Little over a year ago, I wrote a blog post discussing the Advisory Opinion No. 1 issued under Protocol No. 16, with the title “The mountain gave birth to a mouse”. Last week, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights give birth to Advisory Opinion No. 2 “concerning the use of the ‘blanket reference’ or ‘legislation by reference’ technique in the definition of an offence and the standards of comparison between the criminal law in force at the time of the offence and the amended criminal law”, requested by the Armenian Constitutional Court. After a brief examination, my preliminary conclusion is that, this time, we’re dealing with a slightly bigger rodent – perhaps a rabbit but certainly not a capybara. In this contribution, I will discuss the new Advisory Opinion, focusing in particular on what further lessons can be drawn from it. The key takeaway from this blog post, compared to its predecessor, is that it provides a somewhat more meaningful contribution to the development of the case law. However, the messages given by the Court, regarding the kinds of questions it wants to respond to, are unlikely to spark a lot of enthusiasm among domestic courts to make use of the Advisory Opinion mechanism, potentially thwarting Protocol No. 16’s objective of encouraging judicial dialogue. Continue reading
By Francesco Luigi Gatta, Research Fellow, UCLouvain, member of EDEM (Equipe droits européens et migrations)
In the era of the internet, social media and e-mails, the Strasbourg Court has been called to keep up with these ‘new technologies’. The ECtHR itself, for example, has an official Twitter account, used to give information and updates to the public. During the Covid-19 emergency, moreover, telework and electronic communication have enabled the Court to continue its essential activities (see the ECtHR’s press release: here and here).
Despite its undeniable usefulness, at the same time the use of internet has raised issues in terms of compliance with human rights. The Court has been dealing with an increasing number of questions relating to the freedom of expression, the right to respect for private life or the prohibition of discrimination, thereby developing its ‘new technologies’ case-law. Within this context, the social media-human rights nexus has also come to the attention of the Strasbourg judges, involving various issues such as hate speech (e.g. Beizaras and Levickas v. Lithuania, which concerned the discrimination, on the grounds of sexual orientation, of two men because of the authorities’ refusal to investigate homophobic comments posted on Facebook. For an analysis of the judgment, see here; for the issue of offensive comments on-line, see here).
But social media may have a direct impact on human rights also in terms of access to the ECtHR, as they may be used as a medium to lodge an application and/or to establish and maintain contact between the applicant and their representative. Accordingly, the Court has dealt with social media not only on its merits, but also from a procedural point of view, assessing the use of such modern and informal means of communication with regard to the admissibility of an application.
The topic of social media in the litigation before the ECtHR is addressed in this blogpost from two angles: the admissibility of the use of social media as a means to initially lodge an application to the Court (i), and to subsequently maintain the lawyer-applicant contact during the proceedings (ii). In each case, the legal framework is first briefly outlined, then some examples are provided. These are drawn from the ECtHR’s migration-related case-law, as situations involving migrants may typically pose major issues, given their often vulnerable and precarious conditions, for lawyers in terms of maintaining contact with the applicants. Continue reading
By Katre Luhamaa and Jenny Krutzinna, researchers at the Centre for Research on Discretion and Paternalism (University of Bergen)
In February this year (2020), the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR, Court) delivered two further judgments relating to the Norwegian child protection system (Hernehult v. Norway and Pedersen et al. v. Norway). In both of these, the ECtHR concluded that Norway violated the right to respect for family life (Article 8) when implementing child protection measures. This analysis focuses on Pedersen et al. v. Norway, where the Court addressed the issues of adoption and post-adoption contact.
National adoption proceedings are often hidden from public scrutiny. Indeed, research into the legal practice of eight European states showed that there are minimal accountability measures available in these cases (Burns et al. 2019). Thus, the cases that face the international scrutiny of the ECtHR give us a rare insight into the national argumentation and practice and reveal the complexity of these public care measures.
