional right) in the list of Articles they have chosen to derogate from. Continue reading

Indiscriminate Covid-19 location tracking (Part I): Necessary in a democratic society?

By Ilia Siatitsa and Ioannis Kouvakas

In his recent interview on The Intercept, Edward Snowden questioned whether the measures implemented by authorities amid the pandemic are necessary to safeguard people, as well as, whether the pandemic is seen by governments as just another opportunity to make us acquiesce to mass surveillance. In a scramble to track, and thereby stem the flow of new cases of Covid-19, governments around the world are rushing to track the locations of their populace. One way to do this is to leverage the metadata, including location data, held by mobile service providers (telecommunications companies) in order to track the movements of a population, as seen in Italy, Germany and Austria, and with the European Commission.

This is the first of two blog posts that will examine whether indiscriminate location tracking could ever be justified under the Convention, in light of the global pandemic. Continue reading

Blog Symposium “Strasbourg Observers turn ten” (6): S.A.S. v. France: an ongoing learning experience

In February, not long before we all went in lockdown, I attended an event with civil society organisations in Brussels concerning litigation and advocacy strategies. One of the organizers approached me as she recognized my name from the Strasbourg Observers blog and she explained how the series we published on the case of S.A.S. v. France helped her to understand the case more deeply. Little did my colleagues and I realize, I thought, how broad our readership would become, when we enthusiastically founded the Strasbourg Observers blog 10 years ago. A readership, which includes scholars, practitioners and civil society organisations. I am very grateful for that and for the work of my colleagues who are keeping the blog going these days.

Not long after that encounter, I was asked by my colleague Claire Poppelwell to write a reflection on the post I co-authored with dr. Lourdes Peroni on the S.A.S. case back in 2014. This commitment took me on a trip down memory lane Continue reading