Medical “normalisation” of intersex persons: third-party intervention to the ECtHR in the case of M. v. France

By Charly Derave, PhD Researcher at the Perelman Centre for legal philosophy (ULB), and Hania Ouhnaoui, coordinator of the Equality Law Clinic (ULB).

On 24 February 2021, the Equality Law Clinic (ELC) of the Université Libre de Bruxelles[1] and the Human Rights Centre (HRC) of Ghent University[2] submitted a third-party intervention to the European Court of Human Rights in the case M. v. France. This case is the first opportunity for the Court to rule on “normalising” medical treatments of intersex persons, i.e. those who are born with sex characteristics that do not conform to the (medical) definition of the male and female sex.  They represent between 1% and 2% of the population. It is because of the “variations”[3] in their sex characteristics that, even though they are healthy, these persons often undergo enforced corrective surgeries and hormonal treatments to “normalise” their bodies and to anchor them in the binarity of sex and gender.

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Kargakis v. Greece: Protection in Substance for Detainees with Disabilities but a Web of Missed Opportunities

By Andrea Broderick (Assistant Professor of International and European Law, Maastricht University, The Netherlands) and Delia Ferri (Professor of Law, Maynooth University, Ireland)

Delia Ferri and Andrea Broderick have collaborated on several recent publications, including the first textbook on International and European Disability Law and Policy: Texts, Cases and Materials (Cambridge University Press, 2019), and the first Research Handbook on EU Disability Law (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2020).

On 14 January 2021, the ECtHR released its ruling in the case of Kargakis v. Greece (press release available in English). The case centres on the conditions of pre-trial detention of Mr. Kleanthis Kargakis in Diavata Prison, the lack of an effective remedy to complain about those conditions and the length of judicial review proceedings. Taking into account the fact that Mr. Kargakis is a person with disabilities and having regard to the duration of his imprisonment, the Strasbourg Court held that the conditions in which he was detained amounted to a violation of Article 3 ECHR, containing the prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment. The Court also found that Greece breached Article 13 ECHR, which enshrines the right to an effective remedy, on account of the fact that the domestic court did not adequately examine the conditions of detention and health issues experienced by the applicant.

The ruling in Kargakis v. Greece is noteworthy due to the Court’s finding that the pre-trial detention conditions in Diavata Prison exceeded the threshold of suffering inherent to the deprivation of liberty because the prison facilities were not adapted to the needs of people with disabilities. While the Strasbourg Judges did not explicitly discuss Greece’s international law obligations to provide generalised accessibility measures and individualised reasonable accommodation, the ECtHR acknowledged the rights of detainees with disabilities to an accessible place of detention. In that sense, the decision fits neatly into a long line of previous cases, such as Price v. UK, Z.H. v. Hungary and Grimailovs v. Latvia, in which the Court has recognised the general duty of Contracting Parties to the ECHR to provide accessible prison settings, alongside the obligation to take all ‘reasonable steps’ to address the individual needs of detainees with a disability. Unfortunately, the Court did not refer to, or incorporate into its reasoning in Kargakis v. Greece, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). In that regard, the decision constitutes a missed opportunity to foster convergence between the ECHR and the CRPD.

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The right to privacy used as a modern pillory in L.B. v. Hungary

By Liesa Keunen, PhD researcher at Ghent and Antwerp University, Belgium. Liesa Keunen is working on the research project ‘Tax audits on big data: exploring the legitimacy and limits in light of the prohibition of fishing expeditions’ (Ghent & Antwerp University, FWO). She is also a member of the research group Law & Technology, the Human Rights Centre and PIXLES (Privacy, Information Exchange, Law Enforcement and Surveillance), all established at the Faculty of Law and Criminology at Ghent University. At the University of Antwerp, she is a member of DigiTax (Centre of Excellence that researches the challenges and opportunities of digitalisation for taxation).

The fourth section of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) delivered a remarkable judgment in the case of L.B. v. Hungary (application no. 36345/16) on January 12, 2021. The publication of taxpayers’ personal data on the tax authority’s website for failing to fulfil their tax obligations constitutes no violation of the right to private life as established under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). In this case, the personal data published included the applicant’s name, home address, tax identification number, and the amount of unpaid tax he owed. The ECtHR clearly prioritises the Hungarian legislature’s choice to make the identity of persons who fail to respect their tax obligations publicly available in order to improve payment discipline and protect the business interests of third parties over the data subject’s right to privacy.

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Georgia v. Russia (II): zooming in on conflict displacement

Deborah Casalin is a PhD researcher in the Law and Development Research Group at the University of Antwerp Law Faculty. Her research focuses on the role of international and regional human rights mechanisms in ensuring reparation for arbitrary displacement. 

Introduction

The European Court of Human Rights’ Georgia v. Russia (II) judgment – the first inter-State merits judgment in twenty years to address a situation of armed conflict between parties to the European Convention on Human Rights – has already given rise to highly critical legal discussions, including an extensive contribution by Jessica Gavron & Philip Leach here on Strasbourg Observers. The main focus so far has rightly fallen on the Court’s U-turn on extra-territorial jurisdiction and its effective banishment of active hostilities to a legal no-man’s-land. The aim of this post is not to revisit these debates, but to delve further into the judgment and zoom in on the aspects of the case relating to displaced people. Around 300 000 people are currently internally displaced in Georgia – some have not been able to return to South Ossetia or Abkhazia since the 2008 conflict, while others still have not found a durable solution in over three decades since previous conflicts in those regions. Considering the ongoing and serious consequences of conflict-related displacement in Georgia, as well as in other countries within and beyond the Council of Europe, the Court’s position on the issue has potentially broad resonance and so merits further analysis. 

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Beg your Pardon!: Criminalisation of Poverty and the Human Right to Beg in Lăcătuş v. Switzerland

By Corina Heri, postdoctoral researcher at University of Zürich

Begging can be framed in different ways. For city tourism officials, it’s a problem of branding. For local legislatures, it’s an opportunity to show a ‘tough on crime’ stance. For the people who beg themselves, begging can mean survival. But, until recently anyway, the European Court of Human Rights had not considered begging as a human rights issue. That is, until 19 January 2021, when it recognised that there is in fact a human right to beg.

