ECHR Rules that Coercive Methods Used to Recruit and Exploit “Web Models” Constituted Human Trafficking

By: Karla Lellis

Visiting Impunity Watch News Writer

STRASBOURG, France – On March 12, 2024, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in the case of Jasuitis And Šimaitis V. Lithuania, finding that coercing women to work as “web models” constituted as human trafficking. This decision highlights the importance of legal clarity and a victim-centred approach to dealing with such exploitation, aligning with Article 7(1) of the Convention.

A person’s hands held up facing the camera in a dark background. | Photo courtesy of Vecteezy.

The proliferation of internet technologies has profoundly transformed the dynamics of human trafficking. The UNODC’s 2020 Global Human Trafficking Report characterizes cyberspace as “digital hunting grounds” for traffickers, who exploit the expansive reach and anonymity of online platforms. Traffickers have skillfully leveraged digital tools to advertise deceptive job offers, promote exploitative services, and identify vulnerable individuals through social media. The rise of webcams and live streaming has further facilitated new forms of exploitation, as traffickers demonstrate a disturbing aptitude for using digital spaces to perpetuate their illicit activities.

This disturbing trend is exemplified in the Jasuitis and Šimaitis v. Lithuania case, where young women were recruited through deceptive online advertisements to work as “web models.” The victims were coerced into performing sexual acts on camera, including nudity and using sex toys, facing threats and psychological manipulation. Police investigation revealed multiple cases of exploitation, with the perpetrators providing equipment and apartments, then demanding debt repayment while closely monitoring and pressuring the women to generate income through long, exploitative work hours. Vulnerable young women facing financial, or family difficulties were specifically targeted and subjected to these abusive practices, leading to legal action against the traffickers.

In their defense, the Jasuitis and Šimaitis applicants argued that their convictions for trafficking were unpredictable, thus violating Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 7 reflects the principle of nulla poena sine lege (no punishment without law), which prohibits criminal sanctions for acts not clearly defined as offenses. The applicants claimed the national courts’ interpretation of trafficking laws was overly broad and lacked clarity, leading to uncertainty about the scope of liability. They argued this lack of foreseeability undermined their right to a fair trial and legal certainty under Article 7.

However, the European Court of Human Rights unanimously rejected this argument. The Court found the relevant criminal law provision, Article 147 § 1 of the Lithuanian Criminal Code, did not give rise to ambiguity, and the domestic courts’ interpretation was consistent and sufficiently precise. Crucially, the Court determined the applicants could foresee that their actions of deceiving victims and exploiting them for pornographic services would constitute a trafficking offense. The Court did not find the application of the law to be overly expansive or lacking in safeguards against arbitrary prosecution.

This ruling reinforces the ability of European states to effectively prosecute human trafficking, even as traffickers adapt their methods to the digital realm. As technology continues to transform the landscape of exploitation, robust legal frameworks and victim-centered approaches will be essential in combating this evolving menace.

For further information, please see:

ECHR – Jasuitis and Šimaitis V. Lithuania, App No. 28186/19 and 29092/19 – 12 Mar. 2024

ECHR, Guide on Article 7of the European Convention on Human Rights – No punishment without law:
the principle that only the law can define a crime and prescribe a penalty31 Aug. 2022

UNDOC, Global Report on Trafficking in Perso, U.N. Doc. Sales No. E.20.IV.3 – 2020

ICHR Finds Ecuador Responsible for Violating Whistleblower’s Freedom of Expression

By: Carlos Dominguez Scheid

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica – The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (ICHR) issued a decision on November 27, 2023, with formal notification delivered on March 22, 2024, ruling that Ecuador is responsible for violating the freedom of expression of a whistleblower who reported corruption within the country’s Armed Forces.

Julio Rogelio Viteri Ungaretti | Photo courtesy of BBC News.

The Court’s judgment emphasizes the critical role of freedom of speech in ensuring transparency and accountability in government operations. It brings to light the significant challenges faced by individuals exposing misconduct, especially within military contexts, and establishes an important precedent for handling similar cases across the region.

