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.
Does the European Court of Human Rights Have to Decide on Sovereignty over Crimea? Part I: Jurisdiction in Article 1 ECHR
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.
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…
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…
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.
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…
In September 2018, a request by the Irish Government to refer the Ireland v. United Kingdom revision case to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) was refused, closing a door that had been reopened after forty years. The fact that the ECtHR arrived at a finding of inhuman and degrading treatment ‘only’ has been maligned. In this post, I’d like to highlight an alternative perspective and suggest that this judgment elevated the gravity of the ‘other’ forms of treatment and set in motion a pioneering approach to the interpretation of Article 3 ECHR.
Subsequent to the Chamber judgment in March 2018, there was much debate (including in this blog) about whether the ECtHR should have revised its 1978 finding of inhuman and degrading treatment in light of the additional evidence. Some have supported the ECtHR’s exercise of restraint in the use of its exceptional revision powers under Rule 80 of the Rules of Court, pointing out the need for legal certainty. Others have critiqued the Court’s approach to the new evidence or have lamented the Court’s failure to follow the European Commission on Human Rights’ finding of torture, opening the door to manipulation of the torture-versus-ill-treatment distinction. All have opined that the facts of the case would give rise to a finding of torture today.
A further commonality across the commentary is that all refer to the finding of inhuman and degrading treatment ‘only’. The 2018 judgment itself describes the applicant Government’s request for the Court to find that the ‘five techniques’ ‘amounted to a practice not merely of inhuman and degrading treatment but of torture within the meaning of Article 3 of the Convention’ (para. 8). In the context of these debates, and the revision request itself, the distinction between torture and inhuman and degrading treatment ‘only’ has been amplified. That is, there is a pervasive and implicit sense that inhuman and degrading treatment is in some way not as bad as torture. In 2018, as was observed in 1978, the Court’s failure to arrive at a finding of torture overshadowed the finding of inhuman and degrading treatment. Read the rest of this entry…
Liability of an Assisting Army for Detainee Abuse by Local Forces: The Danish High Court Judgment in Green Desert
This comment sets out to discuss the judgment of the Danish High Court (Eastern Division) in what is known as the Iraq or Green Desert Case (B344808J – HBJ). The judgment, delivered in June 2018 and available in Danish only, has received limited attention outside Denmark. It is significant in that it establishes liability for Danish forces for ill-treatment of Iraqi detainees by Iraqi security forces, in circumstances in which Danish forces were found not to have taken part in the arrests and subsequent abuse of detainees, nor to have exercised command over Iraqi forces. Danish forces had only ‘coordinating authority’ which did not permit the issuing of orders to Iraqi forces. Liability was nonetheless established on the basis that, at the time of the decision to take part in this joint military operation (‘Operation Green Desert’) in November 2004, the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the Defence Command or the Danish Battalion should have known that there was ‘a real risk that persons detained during the operation would be subject to inhuman treatment in Iraqi custody during the further investigation’ (810-11). The MoD has appealed the decision, but at the time of writing the Supreme Court was yet to schedule a hearing date.
The claimants had submitted that, in light of Article 3 ECHR, the MoD was obliged to conduct a new independent investigation, but the Court rejected the applicant’s request, arguing that such an investigation was not likely to bring about relevant new information.
Taking into account the nature of the abuses and the fact that these were not perpetrated by Danish forces, the Court found that the compensation should be set at 30,000 DKK (appr. 4,000 EUR) each for 18 of the 23 claimants (5 claimants were not awarded compensation).
Having set out key aspects of the judgment, we examine if the judgment is likely to have ramifications for how Denmark will approach joint military operations in Iraq and elsewhere in the future. We also highlight some parallels with civil proceedings in the UK arising from the Iraq War. Read the rest of this entry…
The UN Human Rights Committee Disagrees with the European Court of Human Rights Again: The Right to Manifest Religion by Wearing a Burqa
It is perhaps unsurprising to observers of the UN Human Rights Committee’s (HRC) jurisprudence that in the recent decisions of Yaker v France and Hebbadi v France, the HRC came to the opposite conclusion to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) regarding the compatibility of the so-called ‘French burqa ban’ with the right to manifest religion. In SAS v France, the ECtHR had found that although the French Loi no 2010–1192 interdisant la dissimulation du visage dans l’espace public of 11 October 2010, JO 12 October 2010 (herein after the ‘burqa ban’) interfered with the right to manifest religion, it did not constitute a violation of article 9 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) as it pursued the legitimate aim of ‘living together’ and fell within the State’s margin of appreciation (see my earlier post on this case). In contrast, in Yaker and Hebaddi, the HRC found that the same law violated not only article 18, the right to thought, conscience and religion, but also article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the right to equality before the law.
The HRC’s freedom of religion or belief jurisprudence has consistently diverged from that of the ECtHR when the right to manifest religion by wearing religious clothing is at issue. Both bodies have heard directly analogous cases, but while the HRC has found that restrictions on religious clothing justified by reference to either secularism or public order violate article 18 ICCPR, the ECtHR has deferred to the State’s margin of appreciation and declined to find a violation (see my earlier post on this blog). As a result, the HRC’s decisions in Yaker and Hebbadi were not entirely unexpected, especially as in its Concluding Observations on the fifth periodic report of France in 2015, the HRC had expressed ‘the view that these laws [including the burqa ban] infringe the freedom to express one’s religion or belief and that they have a disproportionate impact on members of specific religions and on girls’ (para 22). However, its decision in these cases remains noteworthy as a result of: its consideration of ‘living together’ as a legitimate aim under the article 18(3) ICCPR limitations clause; the HRC’s recognition that the burqa ban constituted intersectional discrimination; and the nuanced approach adopted to the gender equality argument. The analysis here will focus on Yaker, although the HRC’s reasoning in both cases is identical. Read the rest of this entry…
Last week the European Court of Human Rights published a press release which is worth flagging for readers, with an update on litigation concerning various aspects of the conflict in Ukraine pending before it. As things stand, there are more than 4000 individual cases before the Court with a nexus to the conflict, whether in Eastern Ukraine or Crimea. There are currently five pending interstate cases between Ukraine and Russia, the latest one filed in November, concerning the Kerch Strait incident (see this prior post by James Kraska) and in which the Court has indicted interim measures. The Court has now decided to adjourn many of the individual cases, pending its decision in the interstate cases on the applicability of the Convention, specifically with regard to the Article 1 ECHR jurisdiction of both Ukraine and Russia; for a discussion of this issue, see my recent ICLQ article with Tatjana Papic on the applicability of the ECHR in contested territories.
The full press release is reproduced below.