Wednesday 26 October 2016

Massive Open Online Course on the ECHR launched!

Dear ECHR Blog readers, it is my particular pleasure to announce that today, here at the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM) at Utrecht University, we are launching a Massive Open Online Course on the European Convention on Human Rights. The formal title is 'Human Rights for open Societies - An introduction into the ECHR' After having worked on this project for over a year together with my colleagues professor Janneke Gerards and dr Paulien de Morree, I am very happy to inform you that the course is now open for registration on the Coursera platform. You can watch a short introduction video to get an impression.

This is our University's official press release on the course: 

On November 14 Utrecht University will launch a new MOOC about ‘Human Rights for Open Societies – An Introduction to the European Convention on Human Rights’. This MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) will be offered on Coursera. Antoine Buyse, Professor of Human Rights and Janneke Gerards, Professor of Fundamental Rights Law, both at the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM) and connected to the strategic research theme Institutions for Open Societies of Utrecht University, will offer the participants an introduction to one of the world’s most intricate human rights systems: the European Convention on Human Rights. This human rights treaty is one of the most successful tools for protecting human dignity, and it is a crucial tool to achieving an open society. 

Human rights are under pressure in many places across the globe. Peaceful protests are violently quashed. Voting is tampered with. And often, minorities are excluded from decision-making. All of this threatens the ideal of an open society in which each of us can be free and participate equally. A solid protection of human rights is needed for an open society to exist and to flourish. But it often is an uphill battle to work towards that ideal. 

The course will help participants equip themselves and learn more about what human rights are and how they work. They will learn when and how people can turn to the European Court of Human Rights to complain about human rights violations. And they will learn when and how the Court tries to solve many of the difficult human rights dilemmas of today. The course looks at, amongst others, the freedom of expression and demonstration, the right to vote, and the prohibition of discrimination. The rights of migrants,  refugees, and other vulnerable groups will also be addressed in this MOOC. Finally, the course will look into the question of whether it is possible to restrict rights and under what conditions. 

Is this a course for you?
This course is open to everyone interested in the protection of human rights and the linkages with open and democratic societies. 

Interested in participating? 
The MOOC ‘Human Rights for Open Societies – An Introduction to the European Convention on Human Rights’ will start on November 14 2016. 

Enroll here on Coursera: . Enrollment is for free – participants only pay a fee if they want to obtain a certificate at the end of the course.

This course was developed by Antoine Buyse, Janneke Gerards and Paulien de Morree of Utrecht Law School.

About Utrecht University and the strategic theme Institutions for Open Societies at Utrecht University: Within the strategic theme Institutions for Open Societies, research is conducted on the formal and informal rules of human action. These institutions such as laws, customs, and the associated organizations and networks, enable or constrain the realization of an open, democratic and equitable society. They also determine a society’s ability to absorb shocks and generate sustainable prosperity. By obtaining a deeper understanding of their institutional underpinnings, through a combination of expertise from several disciplines, Utrecht University is contributing to the development of open and resilient societies around the globe.

Tuesday 25 October 2016

Book on ECHR and Democratic Change in Central and Eastern Europe

Cambridge University Press has published a book edited by a current and a former judge of the European Court of Human Rights, Julia Motoc and Ineta Ziemele, entitled 'The Impact of the ECHR on Democratic Change in Central and Eastern Europe. Judicial Perspectives'. Judge Motoc is judge in respect of Romania at the Court and Ineta Ziemele is currently a judge in the Constitutional Court of Latvia. They have compiled an edited volume with a impressive lists of contributors, including many current and former judges of the Court: Dean Spielmann, Iulia Motoc, Luzius Wildhaber, Ledi Bianku, Alvina Gyulumyan, Davit Melkonyan, Khanlar Hajyev, Faris Vehabovic, Ksenija Turkovic, Jasna Omejec, Aleš Pejchal, Julia Laffranque, Károly Bárd, Mārtiņš Mits, Danutė Jočienė, Mirjana Lazarova-Trajkovska, Ilo Trajkovski, Nebojša B. Vučinić, Lech Garlicki, Ireneusz Kondak, Crina Kaufmann, Anatoly I. Kovler, Dragoljub Popović, Tanasie Marinković, Milan Blaško, Mihal Kučera, Jan Zobec, Ganna Yudkivska, Ineta Ziemele.

