Positive Obligations in Crisis

Dr Natasa Mavronicola is Reader in Law at Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham. She has written extensively on the right to life and the right not to be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. She is co-editor of Lavrysen & Mavronicola (eds), Coercive Human Rights: Positive Duties to Mobilise the Criminal Law under the ECHR, forthcoming with Hart Publishing (2020).

On the flip side of rights are wrongs. It is now indisputable that the State may wrong us as a matter of human rights law not only by actively mistreating us, but also by failing to protect us from certain harms. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) boasts a formidable jurisprudence on positive obligations borne by States to protect persons within their jurisdiction from grave threats to our life or physical or mental integrity. It is important to understand and apply these appropriately to the current crisis, particularly as positive obligations to protect life are being actively invoked, in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, to justify extensive (coercive) measures across Council of Europe States.

In this short piece, focusing on positive obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), I want to underline the following: (a) the State bears positive obligations to protect, rather than coerce; (b) the State’s positive obligations do not extend to duties to act unlawfully under the Convention; and (c) positive obligations must be responsive to, and entail ancillary obligations to determine, the relevant context and risk. Continue reading

Abdyusheva and Others v. Russia: a Sadly Missed Opportunity

By Valérie Junod and Olivier Simon

On November 26. 2019, the ECtHR issued a 6 to 1 judgment finding that Russia had not breached the right of the complainants when it denied them access to methadone and buprenorphine (these two medicines are hereafter abbreviated to M/B) for treating their duly diagnosed opioid dependence syndrome (ODS).

Out of the three applicants, only the complaint of Mrs. Abdyusheva was analyzed in full. Since the other two were no longer consuming opioids and were no longer in active treatment; the Court declared their complaint inadmissible, disregarding their risk to relapse in the future.[1] Continue reading

Inhumane and degrading treatment in the workplace: a first for the European Court of Human Rights?

This guest post was written by Cathérine Van de Graaf, a PhD student at Ghent University.

In its recent judgment of Hovhannisyan v. Armenia, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the State authorities failed to conduct a proper investigation into a civil servant’s allegations of ill-treatment by her superiors during an argument over her appraisal report. The main issue at hand was the lack of an independent and effective investigation into the applicant’s claim that she was ill-treated by her superior at work. Continue reading

IRELAND V THE UK AND THE HOODED MEN: A MISSED OPPORTUNITY?

Written by Dr Alan Greene, Assistant Professor at Durham Law School*

In Ireland v The United Kingdom, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR; the Court) in Chamber formation refused to revise its 1978 judgment regarding whether British security forces’ use of the so-called ‘five techniques’ of interrogation during the conflict in Northern Ireland amounted to torture under Article 3 ECHR.  In so doing, the ECtHR missed an opportunity to correct an historic wrong; one that has had a pernicious effect across the globe. In contrast, the dissenting judgment of Judge Siofra O’Leary strikes a more persuasive balance between legal certainty and the public interest in holding a state to account for ‘a serious violation of the European public order.’ 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

One-way ticket to Sudan: standard-setting, yet disconnection between reasoning and outcome in N.A. v. Switzerland?

By Ellen Desmet, assistant professor of migration law at Ghent University

On 30 May 2017, the European Court of Human Rights decided two cases regarding the expulsion of rejected asylum seekers by Switzerland to Sudan. In A.I. v. Switzerland, the Court held unanimously that there would be a violation of Articles 2 and 3 ECHR in case of implementation of the deportation order, whereas in N.A. v. Switzerland the Court, also unanimously, did not find a conditional violation of these provisions.

The judgments (only in French) deserve a blogpost for at least two reasons. First, the Court explicitly sets out criteria in order to assess the risk of ill-treatment of political opponents when returned to Sudan. Second, the legal reasoning in N.A. v. Switzerland seems to hold potential for improvement. This post does not aim to question the outcome in N.A.: even though many aspects of A.I. and N.A. run parallel, there are important factual differences that may justify finding a violation in one case but not in the other. It does take issue with the way this outcome is arrived at in N.A. v. Switzerland. Continue reading

Talpis v. Italy: Elements to Show An Article 14 Violation in Domestic Violence Cases

What are the elements necessary to support a finding of discrimination in domestic violence cases? In the recent case of Talpis v. Italy, two judges voted against an Article 14 violation. The dissenting opinions offer an opportunity to reflect on this and other broader questions that may be relevant for future cases. The questions flow from disagreement in the judgment over: whether the domestic authorities involved in the individual case were discriminatory towards the applicant as a woman and whether there were sufficient indications of failures to protect women in the Italian system.

