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Home International Tribunals Archive for category "European Court of Human Rights" (Page 15)

Evidence Obtained by Torture: Is it Ever Admissible?

Published on November 28, 2012        Author: 

Natasha Simonsen is a graduate student in the Faculty of Law, University of Oxford

Earlier this month, the UK’s Special Immigration Appeals Commission (‘SIAC’) ordered the release from detention of controversial Jordanian-born cleric Abu Qatada. SIAC held that he could not be deported to Jordan, because there was a ‘real risk’ that evidence obtained by torture would be admitted against him in proceedings in Jordanian courts (read the judgment here). The cleric was released on highly restrictive bail conditions on Tuesday of last week, and the scale of public outrage was such that police had to intervene to protect him from protesters outside his home. The Home Secretary may appeal the decision, and there are new rumours that Abu Qatada plans to sue the government for damages for wrongful imprisonment. This post addresses the implications of SIAC’s decision for the exclusionary rule for  evidence obtained by torture.

The Strasbourg Court’s decision

To fully explain the SIAC decision we must return to the European Court of Human Rights’ decision in Abu Qatada v UK from January of this year. To the exasperation ofmany British politicians, including the Prime Minister, in that case the Strasbourg Court held that Abu Qatada could not be deported to Jordan, because the trial that he faced there would likely involve the admission of torture evidence. The two key witnesses against him had been beaten on the soles of their feet to extract confessions—a torture technique known as falanga—and the Jordanian State Security Court was unlikely to exclude such evidence [at 285 in the judgment]. This meant, in the Strasbourg Court’s view, that there was a ‘real risk’ that Abu Qatada would face a flagrantly unfair trial in breach of Article 6 of the Convention. The Court used strong language, stating that that ‘the admission of torture evidence is manifestly contrary, not just to the provisions of Article 6, but to the most basic international standards of a fair trial’ [at 267]. Elsewhere in the judgment, the Court stressed that the exclusionary rule was inextricably bound up with the rule of law [264]. Read the rest of this entry…

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No Detente on Prisoner Voting and the ECHR in the UK

Published on October 24, 2012        Author: 

In the wake of the European Court’s judgment last May in Scoppola v. Italy, in which it more or less gutted its prior cases on prisoner voting rights (see my previous post on prisoner voting and strategic judging for more background), the UK governmental structures have been debating how to respond in their long-drawn out altercation with Strasbourg. Scoppola essentially gave the UK an opening to end the dispute – all it needed to do to comply with the Court re-interpreted judgment in Hirst was to pass some essentially cosmetic changes to its existing legislation that would ‘strike the proper balance’.

The opportunity is not yet completely lost, if cooler heads prevail. The UK government is of course not monolithic, and some parts thereof would rather put the whole thing to rest. But that process is political more than it is legal, and after today’s performance by David Cameron at the PM questions in the House of Commons, a detente between the UK and Strasbourg seems increasingly unlikely.

“No one should be under any doubt – prisoners are not getting the vote under this government,” he told MPs, in answer to a leading question by a Labour MP strongly urging him to continue defying the Court. The whole exchange is available at BBC News, and the short video bears watching, if nothing else then for witnessing the extent of the cheers among the assembled parliamentarians in support of the Prime Minister’s position.

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Grand Chamber Judgment in Catan and Others

Published on October 21, 2012        Author: 

On Friday the European Court of Human Rights delivered its Grand Chamber judgment in Catan and Others v. Moldova and Russia, nos. 43370/04, 8252/05 and 18454/06, yet another case on the ECHR’s extraterritorial application, dealing in particular with the Convention’s application to the separatist republic of Trandniestria in Moldova (link to judgment). The case is in effect a sequel to the Court’s earlier judgments on Transdniestria in Ilascu and Ivantoc, this time dealing however with a significantly different factual pattern.

The applicants were Moldovans who lived in Transdniestria and who were at the time of lodging the application pupils at three Moldovan-language schools and their parents. They complained under Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention and Article 8 of the Convention, taken alone and in conjunction with Article 14 about the closure of their schools and their harassment by the separatist Transdniestrian authorities. The reason for this harassment was basically a policy of Russification by the Transdniestrian authorities whereby schools in the region could only operate in and teach the Moldovan (i.e. Romanian) language as written in the Cyrillic alphabet, rather than the much more commonly used Latin one. In short, the applicants’ education became embroilled in language politics, very similar for instance to those in the Balkans.

