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Home Human Rights Archive for category "European Convention on Human Rights"

Turkey, Aggression, and the Right to Life Under the ECHR: A Reaction to Professor Haque’s Post

Published on October 22, 2019        Author: 

Professor Haque yesterday published a thought-provoking piece on this blog arguing that the Turkish incursion against Kurdish forces in Syria, beyond being a violation of the UN Charter, also amounts to a violation of the right to life under the ECHR. His reasoning, which is sound, is based on the Human Rights Committee’s rather controversial new General Comment 36 on the right to life under the ICCPR, where the Committee concludes that States Parties to the Covenant engaging in acts of aggression resulting in deaths violate ipso facto Article 6 (for its part, the HCRttee itself draws on the opinion of academics such as William Schabas who originally developed the argument).

I do not disagree with Professor Haque’s logic, which is, like that of the HRCttee, internally sound. However, I disagree with the exceptionalism which often seems to characterize attempts to include jus ad bellum in the lawfulness test for arbitrary deprivation of life– and, respectfully, Professor Haque’s piece suffers from that same exceptionalism.

The classical view of permissible violence in armed conflicts, based on the long-standing distinction between jus in bello and jus ad bellum, is actually a coherent and credible legal position – one that has the additional advantage of being the mainstream interpretation. It is entirely plausible to maintain that the UN Charter does not mix very well with human rights or humanitarian law instruments. The whole structure of IHL has been built on the premise of its separation from the lawfulness of resorting to force, and the ICRC itself continues to strongly defend this position.

But the emerging understanding of the right to life in light of jus ad bellum is also a coherent, well-structured and convincing interpretation of treaty law, from the point of view of human rights law taken in relative isolation. The fact that this interpretation has also been authoritatively endorsed by a treaty body gives it an aura of credibility that few “progressive” interpretations raised in doctrine can usually aspire to. But the mere fact that a particular interpretation of treaty law makes sense does not mean that it should actually be made.

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Turkey, Aggression, and the Right to Life Under the ECHR

Published on October 21, 2019        Author: 

Turkey’s latest invasion of Syria violates the prohibition of interstate armed force. It cannot be justified by Turkey’s right of self-defense (see here and here). What follows? Among other things, each and every person killed by Turkish forces and agents is killed in violation of her human right to life. Every civilian killed in violation of international humanitarian law. Every combatant or fighter killed without violation of international humanitarian law. Everyone. Let me explain.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides that “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.” According to the Human Rights Committee’s General Comment No. 36 on the right to life, “[d]eprivation of life is, as a rule, arbitrary if it is inconsistent with international law.” It follows that “States parties [to the Covenant] engaged in acts of aggression as defined in international law, resulting in deprivation of life, violate ipso facto article 6 of the Covenant.” This much is well known.

The European Convention on Human Rights provides that “[n]o one shall be deprived of his life intentionally” except in cases of capital punishment or when absolutely necessary to defend a person from unlawful violence; to effect a lawful arrest or prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained; or to quell a riot or insurrection. It follows that States parties to the Convention engaged in acts of aggression as defined in international law, resulting in intentional deprivation of life, violate ipso facto article 2 of the Convention. I am told this is less well known. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Implementation of Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights: Worse Than You Think – Part 2: The Hole in the Roof

Published on October 8, 2019        Author: 

Part 1 of this blog post addressed the current narratives concerning the implementation of ECtHR judgments. Part 2 below attempts to set out what the current state of implementation might really be.

Imagine you are told that there is a hole in the roof of your house. You go out to buy the materials to fix it, come home and begin work. However, half-way through the repairs you realise that the hole is far larger than you thought. It turns out that you do not have enough materials to mend it properly.

If we are not careful, this is what is going to happen with the challenge of non-implementation of ECtHR judgments and the response that is made towards it in the next era of the Convention system. The scale of the problem is being underestimated – so there is a serious danger that the response will be insufficient. The scale of non-implementation can be demonstrated by looking at the best metrics available to assess the issue.

Overall judgments vs. Leading judgments

The number of overall pending ECtHR judgments is mostly filled by repetitive cases. In order for these to be closed, justice has to be carried out for the individual applicant in the case. This usually involves the payment of compensation; or perhaps a retrial or proper investigation into the relevant events. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Implementation of Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights: Worse Than You Think – Part 1: Grade Inflation

Published on October 7, 2019        Author: 

Part 1 of this blog post will explore how the current narratives about the implementation of ECtHR judgments paint a misleading picture. In Part 2, a different set of statistics will be examined, in order to explore how well the implementation system is really functioning.

In some countries, exam results in schools and universities are improving every year. However, many doubt that this is because the students are actually doing better in their studies. The accusation is made that, though exam marks are improving, this is the result of tests being made easier, rather than the students becoming better educated. This “grade inflation” allows schools and universities to publish better results, but without the performance behind the results actually improving.

What applies to schools and universities can also apply to international institutions.

