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The European Court of Human Rights’ View of the Draft Copenhagen Declaration

Published on February 23, 2018        Author:  and
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The draft Copenhagen Declaration has already triggered some debate at this blog. So far the tone has been highly critical. Donald and Leach denounce the Declaration as essentially a tool for institutionalizing undue political pressure on the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) that risks jeopardizing the Court – even European human rights at large. Geir and Føllesdal follow suit and declare that the Declaration‘s mantra of dialogue and shared responsibility is a thinly concealed attempt at weakening the court and empowering states.

The Court itself has now published its own Opinion on the draft Declaration and it has a strikingly different tenor than that of the cited academics. That difference, we will argue, is not simply the effect of different institutional roles, but also of a different appreciation of the problems facing the ECtHR in terms of case-load and the need for an enhanced and more structured dialogue between the major stakeholders in the system in order to safeguard the Court’s institutional authority.

In fact, the Court and its President, Guido Raimondi, have very openly recognized that the Court faces two fundamental challenges. In a speech in Nijmegen on 18 November, 2016, he noted that, first, ”the very high number of cases” was ”a cause of great concern to the Court”, but that it faced another fundamental challenge:

“The second challenge is of a different nature. It is essentially a political one. The challenge is to the very idea of the Convention system. It questions the authority, and even the legitimacy of the European Court of Human Rights.”

The draft Copenhagen Declaration is an attempt at addressing precisely these two fundamental challenges: caseload and authority. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Draft Copenhagen Declaration: Whose Responsibility and Dialogue?

Published on February 22, 2018        Author:  and
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Scattered responsibility and Melian dialogue?

The Danish Chairmanship of the Council of Europe has proposed a new installation to the reform saga of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Their recipes sound innocuous: no one can be against ‘sharing responsibility’ for human rights protection, or for improved ‘dialogue’ between the Court and states. Yet some suspect that one may smile, and smile, and be a villain; at least it may be so in Denmark. Many fear that in the Danish details, sovereignty will trump human rights protection. Alice Donald and Philip Leach have provided detailed annotations to the Copenhagen draft in support of the criticism of eight NGOs in their joint response of 13 February 2018.

Broader trends and issues in the shadows of subsidiarity merit further attention, lest shared responsibility morphs into no one’s responsibility, and the discursive dialogue turns Melian, allowing state executives to do as they can and leave the Court to judge as it must.

States surely have grounds for concern about international courts, who have grown in numbers, functions and influence. State ambivalence is even greater about the ECtHR that allow individuals to challenge states. Still, some of the recent resisters are surprising. They count not only those with weak traditions for human rights and the rule of law, among the main suppliers of the large backlog of ECtHR cases – 57 350 by 31 January 2018. Vocal critics include Denmark and other states where little is rotten when it comes to human rights. One explanation may be prominent political parties’ general calls to renationalize authority from international institutions, further fueled by perceptions that the ECtHR protects bad people, criminals in particular, and hinders the defense of democracies under threat. Read the rest of this entry…

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A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing: Why the Draft Copenhagen Declaration Must be Rewritten

Published on February 21, 2018        Author:  and
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The Danish Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has issued a draft declaration ahead of the High Level Conference of foreign ministers of the 47 states in Copenhagen on 12-13 April 2018.

Here, we argue that the Draft Copenhagen Declaration poses a grave risk to the independence, integrity and authority of the European Court of Human Rights – and, in turn, to the protection of human rights in Europe – and should be substantially rewritten. Our concerns echo those raised in a detailed joint response to the draft declaration issued by eight non-government organisations that have monitored and participated in the process of ameliorating the Convention system, including at the high-level conference in Kokkedal in November 2017, after which the NGOs expressed disquiet over the proposed approach of the Danish Chairmanship.

That disquiet is borne out by both the tone and content of the draft declaration. While it professes to respect the Court, its leitmotif is a misconstrued understanding of the principle of subsidiarity, which underpins proposals that would seriously infringe on the role and jurisdiction of the Court and potentially expose it to permanent political pressure from states. Moreover, the draft declaration contains errors, contradictions and indeterminate proposals that would, if they are not removed, become dangerous weapons in the hands of those who bear ill-will to the Convention system, undermining it through weak implementation and/or politicised attacks (see here and here).

In so doing, the draft declaration irresponsibly squanders the opportunity to build upon the Brussels Declaration of March 2015 by reinforcing the imperative on states to strengthen national implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights and judgments of the Court.

Below, we contextualise the Copenhagen process before explaining our principal concerns about the tenor of this dangerous draft in terms of how it misconstrues subsidiarity and the margin of appreciation, undermines the universality of human rights, and creates channels for states to apply political pressure on the Court. Further, we highlight an unexplained and extremely worrying proposal to remove human rights litigation arising from armed conflict from the Court’s remit. Read the rest of this entry…

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Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers Starts Infringement Proceedings in Mammadov v. Azerbaijan: A Victory for the International Rule of Law?

