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Home International Organisations Archive for category "Council of Europe"

Reflections on the European Committee on the Prevention of Torture’s Report on the UK

Published on April 21, 2017        Author: 

The European Committee on the Prevention of Torture (CPT), the Council of Europe monitoring body responsible for visiting places of detention in member states, recently published its report on its visit to the UK in 2016. The report was published at the request of the UK and a response is expected shortly.

The report is important in three respects. First, the report is striking in the number of concerns it raises about ill-treatment in places of detention in the UK, including inter-prisoner violence, a lack of safety in prisons, use of restraint and separation in psychiatric hospitals, solitary confinement of children and indefinite lengths of immigration detention. Second, the nature of the concerns raised in the report prompts questions on whether measures to eradicate ill-treatment are sufficient or whether in some instances the use and legitimacy of detention itself needs to be considered. Third, the report is part of a wider context of national reviews and reform and recent and forthcoming recommendations by the UN on the use, legitimacy and treatment in detention in the UK. This level of attention to detention in the UK raises interesting questions for scholars and practitioners on implementation and compliance with international human rights law and the conditions necessary to bring about change. Read the rest of this entry…

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Flexing Muscles (Yet Again): The Russian Constitutional Court’s Defiance of the Authority of the ECtHR in the Yukos Case

Published on February 13, 2017        Author: 

The saga in the case of the defunct Yukos oil company is far from over after the Russian Constitutional Court (RCC) in its decision of 19 January 2017 ruled that Russia was not bound to enforce the ECtHR decision on the award of pecuniary compensation to the company’s ex-shareholders, as it would violate the Constitution of the Russian Federation (CRF). The protracted argument between the Yukos oil company’s ex-shareholders and Russia has spanned over a decade before the ECtHR. In its judgment of 20 September 2011, the ECtHR found that Russia acted in breach of Art. 6 of the ECHR by failing to accord sufficient time to Yukos for preparation of its case before national courts. Further to this, the ECtHR found two breaches of Article 1 of Protocol I, in particular with respect to the assessment of penalties by the Russian tax authorities in 2010-2011 and their failure to “strike a fair balance” in the enforcement proceedings against Yukos. The issue of just satisfaction was settled in the 2014 ECtHR judgment that awarded 1,9 billion EUR in pecuniary damages to be paid by Russia to the Yukos ex-shareholders. It is an unprecedented amount of compensation that has ever been awarded in the context of human rights litigation, which makes Russia’s annual budget of 7,9 mil EUR allocated for enforcement of the ECtHR decisions look like a drop in the ocean. Following Russia’s unsuccessful appeal attempts in the ECtHR, the Russian Ministry of Justice brought the case before the RCC arguing against enforcement of the ECtHR judgment.

Uncertain Relationship Between International and Russian Law

The constitutional provisions on the relationship between international and Russian law are far from clear. As a general rule, the primacy of international treaties and agreements could be inferred from Art. 15(4) of the CRF:

If an international treaty or agreement of the Russian Federation provides for other rules than those envisaged by law, the rules of the international agreement shall apply.

The latest decisions of the RCC raise an important question on the relationship between international treaty law and Russian law, given its findings on the primacy of the Constitution if there exists a conflict between the rules of international and national law. Read the rest of this entry…

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Turkey’s Derogation from the ECHR – What to Expect?

Published on July 27, 2016        Author: 

In the aftermath of the failed 15 July coup, Turkey’s government declared a state of emergency and subsequently on 21 July notified the Council of Europe that it “may” derogate from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).  So far there is no information of a possible notification to the United Nations concerning derogations from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Turkey’s ECHR formal notification was preceded by widely reported expectations, fuelled also by a Council of Europe press release, that it was going to “suspend” the ECHR (presumably as a whole) and, interestingly, followed by a 25 July communication to the Council of Europe (see below) that appears to downplay the severity of the derogations.

Derogations from some but not all human rights are permissible under ECHR Article 15 and, similarly, under ICCPR Article 4 when a state is faced with a public emergency that threatens the life of the nation and officially proclaims a state of emergency. A failed military coup would prima facie qualify as serious enough a situation that can be addressed through declaring a state of emergency in the process of restoring normalcy.

Basing myself on the assumption that Turkey’s decision to derogate from some of the ECHR rights as such is to be assessed as permissible, I will below address the constraints that a country is facing under human rights law when lawfully derogating. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Spitzenkandidaten Exercise One Year Later – The Unsung Hero

Published on September 7, 2015        Author: 

A year has gone by since the last elections to the European Parliament. One significant innovation in those elections was the Spitzenkandidaten exercise.

At the recent fifth edition of the ‘State of the Union’ organized by the European University Institute I conducted a public interview with Vice President of the European Commission Franz Timmermans.

Vice President Timmermans and I reached the point where we touched on that perennial topic of the still existing deficiencies of European democracy, resulting, inter alia, in widespread indifference as expressed in the low turnout to the last European elections – 2014 scored the lowest turnout ever.

Here is an edited transcript from the interview.

Weiler:  […]  Part of the problem is that when people go and vote for  the European Parliament, they are not really being offered a real political choice (the way, for example, yesterday they were offered in the United Kingdom – Labour or Conservative.), neither as regards the policies that will be pursued nor as regards who will govern them. So the delicate question is whether the Union in its processes needs to become overtly more political? Do you think the bold, even though limited, experiment of the last elections to the European Parliament with the ‘Spitzenkandidaten’, who delivered here in this space [the Salone dei cinquecento of the Palazzo Vecchio] one of the televised debates, should be pursued and perhaps deepened as one of the ways of addressing that problem of citizen disengagement?