In the judgment concerned, Lăcătuş v. Switzerland (available here, in French only), the Third Section found that the city of Geneva had violated a young Roma woman’s Article 8 ECHR rights (respect for private and family life) by fining and ultimately imprisoning her for begging. This post will summarise and discuss the judgment, and look at how it fits into the grander scheme of the Court’s poverty-related jurisprudence and its views on distributional justice. It will also discuss the rights claims that the judges did and did not entertain, and will touch on the issue of the applicant’s vulnerability.

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Damage control after Georgia v Russia (II) – holding states responsible for human rights violations during armed conflict

By Jessica Gavron and Philip Leach, European Human Rights Advocacy Centre, London

Introduction

The European Court of Human Rights’ recent Grand Chamber judgment in the case of Georgia v Russia (II) has already been the subject of strong criticism, both from within the Human Rights Building and outside. For Judge Pinto de Albuquerque, the judgment represented a ‘pernicious progeny of Banković’. Judges Yudkivska, Wojtyczek and Chanturia aver that the majority have confirmed the Latin maxim silent enim leges inter arma (in times of war law falls silent). For Marko Milanovic, the decision is ‘exemplary only in its arbitrariness’. Helen Duffy points to the ‘potentially insidious policy implications’ of the judgment. Commenting on the Court’s deference to international humanitarian law (IHL), Isabella Risini notes that ‘judicial mechanisms for the enforcement of IHL are largely inexistent’. Kanstantsin Dzehtsiarou suggests that ‘the Court is ready to give up on massive human rights violations because they are too difficult to deal with.’

Although there is so much in this judgment to be dissected, this post focuses on the single, critical question of how to determine jurisdiction in respect of extra-territorial armed conflict. We revisit and discuss relevant international jurisprudence, but in the limited space available, we do not of course claim to be comprehensive.

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A Judgment to Be Reckoned with: Demirtaş v. Turkey (no. 2) [GC] and the ECtHR’s Stand Against Autocratic Legalism

By Ezgi Yildiz, Project Lead and Postdoctoral Researcher at the Global Governance Centre, the Graduate Institute, Geneva

The recent Demirtaş v. Turkey (no. 2) [GC] judgment (application no. 14305/17) stands out not only for its substance but also its tone. The judgment provides an unequivocal solution to the protracted political crisis in Turkey concerning the fate of Selahattin Demirtaş and other opposition politicians and dissidents in general. It highlights the ulterior political purposes behind Demirtaş’s deprivation of liberty and therefore orders his immediate release. It, thus, sends a strong and an unambiguous message to the Turkish government to grant freedoms that political dissidents should normally enjoy in a democratic society run by rule of law. But, beyond this crucial point, the judgment also demonstrates the true potential of the Court to challenge the use of domestic laws and institutions to silence opposition and suffocate pluralism – an “autocratic legalism” practice that is also widely used in other autocratic or autocratic-leaning countries in Europe. For these reasons alone – albeit not the only reasons – this an important and much-needed ruling.

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Usmanov v. Russia: a confusing turn in the right direction?

By Louise Reyntjens (Leuven Centre for Public Law, KULeuven)

On the 22nd of December 2020, the Strasbourg Court delivered its latest judgment in its case law on citizenship deprivation, a sensitive issue the Court is increasingly confronted with. Ever since the “European war on terror” has been declared, governments have rediscovered citizenship deprivation as a counterterrorism measure; a most cunning tool to shape national societies and exclude the “unwanted”, i.e. (convicted/suspected) terrorists. Over the past couple of years, those cases have started to find their way to the Strasbourg Court, with many fundamental rights questions surrounding them. Most of the judgments delivered on this particular issue were rather disappointing and failed to offer much protection to the individual(s) involved. The judgment of Usmanov v. Russia on the other hand, is indicative of a careful turnaround in this regard. It does however also cause some confusion in how the Court handles cases of deprivation, warranting further clarification (perhaps ideally by the Grand Chamber?).

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Honner v France: Damage Prevention and/or Damage Control?

By Alice Margaria (Senior Research Fellow, Department of ‘Law & Anthropology’, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)

In 2020, an application concerning the parental rights of a co-mother was to be expected. What is surprising, however, is the ECtHR’s response. In Honner v France, the Court held that the refusal to grant contact rights to a social mother in respect of her child who had been born to her former female partner using assisted reproductive technologies in Belgium did not violate her right to respect for family life. This judgment evokes different feelings, prima facie conflicting but eventually pointing to a consistent picture of the ECtHR: that of an international court with strong expressive powers, which is expected to be at the same time cautious and leading the development of human rights standards in Europe and beyond. 

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Insulting accusation of domestic violence

By Dirk Voorhoof and Inger Høedt-Rasmussen (*)

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), delivered an interesting judgment in the case of Tölle v. Croatia about insulting allegations of domestic violence. In a newspaper article a father accused an association to be responsible for his child’s abduction by the mother. The president of this association providing support for women victims of violence replied in a radio-interview that her organisation was not involved in the daughter’s abduction and that the man had violently abused his wife. That was also the reason why mother and daughter had fled the country. The association’s president was subsequently convicted for the criminal offence of insult. The ECtHR found that this criminal conviction amounted to a violation of the association’s president’s freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The Court finds the criminal conviction for insult a sort of censorship, discouraging the promotion for support of victims of domestic violence.

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Unuane v United Kingdom: does the Convention require “pure” proportionality?

By Lewis Graham (PhD Researcher at Pembroke College, Cambridge)

The Fourth Section recently delivered its judgment in Unuane v United Kingdom, in which it found that the UK had breached Article 8 ECHR through approving the deportation of an individual without properly evaluating the impact this would have on his private and family life under Article 8 ECHR. The case is important not only for its conclusions on the UK’s deportation scheme, but also for what it clarifies (and, disappointingly, what it does not clarify) about what immigration and deportation schemes across Europe must do in order to be considered compatible with Article 8 ECHR.