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V.M. and others v. Belgium: The tragic story of yet another “disappeared case”

Guest post by Moritz Baumgärtel, lecturer and researcher at the Department of European and International Public Law at Tilburg University. Moritz recently defended his PhD at the Université libre de Bruxelles. His project was a part of the IAP research network “The Global Challenge of Human Rights Integration: Towards a Users’ Perspective”.

On 17 November 2016, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights decided to strike off its list of cases the application in V.M. and others v. Belgium. The case concerned the reception conditions and the exposure to a risk of inhumane and degrading treatment of a Roma family in the context of a “Dublin transfer” from Belgium to France. The matter was referred to the Grand Chamber following a judgment of the Second Section on 7 July 2015, which had found violations of articles 3 and 13 of the ECHR. In striking out the application because the lawyer failed to maintain contact with the clients, the Grand Chamber added yet another chapter to the already lengthy volume on “disappeared cases”. The Court’s decision raises serious questions regarding the effectiveness of its remedies and the problems it poses for strategically minded lawyers in the migration domain.

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Paposhvili v. Belgium: Memorable Grand Chamber Judgment Reshapes Article 3 Case Law on Expulsion of Seriously Ill Persons

In what is possibly one of the most important judgments of 2016, Paposhvili v. Belgium, the Grand Chamber has memorably reshaped its Article 3 case law on the expulsion of seriously ill migrants. In a unanimous judgment, the Court leaves behind the restrictive application of the high Article 3 threshold set in N. v. the United Kingdom and pushes for a more rigorous assessment of the risk of ill-treatment in these cases. For us at the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University, it was a thrill to intervene as a third party in such an important case. In our third party intervention we submitted that Paposhvili offered a unique opportunity to depart from the excessively restrictive approach adopted in N. We are delighted that the Grand Chamber has seized the opportunity to re-draw the standards in this area of its case law in a way that does fuller justice to the spirit of Article 3.

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A Casualty of Formalism: The Application of the Six-Month Rule in Kamenica and Others v. Serbia

By Corina Heri, PhD candidate at the University of Zürich / Visiting Scholar at Ghent University

On 27 October 2016, the Court published the Third Section’s decision in Kamenica and Others v. Serbia. That case concerns the alleged ill-treatment of 67 persons who fled Bosnia and Herzegovina during the conflict that broke out there in 1992 and who were subsequently interned in a Serbian detention camp. The Third Section applied the six-month rule to the case, finding that it had been brought out of time. Its decision raises questions about the strictness of the six-month rule and the application of a statute of limitations to grievous alleged violations of Article 3 ECHR. Granted, the application of a rigid time limit for bringing applications to Strasbourg fosters certainty and ensures that the proceedings before the Court take place within a useful time frame. However, decisions such as this one indicate that, in certain types of cases – here, a particularly grievous one that stood to be investigated in a post-conflict scenario – the Court’s emphasis of a strict time limit can seem decidedly formalistic.

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Grand Chamber clarifies principles for life sentence of prisoner with mental disability

This guest post was written by Nicole Bürli, PhD, Human Rights Advisor of the World Organisation against Torture.

On 26 April 2016, the Grand Chamber of the Court delivered its judgment in the case of Murray v. the Netherlands. Overturning the Chamber judgment, the Grand Chamber rightly found the irreducibility of a life sentence of a mentally disabled prisoner incompatible with Article 3 of the Convention. With this judgment, the Court clarified relevant principles for rehabilitation and review of life sentences developed in Vinter and Others v. the United Kingdom.

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Back on track! Court acknowledges gendered nature of domestic violence in M.G. v. Turkey

This guest post was written by Fleur van Leeuwen (*)

Around a month ago, the Court ruled in Civek v. Turkey that it was not necessary to examine the applicant’s complaint of discrimination in a domestic violence case that ended in death. This was disheartening, especially because in recent domestic violence judgments the Court has always addressed alleged violations of article 14. What was perhaps even more disturbing about the Civek judgement was that the Court – without any apparent reason – observed that men can also be victims of domestic violence, thereby implying that domestic violence is a gender neutral phenomenon. In doing so, it seconded the worrisome wording of the Istanbul Convention,[1] which – by denoting that men may also be victims of domestic violence and by referring to violence against women and domestic violence – explicitly positions the latter as a gender neutral form of violence.

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Sakir v Greece: Racist violence against an undocumented migrant

By Eva Brems

In a recent case, the Court found a violation of article 3 ECHR on account of the defective investigation into a serious incident of racist violence that occurred in Athens in 2009. In addition, the detention conditions imposed upon the victim (sic!) also violated article 3. The judgment explicitly recognizes the structural character of the problem of racist violence in Athens and expects the Greek authorities to do the same. However, when it comes to structural solutions, an obvious one is overlooked.

