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

The Applicability of the ECHR in Contested Territories; Two Other ECHR Cases Against Russia

Published on July 19, 2018        Author: 
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Earlier this week the European Court of Human Rights decided Sandu and Others v. the Republic of Moldova and Russia, nos. 21034/05 etc, the latest in its Ilascu line of cases (see here and here for more background). As in its previous case law, the Court in Sandu found that both Moldova and Russia exercised jurisdiction in the sense of Article 1 ECHR over the contested separatist territory of Transdniestria, the former on the basis of sovereign title, and the latter on the basis of its control over the area. In this case, which concerned property rights, the Court found Moldova to have discharged its positive obligations towards the applicants, and Russia not to have done so, thus incurring responsibility for violating the Convention. Like in its previous case law, it remains unclear whether the Court is attributing to Russia the conduct of Transdniestrian separatist authorities, or whether Russia is responsible for its own conduct of failing to exercise influence over these authorities so as to protect the applicants’ rights.

Coincidentally, Tatjana Papic and I have recently posted on SSRN the draft of an article on the applicability of the ECHR in contested territories, forthcoming in the ICLQ , in which we provide a critique of the Court’s Ilascu jurisprudence. The abstract is below, and any comments are welcome:

This article examines the applicability of the European Convention for Human Rights (ECHR) when a State loses control over parts of its territory. Such situations have increasingly arisen in cases before the European Court of Human Rights. For instance, the Court currently has on its docket an interstate case between Georgia and Russia, three interstate cases between Ukraine and Russia, and thousands of individual applications which concern either Crimea or Eastern Ukraine. The article argues that the jurisprudence of the European Court, which insists on residual positive obligations based in sovereign title over territory, is problematic and needs to be rethought. The Court’s current approach is not only likely to provoke backlash, since it requires it to decide politically explosive questions of sovereign title, but does so for very little practical benefit for the protection of human rights. The article therefore explores more preferable alternatives.

Also this week the Court rendered two unrelated but very important judgments against Russia. First, regarding the 2006 killing of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the Court found Russia responsible under Article 2 ECHR for failing to conduct a fully effective investigation into the killing, specifically because Russian authorities did not explore all feasible lines of investigation into the person or persons who contracted Politkovskaya’s assassination (Mazepa and Others v. Russia, no. 15086/07).

Second, the Court found Russia responsible for the violation of several human rights of three members of the Pussy Riot band, who were arrested, convicted and sentenced to two years of imprisonment for (very briefly) performing their song Punk Prayer – Virgin Mary, Drive Putin Away in the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow (Mariya Alekhina and Others v. Russia, no. 38004/12). Pussy Riot were of course very much in the news last weekend, after their pitch invasion at the World Cup final in Moscow.

(Image: Sportimage/PA Images)

The most interesting part of the Pussy Riot judgment is the Article 10 analysis; the Court is not content with saying simply and easily that the sentence of imprisonment imposed on the applicants was disproportionate, but engages in line-drawing between hate speech and offensive speech, which is particularly relevant because the domestic crime that the applicants were convicted of incorporated a hatred element. The judgment also has a rather glorious appendix with several Pussy Riot songs (oh so very du jour, and reproduced below for entertainment value, together with the song at issue in the case itself).

 

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Irregular migration after the Aquarius incident: moving beyond the law. A reflection on Fink and Gombeer

Published on July 5, 2018        Author:  and
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Introduction

Last month, EJIL: Talk! published a piece by Fink and Gombeer on the legality of Italy and Malta’s recent failure to provide a safe haven to a rescue vessel Aquarius. Essentially, the authors concluded that the refusal by these states to open their harbours is ‘regrettable, at the very least, but not necessarily unlawful.’ On their view, for the reasons elaborated in their analysis, neither the law of the sea nor human rights law have been ‘evidently’ breached. It follows that these two branches of law, in the context of ‘Aquarius-like incidents’, provide rather no avail to asylum seekers; in other words: law has its own limits.

