Öcalan wins again

The European Court of Human Rights has on 18 March 2013 delivered judgment (summary in English) in Abdullah Öcalan v Turkey (no 2, 24069/03, 197/04, 6201/06 and 10464/07). This is already the second time that the Court dealt with the complaint by Mr Öcalan, the founder of Kurdistan Workers’ Party. The same Court examined his first complaint already in 2005 when it found that Turkey violated several articles (Articles 5 (3 and 4) and Article 3 of ECHR) during and following his arrest at the Nairobi airport and his subsequent transfer to Turkey (no. 46221/99, 12.5.2005).  This time around Mr Öcalan complained of his inhumane detention conditions on the island of İmralı, where he was held alone for nearly 11 years, until 17 November 2009. The Court agreed and found violation in respect of the inhumane conditions of his detention (Article 3). More specifically, the Court held that :

les conditions de détention imposées au requérant pendant cette période ont atteint le seuil minimum de gravité requis pour constituer un traitement inhumain au sens de l’article 3 de la Convention. (para. 146)

The Court also held that the sentence of life imprisonment amounts to the violation of inhuman treatment under Article 3 of ECHR as his prison sentence was found to be »irreducible« (para. 207). Turkey is now obliged to offer Mr Öcalan procedural possibility to challenge his sentence of life imprisonment as unjustified. All in all, this case represent a symbolic victory for Mr Öcalan but it remains to bee seen how quickly and if at all Turkey will execute the judgment.

Salomon on austerity and human rights in Europe

Margot Salomon, an Associate Professor in the LSE Law Department, has recently published a short note on “Austerity, human rights and Europe’s accountability gap”. She argues that :

Europe’s elite failed to see the eurozone crisis, and the responses to it, not only as a financial and economic issue, but also a human one. They failed to acknowledge that stabilizing economies through austerity measures at best secures socio-economic rights only indirectly and tenuously and, at worst, violates them egregiously. Decades of experience from elsewhere in the world on the human costs of structural adjustment should inform current decision-making, as should the experience of the impunity with which international organizations function when it comes to the harm to human rights caused by their policies. The people of Greece were treated as if ‘politicians can only think about one thing at a time’, and with grave results.

From Lisbon through Sevilla and Ljubljana to Athens and Nicosia, the Eastern and Southern European countries have been in recent years facing the negative consequences of the economic crisis and structural reforms. It seems that the level of protection of social and economic rights has been rapidly declining. Nonetheless, some important questions remain unanswered. Do more developed, mostly Northern European states, have extraterritorial human rights obligations to assist less developed, mostly Eastern and Southern European states in protecting economic and social rights? If so, what is the nature and scope of such obligations ?

The 2014 EU Justice Scoreboard

The European Commission has on Monday published the 2014 EU Justice Scoreboard: Towards more effective justice systems in the EU. The most important findings of the study are the following :

  • Some Member States continue to face particular challenges with regard to the efficiency of their justice systems. Lengthy first instance proceedings together with low clearance rates or a large number of pending cases point to the need for further improvements. While ambitious reforms have been recently adopted in certain Member States (for example in Portugal), their effects cannot yet be reflected in the Scoreboard as data is mostly from 2012.
  • The availability of information and communication technology (ICT) tools for courts increased but room for further progress exists, in particular to render contacts between courts and citizens easier.Alternative dispute resolution mechanisms are now available in nearly all Member States, whilemonitoring and evaluation of court activities exist in most Member States.
  • In nearly a third of Member States the participation rate of judges in continuous training activities on EU law is above 50%. Training of judges and legal practitioners and ICT tools are crucial for the effective functioning of a European area of justice based on mutual trust.
  • In several Member States the perception of independence has improved whilst in some Member States it has deteriorated.

New book on Human Rights Law in Europe

9780415825993Kanstantsin Dzehtsiarou, Theodore Konstadinides, Tobias Lock, Noreen O’Meara have co-edited a new book on »Human Rights Law in Europe : The Influence, Overlaps and Contradictions of the EU and the ECHR« with Routledge. It includes ten chapters, foreword by Judge Dean Spielmann and concluding remarks by Judge Paul Mahoney. Here is the book’s abstract :

This book provides analysis and critique of the dual protection of human rights in Europe by assessing the developing legal relationship between the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The book offers a comprehensive consideration of the institutional framework, adjudicatory approaches, and the protection of material rights within the law of the European Union and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). It particularly explores the involvement and participation of stakeholders in the functioning of the EU and the ECtHR, and asks how well the new legal model of ‘the EU under the ECtHR’ compares to current EU law, the ECHR and general international law. Including contributions from leading scholars in the field, each chapter sets out specific case-studies that illustrate the tensions and synergies emergent from the EU-ECHR relationship. In so doing, the book highlights the overlap and dialectic between Europe’s two primary international courts. The book will be of great interest to students and researchers of European Law and Human Rights.