What makes this case particularly interesting is the relationship between Article 1 ECHR notion of state jurisdiction, as the threshold for the existence of (all or some) state obligations under the Convention, and the attribution of conduct under the secondary rules of the law of state responsibility. In Ilascu, paras 392-3, the Court held that

[T]he “MRT” [Transdniestria], set up in 1991-92 with the support of the Russian Federation, vested with organs of power and its own administration, remains under the effective authority, or at the very least under the decisive influence, of the Russian Federation, and in any event that it survives by virtue of the military, economic, financial and political support given to it by the Russian Federation. … [T]here is a continuous and uninterrupted link of responsibility on the part of the Russian Federation for the applicants’ fate, as the Russian Federation’s policy of support for the regime and collaboration with it continued beyond 5 May 1998, and after that date the Russian Federation made no attempt to put an end to the applicants’ situation brought about by its agents, and did not act to prevent the violations allegedly committed after 5 May 1998.

Ilascu was notable for several reasons. First, it apparently applied the spatial model of Article 1 jurisdiction as control of an area while lowering the threshold of the needed control (the ‘decisive influence’ bit). Secondly, it completely confused jurisdiction with responsibility; it was utterly unclear from the case whether the Court considered all acts of the MRT to be attributable to Russia, apparently on the basis of a sui generis rule on attribution of conduct that hardly seemed compliant with the ILC’s work on state responsibility or the jurisprudence of the ICJ, or rather whether Russia was held responsible for failing to comply with a positive obligation to prevent human rights violations by non-state actors (the MRT) operating in an area under its jurisdiction. Third, the Court also found that Moldova had positive obligations in the MRT despite having lost control of the territory, a (human rights-friendly) ruling that in my view compromised the purely factual nature of the Art 1 jurisdictional tests for the sake of a rather vague positive obligation which did not amount to much in practice anyway.

Here comes Catan, which provided the Court with the opportunity to revisit some of these points. What distinguishes Catan and Ilascu is primarily the lapse in time with regard to the facts of the two cases, during which Russia’s control over Transdniestria arguably decreased. Moreover, unlike in Ilascu Russian authorities had no involvement in the harassment of the applicants and the interference with their right to education. The Court thus had to build upon Ilascu, and that it did, producing a rather mixed (if again human rights-friendly) outcome. In brief, it found that both Moldova and Russia retained jurisdiction over Transdniestria; that Moldova this time did comply with its positive obligations; but that Russia was to be held reponsible for a violation of Art 2 of Protocol 1, and was as a consequence liable for significant damages.

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The Innocence of Satirists: Will Caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad Change the ECHR Approach to Hate Speech?

Published on September 26, 2012        Author: 

Dr David Keane is Senior Lecturer in Law at Middlesex University.

The global reaction to the trailer for the film The Innocence of Muslims has prompted the banning of the video-sharing website Youtube in three States, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, with Council of Europe member Russia mooting such a move. Similarly the publication of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in France, and the resulting international protests, appear to reignite questions of religious defamation and freedom of expression generated by Jyllands-Posten in 2006. To a certain extent the arguments appear unchanged, but there are elements to these recent controversies worth exploring.

Charlie Hebdo has already been in the French courts, in 2007, but was acquitted, while the Danish Public Prosecutor decided not to pursue criminal proceedings against Jyllands-Posten. Yet the debate this time around seems less strident in terms of freedom of expression. The BBC points to a somewhat divided French press, albeit one that emphasises freedom of expression within the parameters of the law, with one paper asking whether these are “some cartoons too many”. This is significant given that newspapers of all political colours are the frontline on freedom of expression. Guy Birenbaum on the Huffington Post (only available in French) writes: “Come on Charlie, just between ourselves, you don’t have the feeling that this is old hat? Already seen, already read? Where is the subversion, the insolence, and most of all, the humour?” He concludes that mocking Islam has become something of a national sport in France and as a result has lost its subversive value. In this atmosphere, a prosecution appears a little more possible.

Such a prosecution would almost certainly be challenged before the European Court of Human Rights. Article 10 of the European Convention reads:  “1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression… without interference by public authority … 2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society… for the protection of the reputation or rights of others (…)”

In order to uphold the cartoonists’ rights under Article 10(1), the Court would have to go against its past jurisprudence and rule the interference unnecessary under Article 10(2). That would mark a new departure in terms of the European approach to hate speech, which has, perhaps understandably, been marked by the World War II experience and consistently upheld convictions for speech which attacks racial, ethnic or religious groups, or denies wartime atrocities.

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Nada v. Switzerland: The Continuing Problem of Attribution of Conduct Taken Pursuant to Security Council Resolutions.

Published on September 25, 2012        Author: 

Dr Arman Sarvarian, Lecturer in Law at the University of Surrey specialising in public international law particularly ethical standards for counsel appearing before international courts and tribunals.

