Volodina, Article 3, and Russia’s systemic problem regarding domestic violence

By Corina Heri, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam

‘When he kills you, come and see us’, police reportedly told the applicant in Volodina v. Russia before proceeding to ignore her allegations of domestic violence. On 9 July, the Third Section found that the respondent State had violated its positive obligations under Article 3 and, applying a gender-based approach, held that Russia has a large-scale structural problem when it comes to domestic violence. This post discusses the Chamber’s findings under Articles 3 and 14 ECHR, the question of whether this treatment constituted torture, and how to test compliance with the obligation to prevent ill-treatment. Continue reading

Vulnerability, Rape, and Coercive Obligations: A Discussion of E.B v. Romania

By Corina Heri, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam

Three years ago, on this blog, Lourdes Peroni wrote about the failings of the domestic response to the alleged rape of an 11-year-old girl in M.G.C. v. Romania. Today, the ECtHR is continuing to apply ‘coercive obligations’ regarding rape and sexual violence, as crystallized by that judgment. On 19 March 2019, it issued the latest in a line of cases concerning failures to protect victims of sexual violence and to put in place a system that allows for the effective punishment and prosecution of sexual offences. In this specific context, the Court has issued some of its arguably most victim-oriented and context-sensitive jurisprudence to date, relying heavily on the vulnerability of the victims. Continue reading

H.A. and others v. Greece – restrictive acknowledgement of irregular migrant vulnerability

By Elina Todorov, PhD Candidate, Tampere University (Finland)

On 28. February 2019 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) delivered a judgement concerning unaccompanied minors in an irregular situation, namely H.A. and others v. Greece.  In H.A. the Court found several violations of the Convention, in particular a partial violation of Article 3 regarding the living conditions of the applicants (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), a violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy, taken together with Article 3) and also violations of Article 5 § 1 and 5 § 4 (right to liberty and security, right to a speedy decision on the lawfulness of a detention measure). The case stands well in line with the Court’s previous case law concerning irregular migration. In H.A., the Court regarded that the authorities’ conduct caused a situation in which the national authorities had not succeeded in protecting the applicants who were unaccompanied foreign minors in an irregular situation. In line with its established case law, the Court recognized that minors – or in other words children – in an irregular situation are to be regarded as a vulnerable group mainly due to the fact that they are children (rather than because they are irregular migrants). However, as will be argued in this blog post, the Court thereby failed to adequately recognize the vulnerability resulting from the applicants’ irregular residence status. Continue reading

Yeshtla v. the Netherlands: a missed opportunity to reflect on the discriminatory effects of States’ social policy choices

By Fulvia Staiano, Adjunct Professor of International Law and European Union Law (Giustino Fortunato University)

On 15 January 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) delivered an inadmissibility decision on the case of Emabet Yeshtla v. the Netherlands. In this case, the ECtHR was asked to determine whether the withdrawal of the applicant’s housing benefits (motivated by the fact that she cohabited with an unlawfully resident son) had breached her right to respect for private and family life under Art. 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), alone and in conjunction with the prohibition of discrimination under Art. 14 ECHR. This case raised interesting questions on the potential impact of social assistance and welfare policies on recipients’ family life, as well as on the discriminatory effects of domestic norms that use social benefits as a tool to discourage irregular residence. Regrettably, the ECtHR dismissed this case without a thorough consideration of such questions. Continue reading

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

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

S.A.S. v. France: Missed Opportunity to Do Full Justice to Women Wearing a Face Veil

By Saïla Ouald Chaib and Lourdes Peroni

This week, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights published its long-expected judgment in S.A.S. v. France. The case concerns a ban on the wearing of face veils in the public space. Although the outcome of such highly debated cases is always unpredictable, we hoped that the Court would take this opportunity to bring procedural and substantive justice to the women wearing a face veil in Europe.[1] Alas, the Court disappointingly decided the case by granting a wide margin of appreciation to France and by consequently not finding a violation of any of the ECHR provisions invoked, in particular freedom of religion, the right to private life and non-discrimination. At the same time, however, the judgment contains some positive aspects, namely respect for several requirements of what is known as “procedural justice” and departure from previous case law portraying Muslim women as oppressed. In this post, we share our first impressions on what we think are some positive and negative aspects of the Court’s reasoning. Continue reading

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

New publications: Vulnerability in the case law of the European Court of Human Rights

As we announced earlier, Lourdes Peroni and I have  written an article together which analyzes the development of the vulnerable group concept in the Strasbourg case law. I am happy to say that this article has now been published as:

Lourdes Peroni & Alexandra Timmer, Vulnerable Groups: the Promise of an Emergent Concept in European Human Rights Convention Law, 11 International Journal of Constitutional Law (2013), p. 1056-1085 (link is to the full-text article!).

This 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.

In relation to ECtHR case law, the concept of vulnerability proved to be a rich topic for research. Widening the inquiry beyond “vulnerable groups” to vulnerability more generally, I  have written a second piece which has also just been published:

Alexandra Timmer, “A Quiet Revolution: Vulnerability in the European Court of Human Rights”, in: Martha Fineman & Anna Grear (eds.), Vulnerability: Reflections on a New Ethical Foundation for Law and Politics (Ashgate), p. 147-170.

Again, the abstract:

Without occasioning much comment, the European Court of Human Rights is increasingly relying on vulnerability reasoning. This chapter analyses that development. First it discusses the concept of vulnerability and its relationship to human rights on a theoretical level, particularly drawing on the work of Martha Fineman. Through an emphasis on universal vulnerability, Fineman’s work invites a reimagining of the human of human rights law. This chapter then examines and critiques how the Court conceives of vulnerability: it charts who are vulnerable according to the Court, and why.
The ability of vulnerability, the chapter argues, is that it allows the Court to prioritize between different claims. Vulnerability reasoning likewise enables the Court to extend certain positive obligations. Vulnerability considerations are thus at the frontlines of the Strasbourg case law. However, as a social institution the Court is also vulnerable in and of itself. This is a reality that the ECtHR will have to take seriously in order to endure as a supranational human rights court. The Court’s legal reasoning about vulnerability, and the revolutionary potential of that reasoning, is therefore ultimately limited by the Court’s own vulnerability.

S.A.S. v. France: A short summary of an interesting hearing

On Wednesday, our research team attended the Grand Chamber hearing at the European Court of Human Rights in the case of S.A.S. v. France, in which we submitted a third party intervention on behalf of the Ghent University Human Rights Centre. The case concerns the French law banning the face veil, a highly debated piece of legislation, which was also obvious from the amount of international press covering the hearing. I will first briefly discuss the content of our third-party intervention and then turn to a summary of the hearing which left a positive impression on us.

Continue reading

HIV-based employment discrimination: the ECtHR takes a strong stance in I.B. v. Greece

The Strasbourg Court has recently delivered its first judgment on the topic of HIV-based employment discrimination. I.B. v. Greece (judgment in French!) concerns a man who is HIV-positive and who was fired from his job, because his employer wished to keep the company running smoothly. What happened was that a group of I.B.’s co-workers, finding out about his HIV diagnosis, had called for his dismissal because they were afraid of contagion.

Although much of the legal reasoning in this judgment is familiar (notably from the landmark case of Kiyutin v. Russia), this ruling is notable for the strong message the Court sends about the harms of HIV-based stigma and discrimination. In this post I will highlight what are to my mind the most noteworthy aspects of this judgment, namely that the Court applies a social model of disability and that it uses the concept of vulnerable groups to narrow the margin of appreciation. The drawback of this judgment, I conclude, is that it does not give much support to HIV-positive people requiring some form of accomodation from their employer. 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.

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

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