European Rights Watch

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

The European Court of Human Rights Vindicates Dismissed Bulgarian Judge on Grounds of Freedom of Expression

By: Angelica Judge

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

STRASBOURG, France – The European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of Miroslava Todorova, a Bulgarian judge, on October 19, 2021 regarding a violation of her freedom of expression.

Photograph of Judge Miroslava Todorova. Photo Courtesy of noinvite.com.

Todorova is a judge in the criminal division of Sofia City Court in Bulgaria, and was elected president of the Bulgarian union of Judges (BUJ) in 2009.  During that time, she was publically critical of certain leadership decisions and statements within the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC).

A proposal was brought to the SJC Inspector General in July of 2011 for disciplinary proceedings to be instated against judges with a backlog of cases – with Todorova being named as one such judge. She suffered a salary reduction followed later by dismissal, and after a series of appeals, her case came before the ECtHR.

She alleged several claims under the European Convention on Human Rights, and the court found that her Article 10 right to freedom of expression had been violated. The court argued that “Those proceedings and sanctions could… have had a chilling effect on the applicant’s exercise of her freedom of expression and on that of all members of the national judiciary,” as a result of her previous comments criticizing the SJC. In coming to this decision, the court weighed what they felt to be an inadequate showing by the domestic authorities that the sanctions here were “necessary and appropriate to the legitimate aims pursued in the case.”  

The ECtHR recognized that judges still must be subject to appropriate sanctions following breaches of professional duty due to exercising their right to freedom of expression. However, if the discipline is suspected of being retaliatory, the domestic authorities must show that the sanctions were legitimate.  

Todorova had several other claims that were either unsuccessful, or were read in conjunction with the Article 10 violation. For example, the court did not find that there was a violation to Article 8 of the Convention, which provides for an individual’s right to respect for their private and family life. The basis for this claim was that the disciplinary proceedings caused significant media coverage that may have damaged her reputation. However, the court found that the media coverage was fairly balanced in terms of positive and negative attention. Proving this violation requires a standard of severity that the court felt was lacking.

Despite Todorova being unsuccessful in some of her claims, the court unanimously agreeing that there was a violation of her freedom of expression is a significant victory after a legal battle that had lasted for several years.

For further Information, please see:

American Society of International Law – ECtHR Issues Two Judgments on Freedom of Expression – 19 Oct. 2021

EU Law Live – Disciplinary proceedings against Bulgarian judge Miroslava Todorova breached freedom of expression ECtHR rules – 19 Oct. 2021

European Court of Human Rights – European Convention on Human Rights – 2 Oct. 2013

European Court of Human Rights – Disciplinary Proceedings Against and Sanctions Imposed on the Applicant, a Judge and President of the Bulgarian Union of Judges, Violated her Right to Freedom of Expression – 19 Oct. 2021

Radio Bulgaria – Judge Miroslava Todorova wins case against Bulgaria at the European Court of Human Rights – 19 Oct. 2021

ECHR finds Russia responsible in the death of Alexander Litvinenko

By: Elyse Maugeri

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

STRASBOURG, France – In 2006, while living in London, former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko died after being poisoned with polonium 210, a radioactive substance. It has been long believed that Moscow was behind the attack due to the allegations that Mr. Litvinenko as working with western European authorities to prove high levels of corruption and organized crime in the Russian intelligence services. Now, the European Court of Human Rights confirmed what many suspected, that Russia was behind the attack.

The Litvinenko Inquiry, the report used during the investigation. Photo curtsey of Reuters.

In October 2006, over the course of the month, two Russian men, Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitriy Kovtun, both acquaintances of Mr. Litvinenko, visited him in London for multiple meetings. After each meeting, there were found to be trace amounts of polonium contamination in areas where the men had met. During the final meeting on 31 October 2006, Mr. Litvinenko and the two men met in their hotel’s bar and drank tea together. Three days later, Mr. Litvinenko fell extremely ill and was admitted to a hospital in London. Trace amounts of polonium were found in the teapot. He was later transferred to the University College Hospital, where it was suspected he had been poisoned using a radioactive substance. Mr. Litvinenko died three weeks later, with cause of death as acute radiation syndrome.

Shortly after he died, UK police opened an investigation into the poisoning. In 2007, they determined that there was sufficient evidence to charge Mt. Lugovoy for the murder. Later, in 2011, Mr. Kovtun was also charged. However, due to Russian extradition laws, neither man stood trial in the UK. In fact, later in 2007, Mr. Lugovoy became a member of Russian Parliament and acquired parliamentary immunity.

The Russian Prosecutor General launched its own investigation but provided little to no information for the ECHR.