This is the book's abstract:

'High hopes were placed in the ability of the European Convention and the Court of Human Rights to help realise fundamental freedoms and civil and political rights in the post-communist countries. This book explores the effects of the Strasbourg human rights system on the domestic law, politics and reality of the new member States. With contributions by past and present judges of the European Court of Human Rights and assorted constitutional courts, this book provides an insider view of the relationship between Central and Eastern European states and the ECHR, and examines the fundamental role played by the ECHR in the process of democratisation, particularly the areas of the right to liberty, the right to propriety, freedom of expression, and minorities' rights.'

Monday 24 October 2016

Call for Papers ECHR and EU Law

On 17 and 18 March 2017, the University of Nicosia on Cyprus is organising a conference entitled 'The Inter-relationship between the European Convention on Human Rights and European Union Law'. It is now inviting submissions through a call for papers. The conference coincides with the  Cypriot Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in the first half of 2017. This is the official announcement of the organisers:

"The University of Nicosia, Department of Law, under the auspices of the Cypriot Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (November 2016-May 2017) invite submissions for a two-day conference on The Inter-relationship between the European Convention on Human Rights and European Union Law to be held in the premises of the University of Nicosia on Friday and Saturday 17-18 March, 2017.

The conference will examine the various aspects of the relationship between the European Convention on Human Rights and European Union Law. These include, inter alia: 

- Negotiations and potential effect of the accession of the EU to the ECHR
- Application of the ECHR during the interpretation and implementation of EU law, either primary or secondary, by national courts, the Court of Justice, the EGC, or the ECtHR.
- The relationship between the Charter on Fundamental Rights and the ECHR

Interested scholars should email an abstract no longer than 750 words by December 12, 2016 to: emilianides.a at Scholars whose abstract has been accepted will be notified no later than December 22, 2017. There are no fees to participate in this Conference. Participants are responsible for securing their own funding for travel and lodging.

Organising Committee:
Prof. Achilles C. Emilianides
Dr. Stergios Mitas  
Dr. Christos Papastylianos
Dr. Costas Stratilatis

Questions: please direct inquiries in connection with this Conference to Professor Achilles Emilianides: emilianides.a at . "

Friday 21 October 2016

The Role of Human Dignity in ECHR Case-Law

Last week, I delivered a keynote speech at a multidisciplinary conference organised by the Ethics Institute here at Utrecht University. The conference was the closing event of a large project on human dignity as the foundation of human rights. My lecture went into the concept of "human dignity" in European Convention case-law. Please find the keynote text below, for those of you interested in the issue:

Dignified Law: The Role of Human Dignity in European Convention Case-Law
Antoine Buyse, keynote delivered on 11 October 2016, at Utrecht University

Very recently, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg issued its judgment in the case of Yaroslav Belousov v. Russia. Yaroslav, a student of political science, had been one of many protesters against the fraudulent elections in 2012. He was arrested, so the judgment tells us, after chanting slogans and throwing a small yellow object towards the police. Amongst others, Mr Belousov complained about the ways in which he had been treated: during his trial he had been held in a glass cabin (transparency may not generally popular in Russia, but in this context it is) and a metal cage. He received very little medical treatment for his bad eye-sight and asthma. And he was many times moved from prison to the courtroom and vice versa in very cramped conditions in vans, during many hours. In the case and in line with its case-law, the Court held that “The State must ensure that a person is detained in conditions which are compatible with respect for human dignity, that the manner and method of the execution of the measure do not subject him to distress or hardship of an intensity exceeding the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention, and that, given the practical demands of imprisonment, his health and well-being are adequately secured” (para. 92).  

In the judgment, however, it only found that the constant moving of Mr Belousov in difficult and cramped constituted a violation of his human rights. As to the other issues, it held the following: “Nevertheless, taking into account the cumulative effect of those conditions, the Court does not consider that the conditions of the applicant’s detention, although far from adequate, reached the threshold of severity required to characterise the treatment as inhuman or degrading” (para. 98). The conditions were below a number of European standards, but not as bad as to constitute a human rights violation under Article 3 of the Convention.

