Friday 23 October 2020

Online Conference: The European Convention on Human Rights at 70

On 4 November 2020, KU Leuven in cooperation with AHRI is organizing an online conference entitled The European Convention on Human Rights at 70: Achievements, Challenges and Interactions with Legal Orders. The conference will have four panels. The first one will look at the achievements of and challenges for the ECHR. The other three panels will explore the relationship between the ECHR on the one hand and the national, EU and public international law on the other hand. Judge Paul Lemmens of the European Court of Human Rights will give a keynote on whether the European Court is ready for the next 70 years. For registration click here.


Full programme is available here:


09:30 - 09:45 | Welcome and Introduction to the Conference

Prof. Dr. Wouter Devroe, Dean of the Faculty of Law, KU Leuven

Prof. Dr. Jan Wouters, Full Professor of International Law, Director, Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies - Institute for International Law, KU Leuven


09:45 - 11:15 | Panel 1: Achievements of, and Challenges for, the ECHR 

Moderator: Prof. Dr. Koen Lemmens, Professor of Human Rights Law, KU Leuven


Achievements of, and Challenges for, the ECHR: a Critical Appraisal 

Prof. Dr. Paolo Di Stefani, Professor in International Human Rights Law, University of Padova


The Past and Future of the Role of Civil Society in the ECHR System

Prof. Dr. Antoine Buyse, Full Professor of Human Rights at Utrecht University and Director of the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM)


Integrating the European Social Charter and the ECHR: a New and Necessary Challenge in the COVID Age?

Prof. Dr. Jeff Kenner,  Chair of European Law, Human Rights Law Centre, University of Nottingham


Questions and Debate


11:15 - 12:45 | Panel 2: The ECHR and National (Constitutional) Legal Orders  

Moderator: Prof. Dr. Stephan Sottiaux, KU Leuven 


Procedural Rationality in Times of Authoritarian Regimes

Prof. Dr. Catherine Van de Heyning, Professor European Fundamental Rights Law, University of Antwerp


The Dialogue between the European Court of Human Rights and Domestic Constitutional Courts: the Belgian Example

Mr. Willem Verrijdt, Law Clerk (Referendaris) at the Belgian Constitutional Court, Affiliated researcher at the Leuven Centre for Public Law, KU Leuven


Navigating between Uniform Protection and Respect for National Diversity – The ECtHR’s Eternal Struggle

Prof. Dr. Janneke Gerards, Professor of Fundamental Rights Law, Utrecht University


Questions and Debate


Lunch Break


13:30 - 14:15 |  Keynote: The ECHR and European Court of Human Rights:                                      Ready for the Next 70 Years?

Moderator: Prof. Dr. Stephan Parmentier, KU Leuven


Prof. Dr. Paul Lemmens, Judge in the European Court of Human Rights, Professor Emeritus KU Leuven


14:15 - 15:45 | Panel 3:  The Convention and International Law

Moderator: Prof. Dr. Gleider Hernández, Professor of Public International Law, KU Leuven and Open University


The ECHR and Security Council Targeted Sanctions

Dr. Kushtrim Istrefi, Assistant Professor of Human Rights Law and Public International Law, Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM), Utrecht University


The European Court of Human Rights and the Attribution Rules of the International Law

Commission: Reflections on Some Currently Pending Cases

Prof. Dr. Marko Milanovic, Professor of Public International Law, University of Nottingham


The European Court of Human Rights’ Margin of Appreciation and Judicial Deference: Some Reflections

Dr. Andrew Legg, Barrister, Essex Court Chambers


Climate Change and the European Court of Human Rights: the Portuguese Youth Case Mr Gerry Liston, Legal Officer, Global Legal Action Network


Questions and Debate


16:00 - 17:30 | Panel 4: The Convention and the European Union

Moderator: Prof. Dr. Elise Muir, Professor of EU Law, Director of the Institute for European Law, KU Leuven


Litigating Fundamental Rights at the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the EU : Some Views From a Practitioner

Ms. Markella Papadouli, AIRE Centre’s Europe Litigation Coordinator and Lecturer in International and European Refugee Law at London South Bank University 


The Principle of Mutual Trust and the European Convention of Human Rights: A Path Towards Harmony?

