The application of the European Convention on Human Rights to the case of Leonarda Dibrani

This guest post was written by Georgios Milios*

On October 9 2013, Leonarda Dibrani, a 15-years old Roma girl, was arrested by the French police in front of her teachers and classmates and deported to Kosovo along with her parents and five siblings. Initially, it was argued that the family had left Kosovo some years ago seeking better opportunities but according to Leonarda’s father, the Kosovo story was a lie and the whole family had been living for many years in Italy where almost all of the children were born but had not managed to acquire the Italian nationality. Furthermore, the father argued that they moved to France in 2008 and sought asylum claiming that they all come from Kosovo. The ‘Kosovo lie’ did not work and the whole family was expelled on the grounds that they were residing illegally in France. Continue reading

Winterstein v France: the third-party perspective

This guest post was written by Judit Geller* and Adam Weiss**

One month ago, the European Court condemned France under Article 8 for violating the rights of travellers (gens du voyage) by ordering their eviction (see the judgment here). The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) made written submissions as a third-party intervener four and a half years ago. Of the eleven countries where the ERRC is currently litigating Roma rights cases, France is the country where it has the greatest number of cases, and most of those concern housing. This piece discusses the judgment in relation to three key issues for Roma facing eviction: alternative accommodation, the failure to conduct a proportionality exercise, and the use of urgent procedures. Continue reading

Vona v Hungary: Freedom of association and assembly can be restricted to protect Minority Rights

This guest post was written by Judit Geller and Dezideriu Gergely, European Roma Rights Centre.

In the case of Vona v Hungary, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) openly stood up against racism and hatred when it ruled that if an association’s activities amounts to widespread racist intimidation of a group then the association can be banned lawfully without contravening to the European Convention of Human Rights. This is the first case when the Court ruled on the dissolution of an association under Article 11 of the Convention. Continue reading

Forthcoming Publication on Vulnerable Groups in the Court’s Case Law

This post was written by Alexandra Timmer and Lourdes Peroni

Alexandra and I are happy to announce the forthcoming publication of our joint Article “Vulnerable Groups: The Promise of an Emerging Concept in European Human Rights Convention Law.” The piece will be published in the International Journal of Constitutional Law – I•CON.

In this Article, we critically examine the development and consequences of the concept of “vulnerable groups” in the Strasbourg case law. Our analysis includes a number of high-profile cases, from M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece, to V.C. v. Slovakia, Alajos Kiss v. Hungary, Kiyutin v. Russia and the recent case of Horváth and Kiss v. Hungary.

The Article was an excellent opportunity to reflect and work together on issues of common interest, such as non-discrimination, equality and vulnerability.

Here is the abstract:

The concept of “vulnerable groups” is gaining momentum in the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. The Court has used it in cases concerning Roma, people with mental disabilities, people living with HIV and asylum seekers. Yet the appearance of the vulnerable group concept in the Court’s legal reasoning has so far escaped scholarly attention. Drawing on theoretical debates on vulnerability and equality as well as on the Court’s case law, this Article offers a descriptive and normative assessment of the concept. Reasoning in terms of vulnerable groups opens a number of possibilities, most notably, the opportunity to move closer to a more robust idea of equality. However, the concept also has some inherent difficulties. This Article argues for a reflective use of the concept and points out ways in which the Court can avoid its pitfalls.

Horváth and Kiss v. Hungary: a strong new Roma school segregation case

The Strasbourg Court has once more delivered a judgment in a Roma school segregation case. The applicants in Horváth and Kiss v. Hungary are two young Roma men, who were diagnosed as having mild mental disabilities when they were children. As a result of these diagnoses, they were placed in a remedial school. Their education there was poor: the curriculum was underdeveloped, their schooling did not give them access to the type of job they wanted, and they ended up de facto segregated from the wider population. The applicants claim that their education in the remedial school constituted ethnic discrimination in their enjoyment of their right to education (Article 2 Protocol 1 in conjunction with Article 14 ECHR). The Strasbourg Court rules that they’re right: it finds a violation of the Convention on the ground of indirect ethnic discrimination.

