Magyar Helsinki Bizottság v Hungary: a (limited) right of access to information under article 10 ECHR

Guest post by M. Schaap-Rubio Imbers, PhD Candidate international public law, Erasmus School of Law  

On the 8th of November 2016, the ECtHR’s Grand Chamber delivered its judgment in Magyar Helsinki Bizottság v Hungary. The applicant NGO (Magyar Helsinki Bizottság) complained that the refusal of police departments to disclose information on the appointment of public defenders upon their request represented a breach of its rights as set out in article 10 ECHR. The Court held by fifteen votes to two that there has indeed been a violation of article 10. This judgment is the latest ruling on access to public interest information, and as such a very welcome elaboration of the Court’s position on the right of access to public interest information under article 10 ECHR.

Considering that others have already provided a good overview of the background and what is at stake in this judgement (here) and provided a general discussion of the case at hand (here), in this contribution I will focus particularly on the criteria established by the Court for access to public interest information under article 10 ECHR.

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On a positive note: B.A.C. v. Greece

By Ellen Desmet, assistant professor of migration law at Ghent University.

On 13 October 2016, the European Court of Human Rights unanimously found in B.A.C. v. Greece that the Greek state’s omission to decide on an asylum application during more than twelve years violated Article 8 as well as Article 13 in conjunction with Article 8. The Court also considered that there would be a violation of Article 3 in conjunction with Article 13, if the applicant would be returned to Turkey without an assessment ex nunc by the Greek authorities of his personal situation.

This is the first time that the Court finds that an asylum seeker’s prolonged precarious and uncertain situation, due to an unjustified lack of action by the government as regards his asylum request, constitutes a violation of the right to respect for private life as guaranteed by Article 8 ECHR.

The judgment (only in French) has been discussed by Markos Karavias on EJIL: Talk!, and was mentioned by Benoit Dhondt on this blog in a comparative perspective, namely as a promising decision standing in contrast to the striking out of Khan v. Germany by the Grand Chamber. This post provides a complementary analysis of the Court’s considerations under Article 8 ECHR.

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A Casualty of Formalism: The Application of the Six-Month Rule in Kamenica and Others v. Serbia

By Corina Heri, PhD candidate at the University of Zürich / Visiting Scholar at Ghent University

On 27 October 2016, the Court published the Third Section’s decision in Kamenica and Others v. Serbia. That case concerns the alleged ill-treatment of 67 persons who fled Bosnia and Herzegovina during the conflict that broke out there in 1992 and who were subsequently interned in a Serbian detention camp. The Third Section applied the six-month rule to the case, finding that it had been brought out of time. Its decision raises questions about the strictness of the six-month rule and the application of a statute of limitations to grievous alleged violations of Article 3 ECHR. Granted, the application of a rigid time limit for bringing applications to Strasbourg fosters certainty and ensures that the proceedings before the Court take place within a useful time frame. However, decisions such as this one indicate that, in certain types of cases – here, a particularly grievous one that stood to be investigated in a post-conflict scenario – the Court’s emphasis of a strict time limit can seem decidedly formalistic.

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Khan v. Germany, Episode II: The Empire strikes out

Guest post by Benoit Dhondt, Belgian lawyer specialized in migration and refugee law. As a teaching assistant, he is also connected to the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University, more specifically its Human Rights and Migration Law Clinic.

Several practitioners were disappointed with the road the ECtHR traveled in Khan v. Germany last year. With the Grand Chamber referral, hope rose for a more sensible approach and greater protection standards for mentally ill migrants on the verge of expulsion. Alas, the Grand Chamber has struck out the case, leaving us with more questions than answers. In what follows I will give a brief description of the case after which I will delve a little bit deeper into some of the issues the decision to strike out has left untouched.

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The potential of a vulnerability-based approach: some additional reflections following O.M. v Hungary

Guest post by Denise Venturi, PhD Student in International Law, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (Italy) and KU Leuven (Belgium)

As has recently been noted in this blog, the case of O.M. v Hungary adds another tile to the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECtHR) mosaic on vulnerability. The present blog post seeks to start from these premises and dig further into the Court’s reasoning, to reflect on the extent to which vulnerability can be operationalised and meaningfully used in the legal reasoning and when, instead, it risks to remain confined only to a synonym for specific situations deserving attention.

As the readers of this blog may know, O.M. v Hungary concerned the detention to which a gay asylum seeker from Iran was subject while his asylum request was processed and before being granted refugee status. The detention was ordered because, allegedly, Mr. O.M. had not been able to clarify his identity and nationality; had entered irregularly; had not had any resources to live on in Hungary and there was a risk he could frustrate the procedure if left at large. The applicant claimed before the ECtHR that his detention had been unjustified with respect to Article 5(1)(b) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and that no individual assessment had been carried out. Notably, the applicant’s sexual orientation had not been taken into consideration, although Mr. O.M. reported to fear harassment in detention because of this circumstance.

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Too little, too late? The ECtHR’s pilot judgment on the Belgian internment policy

Guest post by Els Schipaanboord, LL.M. – PhD Researcher at the Institute for International Research on Criminal Policy, Ghent University

On 6 September 2016, the European Court of Human Rights condemned Belgium once more, after 22 previous convictions, for its internment policy. This safety measure, under the Belgian law referred to as ‘internering’, aims to protect the society against ‘dangerous’ mentally ill offenders who cannot be held accountable for the offence they have committed, due to their illness. This time, however, the verdict granted Belgium the questionable honor of a pilot judgement. Applying the ‘pilot procedure’, the Court classifies Belgium’s internment policy as systematically and structurally dysfunctional and imposes an obligation upon it to address these problems within a limited amount of time. The Court gave Belgium a deadline of two years.

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Crossing the Very Fine Line between Justice and Vengeance: Massive Purges in the Aftermath of the Attempted Coup in Turkey

Guest post by Duygu Çiçek – LL.M. in Human Rights from the University of Edinburgh (2015-2016)

Turkey’s recent attempted coup of the 15th of July exposed various discussions and conspiracy theories about the reasons behind the coup as well as future concerns regarding political dynamics at the domestic and international level. This contribution, however, will specifically focus on the massive purges occurring in the aftermath of the failed coup and the human rights implications of these violations within the ambit of the European Court of Human Rights’ jurisprudence, with a specific focus on the example of lustration.

Turkey’s current de-Gülenization movement has employed harsh measures, including torture and ill treatment of detainees, arbitrary detention of people in the absence of due process, as well as the screening, suspension, and dismissal of tens of thousands of teachers, public employees, judges, prosecutors, academics, and journalists accused of aligning themselves with the Gülen movement. The recent Decree-Law no. 672 enacted under the state of emergency does not only regulate the dismissal of public officials who are related to FETÖ (“Fethullah Gülen Terror Organization”, accused of creating a parallel state and organizing the coup attempt), but also bans them from working in the public field in the future, aiming to sweep out the influence of this movement from state institutions as well as the private sector. All these measures violate the European Convention on Human Rights (“the ECHR” or “the Convention”) and go beyond what can be justified even under the state of emergency invoked by the Turkish government.

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