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[afro-nets] Human Rights Court That Countries Have to Answer to

  • From: "Claudio Schuftan" <claudio@hcmc.netnam.vn>
  • Date: Fri, 1 Sep 2006 11:58:42 +0700

Human Rights Court That Countries Have to Answer to

From: "David Werner" <healthwrights@igc.org>

Court That Countries Have to Answer to.

By Jay Walljasper, Ode
August 26, 2006

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is a special judicial body upholding the European Convention on Human Rights, a 1950 treaty now signed by 46 nations. Headquarters are in Strasbourg, France, where judges from Cyprus, Norway, Azerbaijan, Luxembourg, Croatia, Greece and Russia consider cases. The European Court of Human Rights is like no other court in the world. Its basic premise is that individuals have the right to bring human-rights cases before these judges if they believe that justice has not been served in national courts -- even going so far as to challenge the rulings of their own governments. Nations must then abide by their ruling. This seems astonishing in an era when the world's dominant power, the United States, acts as though it is not bound by any treaty or convention, and routinely defies judgments of international bodies. The ECHR can actually set policy for all of Europe. It has jurisdiction over every corner of Europe except the Vatican and notoriously corrupt Belarus. It plays a powerful role in creating continent-wide minimum standards on a wide range of issues ranging from freedom of religion and election procedures to property rights and family law.

Indeed, the European Court of Human Rights can be credited with transforming European society on a number of issues:
? Abolishing the death penalty, based on 1983 and 2002 revisions of the European Convention on Human Rights
? Confirming gay rights, based on judgments throwing out anti-sodomy laws in the UK and Ireland
? Expanding freedom of the press, based on a Danish case
? Establishing the precedent that European nations will not extradite criminal suspects to the United States if those people face the death penalty in American courts
? Outlawing excessive force by police, based on a French case.

It is quite revolutionary that court can overrule a national government. But no country likes to be accused of a human-rights violation. No government can say now that they don't care about human rights. That gives the court real power. The court also counts on the media to give negative coverage of offending countries.

Prospective EU members with questionable human-rights records, such as Bulgaria and especially Turkey, understand compliance with the ECHR is critical for their acceptance into the EU.

Overall, the court's success in serving justice has been remarkable given its lack of direct power in carrying out decisions. Only a fraction of the almost 6,000 judgments over the past 30 years have posed any problems in enforcement. Despite being a thorn in their side, governments see the Court as a necessity.

The court's biggest obstacle right now is the inexorably rising tide of cases. The backlog stands at 80,000, which means long delays in hearings and rulings. The Council of Europe, which sponsors the court, recently announced funding for 50 more lawyers to be added to the ECHR staff.

The European Convention on Human Rights, enacted in 1950,remains the foundation of all ECHR work. In a series of rulings, which started off timidly in the 1950s but has grown more confident since the 1970s, the court has shaped a common set of human-rights policies for member nations.

One of the key accomplishments of the court through its history has been to establish common principles on human rights across nations with very distinct cultural and legal traditions. The court keeps its focus on the outcomes of human-rights policies, not on the means used to achieve them. A growing number of observers believe that now, as economic globalization ties the world together, it's time for an international court to promote human rights all over the planet.

The court, however, expands the idea of people's rights. It's a good model for regional legal institutions, and perhaps that could lead someday to a global court.

Two regional courts already exist: the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, established in 1987 and based in Banju, Gambia; and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, established in 1979 and based in San José, Costa Rica. The Inter-American Court encompasses 25 members, including nearly all Latin American nations, and some from the Caribbean, but not the United States or Canada.

The court has proved among European states that it works. It is a viable idea to do it on an international basis.

View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/40502/

David Werner