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Home International Tribunals Archive for category "European Court of Human Rights"

A Positive Take on the Legacy of the 1978 Judgment in Ireland v. United Kingdom

Published on February 7, 2019        Author: 
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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…

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The UN Human Rights Committee Disagrees with the European Court of Human Rights Again: The Right to Manifest Religion by Wearing a Burqa

Published on January 3, 2019        Author: 
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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…

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A Quick Holiday Update on Ukraine/Russia Litigation before the ECtHR

Published on December 24, 2018        Author: 
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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.

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In the name of the European Club of Liberal Democracies: How to Evaluate the Strasbourg Jurisprudence

Published on December 20, 2018        Author: 
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How should the European Court of Human Rights be reformed? Para. 41 of the Copenhagen Declaration of April 2018 seeks to scrutinise, for this purpose, recent developments in its jurisprudence, to decide, before the end of 2019, on further reform (para. 5 Copenhagen Declaration). What is a meaningful idea for such scrutiny? This post provides a legal reconstruction of the Court with respect to who it represents and in whose name it decides, that is in the name of the European club of liberal democracies. From here on, it flags the identity crisis of the club as the Court’s most important challenge. It also shows the procedural margin of appreciation doctrine as a possible path to the Court’s future, with a reformed role that focuses on the essentials of the club.

The focus “in whose name?”

An evaluation of the Court’s jurisprudence needs an idea of its democratic legitimacy, not least because it often confronts elected governments. The question, ‘in whose name’ the Strasbourg Court is deciding, evokes such an idea. Indeed, many national courts state right at the outset that they decide In the name of the people or the republic, whatever is conceived as the ultimate source of their legitimacy. Accordingly, most evaluations of domestic courts start from this premise.

In the judgements of the ECtHR, as those of any international court, nothing of that kind is written. So the question is what could feature in there as a short formula which provides a similar idea? One might consider referring to the Convention. It would then read In the name of the European Convention on Human Rights, as if a domestic court would start with In the name of the law. Yet, this is a step too short: the legitimacy does not stem from the law itself, but from its approval by parliament. Accordingly, the basis of the Court’s democratic legitimacy stems from the national ratifications of the Convention.

Hence, in a normal international controversy between two states, one could consider a court to decide In the name of the high contracting parties litigating before the court. But this makes little sense for the Strasbourg court: most controversies at the ECtHR are between a state and a national of that state. A different formula is needed. Read the rest of this entry…

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Towards Universality: Activities Impacting the Enjoyment of the Right to Life and the Extraterritorial Application of the ICCPR

Published on November 27, 2018        Author: 
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On October 31st, the Human Rights Committee (HRC) adopted General Comment no 36 on the right to life (GC36, available here) to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR/the Covenant). The Comment includes a number of interesting elements including, the introduction of the right to life as the ‘supreme’ right, and the relationship between the right to life and the environment. This post examines the endorsement in GC36 of the notion of ‘impact’ as constitutive of jurisdiction for the purpose of the extraterritorial application of the Covenant.

Impact as Exercise of Jurisdiction

In para. 63 of GC36, the Human Rights Committee adopts the ‘impact’-approach to the interpretation of Art. 6 in conjunction with Art. 2 (1) of the Covenant:

In light of article 2, paragraph 1, of the Covenant, a State party has an obligation to respect and to ensure the rights under article 6 of all persons who are within its territory and all persons subject to its jurisdiction, that is, all persons over whose enjoyment of the right to life it exercises power or effective control.  This includes persons located outside any territory effectively controlled by the State, whose right to life is nonetheless impacted by its military or other activities in a direct and reasonably foreseeable manner. […]

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the debates on the extraterritorial application of human rights treaties. To quickly recap, the application of human rights treaties Read the rest of this entry…

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Legitimizing Blasphemy Laws Through the Backdoor: The European Court’s Judgment in E.S. v. Austria

Published on October 29, 2018        Author: 
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This past weekend Irish voters decided, by an overwhelming majority, to amend the Irish Constitution so as to decriminalize blasphemy. Just a few days before this referendum, however, a unanimous Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights gave its blessing to the criminalization of blasphemy, in all but name, in its judgment in E.S. v. Austria, no. 38450/12.

I have now read this judgment several times. Each time I read it I was left more disturbed. It applies the Court’s previous troubling precedents in this context – such as the notorious judgment in Otto-Preminger-Institut v. Austria – wholly uncritically, while even going beyond them in policing offensive speech. It unpersuasively tries to draw a distinction between blasphemy laws, which categorically impermissibly infringe on the freedom of speech, and the Austrian law at issue, as interpreted and applied by Austrian courts, which according to the Court strikes the right balance between the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion. As I will explain, the Court’s distinctions are essentially meaningless and incapable of being applied in any non-arbitrary way, leading us not to a slippery slope of a further erosion of free speech, but to a cliff. Its reasoning lacks rigour and fetishizes the national margin of appreciation. Worst of all, the judgment will likely do nothing to promote religious tolerance in Europe, but will only help to further the narrative of Islamophobic closet neo-Nazis (who are, by the way, already in power in Austria, and not for the first time) that they are free speech martyrs , victimized in their own country by horrible minorities, elites and human rights lawyers.

