European Rights Watch

Turkish Criminal Proceeding Violates the European Convention on Human Rights

By: Genna Amick,

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Lead Articles Editor

ISTANBUL, Turkey – The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) recently released a decision involving a sexual abuse case that began nearly two decades ago. On January 8, 2003, a Turkish individual identified only as N.Ç. filed a complaint against two women who forced N.Ç. to engage in prostitution alongside them.

Chambers within the European Court of Human Rights. Photo Courtesy of Bianet.

After an investigation was conducted, the prosecutor in the case filed a bill of indictment against twenty-eight individuals on various charges, including raping a girl who was under fifteen years old, falsely imprisoning a person to fulfill sexual desires, and inciting someone to prostitution. In 2010, after thirty-five hearings, the Mardin Assize Court acquitted several defendants, struck certain charges, such as “consensual imprisonment” and incitement to prostitution, and held that the sexual acts could not affirmatively be deemed nonconsensual as a psychiatric report found that N.Ç. “had not been totally unwilling.” On this basis, the Mardin Assize Court imposed on defendants the minimum sentence outlined in the Criminal Code.

On March 25, 2011, an application was submitted to the ECHR based on a complaint regarding the manner in which N.Ç.’s case was handled by the Mardin Assize Court. The application sought relief based on Article 3, which prohibits inhumane or degrading treatment, Article 6, which provides for the right to a fair hearing, Article 8, which provides for the right to respect for private and family life, and Article 13, which provides for the right to an effective remedy. A number of events occurred during the criminal proceeding that prompted N.Ç.’s application to the ECHR.

In the early stages of the proceedings, N.Ç. was subjected to ten, extremely intrusive medical examinations. All of the examinations were performed at the request of judicial authorities. The ECHR deemed the number of medical examinations to be excessive. Further, the Court stated that the intrusive nature was an unacceptable interference with N.Ç.’s psychological and physical integrity.

Several other human rights violations arose during the trial. On the same day that the defendants, N.Ç., and her representatives first appeared for a hearing before the Mardin Assize Court, N.Ç. and her representatives were attacked by relatives of some of the defendants as they left the courtroom. The Court ignored their request for protection measures, and later dismissed a request that the trial be transferred for safety reasons. Furthermore, N.Ç. was forced to confront her assailants on numerous occasions at various hearings. She also had to recount in detail the threats that the respondents had made and how she was raped. The Court held that the judicial authorities had not properly balanced the varying interests at play. Their failure resulted in a lack of protection for N.Ç. from the defendants in an extremely serious sexual abuse case.

Numerous other oversights on the part of the Turkish court resulted in the Court holding that the criminal proceedings had not been conducted in a manner that protected the values espoused by Articles 3 and 8 of the Convention. The Court ordered Turkey to pay N.Ç. 25,000 euros for non-pecuniary damages, as well as an additional 3,000 euros for costs and expenses.

For further information, please see:

European Court of Human Rights – Criminal proceedings against persons charged in connection with prostitution of a fourteen-year-old child: violations of the Convention – 09 Feb. 2021

Ukraine Brings New Inter-State Application Against Russia

By: Rebecca Buchanan

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

STRASBOURG, France – On February 19, 2021, the Ukrainian Government lodged a new inter-state application with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), against the Russian Federation. The application concerns the Ukrainian Government’s allegations of routine state-sponsored assassinations by the Russian Government.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (Left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo Courtesy of Unian.

Inter-state applications allow countries to lodge complaints against one another, and they make up a minority of the cases handled by the ECHR. This is the ninth inter-state application made by Ukraine against Russia. In addition to the newest application, three cases between the two nations are currently pending before the Court.

The first of the three pending cases, Ukraine v. Russia (re Crimea), concerns human rights violations by the Russian Federation in Crimea from February 27, 2014, to August 26, 2015. The application alleges that the Russian Government’s conduct, during that period, violated 12 separate articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, including Article 2’s right to life and Article 3’s prohibition of inhumane treatment and torture. This application was declared partly admissible by the Grand Chamber on January 14, 2021, and a Grand Chamber judgment is expected shortly.

