Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Summer Break ECHR Blog

Dear readers,  this blog is taking a Summer break after another intense blogging season on the ECHR and its Court. We wish all of you a good Summer or Winter, depending on the hemisphere,

Antoine Buyse & Kushtrim Istrefi

Thursday, 15 July 2021

New Book: Rights of Families of Disappeared Persons

Gra
żyna Baranowska (Poznan Human Rights Centre) has published a book titled Rights of Families of Disappeared Persons (Intersentia). 
 
Here is the abstract of the book:
 
"This book examines how international judicial and non-judicial bodies in Europe address the needs of the families of forcibly disappeared persons. The needs in question are returning the remains of disappeared persons; the right to truth; the acceptance of responsibility by states; and the right to compensation. These have been identified as the four most commonly shared basic and fundamental needs of families in which an adult was disappeared many years previously and is now assumed to be dead, which is representative of the situation of the vast majority of families of disappeared persons in Europe.

The analysis covers the judgments and decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, the UN Human Rights Committee, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the Human Rights Chamber for Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Human Rights Advisory Panel in Kosovo, as well as the activities of the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus, the Special Process on Missing Persons in the Territory of former Yugoslavia, the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances and the International Commission on Missing Persons. In so doing, the book demonstrates whether, how, and based on what principles these four needs of the families of disappeared persons can constitute a claim based on international human rights law."

Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Country Factsheets on the Execution of Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights

Recently, the Committee of Ministers' Department for the Execution of Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights
launched a dedicated webpage which gives a country-by-country overview by way of factsheets on each state party to the ECHR. Each factsheet gives an overview of key issues flowing from the judgments of the Court which are currently pending before the Committee of Ministers. The factsheets link on to more detailed information on specific cases. The sheets also include thematic information, e.g. on new domestic laws and policies or other reforms made by states following ECtHR judgments, listing main achievements under closed cases as well as main cases under supervision. They show statistics on the number of 'leading' and 'repetitive cases' per state. 

As the Council of Europe specifies, 'the creation of this new webpage aims to further enhance the transparency of the ECHR judgments’ execution process and to make easier the access to relevant information by all interested parties.' Indeed a very useful resource in the growing amount of information on the stage after the Court issued its judgment in a case.

Tuesday, 6 July 2021

Aliens before the European Court of Human Rights

David Moya and Georgios Milios have edited a volume titled Aliens before the European Court of Human Rights: Ensuring Minimum Standards of Human Rights Protection (Brill). The book is geared towards a
ll those interested in migration and asylum law and the case-law of the ECHR.
 
Here is a short abstract of the book:
 
'This volume conducts an in-depth analysis of the ECtHR’s case law in the area of migration and asylum, exploring the role of the Court in this area of law. Each chapter deals with the case law on one specific ECHR article that is relevant for migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. In addition, the volume is enriched by two additional studies which deal with issues that are treated in a transversal manner, namely vulnerability and the margin of appreciation. The volume systematises the case law on aliens’ rights under the ECHR, offering readers the chance to familiarise themselves with or gain deeper insight into the main principles the Strasbourg court applies in its case law regarding aliens.'

Friday, 2 July 2021

Summer School: ECHR in Times of Crises

From 5 to 10 September 2021, TU Dresden and Leipzig University
are organising a summer school 'Human Rights in Theory and Practice: The European Convention on Human Rights in Times of Crises'. The summer school will take place both online and in person (in Dresden)
.  
 
Themes such as emergency situations, populism, migration, and the role of economic, social and cultural rights in the context of crisis will be explored from an interdisciplinary perspective.
 
Speakers of the summer school include the Strasbourg Court Judge Anja Seibert-Fohr and 17 other established scholars and practitioners working on the Convention system.
 
The Summer School is designed for advanced students of law, political science, international relations and similar fields. Prior knowledge about the European Human Rights System may be beneficial but is not required. The language of the Summer School will be English.
 
The programme is available here and the registration link is here. For more information you can visit the website of the summer school.