Dr. Cécilia Rizcallah, Visiting professor at the Université Saint-Louis Bruxelles, Lecturer at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and Postdoctoral Researcher at the National Fund for Scientific Research (F.R.S.-FNRS)


The Future of EU Human Rights Law: Is Accession to the ECHR Still Desirable? Prof. Dr. Tobias Lock, Professor of Law at Maynooth University


Questions and Debate



Wednesday 21 October 2020

ECHR Articles in Newest HRLR

The September 2020 issue of the Human Rights Law Review (vol. 20, issue 3) has now been put online. These are the ECHR-related articles:

* Mathieu Leloup, 'The Concept of Structural Human Rights in the European Convention on Human Rights':

'This article introduces the concept of structural human rights in the context of the European Convention on Human Rights. It starts from the observation that the current understanding of human rights obligations does not account for all the effects that the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights have in practice. To comply with their obligations under the Convention, States Parties may be required to modify their very institutional architecture. The article argues that this is a consequence of structural human rights. These are fundamental rights that, when enforced, may impose structural obligations, requiring changes to a State's governmental structure. The article offers a theoretical underpinning of the concept and indicates the benefits of understanding Convention rights also in a structural way. Furthermore, the notion is conceptualised further by way of an overview of several strands of case law, demonstrating the way in which Convention rights can develop their structural nature and what kind of structural effects they may have.'

* Daley J. Birkett, 'Asset Freezing at the European and Inter-American Courts of Human Rights: Lessons for the International Criminal Court, the United Nations Security Council and States':

'This article examines the human rights implications of the asset freezing processes available to the International Criminal Court and the United Nations Security Council. It does so through the lens of the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, from whose jurisprudence, although not uniform, a number of principles can be distilled. By scrutinising a series of cases decided under the European Convention on Human Rights and American Convention on Human Rights, respectively, the article demonstrates that the rights to the peaceful enjoyment of property and to respect for one’s private and family life, home and correspondence are necessarily implicated by the execution of asset freezing measures in criminal and administrative contexts. The article concludes that, considering the human rights constraints placed on the exercise of their powers, both the International Criminal Court and United Nations Security Council, as well as States acting at their request, must pay attention to this case law with a view to respecting the human rights of those to whom asset freezing measures are applied.'

* Ergul Celiksoy, 'Execution of the Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights in Prisoners’ Right to Vote Cases':

'This article examines the responses from Austria, Georgia, Romania, Russia, the UK and Turkey to the Court’s rulings on prisoners’ right to vote and discusses whether or not they have complied with them, as recognised by the Committee of Ministers. To this end, it first provides a brief overview of prisoners’ right to vote under the ECtHR’s jurisprudence. Thereafter, it explores what reforms have been made by these six countries in order to execute the ECtHR’s judgments in prisoners’ right to vote cases and discusses whether these reforms can be considered sufficient to satisfy the ECtHR’s criteria with which they must comply. It concludes that the closures of prisoners’ voting rights cases concerning Austria, Georgia and Romania are positive since they have effectively executed the Court’s judgments in their domestic jurisdictions. However, the article argues that the Committee of Ministers has erred in closing its examination of prisoners’ right to vote cases against Russia, the UK and Turkey, because the structural problems of prisoners’ disenfranchisement have not been solved in these countries due to the retention of disproportionate restrictions imposed on convicted prisoners’ voting rights.'

Thursday 15 October 2020

Online Conference on Covid-19 and the European Convention on Human Rights

On 16 and 17 October 2020 there will be an online conference on Covid-19 and the European Convention on Human Rights. Speakers include a long list of sitting and former judges of the European Court of Human Rights, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights and academics working on the Convention system. The full agenda is available online. The registration link is here. The event will be translated live in Albanian, Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin, Serbian and Macedonian. 

The conference is part of the Seventh Regional Rule of Law Forum for South-East Europe and is hosted by Civil Rights Defenders and The Advice on Individual Rights in Europe (AIRE). 

Below is the description of the conference by the organisers:

‘The Covid-19 pandemic is one of the greatest global crises since World War II. Governments all over the world have taken unprecedented measures to deal with the challenges posed by the pandemic and to limit the dangers posed to life and health. It is also the first time in the history of the Convention that many Member States have been affected concurrently by the same exceptional crisis situation, and by one which affects so many Convention rights. 

