Category Archives: European System

European Court: Lithuania Must Investigate Online Homophobic Hate Speech

Judges of the European Court of Human Rights
Credit: ECtHR

In its first judgment to directly consider the issue, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has held that the State authorities’ failure to investigate online hate speech against a gay couple violated the couple’s rights to private and family life and constituted discrimination on sexual orientation grounds under the European Convention on Human Rights. [ECtHR Press Release] In the case of Beizaras and Levickas v. Lithuania, a same-sex couple posted a photo on Facebook of them kissing, and other individuals posted hundreds of homophobic comments in response, including threats of violence. See ECtHR, Beizaras and Levickas v. Lithuania, no. 41288/15, Judgment of 14 January 2020, paras. 6-11. The Court found that State authorities had refused to launch a pre-trial investigation, even though they were aware of the hate comments, in part due to their expressed disapproval of the applicants’ sexual orientation. See id. at paras. 16-23, 121. The Court held that the State failed to meet its positive obligation to investigate hate speech that could incite violence, resulting in harm to the applicants’ “psychological well-being and dignity” and constituting a violation of their rights to private life and non-discrimination. See id. at paras. 113, 117, 129. Because the Lithuanian authorities had routinely failed to address increasing homophobic hate speech, the Court also found a violation of the applicants’ right to an effective domestic remedy (Article 13). See id. at paras. 151-56. The Court’s judgment advances protections for LGBTI individuals, and has been perceived as a victory by LGBTI rights activists. [ILGA-Europe] 

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January 2020: UPR Working Group and Regional Human Rights Bodies in Session

Human Rights Council UPR Working Group
Credit: UN Photo/Violaine Martin

In January, several universal and regional human rights bodies and experts will assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through country visits and the review of individual complaints. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group will also be in session and will conduct interactive dialogues with representatives from 14 States. Five UN special procedures will conduct country visits in January. Regionally, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR), and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will be holding public sessions.

The UPR session may be watched via UN Web TV, and the public hearings of the IACtHR and the ECtHR may be watched via the IACtHR’s website or Vimeo page and the ECtHR’s website, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.

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Council of Europe Adopts Recommendation on Guardianship for Unaccompanied Children

Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe
Credit: Council of Europe

In a new recommendation to the Member States of the Council of Europe, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers warns that “unaccompanied and separated children are among the most vulnerable persons in the migration context,” and emphasizes that effective guardianship structures are necessary to protect the rights and best interests of unaccompanied children in migration. See Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, Recommendation CM/Rec(2019)11 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on effective guardianship for unaccompanied and separated children in the context of migration, CM/Rec(2019)11, 11 December 2019. In accordance with international and European legal standards, the Committee of Ministers outlines 18 principles in the recommendation, calling on Member States to implement a guardianship framework for unaccompanied and separated children; review national legislation and policies to ensure that the recommendation is implemented; translate and disseminate the recommendation to all relevant stakeholders; create a European “platform of experts” to assist and support States in strengthening their guardianship systems and facilitating cross-border cooperation; and, ensure that the Committee of Ministers monitors the guardianship system at the State level at regular intervals. See id. The principles seek to address the need for additional protections and assistance for children in migration. See id. at II, para. 1 (f); III.

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December 2019: UN Treaty Bodies & Regional Bodies in Session

European Committee of Social Rights
Credit: ECSR

In December, universal and regional human rights bodies and experts will assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through the consideration of State and civil society reports and country visits. Two United Nations treaty bodies will be in session to assess States’ progress regarding the prevention of torture and the elimination of racial discrimination. Seven UN special procedures will conduct country visits in December. Additionally, two UN Working Groups will hold sessions in Geneva, Switzerland. Of the regional bodies, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR), the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR), and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will be in session.

The UN treaty body sessions, the AfCHPR public hearings, and the ECtHR’s Grand Chamber hearings, may be watched via UN Web TV, the African Court’s YouTube channel, and the ECtHR’s website, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.

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ECtHR Holds Violent Arrest in front of Child Constitutes Ill-Treatment

Delivery of Judgment, European Court of Human Rights
Credit: ECtHR

In its first judgment to directly consider the issue, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has held that violently arresting a parent in front of a child may constitute inhuman or degrading treatment of the child, in violation of the Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. See ECtHR, A v. Russia, no. 37735/09, Judgment of 12 November 2019. In the case of A v. Russia, Russian police beat and arrested A’s father in front of her when she was nine years old, leaving her with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a neurological disorder, among other health complications. See id. The Court found that the State authorities violated Article 3 when they violently arrested A’s father outside her school, in spite of knowing she was likely to be present (and was present), and when they failed to effectively investigate the family’s allegations that the police used excessive force. See id. at paras. 75-82. The judgment has implications for other situations where authorities arrest parents by force in front of their children, and comes as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by every country in the world except the United States of America, celebrates its 30-year anniversary this month.

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Recent Developments Highlight Increased Collaboration Among Human Rights Bodies

Signing of the MOU between the UN and the World Economic Forum
Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias

Over the past several months, supranational human rights bodies have announced a flurry of joint events and agreements, highlighting some specific rights challenges and the increasing importance of technical collaboration. Between September and November 2019, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) were among the bodies that entered into cooperation agreements or hosted events to formalize and enhance collaboration in the implementation of human rights instruments. While there are many other examples over the past decade, it is noteworthy that these collaborations appear to be happening with increasing frequency, formality, and transparency.