Monday, 28 June 2021

New ECHR Readings

Please find below a new batch of articles and other publications related to the ECHR and the Court:

* Medes Malaihollo, ‘Due Diligence in International Environmental Law and International Human Rights Law: A Comparative Legal Study of the Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement and Positive Obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights’, Netherlands International Law Review 2021, vol. 68, no. 1, p. 121–155: 
 
'Due diligence is a frequently employed notion in international law, yet much is still to be explored about this concept. This article aims to contribute to an understanding of due diligence obligations in international law, which is useful as it can form the basis for a further clarification of corresponding legal rights of subjects of international law. With this purpose in mind, this article initiates the construction of a working model of due diligence in international law by exploring this notion from two perspectives: an accountability perspective and a regulatory perspective. Subsequently, this article will use this model to compare the operation of due diligence obligations in two branches of international law: international environmental law and international human rights law. In doing so, it will become clear that due diligence contains two core elements: ‘reasonableness’ and ‘good faith’. Moreover, it will become apparent that the operation of due diligence obligations in these two branches has implications for systemic issues in international law. Further research on the operation of due diligence obligations in other branches of international law is therefore recommended.' 

* Veronika Fikfak, ‘Friendly Settlement Before the European Court of Human Rights’, iCourts Working Paper Series, No. 247 (forthcoming in International Journal of Constitutional Law 2022):

'Even though they represent almost 50% of all reported cases before the European Court of Human Rights, settlements of human rights violations escape scholars’ attention. Whilst victims are increasingly expected to resolve their disputes amicably, it is unclear whether applicants will be better off accepting settlement offers rather than proceeding to litigation. The paper charts the practice of friendly settlements before the Court from 1980s to today, mapping a shift in approach from seeking bilateral solutions to the proactive role of the Registry as mediator encouraging states and applicants to settle their cases to relieve the Court of the heavy workload. The study of 10,500 cases reveals how strategies adopted by the Registry – from procedural changes to how and when consent is given to settlement, to the framing of settlement offers and a close relationship with representatives of the respondent state – have favoured the most frequent violators of the Convention and sidelined the interests of the applicant. The analysis uncovers that the imbalance between parties and lack of enforcement are very much present in the ECtHR settlement system and that the active role of the Registry has reinforced, rather than redressed these concerns. The findings expose the dangers of pursuing en masse settlement in the human rights context and raise concerns about achieving long-term justice for victims of human rights violations through other means than adjudication.'

* Daniel Peat, ‘The Tyranny of Choice and the Interpretation of Standards: Why the European Court of Human Rights Uses Consensus’, 53 N.Y.U. J. Int’l L. & Pol. 381 (2021):

'Recent studies in social psychology have consistently shown that individuals are inherently averse to choice overload. Faced with complex choice sets, people are unhappier with the choices they make, more likely to regret their decision, and more prone to reverse their initial choice. This article tests the hypothesis that individuals’ innate aversion to choice overload might explain how courts and tribunals interpret standards such as fairness, necessity, and proportionality. Drawing on the findings of an empirical study of 461 judgments of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, the article suggests that the Court’s consensus doctrine must be understood partially as a reaction to the tyranny of choice.'

* Roberta Medda-Windischer, ‘Religious and Linguistic Minorities and the European Court of Human Rights: Between Restrictive Measures and Concerted Solutions’, Europa Ethnica 2021, Vol. 78, no. 1, pp. 36-47.

* Chris Wiersma, ‘The ‘Disobedience’ of Journalists at Public Assemblies: An Analytical Critique of the ECtHR's Case Law from a Media Freedom Perspective’, Nordic Journal of Human Rights, 2020, Vol. 38, no. 4, pp. 261-278.

Thursday, 24 June 2021

New Factsheet on Conditions of Detention under the ECHR

The Council of Europe
Department for the Execution of Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights has issued a new thematic factsheet on the execution of the Court judgments concerning conditions of detention and prohibition of torture.
 