Editors’ Note: This post was originally a comment on the post by Marko but we have decided to move it up

One of the many interesting issues raised by the recent judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in Nada v. Switzerland is attribution of responsibility (point 2 in Marko’s earlier post on this decision). I would like to offer a few tentative thoughts on the handling of attribution of responsibility by the Court. In my view, the judgment appears to have continued a muddled and inconsistent line of cases dealing with the attribution to Member States and/or international organisations concerning conduct pursuant to UN Security Council resolutions or other joint operations under the aegis of an international organisation such as NATO or the EU (e.g. – Bosphorus v. Ireland, Behrami and Saramati v. France and others, Beric v. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Al-Jedda v. United Kingdom, Al-Skeini v. United Kingdom, Bankovic v. Belgium and others).  Of course, the rules of attribution for international organisations remain nebulous and a delicate work in progress but the Court’s handling could be improved. I should emphasise that I am working on a draft conference paper on the potential consequences of EU accession to the ECHR for the law of international responsibility focusing on Common Foreign and Security Policy operations pursuant to UN Security Council resolutions, so my comments here are jejune and tentative.

The respondent argued that the application was inadmissible ratione personae and ratione materiae because the impugned measures had been based upon Security Council Resolutions 1267 (1999) et seq. which, per Articles 25 and 103 of the UN Charter, were binding and prevailed over any international agreement. This argument, and even more so that of France as intervener, used both ‘hierarchy of norms’ and ‘attribution’ language. On the one hand, obligations emanating from Security Council resolutions displace obligations arising under the Convention by virtue of Articles 25(2) and 103 of the Charter (cf. Lockerbie). On this approach, there could have been no infringement of Convention rights because those rights were displaced with respect to this applicant. On the other hand, the same obligations arising out of the resolutions rendered the alleged infringement of the applicant’s Convention rights attributable to the UN and thus, per the ‘Monetary Gold principle’, inadmissible ratione personae before the Court. This was the outcome of the much-criticised Behrami and Saramati decision.

The Court’s analysis (at paras 117-123) appears to skirt the problem of attribution. Read the rest of this entry…

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Trivia: Cases Where Judge Votes Against National State or Appointing Party

Published on September 20, 2012        Author: 

In international tribunals it is often the case that a judge will vote in favour of a State that appoints that particular judge or that a judge will vote in favour of their State of nationality where that State is involved in a case before the tribunal. Sometimes, the suggestion is made that these facts show that judges have some sort of bias in favour of their national State or in favour of the State or party that appointed them. This suggestion of bias might well be an overstatement given that, at least in the case of the ICJ, many times the national judge or ad hoc judge, though voting in favour of their own State or the State that apointed them, is also voting with the majority.

The case of Velkhiyev v. Russia, a decision of the European Court of Human Rights (from July 2011), is a very interesting one with regard to the question of how judges vote in cases involving their national State. In that case, the Court found by six votes to one that Russia had NOT violated Art. 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (prohibition of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) with regard to 6 of the applicants in the case. The sole dissent on that question was Judge Anatoly Kovler – the Russian judge! He would have found that Russia had violated that provision. So in this case, the judge voted against his State of nationality when the majority would have found in favour of that State. I suspect that this is very rare indeed. So my question today is:

Are there any cases when a judge in an international tribunal has voted against his or her national State or against the party that appointed him or her but where the majority of the tribunal would have found in favour of that State?

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European Court Decides Nada v. Switzerland

Published on September 14, 2012        Author: 

As announced, the Grand Chamber’s judgment in Nada v. Switzerland, no. 10593/08 is available here. I can’t blog about it more extensively as I’m in Valencia right now for the ESIL conference, but the gist of the judgment is as a follows:

1) The applicant wins, on relatively narrow grounds under Article 8, and more broadly under Article 13 of the Convention. When examining Article 8, the Court engages in its assessment of the relationship between the ECHR and state obligations under the UN Charter, specifically UNSC resolution, and the effect of the supremacy clause in Article 103 of the Charter.

2) In that regard, the Court quite correctly finds that while the applicant’s listing by the Sanctions Committee of the UNSC was attributable to the UN, the implementation of the sanctions by Switzerland was attributable to Swtizerland itself (para. 121). The Court then finds (para. 122) that:

The measures in issue were therefore taken in the exercise by Switzerland of its “jurisdiction” within the meaning of Article 1 of the Convention. The impugned acts and omissions are thus capable of engaging the respondent State’s responsibility under the Convention. It also follows that the Court has jurisdiction ratione personae to entertain the present application.

Note that the Court here skirts the non-obvious question of the ECHR’s extraterritorial application (a point that as far as I am aware was not argued by the respondent government). That the implementation of the travel ban imposed against the applicant and Switzerland’s decision to deny him access to Swiss territory in order to leave the 1.6 sq km Italian enclave of Campione were undoubtedly attributable to Switzerland does not ipso facto entail that the applicant had rights vis-a-vis Switzerland under the Convention; the former is an issue of attribution of conduct, the latter of the threshold criterion for the existence of a legal obligation. The Court does not explain under what theory exactly the applicant had rights against Switzerland even though he does not live in Switzerland proper, nor how its position is to be squared with its prior case law on the matter (cf. Bankovic in particular, Al-Skeini notwithstanding).