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Guðmundur Andri Ástráðsson: the right to a tribunal established by law expanded to the appointment of judges

By Mathieu Leloup, PhD researcher in constitutional and administrative law at the University of Antwerp, Belgium, research group Government and Law

Is a court that includes a judge who was appointed in violation of the relevant legal provisions still a “tribunal established by law” as required under Article 6 ECHR? Though the question may be simple, it is certainly not an easy one. It is this matter that the Grand Chamber had to decide in the case of Guðmundur Andri Ástráðsson. Even before the actual judgment came out on 1 December 2020, the case had already sent a big shockwave throughout Iceland. After the Chamber had found a violation in its judgment in March 2019, the Minister of Justice resigned from her position. Nevertheless, the judgment in itself is also of ground-breaking importance, as it clarifies and broadens the scope of the right to a tribunal established by law, and thereby affects one of the foundational aspects of the rule of law.

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The Case of Perovy v. Russia: Dealing with the Right to Freedom of Religion in the Educational Sphere through Picking the Right Fruits

By Inez van Soolingen (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

In the case of Perovy v. Russia, Ms. Perova and Mr. Perov complained that a rite of blessing in their son’s classroom, carried out by a priest of a different belief than their own, violated their rights under Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 (hereafter: the Protocol) and their son’s right under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (hereafter: the Convention). Even though the European Court of Human Rights (hereafter: the Court) was right in concluding that the state did not violate the rights of the parents or their son in this case, its overall reasoning leaves something to be desired. The Court pays no attention to the fact that the boy was only seven years old at the time, whilst the Grand Chamber highlighted, in a similar case, the importance of taking into account the young age of pupils when they are subjected to religious symbols.

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M.A. v. Belgium: the (in)voluntary return of a Sudanese migrant and the dangers of informal migration cooperation with third countries

By Eleonora Frasca, PhD Researcher in EU Migration Law at UCLouvain, Member of EDEM (Equipe droit européen et migrations)

On 27 October 2020, the Court delivered its ruling in the case of M.A. v. Belgium (press release available in English). The case concerns the deportation of a Sudanese national, who was apprehended without documents by the Belgian police and detained pending removal, despite  an order to suspend the measure. The Court found a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment) of the Convention due to the State’s failure to assess the applicant’s protection needs and risk of exposure to treatment contrary to Article 3 in the event of his return to Sudan. The Court also found a violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) in conjunction with Article 3 because the remedy he used was rendered ineffective due to his removal despite him having successfully sought to prevent it.

This judgement is important for three reasons. Firstly, it provides clarification on the real and effective access to asylum procedures, particularly in cases where applicants are held in pre-removal detention and thus in a situation of increased vulnerability. Secondly, the judgment sheds lights on the procedural guarantees surrounding the organisation of meetings between an applicant and the authorities of their country of origin with a view to positively identify and issue documents for their return, before the applicant’s protection needs have been assessed. Thirdly, the Court rejected the State’s arguments regarding the voluntary character of the applicant’s return to Sudan and provided guidelines to clearly distinguish voluntary departure from forcible return.

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OOO Regnum v. Russia: extending reputational rights to legal entities?

By Juncal Montero Regules (UHasselt)

On 8 September 2020, the Third Section of the European Court of Human Rights delivered its judgment in OOO Regnum v. Russia (application no. 22649/08), a freedom of expression case concerning reputational rights of a legal person. The Court found that OOO Regnum, an electronic news outlet, had suffered a violation of its right to freedom of expression when the domestic courts declared it had published news which amounted to defamation against the claimant company, a private corporation. The judgment adds up to a number of cases where the ECtHR is unclear as to the place of the right to corporate reputation under the European Convention on Human Rights. OOO Regnum sheds no light on this question: the Court’s reasoning adds to confusion about the matter while leaving the door open for the recognition of reputational rights of legal persons.

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Aghdgomelashvili and Japaridze v Georgia: a further step in the direction of Article 3’s dignitarian promise?

By Natasa Mavronicola (University of Birmingham) and Laurens Lavrysen (Human Rights Centre, Ghent University)

On 8 October 2020, the European Court of Human Rights delivered a judgment in the case of Aghdgomelashvili and Japaridze v Georgia. The case concerns a police raid on the office of an LGBT organization in Tblisi. During this raid, police officers subjected the applicants to homophobic and transphobic insults, threats, and humiliating strip-searches. In its judgment, the Court found both a substantive and a procedural violation of Article 3 (the right not to be subjected to torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) in conjunction with Article 14 ECHR (prohibition of discrimination). The present contribution will first discuss the facts of the case and the Court’s judgment, before zooming in on the relationship between discrimination and Article 3. We conclude that the judgment constitutes a welcome step in cementing the nexus between discrimination and the wrongs proscribed by Article 3 ECHR, and the significance of this interconnection. We argue, however, that a more principled approach to the question of substantive violation of Article 3 would recognise as degrading any humiliating treatment with a discriminatory motive or intent.

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The case of Muhammad and Muhammad v. Romania: the first Grand Chamber judgment on article 1 of Protocol Nr. 7 ECHR (procedural safeguards with regard to expulsion of aliens)

By Bahija Aarrass (Assistant professor of administrative and migration law at the Open University Netherlands)

In the judgment in the case of Muhammad and Muhammad v. Romania, the Grand Chamber  of the European Court of Human Rights held that there had been a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 7 of the ECHR, which provides for procedural safeguards relating to the expulsion of aliens. The case concerned proceedings as a result of which the applicants, Pakistani nationals living lawfully in Romania as students, were declared undesirable and deported on the basis of national security reasons. They allegedly engaged in activities in support of a fundamentalist Islamist group linked ideologically to al-Qaeda. The Court has previously dealt with numerous cases concerning expulsion of aliens because of vague ‘national security reasons’. But this is the first judgment of the Grand Chamber in which this provision has been dealt with substantively. It resulted in an elaborate judgment laying down several principles for the assessment of national procedures relating to the expulsion of aliens.