Last month, we celebrated our tenth anniversary. Now that our blog is entering its second decade, we decided that it was time to give it a brand new, more modern logo by way of a birthday present – a first step in the restyling of our website. We’re happy to be able to present the new logo to you today (see the top of the page), we hope you like it as much as we do! As with the old logo (see below), the eye in the logo symbolizes the diverse lenses through which our bloggers approach the Strasbourg case law.
With our new logo, we also plan to increase our online visibility. For this purpose, we also created a Strasbourg Observers twitter page. Please follow us if you want to stay informed on the publication of new blog posts via that medium.
We’re looking forward to the fourth webinar from the #HRvsCOVID series on 2 June 2020 (5 pm CET, 4 pm UK time). The webinar will address the question of the human rights of migrants in the context of COVID-19. Here is the announcement of the upcoming webinar:
Human Rights of Migrants, COVID 19 and the ECHR
2 June 2020
5 pm CET/4 pm BTS
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
By Maïté De Rue
Because they are often very populated places with poor living conditions, prisons present a high risk of contamination in a period of pandemic such as COVID-19. A number of countries have taken measures to decrease pressure on penitentiary institutions by releasing prisoners or decreasing the number of new arrivals. This approach is with no doubt an essential one, especially in light of overcrowding that characterizes many prisons around the world. However, this is not the only measure that States must take to respond to the health crisis, as many people will stay in prison. They have also the duty to organize the protection of health and life of prisoners.
What does such obligation concretely entail when facing a pandemic? The norms and standards developed by the Council of Europe, and in particular by the Court and the European Committee for the prevention of torture (CPT), and by the United Nations can help to answer this question and to define the main duties that define State obligations with regards to protecting prisoners against COVID-19. Continue reading
Guest Blogger: Nina de Puy Kamp, Paralegal at Leigh Day Solicitors, London UK*
Hungary’s Media Act 2010 (the Act) garnered much criticism for its chilling effects on free speech (UN, OSCE, EU, HRW). The Act establishes a media regulator (appointed by the ruling party) to inter alia prohibit and impose fines for ‘imbalanced coverage’ and restrict non-disclosure rights of journalistic sources. ATV ZRT v Hungary concerned sections 12(3) and (4) of the Act which prohibits media service providers from adding ‘any opinion or evaluative explanation to the political news’ without ‘distinguishing it from the news [itself]’. In its judgement, the Court expresses concern about the legal certainty of these provisions. Nevertheless, it veers away from ruling on the Convention-compatibility of sections 12(3) and (4) of the Act. Instead, the Court opts for a narrow ruling, finding a violation of Article 10 on the facts without triggering much needed legislative change. Continue reading
By Dr Vassilis P. Tzevelekos, Senior lecturer in Law, University of Liverpool School of Law and Social Justice; Editor-in-chief of the European Convention on Human Rights Law Review
The ongoing pandemic and the measures adopted to protect human life/health in response to the coronavirus seriously affect the enjoyment of fundamental human rights. The COVID-19 outbreak has led a number of states to derogate from their international human rights obligations. Other states have not (yet) formally derogated, but they have passed emergency legislation restricting rights through the usual means that are available within their domestic legal orders (for instance, regarding the author’s home country, see Karavokyris). This trend raises a number of interesting questions as to whether emergency laws amount to an unnotified, de facto derogation or whether states should declare a state of emergency (Greene, Scheinin). More generally, questions regarding the modalities (Istrefi, Holcroft-Emmess) and the lawfulness of derogations have arisen. Irrespective of whether restrictions to qualified/derogable human rights are made on the basis of a derogation clause contained in an international human rights instrument (such as Article 15 ECHR) or through the habitual route of ‘everyday life’ limitations, in both cases restrictions must ultimately satisfy the proportionality test. Proportionality is thus a common denominator. Continue reading
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
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
By Ilia Siatitsa and Ioannis Kouvakas
Yesterday, we argued that blanket mobile phone location tracking measures that aim at containing the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic cannot be regarded as strictly necessary due to their indiscriminate nature and the existence of less intrusive alternatives with potentially similar effectiveness. In this second blog post, we reflect on whether states could derogate from Article 8 in order to impose indiscriminate location tracking.
