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Something for the weekend (20)

Tin hats at the ready! The Parliamentary Assembly has invited a Jewish psychologist to speak against male circumcision during the next session of the Parliamentary Assembly.

Circumcision row rumbles on

The appropriately-titled ‘Intact News’ reports that “Ronald Goldman, Executive Director of the Boston-based Circumcision Resource Center, has been invited to participate in an interdisciplinary dialogue about circumcision.”

Goldman nailed his colours to the staff immediately by declaring that he was looking forward to “contributing to the effort to raise awareness about circumcision in Europe in light of its physical, sexual, and psychological harm.”

Cue fears that the “inter-disciplinary dialogue” could turn into a bearpit given the strength of feeling among supporters of the practice, who believe that an assembly resolution, adopted last October, poses a threat to the ancient ritual.

The media spat over the issue has so far pitted heavyweight Israeli and Turkish government spokesmen in an unequal contest with Liliane Maury Pasquier, chair of the assembly’s Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development.

Such was the ferocity of the onslaught from pro-circumcision advocates that news outlets speculated that the assembly was now ready to “reconsider” its position – effectively throwing the resolution under the realpolitik bus.

The presence of Goldman however, suggests that the debate called for by Pasquier is far from over. IntactNews reveals that “other invited guests include an official representative of the French Jewish community, a representative of the Muslim community from Turkey and a medical professional from Germany.”

Snowden invite?

Those seeking even more controversy at the Assembly’s January session, should look no further than the deliberations of its Legal Affairs and Human Rights committee. It plans to discuss whether to invite evidence from former computer specialist and former Central Intelligence Agency employee Edward Snowdon - he of government-surveillance-whistleblower-exiled from America-fame – as part of its inquiries into internet-related concerns.

Court in the crosshairs

The elephant-skinned officials of the European Court of Human Rights joined their assembly colleagues in the media’s crosshairs, after the United Kingdom government published its response to the court ruling on the imposition of whole life prison sentences.

“In its latest act of defiance against the Strasbourg court’s rulings, UK ministers have said the government will not grant inmates the right to a review of lifetime terms of imprisonment imposed on them,” the Guardian newspaper announced breathlessly.

It added that “the issue could become as protracted and entangled with Eurosceptic, political sentiment as the long-running row over prisoner voting,” a point underlined by legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg in this week’s video news journal.

The always-interesting UK Human Rights Blog connected all the dots in the long-running ‘UK and the Court’ melodrama, in a piece entitled ‘Hands off our courts’ relationship with the European Court of Human Rights,’ penned by Paul Harvey, who is er… working in London after taking sabbatical from the court.

Bringing his insider knowledge to the fore, Harvey expresses surprise that “so many senior judges have now the joined the debate as to the proper relationship between the UK courts and the Strasbourg Court.”

This is all the more perplexing, he reveals, because there exist five principles upon which the two legal jurisdictions are mostly in agreement.

“It is therefore a matter of concern that there are some who feel that these five principles – so carefully worked out through years of judicial dialogue – no longer work and must be discarded.”

Harvey, well-schooled in the art of persuasion, does acknowledge the criticisms levelled at the court. He notes that the convention is viewed in some quarters as a “living instrument” which has allowed it to become, in the hands of the court, a “subjective and anti-democratic instrument of judicial power.”

But in recognising the “imperfections” Harvey hopes aloud for a swift improvement in the relationship between the court and the United Kingdom. “It is one which protects and enhances the good international reputation of the UK,” he confirms.

Disquiet over the court’s judgements however, is not confined to the political salons of Westminster. This week saw Strasbourg critics break cover across the Council of Europe region, to question the institution’s purpose and remit.

Armenian anguish

For example, there is much anguish among Armenians at a recent court ruling on the complaint Perincek v. Switzerland. Judges declared “unjustified” a criminal conviction for challenging the legal characterisation of the Armenian genocide.

The Coordination Council of Armenian Organizations of France (CCAF) has now launched a petition “asking Switzerland to appeal the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which found that the ultra-nationalist Dogu Perinçek, president of the Workers’ Party of Turkey could not be condemned for saying publicly in Geneva in 2007, the “so-called Armenian genocide is an imperialist lie.”

Spanish inquisition

In a New Year’s Day interview published by the cadenaser.com online news site, Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland felt it necessary to respond to the anger in Spain prompted by the court’s ruling last October to release from prison the terror convict Ines Del Río Prada. The court was immediately dismissed for having “slipped its moorings,” with some critics in Spain even calling into question the country’s future obedience to the convention system.

The Secretary General used the interview to remind Spanish readers that “the Court of Human Rights is a huge protection for human rights,” and that “Spaniards have benefited a lot from it.”

He added: “If Spain left this body, the right of a Spanish citizen to go to the court to protect their rights against the state would be damaged. And that would damage the rights of other citizens in turn because if a country leaves the institution, others might consider doing the same. And that would be the beginning of the dissolution of the European system of legal protection.”

Russian law-maker wants treaty re-write

The online appearance of the Spanish interview coincided with the publication of an ominous report carried by Russia Today under the headline ‘European Court of Human Rights decisions may become invalid in Russia.’

“A Duma MP from the “United Russia” party has suggested canceling the superiority of international rules of law over national legislation,” the article began.

Readers were informed that a certain Evgeny Fedorov wants to exclude the wording, “according to generally accepted principles and rules of international law,” from the current legislation on Russian constitutional courts and will push the Duma to accept his proposal during its Spring Session.

But why, you may ask?

The court-shaped stone in the Russian traditionalist’s shoe cited in the article is homosexual marriage. This is all the more strange as 2010 case law, established by the complaint Schalk and Kopf v. Austria, states that “the convention does not oblige a State to grant a same-sex couple access to marriage.”

It adds: “The national authorities were best placed to assess and respond to the needs of society in this field, given that marriage had deep-rooted social and cultural connotations differing greatly from one society to another.”

But a few pesky facts could not be allowed to derail a valiant 441-word effort to whip up interest in the possible rewriting of an international treaty. The article quotes lawmaker Vadim Solovyov, who suggests that the agreement between Russia and Strasbourg to accept the court’s rulings has “become cumbersome and the government wants to abandon it because the ECHR often takes its decisions in favor of those who complain about the Russian government’s actions.”

More headlines were generated by the court this week when it declared that multiple prisoner human rights breaches would cost Belgium more than €122,000 and agreed that Italy’s ban on a daughter receiving her mum’s surname instead of the father’s was discriminatory.

And so to next week

The institution will guarantee itself top billing in the Finnish media when it announces its decision in a ‘kiss and tell’ free expression dispute involving an ex-lover of the country’s former Prime Minister.

Also of interest over the next seven days is an analysis of Albania, to be published by the human rights commissioner and the anti-human trafficking reports on Luxembourg, Serbia and Slovenia. Click here for more information on next week’s Council of Europe news agenda.

Bon weekend

Something for the weekend (19)

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