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Privacy International and others v United Kingdom: Hacking Admissibility Decision and the Risk of ‘Deference Ping Pong’

By Daniella Lock (Doctoral Candidate and Teaching Fellow, UCL Faculty of Laws, University College London)

Last month, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) handed down a decision that the application regarding the compatibility of the exercise of UK hacking powers made in Privacy International and others v United Kingdom was inadmissible. This was on the basis that the applicants had not exhausted domestic remedies. The Court reached this conclusion despite a case having been brought to the UK Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), in Privacy International and Greennet v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and ors, and a fifty-six page judgment being issued on the lawfulness of hacking (referred to ‘Computer Network Exploitation’ or CNE). This post sets out the reasoning of the Court and argues that while the decision itself is understandable, the reasoning underpinning it risks creating a process of ‘deference ping pong’. Deference ping pong – an ingenious phrase gratefully borrowed from Professor Colm O’Cinneide after a discussion on this issue – refers to a process by which the domestic courts and Strasbourg repeatedly defer to each other on key issues, usually with the consequence that substantive scrutiny of the state is ultimately avoided.

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Catch 22: The Interim Measures of the European Court of Human Rights in the Conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan

By Prof Kanstantsin Dzehtsiarou (University of Liverpool, Editor-in-chief of the European Convention on Human Rights Law Review)

On 29 September 2020, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR or Court) granted interim measures in the inter-state application of Armenia against Azerbaijan related to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. Through these measures the Court demanded Armenia and Azerbaijan not to breach human rights of the civilian population. On 6 October 2020, the Court extended the already broad interim measures to ‘all States directly or indirectly  involved in  the conflict, including Turkey, to refrain from actions  that  contribute to breaches of the  Convention rights of civilians, and to respect their obligations under the Convention’. It was at least the third time that the Court granted such measures in the context of the inter-state cases. Interim measures were also requested and granted in Georgia v Russia and Ukraine v Russia. I commented on the effectiveness of these measures in previous interstate cases here and here. Unfortunately, the current case provides further evidence that the Court’s interim measures in inter-state cases suffer from two key challenges: first, they are vague and their legal value is unclear; second, their impact almost entirely depends on the political reality on the ground. One can argue that the latter challenge can be applicable to every decision of the Court but when interim measures are issued in “the heat of the moment”, the costs of compliance for the parties can be too high.

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Placing gender equality in the workplace at the forefront of social rights in Europe: equal pay and equal opportunities under the scrutiny of the European Committee of Social Rights.

By Maria Kotsoni, a PhD Researcher at the Department of Law of the European University Institute

Recently, the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) adopted a series of decisions on equal pay and equality of opportunity between women and men in the workplace. This is the first time the ECSR reviewed states’ compliance on these matters in the context of the collective complaints procedure, therefore establishing comprehensive standards of protection.  Following the collective complaints lodged by the non-governmental international organization University Women of Europe, it assessed the compliance with these standards of all the fifteen Member States to the European Social Charter (ESC) that have ratified or acceded to the Additional Protocol providing for a system of collective complaints, namely Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia and Sweden. The decisions were adopted on 5 and 6 December 2019 and became public on 29 June 2020.  

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Substantive equality as the driving force behind reasonable accommodations for pupils with disabilities: the case of G.L. v. Italy

By Merel Vrancken (UHasselt)

In G.L. v. Italy, the first section of the European Court of Human Rights decides on yet another case regarding the principle of inclusive education and the right to reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities. The two most recent cases on inclusive education (Dupin v. France and Stoian v. Romania, decided at a committee level) seemed to have marked a turn in the Court’s appraisal of the right to education and the principle of non-discrimination. With G.L. v. Italy, however, the Court seems to return to its earlier case law, namely that of Çam v. Turkey and Enver Şahin v. Turkey. In the judgment at hand, the ECtHR gets back in line with its promising line of case law on the inclusion of pupils with disabilities and sets a valuable next step in the direction of substantive equality.

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Living with HIV/AIDS in Prison: Segregation and Othering Endorsed by the ECtHR in Dikaiou v Greece

By Vandita Khanna and Natasa Mavronicola

In Dikaiou and Others v Greece, the First Section of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) was called upon to determine, inter alia, whether the separate detention of six female prisoners living with HIV/AIDS amounted to ‘ghettoisation and stigmatisation’ in violation of the prohibition of discrimination (Article 14 ECHR) taken together with the right not to be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 3 ECHR). The ECtHR held that Greece had not violated Articles 3 and 14 ECHR. In this short piece, focusing on the question of segregated detention, we consider how the Court’s reasoning obscures, legitimises, and helps perpetuate the stigmatisation of prisoners living with HIV/AIDS, while failing to recognise the dignity-harm of segregated detention. We argue that the Court’s amplification of the ‘othering’ of an already vulnerable group fundamentally contradicts the core values of Article 3 and Article 14 ECHR.

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A right to regularize unlawful residence? Pormes v. Netherlands untangled

By Mark Klaassen (assistant professor of immigration law at the Europa Institute of Leiden University)

To what extent can irregular migrants rely on the protection of Article 8 ECHR to regularize their irregular residence? The European Court of Human Rights (the Court) has dealt with this issue before, in different cases with various factual backgrounds. The starting point of the Court has always been – and remains to some extent – that only in exceptional circumstances the state is under an obligation to regularize the stay of an irregular migrant. In my view – which I expressed before in ‘Between facts and norms: Testing compliance with Article 8 ECHR in immigration cases’ – the test to determine whether such obligation exists is unclear and would benefit from clear guidance from the Court.

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Defamation proceedings against Romanian MEP over anti-corruption comments violated Article 10

By Ronan Ó Fathaigh and Dirk Voorhoof

On 28 July 2020, the European Court of Human Rights held in Monica Macovei v. Romania that defamation proceedings against a sitting Member of the European Parliament violated the politician’s right to freedom of expression, under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court reiterated that there is ‘little scope’ for restricting political speech, and faulted the national courts for lacking ‘convincing reasons’ for interfering with an elected official’s expression on a matter of public interest. The judgment is a strong reaffirmation of the Court’s seminal 1992 Castells v. Spain judgment, with the Court applying its strictest test – ‘closest scrutiny’ – to interferences with a politician’s freedom of expression discussing a matter of public interest. It also clarifies that allegations of corruptive practices by members of parliament need to be situated in their context, in particular when they are part of a political debate on how to prevent conflicts of interests and lack of integrity by elected officials. Continue reading

Mugemangango v. Belgium: finally a Grand Chamber judgment on post-election disputes.

