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

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.

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

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

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

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

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Who can represent a child (with disabilities) before the ECtHR? Locus Standi requirements and the issue of curator ad litem in L.R. v. North Macedonia

Dr. Gamze Erdem Türkelli is a Post-Doctoral Fellow Fundamental Research of Research Foundation (FWO) Flanders (File Number 12Q1719N) at the Law and Development Research Group, University of Antwerp Faculty of Law.

The NGO Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Skopje (HCHR) brought a case before the ECtHR on behalf of L.R., an eight-year-old child with moderate mental disabilities, severe physical disabilities (cerebral palsy) and a speech impediment. L.R. had been in the care of state-run institutions since he was three months old. The NGO alleged that L.R. had suffered from ill-treatment and inadequate care in violation of Art. 3 of the European Convention. In 2013, North Macedonia’s Ombudsman visited a state-run institute and found L.R. tied to his bed, which subsequently gave rise to the NGO’s interest in his case. The Strasbourg Court unanimously held that there had been a violation of Art. 3 as L.R. had been placed in an institute that could not provide him with adequate or requisite care for his needs and had suffered inhuman and degrading treatment (L.R. v. North Macedonia, §95).This contribution does not focus on the substance of the case but addresses rather a procedural issue: the issue of the representation of a minor who is in a vulnerable situation before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), raised by Judge Wojtyczek in his Partly Dissenting Opinion the case. Continue reading

Child protection and child-centrism – the Grand Chamber case of Strand Lobben and others v. Norway 2019

By Prof. Marit Skivenes, Centre for Research on Discretion and Paternalism (University of Bergen)

The backdrop for the Grand Chamber case, is the dissenting Chamber judgment of 2017 – Strand Lobben vs. Norway  – about a boy that had been adopted from foster care. Here, the Chamber concluded it had not been a violation of the mother´s right to respect for family life under Article 8 due to the Chamber’s strong emphasis on the child’s best interest and his de facto family situation, as well as his need for permanency. The dissenting minority of three judges argued for the importance of legal (de jure) bonds and the negative effects of cutting biological ties. In the Grand Chamber judgment, a majority of 13 judges concluded that Norway had violated the applicants’ right to family life on procedural grounds – not on the merits of adoption from care. By this, the Court bypassed a discussion on the tensions and challenges children´s strong position as right bearers implies for the traditional relationships between family and the state.

Although, the Grand Chamber judgement is a disappointment for some and a relief for others, I believe that from a child´s rights perspective there are three important messages that should be addressed: Continue reading

Parental Child Abduction is back on the agenda of the European Court of Human Rights

Simona Florescu PhD fellow, Leiden Law School, the Child Law Department

Parental child abduction has been a frequent occurrence for the European Court of Human Rights with the case of O.C.I. and others v Romania being the latest in a series of more than 70 applications. The Court decided these cases in several formations, ranging from the Grand Chamber, to the Chamber and most recently to the Committee of three judges. These formations are indicative of the importance the Court attaches to the issues raised by parental child abduction cases. On the basis of O.C.I. and Others v Romania, we could thus infer that child abduction has become a matter of well-established case law which does not require a too detailed analysis.[1] This may well be the perspective of the ECtHR, however, child abduction is anything but well-established case law[2] and it is precisely in these cross border cases that the Court can and should make a significant contribution in standard setting.

It is for this reason that I have decided to write this blog post. I argue that the Court – and human rights practitioners in general – need to be alert of the difficulties that cross border cases raise for individuals. In these cases, domestic courts of one country are expected to defer the analysis of the merits of the case to the domestic courts of the other country. In the midst of such deferral, and because there is no supranational supervision (other than that of the ECtHR), there is a risk of lower or no protection for human rights. Therefore, dispensing with this case in a Committee of three judges does not do justice to the many complexities raised by child abduction cases. I argue that the case of O.C.I. and others v Romania is one example where, in my opinion, there is more at stake than what the Court makes of it. 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