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Grand Chamber Hearing in Paposhvili v. Belgium: The End of N. v. the UK?

Few judgments have sparked more criticism than N. v. the United Kingdom. The high Article 3 threshold set in the case of a seriously ill woman expelled to Uganda where she died shortly after her return has been criticized both inside and outside the Court. Following what some considered a missed opportunity in S.J. v. Belgium last March,[1] the Grand Chamber now has a renewed chance to revisit the N. approach in Paposhvili v. Belgium. In a third-party intervention in the case, the Human Rights Center at Ghent University invited the Grand Chamber to reconsider the unduly restrictive approach adopted in N. In this post, I highlight the main points we made in our intervention as well as some of the parties’ Article 3 oral arguments during last week’s hearing.

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V.M. and Others v. Belgium: The asylum law discourse reloaded

By Salvo Nicolosi

Last 7 July 2015, the Second Section of the Strasbourg Court ruled in V.M. and Others v. Belgium, concerning the violation of Articles 3 and 13 ECHR owing to the reception conditions of asylum seekers. The case must be placed within the settled case law on the protection of asylum seekers under Article 3 ECHR which the Court has developed over the years and thus it offers another occasion to reflect on the timely and controversial debate regarding the interpretation of the right to asylum through the lens of the Strasbourg Court (Bossuyt, 2010; Mole/Meredith, 2010).

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A.S. v. Switzerland: missed opportunity to explain different degrees of vulnerability in asylum cases

By Salvo Nicolosi and Ruth Delbaere (Ghent University)

In the recent judgment of last 30 June 2015 in A.S. v. Switzerland, the European Court of Human Rights offers another occasion to reflect on the issue of vulnerability in asylum cases.

The ruling represents another episode of the ongoing saga concerning the Dublin System to determine the State responsible for asylum applications and builds upon the previous case law relating to Article 3 considerations when expelling seriously ill persons, on the one hand, and when deporting asylum seekers to another country, pursuant to Dublin II Regulation 343/2003 (now replaced by Dublin III Regulation 604/2013), on the other hand. Both lines of reasoning will be taken into account in the following analysis.

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The Court’s Approach in Y. v. Slovenia, Annotated

By Corina Heri

This guest post was written by Corina Heri, Ph.D. researcher at the University of Zürich, Switzerland, and visiting researcher at the Human Rights Centre, Ghent University.

On the 28th of May, the Fifth Section of the Strasbourg Court issued its judgment in Y. v. Slovenia. The judgment in the Y. case ties in to some of the criticism recently formulated by Yaiza Janssens on this blog concerning the I.P. v. the Republic of Moldova case. While noting the novelty of the Court’s approach under Article 8 in Y., the present contribution will point out some remaining room for improvement in the Court’s approach to sexual violence-related cases.

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Bias and Violence in Identoba and Karaahmed: The Difference Some Differences Make?

By Lourdes Peroni 

What role do discriminatory insults play when the Court considers a certain instance of ill treatment in the light of Article 3? The answer seems to depend on which case one looks at. The role is that of “an aggravating factor,” if one looks at the recent judgment in Identoba and Others v. Georgia.[1] However, if one looks at another relatively recent judgment in a case involving similar issues, Karaahmed v. Bulgaria, the answer seems “none.” Continue reading

I.P. v. the Republic of Moldova: missed opportunity to tackle rape myths

By Yaiza Janssens

In the recent case of I.P. v. the Republic of Moldova, the European Court of Human Rights examined state responsibility to establish an effective legal and judicial framework with regard to rape under Articles 3 and 8 of the Convention. In this post, I show that the Court failed to acknowledge that fundamental values and essential aspects of private life are at stake in a rape case and to tackle domestic authorities’ reliance on rape myths.

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Moving away from N v UK – Interesting tracks in a dissenting opinion (Tatar v Switzerland)

By Eva Brems

The Court’s case law on the expulsion of very ill persons to their country of origin bothers many. The standard  of ‘very exceptional circumstances’ set in N v United Kingdom (2008) is so high that no applicant to date has passed it. The only individual who has won a case of this type is the applicant in D v United Kingdom in 1997, who was in the final stages of a terminal illness and had no prospect of medical care or family support on expulsion to his home country. As was noted by a recent blogger, many people, both inside the Court and among academic commentators, are of the opinion that this standard should be adjusted.   Continue reading

S.J. v. Belgium: missed opportunity to fairly protect seriously ill migrants facing expulsion

This guest post was written by Sarah Ganty, Ph.D. student at the Institute for European Studies and at the Faculty of Law (Perelman Centre for Legal Philosophy) of the ULB within the Research project ARC “Sous le signe du mérite et de la conformité culturelle, les nouvelles politiques d’intégration des immigrés en Europe”. See also the post she wrote for the Blog of the Berkeley Journal of International Law.

