Equal Protection

ECHR Rules That Portuguese Defamation Judgement Violated Right to Freedom of Expression

By: Firdevs Okatan

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

STRASBOURG, France – On March 19, 2024, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) delivered its judgment in the case of Almeida Arroja v. Portugal, raising important questions about the balance between the right to freedom of expression and the protection of individual reputation.

 
An aerial view of the European Court of Human Rights building in Strasbourg, France. | Photo Courtesy of European Court of Human Rights.
 

The case revolves around the conviction of José Pedro Almeida Arroja, an economist and university professor, for his comments on a private TV channel about a law firm and its director, P.R., a known politician and member of the European Parliament.

The background of the case lies in a dispute over the construction of a pediatric wing at São João Hospital in Porto. Almeida Arroja, chair of an association supporting the construction, criticized the legal advice provided by the law firm C., directed by P.R., accusing it of politically motivated interference. The domestic courts in Portugal found Almeida Arroja guilty of aggravated defamation and causing offense to a legal person, leading to his appeal to the ECHR.

The ECHR judgment focused on whether Almeida Arroja’s freedom of expression, as guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, was unjustly violated. The Court acknowledged the importance of protecting reputation but emphasized that restrictions on freedom of expression must be carefully weighed, especially when public figures and matters of public interest are involved.

The Court observed that Almeida Arroja’s comments, although potentially harmful to P.R. and the law firm’s reputation, were part of a debate of significant public interest. The Court also considered P.R.’s status as a public figure, which requires a higher tolerance for criticism. Crucially, it found that the Portuguese courts had not balanced these factors correctly and that the penalties imposed had a disproportionate “chilling effect” on free speech.

The ruling has highlighted the complex relationship between the right to free expression and the need to protect individuals’ and legal entities’ reputations. It underscores the ECHR’s approach that public discussion, especially on matters of public concern, should be solid and that public figures like politicians must tolerate more scrutiny and potentially damaging statements.

This judgment does not only impact Portuguese law but resonates across Europe, where similar tensions exist between freedom of expression and the protection of reputation. It serves as a reminder of the delicate and nuanced judgments required in upholding fundamental human rights in a democratic society.

For further information, please see:

ECHR – Case of Almeida Arroja V. Portugal – 19 Mar. 2024

ECHR – Judgment concerning Portugal – 19 Mar. 2024

ECHRCaseLaw –  The size of the criminal conviction against the defendant for defamation of a lawyer and law firm for his comments on a television show was disproportionate. Violation of freedom of expression – 22 Mar. 2024

European Convention on Human Rights – 1950

 

 

 

 

Child Labor Violations Skyrocket in the U.S. with the Forced Labor of Migrant Children

By: Kendall Hay

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Senior Associate Member

WASHINGTON D.C., United States – New reports have recently surfaced bringing to light issues of forced labor among migrant children in the United States. The government has recently resolved the first of many cases brought against major companies that are at the heart of the exploitation. Packers Sanitation Services Inc. LTD. was prosecuted and fined $1.5 million in civil penalties in what is one of the largest cases in the history of labor violations. As violations have just begun to surface, it is expected that more litigation will ensue.

Child migrant worker. Photo courtesy of NBC news

Those being targeted are children who cross the border into the United States unaccompanied. Because U.S. law forbids unaccompanied minors to be turned away, many cross into the United States alone and are held in a holding facility until the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) is able to locate an American sponsor. In the past, HHS has taken time to ensure that the vetting process is thorough by verifying that the sponsors are who they claim to be (typically relatives) and ensuring their agreement to provide for these children. However, due to the large number of unaccompanied children who have recently been crossing alone, detention facilities are at capacity, and the vetting process has become almost nonexistent, as the current administration has demanded that kids are moved through as quickly as possible.

This kind of quick processing has led to the exploitation of kids, as “sponsors” who have ill intentions for the kids are now able to traffic these kids and demand work in exchange for living expenses. These kids accrue a debt they are never able to repay and are forced to choose low-paying jobs and night shifts in local factories so that they are still able to attend school.

Although child labor laws in the United States allow 14-year-old children to work, there are many restrictions in place. Factory work, construction work, and other dangerous positions are restricted until the age of 16, and because school attendance is mandatory, the work chosen must not interfere with a child’s education.

However, recent reporting has found that children as young as 12 are working full-time jobs with extremely low pay and no experience. They are also often hired for the night shift because of the unpopularity of the hours, so they will still have the option to attend school. Because the work available to them is found in meatpacking plants, factories, food production plants, and construction sites, these children are constantly faced with dangerous and life-threatening conditions. As a result, serious injuries and many deaths of these minors have been reported. Machinery accidents, loss of limbs from assembly line work, and falls in construction jobs have all been documented.

