Posts Tagged ‘European Convention on Human Rights’

RUXIT: a real possibility and bad for human rights defenders

May 9, 2019

An article in www.politico.eu describes in ominous terms the looming rift with Europe that could have far-reaching consequences: “Ruxit.” That’s what Thorbjørn Jagland, secretary-general of the Council of Europe, has called Russia’s potential withdrawal from the human rights organization after 23 years as a member, amid a dispute over Crimea. 

The prospect of Ruxit — which could happen within the coming months — has Russian human rights defenders worried. Leaving the Council of Europe, Russian opposition figures warn, would be catastrophic for human rights in their homeland and provide a boost to Kremlin hard-liners.

In 2018, Russians submitted the largest number of petitions to the Strasbourg-based court out of any of the Council of Europe’s 47 members. Around 20 percent of the ECHR’s 56,000 pending cases were filed by Russian citizens. In the past two years, Moscow has reluctantly paid out €23.3 million to claimants, including opposition protesters, prisoners, and LGBTQ activists.

The European Court of Human Rights is the only legal body capable of restoring justice for those people who are illegally imprisoned and tortured, as well as ruling on compensation for the relatives of people killed either during investigations or while in prison,” said Maria Alyokhina, a Pussy Riot activist and co-founder of Zona Prava, an organization that works to protect prisoners’ rights in Russia.

….Although Russia, a signatory to the 1949 European Convention on Human Rights, has failed to implement around two-thirds of the court’s judgements — including many on the torture or ill-treatment of prisoners — human rights activists say the ECHR’s positive impact on Russian laws and judicial practice should not be underestimated. Even with all the severe problems with human rights in our country, the situation would be a lot worse if Russia hadn’t been a member of the Council of Europe,” reads an open letter signed in November by dozens of Russian human rights defenders.

Russian President Vladimir Putin | Yuri Kadobnov/AFP via Getty Images

….The dispute that could lead to Russia’s exit from the Council of Europe has been simmering since 2014, when the Kremlin’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea triggered a suspension of its voting rights in the organization’s parliamentary assembly (PACE).  Russia hit back by refusing to participate in PACE sessions. As a result, more than half of the ECHR’s judges, who serve a single nine-year term, have been elected without Russia’s participation in the voting process. From June 2017 onward, Moscow also started freezing its membership payments, which amount to €33 million a year — equal to around 7 percent of the Council of Europe’s annual budget.

Under the Council’s regulations, countries that have failed to make payments for two years are automatically suspended from the 47-member organization and can later be expelled.  Russia has said it will jump, rather than wait to be pushed, and could announce its departure next month if the organization does not alter its rules in Moscow’s favor at its meeting of ministers in Helsinki on May 17.

Why should we be in an organization that we can’t work in and that doesn’t meet our interests?” Pyotr Tolstoy, the deputy speaker of Russia’s parliament and head of the country’s PACE delegation, told POLITICO. Jagland, who stands down this year after serving two terms as secretary-general, has said he wants to avoid a Russian exit. France and Germany, as well as other members of the Council, have also said they would prefer Russia to remain. But time may be running out.

…In 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved legislation giving Moscow the right to reject ECHR rulings if the country’s Constitutional Court decides that they contradict Russian law. So far, however, that law has only been enforced twice. And despite continuing tensions with the West, 58 percent of Russians are in favour of their country’s membership of the Council of Europe and the ECHR, according to a recent survey carried out by the Levada Center, an independent pollster in Moscow. Only 19 percent were opposed, while the rest of the respondents did not express an opinion.

Russia’s exit from the human rights organization would mark the second time a member state has left it since it was formed in 1949. Greece’s military junta withdrew in 1969 under the threat of expulsion, but the country was readmitted five years later after the junta’s fall.

..Dmitry Oreshkin, a Moscow-based political analyst whose vote-monitoring efforts helped spark massive protests against Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2011-2012, said that the dispute is symbolic of Russia’s shift away from Europe as part of the Kremlin’s revival of “Soviet values.”  But he added that economic and trade links with Europe, a key consumer of Russian energy exports, would make it hard for Moscow to cut ties entirely, and suggested that the Kremlin’s rhetoric is intended purely for domestic consumption. The Council of Europe is a convenient enemy,” Oreshkin said. “Leaving it would give Putin a burst of support among ultra-patriotic voters, but this would be a short-term propaganda victory that wouldn’t last long.”  He added: “It’s easy to slam the door, but a lot harder to open it again.