On March 19, 2015, the Grand Chamber (GC) of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) struck out of its list the sensitive case of S.J. v. Belgium on the basis of the friendly settlement between the Belgian Government and the applicant, S.J, mother of three children, who suffers from an advanced stage of AIDS and faced expulsion. Indeed, the Belgian Government ultimately regularized the residency status of the applicant and that of her three children, justified by the “strong humanitarian considerations” of their situation.

Why then write this note on a case that was not eventually ruled on the merits by the GC of the Court and where the outcome looks like a “happy ending”? Continue reading

The Cestaro v. Italy Case and the “Prohibited Purpose” Requirement of Torture

This guest post was written by Christina Kosin, LL.M. (Edinburgh) and Ph.D. student and academic assistant within the Network of Excellence for the Law of Civil Security in Europe at the German Police University in Münster, Germany. See also the post she wrote for EU Law Analysis.

The main argument of this comment is that the recent Cestaro v. Italy case shows (once again)[1] that the “prohibited purpose” requirement of torture is not the only decisive criterion in distinguishing the crime from other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. This comment is a reaction to the presumption by some legal scholars that the prohibited purpose criterion, explained below, is the most important element of torture and the only element which distinguishes it from other ill-treatment. The comment provides a short introduction to the case and elaborates on the issue at stake. Then, the facts of the Cestaro case are presented followed by a brief summary of and commentary on the Court’s main arguments with regard to the material breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

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Another episode in the Strasbourg saga on the Dublin System to determine the State Responsible for Asylum Applications

This guest post was written by Salvo Nicolosi, Postdoctoral Researcher at Ghent University’s Human Rights Centre.

The recent decision in A.M.E. v. The Netherlands, issued by the European Court of Human Rights last 13 January 2015 and notified in writing on 5 February 2015, offers another occasion to assess through a human rights perspective the working of the Dublin system for determining which State is responsible for deciding an asylum seeker’s application for international protection.

Based on Dublin II Regulation 343/2003 (now replaced by Dublin III Regulation 604/2013) such system has represented the core of a thriving case law of the Strasbourg Court, including the case under discussion. The analysis will be therefore enhanced by discussing the findings in other two key cases to which the Strasbourg made explicit reference in A.M.E. v. The Netherlands, namely the recent Tarakhel v. Switzerland and M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece. Continue reading

Vasilescu v. Belgium: The Same Old Belgian Song of Structural Deplorable Prison Conditions

This guest post was written by Rebecca Deruiter. PhD Researcher at the Institute for International Research on Criminal Policy (IRCP), Ghent University [1]

In its recent ruling in Vasilescu v. Belgium, the European Court of Human Rights convicted the Belgian state of inhuman and degrading treatment violating Article 3, for the deplorable detention conditions during the applicant’s confinement. Since enhancements to certain Belgian detention facilities can be labelled as ‘too little too late’, this judgment reaffirms, yet again, the enduring criticism by national and international observers. This not only negatively affects prisoners but has also wider implications for cooperation between EU Member States in criminal matters constructed on the principle of mutual recognition. Once more the Court ruled against Belgium, but at what point will the Belgian state finally listen?

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Tarakhel v. Switzerland: Another Step in a Quiet (R)evolution?

This guest post was written by Nesa Zimmermann, Ph.D. candidate and teaching assistant at the University of Geneva, Switzerland (*)

The Court’s recent ruling in Tarakhel v. Switzerland became famous almost before it was delivered. The case has received strong media attention, and some claimed the judgment signified “the end of the Dublin system”. However, the importance of the Tarakhel judgement should not be overrated. For one thing, it remains yet to be seen to what extent the Court’s ruling can and will be applied to other cases. Besides, even though the case has been called a “principled decision in favour of vulnerable persons”, it consists, from a scholarly point of view, of a series of adjustments: a case contributing to the evolution of existing case law rather than a revolution on its own. Continue reading

Belgium violated the ECHR by extraditing a terrorist to the USA despite an interim measure by the Strasbourg Court: Trabelsi v. Belgium

The Trabelsi case is noteworthy for two reasons. Firstly, because of the blatant disregard by Belgium of the interim measure issued by the European Court of Human Rights. Secondly, because of the application of the reasoning from Vinter v. UK – in which the Court found that life without parole is incompatible with Article 3 ECHR – to the context of extradition proceedings. The Court finds that the applicant’s extradition by Belgium to the USA, where he ran the risk of being convicted to life without parole and despite an interim measure to the contrary, was in violation of Articles 3 and 34 ECHR. This blog post will first highlight the latter violation, before questioning the Court’s reasoning with respect to the former one.