The second pending case, Ukraine and the Netherlands v. Russia, was joined by the Grand Chamber on November 27, 2020, combining three separate inter-state complaints against the Russian Federation. Notably, the joined case addresses the alleged abduction of three groups of Ukrainian children who were temporarily held in Russia from June to August 2014, and the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014.

The third case, Ukraine v. Russia (VIII), concerns the capture of three Ukrainian Naval vessels in the Kerch Strait in November 2018. The Russian Government captured and held 24 Ukrainian sailors without communication with the Ukrainian Government. Ukraine alleges that the sailors were deprived of their liberty, were refused medical care, and were held without authority under International law. This case is currently pending before the First Section of the Court.

The Ukrainian Government’s newest inter-state complaint, registered under application no. 10691/21, alleges that Russian state-sanctioned assassination operations have targeted opponents of the Russian government within Russia and have extended into the territory of other nations. The application indicates complicity by the Russian Government in continuously covering-up and failing to investigate assassination operations. Ukraine alleges that these assassinations, and the Russian Government’s alleged complicity, violate both the procedural and substantive aspects of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

February 20, 2021, marked the 7th year anniversary of the outbreak of the Russo-Ukrainian War in the Crimean Peninsula. In addition to the inter-state applications, 7000 individual applications remain before the ECHR regarding Russian conduct in Ukraine. These applications allege various and extensive violations of the European Convention on Human Rights by the Russian Federation and map the increase in hostilities between the two nations. Proceedings regarding the newest inter-state application are pending and the Russian Federation has yet to submit written observations on its own behalf.

For further information, please see:

European Court of Human Rights – ECHR puts questions in new inter-State case brought by Ukraine against Russia – 30 Nov. 2020

European Court of Human Rights – European Court joins three inter-State applications – 04 Dec. 2020

European Court of Human Rights – Grand Chamber decision Ukraine v. Russia (re Crimea) – 14 Jan. 2021

European Court of Human Rights – New inter-state application brought by Ukraine against Russia – 23 Feb. 2021

European Court of Human Rights – Q & A on Inter-State Cases – Jan. 2021

Statecraft – Ukraine Lodges Ninth Complaint Against Russia at ECHR – 24 Feb. 2021

Unian – Zelensky: I think Putin understands Ukraine is big, independent country – 20 Jan. 2020

 

Vanghele and Others v. Romania Dismissed After No Response by Applicants to Court

By: William Krueger

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

STRASBOURG, France – On January 21, 2021 the Fourth Section of the European Court of Human Rights (Court) joined together and dismissed 19 applicant complaints of Article 3 of the Convention violations by the Romanian government. In the decision of Vanghele and Others v. Romania, the Fourth Section was composed of Armen Harutyunan, Jolien Schukking, Ana Maria Guerra Martins, and Viktoriya Maradudina.

The exterior of the Aiud Prison located in Aiud, Romania. Photo Courtesy of The National Administration of Penitentiaries.

The first application was introduced to the Court on May 1, 2016 by Adrian Vanghele, with other applications arriving from George Orbulescu, Florin Gabriel Popescu, Petrică Dobre, Gavril-Lucian Ciupea, Silviu-Sorin Ungureanu, Ion Horga, Dumitru Ignat, Fănel Serea, Mădălin-Ionuț, Adrian Stoica, Gabriel Dorel Popu, Dănuț-Marian Nastas, Marian Dincă, Alexandru-Cristian-Anton Gheorghe, Mihai Dumitru, Gheorghe Albu, Ambrosie Teglaş, and Alin Dondoți. Three of the applicants had even included notice of a representative to act on their behalf: Stocia Nicolae of Norway, Daniela Voduță of Vaslui, Romania, and Titiana-Daniela Satnoianu of Braşov, Romania. The three represented Horga, Ignat, and Teglaş respectively. The letters of all nineteen applicants were introduced to the Court from May 1, 2016 to March 13, 2017. Generally, in the applications the nineteen had complained that their detentions in Romanian facilities were in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention. Article 3 states that: “No one shall be subject to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” After the introduction of the letters, the Court informed the Romanian government of the complaint levied against it. The Romanian government submitted a response to the Court of its opinion on the admissibility of the complaints and the merits of an Article 3 violation. The applicants were invited to give their own observations; but none of the nineteen applicants replied.