As of 24 April 2020, ten states, i.e. Albania, Armenia, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Moldova, North Macedonia, Romania, San Marino and Serbia have officially derogated from their obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) citing the public health emergency posed by the pandemic, while a domestic court has also attempted to do so on behalf of the United Kingdom! Six of these states Albania, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, North Macedonia and Romania – have explicitly included Article 8 (or the respective constitutional right) in the list of Articles they have chosen to derogate from. Continue reading
By Ilia Siatitsa and Ioannis Kouvakas
In his recent interview on The Intercept, Edward Snowden questioned whether the measures implemented by authorities amid the pandemic are necessary to safeguard people, as well as, whether the pandemic is seen by governments as just another opportunity to make us acquiesce to mass surveillance. In a scramble to track, and thereby stem the flow of new cases of Covid-19, governments around the world are rushing to track the locations of their populace. One way to do this is to leverage the metadata, including location data, held by mobile service providers (telecommunications companies) in order to track the movements of a population, as seen in Italy, Germany and Austria, and with the European Commission.
This is the first of two blog posts that will examine whether indiscriminate location tracking could ever be justified under the Convention, in light of the global pandemic. Continue reading
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
This post was written by Stefanos Xenofontos, PhD Researcher at Birmingham Law School
The Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH) has recently submitted its contribution to the evaluation of the Interlaken process for the reform and future of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR or ‘the Court’). Building upon its assessment in the 2015 report on the matter, the CDDH’s latest report, signals the end of a decade-long reform process, at least at a technical level. The ECtHR has pledged to reply to the Report in 2020 (See, Foreword by President Sicilianos). Despite its importance, however, the CDDH’s Report did not attract much (academic) attention to date – something that the present post seeks to compensate. In what follows, after presenting the main conclusions reached by the CDDH, I argue that a rather conservative approach regarding the framework of the ongoing reform process remains apparent. In other words, the CDDH’s primary focus is on sustaining the current status quo of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) system while disregarding any other possible alternative reform outside this existing framework. In this regard, I question whether the current reform framework, and measures adopted within it so far, have been sufficient in addressing and/or resolving the underlying challenges facing the ECtHR. The post concludes that in the absence of a clear determination of what the future role of the ECtHR should be, in a way that best reflects its regional, supranational and subsidiary character, the root causes of the Court’s challenges will continue to be overlooked and its viability and long-term effectiveness will be difficult to achieve.
After thought-provoking webinars on “Human Rights in the Times of Coronavirus” and “Council of Europe: The Conscience of Europe in a Time of Crisis” (recorded versions of which are available here and here), next week a third webinar in the series will address the role of positive obligations in the context of Covid-19. The webinar takes place on Tuesday 5 May at 3 pm UK time, 4 pm CET. Here is the announcement:
The State’s positive obligations under IHRL during the coronavirus outbreak
5 May 2020
3pm (UK time) Continue reading
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
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.
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.
By Linda Hamid, Research Fellow at the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies – Institute for International Law, KU Leuven
On 4 December 2019, during a research stay in the Republic of Moldova, I travelled to the village of Doroțcaia, where I visited the ‘Ștefan cel Mare și Sfânt’ lyceum and met with the principal, Ms Eleonora Cercavschi. Until August 2002, the school had been situated in Grigoriopol, a small town in the Moldavian Republic of Transdniestria (MRT or Transdniestria), which is a breakaway region in Moldova that declared independence in 1991, but has not been recognized by the international community. However, in the wake of events that will be described below, the school was evacuated from its premises by MRT ‘police’ and forced to relocate 20 km away, in Moldovan-controlled territory. As can be gathered from this post’s title, the Grigoriopol lyceum is one of the Romanian-language schools in Transdniestria concerned by the landmark European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR or the Court) Grand Chamber judgment Catan and Others v. Moldova and Russia. Ms Cercavschi, who together with her daughter was one of the applicants in the case, graciously answered my questions and recounted the circumstances leading to the school’s predicament. This post is based on insights acquired from this discussion and a few other in-depth interviews with key actors in Moldova and Transdniestria, as well as an analysis of both legal and political texts.
