An Endeavor Towards More Situational Positive Obligations Stemming from Article 2: Case of Kotilainen and others v. Finland

Elina Pekkarinen is a university instructor and PhD candidate in Tampere University. Her dissertation concerns the contextual interpretation of rights laid down in the European Convention

Introduction

On 17 September 2020, the European Court of Human Rights delivered its judgement in the case of Kotilainen and others v. Finland (application no.62439/12). The ECtHR found that Finland had violated the substantive aspect of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights when the local police refrained from seizing a weapon from a person who subsequently committed a school shooting. The Court was satisfied that the national authorities complied with the requirements emanating from the procedural aspect of Article 2. The rest of the applicants’ complaint, which concerned Articles 5, 6 and 13 of the Convention, was declared manifestly ill-founded.

In Kotilainen and others, the Court emphasised the duty of diligence which poses special obligations to national authorities when they are dealing with matters that include a particularly high risk to life. Moreover, the Court concluded that an obligation to uphold the legislation regulating the lawful possession of firearms does not only require, from the national authorities, that they intervene in activities where the risk to life is imminent, but also in activities that cause concrete suspicions about the compliance of requirements regarding the possession of a firearm.

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An Azeri kills an Armenian soldier at a NATO training in Budapest: the ECtHR decides a rare case of State responsibility and presidential pardon

By Cedric Ryngaert and Kushtrim Istrefi

On 26 May 2020, the European Court of Human Rights rendered a chamber judgment in Makuchyan and Minasyan v. Azerbaijan and Hungary. The case concerns a soldier from Azerbaijan, R.S., who killed an Armenian soldier and attempted to kill another one while on a NATO training in Budapest. R.S. was sentenced by the Hungarian courts to life imprisonment for committing a serious hate crime. In 2012, following a request by Azerbaijan, R.S. was transferred to his home country to serve the rest of his sentence. However, upon his arrival in Azerbaijan, R.S. was pardoned and released. He was promoted in the army and his salaries since 2004 were reinstated. R.S. was appreciated and glorified as a national hero for what he did in Budapest.

The legal issues raised in the case are as unique as the facts. In this analysis, we examine three core issues addressed by the Court. The first issue was whether the acts of R.S. were attributable to Azerbaijan on the ground that the latter acknowledged and adopted them. The Court held that they were not, and accordingly, that Azerbaijan had not breached its substantive obligations under Article 2 ECHR, which protects the right to life. The second issue was whether, in failing to enforce the punishment of R.S., Azerbaijan had violated its procedural obligations under Article 2 ECHR. The Court ruled that it did indeed. The third question was whether Hungary violated the procedural limb of Article 2 ECHR by agreeing to transfer R.S. to Azerbaijan, a question which the Court answered in the negative. The Court’s decisions further develop European and potentially international (human rights) law, and therefore call for some closer analysis. Continue reading

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

A worrisome reasoning by the Strasbourg Court in a domestic violence case: Kurt v. Austria

By Zane Ratniece

On 4 July 2019, a Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (‘Court’) delivered a judgment in Kurt v. Austria. The case concerned a disturbing situation of domestic violence, which escalated over time and ended with the killing of the applicant’s son by her violent husband. (para. 3) The Chamber found that the Austrian authorities had not breached their obligation under Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights (‘Convention’) to protect the boy’s life from the criminal acts of his father. (para. 80)

This contribution opines that the reasoning by which the Chamber arrived at those conclusions is worrisome for its silence on the particular context of domestic violence and the vulnerability of the victims. Such approach does not sit well with more recent Court’s case-law which expressly acknowledges the particular context of domestic violence. Hence, Kurt risks questioning the progress made in the Court’s case-law and creating uncertainty as regards the standards to be followed in dealing with the widespread and complex phenomenon of domestic violence, requiring active State involvement. Continue reading

The Right to Life and the Scope of Control: Fernandes de Oliveira v Portugal

By Peter Bartlett (Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust Professor of Mental Health Law, Institute of Mental Health and School of Law, University of Nottingham)

On its face, this case considers the duty of the State to protect the lives of voluntary (or informal) psychiatric patients under Article 2 of the ECHR (right to life).  Below the surface, the case raises a number of broader questions about the scope of the positive obligations under Article 2; how they relate to the autonomy-related rights in Articles 3 (prohibition of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment), 5 (right to liberty) and 8 (right to privacy and family life); the fact-finding exercises and evidential approach of the ECtHR; and the relationship between the ECHR jurisprudence and other international law, most notably the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Continue reading

Medical negligence after Lopes de Sousa Fernandes: a blank check to the Member States with respect to the substance of the right to life?

