History’s dead hand reached for the throats of human rights judges this week, as the genocide of Lithuanians and Armenians, plus allegations of security force torture during Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles,’ returned the European court to the media spotlight.
Ghosts of the past in Lithuania
Lithuania’s authoritarian past was the backdrop to a Grand Chamber hearing, which set national authorities against 84 year old Vytautas Vasiliauskas, a Ministry of Interior official during the country’s Communist era.
In 2004, a regional court found Vasiliauskas guilty under Article 99 of the Lithuanian Criminal Code of the genocide, committed in January 1953, of two Lithuanian partisans, as representatives of a political group and sentenced him to six years’ imprisonment.
Vasiliauskas’ legal team claim the sanction breached human rights law and unveiled their arguments under the watching gaze of internauts, who thanks to the delayed court webcast, were able to see justice in action.
History calls Armenia, Turkey and Switzerland
There was great interest too, in the court’s decision to hold a new hearing into a complaint by a Turkish lawyer who was prosecuted by Swiss authorities for publicly challenging the existence of the Armenian genocide.
The applicant, Doğu Perinçek, participated in various conferences in Switzerland in May, July and September 2005, during which he described the idea of an Armenian genocide as an “international lie.”
When the matter first came before human rights judges, they sided with Perinçek. And now, according to ‘Good Morning Turkey,’ the country’s foreign ministry hopes that they will so do again.
“We are confident that the Grand Chamber will be guided by exclusively legal considerations when hearing the case,” the ministry statement reads. “One cannot imagine an outcome different than the chamber judgment of Dec. 17, 2013, considering the jurisprudence of the ECHR and the fundamental principles of law.”
The ministry stood against attempts to “politicize history and law” noting that “Switzerland has brought the matter before the Grand Chamber on entirely political motives.”
The ‘Troubles’ re-visited
Both history and law came together in ‘The Torture Files’ Irish television programme, which covered the activities of the British security services in Northern Ireland. It alleged that Britain withheld “key evidence” from the European Court of Human Rights about the torture of 14 Northern Irish men.
A corporate taster for the programme declared: “In 1971, Ireland took the first inter-state case to come before the European Court on Human Rights, alleging Britain had breached the Convention on Human Rights. Torture and the allegations of the hooded men were central to the Irish case. In 1976, the European Commission on Human Rights found the treatment was torture, but in 1978 the European Court of Human Rights found that although the techniques were inhuman and degrading treatment, they did not constitute torture.”
It carried an interview with Jim Auld, one of the 14 men alleged to have been tortured and published a link to a secret memo and other documents, used as evidence to stand up the claim that the British government misled parliament, the European Commission and the European Court of Human Rights.
Fast forward 43 years from the events of the 1970’s and the relationship between United Kingdom courts and Strasbourg is still under the microscope. It was the turn, this week, of Labour MP and Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan, who in discussing the relationship in the pages of the Daily Telegraph, identified both the problem and the solution.
Under the headline ‘There’s a problem with our interpretation of the Human Rights Act, and it needs to be fixed,’ Khan advised: “When the Labour government in 1998 brought in a British Bill of Rights – the Human Rights Act – we deliberately drafted the wording to protect British courts.
“It meant they’d be free to disagree with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and that the sovereignty of the UK would not be undermined. The wording, contained in Section 2 of the Human Rights Act, very clearly states that our courts only have to take into account Strasbourg judgments, not be bound by them.”
Conscientious objection and abortion practice
As the court ruled on human rights violations suffered by four Jehovah’s Witness followers who refused military service in Turkey, the issue of conscientious objection was being addressed by the Zenit blog, self-billed as offering views on the world as seen from Rome.
It was concerned by the treatment of medical professionals unwilling to participate in abortions and alerted readers to the fact that a complaint has been lodged with the Council of Europe’s Economic and Social Rights Committee, claiming that Sweden is in breach of its Social Charter commitments.
According to the blog, Sweden is to be challenged under the charter’s articles dealing with health and employment rights, “including those associated with rights of conscience.”
It added: “Sweden, a nation often associated with human rights protection, has in recent years become one of the globe’s most aggressive violators of rights of conscience for medical personnel who wish not to assist in performing abortions.
“Take for example, the recent case of midwife Ellinor Grimmark who was not only fired from her position as a midwife for asking not to have to perform abortions because of her belief that human life begins from conception, but who was offered her position back under the condition that she agree to psychological counseling to coerce her into accepting abortion as a ‘right.’”
Human rights in Croatia
‘Zenit’ confirms that the complaint “will be ruled upon in the coming weeks,” by which time the court will have made known its decision in two cases which raise allegations that Croatia breached human rights laws in two high profile cases.
The complaint Marić v. Croatia (no. 50132/12) concerns a hospital’s disposal of a stillborn child as clinical waste. On 12 June, judges will deliver their ruling in the case Jelić v. Croatia (no. 57856/11), which concerns claims of targeted disappearances and killings of civilians of Serbian origin by the Croatian police and army in the Sisak area (Croatia) in 1991 and 1992 during the Homeland war in Croatia.
Court, Paris-Match and Albert Grimaldi
Another case scheduled for decision and certain to excite media attention is Couderc and Hachette Filipacchi Associés v. France (no. 40454/07). It is a classic free expression human rights row involving the publisher of the weekly magazine Paris-Match and a contentious write-up on the private life of Albert Grimaldi, the reigning Prince of Monaco.
Expect some wailing and gnashing of teeth when judges rule on Spain’s human rights dispute with a Catholic priest (Fernández Martínez v. Spain application no. 56030/07) who was married and had several children, over the decision not to renew his teaching contract and on the complaint Biblical Centre of the Chuvash Republic v. Russia (no. 33203/08).
It pits the state against Pentecostal Christians, who believe they were wronged by the dissolution of their church on the ground that it administered religious education without a State license and that it ran a Sunday school for children, which was not appropriately equipped.
Busy, busy, busy!
And with web community managers in a quiver over the outcome of the looming Grand Chamber hearing into a ruling last February, which found an Estonian website liable for readers’ offensive comments and industrial strength international politics surrounding a possible complaint from Ukraine against Russia, the court may be set for a busy few weeks.
More immediately, how will the atmosphere at the Council of Europe Development Bank’s (CEB) annual meeting in Sarajevo next week be affected by the decision by the Moody’s Investors Service to downgrade the bank to Aa1 rating?
The ratings agency says the CEB’s outlook is stable and adds that the change “reflects a repositioning of CEB’s rating vis-à-vis its peer group and is driven by the CEB’s high leverage weighs on intrinsic financial strength, particularly relative to other highly rated multilateral development banks (MDBs) and weaker shareholder support — especially extraordinary support — than Aaa-rated MDBs.
“Supporting the Aa1 rating is the CEB’s still exceptionally strong liquidity levels and conservative risk management policies and practices, which has ensured good performance of its loan book.”
And so to next week
The EuroDIG Internet conference is also taking place next week, to assess the issue of privacy versus freedom of expression. His Highness the Aga Khan, Founder and Chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), and Suzanne Jabbour, Lebanese doctor, chair of the Executive Committee of the International Council for the rehabilitation of victims of torture, will receive the 2013 North-South Centre Prize and the European court is scheduled to publish 19 judgements on complaints affecting Council of Europe member states.
Click here for more information on the organisation’s activities over the next seven days.
Something for the weekend (35)