In what follows, I will employ the Catan judgment to briefly illustrate the quandaries surrounding the (non-)execution of ECtHR judgments in circumstances as complex as those in Transdniestria, where various actors, State and non-state alike, vie for control and influence. Inside this tangled web, legally binding obligations arising from ECtHR judgments and political commitments extraneous to them may, at times, mutually reinforce each other to give some incidental effects to the former. This, however, does not transpire as traditionally envisioned by Article 46 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR or Convention), i.e. through the execution of the judgment by the State bound by it, but rather indirectly, as a byproduct of two different but ultimately complementary processes. In referring to this byproduct, I will use the terms (indirect and partial) ‘implementation’ or ‘effects’. To me, they have a broader meaning than ‘execution’, in that they may also refer to the (persuasive) authority of the Court’s judgments and their influence on other actors than the State(s) directly bound to execute them, such as will be described in this post.
By Georgiana Epure
This contribution sheds light on the limited effectiveness of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in supervising states of emergency and highlights one possible non-judicial avenue to strengthen the supervision of derogation regimes: Article 52 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which allows the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to open and inquiry into the effective implementation of the Convention.
The derogation clause and the ECtHR’s limited supervisory role
An epidemic of authoritarian measures may be following on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, warned Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the UN Special Rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights. Across the Council of Europe membership, numerous countries have declared states of emergency in order to take unprecedented measures to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. Continue reading
In follow-up to the succesful webinar on “Human Rights in the Times of Coronavirus” (a recorded version of which is available here), next week another webinar is taking place on the role the Council of Europe could play in the context of the Covid-19 crisis. The webinar takes place on Tuesday 21 April at 4 pm UK time, 5 pm CET. Here is the announcement:
Council of Europe: The Conscience of Europe in a Time of Crisis
21 April 2020
https://zoom.us/j/164030987 (if you wish to participate and ask questions. Come early limited to 100 participants)
https://youtu.be/LrHejIHHAfQ (if you wish to follow the livestream)
The panellists will discuss the role and potential influence of the Council of Europe on the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. The panellists will discuss the expectations and reality of what can be done by a human rights institution in time of de facto emergency.
Chairs: Prof Kanstantsin Dzehtsiarou (University of Liverpool) and Dr Stuart Wallace (University of Leeds)
Dr Veronika Bilkova (Charles University in Prague, Venice Commission)
Prof Philip Leach (University of Middlesex)
Rob Linham OBE (Deputy UK Permanent Representative to the Council of Europe)
Jörg Polakiewicz (Director of Legal Advice and Public International Law Legal Adviser of the Council of Europe)
Prof Ineta Ziemele (President of the Constitutional Court of Latvia, Former Judge of the European Court of Human Rights)
Update (22/04): for those who were unable to join, you can watch the recorded version of this Webinar on YouTube.
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
In my previous blog post I have analysed what consequences the COVID-19 crisis might have on Human Rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights. Here I will look at the institutional aspect of what the Strasbourg Court can do to ensure ongoing human rights protection in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. Unfortunately, my preliminary answer is not that much. The nature of the European Court of Human Rights as well as many other courts around the world is that they predominantly act post factum, in other words they assess the events after they have already taken place. That said, it is not impossible for the Court to get involved in the current affairs, even though the scope of such involvement is quite limited. In the following parts I will analyse what the Court can and should do in the current situation. Continue reading
Dirk Voorhoof (Human Rights Centre, Ghent University and Legal Human Academy)
On 18 June 2015, Strasbourg Observers published our blog post ‘Delfi 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
This month we’re celebrating Strasbourg Observers’ 10th anniversary. In order to celebrate this event, we’re launching a blog symposium, on which you’ll read more below. But first a bit of history.