In the Lopes de Sousa Fernandes v. Portugal judgment of 19 December, the Grand Chamber made an attempt to clarify the Court’s case law in the area of medical negligence. Traditionally, the Court has examined cases of death resulting from alleged medical negligence almost exclusively from the viewpoint of the procedural obligations under Article 2. Those obligations require the State to set up an effective judicial system to determine the cause of death and to hold those responsible accountable (e.g. Calvelli and Ciglio v. Italy). In recent years, the Court seemed more and more willing to also examine such cases from the viewpoint of the substantive obligations under this provision. Particularly in the Chamber judgment in the Lopes de Sousa Fernandes case, the Court interpreted these substantive obligations in an expansive manner, which arguably would have turned the Court into “a first- and last-instance medical malpractice court” (joint dissenting opinion of Judges Sajó and Tsotsoria). The Grand Chamber, however, didn’t feel like opening the floodgates and decided to overturn the Chamber judgment, severely limiting the scope of the State’s substantive obligations in this area. 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

Victims placed at the centre in Beslan School Siege Judgment (Tagayeva and Others v. Russia)

By Jessica Gavron and Jarlath Clifford, European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC, based at Middlesex University School of Law)

Last month the European Court of Human Rights (“the Court”) found that Russia violated the right to life of 409 victims of the Beslan school siege. The judgment in Tagayeva and Others v. Russia has been described as a high watermark for the human rights protection of hostages and for confirming the responsibility of states in conducting counter-terrorism operations under the European Convention on Human Rights. 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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Trivializing anti-personnel mines and ignoring childness: Sarıhan v Turkey

In an astonishingly laconic judgment (available only in French), the Court found no violation in the case of a 12-year old who was wounded by an anti-personnel mine while herding his sheep.

Facts and Ruling

The facts in this case date back to the summer of 2003, in a Kurdish village in East Turkey, not far from the borders with Armenia and Iran. 12-year old Erkan Sarıhan was herding his sheep in a minefield, situated at 150 metres from his village. He was playing with an anti-personnel mine when it exploded, causing severe injuries to his face, hands and chest. The minefield, which belonged to an army post situated 200 metres further, was surrounded with barbed wire and warning signs. There was also a watch post manned by two soldiers, who however did not have a view of the entire terrain and as a result had not seen the child enter. The inquiry into the accident showed that through the village mayor, the inhabitants of the village had regularly been warned about the dangers of the minefield. The report concluded that the child’s parents were responsible for the accident. It also held that it was necessary, in order to prevent similar accidents, to move the watch post so that it would overview the entire terrain, and to install specific warning signs for illiterate persons.

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It is time for the European Court to step into the business and human rights debate: A comment on Özel & Others v. Turkey

By Lieselot Verdonck, doctoral researcher at the Human Rights Centre (Ghent University) and fellow of the Research Foundation – Flanders (Belgium).

Özel & Others v. Turkey neatly fits into established case law of the European Court regarding human rights violations in which companies are involved. This is precisely the reason why the judgment may disappoint business and human rights scholars. In times of vigorous and divisive debates, the Court should shed a light on, instead of ignoring, the “business aspect” of the human rights violation.

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From Therapeutic Abstention to the Right to Die? The Case of Lambert and Others v. France

This guest post was written by Konstantin Tretyakov, S.J.D. at Harvard Law School.

On June 5th, 2015, the European Court of Human Rights (the ECHR) delivered its judgment in the case of Lambert and Others v. France. The case was about end-of-life decision-making on behalf of a persistently incompetent patient (Vincent Lambert, a French citizen) who was in a vegetative state and had to be artificially fed and hydrated through a gastric tube. The controversy arose with respect to the removal of that tube, which would result in the patient’s starvation, dehydration, and, ultimately, death: while some of the patients’ relatives (parents, half-brother and sister) wanted him to be kept fed and hydrated, his other relatives (wife and nephew) and caring physicians wanted the nutrition and hydration to be discontinued.

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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

Extra-territorial Jurisdiction & Flexible Human Rights Obligations: The Case of Jaloud v. the Netherlands

This guest post was written by Cedric De Koker, Phd Researcher, IRCP, Ghent University.