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The multifaceted and crucial role played by NGOs at the European Court of Human Rights

This guest post was written by Laura Van den Eynde, Doctoral Researcher at Université libre de Bruxelles. (*)

On 17 and 24 July 2014, the European Court of Human Rights decided three cases, one against Romania concerning the death of a mentally disabled and HIV-positive young Roma and two other cases against Poland concerning the detention and transfer of terrorist suspects who were subjected to torture.[1] Beyond the fact that the cases involve particularly shocking human rights violations and that the judgments are quite long, what else would they have in common? As will be demonstrated hereunder, these cases would not have been decided – or decided with that information at hand – if there hadn’t been civil society organizations caring to denounce and document the human rights violations at stake. Continue reading

The European Court of Human Rights has spoken … again. Does Turkey listen?

This guest post was written by Dr Elena Katselli, Senior Lecturer in Law at Newcastle Law School

Thirteen years have elapsed since the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECtHR) judgment in Cyprus v Turkey in which the Court found Turkey responsible for 14 violations of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and its Protocols. The violations related to 1,485 Greek Cypriots who disappeared during the Turkish military invasion and occupation of Cyprus in 1974; the living conditions of enclaved Greek Cypriots living in the occupied area of Karpas since thereafter; and displacement.[1] Continue reading

Abdu v. Bulgaria – Yet another case of racist violence before the Court!

This guest post was written by Mathias Möschel, post-doctoral researcher at Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense. (*)

Abdu v. Bulgaria deals with a fact pattern which the Court has seen many times over the past fifteen years: racist violence. Moreover, it involves a country which has also stood a number of times before the European judges for human rights violations involving either police violence (see e.g. Velikova v. Bulgaria and Ognyanova and Choban v. Bulgaria) or private violence against racial minorities (see e.g. Dimitrova and Others v. Bulgaria, Seidova and Others v. Bulgaria, and Yotova v. Bulgaria). Continue reading

And the question still remains: when is it allowed to use tear gas or pepper spray?

This post was written by Sophie Forrez. Sophie is a Ph.D. Researcher at the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University. She works on a project on the impact of the European Convention on Human Rights in the Belgian legal order in the early years of the Convention.

In two recent cases, Tali v. Estonia and Gramada v. Romania, the European Court of Human Rights dealt with the use of pepper spray and tear gas. In both cases, the Court found a violation of article 3 of the Convention. The first case concerns the use of pepper spray and the practice of strapping prisoners to a restraint bed in penal institutions. The second case deals with a police officer using tear gas and shooting the applicant in the thigh during an ordinary arrest of an individual who was on the run and took refuge in the applicant’s home. Although in both cases a violation was found, both judgments missed a perfect opportunity to create more clarity on the ground.

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Vulnerability and Economic Abuse in Domestic Violence Reasoning: T.M. and C.M. v. Moldova

T.M. and C.M. v. Moldova is one of the latest instances of domestic authorities’ passivity in protecting women against domestic violence. At the root of this passivity was a failure to understand the seriousness and extent of the problem and its discriminatory effect on women. This was reflected in misconceptions about both the nature of domestic violence and the reality of many of its victims. In dealing with this failure, the Court issues a strong judgment: (i) it reinvigorates the definition of domestic violence by renewing attention to non-physical forms, notably economic abuse and (ii) it refines the links between domestic violence victims’ vulnerability and the content of State positive obligations. Continue reading

Shitting in ‘closed’ overall not ‘degrading’ according to Strasbourg Court

If you look up the word ‘degrading’ in the dictionary, chances are that you find a picture there of a person who cannot help shitting him- or herself. In the case of Lindström and Mässeli v. Finland, the Strasbourg Court however did not consider that state authorities necessarily inflict ‘degrading treatment’ when they are responsible for bringing a prisoner in such a situation. The case concerns prisoners who were put in ‘closed’ overalls they were unable to remove, which resulted in them shitting themselves because the prison guards did not bring them in time to a toilet. According to the Court, this did not amount to a violation of Article 3 ECHR. The Court did find a violation of Article 8, but as will be argued below, since the protection offered by this provision is lower, it cannot be a genuine alternative for the applicability of Article 3.

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ECtHR Rules that Police Officers Can Slap Suspects in the Face Without Contravening Article 3 ECHR: Bouyid v. Belgium

Recently, the European Court of Human Rights failed to condemn Belgium for two incidents in which police officers slapped suspects of foreign origin – including a minor – in the face during police questioning in relation to trivial affairs. The Court specifically ruled that a one-time slap in the face did not, under the specific circumstances of the case, meet the threshold for applicability of art. 3 ECHR. Although the Court condemned the police officers in moral terms, in terms of human rights law their behaviour was apparently completely acceptable. In this post I will argue that the unanimous ECtHR ruling dramatically falls short of what one might expect from a human rights court.