In April 2010, Strasbourg Observers was founded by Professor Eva Brems and a team of five PhD researchers from the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University: Alexandra Timmer, Lourdes Peroni, Maris Burbergs, Saïla Ouald Chaib and Stijn Smet. I personally joined the blog a couple of months later, in October 2010, as a recently graduated 22-year old at the beginning of my PhD research. It was an exciting time to join these bright young minds at our Human Rights Centre, which was then turning into a genuine ECHR knowledge centre – think for instance also of the practice the Human Rights Centre has developed in submitting third party interventions to the Strasbourg Court in cases that come within the scope of our academic expertise. All of this would not have been possible had Eva Brems not obtained funding from the European Research Council for the project “Strengthening the European Court of Human Rights: More Accountability through Better Legal Reasoning”. Continue reading
This blogpost is written by Valeska David who is an Affiliated Researcher at the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University and Assistant Professor of International Law at University of Navarra. She has recently published the book ‘Cultural Difference and Economic Disadvantage in Regional Human Rights Courts: An Integrated View’ (Intersentia, 2020).
On 10 March 2020, the Strasbourg Court delivered its judgment in Hudorovic et al. v. Slovenia (App. nos. 24816/14 and 25140/14). The case deals with two complaints from Roma families who have been living in informal settlements without access to water, sanitation, sewage, and electricity for decades. The Court has previously dealt with the living conditions of Roma irregular settlements (e.g. Winterstein and Yordanova) as well as with the contamination of water resources resulting in health and environmental risks (e.g. Dzemyuk and Dubetska). This is the first time, however, that it has to examine whether the right to access safe drinking water and sanitation is protected by the Convention (particularly under Article 8 ECHR). This important question is furthermore posed in relation to the social group most affected by inequality in access to water in the first European country to make water a constitutional right. The case understandably attracted third party interventions from the European Roma Rights Centre and the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University, the latter available here.
Access to clean water and sanitation might sound too basic to be an issue in today’s Europe. But the truth is that securing universal access to such essential goods continues to be a pending challenge, especially for Roma people. At a time in which the European Parliament and the Council are discussing the adoption of a so-called Drinking Water Directive, the Strasbourg Court is being called to play its part. The Court can significantly contribute to develop common minimum standards to ensure that everyone, especially those historically discriminated against can effectively enjoy water rights in Europe. From this perspective, however, this post argues that the judgment in Hudorovic offers a mixed picture, one of both hope and worry. Before explaining why, I shall briefly summarise the facts of the case and the Court’s findings. Continue reading
Dr Natasa Mavronicola is Reader in Law at Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham. She has written extensively on the right to life and the right not to be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. She is co-editor of Lavrysen & Mavronicola (eds), Coercive Human Rights: Positive Duties to Mobilise the Criminal Law under the ECHR, forthcoming with Hart Publishing (2020).
On the flip side of rights are wrongs. It is now indisputable that the State may wrong us as a matter of human rights law not only by actively mistreating us, but also by failing to protect us from certain harms. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) boasts a formidable jurisprudence on positive obligations borne by States to protect persons within their jurisdiction from grave threats to our life or physical or mental integrity. It is important to understand and apply these appropriately to the current crisis, particularly as positive obligations to protect life are being actively invoked, in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, to justify extensive (coercive) measures across Council of Europe States.
In this short piece, focusing on positive obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), I want to underline the following: (a) the State bears positive obligations to protect, rather than coerce; (b) the State’s positive obligations do not extend to duties to act unlawfully under the Convention; and (c) positive obligations must be responsive to, and entail ancillary obligations to determine, the relevant context and risk. Continue reading
On the 11th of March, the European Court of Human Rights (the Court) issued its decisions in Grimmark v. Sweden and Steen v. Sweden, two cases casting light on the issue of refusal by healthcare professionals to participate in abortion procedures. The Court in these fairly straight-forward decisions rejected the Applicants’ complaints as manifestly ill-founded. Rather, the Court found the Swedish authorities’ decision to not employ midwives who refused to participate in abortion procedures complied with Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention). These two cases are ground-breaking in that this is the first time that the Court decides on the issue of a purported right to refuse to carry out work duties in relation to abortion. Earlier cases relating to so-called conscientious objection have either related to other substantive issues, or been considered from the opposite perspective, that is, in relation to complaints that such refusal has impeded the possibilities to access legal abortion. Building on landmark cases such as R.R. v. Poland (2011) (blog posts here and here, P. and S. v. Poland (2012) (blog post here), Pichon and Sajous v. France (2001), Regner v. the Czech Republic (2017) (blog post here), Skugar and others v. Russia (2009), and Eweida and others v. the United Kingdom (2013) (blog posts here and here), the cases against Sweden follow the trajectory of previous case-law concerning abortion services, refusal to perform work duties, and the question whether there is a right to hold a certain work position. The Court also rejected the Applicants’ complaints under Articles 10 and 14 of the Convention, respectively. However, the focus of this comment will exclusively be on the decision under Article 9.