The case involves Mr. Julio Rogelio Viteri Ungaretti, who reported suspected corruption within the Armed Forces in 2000, resulting in several sanctions against him. The Court reviewed the effects of corruption on democracy and human rights, emphasizing the necessity for states to create a supportive environment for whistleblowers and individuals engaged in anti-corruption activities.

The Court discussed the responsibility following the exercise of free speech concerning corruption allegations, noting that such cases are of public interest due to their impact on human rights. It affirmed the importance of society’s right to be informed about corruption, making such disclosures a protected form of speech under Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights.

The Court stressed that public officials have both the right and duty to report corruption based on reasonable belief and are expected to verify the accuracy of their information as much as possible, without having to confirm its authenticity at the time of reporting. The state is urged to provide adequate channels to facilitate reporting and ensure the protection of whistleblowers, including safeguarding their identity and personal integrity.

Finally, the Court assessed the repercussions of penalizing individuals for exercising their freedom of expression in reporting suspected corruption. It recognized that allegations of corruption involving public officials hold significant public interest and affect human rights, warranting special protection under Article 13 of the Convention. The Court stressed the importance of providing adequate channels for reporting corruption, underscoring the need to facilitate these disclosures and protect those who come forward.

For further information, please see:

Caso Viteri Ungaretti y Otros vs. Ecuador—2022  

Corte Interamericana De Derechos Humanos Caso Viteri Ungaretti Y Otros Vs. Ecuador—27 Nov. 2023

Diplomat Flees To Market Town—26 Nov. 2022

IACHR refers case on Ecuador to the Inter-American Court—16 July 2021






Supreme Court of New Zealand Rules that Individuals Have Standing to Bring Climate Actions

By: Suzan Elzawahry

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

WELLINGTON, New Zealand – On February 7th, 2024, the Supreme Court of New Zealand unanimously reversed a Court of Appeals decision that denied standing to a private citizen attempting to bring a tort action against New Zealand’s biggest carbon emitters. As a result, individuals in New Zealand now have standing to bring tort claims based on carbon emissions and potentially broader claims of man-made climate change. New Zealand may become the first common law jurisdiction to issue damages for a climate tort. If other jurisdictions follow suit, legal protections surrounding the right to life and freedom of belief may be significantly expanded. 

Power lines running through beautiful New Zealand landscapes. | Photo courtesy of Stewart Watson, Getty Images.

Plaintiff, Michael John Smith, is a Maori elder and the climate change spokesperson for his tribe. Initial pleadings stated that the release of greenhouse gas emissions by seven corporations in New Zealand (who made up one third of the country’s total greenhouse gas producers) risked adverse effects upon humankind and irreparable damage to the Maori’s customary and cultural interest in land. The claims were for negligence, tort of nuisance, and a novel claim of the tort of climate damage. 

The Court of Appeals struck down all three claims, stating that they did not amount to a reasonably arguable cause of action. In American Jurisprudence, this is equivalent to granting summary judgement to the defendant for the plaintiff’s failure to state a claim. 

The Supreme Court unanimously reversed this decision and reinstated Smith’s claim, reasoning that, procedurally, the Court is required to assume that the consequence of Defendant’s carbon emissions is Plaintiff’s harm and that it is the job of the trial court to hear further evidence. 

Most notably, the Court paid particular attention to the fact that Mr. Smith’s claim is partially tikanga based. Tikanga is the principle of a genealogical and kinship-based connection to land, fresh water, and sea possessed by the Maori people. Mr. Smith alleges tikanga can form the basis of a tort because an injury to the land is also an injury to himself and his descendants; he argues that the respondent’s actions are the cause of injury to his cultural, spiritual, and nutritional connection to the environment. In their analysis, the Court accepted this argument and expressly recognized the importance of allowing tikanga to inform New Zealand’s body of common law. In recognizing the importance of tikanga and extending legal protections based on it, the Court took a major step towards protecting the freedom of belief. 