With its judgment in the case of Jaloud v. the Netherlands, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has added another chapter to its growing body of case law relating to the extra-territorial application of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in the context of military operations abroad. The case is interesting for two reasons: first, the Netherlands (and the United Kingdom as an intervening third party) resorted to the often used, but rarely successful strategy of disputing the extra-territorial applicability of the Convention (and thus the admissibility of the claims presented by the applicant). Therefore, the Court had to interpret Article 1 ECHR once again – arguably the most difficult provision of the Convention to apply – and pronounce on whether the events under review fell ‘within the jurisdiction’ of the Netherlands. Second, asked about the scope of the investigative duty under Article 2 ECHR, the Court had to determine whether states have some flexibility in fulfilling their human rights obligations when operating in extraordinary and difficult conditions, such as hostile environments resulting out of armed conflict or occupation, as was the case here. Both issues will be discussed below.

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Occupational Health in the Jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights: Brincat v. Malta

This guest blog post was written by Elena Sychenko, Ph.D. student at the University of Catania, Law Faculty, Labour Law Department.

On 24 July, the European Court of Human Rights announced its judgment in Brincat and Others v. Malta (the Brincat case).[1] This case was the result of 21 applications of former workers of the public ship repair yard exposed to asbestos. The Government of Malta was held responsible for breaching its positive obligations to protect the rights to life and the right to respect for private life. A violation of the right to life was found where the death of the employee was the result of exposure to asbestos. Where employees had suffered from different diseases, the Court found a violation of the right to respect for private and family life.

Brincat is a landmark case for Occupational Health in all the countries of the Council of Europe. For the first time, the Court found violations of two rights deduced from articles 2 and 8 that are fundamental to this sphere: the right to access information concerning risks the employee is exposed to and the right to protection from dangerous industrial activities. Continue reading

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

Strasbourg Court condemns Belgian internment policy

On 6 December 2011, the European Court of Human Rights found the Belgian internment policy to be in breach of the ECHR. The case of De Donder and De Clippel v. Belgium concerned Tom De Clippel, a mentally ill person who had committed suicide while interned in an ordinary prison. Under Belgian law, internment (“internering” / “internement”) is a “safety measure” to protect society against a dangerous mentally ill individual who was committed a serious offence, but who is not considered to be criminally liable due to his or her mental illness.

According to the Court, the authorities should have been aware that there was a real risk that Tom De Clippel, as a paranoid schizophrenic, might attempt to commit suicide while detained in an ordinary prison environment. The Court found a substantive violation of Art. 2 ECHR (the right to life) on the ground that Tom De Clippel should never have been held in the ordinary section of a prison. Continue reading

The Court offers protection to those who have a disability and are in detention (Jasinskis v. Latvia & Raffray Taddei v. France)

In the most recent round of judgments, squeezed in just before the festive season, are two interesting cases concerning the detention of persons with a disability: Jasinskis v. Latvia and Raffray Taddei v. France. These two cases are exemplary of many others, in which people with a disability are held in detention in appalling conditions. However, the cases get a bitter twist because the national authorities try to lay the blame on the detainees themselves. The Strasbourg Court does a good job protecting the human rights of the applicants.

What happened
The facts that constitute these cases are widely different. The first case concerns Valdis Jasinskis, who was deaf and mute since birth. Continue reading

Freedom of Expression in Turkey: When Changes in the Wording Are Not Enough

The case of Dink v. Turkey recently confronted the European Court with the most brutal affront on freedom of expression: the assassination of a journalist. The Court found a violation of Article 2 (in its both substantive and procedural aspects) and of Article 10. At the basis of the freedom of expression violation was a Criminal Code provision (Article 301, former Article 159) which makes it an offense to “publicly denigrate Turkishness” (Türklük). Under this article, Turkish-Armenian newspaper editor, Fırat Dink, was put on trial. A few months after having been found guilty of denigrating Turkish identity, he was shot dead.

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‘Unluxury problems’ of Europe

In a book published in 2003 Manfred Nowak wrote: “The OAS [Organization of American States] in comparison [with the Council of Europe] is composed of a wide range of states including both the richest industrialized countries (United States and Canada) and the poorest countries of the world (e.g. Haiti), as well as democracies and military dictatorships that covered a good part of the entire hemisphere in the 1970s. Consequently, the human rights bodies of the OAS have always had to deal with far more than Europe’s ‘luxury problems’, such as the excessive duration of legal proceedings in Italy. Historically, and presently, OAS human rights bodies are challenged by widespread poverty, systematic torture and assassination of political dissidents, enforced disappearances and much more.”[1]  

It is impossible to draw a distinction like that from the Court’s case-law of the year 2009. The Court found 269 violations of Article 2 and 3 plus 145 violations of those articles because of lack of effective investigations. This makes it 1/6 of all the violations the Court found that year.[2]  

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