Violations have been reported in all 50 states with major brands such as Target, Ben & Jerry’s, Walmart, Whole Foods, General Motors, Fruit of the Loom, Ford, and J Crew among the 850 companies all guilty of attributing to child labor violations.

While some companies are simply looking the other way when hiring these child workers and are failing to do due diligence when checking identification, others contract with hiring services and are not vigilant in overseeing who these services are actually hiring. Because the maximum penalty for violations is $15,000, there simply isn’t enough of a deterrent to prevent these practices from continuing.

The Biden Administration has vowed to crack down on these violations and the Department of Labor has begun investigations of over 600 violations. Lawmakers are also pushing for stricter laws in order to protect these minors that include larger penalties for violators. But with an unprecedented number of unaccompanied children crossing the border, a systemic change will be necessary.

 

For further information, please see:

NPR – How Child Labor Violations Have Quadrupled Since 2015 – 6 Mar. 2023

The New York Times – Lawmakers Clamor for Action on Child Migrant Labor as Outrage Grows – 3 Mar. 2023

CBS News – U.S. takes action to prevent migrant child labor amid rise in violations – 27 Feb. 2023

Reuters – U.S. to crack down on child labor amid massive uptick – 27 Feb. 2023

Economic Policy Institute – Child labor laws are under attack in states across the country – 14 Mar. 2023

Georgian State Failed to Properly Protect LGBT Demonstrators

By: George Rose

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

STRASBOURG, France — On May 17, 2013, members of the LGBT community in Georgia planned and obtained permits to hold a vigil on the steps of parliament on International Day Against Homophobia. Many former Soviet countries still have laws outlawing homosexuality, with Georgia legalizing same sex marriage in 2015. While the LGBT community was planning their vigil, members of the Orthodox Church began planning a counter demonstration, citing this as a spread of “homosexual propaganda”.

The demonstration when violence broke out.
Photo curtesy of the New York Times.

While a peaceful counterdemonstration may not have been a problem, peace was not the outcome at the demonstration. Once the members of the Orthodox Church’s counterdemonstration arrived, they quickly overrode the police barriers erected around the parliament building. The Orthodox protesters became violent, videos show priests brandishing various weapons, going as far as using stools from bars and shops, shouting “kill them”. One LGBT demonstrator remarked that she had been assaulted by members of the Orthodox Church, she recalled seeing blood on the ground and was unsure if it was hers or not. After the violence broke out, the police loaded the LGBT demonstrators onto a minibus, however, the members from the Orthodox church smashed through the windows to attack those on board. In the aftermath of the attack, eight members of the LGBT demonstration were hospitalized, as well as three police officers. Following the attack on the LGBT demonstrators, Georgia’s Prime Minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili vowed that those who promoted the violence would be punished. However, the LGBT rights groups are still waiting for proof that the government has held those who promoted violence, accountable.

In a case brought against Georgia in the European Court of Human Rights, the court ruled that Georgia had been complacent by failing to properly protect the LGBT groups. The court reasoned that the use of police officers who were unarmed, thus protecting the demonstrators with a thin line of police officers, was not adequate protection. Further, the court found that in video footage, several officers allowed the violent members of the Orthodox Church within reaching distance of the LGBT demonstrators.

The court ordered Georgia to pay €193,500 to the applicants, with €10,000 reserved to an applicant who had suffered a concussion, and €6,000 for an applicant who had been humiliated by police officers.

For further information, please see:

The European Court of Human Rights – Press Release: Unprecedented Violence against LGBT Demonstrators

The New Yorker – What Was Behind Georgia’s Anti-Gay Rally? – 23 May 2013

The New York Times – Crowd Led by Priests Attacks Gay Rights Marchers in Georgia – 17 May 2013

NPR – Anti-Gay Riot in Tblisi Tests Balance Between Church, State – 30 Jul. 2013

ECHR Demands Protection for Victims of Domestic Violence in Russia

By: Jorge Estacio

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

RUSSIA — The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has recognized that Russian authorities continue to systemically fail to protect victims of domestic violence.

Protestors hold banners against domestic violence in Russia. Photo courtesy of euronews.com.

On September 14, 2021, the ECHR rendered a verdict in favor of Valeriya Igorevna Volodina, holding that authorities violated the European Convention on Human Rights. Specifically her right to respect for private life. After separating from her partner, “S.”, Ms. Volodina became a target for cyber violence. Her former partner created faked social media accounts using her name, planted a GPS tracking device within her bag, and sent death threats to her actual social media account. Additionally, S. used the fake social media account to display nude pictures of Ms. Volodina without her consent. The court stated that Russian law failed to provide protection for victims of domestic violence. The authorities had the legal tools to investigate the ongoing cyberviolence but failed to take measures of deterrence. They took two years to open a criminal case for the matter. Which resulted in the perpetrator escaping justice due to a time limit contingency within criminal proceedings. For security reasons Ms. Volodina changed her name to an undisclosed identity as of 2018.