Over the last few years, the Council of Europe has advanced a consistent narrative about the state of implementation of judgments from the European Court of Human Rights. This narrative suggests that implementation is going very well indeed. Read the rest of this entry…

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Does the European Court of Human Rights Have to Decide on Sovereignty over Crimea? Part II: Issues Lurking on the Merits

Published on September 24, 2019        Author: 

In my previous post I explained how the European Court’s Article 1 jurisprudence allows it to avoid the question of sovereignty over Crimea, since it can ground Russia’s jurisdiction over the territory, and thus the applicability of the ECHR, simply on the fact of its control and need not say anything else. But there are at least two issues on the merits of the Ukraine v. Russia re Crimea case that could directly engage the question of sovereignty over the territory. As a preliminary matter, I now need to say that I have not had the benefit of reading the pleadings of either party in the case – the Court has an inexplicable policy of not putting the pleadings online, but only allowing them to be consulted in its building in Strasbourg. That said, I am reasonably certain that the two issues I examine here are properly raised in the case. I will therefore now turn to the first of these, the mass imposition of Russian citizenship on the people of Crimea.

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Does the European Court of Human Rights Have to Decide on Sovereignty over Crimea? Part I: Jurisdiction in Article 1 ECHR

Published on September 23, 2019        Author: 

On 11 September the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights held oral hearings on the admissibility of the interstate claim Ukraine brought against Russia regarding Crimea (no. 20958/14). The webcast of the hearing is available here. There are many different admissibility issues that the case raises, some of them heavily factual (e.g. the existence of an administrative practice on the part of Russia that makes individual recourse to domestic remedies impossible). The case may well flounder on one of them. But the one issue that concerns me here is simply this: should the European Court make any pronouncements on whether it is Ukraine or Russia who is the rightful sovereign of Crimea?

To be clear, sovereignty over Crimea is not to my mind a legally difficult question – Russia’s annexation of Crimea was as clearly illegal as anything can be. But there is wider, much more fraught, question of principle and prudence: should international human rights bodies pronounce on issues which, while capable of legal determination, are not part of their central mission of human rights protection and may negatively affect that mission? This is especially the case in situations in which it is entirely predictable that, in the political context, any such pronouncement would provoke intense backlash, even possibly leading to Russia’s withdrawal from the Council of Europe.

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Romeo Castaño v Belgium and the Duty to Cooperate under the ECHR

Published on August 19, 2019        Author: 

With a judgment of 9 July 2019, in the case of Romeo Castaño v Belgium, the second section of the European Court of Human Rights (the Court) held unanimously that Belgium had fallen short of its procedural obligations under article 2 of the Convention for failing to cooperate with the Spanish authorities in securing the surrender of an individual sought with multiple European Arrest Warrants (EAWs) in connection with serious charges of terrorism and murder.

These findings are landmark. While it has been long established that extradition may engage the Convention under the non-refoulement principle, never before had the Court found a breach of the Convention in connection with a State’s decision not to surrender an individual sought by an extradition request or EAW.

But the salience of the judgment is not confined to extradition. In fact, the case touches upon the important issue of the ‘symmetry’ between the ECHR and EU law and brings about an important development in the doctrine of positive obligations under the Convention.

The facts of the case

The applicants in the case are the children of Colonel Ramón Romeo, who was murdered in Bilbao in 1981 by an ETA commando. In 2013, one of the suspects, N.J.E., who found herself in Belgium, was arrested pursuant to two EAWs issued by Spain. Read the rest of this entry…

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Has the ECtHR in Mammadov 46(4) opened the door to findings of  ‘bad faith’ in trials?

Published on July 4, 2019        Author:  and

In the recent judgment of the European Court of Human Rights (the Court) in Ilgar Mammadov v Azerbaijan  (Mammadov 46(4)) examined under Article 46(4) infringement proceedings, the Grand Chamber found that Azerbaijan had failed to comply with the Court’s original judgment in Ilgar Mammadov (Mammadov No.1) by refusing to release political activist Ilgar Mammadov, who was arrested on politically motivated charges (in violation of a right to liberty and security under Articles 5 and the  prohibition to restrict rights for purposes other than those prescribed by the Convention under Article 18 of the Convention).

This case is not only novel in being the first to be considered under infringement proceedings (see blogs by Başak Çali and Kanstantsin Dzehtsiarou), but is also highly significant for the Court’s approach to the implications of politically motivated proceedings.  Until now the Court has been reluctant to clarify its position on whether trials and convictions can be explicitly held to be in ‘bad faith’ under Article 18 of the Convention. We argue in this blog that the Grand Chamber in this case (relating to Mr Mammadov’s arrest and pre-trial detention), went substantially further than the Chamber in the second case of the same applicant, Mammadov No. 2 (relating to his trial and conviction), and has paved the way for the Court to finally open the door to the applicability of Article 18 to a right to fair trial under Article 6, or risk incoherence. 

