Tuesday 21 October 2008

Social and Economic Rights and the ECHR

Last week Jean-Paul Costa, the President of the Court, gave the opening speech (in French) at a seminar on economic, social and cultural rights organised by the French Human Rights Commission. It is well-known that the European Convention does not contain many socio-economic rights as such (the few exceptions being the protection of property and the right to education). Thus Costa specicifally pointed to that other important European human rights treaty, the European Social Charter. The Court has increasingly started to refer to that text. In addition, the Court's president noted that the Court has on a small scale, but for many years already, read socio-economic rights into the existing provisions of the Conventions. Notably, he implied that this development may continue in unexpected directions in the years to come. He referred to a recent application by a Russian citizen (Budina) who complained that his pension was so low that it violated Article 3 ECHR (prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment). In his speech, Costa noted that such applications would have been dismissed as manifestly ill-founded in the past, but that such may not necessarily be the case in the future. In this respect, there are indeed some precedents: in its judgment in the case of Moldovan II (2005), the Court held that the living conditions of a group of evicted Roma were so horrible that there had been a violation of Article 3. This comes close to reading at least a minimum right to housing into the Convention in eviction cases.

Considering the difficulties of having socio-economic rights violations judicially reviewed on the international level, this is certainly a development to be followed. Keep the name Budina in mind!