The fate of Aquarius and her passengers is yet another example of an endless list of scenarios where people from predominantly war-torn, repressed or impoverished territories often attempt to irregularly cross international borders; a large number of them seeking help, safety and a better life. This and similar events illustrate not only that the handling of the arrival of asylum seekers, especially in Europe, has fostered multiple crises, but also that irregular migration will not cease to occur. Hence, the need for a long-term, responsible and visionary solution is evident.

Fink and Gombeer reflect de lege lata, and their diagnosis is valid and all the more relevant nowadays, de lege ferenda, as the governance and management of migration is largely being reformed, on multiple levels, precisely to address contemporary challenges and expectations. Among others, the European Union (EU) attempts to reform its migration and asylum policy, predominantly the so-called Dublin system, and the United Nations (UN) is expected to adopt its Global Compact on Migration by late 2018.

Having read Fink and Gombeer’s analysis, we cannot help but reflect on their main conclusion in light of these reforms. These authors basically identify a ‘gap’: the law has its own limits. We, in turn, reflect further on filling the said ‘gap’. We ask what can be done to overcome the limitations of law in order to ensure more holistic protection of asylum seekers?

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The Aquarius incident: navigating the turbulent waters of international law

Published on June 14, 2018        Author:  and
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Between Saturday 9 June and Sunday 10 June, 629 migrants were rescued from overcrowded boats in the Central Mediterranean in search and rescue (SAR) operations carried out by NGOs and the Italian navy. They were taken on board by the Aquarius, a rescue vessel operated by the German NGO SOS Méditerranée and flying the flag of Gibraltar. On Sunday, the Aquarius was on its way to Italy, whose Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) had coordinated the operations. Around 35 nautical miles off the southern coast of Italy, Italian authorities ordered the Aquarius to stop. Italy refused the Aquarius access to its ports and prohibited disembarkation of the rescued migrants on Italian territory. This, Italy’s new Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini announced, would be Italy’s new policy for any NGO vessel rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean.

Italy’s instructions ‘manifestly go against international rules’, Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat tweeted on Sunday night, but then himself denied the ship to dock in the port of Valletta. Malta in turn, Muscat claimed, was thereby acting in full compliance with international law. For another 24 hours, the Aquarius remained on stand-by, floating between Malta and Italy. Maltese and Italian vessels supplied the Aquarius with water and food, but neither of them gave in by offering safe haven.

On Monday, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced that Spain could facilitate disembarkation of all 629 rescued individuals in the port of Valencia. When it appeared that this journey would be too dangerous for passengers and crew of the Aquarius and the Valencia-plan seemed off the table again, Italy offered its ships to facilitate safe passage to Spain.

This whole episode raises a broad variety of questions, but one stands out: Are Italy and Malta violating international law by not allowing the Aquarius to find a safe haven in one of their ports? Two legal regimes are particularly relevant in this respect: the law of the sea and international human rights law. As we argue, neither provides much clarity in relation to Aquarius-like incidents. Read the rest of this entry…

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High Risk, High Reward: Taking the Question of Italy’s Involvement in Libyan ‘Pullback’ Policies to the European Court of Human Rights

Published on May 14, 2018        Author: 
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The mere filing of a case is rarely a reason for legal commentary but in this particular case, it may well be. A few days ago, a broad-based coalition consisting of NGOs and scholars, led by the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) filed an application against Italy before the ECtHR with potentially far-reaching implications for European migration policy and especially maritime border control. The issues at hand are so-called ‘pullback’ practices in which the Libyan coastguard – funded, trained, and equipped by the Italian authorities under an agreement signed in February 2017 – prevents migrant boats from heading to Europe’s safe shores.