Much of the reasoning in this case is familiar from other Roma school segregation cases, such as, notably, D.H. and Others v. Czech Republic (2007) and Oršuš and Others v. Croatia (2010). In this post, I will discuss the judgment and try to highlight what’s new in the Court’s reasoning. Continue reading

The Court on Racial Discrimination (Part I): M. and Others v. Italy and Bulgaria

It’s fair to say that the Court’s record on racial discrimination is hesitant. Only as late as 2004 did the Court for the first time find that a State was guilty of racial discrimination.[1] This was in the Chamber judgment of Nachova v Bulgaria, which was later partly rescinded by the Grand Chamber in 2005. Since then, the Court’s jurisprudence on the topic of racial discrimination has rapidly expanded. The Court has delivered some strong judgments in the past years, most notably D.H. and Others v. the Czech Republic(2007). Yet the Court remains reluctant to find a violation of Article 14 of the Convention on the basis of race discrimination.

In the past few months, the Court has delivered several judgments on the topic. These cases illustrate the difficulties of the Strasbourg jurisprudence on race discrimination, but they also contain some promising new points of departurein the Court’s legal reasoning. First was B.S. v. Spain (24 July), concerning a sex worker of Nigerian origin who was harassed by the Spanish police. Then came M. and Others v. Italy and Bulgaria (31 July), about a Bulgarian Roma girl who alleged that she was trafficked to Italy and abused there by several men who held her hostage in a villa. Most recent is the case of Fedorchenko and Lozenko v. Ukraine (20 September), concerning a Roma man who complained that a police officer had set fire to his house. Five of the applicant’s family members died because of that fire.

In a two-post miniseries, Lourdes Peroni and I will discuss these three cases, which have to our knowledge not been picked up by other blogs. In the process we will revisit some of the major factors that continue to hamper the Court’s case law in the field of racial discrimination. In this post – the first half of the series – I will discuss M. and Others v. Italy and Bulgaria, which raises the question what racial discrimination is (or what counts as discrimination) in the eyes of the Court. Next week, Lourdes will discuss the Court’s standard of proof in cases that concern the investigation of racist violence. Continue reading

Roma Evictions Stopped in Strasbourg: Yordanova e.a. v. Bulgaria

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

The recent case of Yordanova and others v. Bulgaria concerns a pressing human rights issue: the mass eviction of Roma from their houses. The Court shows itself a strong defender of socially disadvantaged groups who risk eviction from land that they have lived on for a long time. We will highlight just a few aspects of the Court’s judgment, namely the Court’s outstanding proportionality analysis and the issue of racial tensions.

Continue reading

Stereotypes of Roma: Aksu v. Turkey in the Grand Chamber

 The Grand Chamber has handed down its much-awaited judgment in Aksu v. Turkey. This case concerns the use of derogatory stereotypical images of Roma in government-sponsored publications. The Grand Chamber holds with 16 votes to 1 that article 8 (right to private life) has not been violated. I have mixed feelings about the Court’s reasoning. When it comes to stereotypes, the judgment contains progressive and insightful reasoning. On the other hand, I regret that the Court did not take the substance of the applicant’s complaint – namely that he was discriminated as a Roma – seriously. In what follows I will chart the Court’s judgment and highlight both some strengths and some weaknesses. Continue reading

French Roma policy violates European Social Charter

In a decision of 28 June (COHRE v. France, no. 63/2010), which was only recently made public, the European Committee of Social Rights has found the French zero tolerance policy towards East European Roma living in illegal camps to be in violation of the European Social Charter. The case, which was lodged by the NGO Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), concerns the eviction and expulsion measures announced by French president Sarkozy in the summer of 2010. Hundreds of illegal camps were dismantled and thousands of Roma were expelled to Romania and Bulgaria. Most expulsions took place on a “voluntary” basis, in exchange for the payment of 300 euro per adult and 100 euro per child. Continue reading

Saying It Is Doing It (comments on the hearing in the case of Aksu v. Turkey)

The famous American feminist legal theorist Catherine MacKinnon argued that pornography is an act of subordination. In Only Words, she notes: “Social inequality is substantially created and enforced – that is, done – through words and images. . .  Elevation and denigration are all accomplished through meaningful symbols and communicative acts in which saying it is doing it.” (p. 13)

It is this sort of insight that was crucially lacking in the recent hearing before the Grand Chamber in the case of Aksu v. Turkey. The hearings are online. I’ve blogged about this case before; here and here. Briefly, the case concerns a State-sponsored dictionary and book that contain derogatory stereotypes of Roma. The dictionary contains entries that define “Gypsy” as “(metaphorically) stingy” and the book contains passages that portray Roma as thieves, beggars and prostitutes.

