What future for settlements and undertakings in international human rights resolution?

By Nino Jomarjidze and Philip Leach

Resolving problems through settlements and by eliciting undertakings from governments has become a significant feature of the Strasbourg landscape. At the European Court of Human Rights (the Court), the use of friendly settlements (agreed confidentially between the parties) has been on the increase. So too, for ‘unilateral declarations’ (UD) which are utilised by the Court to resolve cases on terms put forward by the government, and which are deemed acceptable by the Court, even in the absence of agreement from the applicant. In 2018, more than 3,000 cases were resolved either by settlement or by UD, a 34% increase from the previous year. Within that figure, the number of priority cases resolved in this way more than doubled in the same period. Indeed, in 2019 the ECtHR is trialling a new non-contentious phase in its proceedings, which means that when a government is notified of a case, the parties will have an initial 12 week friendly settlement phase, followed by a 12 week contentious phase. More than that, the Court registry will itself usually make a friendly settlement proposal setting out suggested terms.

Such alternative forms of dispute resolution have been relatively under-explored and deserve further scrutiny. A common feature of both friendly settlements and UDs is that governments will provide undertakings to take remedial steps, which become binding under international law. Their significant potential is reflected in the fact that such undertakings can go further than the ECtHR itself would go in its judgments. But whose job is it to assess whether an undertaking has been met, and what happens when governments do not comply? The Committee of Ministers (CM) has a supervision role vis-à-vis friendly settlements, but will rarely monitor UDs – only when they are incorporated into a judgment of the Court, rather than a decision. Continue reading

Election of Judges of the European Court of Human Rights: Ukraine, the Beginning

By Kanstantsin Dzehtsiarou (University of Liverpool)

Election of judges is crucially important for the legitimacy, reputation and authoritativeness of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The Court needs leading academics and practitioners not only to come up with well-drafted and reasoned judgments but also to ensure that these judgments are then embedded into the national legal systems of the Contracting Parties to the Convention. The role of the national judge therefore includes education and dissemination of the core principles and values of the Convention in their home countries. When these principles are presented by a well-respected professional, their weight increases exponentially. In order to choose the best candidates the selection procedure should be clear, transparent and based on merits of the candidates. This post is the first one of a series of posts, spread over the coming months, which will be looking at the selection procedure that commenced last week in Ukraine. In these posts, I will try to use the developments in Ukraine to illustrate the challenges that the Council of Europe and its Member States face in that regard. Continue reading

X v. FYROM: A circumspect compromise on trans* rights?

This post was written by Mariam Gaiparashvili and Sarah Schoentjes, Master students at the Human Rights Legal Clinic, Ghent University

In X v. FYROM, the ECtHR confirmed the Member States’ positive obligation under Article 8 ECHR to establish a clear legal procedure for gender recognition. Disappointingly, however, it refused to examine the applicant’s claim that mandatory sex reassignment surgery as a requirement for gender recognition also violated Article 8. From the dissenting opinion of Judges Pejchal and Wojtyczek, it is clear that this application crystallised core disagreements within the Court on its interpretation methods and its role toward the Member States. Unfortunately, trans* persons bear the brunt of this conflict, as it seems to have led the Court to be very circumspect in this case, denying trans* persons much-needed clarity and protection. Continue reading

H.A. and others v. Greece – restrictive acknowledgement of irregular migrant vulnerability

By Elina Todorov, PhD Candidate, Tampere University (Finland)

On 28. February 2019 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) delivered a judgement concerning unaccompanied minors in an irregular situation, namely H.A. and others v. Greece.  In H.A. the Court found several violations of the Convention, in particular a partial violation of Article 3 regarding the living conditions of the applicants (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), a violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy, taken together with Article 3) and also violations of Article 5 § 1 and 5 § 4 (right to liberty and security, right to a speedy decision on the lawfulness of a detention measure). The case stands well in line with the Court’s previous case law concerning irregular migration. In H.A., the Court regarded that the authorities’ conduct caused a situation in which the national authorities had not succeeded in protecting the applicants who were unaccompanied foreign minors in an irregular situation. In line with its established case law, the Court recognized that minors – or in other words children – in an irregular situation are to be regarded as a vulnerable group mainly due to the fact that they are children (rather than because they are irregular migrants). However, as will be argued in this blog post, the Court thereby failed to adequately recognize the vulnerability resulting from the applicants’ irregular residence status. Continue reading

Petukhov v. Ukraine No. 2: Life Sentences Incompatible with the Convention, but only in Eastern Europe?

Lewis Graham is a PhD Student at Pembroke College, University of Cambridge.

Life sentences – that is, indefinite detention without any opportunity for release – is a thorny issue, and the involvement of the European Court of Human Rights in this field, particularly in cases concerning the United Kingdom, have recently courted great controversy. After a relatively quiet period, the Court has recently handed down a new judgment on these sentences – the first in two years – this time concerning Ukraine.

Like a number of other European states, Ukraine operates a fairly strict regime when it comes to life sentences. Any prisoner serving such a sentence who seeks release must rely on one of two routes to obtain it: they must prove that they have a serious, life-threatening illness or rely on a presidential clemency mechanism. The applicant in Petukhov v Ukraine (No 2), handed down 12 March 2019, challenged the Convention-compatibility of this scheme, in light of current case-law which suggests that life sentences will breach Article 3 ECHR if they do not include some “real prospect of release” (see e.g. cases against the UK, France, Hungary and many others).

It is well-established that allowing the vacation of a sentence on grounds that the prisoner is suffering from a serious illness is not, in itself, a legitimate mitigation of a sentence. Thus,  the main focus of the case at hand was the clemency route. The Court therefore analysed whether the applicant in this case had at his disposal a real “prospect of release” through the opportunity to obtain presidential clemency. Ultimately, it found that he did not, and found that Ukraine had breached Article 3 as a result. Continue reading

Human Rights Centre and SAR submit a joint third party intervention in cases concerning academic freedom

By Sofia Sideridou (intern at the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University)

The Human Rights Centre of Ghent University (Belgium)[1] and the Scholars at Risk Network (New York, U.S.), have jointly submitted a third party intervention before the European Court of Human Rights in the cases of Telek, Şar and Kivilcim v. Turkey. The cases concern three Turkish academics complaining about the cancellation of their passports as part of the broader crackdown on the signatories of the 2016 “Academics for Peace Petition.” In our third party intervention, we invite the Court to reaffirm its prior statements related to the protection of academic freedom and explicitly recognize the importance thereof, particularly at a time that massive violations take place in Turkey.  A brief overview of the facts of the case and the main arguments are provided hereunder. Continue reading

The Right to Life and the Scope of Control: Fernandes de Oliveira v Portugal

By Peter Bartlett (Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust Professor of Mental Health Law, Institute of Mental Health and School of Law, University of Nottingham)

On its face, this case considers the duty of the State to protect the lives of voluntary (or informal) psychiatric patients under Article 2 of the ECHR (right to life).  Below the surface, the case raises a number of broader questions about the scope of the positive obligations under Article 2; how they relate to the autonomy-related rights in Articles 3 (prohibition of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment), 5 (right to liberty) and 8 (right to privacy and family life); the fact-finding exercises and evidential approach of the ECtHR; and the relationship between the ECHR jurisprudence and other international law, most notably the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Continue reading