Whether Mr. Smith will prevail in his tort claim is something only time will tell. However, the fact that a private citizen now has standing to sue major carbon emitters for tortious conduct is an astounding leap forward in expanding legal protection of the right to life. As carbon emissions continue to unfavorably impact global climates and human life, individuals may begin to find reprieve in their local courts. 

For further information, please see:

Climate Case Chart – Smith v Fonterra – 12 Apr. 2024 

NZSC – Smith v. Fonterra Co-Operative Group – 2024 

Supreme Court of New Zealand – Media Release Michael John Smith v Fonterra Co-Operative Group Limited and Others – 7 Feb. 2024




ECtHR Rules Switzerland’s Climate Inaction Violates Human Rights

By: Neha Chhablani

Visiting Impunity Watch News Writer

STRASBOURG, France – On April 9, 2024, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled on the case of Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz and Others v. Switzerland, finding that Switzerland violated human rights due to its inadequate efforts to meet emissions reduction targets. This ruling marks a new era in climate and human rights litigation. 

Photo of the ECtHR Grand Chamber Hearing of Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz and others v. Switzerland. | Photo courtesy of the European Court of Human Rights.

The case was filed by 2,000 members of KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz (Senior Women for Climate Protection), who claimed that global warming threatens their health and living conditions. Four members of the group submitted an additional complaint that climate change-induced heat waves exacerbate their health problems. KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz had taken its case to multiple national courts and eventually to the Swiss Supreme Court, which dismissed its appeal on May 5, 2020. On December 1, 2020, KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz submitted its case to the ECtHR. A public hearing took place on March 29, 2023, with the final decision released a year later on April 9, 2024. 

KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz’s complaint contained three primary points:

  1. Switzerland’s weak climate policies violated Articles 2 (right to life) and 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
  2. The Swiss Supreme Court’s dismissal of their case violated their right to a fair trial under Article 6 of the ECHR.
  3. Swiss National Courts did not sufficiently explore the contents of their case, violating Article 13, the right to an effective remedy. 

The ECtHR ruled that Switzerland violated Article 8 in a 16-to-1 vote and unanimously voted that it violated Article 6. The court dismissed the complaint related to climate change-induced heat waves, stating that four complainants did not meet victim-status criteria (high intensity of exposure to the adverse effects of climate change and a pressing need to ensure individual protection). The court did not examine potential violations of Articles 2 or 13 given their similarity to those of 6 and 8.

The Court found that Article 8 of the ECHR “encompasses a right to effective protection by the State authorities from the serious adverse effects of climate change on lives, health, well-being and quality of life.” Furthermore, it found significant gaps between Switzerland’s legislative goals regarding emission reduction and its actions such as failing to meet its greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets, quantify greenhouse gas emission limitations, or establish other domestic regulatory frameworks.

Pursuant to Article 6 subsection 1, which states that everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable timeframe, the Court found that Switzerland did not take KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz’s case seriously, failing to consider scientific evidence and unjustly dismissing the case’s merits.

The Court’s decision is legally binding; the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers will supervise Switzerland’s implementation of emission reduction frameworks to redress its violation of the Convention’s Articles.

This ruling not only pressures European governments to reduce GHG emissions but effectively intertwines human rights protection with climate change action; this was the first climate case heard at a regional human rights court. The precedent set by the outcome of Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz and Others v. Switzerland strengthens numerous pending climate-based cases at the ECtHR. Ultimately, the ruling sets new standards for human rights protection and climate action.

For further information, please see:

Climate Change Litigation Database – KlimaSeniorinnen v Switzerland – 12 Apr. 2024

European Court of Human Rights –  Judgment Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz and Others v. Switzerland: Violations of the Convention for failing to implement sufficient measures to combat climate change – 9 Apr. 2024

European Court of Human Rights – European Convention on Human Rights – 12 Apr. 2024

KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz – Climate Action – 12 Apr. 2024

Reuters – Climate verdict for Swiss women a warning for European states, oil industry – 12 Apr. 2024



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