For other posts on Russia, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/russia/

https://www.politico.eu/article/ruxit-russian-human-rights/

Shami Chakrabarti, outgoing Liberty Director, speaks in front of Scottish audience

January 25, 2016

The well-known human rights defender Shami Chakrabarti is leaving her job as Director of Liberty and the NGO Justice Scotland organized a public event in there honor at the Faculty of Advocates’ Laigh Hall with an open and informative discussion ranging from the ISIS threat to authoritarian politics and defending the Human Rights Act. The event, the second in the JUSTICE Scotland “Beyond Law” series hosted by the Faculty, was praised by Lord Hodge, the UK Supreme Court Justice, who is chairing the series. “What a treat,” he stated, describing Ms Chakrabarti as a “very articulate and humane voice for libertarian views.”

Ms Chakrabarti herself was delighted to have taken part. She said: “I really enjoyed it. I thought the contributions from the floor in particular showed what a thoughtful bunch of lawyers you have here, and how concerned they are, not only about the law but the way it shapes the kind of society we want to live in.”

Ms Chakrabarti recalled how she had caused alarm among family and friends when, after joining the English bar, she took a post in the Home Office, others not seeing her as a likely candidate for the civil service. And when she then left to become in-house counsel at Liberty, there was more consternation.

After a mere one day of “blue sky thinking” with Liberty the world was changed by the awful events of 9/11. “Of course it was a game changer but I don’t think it was the beginning of our authoritarian politics. That had started earlier – attacks on judges, lawyers, legal aid, migrants. In our age, governments can feel quite powerless because the challenges are global and are not going to be solved by one government or another, yet senior politicians have to be seen to be doing something,” she suggested.

.. All around the world, she added, attacks were being made on human rights defenders. “It is happening in our country, and we cannot let it continue,” she said. “I think we have to defend the Human Rights Act and the ECHR, otherwise we are going in completely the wrong direction.”

Source: Shami Chakrabarti wows audience at JUSTICE event – Scottish Legal News

UK and European Human Rights Convention: soup not eaten as hot as served

May 31, 2015

In a post of 1 October last year [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/10/01/human-rights-watch-deconstructs-case-against-uk-withdrawal-from-european-human-rights/] I referred to the rather sad efforts of conservative politicians in the United Kingdom to engineer a withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights. I am glad to refer now to a post by Ian Dunt on 27 May 2015 under the title “Cameron surrenders on human rights“.

In short, he says that the Prime Minister now sees that doing this would be politically very difficult and that he has shelved the issue at least until next year. Instead the Government will do another consultation, and – according to Dunt-  “lawyers will tell them what they have already been told: that the UK supreme court is already supreme, that we only have to ‘take account’ of Strasbourg rulings, that the Council of Europe will never tolerate an ‘advisory’ status, that the devolved assemblies will have to have a say on any changes, that the House of Lords will be within its rights to vote it down, that the Commons will probably defeat it and that even if it somehow got it through all those hurdles there’s a stream of legal recognition from Europe which could inject the European Convention of Human Rights into UK law anyway.”

The post contains a lot of interesting details on the inner-workings of the UK parliament and Cabinet and concludes that “in this case, it was a choice between his own inadequacy and the proper functioning of one of the greatest civilising missions in human history. So we should be grateful that, for now at least, his inadequacy won.”

Cameron surrenders on human rights.

Human Rights Watch deconstructs case against UK withdrawal from European Human Rights

October 1, 2014

In the past year, some senior members of the UK government have been highly critical of the current human rights framework, claiming falsely that it mainly benefits criminals, terrorists, and undocumented migrants, and suggesting that the UK should replace the Human Rights Act with a UK Bill of Rights. They have also hinted that the UK should withdraw from the European Convention so that it can more easily deport people. “To scrap the Human Rights Act and withdraw from the European Convention would be an extreme and reckless step, weakening rights protections for everyone in the UK” said Izza Leghtas, Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It would gravely damage a system that has helped safeguard fundamental freedoms in some 47 European countries over six decades.”

