After excursions to Interlaken, Izmir and Brighton, Council of Europe states meet again this week, in Brussels, to discuss further reform of the Europe-wide human rights system. Taking their turn to chair the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, the Belgian government has decided to focus attention on the implementation of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights.
Such an emphasis is very much to be welcomed, as it remains the obvious Achilles heel in the human rights system. In its report last year on the ‘Brighton Declaration and Beyond’, the Legal Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) lauded the Court for its ‘extraordinary contribution’ to the protection of human rights in Europe. It went on, however, to deplore the way states respond to the Court’s judgments, noting that ‘the prevailing challenges facing the Court, most notably the high number of repetitive applications as well as persisting human rights violations of a particularly serious nature, reveal a failure by certain High Contracting Parties to discharge their obligations under the Convention’.
The statistics show the weight of the burden that this is creating. At the end of 2013, there were more than 11,000 unresolved cases pending before the Committee of Ministers (CM) (which has the role, under the Convention of supervising the implementation of the Court’s judgments). The latest CM annual report on the execution of judgments also acknowledges the increasing proportion of unresolved cases which concern systemic or structural issues – just under 1,500 such ‘leading’ cases were still outstanding in December 2013. These cases relate to endemic problems, such as poor prison conditions, violations arising from the restitution of property, the non-execution of domestic court judgments and the excessive length of proceedings, the excessive use of force by state security forces and systemic failings as regards the functioning of the judiciary.