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Nada v. Switzerland Judgment Forthcoming

Published on September 3, 2012        Author: 

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights will deliver its judgment in the case of Nada v. Switzerland on 12 September. The case concerns the applicant being prohibited from leaving an Italian enclave in Switzerland due to Swiss implementation of UN Security Council anti-terrorism sanctions, including a travel ban. For our previous coverage and a detailed preview of the issues arising in the case, see this post. More commentary will follow.

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ECHR leaves Northern Rock shareholders out in the cold

Published on August 3, 2012        Author: 

On August 1, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) dashed hopes of Northern Rock shareholders to obtain compensation from the UK for the collapse and nationalization of British bank Northern Rock. The Fourth Section of the ECtHR unanimously dismissed the case Dennis Grainger and others v. UK (Application No. 34940/10) as manifestly ill-founded and inadmissible. The decision has broader ramifications. It suggests that member countries of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) have a wide margin of appreciation in setting macro-economic policy in general and in the resolution of banking and financial crises in particular. The ECtHR decision suggests that creditors and other interested parties will face an uphill struggle in challenging measures taken in the context of financial crisis resolution before the ECtHR and in obtaining compensation. It is an important decision at the intersection of international finance and human rights. Investors holding the debt of Eurozone governments will take note.

The court fully endorsed the holding and approach of the English courts. Like the English domestic courts, it found that the assumptions that  the valuer of Northern Rock shares was required to make pursuant to the Banking (Special Provisions) Act 2008 s.5 (4) did not violate the rights of shareholders under Article 1 of the First Additional Protocol.

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Content-based Speech Restrictions in the European Court

Published on July 17, 2012        Author: 

Last week the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights delivered a major judgment in the case of Mouvement raëlien suisse v. Switzerland, no. 16354/06. This will certainly prove to be a leading European case with regard to content and viewpoint based restrictions on the freedom of expression in a public space. It is also notable because the Court was very severely split – 9 to 8 – which is not only a rarity, but highlights the controversial nature of the case and its uncertain precedential value for the future.

Very briefly, these were the facts: the Raelian movement is an organization that claims that aliens have visited the Earth, leaving us a message or two; that science (well, their science) should replace religion; and that the best form of government is a ‘geniocracy’, i.e. rule by the highly intelligent over the masses of the mediocre. The organization has been labeled a cult by many due to the demands it makes of its members; it has also been the subject of several child abuse scandals, since the organization’s founder apparently thought that children should be sexualized, and some of the organization’s leaders practiced what he preached. Today, however, the organization disavows that earlier part of their doctrine.

Here’s the Court’s own description of the particular facts of the case:

14.  On 7 March 2001 the applicant association requested authorisation from the police administration for the city of Neuchâtel (the “police administration”) to conduct a poster campaign in the period between 2 and 13 April 2001. The poster in question, measuring 97 cm by 69 cm, featured in the upper part the following wording in large yellow characters on a dark blue background: “The Message from Extraterrestrials”; in the lower part of the poster, in characters of the same size but in bolder type, the address of the Raelian Movement’s website, together with a telephone number in France, could be seen; at the very bottom was the phrase “Science at last replaces religion”. The middle of the poster was taken up by pictures of extraterrestrials’ faces and a pyramid, together with a flying saucer and the Earth.

15.  On 29 March 2001 the police administration denied authorisation, referring to two previous refusals. It had been indicated in a French parliamentary report on sects, dating from 1995, and in a judgment of the president of the Civil Court for the district of La Sarine (Canton of Fribourg), that the Raelian Movement engaged in activities that were contrary to public order (ordre public) and immoral.

16.  In a decision of 19 December 2001 the municipal council of the city of Neuchâtel dismissed an appeal from the applicant association, finding that it could not rely on the protection of religious freedom because it was to be regarded as a dangerous sect. The interference with freedom of expression had been based on Article 19 of the Administrative Regulations for the City of Neuchâtel (the “Regulations”); its purpose was to protect the public interest and it was proportionate, since the organisation advocated, among other things, human cloning, “geniocracy” and “sensual meditation”.

The decision was later upheld by the Swiss courts, essentially on the same grounds.

The question that the European Court was to answer was thus whether this ban was in accordance with the freedom of expression under Article 10 ECHR. Notably, the restriction on expression was based on both the content and the viewpoint of the message, seen not only as the pretty anodyne poster, but as the poster taken together with the content of the website to which it refers. However, the restriction on expression was not total, but was confined to the organization’s use of a dedicated public space, to which individuals do not have unconditional or unlimited access.

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