The European Court of Human Rights, and Slovenia

The European Court of Human Rights recently published statistics for 2014, specifying a number of violations by Article and State. The Russian Federation, Turkey and Romania top the statistics for number of the Court’s judgements, followed by Greece, Hungary, Italy, Ukraine and more and less surprisingly also Slovenia. The ranking is similar when examining only judgements where the Court found at least one violation of the European Convention. It is not necessary to emphasise that Slovenia is by far the smallest country among the above and therefore carries the title of “champion” of the number of ECtHR judgements per inhabitant. For example, with a population that is 23 times bigger Spain has only received 6 judgements, 4 of which found violations.

The annual report for 2013 shows that by the end of that year the European Court had found a violation of at least one Article of the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in 275 cases against Slovenia. If we add the figures from 2014 to this, when the ECtHR found violations in 29 cases, the ECtHR has thus far found that since 1994 Slovenia has violated the European Convention in 304 cases. Again, this puts the country on top of the list of judgements finding violations by the number of inhabitants. Most judgements relate to violations of the prohibition on inhumane and degrading treatment, the right to a fair trial within a reasonable period of time, and the right to an effective remedy. It therefore seems that the situation regarding the protection and realisation of human rights in Slovenia is not improving but, on the contrary, generally becoming worse. It seems that in the past year its position has further cemented. These statistics are more than alarming and call for careful and serious consideration. They have reached the level of seriousness that state institutions in Slovenia can no longer just sweep them under the rug if they wish to be seen as caring about improving the human rights situation in the country.

Why is the number of European Court judgements finding such violations so high in Slovenia in particular, why has the protection of human rights there not improved, and why has it even deteriorated over the past year? Problems cannot be solely ascribed to a lack of knowledge of the European Convention and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, but are most likely also due to a lack of awareness about the seriousness of the problem. This absence of serious treatment of such systematic and global problems arises from all branches of power in Slovenia, especially the judiciary, as well as from the authorities, which should work for the better protection of human rights in Slovenia.

Neglect of this general and systematic problem is therefore reflected in the institutional malnutrition of government bodies that represent Slovenia in front of the European Court of Human Rights, and in the absence of institutions that should be responsible for implementing the European Convention and for enforcing European Court of Human Rights judgements. A few years ago Croatia, which is also facing many difficulties, although to a smaller extent than in Slovenia, established a special office representative of the Republic of Croatia to the European Court of Human Rights, which not only represents the country but is also responsible for enforcing the European court’s judgements against Croatia in the Croatian legal system. If nothing else, this institution highlights the commitment of the Croatian state with respect to the European Convention and the implementation of the ECtHR’s judgements.

Ignorance, indifference, unequal treatment and hypocrisy are often difficulties frustrating the effective protection of human rights in Slovenia. These problems are certainly not insurmountable. The holders of judicial office should be properly educated in order to gain insights into the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights. Of course, problems may arise if individuals are reluctant to learn about the European court’s case law and apply it in their subsequent work or they receive signals from their superiors that such a reference is undesirable. The administrative part of the executive branch of government could have done more to disseminate the Convention and the other documents in the field of human rights protection.

What is more, the Slovenian legal order faces massive problems in the execution of judgements of the European Court of Human Rights. Unfortunately, no institution effectively coordinates (with the exception of payment of just satisfaction) the execution of judgements so that the majority, apart from some of that court’s most notorious judgements, remain unexecuted. General and individual measures have not been taken and put in force in the majority of cases. Moreover, among both the lay and professional public, an erroneous view has emerged that that a judgement of the European Court only generates international legal obligations and that the Slovenian legal system does not need to comply with them.

The more than 300 judgements since the beginning of Slovenia’s ratification of the European Convention clearly show that the Slovenian legal system and Slovenian society in general have failed to carry out systematic and all general and individual measures to ensure the effective protection of human rights. Tip-toeing away from these problems is no longer possible since that only leads to maintenance of the catastrophic status quo, creates new problems and exacerbates the already poor record of human rights protection. The 1,700 complaints before the European Court still pending against Slovenia illustrate the latter. Slovenia has already paid several million euros in compensation to complainants who have succeeded before the European Court. State institutions in Slovenia need to start with real work in order to eliminate violations and reduce the number of complaints and judgements to finally achieve the effective protection of human rights.

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