A grant of blanket immunity to Vladimir Voronin, a former President of Moldova, in defamation proceedings against him, breached European human rights law, judges declared today.
In its chamber judgment in the case of Urechean and Pavlicenco v. the Republic of Moldova (application nos. 27756/05 and 41219/07) concerning presidential immunity and defamation proceedings, the European Court of Human Rights held, by four votes to three, that there had been:
a violation of Article 6 § 1 (right of access to court) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The two applicants, Serafim Urechean and Vitalia Pavlicenco, politicians of opposition parties, complained that they could not bring libel actions against the then president of their country on account of his immunity. Both applicants, politicians of opposition parties, attempted to sue the (then) President of the Republic of Moldova, V. Voronin, for allegedly defamatory statements which he had made about them in the course of televised interviews in 2004 and 2007. Voronin had accused Pavlicenco of belonging to the KGB and Urechean, Mayor of Chişinău at the time, of creating a powerful mafia-style system of corruption.
The Moldovan courts held that the President of the Republic enjoyed immunity and could not be held liable for opinions which he expressed in the exercise of his mandate.
The court found that, in the circumstances of the applicants’ case, a fair balance had not been struck between the competing interests involved, namely between the public’s interest in protecting the president’s freedom of speech in the exercise of his functions and the applicants’ interest in having access to a court to obtain a reasoned answer to their complaints.
In particular, the Moldovan courts had not addressed the question of whether the then President of Moldova had made the statements about the applicants in the exercise of his mandate. Nor did the relevant constitutional provision define the limits of presidential immunity in libel actions. That provision was therefore both absolute and perpetual in that the President could not be held liable after he left office.
The court considered that conferring such blanket immunity on the Head of State in the application of the rule of immunity was to be avoided.
This is the first occasion on which the court has had to address the immunity from civil suit from which the president of a country benefits, as opposed to such immunity for members of parliament.
Just satisfaction (Article 41)
The court held that the Republic of Moldova was to pay Pavlicenco 3,600 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 5,289.60 for costs and expenses.