Europe

European Human Rights Court Orders Italy to Pay Damages to Amanda Knox

By: Brianna Ferrante
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

STRASBOURG, France – The European Court of Human Rights has ordered Italy to pay $20,000 in damages to Amanda Knox, an American student studying abroad who spent four years in an Italian prison before being acquitted for the 2007 murder of her then-roommate, Meredith Kercher.

 

Amanda Knox during the the 2009 trial. Photo courtesy of AP News P.P Cito.

A seven-judge panel of the ECHR concluded Italy was at fault for failing to provide Knox a lawyer during the initial police interrogation beginning on November 1, 2007. The court specifically referenced Knox’s vulnerability at that time as a foreign young woman, very new to the country, and not fluent in the language.

Knox and her former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, were the initial suspects in the sexual assault and murder of Kercher, a London native who was placed as Knox’s roommate while also studying abroad in Perugia. The pair was convicted of sexual assault and murder in 2009, but Knox was convicted of an additional charge for the malicious accusation of Diya Lumumba- a local bar manager, for alleging his responsibility for Kercher’s murder. Knox retracted these statements shortly after, but police did not strike it from their records and the conviction still stands.

In her complaint to the ECHR, Knox alleged she was subjected to gross and inhumane treatment while in police custody, citing specific instances where she was slapped, deprived of sleep, food, and water, and was forced to speak at times under extreme psychological stress and pressure without an attorney present despite her requests.

Knox’s initial complaint during the trial was dismissed by the court as being unsubstantiated, on the ground that there was insufficient evidence to prove the maltreatment she was alleging. The initial interrogation went on for 53 hours over a period of five days, without a lawyer, and solely in Italian.

Ivory Coast native Rudy Hermann Guede was later convicted for Kercher’s murder, after DNA linked him to the crime, and is serving a 16-year sentence. While Italy’s Court of Cassation overturned Sollecito and Knox’s convictions citing lack of evidence in May of 2015, Knox’s charge for malicious accusation remains and is the subject of a pending appeal.

The court held that Italy’s failure to provide either a lawyer or professional interpreter negatively affected the legal proceedings and accuracy of the information she was giving during the interrogation. The award was comprised of €10,400 in damages, and €8,000 for legal costs and related expenses, approximately $20,000.

Attorneys for Knox hopes this ruling will be persuasive in their appeal of the malicious accusation charge.

For more information, please visit:

NPR- Italy ordered to pay damages to Amanda Knox- January 24, 2019.

Daily Mail UK- European court awards Amanda Knox damages for having her rights violated in her murder trial- January 24, 2019.

POLITICO- Court orders Italy to pay damages to Amanda Knox- January 24, 2019.

Azeri Woman First Target for UK Unexplained Wealth Order

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LONDON, United Kingdom – A woman charged under the UK Unexplained Wealth Order lost a court case to remain anonymous.  She and her husband are the first two being charged under the new Order.  The Order allows authorities to seize £50,00 from people suspected of corruption.

Over the past 10 years, the woman in question, Zamira Hajiyeva, spent more than £16m in Harrods, a luxury department store in London.   Examples of her spending provided in court were £15,000 at a luxury jewelry, perfume, and watch store in one day.  The next day she spent £1800 on wine.  Other purchases included £100,000 on Cartier jewelry and £20,000 on luxury men’s goods.

To pay for such items she used 3 store loyalty cards and more than 30 credit cards issued by her husband’s bank.

On top of this spending, in 2013 a company registered to her name spent more than £10m to buy a golf course and estate near Ascot. In 2009, a company purchased a large home near Harrods for £11.5m.  The home owners are Mrs. Hajiyeva and her husband.

A company owned by Mrs Hijiyeva purchased a £11.5m home in London. Photo Courtesy of Simon Dawson.

A court hearing in July of 2018 determined that Zamira Hajiyeva possessed an extensive disposable income. Under the Unexplained Wealth Order, she is required to explain the source of her wealth.  If she doesn’t, she is at risk of losing her £11.5m home.

Mrs. Hajiyeva lives in the UK under a visa policy for wealthy investors.

Her husband was the Chairman of the International Bank of Azerbaijan.  Currently, he is serving 15 years in jail for a 2016 conviction for fraud and embezzlement.  He denies the allegations, stating that he fell out of favor with the Azerbaijan’s corrupt rulers.