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European Court Holds Secret Surveillance Did Not Violate Employees’ Privacy

Delivery of Grand Chamber judgment in López Ribalda and Others v. Spain
Credit: ECtHR

Overturning a previous chamber decision, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held that employees’ right to privacy was not violated when a Spanish supermarket used visible and secret cameras to record public areas of the store when it suspected significant theft by employees. See ECtHR, López Ribalda and Others v. Spain [GC], nos. 1874/13 and 8567/13, Judgment of 17 October 2019. Despite domestic law and international standards requiring that individuals be notified of video surveillance, the Grand Chamber held that the State had not exceeded its “margin of appreciation” under the European Convention on Human Rights (European Convention) when domestic courts rejected the applicants’ constitutional claims and upheld their dismissal, given that there was a “weighty justification” for the use of covert surveillance and the applicants had not used domestic legal safeguards to challenge the surveillance under data privacy laws. See id. at paras. 131, 134-37. This judgment expands the European Court’s doctrine on the legitimate use of surveillance in the workplace. See ECtHR, Factsheet – Surveillance at Workplace (Oct. 2019).

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October 2019: UN Treaty Bodies & Regional Bodies in Session

Hearing before IACtHR
Credit: CorteIDH via Flickr

In October, universal and regional human rights bodies and experts will review States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through the consideration of State and civil society reports and country visits. Four United Nations treaty bodies and two pre-sessional working groups will hold sessions to assess States’ progress regarding enforced disappearances; economic, social, and cultural rights; women’s rights; children’s rights; and civil and political rights. Nine UN special procedures will conduct country visits in October. Additionally, three UN Working Groups will hold sessions in Geneva. Of the regional bodies, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), European Committee on Social Rights (ECSR), Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will all be in session. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hold a Grand Chamber hearing.

The UN treaty body sessions may be watched via UN Web TV. The public hearings of the IACtHR, IACHR, and ECtHR may be viewed via the IACtHR’s Vimeo page, the IACHR’s YouTube page, and the ECtHR’s website, respectively.

To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.

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September 2019: UN Treaty Bodies, Human Rights Council, And Regional Bodies in Session

Human Rights Council in Session
Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

In September, universal and regional human rights bodies and experts will review States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through the consideration of State and civil society reports and country visits. Three United Nations treaty bodies and one pre-sessional working group will hold sessions to assess States’ progress regarding the rights of persons with disabilities, children, and migrant workers. The Human Rights Council will consider the overall human rights situations in 14 countries. Nine UN special procedures will conduct country visits in September. Additionally, the UN Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances will hold a session in Geneva, Switzerland. Of the regional bodies, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR), the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) will be in session, and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hold three Grand Chamber hearings.

The UN treaty body sessions may be watched via UN Web TV. The public hearings of the AfCHPR, IACtHR, IACHR, and ECtHR may be viewed via the AfCHPR’s YouTube page, the IACtHR’s Vimeo page, the IACHR’s YouTube page, and the ECtHR’s website, respectively.

To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar. Read more

European Court Rejects Complaint of Man Who “Insulted” the Court

Nikolay Alexeyev holding ballot paper which reads “No to homophobes, no to Luzhkov”
Credit: Niko 111 via Wikimedia Commons

On July 16, 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rejected a complaint by Nikolay Alekseyev, a well-known Russian lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activist, due to posts he made on his social media sites that the ECtHR considered “personally offensive and threatening.” See ECtHR, Zhdanov and Others v. Russia, nos. 12200/08 and 2 others, Judgment of 16 July 2019, para. 83. While the Court went on to find that Russia violated the remaining applicants’ rights to non-discrimination and freedom of association by refusing to register three organizations that advocate for LGBT rights, the Court did not reach the merits of Alekseyev’s complaint. Instead, it found his application inadmissible as “an abuse of the right of application,” pursuant to Article 35 of the European Convention on Human Rights. See id. at paras. 76-86. A majority of the judges agreed with Russia’s argument that Alekseyev abused the right to petition the European Court when he published social media posts describing the European Court’s judges in derogatory, sexist, and threatening terms in response to a previous ruling by the Court in a separate case. See id. In that case, the Court had denied him and others monetary compensation after finding Russia responsible for human rights violations in connection with authorities’ refusal to authorize public LGBT events. See id.

The European Court is not the only human rights oversight body whose rules allow it to reject human rights complaints because of the complainant’s offensive or abusive language, but such provisions and their application to speech made or published outside of the complaint proceeding raise concerns regarding due process, access to justice, and freedom of expression. Three judges on the ECtHR issued a dissenting opinion challenging the Court’s reasoning in dismissing Alekseyev’s application and warning that the precedent set in the Court’s judgment may impact individuals’ ability to access the Court in the future and infringe on their right to freedom of speech. See ECtHR, Case of Zhdanov and Others v. Russia, nos. 12200/08 and 2 others, Judgment of 16 July 2019 (joint partly dissenting opinion of Judges Keller, Serghides, and Elósegui).

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