The application concerns events that unfolded the morning of 6 November 2017. A migrant dinghy in distress before the Libyan coast was simultaneously intercepted by the Libyan coastguard and a rescue ship of the German NGO ‘Seawatch’. A messy and partly confrontational rescue process ensued. Of the (approx.) 120 migrants onboard the dinghy, more than 20 persons drowned before and during the operation. 47 others were ‘pulled back’ by the Libyan coastguard, allegedly experiencing human rights violations including torture and inhumane and degrading treatment upon their return in Libya. 59, more lucky individuals, were rescued by the Seawatch and brought to Italy. By merely looking at the facts, the advantages of having a broad-based coalition become clear. University of London Goldsmiths’ Forensic Architecture agency made available an impressive digital reconstruction of the events that unfolded that morning. These details could be a crucial ingredient for a successful case.

Still, the present case comes at a difficult time for migrant rights advocates in Europe. Read the rest of this entry…

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Why the ECHR Decided not to Revise its Judgment in the Ireland v. The United Kingdom Case

Published on April 5, 2018        Author: 
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The European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) recently rejected a request by Ireland to revise its judgment in the 1978 Ireland v. The United Kingdom case, where the Court found that the use by the then U.K. government of five techniques of interrogation on fourteen individuals amounted to “inhuman and degrading treatment” in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”), but did not rise to the level of torture. In the recent revision request Ireland asked the ECtHR to revise the original judgment, based on evidence that has recently become available, and to find that the five techniques did amount to torture.

The Court rejected Ireland’s request, a decision that was met with disappointment by human rights advocates. Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland campaigns manager remarked that this was “a very disappointing outcome, for the men and their families” and argued that the Court “missed a vital opportunity to put right a historic wrong.” Without taking away from the anguish of the fourteen individuals who suffered and continue to suffer as a result of being subjected to the harsh interrogations, it is necessary to understand the reasoning behind the Court’s decision and challenge the notion that it was a denial of justice.

A revision request is not an opportunity to fix the Court’s past mistakes or re-evaluate a case in light of more recent case-law. Rather, it is a technical process that allows the Court to revise a judgment only when new facts emerge which should have been made available to the Court at the time of the original judgment and which would have had a decisive influence on the Court. Should the Court agree to revise a case where any new fact or later case law would point to a different outcome, or where it finds the Court simply made a mistake, it would lead to complete chaos and uncertainty. In this case, the decision to deny the revision request was justified on the basis of maintaining legal certainty, a fundamental aspect of justice. Read the rest of this entry…

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Right of Access to a Court in Civil Claims for Torture Committed Abroad: The European Court Grand Chamber Decision in Naït-Liman

Published on April 3, 2018        Author: 
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The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has announced its judgment in the case of Naït-Liman v Switzerland, confirming that the refusal of the Swiss courts to examine a refugee’s civil claim for torture in Tunisia was not a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The decision addresses the concepts of forum of necessity and universal civil jurisdiction, and has important implications for civil claims arising out of wrongful acts that have taken place abroad.

Initial Proceedings

In April 1992, Tunisian national and political activist Abdennacer Naït-Liman was arrested in Italy and flown to Tunis, where he was handed over to members of the Tunisian authorities. Naït-Liman subsequently alleged that on the orders of the then Minister of the Interior, Abdallah Kallel, he was detained for 40 days and brutally tortured with bats, electric shocks, and suspension. He escaped Tunisia in 1993 and travelled to Switzerland with his wife and children, where he was granted refugee status in 1995 and Swiss nationality in 2007.

Naït-Liman learned on 14 February 2001 that Abdallah Kallel was in Switzerland receiving treatment at a hospital, and filed a criminal complaint against him. Kallel was, however, able to leave Switzerland before he was apprehended by the Swiss authorities. Read the rest of this entry…

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Part 2: A few steps forward, a few steps sideways and a few steps backwards: The CAT’s revised and updated GC on Non-Refoulement

Published on March 21, 2018        Author:  and
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CAT’s Defiance in Response to State Pushback

In Part I of our analysis of the new CAT General Comment, we noted that state pushback on a range of issues, for example diplomatic assurances and post deportation redress, was successful as evidenced by the committee’s amendments to the now adopted GC.  In this post, we discuss the areas where the CAT stood its ground in the consultation process and resisted state pushback, on some occasions even pushing certain doctrines beyond the position stated in the draft GC, despite states’ concerns.