The pandemic has engaged States’ positive obligations to protect life and health, whilst the measures such as lockdowns which were implemented to try to contain the pandemic and protect health have interfered with numerous other Convention rights. For example, the closure of courts, schools, places of worship and hospitality venues has raised issues under the right to a fair trial, education, freedom of religion and peaceful enjoyment of property, whilst restrictions on movement and gatherings interfered with the rights to freedom of movement, expression, association and free elections.  

Clearly, the Covid-19 pandemic raises novel legal questions and new challenges regarding how to balance the multiple rights at stake. There is, therefore, no doubt that a range of Convention rights cases related to the pandemic will soon land on the desks of national and international judges. As the nature and impact of the pandemic continues to evolve, it is also likely that judicial responses to these questions will help to shape States’ responses to the pandemic going forward. It is therefore essential that those dealing with questions relating to the pandemic understand what the ECHR requires of Member States in such a context. Not only will this help to ensure a human rights compliant response to the Covid-19 pandemic, it will also impact on the development of longer-lasting human rights norms in the field of public health and help to condition the effectiveness of human rights law in emergency situations for the foreseeable future. An understanding of existing, relevant ECtHR case law can help provide the keys to overcome new challenges and provide a useful framework within which to address new legal questions. 

The Forum will provide an opportunity to reflect on how existing ECtHR case law may be applied to the novel legal questions and factual situations which have arisen in the context of the pandemic. It will bring together experts in the field to discuss the extent of the positive obligations which Member States might be under, and when exactly such obligations might arise. The Forum will also facilitate conversation regarding the main threats to human rights which have arisen in the context of the pandemic and provide an opportunity for participants to share their insights into best practice solutions to these challenges based on their experience dealing with the pandemic so far. As always, the Forum will encourage collaboration between participants to develop solutions on how to manage the challenges which they continue to face and/or which may arise in the future.'

Wednesday 14 October 2020

Guest Post: Negotiations on EU Accession to the ECHR Restart after Five Years: Between Unlikely and Doable

By Dr. Fisnik Korenica, assistant professor of Constitutional Law and Human Rights at University of Prishtina and Co-Founder of the Group for Legal and Political Studies. He is author of the monograph The EU’s Accession to the ECHR, Springer 2015. 
The accession of the European Union (EU) to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) has been a heated debate for a long time. Academic and political motives have led several authors to write about this development from a number of perspectives. A significant amount of literature has attracted the interest of lawyers on numerous characteristics of the mechanics of accession. 
A Council of Europe working group (WG) has just recently restarted the negotiation process on a new draft agreement on EU’s accession to the ECHR. One must recall that although the project of accession has been discussed for several decades, a final draft accession agreement was only finalized in April 2013. It was envisaged as a shared agreement that tackled the concerns raised by EU member states around the withdrawal of sovereign competencies. The design of the agreement met with various criticisms, the vast majority of them relating to concerns over the external and internal autonomy of EU law. A co-respondent mechanism, namely a tool for joint attribution of responsibility between the EU and its member states, was designed to bridge this gap whenever a violation of the ECHR would originate in an action or omission of the national authorities authorized or mandated by EU law (but not only). The draft agreement also envisaged inter-party complaints and did not bar the EU from acceding to future protocols of the ECHR, such as Protocol 16. 
In December 2014, the story of the draft accession agreement was brought to a sudden halt by Opinion 2/13 of the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU). The CJEU found several aspects of the draft agreement problematic from the perspective of EU law. The CJEU concluded that certain aspects such as the possibility of the EU to accede to Protocol 16, the blurred relationship between Art. 53 Charter of Fundamental Rights and Art. 53 ECHR, the equal treatment of the EU as a respondent hand in hand with member states, the controversial relationship between Art. 344 TFEU and the inter-party mechanism foreseen in the draft agreement, the prior involvement mechanism, the co-respondent mechanism, etc., were altogether incompatible with EU treaties. Considering that such problematic traits were too heavy to be addressed by the negotiating teams, no solution was seemed in sight. And indeed the process had been stalled until very recently.
The Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH) ad hoc negotiation group restarted its negotiations in September 2020, meeting for the first time since a final draft agreement was concluded in 2013. It is convened with the understanding that a new negotiation process that addresses the concerns of Opinion 2/13 should take place. One can speculate that the motive after the call from the European Commission (EC) to restart negotiation of a new draft agreement at this point in time is impacted by the credibility losses which the EU faced after Brexit. The EC seemingly sees the accession project as a gain for EU’s strategic action in international fora. The Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Ms. Pejčinović Burić, and the EC's Vice President for Values and Transparency, Ms. Jourová, indicated on this occasion that:

‘[ECHR] represents everything that the Council of Europe and the European Union stand for. In these difficult times, the resumption of these crucial negotiations sends a strong signal about the commitment of our two organisations, and our member states, to the fundamental values that we cherish. We very much hope that the negotiations can be brought to a speedy and successful conclusion for the benefit of Europe as a whole.’

