Europe of Human Rights

Attack on human rights

Governments want to “amend” the European Convention on Human Rights. If the worst-case scenario comes true, it will undermine the integrity and authority of the European Court of Human Rights, and lead to the slow dismantling of the European system of human rights protection. The UK Chairmanship of the Council of Europe will hold a High Level Ministerial Conference on the Future of the European Court of Human Rights in Brighton from 18 to 20 April 2012, where the contracting parties will adopt the so-called “Brighton Declaration”. Civil society organizations have not been invited to take part in this event.

Draft declaration was not revealed to the public, and only thanks to a leak did we know what the plans are. The UK government has been tinkering with the text of the Convention in order to codify and prioritize the principles of subsidiarity and the margin of appreciation as well add new admissibility requirements. This undermines the interpretative power of the Court, and restricts the Court’s substantive jurisdiction.

Human rights organizations repeatedly urged governments not to endorse measures that may derail the ongoing reform of the Court. On March, 20 the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and several leading international non-governmental organizations have presented their joint NGO input, where they referred to the planned amendments. NGOs expressed their concern at the attempts to introduce the new admissibility criteria and fear that the new criteria could extend the admissibility stage of the proceedings and change the Court’s role from supervisory to advisory. The organizations also firmly opposed the codification of the principle of subsidiarity and the margin of appreciation. According to them, these rules are not suited for codification and their inclusion in the Convention would infringe upon the Court’s independence.

The content of the declaration is not the only source for concern. The lack of transparency surrounding the negotiations of the draft declaration should be at least equally alarming. As in the case of most attempts on human rights, this time again the public is barred from thorough information. We cannot allow the future of the European system of human rights protection to be decided behind our backs.

Zuzanna Warso, lawyer at Europe of Human Rights

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