By Mathieu Leloup

Post-election disputes and the type of body that should handle them is a topic that comes up before the Court every now and again. In 2010, in the case of Grosaru v. Romania, the Court had indicated that a parliamentary body could not be seen as sufficiently impartial when it had to rule on a dispute about its own election results. After this judgment, it was generally accepted by Belgian constitutional scholars that the system of election disputes in Belgium, which is also parliamentary in nature, was not in line with the Convention standards. It was simply a matter of time until a Belgian case on the issue was brought before the Court.

With Mugemangango v. Belgium that time had arrived. A bit more than a decade after the Grosaru judgment, the Court was going to rule on the Belgian system of election disputes. Continue reading

The Miners’ Raid of June 1990 and the Questionable Execution of the Judgment in the Case of Mocanu and Others v. Romania

By Monica Pirvulescu

On 17 September 2014, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) delivered its final judgment in the Case of Mocanu and Others v. Romania (“the Case of Mocanu”). The ECtHR found a breach of the procedural aspects of Article 2 (right to life) and Article 3 (prohibition of torture) in the European Convention of Human Rights (“ECHR”) for lack of an effective investigation, and a violation of Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial) for the excessive length of the impugned proceedings. The Case of Mocanu concerned the flaws and delays in the domestic investigations that followed the violent crackdown of the anti-government demonstrations which had taken place in Bucharest in June 1990 (events known as the Miners’ Raid because of the implication of mineworkers in the suppression of the protests). The final judgment in the Case of Mocanu (“the Judgment”) was seen by the victims of the Miners’ Raids and by the Romanian society, in general, as a big victory of European justice and as a hope that those responsible for the violent events of June 1990 would be soon identified and punished. However, today, almost six years since the delivery of the Judgment and two years since the resolution of the Committee of Ministers (Resolution CM/ResDH(2018)229) closed the execution in the Case of Mocanu, the domestic proceedings regarding the investigation of the Miners’ Raids of June 1990 seem still far from being finalized. Continue reading

Regulating Signals intelligence

Iain Cameron is professor in public international law at Uppsala University

Introduction

For European states, an important factor pushing towards better regulation of security agencies generally has been the ECHR. The work of “signals intelligence” agencies (collecting metadata and the content of electronic mail and voice communications) came to prominence following the allegations of “mass surveillance” made by former NSA-contractor Edward Snowden in 2013. Compared to law enforcement or internal security agencies, signals intelligence agencies tend to possess much more powerful computing facilities, and they thus have abilities to process and analyse vast amounts of data. Data, both content data (telephone conversations, email etc.) and metadata are collected in bulk and then analysed using selectors. The ECtHR has recently looked at the systems for regulation and control of signals intelligence operating in two states, Sweden and the UK, in the cases of Centrum för Rättvisa v. Sweden (CFR) and Big Brother Watch and others v. UK (BBW) (see blogposts for these cases here and here). Both these cases have been appealed to the Grand Chamber which held an oral hearing on 10 July 2019. A judgment is expected soon. The present blog article will look at four issues of principle at stake in the two cases, namely bulk collection, judicial authorization, notification and discrimination. In each of these issues, there is some tension between the regional (ECHR) and sub-regional (EU) human rights standards applicable to signals intelligence.

There were three basic questions in BBW: these concerned the UK rules on bulk collection, on metadata and on intelligence sharing. The majority of the Court found violations of Article 8 and Article 10 as regards the first two issues. In CFR the issue was more simply whether the Swedish signals intelligence law and practice as a whole satisfied Article 8 and the Court unanimously found that it did. Both cases involved many sub-issues, and were detailed examinations of the foreseeability, accessibility etc. of the laws, and their necessity in a democratic society (which mainly centered around the adequacy of the control systems). The Court applies eight criteria in making its assessment, developed from its case law on targeted interception, and the Weber and Saravia v. Germany case. It declined the offer to develop new or additional criteria, taking into account improvements in technology, and designed for bulk interception specifically (previously discussed by the Venice Commission). Continue reading

The Grand Chamber Judgment in S.M. v Croatia: Human Trafficking, Prostitution and the Definitional Scope of Article 4 ECHR

By Dr Vladislava Stoyanova (Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Lund University)

With S.M. v Croatia, issued on 25 June 2020, the Grand Chamber delivered its first judgment under Article 4 (the right not to be held in slavery or servitude or to be required to perform forced or compulsory labour) concerning inter-personal harm, i.e. circumstances where one private individual has arguably abused another. The referral of the case to the Grand Chamber has to be viewed in light of the powerful and convincing dissenting opinion of Judge Koskelo attached to the Chamber judgment. An opinion, such as Koskelo’s dissent, was well overdue, given the definitional quagmire that the various Chamber judgments under Article 4 have caused. This quagmire started with Rantsev v Cyprus and Russia (see here) and has continued ever since (e.g. see Chowdury and Others v Greece, for an analysis see here and here). Continue reading

Remembering Paula Marckx

Earlier this week, we received the sad news that Paula Marckx passed away at the age of 94. Having lived a remarkable life as, amongst others, a journalist, model, pilot and entrepreneur, she will be remembered, first and foremost, for the case that bears her name in Strasbourg. Her death, little over a year after the 40th anniversary of the Marckx v. Belgium judgment, offers an occasion to delve into the history of the case and to reflect on the significance of Paula Marckx’s struggle for equal rights for her daughter Alexandra and the implications thereof for the development of European human rights law. Continue reading

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

No Room for Homophobic Hate Speech Under the EHCR: Carl Jóhann Lilliendahl v. Iceland

By Giulio Fedele (University of Rome “La Sapienza”, giulio.fedele@uniroma1.it)

