Something for the weekend (38)

Will the publication of a new survey on racism in Europe bring added urgency to human rights activists’ fight against extremist forces in member states?

The cry of ECRI

The annual report of the European Commission Against Racism And Intolerance (ECRI) lands on policy-makers desks in the wake of European election results which, in many countries, reaffirmed the seductive powers of extremism.

The ECRI report unwittingly predicted this shift with its analysis of trends and experience in 2013. It noted a “surge in support for aggressive nationalist and populist xenophobic parties and the persistence of fascist World War II nostalgia in several member states.”

The fall-out from the financial crisis is widely held responsible for this state of affairs by the punditocracy, with the impact of ‘south to north and east to west’ migration and anger at ‘government from Brussels’ assumed to be in close attendance.

But perhaps, closer attention should be paid to the dedication with which extremists have challenged the post-1960’s march of women and minority groups into the public arena, with their demands to be engaged respectfully and on their merits.

Those seeking to reverse the loss of privilege and entitlement, have been chipping away at this ‘age of political-correctness’ ever since. The ECRI report is merely the latest tribute to their success.

As many Roma communities across the region will testify, the 46-page ECRI dossier is also a reminder of the clear and present danger that extremism represents and should be served as ‘midnight coffee’ to those committed to human rights principles.

What is at stake in 21st century Europe are the gains achieved by civil society advocates and religious and activist groups, who with dogged persistence, inspired remarkable legal, social and political changes.

The Council of Europe’s successful campaigns against domestic violence, discrimination aimed at religious and ethnic minorities and its work against anti-semitism, anti-Roma bias and prejudice against lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) people, take their place in a wider, post-war, generational shift which has steered Europe, not into the withering embrace of ‘irresponsible groupthink’ but towards an era of common decency.

A veil of tears

The integration of minorities is at the heart of the rumblings generated by the European Court of Human Rights ever since its judgement on a Muslim woman’s complaint against France’s ban on the veil in public spaces.

The reader may remember that the court decided that preventing the concealment of the face in a public space was not a violation of European human rights law,

“The court emphasised that respect for the conditions of ‘living together’ was a legitimate aim for the measure at issue and that, particularly as the state had a lot of room for manoeuvre (“a wide margin of appreciation”) as regards this general policy question on which there were significant differences of opinion, the ban imposed by the French Law did not breach the convention.”

Last month’s ruling continues however, to provoke a flurry of editorial comment.

The Article 19 website stated : “The ruling sacrifices the expression rights of a minority for the comfort of the majority, setting a worrying precedent for the rights of all people in Europe.”

The Blog of the European Journal of International Law (EJIL) insisted that “the conclusion that the right to manifest religion may be restricted on the ground of ‘living together’ presents a worrying development, if this right is to have any practical meaning.”

The IslamiCommentary blog advised its readers that: “Once again, the ECHR has placed the right of the state ahead of Muslims’ individual freedom in the name of *laïcité. It has uncritically accepted the French claim that it separates Christianity (and all religions for that matter) from all state functions.”

Even the influential London-based barrister and human rights commentator Adam Wagner (@AdamWagner1) is troubled by the court’s judgment. Wagner tweeted that his reading of about 10 “learned comment pieces” had led him to the conclusion that on “the veil ruling – the living together legitimate aim seems to be ridiculed by everyone.”

In later social media observations, Wagner declared that it: “Seems to me that the court should have said [it] was within margin of appreciation and left it at that,” before offering his view that “it’s just difficult to justify that stance when manifestation of religious belief is explicitly protected in the ECHR.”

Wagner ended his commentary with the view that “the ECHR isn’t intended to encourage extreme secularism, even if the result is illiberal rites being protected.”

Nils nails social inclusion priorities

Furthering social inclusion was a dominant theme in reports published by the Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks. He pointed to the feminisation of poverty, urging governments to do more to prevent women falling through the cracks of austerity and added to the canon documenting ‘Roma-phobia’ in Europe with concerns about the treatment of Europe’s most marginalised group in Hungary and Romania.