FRÖHLICH V. GERMANY: (AB)USING THE CHILD’S BEST INTERESTS TO SAFEGUARD THOSE OF OTHERS

By Evelyn Merckx, teaching assistant and PhD-researcher at Ghent University

To many, the simultaneous reading of Mandet v. France and Fröhlich v. Germany proves to be a crucial inconsistency in the case-law of the ECtHR. In Mandet v. France, the paternity of a legal father was withdrawn in favour of the biological father, despite the eleven-years-old child’s opposition to having his paternity changed which became evident from the letters addressed to the domestic judge. Subsequently, the domestic judge remarked that the child’s best interests “ne se trouvait pas tant là où le troisième requérant le voyait” (“did not lie where the child saw them himself”). The judge figured that the child should know the truth about his origins (for more information: see here). In Fröhlich v. Germany, a similar factual context existed, but in this case, the child was informed about the fact that a man started proceedings for contact and information rights, but not that this claim originated in his belief that he was her biological father. In the end, the domestic judge dismissed the request of the father on the grounds that the child’s best interests were endangered because the marriage between her legal parents could fall apart if the biological paternity of Fröhlich were to be established. Both domestic judgments were condoned by the ECtHR. Continue reading

Justice from the Perspective of an Applicant: meeting Ms Neulinger

Simona Florescu, PhD fellow, Leiden Law School, the Child Law Department

In September I had the opportunity to meet the applicant in the Grand Chamber case Neulinger and Shuruk v Switzerland.[1] We had a lengthy 4 hours conversation about the ins and outs of her personal situation, the circumstances that led her to taking her son away from Israel to Switzerland and her experience with the European Court of Human Rights. Hence, in this contribution, I would like to share that experience and highlight some aspects which may be potentially interesting for the readership of this blog.

But first a brief reminder of the circumstances of the case. Continue reading

Zherdev v. Ukraine: Article 3 of the ECHR and Children’s Rights at the Stage of Police Interrogation

By Prof. Dr. Ton Liefaard, Professor of Children’s Rights / UNICEF Chair in Children’s Rights, Leiden Law School, Leiden University, The Netherlands[1]

The Zherdev v. Ukraine judgement of 27 April 2017 by the European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter: the Court) further augments the Court’s line of recognising the vulnerable position of children in police interrogation and custody. What is the impact of this recognition on the threshold to find a violation under Article 3 ECHR, and to what extent does the judgement reflect international legal standards relating to children in conflict with the law, and global concerns regarding police violence towards children?

This commentary begins with a brief overview of the relevant facts of the case. It then addresses the Court’s judgement, focusing on the allegations in relation to Article 3 and to a certain extent Article 6 ECHR. It explores the Court’s threshold to assess ill-treatment in the context of children in police custody, and highlights relevant international standards in that regard. This commentary concludes with a final note on the important role of lawyers in preventing and addressing ill-treatment, and the complex issue of children’s waiver of legal counsel. Continue reading

A, B and C v. Latvia: gender-blindness and trivialisation of indecent acts against adolescent girls

By Yaiza Janssens

Not many ECtHR cases that focus on a possible obligation under Article 8 of the Convention to conduct a criminal investigation and even fewer cases where the facts fall exclusively concern minors. In A, B and C v. Latvia, a Chamber judgment issued on 31 March 2016, the applicants complained that the authorities had failed to investigate their complaints of sexual abuse by their sports coach. The Court found no violation of Article 8. In this post, I will argue that the Court should have concluded that the criminal investigation of the Latvian authorities was not effective.

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Mandet v. France: Child’s “duty” to know its origins prevails over its wish to remain in the dark

By Evelyn Merckx, academic assistant and doctoral researcher at the Human Rights Centre (Ghent University)

The European Court of Human Rights has delivered many judgments about a child’s right to know its origins and whether this right can prevail over the refusal of the anonymous biological parent. In Mandet v. France, the opposite scenario took place. A presumed biological father wanted to have his paternity recognised vis-à-vis a child who already had a legal and social father and asked the judges not to change his established family ties. However, the domestic courts decided that it was in the son’s best interests that he knew the truth about his origins.