Hate-speech against sexual minorities has become a pressing issue for the ECHR. Online media and social platforms boosted the possibilities one has to express both personal opinions and hateful comments, thus making it harder for the Strasbourg Court to draw the line of the protection afforded by the ECHR. As it is well known, freedom of expression (Article 10 ECHR) is one of the few rights of the Convention that comes with “duties and responsibilities”, especially when such expressions conflict with “the rights of others” (Article 10 § 2). Nevertheless, the Court has constantly emphasized that the Convention protects various ideas, regardless of their power to “offend, shock or disturb”, thus requiring a certain threshold of graveness in order to lawfully restrict this right. The case commented in this post, the decision in Carl Jóhann Lilliendahl v. Iceland of May 12th 2020, communicated on June 11th 2020, provides an example of the rigid viewpoint recently adopted by the Court towards expressions that amount to homophobic hate speech, seen as falling outside the scope of Article 10. The Court struck out the application of Mr. Lilliendahl, a 74-year-old convicted for hateful online comments about homosexuality, for being manifestly ill-founded. The judgement is closely related to the case of Beizaras and Levickas v. Lithuania (judgementblog post), previously issued in January 2020, where the Court required the responding State to investigate online homophobic comments promoting violence. In this regard, the decision of the Court in Lilliendahl is of particular interest since it contributes to the development of the Court’s radical disapproval towards homophobic hate speech. It also highlights the coherent application of different principles of the Convention aiming at the protection of vulnerable groups from expression of hatred and intolerance. Continue reading

The Recent ECtHR Judgment Kövesi v. Romania. Reactions of Romanian Authorities and Implications regarding the Rule of Law

By Dragoș Călin

In the recent judgment in the case Kövesi v. Romania (application no. 3594/19) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial) and Article 10 (right to freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights regarding the former anti-corruption directorate chief prosecutor Laura Codruța Kövesi, now the first European Public Prosecutor.

In fact, in February 2018, the Minister of Justice, Mr. Tudorel Toader, proposed that Kövesi be removed from office, referring, among other things, to three Constitutional Court decisions adopted in connection with the activity of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) and to public statements she had made. The Section for prosecutors of the Superior Council of Magistracy (SCM) refused by a majority to endorse her dismissal, largely rejecting the Minister’s criticisms of the prosecutor and finding no evidence that her management had been inadequate. In April 2018 the President of Romania, Mr. Klaus Iohannis, refused in turn to sign the dismissal decree, which prompted a complaint to the Constitutional Court (CCR) by the Prime Minister. Continue reading

(One More) Engaged Father(s) Before the ECtHR: Uzbyakov v Russia

By Alice Margaria (Research Fellow, Department of ‘Law & Anthropology’, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)

Fathers who want to be or remain involved in their children’s lives have become frequent applicants before the ECtHR. Underlying many of their complaints are national measures reflecting a ‘conventional’ understanding of fatherhood, where paternal care is attached scant or no relevance. Such understanding lay also at the roots of the decisions of Russian courts to reject Mr Uzbyakov’s attempts to be reunited with his youngest daughter who had been adopted by third parties, after her mother’s death. In dealing with the resulting application under Article 8, the ECtHR brings its contribution to ongoing conversations on what makes someone a (legal) father. Next to biology and the nature of the father-mother relationship, ‘new’ elements are attached weight in the Court’s reasoning: in particular, Mr Uzbyakov’s actual behaviour towards his children and his promptness in bringing legal actions in view of having his daughter returned. This judgment (4 May 2020) offers therefore a clear illustration of the (re)construction of fatherhood that is quietly taking place within the Court’s jurisprudence under Article 8 (alone or in conjunction with Article 14). Continue reading

The ECHR and the right to have a criminal record and a drink-drive history erased

By Jurij Toplak

The ECHR’s Article 8 guarantees a right to have data related to criminal procedures reviewed and, after some time and in most cases, removed. In this blog post, I will first summarise the case law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR or “the Court”) on the retention, review, and removal of data stored during a criminal procedure and the data on convictions, generally known as “criminal records”. I will focus on two judgments, issued on 13 February 2020. They are Gaughran v. the United Kingdom and Trajkovski and Chipovski v. North Macedonia. Then I will present and analyse cases currently pending before the Court and issues on which the Court will decide shortly. Continue reading

Reaching the dead-end: M.N. and others and the question of humanitarian visas

By Moritz Baumgärtel

M.N. and others v. Belgium confronted the ECtHR with the question whether Article 3 of the ECHR places an obligation on State Parties to provide short-term humanitarian visas in their foreign embassies and consulates to potential asylum seekers. The Court, assembled in its Grand Chamber, found the case to be outside the jurisdiction of the Convention and thus inadmissible. While many will look at this outcome with disappointment, it is above all expected. This post provides an initial evaluation focusing on the strategic merits of the case, the issue of extra-territorial jurisdiction, and the broader question of legal pathways to asylum. The argument, in short, will be that this decision may offer a chance to come to the overdue realization that the creation of such pathways is a political question, the answer to which cannot currently be found in European human rights law. Continue reading

‘Tell me your story, but hurry up because I have to expel you’ – Asady and Others v. Slovakia: how to (quickly) conduct individual interviews and (not) apply the ND & NT “own culpable conduct” test to collective expulsions

By Francesco Luigi Gatta, Research Fellow, UCLouvain, member of EDEM (Equipe droits européens et migrations)

On 24 March 2020, the ECtHR delivered its judgment in Asady and Others v. Slovakia, which concerned the expulsion to Ukraine of a group of Afghan nationals. With a controversial ruling (passed by a slight majority of 4 votes to 3 and accompanied by dissenting opinions) the Court declared that there had been no violation of the prohibition of collective expulsion under the terms of Article 4 of Protocol 4 ECHR.

The judgment is relevant for two reasons. First, it provides some (worrying) clarifications regarding the individualised examination of an alien prior to the expulsion, focusing on the conditions of the individual interview. Second, coming shortly after the Grand Chamber’s ruling in ND and NT v. Spain, it gave the Court an opportunity to reflect on the applicability of the exception of the “own culpable conduct” developed therein and to measure its impact on a case of collective expulsion at land borders. As it will be explained, however, this “hot potato” was only dealt with in the dissenting opinion and not by the Court, which avoided expressing itself on that point. Thus, it remains still unclear whether and how the new exception relates to the procedural test of the individualised assessment required by Article 4 of Protocol 4.