So what rule does “human dignity” play here? Is the reference to it a standard incantation? A pedagogical warning to the state concerned ? Or does it mean more?

This case, to which I will return at the end my presentation, is an example of the surfacing of “human dignity”  in the practice of a human rights court. In my contribution tot his conference, I will focus on legal practice, on how “human dignity” features in the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights.

As professor Christopher McCrudden* has traced them, the uses of “human dignity” in law have multiplied, especially after World War II. Like a quickly spreading epidemic of words, human dignity was explicitly included in all of the major human rights declarations and treaties. All treaties? No, not entirely. One human rights treaty among the many created in the second half of the 20th century, was completely silent about human dignity: the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms – often abbreviated to ECHR – adopted by Western European democracies in 1950. 

One will look in vain in the text of the Convention for the words “dignity” or “human dignity.” The preamble of the Treaty speaks of justice, peace, democracy and the rule of law. But not of dignity. All the more surprising maybe, as the Convention explicitly builds on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Convention was envisaged as the first practical step in the enforcement of a selected number of rights of the Universal Declaration – often formulated in very similar ways. But where the Declaration refers several times to human dignity (“all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” says its first Article), the European Convention’s drafters did not opt for grand statements of that kind.

So what explains this absence? Certainly not different philosophies about human rights than those of the drafters of the Universal Declaration – they partly knew each other, largely lived in the same socio-cultural context and equally perceived human rights protection as a necessary reaction to the barbarities of the Second World War. A former president of the European Court, Jean-Paul Costa, has suggested that the reason, rather, may be found in the intention to create a pragmatic, practice-oriented instrument.** To make sure that the ideals of the Universal Declaration would not be lost in space, or, more specifically, in the trenches of the Cold War, the European drafters created practical instruments such as a human rights court and binding obligations for states by way of a treaty. Pragmatics rather than dreams.

In any event, among practitioners and academics alike, this European Convention is widely seen as both the most successful, effective, and most-developed system of human rights protection in the world. Virtually all other treaties, which are without exception seen as less effective, firmly ground themselves in human dignity and do so explicitly. One almost wonders whether there is a reverse causality between explicitly acknowledging human dignity and effectively protecting it. First appearances may deceive, however.

The first time “dignity” appears in the constantly extended treaties of the European Convention system is as late as 2002. In Protocol No. 13 on the abolition of the death penalty, the text states that such abolition is essential for the full recognition of the inherent dignity of all human beings. This late mention of dignity in the European Convention treaty texts is telling in several ways. 

First off, apparently dignity had by 2002 entered the normal vocabulary of the European Convention system. Secondly, it is used here to support a distinctly regional, European normative achievement: the abolition of the death penalty. Obviously, the death penalty still exists in many countries across the globe and this new agreement is therefore reflective of a new-found European rather than a universal consensus. A specific European content to what human dignity means. As well as an idea of progress: the text of the Protocol talks about the “full recognition” of dignity, implying that the existence of the death penalty can no longer be co-existent with the idea of dignity. How different it was in the original text of the Convention, in 1950, when the death penalty was included as a formal exception to the right to life. That exception is still in the Convention, but has by now largely become a dead letter.

So is indeed the year 2002 the first time European human rights discovered human dignity? No, not at all. Some European treaties, such as the Convention’s sister treaty, the European Social Charter, do include dignity language and even a specific right to dignity at work. And also within the European Convention on Human Rights system, human dignity does play a role: not in the treaty text, but in the practice of the Court’s jurisprudence, its case-law. To date (a search I did in the case-law database halfway October 2016) 876 cases include a reference to human dignity. Sometimes because a victim of a human rights violation mentions or invokes it, but very often because the European Court itself uses it. In a case about transsexuals (Christine Goodwin v the UK) the Court even found “human dignity and human freedom” to be the “very essence”  of the Convention (para. 90). Now, these cases may be a small number on the total of tens of thousands of cases in the Court’s history, they are not at all “une quantité négligeable”. Thus, we can maybe compare the silence of the treaty about human dignity with Fawlty Towers’ “don’t mention the war”: by first being silent about it, it eventually surfaces all the time.