In the UK a public inquiry was carried out, finding that beyond a reasonable doubt, Mr. Lugovoy and Mr. Kovtun poisoned Mr. Litvinenko with polonium. It also rejected any allegation that the two men had been set up by British authorities or that Mr. Litvinenko accidentally or purposefully poisoned himself. The inquiry also found that the two men had strong ties with the Russian state and the assassination had been directed by the FSB. All information in the inquiry was provided to the ECHR.

In its decision, the ECHR found that Russia failed to provide any necessary documents that had been requested, such as the investigation file, Mr. Lugovoy’s statements, and legal assistance requests. Further, despite Russian objection, the UK’s inquiry was permissible to be used as evidence because it was an independent and unbiased inquiry.

The Court also determined that since Russia investigated the death, a jurisdictional link had been established in the incident. Also, there existed a “special feature” in the case, that Russia retained an exclusive jurisdiction over Mr. Lugovoy, which further established the jurisdictional link. The Court acknowledged the lack of information provided by Russia in their investigation and thus concluded that the investigation was not effective in identifying and punishing those involved.

In the UK inquiry, it was determined that neither Mr. Lugovoy nor Mr. Kovtun had specific reason to kill Mr. Litvinenko, leaving State involvement as the most, and only, plausible reason. This paired with Russia’s refusal to cooperate, strengthened the belief that the assassination was ordered by the Russian State.

The Court held that Russia was to pay the applicant, Mr. Litvinenko’s widow Marina Litvinenko, €100,000 for non-pecuniary damage and €22,500 for costs and expenses. Punitive damages were not awarded.

For further information, please see:

The European Court of Human Rights – Press Release: Russia was responsible for assassination of Aleksandr Litvinenko in the UK – 21 Sept. 2021

BBC News – Russia behind Litvinenko murder, rules European rights court – 21 Sept. 2021

NPR – Russia Fatally Poisoned A Prominent Defector In London, A Court Concludes – 22 Sept. 2021

Reuters – Russia was behind Litvinenko assassination, European court finds – 21 Sept. 2021

Chocolate Making Companies Can Learn A Lesson From Ferrero’s Ethical Commitments

By: Ryan Ockenden

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

YAMOUSSOUKRO, Côte d’Ivoire The cocoa harvesting industry in Côte d’Ivoire continues to be rife with child slavery. Children have been forced to overwork in unhealthy environments often kidnapped from their homes, brought across country lines, and held prisoner on cocoa plantations. Some of the largest international chocolate-making companies – such as Hershey, Nestle, and Mars – stand at the center of this controversy.

Children work side by side on cocoa plantations to cultivate cocoa from pods in order to serve a massive international chocolate-making market. Photo Courtesy of Fortune and Benjamin Lowy.

Chocolate-making companies seem inept at solving the child slavery problem, or perhaps they simply do not care to. Executives at these companies publicly abhor child labor in the chocolate industry. For decades, companies have promised to make changes through either stricter regulatory measures, or changing where they buy cocoa from – but these promises remain largely empty. The executives know that their success relies on gaining competitive advantages within the international market. For them, using child labor gives them an advantage because they can keep their cocoa purchase costs down.

One company, Ferrero, has put ethics before the zeal of gaining a competitive advantage. In 2011, Ferrero partnered with Save the Children in order to work toward a ten-year goal of transitioning their cocoa purchases to 100% sustainable and broadly ethical sources. Ferrero met their goal, and just last week renewed their partnership with Save the Children for an additional five years. Together they are committing €8M ($9.43M) to continue their sustainability and ethical devotion to cocoa cultivation. The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights has noted that all actions taken by another person that concern a child must be primarily focused on that child’s best interests. In many African communities, cultural expectations of children’s labor contributions differ from those generally sought by countries enforcing United Nations policies. Therefore, Ferrero and Save the Children agreed that moderate child labor is acceptable so long as it includes healthy working conditions that will protect child workers from economic exploitation, hazardous activities, and will give them an opportunity to attend school.

Ferrero’s project with Save the Children incorporates a variety of ways to ensure those goals are met. Ferrero is investing in tracking the supply chain to trace the source of cocoa so that they can check farms for any violations. Additionally, they are mapping farmers in order to prevent deforestation, helping women in the communities to attain small business loans, and ensuring children have access to continually improving education. While other international chocolate-making companies find themselves subject to lawsuits for aiding and abetting human rights violations, perhaps they can learn a lesson from a company that stands invested in ethics.

In order to ensure that abusive child labor is eliminated from the cocoa industry in Côte d’Ivoire, it will take contributions from all chocolate-making companies to commit to ethical and sustainable cultivation. These commitments will strengthen protections for child workers, increase access to quality education, empower women to engage in markets, and develop communities across West Africa.