The decision to reconvene followed the request by the EC and the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to set new terms of reference for the new negotiation process in 2020. The first meeting of the WG was held between 29 September and 2 October 2020, where numerous technical issues were discussed. A major point of consideration was the ‘Paper to structure the discussion at the 6th negotiation meeting’, which set a framework for the new negotiating process. The document was not released to the public, yet transcripts of the meeting reveal the main points it raised: namely, the four categories of issues noted in the paragraph below. The Paper, however, does not offer anything substantial in regards to solutions that would resolve the existing controversy surrounding the reasonableness of the accession project and the far-reaching requirements following from Opinion 2/13. It merely underlines what Opinion 2/13 had concluded, indicating aspects for which a new negotiation and/or design would have to be engineered.

Four additional major issues were discussed in the first meeting of the WG. First, general issues of EU-specific mechanisms for the procedure before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR); second, the inter-party mechanism and the possibility for domestic judges to ask for an advisory opinion under Protocol 16 ECHR; third, the principle of mutual trust between EU member states in the view of Art. 53 Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU and Art. 53 ECHR; and, fourth, the jurisdictional immunity of the area of Common Foreign and Security Policy in procedures before the ECtHR. The European Commission reiterated that it does not require a privileged status for the EU in proceedings before the ECtHR. However, it maintained that some accents would have to be enhanced in the draft agreement for it to comply with Opinion 2/13. It further ‘recalled its determination to accede to the ECHR. It recalled that accession did not require to negotiate a new Accession Agreement, but rather to make some specific amendments to the already existing agreement whilst preserving its underlying balance.’ There is no specific information on the elements that would manifest these new requirements. One can assume that baseline documents will not be provided unless there is a new final draft agreement approved by the WG.

Commenting the future of this endeavour, Mr. Giakoumopoulos, the Director General of Human Rights and Rule of Law at the Council of Europe, stated that:

‘[a] revised Accession Agreement will naturally have to be regarded as a compromise package which eventually must be acceptable to all negotiation partners. Indeed, this is a matter of great political importance for today’s Europe. A strong political support in all European capitals will be, therefore, the key to deliver.’

A follow-up meeting of the WG is set for 24-27 November 2020, and there is no draft agenda available as of now.

One can observe that the first meeting of the WG was followed with a positive attitude towards the utilitarian necessity for a new draft agreement. Parties were generally open for a new negotiation process and maintained the need for further consensus to make the project of accession possible. However, little to no discussion that substantively engaged with the core questions of Opinion 2/13 and their plausibility in the light of a new draft agreement took place. It is difficult to estimate whether a proper new negotiation process will succeed. Chances are really slim that the far-reaching requirements of Opinion 2/13 would ever be consented by the 47+1 members of the WG. It is even more unlikely that, even if there is a consensus among negotiators, a draft agreement reflecting that momentum would ever have the support of all national legislatures in the ratification process. However, the November meeting of the WG will inform us more on the substance and will shed more light on the likelihood for success of this restarted negotiating process.

Friday 9 October 2020

New ECHR Readings

Please find below a new selection of recent reading on the European Convention on Human Rights and its Court:

* Jonathan Collinson, 'Making the best interests of the child a substantive human right at the centre of national level expulsion decisions', Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights, vol. 38, no. 3 (2020):

'The best interests of the child has become an central facet of the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in expulsion cases. This article argues that the indirect application of the best interests of the child as an interpretive benchmark for Article 8 ECHR is not the end point of State’s responsibilities under Article 3 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). This article argues that the ECtHR’s case law presents significant limitations in the subject matter scope of the best interests of the child, and limitations to the way in which it incorporates them into the Article 8 ECHR balancing exercise. This article acts as a thought experiment by modelling an alternative mode of decision-making. It asks what the best interests of the child might look like as the substantive human right at the centre of decisions about the expulsion of foreign nationals.'