Here is a brief summary of the report:

"Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights enjoins States to ensure that detainees be held in conditions which are compatible with respect for their human dignity, that the manner and method of the execution of the measure do not subject them to distress or hardship of an intensity exceeding the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention and that, given the practical demands of imprisonment, detainees’ health and well-being are adequately secured. Also, according to the basic principlesof the European Prison Rules, persons deprived of their liberty retain all rights that are not lawfully taken away by the decision sentencing them or remanding in custody. Moreover, prison conditions that infringe prisoners’ human rights are not justifiedby lack of resources, while all detention should be managed so as to facilitate the reintegration into free society of persons deprived of their liberty.1The present factsheet sets out examples of measures adopted and reported by States in the context of the execution of the European Court’s judgments with a view to preventing and eradicating torture and other forms of ill-treatment of detainees in accordance with Article 3 of the European Convention. It focuses on the following issues: material conditions of detention; detainees’ physical and mental healthcare, psycho-social support and preparation for social reintegration; detention on remand and in police detention facilities; protection and prevention of detainees’ ill-treatment by prison staff and inmates; national inspection, monitoring and complaint systems effective remedies." 
 
The Department for the Execution of ECHR Judgments has previously issued other important thematic and country factsheets, which can be accessed here.

Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Davor Derenčinović Elected New Judge in Respect of Croatia

On 22 June, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe elected Davor Derenčinović as judge to the European Court of Human Rights in respect of Croatia. His term of of office of nine years will commence on 2 January 2022.

Derenčinović is a full professor of criminal law at the University of Zagreb and since 2010 served as ad-hoc judge of the European Court of Human Rights in respect of Croatia. He also holds the position of the president of the Croatian Academy of Legal Sciences. In the past he served as a member of different committees in Croatian Parliament and Government. His and the CV of the two other Croatian candidates for the position of ECHR judge can be accessed here.

Monday, 21 June 2021

Webinar on Evidence and Proof in ECtHR Proceedings

On 5 July, The DISSECT research project led by Marie-Bénédicte Dembour (Ghent University) is organising a webinar on 'Evidence and Proof in Proceedings Before the European Court of Human Rights.' The DISSECT project, more widely, looks at e
vidence in international human rights adjudication. Places are limited to facilitate in-depth debate  so please apply if you would like to attend. This is the information provided by the organisers:

'Evidentiary issues are crucial but often neglected in scholarly discussions of international human rights adjudication. DISSECT is organising a one-day webinar exploring how these issues play out in case law of the European Court of Human Rights. This will take place on Monday 5 July 2021, from 9:30 to 16:45 CET.
 
Featuring a number of academic experts and benefiting from input by the former Deputy-Registrar of the Court, Mr Michael O’Boyle, the aim is to allow and develop in-depth discussions. In order to facilitate this, we ask that participants commit to the whole day, rather than attend one or two sessions. For the same reason, the number of participants will be capped at 25.
 
If you are interested, please send an email to research.hrc@ugent.be with a short motivation why you would like attend the seminar. We will confirm your participation by 28 June 2021. Speakers’ presentations will be recorded and subsequently posted on the DISSECT’s website.'



Friday, 18 June 2021

Blog Symposium on Protocol 15 ECHR - A Protocol for the Ostriches? Civil Society Perspectives

Başak Çalı, Hertie School

Protocol 15 to the European Convention on Human Rights, a culmination of the UK Government’s contribution to the process of reform of the European Court of Human Rights during its Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in the first half of 2012, will finally came into force in August this year. The official purposes of the 2012 Brighton Declaration were to strengthen the implementation of the Convention at the national level, to strengthen the principle of subsidiarity in the ECHR system, and to help the Court to focus its resources on the most important cases. 

 

As is well-known, the Protocol 15 package includes the following amendments to the Convention: 

 

(1) it adds a reference to the principle of subsidiarity and the doctrine of the margin

of appreciation to the Preamble to the Convention;

(2) it changes the rules on the age of judges of the Court, to ensure that all judges are

able to serve the full nine-year term;

(3) it removes the right of parties to a case before the Court to veto the

relinquishment of jurisdiction in a case before a Chamber in favour of the Grand

Chamber;

(4) it reduces the time limit for applications to the Court from six months to four months; and

(5) it deletes the wording ‘provided that no case may be rejected on this ground which has not been duly considered by a domestic tribunal’ from 35 (3) b of the Convention. 