Mrs. Hajiyeva declares she is innocent and that her husband was a legitimate banker.  She claims her husband amassed the wealth through independent businesses he owned prior to becoming chairman.

Her lawyers released a statement in relation to her case: “The decisions of the High Court upholding the grant of an Unexplained Wealth Order against Zamira Hajiyeva does not and should not be taken to imply any wrongdoing, whether on her part or that of her husbands.”  They claim the case was a show trial and does not meet the requirements of the Order.  The National Crime Agency notes that as an official Mr. Hajiyeva would not have had the ability to amass such wealth.

Director of the National Crime Agency’s economic crime department noted, “Where we cannot determine a legitimate source for the funds used to purchase assets and prime property it is absolutely right that we ask probing questions to uncover their origin.  Unexplained Wealth Orders have the potential to significantly reduce the appeal of the UK as a destination for illicit income.” Advocates for fighting corruption are glad to see the Order being used to pursue cases of corruption.

For more information please visit:

 The Independent – Woman who spent £16m at Harrods revealed in court case – 10 October 2018

 BBC- Woman who spent £16m in Harrods revealed – 10 October 2018

 AlJazeera – Woman fights UK wealth order after spending $21m at Harrods – 10 October 2018

Reuters – Azeri banker’s high-spending wife targeted by new British anti-graft powers – 10 October 2018 

Two-day Romanian Referendum Could Constitutionally Ban Gay Marriage

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BUCHAREST, Romania – Over a 2 day referendum on 6 and 7 October 2018, Romanians have the chance to vote on a Constitutional change that would define marriage as between a man and woman.  The senate approved the referendum on 11 September.  The lower chamber approved the referendum back in June of 2017.  The referendum comes after a coalition of social conservatives, Coalition for the Family, collected 3.2 million signatures in order to submit a bill to the Parliament banning gay marriage in the Constitution.

Romanian Women marching in favor of the Constitutional change to define marriage as between a man and woman. Photo Courtesy of Robert Ghement.

In 2001, Romania decriminalized homosexuality, but gay marriage remained banned by law.  Critics say this referendum would be a further step to ensure that gay couples do not gain the right to marriage in the future. Currently, the Constitution states that marriage is between spouses.

EU officials and human rights organizations wrote to the Prime Minister of Romania, Viorica Dăncilă condemning the referendum.  The concern is that this proposed change further legitimizes discrimination and violence against those of the LGBTI community. Additionally, it leads the way towards discrimination of other minority groups in Romania.

An excerpt from the European Parliament’s letter reads: “This redefinition of family has the potential to harm children in all families by promoting the message that single parent families, non-married partners with children, grandparents raising their grandchildren, rainbow families, and all other families that do not fall under the narrow definition proposed by the referendum do not deserve to be recognized and protected.”

Additionally, there is concern over why the referendum was held over two days, rather than the typical one day.  This move could be seen as an attempt to manipulate the outcome of the referendum and to ensure the collection of the minimum number of votes needed to pass.

In order to be valid, the referendum needs a 30% turnout or roughly 5 million votes.   A poll, conducted by CURS, states that there would be a 34% turnout rate with 90% voting ‘yes’ in favor of the change.

As of the end of 6 October (the first day of voting) there was only a 6% turnout rate.  A voting observation group noted irregularities.

For more information please visit:

Balkan Insight – Romanians Vote in a Two-Day ‘Family’ Referendum – 6 October 2018

CNN – Romania votes on defining marriage as only between a man and a woman – 7 October 2018

Reuters – Romanians vote on constitutional ban on same sex marriage – 6 October 2018

Business Review- LIVE UPDATES – 7 October 2018

Business Review- LIVE UPDATES – 6 October 2018

Tensions Rise Between Serbia and Kosovo with Possible Land Swap

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

PRISTINA, KOSOVO* –  While Serbia and Kosovo signed an agreement in 2013 to normalize relations, tensions still remain between the two countries, especially in relation to borders.   In an attempt to normalize, Presidents of the two nations have discussed a land swap, which falls along ethnic lines.  Solving border disputes would also help speed up integration into the EU.

A potential swap would be handing northern Kosovo over to Serbia, which is predominately Serbian, for the Preševo Valley, which is predominately Albanian.