This week, an interesting debate took place on our blog regarding the necessity and/or desirability of derogation under Article 15 in the context of the Covid-19 crisis. The poll we launched yesterday on this question is still quite tight, indicating that many people continue to disagree on the path to take. At Strasbourg Observers, we are therefore very happy to support continued debate on this question in the form of a webinar, which will take place next Tuesday (7 April) at 4 pm UK time, 5 pm CET. Here is the announcement:
Human Rights in the Time of Coronavirus: Does England’s Lockdown Violate Human Rights Law?
7 April 2020, 4 pm (UK time)
These are exceptional times. Covid-19 represents a threat to public health in Europe of an extent that is unprecedented in modern times. At the same time, the restrictions on normal life imposed by Council of Europe Member States in response to the outbreak are a test case for the ECHR regime. While the Strasbourg Court itself has temporarily suspended most of its activities, including the delivery of new judgments, the human rights pressures generated by the Covid-19 crisis continue to provide a source for vigorous debate within the ECHR community. An important question that currently divides the ECHR community is whether or not States should make a derogation under Article 15 ECHR with a view to taking the necessary measures in response to the public health emergency. Via the poll below, we would like to enquire into the view of you, our readers, on the necessity and/or desirability of States making such a declaration. Continue reading
By Alan Greene
Carl Schmitt is, without a doubt, the pre-eminent scholar on states of exception. However, his famous maxim of ‘Sovereign is he who decides on the exception’ has tainted the debate on emergency powers, emphasising their antagonistic relation to the legal order they are supposed to protect and downplaying their protective potential. In this post, I argue why Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) should be used to accommodate the emergency lockdown powers necessary to confront the Coronavirus pandemic. This is the closest we shall get to an ‘ideal state of emergency’—the very thing it was designed for. In contrast, far from protecting human rights, failure to use Article 15 ECHR risks normalising exceptional powers and permanently recalibrating human rights protections downwards. Continue reading
This post was written by Nadia Rusinova who is attorney-at-law and lecturer in International private law at The Hague University.
On 29 January 2019 the European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter: The Court) delivered its judgment on the case Simoes Balbino v. Portugal which addresses procedural delay in the context of the attribution of the exercise of parental authority in child abduction cases and the obligations of the state under Art. 8 ECHR. A key factor, in this case, is the time factor in proceedings related to child abduction, under the Hague Convention and in general in proceedings related to children. In the present case, the Court has ruled in a rather unexpected way on the issue of how the wrongful removal of the child should be assessed in a pending parental dispute, and in particular, is the child abduction a factor which determines the procedural behaviour of the domestic courts.
In its previous case law, the Court had said that a national court could not order the return of the child, or enforce a return order, if it had not considered the child’s best interests (Neulinger and Shuruk v. Switzerland, B. v. Belgium, Sneersone and Kampanella v. Italy). Later, in X. v. Latvia, the most recent judgment on this matter delivered by the Grand Chamber, the Court explained that the consideration of the child’s best interests did not mean a detailed assessment of the entire situation, but instead an obligation to ‘genuinely take into account factors that could constitute an exception to the return’ (under Arts. 12, 13 and 20 of the Hague Convention), in particular if one of the parties invoked these factors. In Adzic v. Croatia the Court adds that the assessment must be done speedily, which is in line with the goal of the Hague Convention. Subsequently, in its most recent judgment in Rinau v. Lithuania, the Court finds that the time it took for the Lithuanian courts to reach the final decision in the applicant’s case, the Lithuanian courts had ‘failed to respond to the urgency of their situation’ and the delay of two years already amounted to a violation of Art.8. The view of the Court in this case offers some challenging turns to the aforementioned precedent – namely on the issue of time proceedings –which will be discussed further below.