 

In this blog post, my aim is to offer reflections on the first, fourth and fifth of these amendments introduced by Protocol 15 from the perspective of human rights organisations working to protect human rights in the Council of Europe. As such, I will focus on the addition of an express reference to the principle of “subsidiarity” and the doctrine of “the margin of appreciation” in the Preamble of the Convention, reduction of the time limit from six months to four months in bringing complaints before the ECtHR, and the amendments to Article 35 (3)b of the Convention. 

 

A notable aspect of the Brighton Conference that brought about Protocol 15 in 2012 was the lack of civil society participation in the discussions concerning these amendments.  Only a handful of NGOs were invited to the conference and civil society presence from countries with the highest number of pending applications before the Court was missing. Ironically, however, human rights work by civil society organisations across Europe is more likely to be impacted by these amendments than that of all the other actors of the Convention system, namely, the states parties and the Court. Specifically, Protocol 15 now requires human rights civil society to be ever more vigilant, through documentation, monitoring and advocacy, to ensure that these amendments are not interpreted (or mis-interpreted) by national authorities and the ECtHR in ways that lead to under-protection of Convention rights as an effective living instrument. 

 

Coming into force of the emphasis on subsidiarity in the Preamble: Increased risks to under-protection?

 

Looking from 2021, subsidiarity and the margin of appreciation appear to be well established and frequently invoked principles of interpretation in the case-law of the Court.  The current President of the Court is well known for having coined that the ECtHR has entered the ‘age of subsidiarity’ back in 2014. Starting in 2012, the Court’s case law has indeed placed a newly found doctrinal emphasis on the primary responsibility of the member states of the Council of Europe to secure the rights and freedoms set out in the Convention. It has done so by paying systematic attention on whether national authorities show good faith engagement with the Convention’s principles. Where it has found such engagement, the Court has become more reluctant to carry out substantive reviews of outcomes reached by domestic courts in individual cases. Studies, in particular, show that more and more cases brought or supported by NGOs working for example on immigration detention, push backs at land borders,  or full-face veil bans end up receiving lite-human rights review by the Court. 

 

In this respect, it may be held that the coming into force of Protocol 15 does not signal new, but rather ongoing challenges for human rights civil society in Europe working to advance the rights of the marginalised groups. The coming into force of Protocol 15 is a mere formalisation of what has de facto been underway in the Court’s case law over the last decade. 

 

One new question in this context is whether the coming into force of the amendments to the Preamble will lead to even more increase in the overly broad use or even misuse of subsidiarity and the margin of appreciation at the expense of effective protection of the rights in the Convention by the Court or by national authorities. Overbroad use is not only a matter of concern for civil society organisations that seek to protect the rights of marginalised groups, but also those that seek to expand the scope of the rights protected by the Convention, (as recently manifested in civil society efforts that demand the Court to address the climate crisis in the context of the Convention). 

 

In addition, there is further evidence that some national authorities are not employing subsidiarity to deepen and widen their engagement with the spirit of the Convention, but instead to shield national sovereignty, at the expense of the very spirit of the Convention. This misuse of subsidiarity not only undermines effective access to the Convention before domestic courts, but also the implementation of interim measures or judgments of the ECtHR. Consequently, the coming into force of Protocol 15 may also undercut civil society efforts to ensure the implementation of human rights at the national level, where subsidiarity is used as a sword against rights of migrants, women, LGBTI communities, minorities, journalists or political opposition.

 

The reduction of the time limit from six months to four months 

 

The most significant concern with the time-limit amendment from the perspective of civil society is the consequences this will have on the practical and effective access to the ECtHR. Human rights NGOs criticised the lack of adequate reflection on its potential impact on effective access to the ECtHR already in 2012. In particular, civil society pointed to the negative effects that the shorter time limit is likely to have. It may undermine access to the Court in a wide variety of situations. These include situations where there is a prolonged delay in notifying applicants of final domestic decisions; when applicants live in geographically remote locations, are in detention or other forms of confinement, or lack access to modern communications technology such as the internet; when cases are complex and require lengthy preparations; when individuals lack access to support from NGOs or qualified lawyers and when lawyers are not adequately experienced in bringing applications to the Court. It is notable from these discussions that the reduction of the time limit is likely to affect individuals with significant vulnerabilities and with the least access to resources or legal advice. 