Reverse Burden of Proof

The draft GC proposed a reverse burden of proof in cases where an individual “cannot elaborate on his/her case”. This would be, for example, if she has no possibility to obtain documentation regarding her alleged torture or is deprived of her liberty (para 40). There was pushback against the reverse burden of proof from several countries with the US, Russia, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Australia all arguing that this was not reflective of the wording of the Convention or the Committee’s caselaw, which suggests that the burden is always on the complainant to present their case.  While a reverse burden of proof is occasionally mentioned in the committee’s caselaw, this only ever shifts after the complainant has provided enough evidence to substantiate their case (see e.g. SPA v Canada, at para 7.5).  Despite this pushback, and the lack of grounding in the Committee’s caselaw, a reverse burden of proof has been retained in the adopted GC demonstrating the Committee’s use of the GC to engage in dynamic interpretation of the Convention.

Internal Flight Alternative Read the rest of this entry…

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Part 1: A few steps forward, a few steps sideways and a few steps backwards: The CAT’s revised and updated GC on Non-Refoulement

Published on March 20, 2018        Author:  and
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On 6 December 2017, after a year long consultation process with states and civil society representatives, the Committee against Torture (CAT) adopted its revised General Comment (GC) (now No.4) on the implementation of Article 3 of the Convention against Torture (the Convention)  in the context of Article 22.

In a decaying global human rights climate, in particular towards people on the move, this GC has been much awaited.  Non-refoulement claims are the single most common claims raised before all UN Treaty bodies.  Non-refoulement cases are over 80 percent of  CAT’s  caseload. In addition to this, the  Human Rights Committee (HRC), the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) also receive individual petitions concerning non-refoulement, and turn to CAT for guidance.

Twenty-three state parties to the CAT (out of 162 in total) provided written comments on the draft GC prior to its adoption. These, in almost every case, pushed back on the standards the Committee aimed to develop.  The significant majority of the twenty three States responding were asylum and migration destination states in the global north, well known for their anti migration rhetoric. Alongside these, countries that have a disproportionate burden of asylum seekers, such as Turkey and Morocco also responded. China, the US, the UK, Qatar and Egypt, even though they do not recognise the right to individual petition before CAT,  also provided written comments. The states that provided the most detailed and expansive submissions were: the United Kingdom, Norway, Denmark, Australia, Canada, the United States, the Russian Federation, France and Switzerland.

Over these two blog posts, we identify which issues were subject to state pushback and how CAT responded, highlighting the areas where CAT stood its ground and where it conceded. Read the rest of this entry…

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Can the ECtHR provide an effective remedy following the coup d’état and declaration of emergency in Turkey?

Published on March 19, 2018        Author: 
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The question posed in the title of this post has been discussed in various blogs suggesting that recent decisions of the ECtHR rejecting cases for non-exhaustion of domestic remedies have been politically motivated.  I recently discussed this issue at a meeting organised by the Law Society in conjunction with the German Bar Association (DAV) in Berlin on 5th March 2018. 

Let me say from the outset that I will argue that this question, for someone who has worked for many years with the Court (ECtHR) and who has dealt with many Turkish cases, is not the right question to ask.

From my perspective, the right question to ask is not whether the Court is capable of offering an effective remedy to Turkish citizens – of course it is – BUT rather when, and under what circumstances, will the Court offer such an effective remedy? 

As you can readily appreciate, this is a more positive formulation which better accords to reality.  After all, we would not doubt the capacity of the UK Supreme Court or the German Constitutional Court to offer effective remedies for violations of fundamental rights. So, why should we doubt the capacity of the European Court to do so given its proven track record of upholding Convention (ECHR) principles, often in the face of vitriolic criticism from states and others?