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Adžić v. Croatia: The difficult task that child abduction brings

This guest post was written by Thalia Kruger, Senior Lecturer, Research Group Personal Rights and Real Rights, University of Antwerp and Honorary Research Associate, University of Cape Town.

Adžić v. Croatia is yet another case in the long row of cases about international parental child abduction that hit the role of the European Court of Human Rights. These cases pose a particular challenge to the Court in a very difficult and sensitive domain of family law. Jurists and lawyers in various fora have attempted to find workable solutions by instruments such as the Hague Child Abduction Convention of 1980, the Council of Europe Custody Convention (Luxembourg, 1980), the Brussels II bis Regulation (2201/2003) in the EU, and national legislation. Mediators try to find appropriate ways in which to resolve child abduction issues.

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The State’s Duty to Protect Children from Abuse: Justice in Strasbourg in O’Keeffe v. Ireland

This guest post was written by Professor Ursula Kilkelly. Professor Kilkelly is Director of the Child Law Clinic at the Faculty of Law of University College Cork, Ireland (see more info below the post, at *).

On 28 January 2014, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights handed down its judgment in the case of Louise O’Keeffe and Ireland. The judgment brought to a conclusion a 15 year-long legal battle whereby the applicant – who was abused by her teacher when attending primary school in Ireland – sought vindication of her rights against the state.  It also resulted in a ground breaking judgment of the European Court which established beyond doubt that the state has a positive duty to take steps to protect children from abuse under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

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Family Reunification in Berisha v. Switzerland: The Child’s Best Interests, Really?

This week, in a divided ruling, the Court rejected the case of Berisha v. Switzerland. By four votes to three, the Court held that the refusal of residence permits to the applicants’ three children – who were born in Kosovo and entered Switzerland illegally – did not violate the parents’ right to respect for family life. In this post, I discuss the Court’s analysis of the best interests of the children involved in the case and show how the analysis fails to live up to this principle.

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Less stringent measures and migration detention: overruling Saadi v. UK?

The recent cases of Yoh-Ekale Mwanje v. Belgium and Popov v. France illustrate how a ‘less stringent measures test’ is entering the Court’s reasoning under Art. 5 § 1 ECHR in migration detention cases. The Court appears to be slowly moving away from its deferential approach in Saadi v. The United Kingdom. This might result in the overruling of Saadi by the Grand Chamber in the near future.

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Child maintenance and gender stereotypes: understanding J.M. v. the UK

A recent case, J.M. v. the United Kingdom, startled our research team. The case concerns a British child support rule that is at first glance counter-intuitive. The rule, from the Child Support Act 1991, states that the parent who does not have the primary care of the children is required to pay child support. So far little news. However, the amount of this support is reduced when the absent parent enters into a new relationship. The rule made no distinction between married and unmarried couples, but took no account of same-sex relationships. In this post I will highlight why the Court’s ruling is problematic and, moreover, why the underlying rule is deeply disturbing. Continue reading

In a school ALL pupils should be king! An example of segregation in a Belgian school.

From a minority perspective, this week was not a good week in Belgium. On Wednesday, a television broadcast proved that employment agencies cooperate actively with employers who don’t want to hire people with a foreign background (in Belgium the so-called “allochtonen”). An undercover journalist who posed as an employer searching for new employees, asked the agencies not to select people from a foreign background. Out of the 8 agencies, 6 admitted not having any problem with this question, even if it is unlawful. One of them literally said: “the client is king”!
Today was another sad day. A Belgian school, in the city of Lokeren, divides its children depending of their being “autochtoon” or “allochtoon” (this is how persons from respectively Belgian and immigrant roots are named in Belgium ). Continue reading

Church Sexual Abuse in Belgium: Respecting Privacy or Punishing Those Responsible?