Before going into the appearances of dignity in this case-law itself, it may be useful to distinguish three roles that human rights may play: as norms, as tools, and as discourse. 

The first role will be most familiar to both law and ethics: human rights are norms. Norms that protect certain freedoms and entitlements of people and bind state behavior. These norms are open in the sense of not completely pinning down what states can or cannot do: in almost all cases, a measure of leeway is left to states as to practical implementation. Guidance, but no straight-jacket.

The second role of human rights is that they are tools. Tools for alleged victims of injustice to bring forward claims. In a very direct sense, in that rights such as free speech or the freedom assembly enable people to voice their views. But also because human rights protection systems offer avenues, both nationally and internationally to lodge these claims: the possibility to have a court look at your complaint and issue a binding decision on it, which the state then has to implement.

Finally, a third role for human rights is that they are discourse. They are a way of talking about or framing issues in society. Is a large degree of homelessness an issue of poverty, of social injustice, or also a violation of human rights? An increasing amount of issues has slowly but surely come to be talked about as challenges of human rights, leading some to talk of human rights inflation or even of the colonization by human rights of wider societal issues. What can be said, in any event, is that framing one’s claim as human rights gives more weight to that claim, connecting it to fundamental, legally recognised basic needs and interests of people.

Let me now turn to the actual usage of “human dignity” in the case-law of the Court itself. I will argue that the ways in which dignity appears in this case-law, even in a relatively tight-knit, coherent system such as the European human rights one, is quite differentiated. This differentiated usage of dignity is can be discerned in three dimensions:

(1) the specific rights to which it is mostly applied
(2) the way it differentiates according to the specific facts and context of a case
(3) the role it plays in the legal argument

As to the first, it is quite visible that the Court refers to dignity by far the most when it concerns so-called core rights as defined by the Court: Articles 2, 3, and 4 of the Convention – these are respectively the right to life, the prohibition of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, and finally the prohibition of slavery and servitude. Article 3 specifically is very often applied in the context of human dignity reasoning, from the acceptability of prison conditions to certain forms of punishment. The three roles that human rights can take may help to explain this. Considering human rights as norms, many of these core rights are considered to be absolute and thus not warranting exceptions or tinkering by states (although the right to life has some exceptions). If one looks at human rights as tools, these core rights are seen as essential means for the exercise of other human rights. In addition, applicants before the European Court may invoke the human dignity argument to support their claim and give it more moral or even legal weight: human dignity is then used discursively, as a way to frame a claim. 

An example is the case of Mr Jalloh. He was arrested in Germany for possession of hard drugs. Upon his arrest, he quickly swallowed a little plastic bubble with the cocaine and denied the offense. As he refused to take a pill that would make him vomit so that the essential proof of his offense could be obtained, he was forcibly administered a special substance into his stomach through a tube in his nose which made him throw up the drugs. His made him severely ill for several days. Before the European Court he argued that the forcible insertion of the substance “had been aimed at intimidating and debasing him in disregard of his human dignity. The manner in which he had been forced to undergo a life‑threatening medical intervention had been violent, agonising and humiliating. He had been degraded to the point of having to vomit while being observed by several police officers. Being in police custody, he had found himself in a particularly vulnerable position,” so he argued. The Court agreed and held that the “authorities subjected the applicant to a grave interference with his physical and mental integrity against his will. (…) The manner in which the impugned measure was carried out was liable to arouse in the applicant feelings of fear, anguish and inferiority that were capable of humiliating and debasing him (para. 82).

So, human dignity mostly features in case-law about core rights. The same Jalloh case shows, however, that – by connection – other rights may also be violated. The fact that the evidence used in his trial had been obtained through inhuman and degrading treatment also made his trial unfair – a violation of Article 6 of the European Convention.

The second dimension is the tailoring of dignity to context: whether a certain treatment offends human dignity is not a question of one-size-fits-all. Rather, the specifics of the case play an important role. This is especially visible in Article 3 again, the prohibition of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment. As a short explanation: this right is quite unique as the prohibition is absolute. There is no way for states to justify torture or inhuman treatment. Whereas for most other rights, a state can interfere with a right (e.g. fine you for severely offending your neighbour) but that does not automatically mean your freedom of expression is violated. Justifications are possible. For absolute prohibitions such as torture this is not the case. Therefore the defining questions are about the scope of the prohibition: what is torture and what not, what is degrading and what is not? Once something falls within the scope or definition it is absolutely forbidden. So how does the Court tailor the specific boundaries of the prohibition in practice? 