Subject to that reservation, I make the following remarks about the matter. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Salisbury Attack: Don’t Forget Human Rights

Published on March 15, 2018        Author: 
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It is fascinating to observe how international law has provided the frame for the escalating political dispute between the UK and Russia regarding the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a nerve agent in Salisbury. The dispute is of course primarily factual. In that regard, both states generate their own facts, and the dispute revolves primarily on whom one chooses to trust – what does the average citizen (or international lawyer) know, after all, about the Novichok-class of nerve agents, their deployment, properties and effects? The attribution of the attack will thus inevitably depend on the credibility of the relevant experts, investigators and intelligence officials.

But again – note the framing effect of international law on this dispute. We saw how Theresa May chose her language very carefully when she accused Russia of an unlawful use of force (but not necessarily an armed attack). Both the UK and Russia have accused each other of failing to abide by the Chemical Weapons Convention. Russia has challenged the credibility of the UK’s investigation, asking for the involvement of the OPCW as an independent, expert and competent third party. The UK itself has engaged with the OPCW, asking it to verify its forensic analysis. The debate in the Security Council yesterday was replete with references to the Convention and OPCW specifically and international law generally. So was the debate earlier in the day in the British Parliament (Hansard transcript).

There is, however, one part of international law that has been largely and unjustifiably missing from this debate, and that is human rights. The attempted killing of Mr Skripal and his daughter is not simply  a violation of the UK’s sovereignty, as set out in today’s joint statement of the UK, US, France and Germany. It is a violation of these individuals’ right to life. In that regard, while I think the discussion that Marc Weller and Tom Ruys have so ably led about the de minimis thresholds (if any) of the concepts of the use of force in Article 2(4) and armed attack in Article 51 of the UN Charter is both interesting and very important, it is in my view somewhat distracting, as is the focus on chemical weapons. It is these two people (and others incidentally affected) who are the main victims here, not the British state. It is their rights in international law that we should primarily be concerned with, not those of the British state (or for that matter Russia). It is their life that was endangered, not that of the British state. And their right to life would have been no less harmed if they were simply shot or stabbed or even poisoned a bit more subtly by an FSB agent.

I am thus struck by the absence of public references to the violation of Skripals’ right to life. That, too, is I think calculated. The Prime Minister has repeatedly referred to the event as a (presumably domestic) crime; the UK ambassador to the UN has also said that ‘[t]he reckless act in Salisbury had been carried out by those who disregarded the sanctity of human life.’ But neither the Prime Minister nor the ambassador directly accused Russia of failing to comply with its obligations under human rights law. Why? Because if they did so, they would effectively be arguing that Russia’s obligations under say the ICCPR and the ECHR extend extraterritorially to a killing in the UK. And that, recall, is not what the British government wants to do, because it does not want to have to comply with these obligations if it used kinetic force abroad to kill an individual in an area outside its control, say by a drone strike.

Here, in other words, we can also see how international law shapes the arguments that are used, or not used. I have long argued that the 2006 killing of Alexander Litvinenko was – as far as the extraterritorial application of human rights was concerned – not legally distinguishable from cases of aerial bombardment a la Bankovic. The same goes for last year’s macabre killing of Kim Jong-nam in Malaysia, at the orders of his half-brother, the North Korean dictator. And the same is true here. Those arguing for a restrictive application of human rights – as the US and UK governments have both done – must be aware of the consequences of doing so. That argument necessarily implies that the interests of individuals like the Skripals, attacked so brutally by a hostile state, are not protected at all in international law. That vision of international law, in which individuals are the mere objects, and not subjects, of its regulation, is not terribly attractive, even – especially even – in 2018. And so I say: when talking about Salisbury, whether it is this Salisbury or some other Salisburys, don’t forget human rights.

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