The ECHR is threatening to continue handling Russian domestic violence cases in a simplified and accelerated form if the government does not adopt proper measures. The court refers to Ms. Volodina’s case as an example of the systematic problems that continue to prevent prosecution and convictions for domestic violence.

Displaying their willingness to expedite justice for Russian victims of domestic violence, the ECHR joined the judgment of four cases with similar subject matter. It resulted in Russia paying monetary compensation for each victim. The case noted authorities failed to properly assess the victims’ claims, were not properly trained to do so, and failed to take any action towards the known risk. Additionally, the international court condemned the government for having a legal framework that set a high threshold for injuries to be prosecutable and criminal proceedings that rushed through domestic violence inquiries. One of the victims lost her case in Kuzminskiy District Court because she arrived “sixteen minutes late” for the hearing. On December 14, 2021, in its decision the ECHR noted Russia violated several Articles of the European Convention on Human Rights culminating in discrimination against women.

Although insufficient to fully compensate for gross disregard of Human Rights, the ECHR efforts are certainly making it clear that the Russian government cannot continue to disregard the lack of human protection.  

For further information, please see:

The European Court of Human Rights – Press Release: Violations in authorities’ failure to respond to domestic violence cases; urgent legal changes required – Dec. 14, 2021

Jurist| Legal News & Commentary – Europe human rights court rules Russia must do more to combat domestic violence – Dec. 16, 2021

The European Court of Human Rights – Press Release: Russian authorities failed to protect domestic abuse victim from her partner’s cyberviolence – Sept. 14, 2021

Institute of Modern Russia – Sergei Davidis: “The human rights violations in Russia is fraught with instability in the West” – Jan. 12, 2022

ECHR Awards Damages Based on Religious Discrimination Claim against Georgia

By: Tina Perez

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

STRASBOURG, France — The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found that Georgia discriminated against, mistreated, and used excessive force against four Muslim men who were arrested for protesting a decision of Adigeni Municipality (the local government) to renovate a former mosque in the Village of Mokhe into a library. In Mikeladze v. Georgia, police alleged that the four men were resisting arrest at a protest on October 22, 2014 and sustained injuries while resisting. The four men complained that police verbally and physically assaulted them during and following their arrests. The men claimed, with several witnesses also reporting, that the authorities acted with discrimination because the officials used degrading racial slurs. ECHR awarded damages of 3,900 euros to the man who was the most severely injured and 1,800 euros to each remaining man.

Muslims gather in prayer outside the Disputed Building, Mokhe. Photo courtesy of Dato Parulava and Liberali.

The ECHR’s findings in this matter include that the injuries reported were not consistent with resisting arrest because one of the protestors was injured but no police were injured. Additionally, the report of the man’s injuries was not an adequate investigation because it did not investigate the origin of his injuries.

ECHR also found that the four men did not need to pursue all available remedies within Georgia if those remedies were ineffective. The men made official complaints related to physical and verbal abuse they received but Georgia conducted no official investigation. Georgia instead claimed that the criminal investigation against the men was sufficient to uncover and address their mistreatment. This matter was brought to ECHR and ECHR found that the state criminal investigation was not sufficient because it was not independently conducted. ECHR further noted that the criminal investigation of the men failed to make any inquiry into the racial slurs used against them. Additionally, in the seven years since the incident the internal investigation had made no conclusive findings.

This matter grabbed the attention of human rights organizations because Muslims are a religious minority within Georgia.  Although the majority of the population of the Village of Mokhe is Muslim, the local officials are not and discrimination against Muslims in the region goes back decades.  The disputed building was constructed as a mosque between 1927-34 but in the 1940s, Joseph Stalin expelled Muslims from the region. From the 1940’s until 2007 when Adigeni Municipality took ownership of the building, it was used first as a warehouse and later as a village club.  However, the Orthodox Church of Georgia also asserted ownership over the building claiming that a church stood on the location during the sixteenth century. Following the protest, the Muslim community of Mokhe continued to pray inside the ruins of the building until October 2016 when the building was blocked off with yellow police tape. An official commission was created to determine the origins of the ruin and in May 2017, the commission determined that the building “couldn’t be attributed to either” religion. The ruins have been declared a cultural heritage site named “Disputed Building.”

For further information, please see:  

Agenda.ge – European Court finds Georgia guilty of discrimination against four Georgian Muslims – 17 Nov. 2021

European Court of Human Rights – Forthcoming Judgments and Decisions – 10 Nov. 2021

European Court of Human Rights- Judgment, Case of Mikeladze and Others v. Georgia – 16 Nov. 2021

OC Media – Mokhe’s ‘Disputed Building’ to be Sealed off for Conservation – 14 Sept. 2017

Tolerance and Diversity Institute – Analysis of Recent Occurrences in Mokhe Village – 3 Nov. 2014