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.

Continue reading

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