For further information, please see:

African Court on Human and People’s Rights – African Court Law Report – 2017-2018

European Food Agency News – Ferrero Still In Field Against The Scourge Of Child Labor – 25 Mar. 2021

The Guardian – Mars, Nestle and Hershey to face child slavery lawsuit in US – 12 Feb. 2021

The Washington Post – Supreme Court Weighs Child Slavery Case Against Nestle USA, Cargill – 1 Dec. 2020

Fortune – Bitter Sweets: A special on-the-ground report from West Africa – 1 Mar. 2016

Reparations Finally Given to the Many Victims of War Criminal Bosco Ntaganda

By: Samuel Schimel

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

THE HAGUE, NetherlandsBosco Ntaganda, whose armed forces terrorized the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, was once again on trial in Chamber VI of the International Criminal Court (“ICC” or “Court”) on March 8th, 2021. What was conveyed by the Chamber in a public hearing was the formation of an Order of Reparations to victims under Article 75 of the Rome Statute in the case of The Prosecutor v. Bosco Ntaganda. Ntaganda was originally sentenced by the ICC to 30 years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity on November 7th, 2019. In the 2021 decision, the Chamber, composed of Judge Chang-ho Chung, Judge Robert Fremr, and Judge Olga Herrera Carbuccia, set the reparations award, for which Ntaganda is liable, at a total of USD 30,000,000.

Bosco Ntaganda at Trial Chamber VI of the International Criminal Court during the order for Reparations. Photo Courtesy of Reuters.

Nicknamed the “Smiling Terminator,” among others, Ntaganda was first indicted in 2006 for allegedly recruiting child soldiers during the Democratic Republic of Congo’s five-year war. He was a member of the Rwandan-backed Congrès national pour la défense du peuple – National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), a rebel group that has committed countless atrocities against civilians. While a part of this group, he orchestrated an attack where 150 people were killed over two days in the town of Kiwanja, North of Goma. Ntaganda was integrated into the Congolese army and became a general. He commanded military operations in eastern Congo after an agreement was reached between the Congolese Army and the Rwandan government. For many Rwandan donors, the final straw was Ntaganda’s creation of the M23, another rebel group backed by Rwanda. As the leader of the group, Ntaganda orchestrated many other attacks on villages, executed hundreds of people, and was accused of rape, torture, and the forceful recruitment of child soldiers.

He surrendered to the U.S. embassy in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, in March 2013, and was transferred to the Hague some time afterward. Ntaganda was convicted on thirteen counts of war crimes followed by five counts of crimes against humanity. These counts included murder, rape, and sexual slavery committed during the conflict in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 2002 and 2003. On the basis of the Rome Statute, Ntaganda was sentenced to 30 years of imprisonment.

Given his criminal history, the eligible victims for reparations are direct and indirect victims of the attacks, victims of crimes against child soldiers, victims of rape and sexual slavery, and children born out of rape and sexual slavery. The Chamber notably found that the priority shall be given to individuals who are in need of immediate medical and psychological care, victims with disabilities, the elderly, victims of sexual or gender-based violence, victims who are homeless or have encountered financial hardship, as well as children born out of rape and sexual slavery and former child soldiers. A gender-inclusive and sensitive approach to the reparations will also be instituted.

The Chamber additionally encouraged the Trust Fund for Victims to add funds that would accompany the reparation awards, to the extent that is feasible given its available resources, and to take part in additional fundraising efforts as necessary to accompany the totality of the award. The Trust Fund for Victims was asked to create a draft implementation plan on the basis of all the modalities of reparations identified in the order, with the victim’s input. These modalities of reparations within the order incorporate measures of restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, and satisfaction, which may incorporate, when appropriate, a symbolic, preventative, or transformative value. The due date for the Trust Fund’s plan is September 8th, 2021 and an urgent plan for priority victims is due on June 8th, 2021. 

Ntaganda’s name is still likely to send chills across the citizens of the Congo and he is particularly remembered for his ruthlessness. Many of the victims of Ntaganda’s crimes have been forced into exile since they were threatened with more suffering if they dared to speak up against him during his trial. Hopefully, the judgment can be of some consolation to the victims, and may they finally be given the reparations they deserve.

For further information, please see:

BBC – Bosco Ntaganda – the Congolese ‘Terminator – 8 July

International Criminal Court – Ntaganda case: ICC Trial Chamber VI orders reparations for victims – 8 Mar. 2021

Human Rights Watch – Congo Warlord Gets 30 Years: Persistence Over Many Years Helps Bring Bosco Ntaganda to Justice – 7 Nov. 2019

International Criminal Court – Bosco Ntaganda sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment – 7 Nov. 2019

Reuters – War crimes court orders record $30 million compensation for Congo victims – 8 Mar. 2021