Timmermans:  Yes, first of all … the core of the problem also refers to one of my favourite authors, Hannah Arendt, who … actually, if you bring back the essence of some of her writings [says] ‘ It is not the anger of the minorities that hates us, it is the indifference of the majority that makes things difficult’: and here we have a problem at the European level because institutions that are made to represent the people through direct democracy, or like the Commission through other means, are very often very, very far removed from the political perceptions of the citizens. There is no (not yet) European ‘demos’, European political focal point, and we will need the engagement at the national level to make sure that we will bring people closer to what is European decision-making; so the odd contradiction between … there are …. there is the ‘supernational’ level and there is the national level, and what we are doing is trying to take away from one, or trying to resist taking it away from one … We are in this together! The only way forward is for national governments and leaders to take the responsibility for the European project, and stop blaming Europe for everything that goes wrong and taking credit for everything that goes right; and we at the European level should indeed, I think, be more focused towards making our institutions more political.

I was myself sceptical of the ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ idea, right?  I criticized it publicly several times and I am happy to admit it here today… I was wrong! Because of the Spitzenkandidaten idea, we now have a President of the Commission who is not appointed by consensus in the European Council, but who was appointed and elected by the European Parliament, by a political process. The European Council had to accept that political process; it makes the President of the European Commission far more independent than I have seen in the past. And Jean-Claude Juncker is a political leader who takes this very seriously indeed, and you can see this in the dynamic between the Commission and the European Parliament, between the Commission and the European Council … Let me just refer to what Jean-Claude said about migration;  this was not consensual language as far as the European Council is concerned.  He took his position in a political way; he took his leadership role in a very straightforward way and gave us a leadership role in the migration debate.

Weiler: Ladies and gentlemen, it is not every day that you sit next to a politician who is willing to say ‘I was wrong!’

Read the rest of this entry…

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Are Human Rights Hurting Migrants at Sea?

Published on April 24, 2015        Author: 

Every year hundreds of thousands of irregular migrants, including asylum seekers and refugees, cross the Mediterranean Sea to enter Europe. More than 200.000 are thought to have crossed in 2014, reaching the coasts of Italy, Greece, Spain, Malta and Cyprus.

The reasons for the crossing are obvious. Some migrants flee conflict and persecution; others simply seek a better life in Europe. Regardless of motivations, crossing is not without perils. The UNHCR estimates that 3.500 lives were lost in 2014 while more than two thousand people have died since 1 January 2015.

After more than 300 migrants drowned near the island of Lampedusa in 2013, the Italian Government established the so-called Operation Mare Nostrum. Mare Nostrum was a humanitarian success. The International Organization for Migration applauded the “heroic work of Italy’s maritime forces”, which rescued some 100.000 people between 2013 and 2014. Despite widespread praise, Mare Nostrum ended in October 2014.

In its place, the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union (known by the more palatable name Frontex) established operation Triton. Read the rest of this entry…

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Business and Human Rights Law in the Council of Europe: Noblesse oblige

Daniel Augenstein

Daniel Augenstein

Nicola Jägers

Nicola Jägers

Willem van Genugten

Willem van Genugten

Daniel Augenstein is Assistant Professor at Tilburg Law School. Willem van Genugten is Professor of International Law at Tilburg Law School and at the North-West University in South Africa (extraordinary chair). He also is President of the Royal Netherlands Society of International Law. Nicola Jägers holds the chair of international human rights law at Tilburg Law School and is also Commissioner at the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights.

In January 2013, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (CoE) instructed its Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH) to elaborate a political declaration supporting the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), and a non-binding instrument addressing gaps in the implementation of the UNGPs at the European level. This post discusses the evolution of “business and human rights” and the reception of the UNGPs in the Council of Europe. It draws attention to significant differences in policy approach between the CoE’s Parliamentary Assembly and its Committee of Ministers. It then places the discussed policy developments in the context of the CoE’s own key legal human rights instrument, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR). We highlight three areas in which the CoE is well-placed to make an important contribution to addressing the detrimental impacts of global business operations on international human rights protection: the interdependency and interaction between civil and political and social and economic rights; state obligations to respect and protect human rights in relation to corporate violations; and the extraterritorial application of international human rights law.

Business & Human Rights in the CoE’s Parliamentary Assembly

CoE activity on business and human rights dates back to 2009, when the Parliamentary Assembly adopted Recommendation 1858 on private military and security firms and the erosion of the state monopoly on the use of force. This was followed, in 2010, by the more general Resolution 1757 and Recommendation 1936 on human rights and business, which among other things highlighted legal protection gaps in the ECHR regarding human rights violations committed by private corporations. Read the rest of this entry…

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Council of Europe Ministers adopt declaration to address libel tourism

Published on July 11, 2012        Author: 

For those interested in matters of jurisdiction and cross-border litigation, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has now adopted a declaratory text alerting its 47 member states to what it termed the “serious threat to freedom of expression and information” posed by the practice of libel tourism – a practice where one chooses a plaintiff-friendly jurisdiction in which to bring a libel suit against a journalist, publisher, or academic. In calling for the reform of defamation laws in Europe to prevent libel tourism, the Committee of Ministers is also calling for some uniformity of standards.

For those unfamiliar with the organs of the Council of Europe, the Committee of Ministers is the Council’s executive body, consisting of all Foreign Ministers from the Council’s 47 member states or their deputies. The declaration adopted last week, while not a legally binding text, serves to add the voice of a weighty regional group of states to the claim that libel tourism and forum shopping in defamation cases can produce a chilling effect on expression and the availability of information. A copy of the declaration, entitled the “Declaration of the Committee of Ministers on the Desirability of International Standards dealing with Forum Shopping in respect of Defamation, “Libel Tourism”, to Ensure Freedom of Expression,” can be found here.

Read the rest of this entry…

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