 

Despite these risks, the Committee of Ministers, in particular, has not done a base line study as to how the reduction of the time limit would hamper access to the ECtHR, for which groups and in which kinds of ways. This amendment will come into force six months following the entry into force of the Protocol. the Committee of Ministers’ Explanatory Reportstates that this is to ‘to allow potential applicants to become fully aware of the new deadline.’As discussed above, however, being aware of the new deadline may not in and of itself compensate barriers to meet the shortened time period.  

 

Given the wide-ranging risks to access, it is now imperative for civil society to monitor and document if and when the new time limit hampers access to Court. There are, however, challenges as to how the civil society communicates these formally with the Court, in particular, given that  the civil society’s ability to communicate with the Court by way of third-party interventions starts only after a case is communicated by a chamber. A rigid use of the new time limit by single judge decisions, in particular, may risk cases to be declared inadmissible prior to their communication to the state party. This amendment, therefore, places an additional onus on civil society to monitor and document the risks posed by this amendment to effective access to the Convention system in practice and to find alternative channels to communicate with the Court and other organs of the Council of Europe on these risks. 

 

Deletion of ‘provided that no case may be rejected on this ground which has not been duly considered by a domestic tribunal’ from Article 35(3)b ECHR

 

According to the Committee of Ministers’ Explanatory Report, this amendment is intended to give greater effect to the principle that the Court should not be concerned with ‘trivial matters’. This is a concerning development as the notion of ‘trivial matters’ does not lend itself to a clear and objective definition considering that the Convention is a living instrument. 

 

This amendment is also a major departure from Protocol 14, which inserted this clause to Article 35 of the Convention in the first place. At the height of the Court’s serious backlog crisis in 2004, this explicit condition was inserted to Article 35 precisely to act as a safeguard against the introduction of the ‘significant disadvantage’ requirement  to the admissibility criteria. The Committee of Ministers in its Explanatory Report to the Protocol 14 specifically stated ‘while the Court alone is competent to interpret the new admissibility requirement and decide on its application, its terms should ensure that rejection of cases requiring an examination on the merits is avoided. The latter will notably include cases which, notwithstanding their trivial nature, raise serious questions affecting the application or the interpretation of the Convention or important questions concerning national law.

 

Protocol 15 completely abandons this safeguard clause and the principled position that the so called ‘trivial cases’ may also raise serious questions concerning the interpretation of the Convention or national law. From the perspective of civil society, this amendment is clearly regressive. It removes a valuable safeguard against the risk of a denial of justice to individuals before domestic courts as well as the ECtHR. The human rights NGOs, for example, underlined that by deleting this clause, a human rights case may end up not being examined by a single judicial body at any stage of legal proceedings. In addition, this clause enables cases that are not properly considered by national courts only on procedural grounds to be declared inadmissible by the Court. Given the Court’s increasingly formal approach to admissibility criteria even in manifestly non-trivial gross human rights violation cases, the removal of this safeguard presents further risks of restricting access to the Court.  

 

Conclusion: A Protocol for Ostriches? 

 

Back in 2012, one of the main stated aims of Protocol 15 was to strengthen the implementation of the Convention. Yet, there were neither broad-based consultations with civil society organisations nor were any of the concerns raised by civil society organisations regarding the glaring gap between the stated aims of Protocol 15 and the amendments proposed taken into account. From the perspective of civil society, it was not clear then, nor is it clear now whether any of the amendments discussed in this post can fulfil their purported aims. There are real risks that the emphasis on subsidiarity may create a Convention-lite national judicial culture and that the most vulnerable and the most legal-resource-poor individuals may not be able to reach the Court on time. 

 

In addition, human rights cases raising genuine questions about the interpretation of national laws or the Convention may never see a proper day in court and this newly found emphasis on weeding out ‘non-trivial cases’ may undermine hard won access to court safeguards under Article 6 ECHR. Seen from these perspectives, this is a protocol for the ostriches. It requires significant monitoring, research and advocacy from civil society organisations working with the Council of Europe to ensure that the risks to the effective protection of human rights brought about by this Protocol are visible and are addressed effectively.