In September 2020, the Court had sent each applicant a letter via registered mail that any observations submitted would be invalid as time had expired. The Court had set a new deadline however for all applicants in the same letter while reminding them of Article 37 in the European Convention. Article 37, specifically section 1(a), grants the court the right at any stage of a proceeding to strike an application from the list of cases if “the applicant does not intend to pursue his application.” All nineteen of the letters would be returned to the court in November 2020 without response. Most of the applicant’s letters would be returned to the court unclaimed, with four being returned as the applicant had been released from incarceration. According to court records, all nineteen applicants had been released from prison before the mailing of the letters. The Court was not notified of a change of address by any applicant and never received correspondence by an applicant or their representative.

In the Court’s decision, the Fourth Section concluded that the nineteen applicants must not desire continuing litigation. The Court then applied all of Article 37 section 1 to find there was no special circumstance that would lead the court to continue on the applicant’s behalf. The Court finished by joining all nineteen applications together and then striking the applications from the list of cases.

Vanghele and Others v. Romania was not the first time that alleged abuse of incarcerated individuals may have occurred under Romanian authority as according to a State Department of the United States Report on Human Rights Practices in Romania: prisons are overcrowded and undermaintained by Council of Europe standards, 633 complaints made by incarcerated persons to the National Penitentiary Authority in Romania were not referred to prosecutors, and medical care in Romanian prisons was insufficient.

European Court of Human Rights – European Convention – 6 Feb. 2013

European Court of Human Rights – Vanghele and Others v. Romania Decision – 21 Jan. 2021

European Court of Human Rights – Forthcoming Judgments and Decisions – 5 Jan. 2021

United States Department of State – 2019 Reports on Human Rights Practices: Romania – 11 Mar. 2020

Transgender Rights Victory in Europe

By: Veronica Devries

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

BUCHAREST, Romania – The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has held in the case of X and Y v. Romania that the applicants had experienced a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 8 covers the right to respect for one’s private and family life.

Pride parade in Bucharest, Romania in 2019. Photo Courtesy of Balkin Insight and Robert Ghement.

The case concerned X and Y, two Romanian nationals registered female at birth, that applied for their civil-status records to be changed from female to male. They were born in 1976 and 1982, respectively, and live in the United Kingdom and Bucharest. X brought an action in 2013 against Bucharest’s first district’s local council. X presented several medical certificates to confirm that he suffered from a gender identity disorder. Despite this, the district refused to change his gender, stating that the change was “premature” as X had not undergone gender reassignment surgery. X moved to the United Kingdom in 2014 and obtained male forenames thereafter the courts in Romania had refused to change his gender.

Y brought an action against the local council for the third district in Bucharest. Y requested authorization to undergo gender reassignment surgery, along with various administrative changes, including a civil-status change of their gender like X had requested. In May 2013, the court stated that the applicant would not be able to apply for a change in forename until the gender reassignment surgery had been performed.

In their complaints, the applicants stated that the Romanian state had not established a clear process for the legal recognition of their gender identities, as the state was effectively making gender reassignment surgery a prerequisite for a civil-status change.