New convention for the World Cup

With rare and delicious timing, the Council of Europe has launched a new treaty against match-fixing in sport, just as a billion viewers prepare to celebrate the showpiece finale of surely the greatest football tournament since 1986.

Optimists will hope the World Cup summit meeting between Germany and Argentina (the South Americans to win on penalties) will prove to be both the occasion this quite wonderful football pageant deserves and testimony to the game’s enduring popularity and rude health, at a time when its integrity has never been more in question.

With football and other sports undermined by persistent allegations that players and officials are vulnerable to corruption, enter the Council of Europe and its Convention on the manipulation of sports competitions. It is designed to carry the fight to the criminal betting syndicates at the heart of match-fixing and was described at launch as “a major step forward in safeguarding the integrity of sport and sports ethics,” by Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland.

Social media in the classroom?

The ethos behind using social media networks in schools was explained in podcast and video formats this week, by contributors to the Pestalozzi Programme’s Summer School for Teachers, which took place over eight days in Germany.

Teachers are grappling with how to use Facebook and Twitter as learning tools and allies in the development of democratic citizenship, whilst minimising the dangers of online dialogue and classroom disruption. So far, those against social media in the classroom hold sway but in the view of many attending the Bad Wildstad retreat, they cannot hold out for long.

Schröder v. Bild

Already defeated, at least in the eyes of the European court, are those who stood behind judicial bans on sections of an article about former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, published by the Bild newspaper.

According to the Russian Legal Information Agency, it made “suggestions about the personal gain Schröder could receive from several Russian-German economic contracts signed during his term.”

Other court judgements to excite media interest this week included the €30,000 award against Turkey, for holding two investigative journalists in pre-trial detention for more than one year and a declaration that the prison regime of life convicts in Bulgaria should be reformed.

And adding even more petrol to the debate on detainees’ rights, according to the European Liberties Platform, is another court judgement on a Bulgarian complaint, in which Strasbourg confirmed a prisoner’s right to education.

The blog’s author wrote that the Velev v. Bulgaria case is “is a reminder that the right to education is also a subject of controversy in many other EU states. It is very often seen by the authorities as a reward or privilege, instead of a basic right.”

And so to next week

The holiday season may be upon us but it is legal briefs rather than Speedos or Brazilian waxes that retain the attention of Strasbourg judges. Next week, they will deliver their judgement on a human rights protest from a Finnish transsexual concerning her inability to be recognised as a woman without changing marital status.

The complaint Hämäläinen v. Finland has already attracted much attention and today, it is the turn of Constantin Cojocariu, writing for the ECHR Sexual Orientation blog, to give his ‘insider’ views.

The article is worth a read as Cojocariu sets out the legal strategy of the complainant, before offering his conclusion on how the complaint will be judged. Alas, for the reader looking for a scoop or a betting coup, the author offers three possible outcomes.

Cojocariu writes that : “The first is a win, which may vary in scope, to include various combinations of the claims made. This would be an amazing outcome, with substantial consequences for standards in the area of legal gender recognition more generally as well as marriage rights.

“The second is a qualified loss, but based on a more principled and sympathetic approach to the applicant’s situation and transgender rights in general. In this scenario, the Court may reject the application based on the lack of any material differences between marriage and registered partnerships in Finland. While this would open the way for challenges against forced divorce legislation in countries without alternatives to marriage, it may spill over by encouraging states to maintain similar but segregated legal regimes for same-sex and different sex couples respectively.

“The third, and the least likely, outcome is the worst, with the Grand Chamber endorsing the Chamber decision, thus in effect denying the specificity of the issues raised in transgender cases.”

Away from the court, next week, the Parliamentary Assembly’s Andrea Rigoni, will make a fact-finding visit to Serbia, for his report on ‘Democratic participation for migrant diaspora,’ whilst a six-member assembly delegation will visit Turkey ahead of the Presidential election on 10 August.

Please click here for more information on the organisation’s activities over the next seven days.

Bonnes vacances

Something for the weekend (37)

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