In a Q&A released on 29 September, Human Rights Watch addresses some of the recurring criticisms of the Human Rights Act and the European Convention.

The Q&A responds to the criticism that human rights make it difficult to deport foreigners who have committed serious criminal offences. In fact, the UK already has legal powers to deport foreigners convicted of a serious criminal offence, but human rights law prohibits the deportation of a person in the limited cases where they would face a real risk of death, torture, or ill-treatment in the country of destination or have no prospect of a fair trial. Courts can also block a deportation if there would be a serious adverse impact on the deportee’s family, but in reaching such decisions courts must weigh the potential harm to the individual, the individual’s family (who may be British citizens), and the impact on society if he or she were allowed to remain.

The Q&A also addresses the criticism that the Human Rights Act is undemocratic. If a domestic court finds a UK law to be inconsistent with the Human Rights Act, it cannot strike down that law. It can only note that incompatibility and it is then for parliament to decide whether and how to change the law, in comparison to many other democratic countries where courts can strike down laws. As a last resort, people who invoke those rights unsuccessfully before UK judges can still seek to take their case to the court in Strasbourg, an arrangement approved by British governments for many decades.

The European Convention and the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights are binding on governments across the 47 countries that are part of the Council of Europe. The European Court has played a key role in protecting the rights of 800 million people across the Council of Europe region. Its rulings have been instrumental ending torture in police custody, ensuring victims of abuses by state authorities have access to justice and allowing people to express themselves freely. In many countries the court offers the only meaningful chance for justice for those whose rights are abused.

Reaffirming human rights at home is essential for any UK government that seeks to promote respect for human rights around the world. If the UK is to have any credibility on human rights in its foreign policy, it should strengthen, not weaken, its own human rights protections, Human Rights Watch said.

Attacks in the UK on the European Court of Human Rights undermine those efforts and provide succor to abusive governments in the Council of Europe that would prefer to ignore the European Court. The only European country currently not a member of the Council of Europe is Belarus. The only country to have withdrawn from the ECHR was Greece in 1969, while it was under a military dictatorship.

The UK’s withdrawal from the European Convention would be welcomed by abusive governments everywhere,” Leghtas said. “But it would gravely weaken an institution that has done so much to safeguard and advance basic freedoms across Europe and it would destroy the credibility of the UK when discussing human rights internationally.”

UK: Parties Should Commit to Rights | Human Rights Watch.

Azerbaijani lawyers and human rights defenders trained to train others

February 25, 2014

Twenty trainers from among Azerbaijani lawyers and human rights defenders have been trained to apply the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the Revised European Social Charter (RESC), with a particular focus on anti-discrimination standards, AzerTag state news agency reported. The last of three four-day training sessions for Trainers took place in Baku, Azerbaijan, on 20-23 February.

Twenty lawyers and human rights defenders were selected for training via competition to share their experiences with colleagues through a series of cascade trainings, which will start in March 2014 and continue even after the joint project of the Council of Europe and European Union is completed. The Justice Academy of the Republic of Azerbaijan is the key local partner in this project.

This activity is one of the most important activities within the capacity building project for lawyers and human rights defenders, and I believe that the advocates and human rights defenders attending this programme have obtained essential benefit from the shared knowledge and they will put this knowledge and information into practice …” said Teymur Malik-Aslanov of the Council of Europe Office in Azerbaijan.

[This activity is a regional project implemented in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, the Russian Federation and Ukraine.]

via CoE, EU train Azerbaijani lawyers – AzerNews.