On January 19, 2021, the ECHR ruled that the state’s refusal to provide the requested administrative changes without the applicants having undergone surgery was an “unjustified interference” of the applicants’ right to respect for private and family life. This right is found in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In its decision, the ECHR held that the state had unreasonably required gender reassignment surgery in order for the administrative change to occur. In a statement, the ECHR stated “…the national courts had presented the applicants, who did not wish to undergo gender reassignment surgery, with an impossible dilemma; either they had to undergo the surgery against their better judgement…or they had to forego recognition of their gender identity…”

The ECHR required Romania to pay 8,653 euros to X in damages, and 7,500 euros to Y in damages, in addition to paying costs to each applicant.  

For further information, please see:

Balkan Insight – European Court Rules Romania Violated Trans Rights – 19 Jan. 2021

European Convention on Human Rights – 1 June 2010

European Court of Human Rights – Press Release – 19 Jan. 2021

Radio Free Europe News – European Human Rights Court Fines Romania For Transgender Rights Violations – 19 Jan. 2021

TGEU – Third Party Intervention X v Romania and Y v Romania – 19 July 2018

Alexei Navalny Faces Prison Time After Returning to Russia

By: Elizabeth Maugeri

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

MOSCOW, Russia – In January, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was arrested at Sheremetyevo International Airport after returning from Germany. In August of last year, a few weeks before the Russian regional elections, Navalny fell seriously ill. He was flown from Russia to Berlin to receive treatment for what turned out to be an attempt on his life. Tests conducted on Navalny’s personal belongings found a presence of Novichok, a known Russian nerve agent.

Alexei Navalny was kept inside a glass cell during his court hearing in Moscow’s Babishkinsky District Court – Agence France-Presse – Photo Courtesy of Getty Images via The New York Times.

While recovering in Germany, Navalny released a statement that announced his plan to return to Russia. The moment he stepped off the plane in Moscow, he was detained and subsequently arrested by police. He was also denied access to his lawyers.

Navalny was detained for 30 days pending trial, in which he was expected to be sentenced for violating the terms of his parole. A parole that stemmed from previous fraud and embezzlement charges that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) held were “arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable.” Despite the ECHR’s ruling, the Russian government sustained the charges and forced Navalny’s compliance for years. Not only do his convictions bar him from running for public office, but he must also report in person to parole services in Moscow on the Russian government’s terms.

In the case against Navalny, Russian authorities claim that he failed to report as required during the months of August 2020 through January 2021. They also assert that in some instances he failed to report on the correct day of the week.

Navalny received a 3.5-year suspended sentence for these charges but was granted time served for the time he previously spent on house arrest. He was left with 2.8-years in prison. However, Russian authorities continue to pile on other charges. Navalny now faces new criminal charges of fraud and another for allegedly disparaging a WWII veteran.

The international community has demanded the release of Navalny and considers the arrest to be politically motivated. The European Parliament presented a joint motion for a resolution regarding the arrest. The motion called out Russia for breaching its Constitution, international law, international human rights standards, and multiple international conventions. It further calls for the Council to utilize the ECHR Article 46(4) power to bring a case to the ECHR against Russia for Russia’s failure to abide by the final judgments of the Court as it has signed on to do.

Navalny has historically posed a serious challenge for Vladimir Putin and is widely considered to be the man Putin fears most. While it is expected that he will appeal his sentence, the Russian government has labeled this a domestic matter and doesn’t plan on abiding by any ruling that contradicts the decision of the country’s courts.

For further information, please see:

European Parliament – Joint Motion for a Resolution pursuant to Rule 132(2) and (4) of the Rules of Procedure – 20 Jan. 2021

Politico – Collision course Moscow: The Return of Alexei Navalny – 15 Jan. 2021

Politico – Election official: Navalny can’t run for Russian president – 15 June 2017

Reuters – Russian opposition leader’s fraud conviction arbitrary, Europe’s top rights court says – 17 Oct. 2017

The New York Times – Russia Expels European Diplomats Over Navalny Protests, Defying the West – 5 Feb. 2021

The New York Times – Russian Activist Navalny Sentenced to More Than 2 Years in Prison – 2 Feb. 2021