The Future of the European Court of Human Rights

The Committee of Experts on the Reform of the Court (DH-GDR) of the Council of Europe and its Drafting Group “F” on the Reform of the Court (GT-GDR-F) have prepared thematic overview of the results of the ‘open call for contributions’ on the future of the European Court of Human Rights. The document is well-worth reading as it includes several innovative and creative proposals for the strengthening of the Court’s supervision system.

Kurić and others v Slovenia

The European Court of Human Rights has on 12 March 2014 ordered Slovenia to pay a total of 250.199,42 € of pecuniary damages to 6 applicants in the case of Kurić and others v Slovenia (26828/06). As for the execution of judgment, the Court noted that :

it will be for the Committee of Ministers to evaluate the general measures adopted by the Republic of Slovenia and their implementation as far as the supervision of the execution of the Court’s principal judgment is concerned. The Court has consistently ruled that it does not have jurisdiction to verify, by reference to Article 46, whether a Contracting Party has complied with the obligations imposed on it by one of the Court’s judgments unless Article 46 § 4 of the Convention, as it stands since the entry into force of Protocol No. 14, applies..

143.  Lastly, as to the Court’s docket, although at the time of the adoption of the principal judgment only a few similar applications lodged by “erased” persons were pending before the Court, the Grand Chamber emphasised that, in the context of systemic, structural or similar violations, the potential inflow of future cases was also an important consideration in terms of preventing the accumulation of repetitive cases and decided that the examination of other similar applications should be adjourned pending the adoption of the remedial measures at issue (see paragraph 9 above and 415 of the principal judgment).

144.  In this connection, the Grand Chamber notes that there are currently some sixty-five cases lodged by “erased” persons pending before the Court, involving more than 1,000 applicants. Swift implementation of the Kurić and Others judgment is therefore of the utmost importance (see, mutatis mutandis, Greens and M.T., cited above, § 111).

It will be therefore upon the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to examine whether Slovenia has adopted appropriate general measures and adequately executed this judgment.

Overcrowded Slovenian Prisons

The European Court of Human Rights has at the end of February delivered two judgments against Slovenia, Štrukelj v Slovenia (6011/10) and Četić v Slovenia (7054/10), both, in the already long series of judgments on the deteriorating conditions in Slovenian prisons. In Štrukelj the applicant :

…. was detained in cells 7 and 5 he had 3 or 3.26 square metres of personal space, respectively. His situation was further exacerbated by the very limited time which could be spent outside the cell. Also when held in cells 98 and 124 with 3.75 square metres of personal space, the conditions of the applicant’s detention were further exacerbated by the very limited time which he could spent outside the cell and partly also by high temperatures in the cells in the summer of 2009 (para. 23).

The Court therefore held that :

the hardship he endured appears to have exceeded the unavoidable level inherent in detention, and finds that the resulting suffering went beyond the threshold of severity under Article 3 of the Convention (para. 24).

Similarly, in Četić the Court held that :

to the cumulative effects of the conditions of the applicant’s detention in cells 2 and 129, the Court considers, as in Praznik, that the hardship he endured appears to have exceeded the unavoidable level inherent in detention, and finds that the resulting suffering went beyond the threshold of severity under Article 3 of the Convention.

Both judgments are the latest developments regarding prisoners conditions, particularly overcrowding in Slovenian prisoners. The Court found in both cases that conditions in Slovenian prisons violated the standards of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Slovenian government, however, has recently pledged to improve prison conditions, including by constructing a new prison. However, until this materializes, we can expect from the Court further similar judgments against Slovenia.

Prohibition of excessive juvenile pre-trial detention

The European Court of Human Rights has on 4 March 2014 in the case of Filiz v Turkey (28074/08) found Turkey in violation of Article 5 § 3 (right to liberty and security) on the basis of excessive length of juvenile pre-trial detention, which lasted for eleven months and six days (para. 60). It reasoned that :

que le requérant était âgé de seize ans lors de son placement en détention et qu’il était âgé de dix-sept ans à la fin de sa détention provisoire dont la durée était donc de onze mois et six jours. A cet égard, elle a déjà exprimé son inquiétude face à la pratique consistant à placer des mineurs en détention provisoire – sans que des méthodes alternatives aient été envisagées, conformément aux obligations de la Turquie tant en droit interne qu’en vertu de plusieurs conventions internationales –, et elle rappelle avoir conclu à des violations de l’article 5 § 3 de la Convention pour des périodes bien plus courtes que celle passée par le requérant en détention dans la présente affaire (Güveç, précité, §§ 108-109 et la jurisprudence qui y est citée, et Bilal Doğan c. Turquie, no 28053/10, § 40, 27 novembre 2012).