The clearest examples here are cases about treatment of people in detention. The Court has held many times that “in respect of a person deprived of his liberty, recourse to physical force which has not been made strictly necessary by his own conduct diminishes human dignity and is in principle an infringement of the right set forth in Article 3.” (e.g. Selmouni v. France, para. 99), So unnecessary force applied to detainees violates both human dignity and simultaneously the actual prohibition of Article 3. The tailoring, as indicated, has to do with context. For when is a treatment debasing? This, according to the Court, depends on a multitude of factors, including “the duration of the treatment, its physical or mental effects and, in some cases, the sex, age and state of health of the victim, etc.” (Ibid., para. 100) Here, the Court thus includes subjective criteria (effects on the person) and individual characteristics (age, health condition, sex etc.). The treatment (chaining someone to a chair for hours) may be the same, but whether it is a human rights violations may depends on whether the person is a healthy young man or an older pregnant women with chronic pains, for example. Dignity here is thus not a general notion, but one personified and subjectivised by the specific situation and traits of the person at stake. Here the use of human rights as a nuanced norm plays a key role.

Looking at the case-law, we can thus conclude that the use of “human dignity” is nuanced and diverse. It is probably best to speak of what I would call “differentiated dignity”: the invocation and function of human dignity in the jurisprudence differs according to the context. 

Finally, the third dimension: the role “human dignity” plays in the legal argument. First, when one looks at human rights as a norm, dignity does not have a very specific content. As Chris McCrudden has argued, there is no clear and far-reaching agreement on a common substantive conception.* And we could add, wherever it does directly attach to a norm, such as the prohibition of degrading treatment, the concept of dignity does not add specific content to the issue at hand. Dignity does play a role as a tool and as discourse. As a tool, because it can be invoked on both sides of the Court room: an applicant can claim that her or his dignity was violated by the state (as in the detention cases), but the state in turn can also bring in the dignity argument, for example when it interfered with someone’s hate speech in order to protect the dignity of other groups in society. 

Dignity is also a tool of interpretation for the Court itself: it may help to sketch the wider context of the purpose of the European Convention. In international law the object and purpose of a treaty always matter to interpret specific provisions in a treaty. Once the Court had identified human dignity as one of the Convention’s underlying purposes, it could – in theory – invoke it as a guiding principle. However, practice shows that in this sense dignity offers very little decisive weight in legal argument. It may help to rhetorically support that in the balancing of interests one side should weigh in more heavily as human dignity is involved, but this is not often the key argument. So normatively, and I am not the first to argue this, the role of “dignity” is minor in the case-law. 

This leaves us with the usage of dignity in human rights as a form of discourse. It may serve rhetorical purposes that go beyond the specific human rights norm as such. One way in which this can be done, is what McCrudden* has called the institutional use of dignity: dignity talk can help to balance rights and other interests (as mentioned), dignity can be a discursive way to connect to international standards, and finally, dignity can be an argumentative tool to support the reading of new sub-norms in an existing norm (corporal punishment of children may thus be brought under the prohibition of degrading treatment by modern-day understandings, even if the original drafters of the Convention would not have imagined it). To these usages, let me add that – discursively -  “human dignity” may be a rhetorical linchpin between societal understandings of what is humane and what carries moral stigma on the one hand and the hard black-letter approach of law on the other. In the particular European context, the invocation of dignity by the Court also serves another discursive purpose: it re-connects the exceptionally silence of the European Convention on the issue of dignity, to the broader galaxy of human rights declarations and treaties in which dignity so prominently features (see also Costa on this **).

Thus, as I have hoped to show, dignity – like human rights more generally – can play a role in the application of human rights as norms, tools or discourse. Its very flexibility – or emptiness as some would say – on the normative side does not pre-empt its meaning as a tool or as a form of discourse. 