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The Court could provide more guidance in prisoner cases

When systematically reading the Court’s case-law, it becomes clear that poor conditions of detention remain one of the most dramatic human rights problems in contemporary Europe. The last decade, the Court has done a good job in interpreting Article 3 ECHR as to include a right for prisoners to be held in decent detention conditions. However this does not mean that there is no room for improvement. As I will illustrate by way of two recent cases, the Court could do a better job in developing clearer standards under Article 3 in its prisoners case-law. The way forward could be to adopt a rule-based rather than a threshold approach to these kind of cases.

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Mehmet Şentürk and Bekir Şentürk v. Turkey: The Court could have shown more empathy

Fellow observers of the Strasbourg case law will probably agree with me: when you systematically go through the Court’s case law you’re confronted with the most extraordinary facts that you would never have imagined. Horrible prison circumstances, ill-treatment and torture are sometimes described into utmost details.

One can also not remain untouched by cases concerning child abductions and other family dramas. One recent example is the sad story of the family Şentürk in the recent case of Mehmet Şentürk and Bekir Şentürk v. Turkey. The applicants respectively lost their wife and mother who died due to pregnancy complications. Mrs. Menekse Şentürk who was 8 months pregnant spent the last day of her life, the 11th of March 2000, running from one hospital to the other in search for help. Continue reading

Equal treatment for remand and convicted prisoners: Gülay Çetin v. Turkey

This guest post was written by Cedric De Koker, academic assistant at the Institute for International Research on Criminal Policy (IRCP), Ghent University.

With its judgment in the case of Gülay Çetin v. Turkey, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)  added another chapter to its significant body of detention-related case law. Having to pronounce on the issue of whether the continued detention of Mrs. Gülay Çetin, a retired auditor diagnosed with metastatic gastric cancer, infringed upon the European Convention on Human Rights, the ECtHR held unanimously that the Turkish government had violated article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), taken alone and in conjunction with article 14 (prohibition of discrimination). Perhaps the most striking feature of the ruling relates to the fact that the ECtHR concluded that the applicant had been discriminated against while she was in pre-trial detention, as she had not been entitled to the same protective measures as convicted inmates with serious illnesses. As it was the first time that the Court explicitly mentioned discrimination between remand and convicted prisoners, the judgment could and most likely will have its repercussions for the administration of prisons.

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Non-nationals, living conditions and disability: Situating S.H.H. v. United Kingdom within Strasbourg’s Article 3 case-law

This guest post was written by Elaine Webster. Elaine holds a PhD from the University of Edinburgh and is currently a lecturer and director of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights Law at the University of Strathclyde. 

In S.H.H. v. United Kingdom a chamber of the ECtHR, by four votes to three, found that a real risk of inhuman or degrading treatment had not been established and found no potential violation of Article 3 ECHR. The applicant in this case sought and was refused asylum in the United Kingdom. It was argued that, as a result of his severe physical disabilities, return to his home country of Afghanistan would give rise to a violation of Article 3. The core question in this case was which line of the Court’s authorities was most appropriately aligned with the facts in S.H.H.  Continue reading

Condemning extraordinary rendition: El-Masri v. the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

This guest post was written by Mila Isakovska. Mila holds an LLM in International Public Law and Human Rights from the Riga Graduate School of Law and is currently working as Legal System Monitor in the OSCE Mission in Kosovo.

The news of the Grand Chamber judgment in the extraordinary rendition case of El Masri v. the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has echoed widely in the human rights sphere. Starting from the European countries and extending worldwide, particularly to the CIA’s homeland, this decision sends a clear message of warning to governments’ declaratory pledge for human rights protection of every human being. With over 1,245 flights[1] operated by the CIA in European airspace between the end of 2001 and 2005, it seems that it was only a matter of time before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) would have an opportunity to extensively deliberate on the issue of extraordinary rendition. The El Masri case also provided for an opportunity to discuss the right to truth, in the face of potential exceptions such as state secret matters.

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P and S v. Poland: adolescence, vulnerability, and reproductive autonomy

The Strasbourg Observers are delighted to publish this guest post by Johanna Westeson, Regional Director for Europe, Center for Reproductive Rights. The Center for Reproductive Rights represented the applicants in P and S v. Poland before the ECtHR; see the Center’s press release here.

