Indiscriminate Covid-19 location tracking (Part I): Necessary in a democratic society?

By Ilia Siatitsa and Ioannis Kouvakas

In his recent interview on The Intercept, Edward Snowden questioned whether the measures implemented by authorities amid the pandemic are necessary to safeguard people, as well as, whether the pandemic is seen by governments as just another opportunity to make us acquiesce to mass surveillance. In a scramble to track, and thereby stem the flow of new cases of Covid-19, governments around the world are rushing to track the locations of their populace. One way to do this is to leverage the metadata, including location data, held by mobile service providers (telecommunications companies) in order to track the movements of a population, as seen in Italy, Germany and Austria, and with the European Commission.

This is the first of two blog posts that will examine whether indiscriminate location tracking could ever be justified under the Convention, in light of the global pandemic. Continue reading

Refusal to give access to ‘confidential’ information about politicians violated NGO’s Article 10 rights

By Ronan Ó Fathaigh and Dirk Voorhoof

On 26 March 2020, the European Court of Human Rights unanimously found that a refusal by the Ukrainian authorities to give a non-governmental organisation (NGO) access to information about the education and work history of top politicians as contained in their official CVs, filed as candidates for Parliament, violated the NGO’s right of access to public documents under Article 10 ECHR. The Court in Centre for Democracy and the Rule of Law v. Ukraine, highlighted that it was the first case from Ukraine on access to information since the Grand Chamber’s seminal 2016 Magyar Helsinki Bizottság v. Hungary judgment, and that it raised ‘novel’ issues for Ukraine’s authorities and courts. This judgment, delivered during the Covid-19 pandemic, clearly illustrates how important it is, more than ever, that the Court applies strict scrutiny under Article 10 in cases on access to public documents, recognising the importance of transparency on matters of public interest. Continue reading

Blog Symposium “Strasbourg Observers turn ten” (5): Daring to think – the spirit of human rights

By Marie-Bénédicte Dembour

Have the Strasbourg Observers really been running only for ten years? On receiving the invitation to celebrate this anniversary, my mind travelled back to the time before your emergence, and I felt rather isolated in my critical approach to the study of the European Court of Human Rights. Long before I joined Ghent’s Human Rights Centre last October, you have provided me – and no doubt others – with a sense of ‘home’. With this post I want to acknowledge my immense gratitude. I shall do so not by tracing the case law since Hirsi Jamaa and Others v Italy but by reflecting upon how my two posts on this case of 2012 were differently read. My point will be to highlight how the Strasbourg Observers have created an essential space for actively engaging and debating what the spirit of human rights might or should entail.

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Blog Symposium ‘Strasbourg Observers turns ten” (4) Wedging the Door? The Paposhvili Opening Three Years Later

Lourdes Peroni, Lecturer in Human Rights, Sheffield Hallam University, UK

I am thrilled to be part of this Blog Symposium to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Strasbourg Observers with some reflections on the memorable Grand Chamber judgment in Paposhvili v. Belgium. In December 2016, amidst a growing number of dissenting voices pushing for change within the Court, Paposhvili came to soften the restrictive application of the high Article 3 threshold that had prevailed in cases concerning the expulsion of seriously ill migrants. The pre-Paposhvili approach meant that, in practice, Article 3 protection was offered to this group of applicants only in very exceptional cases, namely in cases in which applicants were close to death at the time of expulsion.

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The right to education in Transdniestria seven years after Catan and Others v. Moldova and Russia: are we there yet?

By Linda Hamid, Research Fellow at the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies – Institute for International Law, KU Leuven

On 4 December 2019, during a research stay in the Republic of Moldova, I travelled to the village of Doroțcaia, where I visited the ‘Ștefan cel Mare și Sfânt’ lyceum and met with the principal, Ms Eleonora Cercavschi. Until August 2002, the school had been situated in Grigoriopol, a small town in the Moldavian Republic of Transdniestria (MRT or Transdniestria), which is a breakaway region in Moldova that declared independence in 1991, but has not been recognized by the international community. However, in the wake of events that will be described below, the school was evacuated from its premises by MRT ‘police’ and forced to relocate 20 km away, in Moldovan-controlled territory. As can be gathered from this post’s title, the Grigoriopol lyceum is one of the Romanian-language schools in Transdniestria concerned by the landmark European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR or the Court) Grand Chamber judgment Catan and Others v. Moldova and Russia. Ms Cercavschi, who together with her daughter was one of the applicants in the case, graciously answered my questions and recounted the circumstances leading to the school’s predicament. This post is based on insights acquired from this discussion and a few other in-depth interviews with key actors in Moldova and Transdniestria, as well as an analysis of both legal and political texts.