Published on February 5, 2018        Author:  and
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On 5 December 2017 it finally happened: the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (‘the Committee’) launched for the first time ever in the history of the European Convention of Human Rights (‘ECHR’) infringement proceedings for non-implementation of a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights (‘ECtHR’), namely against Azerbaijan concerning the Mammadov case. While this development has already, and rightly so, been described as “nuclear” and “historic” elsewhere in the blogosphere, it still warrants some further analysis.

Supervision of the execution of judgments of the ECtHR: Infringement proceedings

Under Article 46 § 2 ECHR, it is the Committee that supervises the execution of the judgments of the ECtHR. According to article 46 § 4 ECHR, it may refer to the Court the question whether a given member State has fulfilled its obligation to abide by a judgment in a case to which it is a party. These so-called infringement proceedings were introduced in 2010 under Protocol No° 14 to provide the Committee with a wider range of means of pressure so as to better secure the execution of the Court’s judgments. So far, however, launching such proceedings had remained a mere theoretical possibility. Despite calls from both civil society and scholars, the Committee, a political body made up by diplomats from each member State, had either been unwilling to use this mechanism, or had never attained the necessary two-thirds-majority required for such a court referral.

There certainly is no lack of execution problems in the Strasbourg system, and it seems that in the last years such problems have rather increased than decreased. It suffices to refer to the non-implementation of the 2009 Sejdic and Finci judgment by Bosnia and Herzegovina, the 12-year-long saga around the UK’s prisoner voting case Hirst (which, however, by now seems to have been resolved, albeit maybe not fully), the Russian opposition to judgments from the ECtHR, and Italy’s almost perpetual struggles to reform its judiciary after thousands of ECtHR’s judgments identifying structural problems that go back to the 1990s as only some of the most prominent examples, as well as the non-implementation by Ukraine of the Ivanov pilot judgment leading to the recent dismissal of more than 12.000 applications in the Burmych case. Yet it is only the Mammodov case which has now brought the Committee to take action under article 46 § 2 ECHR. Read the rest of this entry…

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A Danish Crusade for the Reform of the European Court of Human Rights

Published on November 14, 2017        Author: 
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Tomorrow (15 November) Denmark will take over the rotating chairmanship of the Council of Europe (CoE). The CoE was established in 1949 and has since adopted numerous treaties, including the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Denmark is a CoE founding member and has traditionally been a strong supporter of human rights. Yet the Danish Government has announced that the chief priority of its chairmanship will be the reform of the European human rights system. This announcement may come as a surprise to the readership of this blog. This post therefore summarises the vicissitudes that have led to the Danish Government’s initiative, and provides some early reflections on its expected impact.

Why does Denmark want a reform?

Immigration has long been a dominant theme in Danish politics. In the late 1990s, the Danish People’s Party (DPP) began to denounce immigration, multiculturalism and Islam as alien to Danish society and values. Since 2001, the DPP has supported various minority coalition governments and gained extensive influence on Denmark’s immigration policy, which is now one of the most restrictive in Europe.

Critique of the ECHR is not new in Denmark, where much debate has focused on the influence of the Convention on the deportation of the foreign criminals. Read the rest of this entry…

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Is N.D. and N.T. v. Spain the new Hirsi?

Published on October 17, 2017        Author: 
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On 3 October the Third Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights published its judgment N.D. and N.T. v. Spain, which concerns Spain’s pushback policy in Melilla. It found a violation of Article 4 of Protocol 4 (prohibition of collective expulsions of aliens) and of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) taken together with Article 4 of Protocol 4. This post focuses on the issues of jurisdiction and the prohibition of collective expulsions addressed in the judgment, as well as its policy implications. 

Facts

The facts of the case are straightforward: on 13 August 2014 a group of Sub-Saharan migrants, including the applicants, tried to enter Spain via the Melilla border crossing which consists of three consecutive barriers. They managed to climb to the top of the third barrier. When they climbed down with the help of the Spanish forces, they were immediately apprehended by members of the Spanish civil guard and returned to Morocco in the company of 75 to 80 other migrants who had attempted to enter Melilla on the same date. Their identities were not checked and they did not have an opportunity to explain their personal circumstances or to receive assistance from lawyers, interpreters or medical personnel.

Jurisdiction

Spain argued that the events occurred outside its jurisdiction because the applicants had not succeeded in getting past the barriers at the Melilla border crossing and therefore had not entered Spanish territory. The Court first recalled its general principles on jurisdiction (paras 49-51), referring in particular to Hirsi Jamaa and Others v. Italy, and specifying that when the State, through its agents, exercises control and authority over an individual, and thus jurisdiction, the State is under an obligation to secure the rights and freedoms that are relevant to the situation of that individual (para 51). Applying these principles to the facts of the case, the Court first observes that:

‘la ligne frontalière entre le Royaume du Maroc et les villes de Ceuta et de Melilla a été délimitée par les traités internationaux auxquels les Royaumes d’Espagne et du Maroc sont parties et qu’elle ne peut pas être modifiée à l’initiative de l’un de ces États pour les besoins d’une situation de fait concrète’ (para 53).