By Prof Kanstantsin Dzehtsiarou (University of Liverpool)
Our life has changed. The main if not the only topic that everyone is interested in is the ongoing pandemic. The World Health Organisation is one of the most popular international organisations at the moment. This crisis will undoubtably have a significant impact on how we live, travel and perceive our governments. These long-term effects will clearly be a subject of numerous dissertations, articles and monographs. This blogpost will make a very brief overview of the role of the European Convention on Human Rights in assessment of this crisis. In recent days a number of states (for example, Georgia, Estonia, Armenia, Romania, and Latvia) submitted their derogations from the ECHR under Article 15. When the situation calms down it would be very interesting to analyse the exact wording and utility of these declarations. Here, I will start by considering implications of Article 15 to the situation at hand. I will then briefly analyse how other Articles of the Convention can be engaged in the COVID-19 crises. Of course, this is only a suggestion, the real impact of COVID-19 will be seen in 5-6 years when measures taken by the Governments now will be analysed in judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. Continue reading
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
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
In these disturbing times for all of us, we at the Ghent University’s Human Rights Centre are really looking forward to seeing all of you, the ECHR community, again once all of this is over. On 18-20 November 2020, we’re organizing a conference to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights, which was opened for signature in Rome on 4 November 1950. This post serves as a reminder that the deadline for submission of abstracts is 15 April 2020. For more information on how to do so, please visit our conference website. Continue reading
This blogpost was written by Jernej Letnar Černič who is Associate Professor of Human Rights and Constitutional Law at the Faculty of Government and European Studies of the New University (Ljubljana/Kranj, Slovenia). He is co-author of the forthcoming book on “The Impact of European Institutions on the Rule of Law and Democracy: Slovenia and Beyond” (Oxford, Hart/Bloomsbury, 2020).
Are domestic and international sports arbitration bodies obliged to follow the rule of law and ensure at least basic procedural safeguards? Fair trial guarantees have been, for quite some time, a hot potato in (international) sports arbitration. Athletes have been, in the past, mostly unsuccessful when arguing for a violation of Article 6 (1) of the ECHR before the ECtHR (see for example Bakker v. Switzerland (26 September 2019, admissibility decision); Mutu and Pechstein v. Switzerland, 2 October 2018). Nonetheless, the Court already recognized the right to public hearings before CAS (Mutu and Pechstein v. Switzerland, para. 183). Therefore, it appears that a consensus has been increasing for fair trial guarantees to be introduced and/or strengthened both at the domestic and international levels. The Second Section of the European Court of Human Rights has on 28 January 2020 in its seminal judgement in the case of Ali Riza and Others v. Turkey confirmed the importance that sport arbitration bodies uphold basic fair trial guarantees in compulsory sport arbitration such as the right to an independent and impartial tribunal by introducing strict normative safeguards against conflicts of interests.
On January 20, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rendered a final decision in the case of Magyar Kétfarkú Kutya Párt (MKKP) v Hungary. The case concerned freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 10 ECHR in an election context – in particular the use of a mobile application made available by a political party (MKKP) where voters could share an anonymous photo of their invalid paper ballots alongside political messages as a sign of protest against a national referendum. The National Election Committee imposed a fine on MKKP, giving rise to the question of whether there has been a violation of the political party’s freedom of expression. The Grand Chamber held that the legal rules that constituted the basis for imposing a fine on MKKP were insufficiently foreseeable for the purposes of Article 10(2), did not rule out arbitrariness in its application and did not enable MKKP to regulate its conduct. As such, the Court held that there has been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention.