In what follows, I will employ the Catan judgment to briefly illustrate the quandaries surrounding the (non-)execution of ECtHR judgments in circumstances as complex as those in Transdniestria, where various actors, State and non-state alike, vie for control and influence. Inside this tangled web, legally binding obligations arising from ECtHR judgments and political commitments extraneous to them may, at times, mutually reinforce each other to give some incidental effects to the former. This, however, does not transpire as traditionally envisioned by Article 46 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR or Convention), i.e. through the execution of the judgment by the State bound by it, but rather indirectly, as a byproduct of two different but ultimately complementary processes. In referring to this byproduct, I will use the terms (indirect and partial) ‘implementation’ or ‘effects’. To me, they have a broader meaning than ‘execution’, in that they may also refer to the (persuasive) authority of the Court’s judgments and their influence on other actors than the State(s) directly bound to execute them, such as will be described in this post.

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Blog Symposium “Strasbourg Observers turns ten” (2): The Court’s subtle approach of online media platforms’ liability for user-generated content since the ‘Delfi Oracle’

Dirk Voorhoof (Human Rights Centre, Ghent University and Legal Human Academy)

On 18 June 2015, Strasbourg Observers published our blog postDelfi AS v. Estonia: Grand Chamber confirms liability of online news portal for offensive comments posted by its readers’. It situated and commented the Grand Chamber judgment of 16 June 2015 in the first case before the European Court of Human Rights on online media liability for user-generated content. In particular the application and impact of Article 10 ECHR was tested with regard to the liability of an online news portal for offensive (anonymous) comments posted by its readers below an online news article (see the Grand Chamber judgment in Delfi AS v. Estonia). The Grand Chamber, by fifteen votes to two, found the imposition of liability of the Estonian news portal justified and proportionate, in particular because the users’ comments had been extreme and had been posted in reaction to an article published by Delfi on its professionally managed news portal run on a commercial basis. The circumstance that Delfi had immediately removed the offensive content after having received notice of it, did not suffice to exempt Delfi from liability. Now this blog post, nearly five years after the final Delfi judgment, focusses on the impact of the Delfi case and gives a short overview of the further developments in the Court’s case law determining the scope of liability of internet platforms or other online intermediaries for user-generated content. Finally we refer to the initiative by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe recommending the member states to respect and  apply a set of guidelines when implementing the legislative frameworks relating to internet intermediaries, including some principles guaranteeing users’ rights to freedom of expression in the online environment. Continue reading

The Court’s first ruling on Roma’s access to safe water and sanitation in Hudorovic et al. v. Slovenia: reasons for hope and worry

This blogpost is written by Valeska David who is an Affiliated Researcher at the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University and Assistant Professor of International Law at University of Navarra. She has recently published the book ‘Cultural Difference and Economic Disadvantage in Regional Human Rights Courts: An Integrated View’ (Intersentia, 2020).

On 10 March 2020, the Strasbourg Court delivered its judgment in Hudorovic et al. v. Slovenia (App. nos. 24816/14 and 25140/14). The case deals with two complaints from Roma families who have been living in informal settlements without access to water, sanitation, sewage, and electricity for decades. The Court has previously dealt with the living conditions of Roma irregular settlements (e.g. Winterstein and Yordanova) as well as with the contamination of water resources resulting in health and environmental risks (e.g. Dzemyuk and Dubetska). This is the first time, however, that it has to examine whether the right to access safe drinking water and sanitation is protected by the Convention (particularly under Article 8 ECHR). This important question is furthermore posed in relation to the social group most affected by inequality in access to water in the first European country to make water a constitutional right. The case understandably attracted third party interventions from the European Roma Rights Centre and the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University, the latter available here.

Access to clean water and sanitation might sound too basic to be an issue in today’s Europe. But the truth is that securing universal access to such essential goods continues to be a pending challenge, especially for Roma people. At a time in which the European Parliament and the Council are discussing the adoption of a so-called Drinking Water Directive,[1] the Strasbourg Court is being called to play its part. The Court can significantly contribute to develop common minimum standards to ensure that everyone, especially those historically discriminated against can effectively enjoy water rights in Europe. From this perspective, however, this post argues that the judgment in Hudorovic offers a mixed picture, one of both hope and worry. Before explaining why, I shall briefly summarise the facts of the case and the Court’s findings.   Continue reading