Yet in the next paragraph the Court explains that it is unnecessary to establish whether the border crossing between Morocco and Spain is located on Spanish territory because:

dès lors qu’il y a contrôle sur autrui, il s’agit dans ces cas d’un contrôle de jure exercé par l’État en question sur les individus concernés (Hirsi Jamaa, précité, § 77), c’est-à-dire d’un contrôle effectif des autorités de cet État, que celles-ci soient à l’intérieur du territoire de l’État ou sur ses frontières terrestres. De l’avis de la Cour, à partir du moment où les requérants étaient descendus des clôtures frontalières, ils se trouvaient sous le contrôle continu et exclusif, au moins de facto, des autorités espagnoles.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Offshore Processing and Complicity in Current EU Migration Policies (Part 2)

Published on October 11, 2017        Author:  and
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In the first part of our blog post we reconstructed a complex web of migration policies that indicate a shift towards offshore processing of asylum claims in Niger and possibly Chad. In this second part, we seek to answer an obvious yet difficult legal question, namely who bears responsibility in scenarios of extraterritorial complicity such as this one? As described in part one, the new plan could not be implemented without the close cooperation of various actors: European Union (EU) institutions and Member States, third countries (Niger and/or Chad) and UN organisations (IOM and UNHCR).

Our discussion focuses on issues of responsibility and jurisdiction arising when bringing a case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) against any of the Member States involved in the setting up and implementation of the offshoring mechanism. Read the rest of this entry…

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(Non-)Recognition of De Facto Regimes in Case Law of the European Court of Human Rights: Implications for Cases Involving Crimea and Eastern Ukraine

Published on October 9, 2017        Author: 
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In an increasing number of cases, the European Court of Human Rights (‘ECtHR’, ‘the Court’) has been dealing with the question of the application of the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’, ‘Convention’) on territories which are outside the control of the state to which they belong. Such lack of control is either because of the occupation by a foreign state or because of the control by a separatist movement, as a rule, established and/or existing with the aid of a foreign state. One of the issues that arises in this context is the (non-)recognition of the regime that exercises control over such territory (the de facto regime).

This blog post looks at the Court’s existing approaches to the (non-)recognition of de facto regimes. It then discusses the implication of this approach for cases involving Eastern Ukraine and Crimea that may come before the Court and require it to deal with the question of (non-)recognition.

Existing approaches

The issue of (non-)recognition becomes particularly relevant when the Court is called on to assess proceedings conducted by the courts of a de facto regime in the light of the Convention. The Court has dealt with the issue of (non-)recognition when deciding on the exhaustion of domestic remedies at the admissibility stage, and on claims relating to freedom from arbitrary detention and the right to a fair trial at the merits stage. Read the rest of this entry…

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Extradition: English Court refuses to extradite alleged génocidaires to Rwanda–will a domestic prosecution follow?

Published on October 2, 2017        Author: 
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The Divisional Court of England and Wales has dismissed the appeal of the Government of Rwanda in the high-profile extradition proceedings against five alleged génocidaires in the case of Rwanda v Nteziryayo and ors. The men will not be extradited to Rwanda to stand trial for genocide and it now appears that, if they are to be tried at all, it must be in the UK.

The judgment of the Divisional Court affirmed the decision of District Judge Emma Arbuthnot on 22 December 2015 to discharge the extradition requests on two grounds: double jeopardy–one of the requested persons had been tried in a domestic ‘Gacaca’ court—and article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Judge accepted the evidence of the requested persons that there was a real risk they might suffer a flagrant breach of their rights to a fair trial if extradited to Rwanda.

The background to this latest decision reveals the evolving measures employed by the international community to promote justice and end impunity for international crimes. 

Following the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, the UN Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) which was intended to bring to trial those most responsible for the genocide and other serious violations of law perpetrated in Rwanda. Security Council Resolution 1824, passed on July 2008, called for the completion of the work of the ICTR by 2010. Read the rest of this entry…

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Barbulescu v Romania: Why There is no Room for Complacency When it Comes to Privacy Rights in the Workplace

Published on September 26, 2017        Author: 
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For some privacy advocates, the decision earlier this month of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Barbulescu v Romania was another milestone in the pursuit of greater protection for employee privacy. Reversing a decision of the Fourth Section last year, the Court held that the monitoring of an employee’s Yahoo Messenger account breached his right to respect for private life in Article 8. While it would be churlish to contradict such claims, this is no time for complacency.

Mr. Barbulescu was a sales engineer working for a private company in Romania. The company in question prohibited the use of its equipment (including the internet) for personal use – a policy it robustly enforced with dismissals for transgressors – facts which Mr. Barbulescu was made aware of. At his employer’s request, Mr. Barbulescu opened a Yahoo Messenger Account in order to communicate with customers. He was subsequently told that this account had been monitored, revealing that it had been used for personal purposes. When Mr. Barbulescu denied this claim, he was presented with a transcript of the content of his messages. These included exchanges with his brother and his fiancé, some of which were of an intimate nature. Mr. Barbulescu was fired. He challenged his dismissal in the domestic courts alleging that it breached his right to private life. Those claims were dismissed and Mr. Barbulescu brought his case to Strasbourg. Read the rest of this entry…

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