The reason why we should care about Aksu is because words and images are not neutral and harmless vessels of expression, they do something. As MacKinnon says, words and images create and enforce social inequality. As might be expected, the representative of the Turkish state denied this completely. He referred to the entries in the dictionary as “sterile quotations from the language and literatureContinue reading

Gypsy Way of Life “By Birth” or “By Choice”

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

In an inadmissibility decision that might have gone unnoticed by many, the Court has recently ruled in an interesting case, Horie v UK. The case involves a “New Age Traveler” who complained of an impediment on her ability to pursue a nomadic way of life. The case’s issue was a rather technical legal one – the question was whether a quia timet order which prevented a group of travelers to occupy any land by the Forestry Commission in the Dorset-region was justified – but en passant the Court makes some potentially important remarks about what sort of lifestyle deserves recognition. The purpose of this post is to flag this case and briefly discuss the disquieting remarks the Court makes about what kind of cultural minority-groups deserve protection and which groups don’t. Continue reading

Expulsion or mustard grass, the message is the same: “Roma, you are not welcome”

We have all read about the utterly unacceptable treatment of Roma by Sarkozy’s government. And while France holds firm to its “return policy”, thankfully the EU has not turned a blind eye to this discriminatory practice, violating both the freedom of movement within the EU and the prohibition of collective expulsions. First, the European Parliament sent a clear message, issuing a resolution in which the French government was explicitly named and shamed. Now, after a revealed official document clearly demonstrates how the French government is targetting Roma specifically, the European Commission is also going on the offensive. Through the voice of its Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, the European Commission has said “enough is enough” and threatens France with the initiation of a so-called “fast-track” infringement procedure which could eventually lead to France being held in violation of EU law and fined by the European Court of Justice.

While the above case will be well known to all readers of this blog, other cases pass underneath the radar of the international media. The primary reason for this is that they are less directly shocking. Nonetheless, these ‘minor’ cases also reveal what can only be termed a poisonous attitude towards Roma. And that attitude sends a not to be misunderstood message: “you are not welcome here”. One such ‘minor’ case is currently taking place in Brussels.

Continue reading

Just words? (Aksu v. Turkey Part II)

My post on Aksu v. Turkey received some criticism for not taking the freedom of expression into account. A brief memory-aid: Aksu is the case of a man of Roma origin who complained about degrading stereotypical remarks made about Roma in government-sponsored publications. In a “dictionary for pupils” and a book entitled “The Gypsies of Turkey” Roma were put down as “stingy”, “greedy”, “thieves” etc. (See my previous post).

News about the Court will pick up again – the Court will be releasing 21 judgments today – but because I find this such an interesting case I would like to take this opportunity to reflect further on Aksu, this time from a freedom of expression perspective.

The first thing that is remarkable from this perspective is that the Court decides to declare this application admissible. Continue reading

The Power of Definition: Stereotypes of Roma in Aksu v. Turkey

The European Court of Human Rights just rendered a judgment on the issue of stereotyped images of Roma in government-funded publications in Turkey. I think the majority decision (4 to 3) lacks sustained analysis and requires problematization. 

In the case of Aksu v. Turkey the applicant, mr Aksu, is of Roma origin. He complained about two publications (a book and a dictionary) that included harmful images of Roma, like the suggestion that Roma are stingy, fraudulent and aggressive. In his view, he had been discriminated against on account of his ethnic identity and he felt that these publications harmed his dignity. The Court treats his complaint under art. 14 in conjunction with art. 8. I will discuss the two publications and the Court’s treatment of them separately, as well as the dissenting opinion. Continue reading