To conclude this excursion into the practice of the European Court, let me return to the Russian student, whose case was decided last week. What role did “human dignity” play in his case or, to be more precise, in the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights? As stated at the beginning, the Court held that detention conditions should be compatible with respect for human dignity. By way of explanation it added that "the manner and method of the execution of the measure do not subject him [the detainee] to distress or hardship of an intensity exceeding the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention, and that, given the practical demands of imprisonment, his health and well-being are adequately secured" (para. 92).

Two things are notable here: (1) apparently dignity is a kind of threshold which is not automatically violated because someone is detained in the first place (the unavoidable level of inherent suffering) and (2) this threshold is not absolute or absolutely the same in all circumstances: the goals of dignity, health and well-being need to be assessed “given the practical demands of imprisonment.”  A certain leeway is thus given and the Court in effect balances the ideal and the possible in the grey zone between clearly inhuman or degrading treatment and permissible treatment. The prohibition of torture, degrading and inhuman treatment is absolute, but its precise boundaries may shift from case to case. 

Again, an example of pragmatics in the European human rights approach? What is notable, in any event, is that the invocation of dignity here seems to be more a reminder of what is at stake rather than a decisive trump card as such. However, just like the framing of human rights from a discursive point of view strengthens a claim to justice, a fortiori within human rights framing an issue as an affront to human dignity reinforces that even more. Where human rights is a rhetorical hammer, dignity may be the proverbial thunderbolt and lightning.

And this brings us back to former Court President Jean Paul Costa, who also emphasized this. His explanation is that the Court is not only deciding specific cases (in which dignity may not be the decisive tool) but also has a pedagogical role and in using dignity explicitly sends a signal to states on the importance of what is at stake.** Be that as it may, the uses of dignity in the Court’s case-law are still not as transparent as the glass cabin in which the Russian student was held.

* Christopher McCrudden, 'Human Dignity and Judicial Interpretation of Human Rights', The European Journal of International Law, vol. 19, no. 4 (2008) pp. 655-724.
** Jean-Paul Costa, 'Human Dignity in the Jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights', in: Christopher McCrudden (ed.), Understanding Human Dignity - Proceedings of the British Academy, vol. 192 (2013) pp. 393-402.

Thursday 20 October 2016

Two New Judges Elected

Last week, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) elected two new judges to the European Court of Human Rights. In respect of Azerbaijan Mr Lətif Hüseynov was elected. And in respect of Macedonia, the assembly elected Mr Jovan Ilievski. Both have been elected for a term of nine years.

Lətif Hüseynov beta the tow other contenders by a large majority. He is currently professor of international law at Baku State University, teaching amongst others on the ECHR. He wrote his PhD thesis on 'State Responsibility for Violations of International Human Rights Obligations'. Both in 2005 and 2010, he already was an ad hoc judge at the European Court. In addition, he was until last year President of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), of which he had been a member since 2004. He is also a Member of the Venice commission. He is thus no stranger to Strasbourg and experienced in the wider context in which the Court works.

Jovan Ilievski comes from legal practice in criminal law and is currently the Head of the Basic Public Prosecution Office for Organised Crime and Corruption of Macedonia. He is also a member of the Consultative Council of European Prosecutors (CCPE) within the Council of Europe.

As has sometimes happened in the past, the practical application of the selection procedure, shows that the Assembly is taking its work very seriously. For example, two earlier lists of three candidates submitted by the Azeri government were rejected by the Assembly for not complying with the selection guidelines. And at its last session, the Assembly rejected the lists of both Albania and Hungary, because the national selection procedures were not in line with Council of Europe standards.

Finally, a small note on the fact that - no matter how qualified these new judges are obviously - it is a pity that the unequal male-female balance within the Court is not improved through this. For a wider movement within international law to achieve gender parity in international tribunals, please read this blog post by Cecilia Bailliet on EJILTalk! Hopefully more upcoming elections of new judges in January in Strasbourg will help to change this.