The Court’s approach so far to Article 18

Article 18 of the Convention provides that ‘The restrictions permitted under this Convention to the said rights and freedoms shall not be applied for any purpose other than those for which they have been prescribed.’ There is debate about whether the wording of the provision limits its applicability to ‘restricted’ rights under Articles 5 and 8-11 of the Convention (see below). Read the rest of this entry…

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Russian Agents Charged with Downing of MH17; MH17 Cases in Strasbourg

Published on June 20, 2019        Author: 

Yesterday international investigators charged three Russian nationals and one Ukrainian national before Dutch criminal courts for the 2014 downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine. According to a report in the Guardian:

The suspects were named as Igor Girkin, a former colonel of Russia’s FSB spy service; Sergey Dubinskiy, employed by Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency; and Oleg Pulatov, a former soldier with the GRU’s special forces spetsnaz unit. All were Russian soldiers previously sent abroad.

A fourth suspect, Leonid Kharchenko, is a Ukrainian. He led a military combat unit in the city of Donetsk as a commander, it was alleged.

Girkin was minister of defence in the Moscow-backed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR). He was the commander of the DNR when the plane was shot down on 17 July 2014. Dubinskiy served as Girkin’s deputy in the DNR, and Pulatov was Dubinskiy’s deputy. Kharchenko was under their command.

Investigators said the soldiers “formed a chain linking DNR with the Russian Federation”. This link was how the separatists obtained heavy equipment from Russia including the Buk launcher used to fire at MH17 with “terrible consequences”.

The accused did not push the button themselves but were responsible for bringing the anti-aircraft system to eastern Ukraine. They could therefore be held criminally liable and charged with murdering 298 people, investigators said.

Readers will recall that last year the investigators and the Dutch and Australian governments formally attributed the downing of MH17 to Russia. Yesterday, however, saw the first criminal charges brought against specific individuals. Obviously, it remains highly unlikely that any of them will face trial in the Netherlands in the foreseeable future, unless they are unwise enough to travel abroad, although they will likely be tried in absentia.

There have also been interesting developments about litigation regarding MH17 in the European Court of Human Rights. Back in 2014 I suggested that the families of the victims may decide to bring cases against both Russia and Ukraine:

In addition to whatever direct involvement these states may have had in the destruction of the aircraft, they could also be held liable for other internationally wrongful acts. For example, Ukraine could be responsible for failing to secure the right to life of the victims and failing to comply with its substantive positive obligations under Article 2 ECHR by deciding not to close the relevant airspace for civilian traffic. Russia could be held responsible for providing the rebels with anti-aircraft weaponry without sufficient safeguards (e.g. appropriate training of the missile crews), thus creating the risk that this weaponry could be used against civilian targets. Both states could be held responsible for failing to secure an effective investigation into the incident. Obviously the facts could yet develop and some very complex preliminary issues could arise (e.g. the extent of Russia’s control over the Ukrainian rebels and the question of the ECHR’s extraterritorial application), but all these points seem arguable.

At least two such cases have indeed been brought and have been communicated by the Court to the respondent governments for pleadings on admissibility and merits.

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Drėlingas v. Lithuania (ECHR): Ethno-Political Genocide Confirmed?

Published on April 15, 2019        Author: 

The European Court of Human Rights on 12th of March issued a judgment in the case of Drėlingas v. Lithuania (Application no. 28859/16). The case at the ECHR was considered under Article 7 and focused on the principle of nullum crimen sine lege. However, in broader terms this case dealt with the definition of genocide, and the protected group issue in particular. This judgement continues a series of judgements related to Soviet mass repressions in the Baltic States after they were occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union and “sovietised” in a most brutal way from 1940 up to Stalin’s death in 1953. In fact, this case is a continuation of the case Vasiliauskas v. Lithuania (Application no. 35343/05), discussed on this blog previously

The main facts of the Drėlingas case are as follows: Drėlingas was an operative of the soviet repression structures (MGB/KGB) and in 1956 he participated in the arrest of one of the most famous anti-soviet armed resistance (partisans) leaders – A. R. (nome de guerre “Vanagas”) and his wife B. M. “Vanda”. After being captured, Vanagas was horribly tortured, maimed, then tried by the Soviet court and eventually executed, his wife was deported to Siberia. These events happened after the active armed resistance was almost over, while Vanagas and his wife were still on the run. After restoring Lithuania’s independence in 1990, Drėlingas was put on trial in 2014 and sentenced for his participation in genocide, as an accessory to the crime.

The last sentence perhaps needs further explanation. Back in the 1990s, Lithuania was one of a handful of countries that adopted a broader definition of genocide in its national laws; it included political and social groups together with national, ethnic, racial and religious. The main aim of this was to address the historic Soviet crimes. However, it soon became clear that the direct inclusion of political and social groups in the genocide definition created a conflict with the internationally accepted definition of genocide. Another approach was needed, and it was tested in the case of Vasiliauskas (mentioned above). Read the rest of this entry…

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