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Painful Relations between the Council of Europe and Russia

Published on September 28, 2018        Author:  and
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During the forthcoming October part-session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), it will vote on amending its rules of procedure. Normally such technical changes do not attract much public interest but this vote certainly will. Due to inappropriate pressure, considered by many as blackmail, the Russian (parliamentary) authorities have suggested that the Assembly’s rules ought not to permit the exclusion of national delegations from the Assembly. In other words, the Assembly should take away from itself its ultimate sanction, namely excluding a parliamentary delegation of the state that refuses to comply with Council of Europe’s fundamental values: human rights, the rule of law and pluralistic democracy. This can only be done once attempts to admonish or reprimand a state which breaches the rules of the democratic club have failed.

That said, the Committee of Ministers, the other statutory body of the Council of Europe, can suspend or expel a state which seriously violates the club’s rules. Expulsion is however a politically complex exercise. Article 8 of the Organisation’s Statute specifies that if a member state seriously violates founding principles of the rule of law and human rights, the Committee of Ministers can so decide. Read the rest of this entry…

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Intelligence Sharing and the Right to Privacy after the European Court Judgment in Big Brother Watch v. UK

Published on September 24, 2018        Author: 
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On 13 September 2018, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in three consolidated cases brought by 14 human rights organisations and 2 individuals against the UK government’s mass interception program and its access to the intelligence gathered by other governments, including the United States (Big Brother Watch v. UK, nos. 58170/13, 62322/14, 24960/15.)

As noted already by Marko Milanovic, these cases are nuanced, complex, and long. I intend to focus here on one aspect, namely the way the Court assessed the intelligence sharing claim brought by the applicants (paras 416-449.) This assessment is noteworthy as that claim presents an issue of first impression for the Court. As the judgment itself notes, “this is the first time that the Court has been asked to consider the Convention compliance of an intelligence sharing regime” (para 416). (It is worth noting, however, that the recent judgment in Centrum för Rättvisa v. Sweden no. 35252/08 also touches upon this issue.)

The applicants’ intelligence sharing claim centred on the revelations, contained in disclosures by Edward Snowden, that the UK government has access to information collected by other foreign intelligence agencies, and most notably the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). In particular, these revelations suggest that the UK government has direct and unfettered access to raw data intercepted by other governments, which it can then filter, store, analyse and further disseminate. They further suggest that the UK government has similarly broad access to information stored in databases by other governments.

From a human rights law perspective, the fundamental question raised in this case is the nature of the interference and therefore the applicable test to apply to such interference. Read the rest of this entry…

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ECtHR Judgment in Big Brother Watch v. UK

Published on September 17, 2018        Author: 
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Last week the European Court of Human Rights issued a highly anticipated blockbuster Chamber judgment in Big Brother Watch v. UK, nos. 58170/13, 62322/14, 24960/15.

This is the first mass electronic surveillance case to be decided against the UK after the Edward Snowden revelations, and it touches upon numerous issues. The judgment is nuanced, complex, and long. It addresses key questions such as the proportionality of bulk interception programmes much more directly and with greater sophistication than the recent judgment in Centrum för Rättvisa v. Sweden no. 35252/08, which was decided by a different Chamber while this case was being deliberated, and which also upheld a bulk surveillance programme (see here for Asaf Lubin’s take on Just Security).

The judgment is too rich to summarize easily, so I will only set out some key takeaways (for an extensive discussion on surveillance and privacy in the digital age, see my 2015 Harvard ILJ piece).

First, and most importantly, the judgment is a mixed bag for privacy activists: while the Court finds that the UK’s surveillance programme under the now-defunct Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) was deficient in important respects and in violation of Article 8 and 10 of the Convention, it at the same time normalizes such mass surveillance programmes. In particular, the Court decided that bulk interception programmes are not categorically disproportionate, as privacy activists have argued. Second, in a similar vein, the Court finds that prior judicial authorization is not indispensable for the legality of bulk interception, again contrary to what privacy activists have argued, even if prior judicial authorization could be seen as best practice (note that under the new 2016 Investigatory Powers Act the UK has moved to a double-authorization system which involves both a minister and an independent quasi-judicial commissioner).

Here are the key paragraphs (warning – extracts from the judgment make this a lengthy post):

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Supreme Court of Spain: UN Treaty Body individual decisions are legally binding

Published on August 1, 2018        Author: 
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The Spanish Supreme Court has established that the views expressed by UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies in individual complaints are binding on the State. The Court ordered Spain to pay €600,000 in compensation to Ángela González for the responsibility of its authorities in relation to the death of her daughter. Her daughter was murdered by her father in an unsupervised visit authorised by a judge. National courts dismissed Ángela’s case, but the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee) found a breach of her human rights. The Supreme Court has now affirmed that the State must comply with the Committee’s decision. This article discusses the significance of the case and the principle established by it.

Ángela González:  from domestic violence up to the United Nations (1996-2014)

Ángela’s daughter Andrea was born in 1996. Ángela’s partner subjected her to frequent physical and psychological violence. Ángela lodged no less than 30 complaints to the police and to the court. Her partner was convicted for one minor offence and ordered to pay a small penalty for harassment. Only one judicial order protected the minor and lasted for two months.

Marital separation was ordered in November 2001. The judge did not mention the violence as the cause of separation. The order allowed unsupervised visits between father and daughter, and the father was granted the use of the family dwelling. Ángela appealed the decision but was unsuccessful. Andrea had repeatedly expressed her desire not to see her father. In April 2003, the father killed the 7-year-old girl and then committed suicide during an unsupervised visit. Read the rest of this entry…

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