Tuesday 18 October 2016

PhD Workshop on the Role of the European Court of Human Rights

On the 22nd to 24th February 2017, the Research Group of Constitutional and European Law at the University Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona will be organising a workshop entitled 'The role of the European Court of Human Rights in the Community of Final Interpreters'. The international workshop will enable PhD researchers the opportunity to present their work. The full programme can be found here. This is what the organisers say about the event: 

"The Research Group of Constitutional and European Law at the University Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona is organizing an international workshop for talented PhD students from the universities across the 47 member countries of the Council of Europe. Our University would like to invite fifteen doctoral students who are involved in the research on the ECtHR's case-law. The selected students, at different stages of their dissertation process, are expected to present the salient topics of their research. This is a unique opportunity for the students to share their academic experience with other colleagues and to get feedback on some specific questions typical to the ECHR-related research from the prominent local and international scholars. The event will be held in Barcelona on 22nd-24th February 2017.

In order to participate in the selection process, please send your abstract proposal (max. 300 words) and a motivation letter to echr.workshop at The deadline for submitting proposals is 27th November 2016. Selected participants will be informed by 1st December. Participants will be chosen based on their motivation and abstract proposal. The participation at the workshop is free of charge; the students are expected to pay their own travel and accommodation expenses; we will provide some useful information about the convenient accommodation spots in Barcelona. Our University will cover the costs of the dinner at the restaurant the first day of the event and will invite all participants for lunch on the following two days. There are 5 monetary contributions available of up to 300 Euro each for students from eligible countries in order to facilitate their participation at the event.

The workshop will start on 22nd February at 15:30 with a conference open to the general public. Among the prominent local scholars will be a contribution from Prof. Steven Greer from the University of Bristol. After the conference there will be a space for a Poster Session in which the participant PhD students will have an opportunity to present their research in a schematic manner. Afterwards, an informal gathering with all the participants and a dinner is planned at a restaurant.  

On the next day, two working sessions are scheduled, in which the doctoral students would present their short contributions. The sessions will start with a key note presentation prepared by the local and international facilitators. In the morning of 24th February, there will be a third working session and a conclusive discussion. After the lunch break we will attend a final conference with contributions from the Justice Luis López Guerra and Prof. Geir Ulfstein. Please see the program attached.

We hope to see you soon in Barcelona!"

Monday 17 October 2016

New Video on the European Court of Human Rights

Today, the European Court of Human Rights has launched its new short film (length around 15 minutes) on its work on the website. This is what the Court itself says about this new, very improved version of its short documentary about its work:

"A new film presenting the European Court of Human Rights has just been produced. Aimed at a wide audience, the film explains how the Court works, describes the challenges faced by it and shows the scope of its activity through examples from the case-law. The film is currently available in French and English, but will be issued in other official languages of the member States of the Council of Europe."

Tuesday 4 October 2016

New Book on Positive and Negative Obligations under the ECHR

Laurens Lavrysen (Ghent University) has just published a new book on the classic concept of positive obligations under the ECHR. The book is published with Intersentia Publishers and is entitled 'Human Rights in a Positive State. Rethinking the Relationship between Positive and Negative Obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights'. It is based on his PhD research for which he was awarded his degree earlier this year. This is the abstract of the book: 

"The European Court of Human Rights has long abandoned the view that human rights merely impose obligations of restraint on State authorities (so-called negative obligations). In addition, States are under positive obligations to take steps to actively protect and ensure the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights. While the concept of positive obligations has become increasingly important in the jurisprudence of the European Court, it remains relatively under-explored in the literature. This book goes beyond the existing scholarship by analytically, critically and normatively engaging with the Court’s positive obligations case law in a comprehensive and in-depth manner.

The book begins by providing an overview of the Court’s jurisprudence in this area. Building upon this overview, it brings to the fore the legal methodological consequences attached by the Court to the labels of positive and negative obligations. It moreover critically examines how the Court constructs the distinction between positive and negative obligations, building upon the underlying distinctions between public authorities and private entities, on the one hand, and State action and inaction, on the other. The central argument made in this volume is that in a positive State, in which the authorities have affirmatively intervened in so many areas, it has become increasingly difficult to draw a baseline to properly distinguish between action and inaction. Finally, the author makes suggestions for legal methodological change. This book will prove to be highly valuable for any practitioner or academic interested in the law of the European Convention on Human Rights."