In a previous post, Alexandra wrote about sexual abuse by members of the Church and possibly relevant case-law of the European Court of Human Rights. I will follow up on that post in this one.

The past week, the Belgian authorities have upped the ante in the fight against sexual abuse by members of the Catholic Church. An investigative judge ordered house searches in several buildings, including a cathedral, belonging to the Church. During the searches, the police looked for evidence of knowledge of – and thus, attempts to hide – the sexual abuse by the Church. They also seized the 475 personal files of victims that had reported their abuse to the so-called Commission Adriaenssens. The Commission had been set up by the Church itself as an organ of independent experts that would examine the sexual abuse by members of the Church in Belgium. Following the search and the confiscation of the files, the Commission decided to disband since it felt it could no longer fulfil its task. The President of the Commission expressed outrage over what he called a violation of the victims’ privacy. Members of the Church, going as high up as the Vatican itself, expressed similar outrage over the searches. The Vatican described these as worse than the practices during the Communist regimes. But also the victims whose files had been confiscated did not go unheard. One victim filed a complaint with the investigative authorities, claiming to be disadvantaged by their actions, in order to get insight into the files and closer involvement in the procedures. Other victims have joined together to, now that the Commission Adriaenssens has disbanded, demand a Parliamentary investigation into the crimes of sexual abuse by Church members.

The various reactions reveal that the house searches, and especially the seizure of the personal files of the victims that had stepped forward, pose difficult issues. I would divide the complaints into two different categories. The complaints of the Church and the Vatican about the manner in which the searches were conducted constitute the first category. The complaints of the Commission and the victims about the violation of the victims’ privacy constitute the second. I will discuss these in turn.

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Mustafa and Armağan Akin v. Turkey: Not above children’s heads!

The bulk of the cases appearing before the European Court of Human Rights concern length of proceeding cases that might not always be interesting for the public because of their technical character. However in a lot of other cases, the Court is  confronted with very shocking facts. Cases of torture by public authorities, but also cases concerning everyday problems, like divorcing couples and consequently the custody of the children. This is also the case in Mustafa and Amargan Akin v. Turkey. Continue reading

ECtHR v. Belgium on detention of children: part II

On 10 January 2010 the European Court of Human Rights released its judgment in the case of Muskhadzhiyeva and others v. Belgium, a case concerning the detention of minor asylum seekers in a closed detention centre. The applicants in Muskhadzhiyeva and others were five Chechnyans: a mother and her four minor children. Following the dismissal of their asylum application, they had been detained in the closed detention centre “127bis”, in wait of their expulsion.

Belgium had already been convicted for the detention of unaccompanied minor asylum seekers in the same detention centre in Mubilanzila Mayeka and Kaniki Mitunga v. Belgium. However, in the case of Muskhadzhiyeva and others the children had been detained along with their mother and not alone. The circumstances of the case were thus different from the earlier one. Continue reading

The Convention, the Church and Child Abuse

The torrent of recent accusations of child abuse my members of the Catholic Church has included the Netherlands. In the past weeks, the Dutch newspapers have been full of horrendous stories of sexual abuse of children by priests. Now, a newspaper reports that lawyers from a foundation that supports the rights of victims of sexual abuse have said that the State can be held responsible for these acts under the European Convention of Human Rights.

They might just be right. The lawyers refer to the case of E. and Others v. the UK of 2002. That case concerned four children who were sexually and physically abused by their step-father during the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. The Court found that the social sevices had failed to “discover the exact extent of the problem and, potentially, to prevent further abuse taking place.” (par. 97). Therefore, the Court judged that a violation of article 3 (freedom from torture or inhuman or degrading treatment) had taken place.

These facts seem to fit the case of the abuse by members of the church well. Both cases concern abuse perpetrated some time ago; both cases concern negligence by the State to investigate what was going on. However, the Court did not give a clear ruling on the issue of time limits in E. v.UK.

Do the victims from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s have a chance in Strasbourg? I think so.

Alexandra Timmer