Protesters in Pristina. Photo Courtesy of BIRN.

Members and supporters of the opposition party took to the streets of the capital on 29 September chanting “No bargaining with national land!” to protest the potential land swap.  Opposition parties say that this land swap directly violates the territorial integrity of Kosovo.  In previous statements the head of the opposition party, Avdullah Hoti, said that nobody should have the ability to mess with the borders of Kosovo. (Kosovo’s territorial jurisdiction was laid out in a UN Resolution in 1999). It is seen that the leaders are putting territorial integrity at stake just to normalize relations and please the EU.

At the same time, President Thaci of Kosovo visited the Northern part of Kosovo under consideration for the swap.  Special police were deployed to the region as a result.  This sparked alarm in Serbia, with the Serbian officials putting Serbian police and Military on high alert.  Serbian Interior Minister called the Kosovar move, “an Albanian attack against the North of Kosovo.” Serbian news sources claimed that several Serbians had been detained.

For more information please visit:

Radio Free Europe – Thousands Protest in Kosovo Over Possible Land Swap with Serbia – 29 September 2018

Washington Post – Tension flares in Kosovo over possible land swap with Serbia – 29 September 2018

Balkan Insight – Thousands in Kosovo Protest Against ‘Border Correction’ Proposals – 29 September 2018

Background on the land swap:

The Guardian –Could land swap between Serbia and Kosovo lead to conflict? – 22 August 2018

Balkan Insight – Opposition Demands Vote to ‘Protect Kosovo’s Territory’ – 29 August 2018

*All references to Kosovo are in relation to UNSCR 1244 (99).

European Court of Human Rights Judges that UK Surveillance Violates Freedoms

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

STRASBOURG, France – In the case of Big Brother Watch and Others v. the United Kingdom, the Chamber voted that some parts of the UK’s Investigatory Powers Act of 2016 violated human rights.  This is the latest occurrence in a five-year challenge directed towards the UK’s surveillance policies.

European Court of Human Rights rules that UK policies towards surveillance violate right to privacy and expression.  Photo Courtesy of European PhotoPress Agency. 

Applicants lodged complaints about the bulk interception of communications, obtaining data from communication service providers, and intelligence sharing with foreign governments.  Advocates such as Big Brother Watch note, “Under the guise of counter-terrorism, the UK has adopted the most authoritarian surveillance regime of any Western state, corroding democracy itself and the rights of the British public.”

The Chamber found that the bulk interception strategy violated Article 8 of the Convention that states individuals have a right to a private life without interference by a public authority.  The judges deemed that there was not enough oversight on filtering who was selected for interception or what communication data was read.  It is important to note that the Court did not find the idea of a bulk interception regime a violation of human rights but rather the way in which the UK was handling the strategy.  Additionally, using communication service providers to obtain data was found as a violation of privacy.

Both of these aspects were also found to violate Article 10 as well, which protects freedom of expression.  The Court ruled that there are no safeguards in place for the protection of the data that is collected.

Intelligence sharing was not found to violate Article 8 or 10.

This case involved three joined applications: Big Brother Watch and Others v. the United Kingdom, Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Alice Ross v. the United Kingdom, and 10 Human Rights Organisations and Others v. the United Kingdom.  Those included were Amnesty International, American Civil Liberties Union, Bytes for All, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the Legal Resources Centre (South Africa), Liberty and Privacy International, Open Rights Group, English PEN and Dr Constanze Kurz.

Of the case decision, activist Carolina Wilson Palow says, “Today’s judgment rightly criticises the UK’s bulk interception regime for giving far too much leeway to the intelligence agencies to choose who to spy on and when. It confirms that just because it is technically feasible to intercept all of our personal communications, it does not mean that it is lawful to do so.”

The Chambers decision is not final.  During the next three months either side has the opportunity to appeal the decision to the Grand Chamber of the Court.  There is the possibility of appeal as many activists believe that the decision did not go far enough in condemning bulk surveillance.

For more information please visit:

Amnesty International – Campaigners win vital battle against UK mass surveillance– 13 September 2018

European Court of Human Rights- Press Release: Some aspects of UK surveillance regimes violate Convention- 13 September 2018  (link to download press release)

European Court of Human Rights: Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 

EURACTIV – UK guilty of human rights abuse, ECHR finds in groundbreaking surveillance case -14 September 2018