Monday 27 September 2021

ECHR Symposium: Human Rights in the Digital Sphere

On 18 October 2021, the European Court of Human Rights, in collaboration with Japan and US consulate generals in Strasbourg, the René Cassin Foundation and Directorate General of Human Rights and Rule of Law of the Council of Europe, are hosting a hybrid symposium on Human Rights in the Digital Sphere. The programme can be accessed here, and the registration is available via this link.

Here is a short summary of the event prepared by the organisers.

'The digital transformation of our society is certainly one of the fastest and most profound transitions of civilization we have ever experienced. This digital age is leading us to interact more and more online, for information, entertainment, consumption or work. The Covid-19 pandemic revealed the potential of digital services which have enabled people to continue to interact and engage and have made us more resilient. But many questions remain about the consequences of this transformation and its impact on human rights.

The issue of privacy has long been very topical in our daily lives, but the increased use of the virtual space and the development of technology such as AI, brings these debates even more into the limelight. Rather than reducing discrimination or inequality, some algorithmic decision-making systems can exacerbate it, particularly in the public sphere. With the use of predictive features in the justice system, even a new source of law seems to be emerging. Facial recognition tools are bringing back concepts such as physiognomy and the belief that behavioral traits can be inferred from physical characteristics.

Other paramount issues which cannot be separated from internet are freedom of expression and access to correct and trustworthy information. Whereas the internet greatly facilitates ways to express ourselves and the diversity of information available, it is also true that some stakeholders have the power to ban, remove or distort online content according to their interest. How should we draw the line between information worth sharing and that to be banned? And who are those entitled to do so?

Full enjoyment of our rights in cyberspace comes with an adequate protection against the risks in an online environment. Right to private life, human dignity, safety, integrity of the person, non-discrimination are at stake under threat from cybercrime. How can the governments fulfill their positive obligations to protect individuals against crime and safeguard the fundamental rights of cybercrime victims? This challenge requires careful balancing to provide efficient criminal justice response with appropriate rule of law safeguards.

Speakers from different legal systems and jurisdictions, experts and governmental representatives will exchange views, while tackling the complexity of protecting human rights in the digital sphere in our daily lives activities in a one day seminar.

The outcomes of the discussions build further on the current debate on a global scale, about the actions necessary to include in a comprehensive approach in order to address the radical changes digitalization is brining to the online and offline environments.'

Tuesday 14 September 2021

PACE Committee Proposes a New Protocol to the ECHR on the Right to a Healthy Environment

This month, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is exploring different ways to tackle climate crisis through rule of law and human rights reforms. Here is a brief summary of PACE's ongoing activities in this regard:

"PACE’s Social Affairs Committee is urging an ambitious new legal framework, both at national and European level, to “anchor the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment” – and has presented a draft of an additional protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights which would make such a right enforceable in law in all countries which ratified it.

In a resolution and recommendation based on a report by Simon Moutquin (Belgium SOC), the committee said such a legal text would finally give the European Court of Human Rights “a non-disputable base for rulings concerning human rights violations arising from environment-related adverse impacts on human health, dignity and life”.

If approved by the Assembly, the committee’s draft would then be considered by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, which has the final say on whether to draft a new protocol to the Convention. It took no action on a similar request from the Assembly in 2009.

The committee pointed out that around half the world’s countries have recognised such a “right to a healthy environment” in their constitutions, including 32 Council of Europe member States. Only Europe does not have a regional agreement or arrangement recognising such a right, it added.

As part of a wider push on this issue, the committee also urged the drafting of an additional protocol to the European Social Charter containing such a right, as well as steps to strengthen corporate environmental responsibility through state regulation.

Finally, they urged the drafting of a new convention on “environmental threats and technological hazards”, setting limits on the use of man-made technologies such as AI, nano-technology and genetic engineering.

The parliamentarians also expressed their support for “the right of future generations to a healthy environment and humanity’s duties towards living beings” as a way of entrenching the principle of trans-generational responsibility.

Mr Moutquin’s report, together with six others on the issue of environmental rights, is due to be debated by the Assembly at its Autumn plenary session during an all-day debate on Wednesday 29th September."

If you  wish to know more about the report  of Mr Moutquin and other recent PACE documents regarding climate crisis, rule  of law and human rights, click here.

Friday 10 September 2021

New Thematic Factsheet on the Rights of LGBTI Persons

The Department for the Execution of Judgments of the ECHR has issued a new thematic factsheet on the execution of the Strasbourg Court judgments concerning the rights of LGBTI persons. Here is a brief summary of the factsheet:

"According to the European Court of Human Rights, the principle of non-discrimination is "fundamental" and underpins the Convention along with the rule of law and the values of tolerance and peace. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons are still subject to homophobia, transphobia and other forms of intolerance and discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. For this reason, States must take action to ensure the full enjoyment of the human rights of these persons. 
This factsheet outlines a number of examples of general and, where appropriate, individual measures adopted and reported by States in the context of the implementation of the judgments of the European Court to safeguard and protect the rights of LGBTI persons including: decriminalisation of same-sex relationships, combating hate crimes, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, legal recognition of gender identity, access of LGBTI persons to social rights, homosexual persons in the armed forces, same-sex couples and civil union laws, right of residence and private and family life, right to adoption, parental authority and custody of children, maintenance and succession of tenancy agreements."

Monday 6 September 2021

ECHR MOOC Starts Again on 7 September

Utrecht University's free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on the ECHR is starting again on 7 September 2021. Registration is open now! To enroll, please go to the Coursera platform.

The MOOC entitled 'Human Rights for Open Societies - An introduction into the ECHR' is taught by myself (Antoine Buyse) and my Utrecht University colleagues professor Janneke Gerards and Claire Loven. This is the abstract of our six-week course:

'Human rights are under pressure in many places across the globe. Peaceful protests are violently quashed. Voting is tampered with. And minorities are often 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 is often an uphill battle to work towards that ideal. Equip yourself and learn more about what human rights are and how they work. 

In this course, we will introduce you to one of the world’s most intricate human rights systems: the European Convention on Human Rights. You will see when and how people can turn to the European Court of Human Rights to complain about human rights violations. You will learn how the Court tries to solve many of the difficult human rights dilemmas of today. We will look, amongst other things, at the freedom of expression and demonstration, the right to vote, and the prohibition of discrimination. And we will address the rights of migrants, refugees, and other vulnerable groups. And, of course, we will see whether it is possible to restrict rights and if so under what conditions. You will even encounter watchdogs and ice cream in this course. We invite you to follow us on a journey of discovery into the European Convention!'

Please watch this short introduction video to get an impression:

Wednesday 1 September 2021

Applying to the Court Information Pages

The Court has revamped and extended its pages on how to apply to Strasbourg. The information for applicants is now available in no less than 36 languages, with its entry point here. For each version, such as for example the English-language one, the page contains information on how to make a valid application (including the relevant parts f the Rules of Court), information on the application form, the procedure before the Court, and the state-of-proceedings database which enables applicants to keep track of their case. The language-specific pages equally include the translated version of the Convention itself, a flowchart on how applications are dealt with and informative videos. The perfect entry point for any potential applicant!