* Marcelle Reneman, 'Forensic medical reports in asylum cases: The view of the European Court of Human Rights and the Committee against Torture', Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights, vol. 38, no. 3 (2020):

'National authorities are often reluctant to arrange for a forensic medical examination or to grant important weight to forensic medical reports in asylum cases. They do not (fully) accept that a forensic medical report may change their initial assessment of the credibility of the applicant’s asylum account. They may argue that a physician cannot establish the context (date, location, perpetrator) in which the alleged ill-treatment has taken place or the cause of a specific scar or medical problem of the applicant. Moreover, they may contend that the physician concerned did not have the expertise to write a forensic medical report. 

This article examines how the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and the Committee against Torture (CAT) have included forensic medical reports in their assessment of asylum cases and how they have dealt with the ‘context’, ‘causality’ and ‘expertise’ argument. It shows that these bodies do not accept that national authorities refrain from arranging a forensic medical examination or attach no or limited weight to a forensic medical report submitted by the applicant, just because the applicant has made inconsistent, incoherent or vague statements. They also do not accept general references to the ‘context’, ‘causality’ and ‘expertise’ argument. However, they have accepted these arguments in some individual cases, often without clear reasoning. The article concludes that the ECtHR and CAT could provide more guidance to national authorities concerning the role of forensic medical reports in asylum cases by explicitly weighing the seriousness of the credibility issues against the forensic medical report and by paying attention to the requirements for forensic medical reports laid down in the Istanbul Protocol.'

• Mikael Madsen, ‘Two Level Politics and the Backlash against International Courts: Evidence from the Politicisation of the European Court of Human Rights’, iCourts Working Paper Series 2020, no. 209:

'Are international institutions more prone to face backlash politics than domestic ones? Are international institutions easy targets for satisfying domestic political interests? Using the case of the recent criticism of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), the article explores whether international institutions are more susceptible to face backlash politics than domestic ones due to the dual nature of international politics. The empirical study, focusing on the reform of the ECtHR through the 2018 Copenhagen Declaration, suggests that pre-existing commitments to international institutions might be given up rapidly when significant domestic interests collide with international institutions and their practices. The analysis, however, also shows that backlash politics against international institutions is transformed when seeking institutional reform. Entering a collective bargaining process, backlash objectives are changed by the logic of diplomatic negotiation, academic scrutiny and the interests of the other member states and civil society. This suggests that the two-level logic of ordinary international politics has a mediating effect on domestically fuelled backlash campaigns.'

Caption: The photo is of a graffiti bookshelf in the city of Utrecht, where SIM is based, made by visual artist JanIsdeMan.

Wednesday 7 October 2020

Strasbourg Court issues interim measures against Turkey regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

Since 27 September 2020, the long-frozen conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan flared up again and has taken a high death toll.

Last week, the European Court of Human Rights issued an interim measure against Azerbaijan in a case lodged by Armenia. The Court called both parties to the conflict to secure the Convention rights and refrain from any military actions. Since then, however, the conflict has only escalated. Furthermore, reports suggest of the risk of involvement of other States, including Turkey in support of Azerbaijan. Against this background, on 6 October 2020 the ECtHR has issued another interim measure in relation to Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, this time against Turkey in a case lodged by Armenia. The Court “now calls on all States directly or indirectly involved in the conflict, including Turkey, to refrain from actions that contribute to breaches of the Convention rights of civilians [sic!], and to respect their obligations under the Convention.” The interim measure suggests that Turkey could be either directly or indirectly involved in the conflict.

In the past years, we have seen an increase of requests for interim measures in inter-State and other frozen conflicts in Europe. The Court has issued numerous interim measures in relation to the conflicts in Ukraine and the Caucasus. The practice suggests that in relation to such conflicts, States have a scarce record of complying with interim measures. Although interim measures are provided only in Rules of the Court, the Strasbourg Court has held that failure to comply with them leads to a breach of the Convention. 

The wider the scope of an interim measure, it seems, and the higher the stakes for states, the less likely that the measures will be complied with. And as a consequence of that same wide scope (here "actions that contribute to breaches of the Convention rights"), it will be also much more contentious at a later stage to assess whether the interim measure has been complied with. Potentially another context in which the Court is dragged into a variety of 'lawfare' between states, rather than being able to stick to its roles of providing individual justice and constitutional-type interpretation of the Convention.

Kushtrim Istrefi and Antoine Buyse