In general, Asady adds a new chapter to the fast-growing case law concerning this provision. After remaining ‘dormant’ for quite some time, it now represents a “rising star” in the migration-related litigation in Strasbourg, to such an extent that, basically, all the States forming the perimeter of the EU external borders have been involved in potential cases of collective expulsions. While initially the Court dealt with border practices aimed at tackling maritime migratory flows (e.g. Hirsi, Sharifi, Khlaifia), following the refugee crisis, it is now being called to assess the compatibility with the Convention of those conducted at land borders, including the so-called push backs. We will see if Asady will pave the way for similar decisions in cases involving the Eastern European borders which are pending against Croatia, Poland, Hungary, Latvia. Continue reading

Blog Symposium “Strasbourg Observers turn ten” (6): S.A.S. v. France: an ongoing learning experience

In February, not long before we all went in lockdown, I attended an event with civil society organisations in Brussels concerning litigation and advocacy strategies. One of the organizers approached me as she recognized my name from the Strasbourg Observers blog and she explained how the series we published on the case of S.A.S. v. France helped her to understand the case more deeply. Little did my colleagues and I realize, I thought, how broad our readership would become, when we enthusiastically founded the Strasbourg Observers blog 10 years ago. A readership, which includes scholars, practitioners and civil society organisations. I am very grateful for that and for the work of my colleagues who are keeping the blog going these days.

Not long after that encounter, I was asked by my colleague Claire Poppelwell to write a reflection on the post I co-authored with dr. Lourdes Peroni on the S.A.S. case back in 2014. This commitment took me on a trip down memory lane Continue reading

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

By Ronan Ó Fathaigh and Dirk Voorhoof

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

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

By Marie-Bénédicte Dembour

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

Continue reading

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

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

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

Continue reading

Blog Symposium “Strasbourg Observers turns ten” (3) – Gäfgen v. Germany: Some Reflections, Ten Years On

By Stijn Smet, Assistant Professor of Constitutional Law at Hasselt University

I was sitting on the grass outside a classroom at the University of Vienna when I first understood why notions like control, power(lessness) and vulnerability are central to the interpretation of the absolute prohibition of torture. It was a warm and sunny day in Spring, and Manfred Nowak had led us out of the classroom and onto the grass for one of his lectures. Nowak was UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment at the time, and we were enrolled in his university course on torture.

The two scenarios Nowak presented to us that afternoon, as we were sitting comfortably on the grass, decisively shaped my understanding of torture. Nowak asked us which treatment we would qualify as torture: a police officer shooting a suspect in the leg, from behind, as he was fleeing down the streets (in my recollection, it was the left leg); or that same police officer putting out a cigarette on the hand of a suspect in custody. Nowak’s intention was, of course, to encourage us to reflect on the essence of torture. He invited us to consider the idea that powerlessness of the victim and control by the authorities may be at least as important factors as the severity of the physical harm inflicted. Continue reading

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

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

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

N.D. and N.T. v. Spain: defining Strasbourg’s position on push backs at land borders?

By Hanaa Hakiki

On 13 February 2020, the Court published its long awaited Grand Chamber judgment in the case of N.D. and N.T. v. Spain, the first case addressing the Spanish policy of immediate expulsions at the Ceuta and Melilla enclaves. In a speech the Court’s president had announced that the judgment would be “instrumental to the issue of push backs” in Europe, the most “burning issue in European politics today” (M.A. v Lithuania; concurring opinion, §1).  Legally, the case of N.D. and N.T. addressed the applicability of the prohibition of collective expulsions to push backs at European land borders. The judgement has already been analysed in detail and widely criticised for its incompatibility with EU law, the principle of non-refoulement and Spain’s obligation to protect unaccompanied minors. Though the judgment brings in an entirely new approach, some have questioned the impact of the judgment on the Court’s approach to push backs more generally. This blogpost considers the application by the Court of its new approach in light of the factual evidence in the case, and whether this allows for any conclusions to be drawn as to  the broader impact of this judgment on the situation at European borders. Thus the blogpost will first assess the new legal test in light of the Court’s jurisprudence on the terms “genuine and effective.” and secondly how the new test was applied in this case. Third, the blogpost will look at how the Grand Chamber assessed evidence in this case. The final section explores the potential significance of this judgement. Continue reading

Studio Monitori and Others v. Georgia: access to public documents must be ‘instrumental’ for the right to freedom of expression

By Dirk Voorhoof and Ronan Ó Fathaigh

In the case of Studio Monitori and Others v. Georgia the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in its judgment of 30 January 2020 has confirmed that the right to freedom of expression and information as guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) can only be invoked in order to obtain access to public documents when a set of conditions are fulfilled. It is one of the cases following the judgment of the Grand Chamber in Magyar Helsinki Bizottság v. Hungary to test the scope and limits of the right of access to information and the applicability of Article 10 ECHR. The most important consequence of the judgment in Studio Monitori and Others is that NGOs, journalists or other public watchdogs requesting access to public documents have to motivate and clarify in their request that access to the documents they are applying for is instrumental, and even necessary, for their journalistic reporting and that the requested documents contain information of public interest. Continue reading

Cyberviolence, domestic abuse and lack of a gender-sensitive approach – Reflections on Buturuga versus Romania

By Fleur van Leeuwen (Boğaziçi University)

‘The legal system is designed to protect men from the superior power of the state but not to protect women or children from the superior power of men.’ It is a quote from Harvard psychiatrist Judith Herman in an article on domestic violence in the Guardian last weekend. The androcentric nature of international human rights law has been well documented.[1] Gender mainstreaming was championed in the 1990s as the approach to rectify this deficiency. But although some steps were taken – i.e. domestic abuse is no longer considered to be an issue that falls outside the realm of human rights – the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (the Court) on domestic violence shows that the required transformation of the system is not yet in sight.[2]

The case of Buturuga versus Romania of the Court of last February offers another classic example in this respect. Although the comments of the Court on cyber violence as an aspect of domestic abuse are noteworthy – the judgment at large is not. The most significant conclusion to be drawn from Buturuga versus Romania is that gender mainstreaming – or (consistently) applying a gender-sensitive approach – remains ostensibly still too difficult a task for the Court. Continue reading

Bulk retention of private-sector subscriber data for governmental purposes does not violate the Convention: Breyer v. Germany

Judith Vermeulen is a doctoral researcher and a member of the Law & Technology research group, the Human Rights Centre and PIXLES at Ghent University.