This week, the European Court of Human Rights issued its decision in P and S v. Poland, a case of a Polish teenager who became pregnant as a result of rape and was humiliated, harassed, and manipulated in her quest for a legal abortion. Building on the landmark cases against Poland’s restrictive abortion practice, Tysiąc v. Poland (2007) and R.R. v. Poland (2011) (see blog posts here and here), this judgment further clarifies the Court’s stance that reproductive health services that are legal must also be accessible. It also develops important reasoning on the vulnerability of young rape victims as well as their right to personal autonomy in matters of reproductive choice. The Court establishes that P and S had been subjected to several violations of their rights under Article 8, Article 5, and Article 3. This is a groundbreaking case, particularly in regard to the sexual and reproductive rights of adolescents. It opens the door to legal challenges to regimes that restrict young people’s reproductive self-determination, such as parental consent laws and strict procedural requirements to prove rape as a requirement for access to legal abortion. Continue reading

X. v. Turkey: Why a Ruling on the Basis of Discriminatory Effects Would Have Been Preferable

A few weeks ago, the European Court of Human Rights released its judgment in X. v. Turkey. The case concerned a homosexual detainee who was put in an individual cell and under a very restrictive detention regime, after he complained about intimidation and harassment by heterosexual detainees with whom he shared a collective cell. On the ECHR Blog, our fellow academic and blogger Antoine Buyse heralded the judgment as “an important development in the Court’s case-law”: “[f]or the first time in its existence, the European Court of Human Rights found that a complaint related to sexual orientation discrimination yielded a violation of Article 3 ECHR.”

Inspired by the recent posts by Alexandra on “what constitutes racial discrimination?” and by Lourdes on “who should provide which standard of proof?”, I will argue that the Court should have gone beyond the formal approach to discrimination it displayed in X. v. Turkey. Rather than searching for discriminatory intent and motives, the Court should have primarily looked at discriminatory effects. I believe that a reasoning on the basis of discriminatory effects would have provided firmer ground to the Court’s finding of a violation of art. 14 juncto art. 3 ECHR. It would also have countered the – prima facie sensible – dissent of Judge Jočienė to the majority ruling.

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Violence Against Roma: Unmasking Racist Motives

One case I want to flag among the recent judgments of the Court is Koky and Others v. Slovakia. The case concerns an attack with possible racial overtones at a Roma settlement. In this post, I highlight a couple of interesting aspects of the Court’s reasoning under Article 3 but puzzle over the exclusion of Article 14 analysis.

Facts

The attack was perpetrated on 28 February 2002 at around 9:45 p.m. by a group of at least twelve private individuals. Some of them were wearing balaclavas and armed with baseball bats and iron bars. The assault resulted in bodily harms and property damages. The applicants claimed that the violent event was racially motivated. Continue reading

Hirsi (part II): Another side to the judgment

This is the second post written by Marie-Bénédicte Dembour* on the case Hirsi Jamaa and Others v. Italy.

As I said yesterday, Hirsi is a fantastic judgment. It is ground-breaking not only for declaring interception-at-sea as currently practiced illegal on a number of grounds but also for potentially lightening the burden of proof which falls on applicants in return cases. But what did the Court say about reparation? Continue reading

Interception-at-sea: Illegal as currently practiced – Hirsi and Others v. Italy

This post is written by Marie-Bénédicte Dembour. She is Professor of Law and Anthropology at the University of Sussex. She is the author of Who Believes in Human Rights? Reflections on the European Convention and currently preparing a monograph provisionally entitled Migrant First, Human When? Testing Human Rights in the European and Inter-American Courts.

Europe does not like the ‘irregular’ migrants who, typically originating from economically struggling and/or war-torn countries, arrive on her shores without any document – and certainly no visa – after long travels. She has devised more and more strategies to keep these people at bay. One of these is to persuade so-called transit countries to take back migrants intercepted at sea. An emblematic example of this strategy is a bilateral cooperation agreement which Italy and Libya signed in December 2007 and its Additional Protocol of February 2009, whereby Libya pledged to support the Italian authorities in their fight against clandestine immigration in exchange for infrastructure, training and money. From the perspective of the authorities, the cooperation was entirely successful. It led the Italian Minister of the Interior to report and boast to the Italian Senate in May 2009, for example, that thanks to the agreement 471 irregular migrants had been intercepted on the high seas and transferred to Libya earlier that month. From a human rights perspective, this kind of strategy is disastrous from many various reasons, not all of which can be detailed in this blog.

