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

‘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