On January 30, 2020, in the case of Breyer v. Germany, the European Court of Human Rights ruled by six votes to one that the – legally required – indiscriminate storage of subscriber information by telecommunication service providers does not violate Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Amongst other things, the Court found that the interference at hand was rather limited in nature, thereby conveniently invoking Court of Justice jurisprudence which suited its point of view this time. Contrary to what judge Ranzoni argued in his dissenting opinion, the Court in Strasbourg was however not wrong in reaching this conclusion. The dissenter’s criticism regarding the insufficiency of the safeguards circumscribing the measure, on the other hand, was not without reasons. Continue reading

Who can represent a child (with disabilities) before the ECtHR? Locus Standi requirements and the issue of curator ad litem in L.R. v. North Macedonia

Dr. Gamze Erdem Türkelli is a Post-Doctoral Fellow Fundamental Research of Research Foundation (FWO) Flanders (File Number 12Q1719N) at the Law and Development Research Group, University of Antwerp Faculty of Law.

The NGO Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Skopje (HCHR) brought a case before the ECtHR on behalf of L.R., an eight-year-old child with moderate mental disabilities, severe physical disabilities (cerebral palsy) and a speech impediment. L.R. had been in the care of state-run institutions since he was three months old. The NGO alleged that L.R. had suffered from ill-treatment and inadequate care in violation of Art. 3 of the European Convention. In 2013, North Macedonia’s Ombudsman visited a state-run institute and found L.R. tied to his bed, which subsequently gave rise to the NGO’s interest in his case. The Strasbourg Court unanimously held that there had been a violation of Art. 3 as L.R. had been placed in an institute that could not provide him with adequate or requisite care for his needs and had suffered inhuman and degrading treatment (L.R. v. North Macedonia, §95).This contribution does not focus on the substance of the case but addresses rather a procedural issue: the issue of the representation of a minor who is in a vulnerable situation before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), raised by Judge Wojtyczek in his Partly Dissenting Opinion the case. Continue reading

Push backs of “badly behaving” migrants at Spanish border are not collective expulsions (but might still be illegal refoulements)

By Ruben Wissing (Ghent University)

On 13 February, the Grand Chamber rendered a long awaited judgment, meandering over more than one hundred pages, in the N.D. and N.T case on the push-back practices against migrants at the Moroccan-Spanish border fence surrounding the city of Melilla – the so-called devoluciones en caliente or ‘hot returns’ by the Spanish border police.  The Court did not qualify them as collective expulsions, thus acquitting Spain of having violated Art. 4 of Protocol No. 4. However, the specific circumstances of the case, as well as the absence of an examination of the principle of non-refoulement, have been ultimately decisive for the outcome of this case, thus restricting the extent to which the Court’s findings can be generalised to similar practices at the EU external borders. Continue reading

Tell me more, tell me more: the obligation for national courts to reason their refusals to refer to the CJEU in Sanofi Pasteur.

By Jasper Krommendijk (Radboud University, the Netherlands)

On 13 February 2020, the ECtHR found for the fourth time ever a violation of Article 6(1) ECHR for a failure of the highest national court to give proper reasons for its refusal to refer preliminary questions to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) in Sanofi Pasteur. In 2014 and 2015, the ECtHR already determined a breach for a similar omission of the Italian Court of Cassation in Dhahbi and Schipani, while the Lithuanian Supreme Administrative Court was given a rap over the knuckles in 2019 in Baltic Master. This time it was the French Court of Cassation who took the blame in a claim for damages for bodily harm resulting from vaccination against hepatitis B. The company Sanofi Pasteur was found liable by lower French courts and appealed to the Court of Cassation. It unsuccessfully requested the Court to refer questions about the Product Liability Directive 85/374 and, more specifically, the obligation for the victim to prove the damage, defect and causal relationship between defect and damage. The Court dismissed the appeal whereby it explicitly noted that it did so without a need to refer. In this comment I will argue that this judgment shows once again the unpredictability and inconsistency in the case law of the ECtHR. What is needed is a Grand Chamber judgment as well as guidance from the CJEU to tell us more about the exact requirements for national courts. Continue reading

The New Trial: Kafkaesque Punishment for Cooperation with the ECtHR

By Prof Kanstantsin Dzehtsiarou (University of Liverpool), Editor-in-Chief of the European Convention on Human Rights Law Review

It has been discussed on various levels that weak enforcement of the ECtHR judgments is a major drawback of the whole system. The lack of political will of the governments of the Contracting Parties to the Convention to engage with the ECtHR and the Committee of Ministers is often deemed to be one of the key reasons for slow enforcement of judgments and limited impact of the ECtHR on the standards of human rights protection in Europe. One of the ways to ensure quick embeddedness of the Convention is to resort to friendly settlements where the state accepts the responsibility for an obvious violation and pays appropriate compensation. The Committee of Ministers supervises execution of these friendly settlements although not always to the maximum effect. Recently the Court has introduced a new mandatory period during the procedure in Strasbourg during which the parties should consider a friendly settlement. Apparently, Ukraine is the only Contracting Party to the Convention which opted out of this procedure for the reasons discussed below. Friendly settlement is a very useful tool especially in cases of repetitive routine violations. This blogpost will try to convey two key messages. First, that national politics can put a halt on effective implementation on human rights even through preventing friendly settlements. The ability of national politics to affect human rights is hardly an original point but the story that is happening now in Ukraine gave this point a new twist. Second, that the Council of Europe has responsibility to react when the reputation of the Court, its judges and decisions are undermined. Continue reading