Hirsi Jamaa and Others v. Italy is the first case in which the European Court of Human Rights delivers a judgment on interception-at-sea. In the present context the latter term is a short-hand for referring to the enforced return of irregular migrants to the point of departure of their attempted Mediterranean crossing, without any individual processing, let alone examination of asylum claims. Unanimously, the Grand Chamber found a violation of Article 3 ECHR prohibiting inhuman and degrading treatment on a double count (risk of ill-treatment in Libya and risk of repatriation from Libya to countries where ill-treatment is rife), a violation of Article 4 of Protocol no. 4 prohibiting collective expulsion and a violation of Article 13 ECHR guaranteeing a domestic remedy for any arguable complaint of a violation of the Convention. These verdicts, reached by the Grand Chamber unanimously on 23 February 2012, undoubtedly put into question the kind of bilateral and multilateral agreements which have been signed by European states in the last decade or so in order to fight clandestine immigration, not to mention the fact that they indirectly require major aspects of European migration policy to be revised.

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Stanev v. Bulgaria: The Grand Chamber’s Cautionary Approach to Expanding Protection of the Rights of Persons with Psycho-social Disabilities

This post is written by Lycette Nelson, Litigation Director, Mental Disability Advocacy Center*

The Grand Chamber’s recent judgment in Stanev v. Bulgaria has enormous significance for the rights of thousands of persons with psycho-social disabilities and intellectual disabilities throughout Europe. In finding violations of Articles 3, 5§1, 5§4, 5§5, 6§1, and 13, the Grand Chamber opened the possibility for persons in social care institutions to challenge both their deprivation of liberty and the inhuman and degrading conditions in institutions, and reaffirmed its jurisprudence regarding the right of persons whose legal capacity has been restricted to have access to a court to challenge their loss of rights.  However, the  Court’s narrowing of its holdings and failure to examine the applicant’s claim under Article 8 limit the scope of the judgment. The D.D. v. Lithuania judgment, coming immediately upon the heels of Stanev, brings the limitations of Stanev into focus. Read together, the two cases raise questions about the Court’s willingness to broaden its approach to protection of the rights of persons with psycho-social and intellectual disabilities and to go beyond acknowledging the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) as the international standard for the rights of persons with disabilities to engage substantively with the paradigm shift the CRPD embodies.

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Othman (Abu Qatada) v. the United Kingdom: Questioning Gäfgen?

The European Court of Human Rights recently delivered its judgment in Othman (Abu Qatada) v. the United Kingdom, a case concerning the deportation of a terrorism suspect from the UK to Jordan. The applicant, Mr. Othman, had arrived in the United Kingdom in 1993, having fled Jordan. He requested asylum, alleging that he had been detained and tortured by the Jordanian authorities. He was recognised as a refugee in 1994 and granted leave to remain in the UK for an initial period of four years. In 1998 he applied for indefinite leave to remain in the UK. In 2002, while his application was still under consideration, he was arrested and taken into detention under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act of 2001. In August 2005 he was served with a notice of intention to deport. He challenged his possible deportation, thereby eventually reaching the European Court of Human Rights, alleging that there was a real risk that he would be subjected to torture upon his return to Jordan, in violation of article 3 ECHR. He also feared that he would face a retrial for offences (conspiracy to cause explosions and membership of a terrorist organisation) for which he had been convicted in Jordan in absentia in 1999. He claimed, inter alia, that there was a real risk that evidence obtained by torture – either of him, his co-defendants or other prisoners – would be admitted against him during the retrial, in violation of article 6 ECHR.

The Court ruled that article 3 would not be violated if the applicant were to be deported to Jordan, holding that sufficient safeguards were put in place to prevent the applicant’s torture through the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Jordan and the United Kingdom in which the latter had obtained diplomatic assurances that the applicant would not be tortured in Jordan. In this post I will  not address the article 3 part of the judgment in further detail, but will focus on the article 6 claim instead, since it raises possible concerns of compatibility with the Court’s leading judgment on the use of evidence obtained through inhuman treatment, Gäfgen v. Germany (1 June 2010).

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The Strasbourg Court and the Arab Spring

International politics are never far away in cases dealing with the extradition of individuals to third countries. In the case of Al Hanchi v. Bosnia and Herzegovina the European Court of Human Rights was confronted with an extradition of a so-called foreign mujahedin to Tunisia. Until now, the Court had a clear stance. The deportation of individuals with such a profile to Tunisia entails a risk of ill-treatment. (see e.g.  Saadi v. Italy)  In the aftermath of the Arab Spring the Court is however reconsidering this position. Continue reading

Court condemns forced sterilization of Roma woman

This post is co-authored by Lourdes Peroni and Alexandra Timmer

The Court has recently ruled in V.C. v. Slovakia, a case brought by a Roma woman who complained that she was sterilized without her informed consent. The judgment is no doubt a landmark decision with crucial implications for women belonging to minority ethnic groups. In this post, we argue the Court’s reasoning is spot on in several respects and outline the reasons why.  

Outline of the judgment

The applicant’s forced sterilization was in violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment) and Article 8 (respect for private and family life). The Court condemns the Slovakian government in strong terms. Continue reading