 

 

Human rights defenders in Russia should be proud to be ‘Foreign Agents’

November 22, 2013

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This blog has on several occasions made mention of the dangerous developments in Russia where the ‘foreign agents’ law is being used to delegitimize human rights defenders. Front Line just came with an update showing that the legal aspect of this issue (is the law legally permissible under the Russian Constitution or the European Convention Human Rights?) is coming under scrutiny. On 18 November 2013, the Zamoskvoretsky District Court in Moscow heard the cases of 3 NGOs – Human Rights Centre ‘Memorial’, GOLOS, and the Public Verdict Foundation – which challenge the ‘Foreign Agents’ law. Following the presentation of their arguments, the court accepted their request to postpone the hearings until 4 February 2014. Significant, as it was taken in order to await for the rulings of the European Court on Human Rights (ECtHR) or the Russian Constitutional Court, whichever comes first:

  • On 6 February 2013, eleven Russian NGOs lodged a complaint with the ECtHR alleging that the ‘Foreign Agents’ law violates four articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, namely Article 10 (Freedom of Expression), Article 11 (Freedom of Association and Assembly), Article 14 (Prohibition of Discrimination), and Article 18 (Limitations on Rights).
  •  On 13 August 2013, Kostroma Centre for Civic Initiatives Support lodged a complaint with the Russian Constitutional Court arguing that the ‘Foreign Agent’ law violates five articles of the Russian Constitution, namely Article 19 (Equality before the law), Article 29 (Freedom of ideas and speech), Article 30 (Right of Association), Article 32 (Right to participate in managing state affairs), and Article 51 (right not to give incriminating evidence against oneself).
  •  On 30 August 2013, the Russian Human Rights Ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, also lodged a complaint with the Constitutional Court against certain provisions of the ‘Foreign Agents’ law. In particular, the Ombudsman argued that the definition of terms ‘foreign agent’ and ‘political activities’, as provided by the law, are politically and legally incorrect.

Still, one wonders whether the battle should not be fought also in the public domain as the ‘foreign agent campaign’ by the authorities is clearly not about financial control (there is enough of that already to satisfy any suspicious prosecutor) or political control (in which case registration as simple lobbyist would suffice) but about  ‘framing’ the human rights defenders as traitors, unpatriotic people. The requirement to identify oneself as foreign agent on every paper or poster is a clear indication of what the Government wants to achieve. This kind of action by governments (not just Russia) is a deliberate (mis)information effort that should be fought in the same arena of public perception. Admittedly far from easy and costly but there are things that COULD be done, I think:

  • bumper stickers and T-shirts with “I am a foreign agent” (in Russian of course, but supporters abroad could have it in English)
  • well-known Russian celebrities could make statements such as:  “IF …is a foreign agent ,in that case I am also one!”
  • production of video clips that poke fun at the idea, etc

As a concrete example: on 21 November 2013, a year after the law came into effect, Amnesty International Norway, LLH (the Norwegian LGBT Organisation) and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee called themselves for one day foreign agents in solidarity with Russian organisations who struggle to keep their work going (see also in Norwegian: http://www.amnesty.no/agent). Of course, people on the ground know best what will work, but I think some form of ‘counter-defamation’ should be tried. It would benefit Russia and could de-motivate the authorities in other countries watching what happens in Russia.

 

Every Turk is born with rights, including the right to freedom of expression

December 10, 2012

A Turkish court has acquitted four men on trial for their participation in a protest in support of a conscientious objector.

On Thursday 7 December 2012 the court in the north-western city of Eskişehir cleared human rights defender Halil Savda and three others of the charge of “alienating the public from military service”, a criminal offence under Turkey’s Penal Code. The case against them began in 2011 after they protested outside the hearing of fellow conscientious objector Enver Aydemir a year earlier in what became known as the “everyone is born a baby” case – a twist on the Turkish military slogan “every Turk is born a soldier”.  In response John Dalhuisen, Director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Programme said:  “This acquittal should prove that every Turk is born with rights, including the right to freedom of expression”.

In acquitting the defendants, the court ruled that their protest and slogans were protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and the Turkish Constitution, because they did not contain or incite violence, and that a democratic society must allow freedom of expression even if it shocks and disturbs. However, Savda has another similar conviction that is currently pending at the Supreme Court of Appeals.

Over the last few years, Amnesty International has been campaigning for the Turkish authorities to end their prosecution of Savda and others facing convictions under Article 318 of the Penal Code – which criminalizes “alienating the public from military service”.