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. 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.
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
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
About a month ago, we presented you with a shortlist of candidates for the awards of best and worst ECtHR judgments of 2019 (see our previous blog post). We would like to thank everybody who participated in the vote. It is our pleasure to announce the results of the poll today.
In the category of best judgment, the winner is… Continue reading
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
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
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
Ingrida Milkaite is a PhD researcher in the research group Law & Technology at Ghent University, Belgium. She is working on the research project ‘A children’s rights perspective on privacy and data protection in the digital age’ (Ghent University, Special Research Fund) and is a member of the Human Rights Centre at the Faculty of Law and Criminology at Ghent University and PIXLES (Privacy, Information Exchange, Law Enforcement and Surveillance).
Two young men publicly posted a photograph of themselves kissing on Facebook. The post ‘went viral’ and attracted around 800 comments, most of which were hateful. Some of the comments featured suggestions to burn, exterminate, hang, beat, castrate, and kill the two men as well as gay people in general. The national authorities, while acknowledging that some comments were ‘unethical’, refused to launch a pre-trial investigation for incitement to hatred and violence against homosexuals. They considered that the couple’s ‘eccentric behaviour’ had been provocative and that launching an investigation in this case would be a ‘waste of time and resources’. The judgement in the case of Beizaras and Levickas v. Lithuania (Application no. 41288/15) was published on 14 January 2020. The ECtHR found a violation of Article 14 ECHR in conjunction with Article 8 ECHR, as well as a violation of Article 13 ECHR. Continue reading
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
As the Grand Chamber made clear in the (in)famous Lautsi case, “the decision whether or not to perpetuate a tradition falls in principle within the margin of appreciation”. Exercising our discretion in this respect, we hereby decide to perpetuate our tradition of celebrating the start of the New Year with the launch of our annual poll for the best and worst ECtHR judgment of the preceding year.
Where did the Strasbourg Court in 2019 seize the opportunity to truly act as a beacon of hope to victims of human rights violations across Europe? Conversely, where did the Court fail to provide robust human rights protection? We would like to warmly encourage you, our readers, to participate in answering these questions in the 2019 edition of our vote. Continue reading
The Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, better known as the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), was opened for signature in Rome on 4 November 1950. The Convention will thus be 70 next autumn. Ghent University’s Human Rights Centre wishes to take the opportunity of this anniversary to take stock of the history of the Convention system and to think about its future during an international conference.
The conference will take place in Ghent (Belgium) on 18-20 November 2020. More information can be found in the call for papers below (or download the PDF version with clickable links from the conference website, which will be regularly updated).
During the conference, we will also be present in a Strasbourg Observers live format, allowing scholars to critically discuss single ECtHR judgments in the best Strasbourg Observers tradition. We hope to meet many of our readers and contributors there! Continue reading
By Dr. Ingrid Leijten, Assistant Professor at the Department of Constitutional and Administrative Law at Leiden University
On December 20th of last year, the Dutch Supreme Court ruled in the case of Urgenda v. de Staat der Nederlanden, confirming the finding of the Court of Appeal that the State violates articles 2 and 8 ECHR if it does not reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% in 2020. Seconds after the live-streamed presentation of the summary of the judgment, online media in the Netherlands and beyond reported about this groundbreaking judgment: for the first time, worldwide, a court in a final judgment held a State accountable for not reaching certain climate goals – on the basis of human rights. The judgments of the District Court (2015) and the Court of Appeal (2018) had also received ample attention; their conclusions and argumentation have been both celebrated and criticized, and I will not try to summarize these discussions here. Neither will I provide a thorough analysis of the Supreme Court judgment in light of the case law of the ECtHR. The reason for this is that the ‘general interest character’ of Urgenda obstructs a straightforward comparison. Instead, I want to highlight what is interesting – as well as convincing – about the way the Supreme Court addresses the issue as a matter of human rights. I argue that the judgment provides a promising route, at least for some other climate cases, although it also raises questions about the role of human rights and the effectiveness of rights based climate litigation. Continue reading