Dozens of European organizations call to protect the ECHR and human rights in Europe
In 2011, more than 60,000 people sought help in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) after exhausting all judicial remedies before national courts. Now some EU member states propose reforms of this institution because of a huge number of applications. Dozens of European organizations see these efforts as a threat and call to refrain from further reforms of the ECHR.
Friday, 13 April 2012, by HRH London, based on Committee to Protect Journalists information and the Joint Statement.
Some countries want to limit the Court's power
Over the past half century, through rigorous reasoning and interpretation, the Court has established landmark principles of a civilized society. The Court’s very success as an impartial, independent judicial body has prompted more applications than it can process, with current resources.
Therefore some EU countries suggest that the current situation require changes to the Court’s procedures or limits on its powers. Instead of enhancing the Court's capacity to deal with the backlog of cases, their moves would clip the Court's prerogatives and undermine citizens' capacity to defend their most fundamental rights.
The main cause of the Court's popularity is the failure of national authorities in a number of European countries to implement the European Convention on Human Rights and the Court’s own judgments.
Even some EU members have expressed irritation in the past at some of the European Court's judgements, therefore they are expected to seek adoption by April of a ministerial declaration on the reform of the Court.
Joint statement calls to protect human rights in Europe
The threat of new reforms has led dozens of European organizations to mobilize around the ECHR and sign a joint statement on "strengthening the protection of human rights in Europe".
They have been joined by international nongovernmental organizations, among them those from the Human Rights House, who are keenly aware of the global significance of the European Court's jurisprudence.
"When Strasbourg speaks, the world's judges and lawyers listen", write James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, and Yonko Grozev of the Bulgarian law firm Grozev & Dobreva.
"The European Court of Human Rights provides an invaluable public good, not just for Europeans, but for all people concerned with human rights everywhere", warn Goldston and Grozev. "In the coming weeks, Europe's governments will be measured by their commitment to the preservation of this vital global resource".
New reforms dubious
In the course of 2011, the Registry listed numerous measures to carry forward the reforms introduced by Protocol No.14, which entered into force in 2010. As a result, marked progress has been made in reducing the backlog of manifestly inadmissible applications – which constitute more than 90 percent of the Court’s case docket.
Unlike the reform process that led to adoption of Protocol No. 14 there has as yet been no empirical evidence produced of the impact of the proposed reforms on the Court’s efficiency and caseload, says the statement.
Instead of waiting for the implementation of reforms introduced in 2010, which aim to speed up the consideration of cases, the member states seem eager to reduce the efficiency of the Court and free themselves from its legally binding judgments. More than 60 percent of the complaints come from Russia, Turkey, Italy, Romania, and Ukraine.
The organizations which have signed the petition are afraid that some of the proposed reforms will lead to greater delays, restrict the right of individual petition, place the Court in an inappropriate posture of acting as a fourth instance, and provide some governments with greater latitude to avoid their human rights obligations.
ECHR should be strengthened
The powers of the European Court should be strengthened, and not diluted or reduced, the signatories of the Joint Statement write. They urge the EU states to focus on three core priorities:
1) enable, with additional resources as necessary, the Registry and the Committee of Ministers to implement reforms already under way;
2) improve the national execution of the Court's judgments;
3) enhance the quality and transparency of the processes for national nomination of judicial candidates to serve on the Court.
The undersigned say that rather than adopt new changes to the Convention, States Parties should invest more resources and political will to enable the reforms already agreed to under Protocol No. 14 to be taken forward.
The Court estimates that it will be able to filter all incoming cases with an additional 23 lawyers at a cost (according to official figures) of approximately €21,000 per Member State per year.
The statement was signed, among others, by Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan, Belarusian Helsinki Committee, Center for Peace Studies (Croatia), Documenta (Croatia), Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Helsinki Committee (Poland), Moscow Helsinki Group (Russia), Article 19 (UK), and Index on Censorship (UK).
HRH London, based on Committee to Protect Journalists information and the Joint Statement.