Conditions of detention in penitentiary establishments at the heart of the latest EIN briefing on implementation of ECtHR judgments

 Chair Andrew Drzemczewski and the NGO representatives

Chair Andrew Drzemczewski and the NGO representatives

On 5th March 2018, the European Implementation Network convened a quarterly civil society briefing with respect to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) cases scheduled for review at the 1310th Human Rights Meeting (DH) of the Committee of Ministers’(CM) Deputies on 13-14 March 2018.

This was the first of four briefings that will be undertaken in 2018 and organised by EIN. The next briefings are expected to be held in May, September and November, approximately two weeks before the respective Human Rights Meetings of the Committee of Ministers’ Deputies.

The meeting took place at the Palais de l’Europe and was attended by representatives of over twenty delegations, as well as by the EU delegation to the Council of Europe. 

The following cases were discussed: Zorica Jovanovic v Serbia, Bragadireanu v Romania, Ciorap v the Republic of Moldova, Kehayov v Bulgaria. Whilst the first case deals with failure to provide information as to the fate of new-born babies alleged to have died in maternity wards, the three other cases concern poor conditions of detention.

A summary of points in the form of 3-5 recommendations made by all presenters on their respective cases can be found here and further information on the discussions at the briefing is provided below.

Zorica Jovanovic v Serbia (Application No 21794/08)

This case concerns failure to provide information as to the fate of new-born babies alleged to have died in maternity wards. In its judgment, the ECtHR held that there had been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention – respect for family life. The Court also ordered remedial measures. Given the significant number of potential applicants, Serbian authorities had to take appropriate measures to establish a mechanism to provide individual redress to all parents in a similar situation, within one year of the judgment becoming final, on September 9, 2013.

 Ana Jankovic-Jovanovic from the Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights, Belgrad

Ana Jankovic-Jovanovic from the Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights, Belgrad

In her presentation, Ms Jankovic-Jovanovic, Legal advisor at the Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights (Belgrade), pointed out that the Republic of Serbia had not yet enacted the special law, lex specialis, which should establish a mechanism capable of investigating the “missing babies” cases upon parents’ complaints (applications). She also underlined the weaknesses of the Draft Law proposed by State Authorities – and currently withdrawn from the parliamentary procedure – which would not allow for investigations of “missing babies” cases and underlined the need to establish a “proper investigative mechanism”. The memo from the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights can be found here. The submissions pursuant to Rule 9.2 of the Committee of Ministers’ Rules for the Supervision of the Execution of Judgments can be found here (2016) and here (2017). The 2017 revised Action Plan from Serbia on this case is available here

Bragadireanu v Romania group of cases (Application No 22088/04)

These cases concern inhuman and/or degrading treatment suffered by the applicants on account of overcrowding and poor material conditions in prisons and police detention facilities and the lack of an effective remedy in this regard; the inadequacy of the medical care provided to some of the applicants and several other dysfunctions regarding the protection of the prisoners' rights (violations of Article 3 ECHR; violation of Article 13 ECHR in the case of Marcu). On 25 January 2018, the Government of Romania communicated its “Timetable for the Implementation of measures 2018 – 2024 to resolve the issue of prison overcrowding and conditions of  detention with a view to executing the pilot-judgment Rezmiveș and others  against Romania delivered by the ECtHR on 25 April 2017”.

Ms. Gheorghe, legal officer at the Association for the Defence of Human Rights in Romania - the Helsinki Committee, underlined in her presentation that this document had not been debated or submitted to public consultations. In addition, she highlighted the fact that financial resources to build new accommodation places in prison were not detailed, with the exception of EEA grants. Her memo identifying key problems and recommendations on detention conditions in Romanian prisons and police lock-ups can be found here. The latest action plan of the Romanian authorities submitted in January 2018 can be found here

Ciorap v the Republic of Moldova (Application Nos 12066/02, 9190/03, 39806/05)

The Ciorap group of cases mainly concern poor conditions of detention in Prison No. 13 in Chisinau and the lack of effective domestic remedies in this respect. The ECtHR found the following main problems regarding conditions of detention in Prison No. 13: (extreme) overcrowding; unsanitary conditions / hygiene; insufficiency and low quantity of food.

On 11 January 2018, the Government of the Republic of Moldova submitted a revised Action Plan for the execution of these judgments. In respect of general measures, it mainly refers to a compensatory remedy that entered into force on 20 December 2017 (Law No 163 of 20 July 2017). The Government admitted that the overcrowding of Prison No. 13 still was a problem, as well as the “massive granting of prosecutors’ motions for pre‐trial detention”.

 Nadejda Hriptievschi, Legal Resources Centre from Moldova

Nadejda Hriptievschi, Legal Resources Centre from Moldova

Nadejda Hriptievschi, Director of Programs at the Legal Resource Centre from Moldova, focused in her presentation on material conditions of detention in Prison No. 13, as well as on the domestic remedy introduced for detention in poor conditions. She highlighted the possibility to overcome the problem of overcrowding through the application of non-custodial preventive measures, until the construction of a new prison is finished. She also called for training measures for relevant stakeholders to ensure that “the new remedy introduced to address the problem of detention in bad conditions (be) effectively applied in practice”.

The memo of Ms Hriptievschi can be found here. You can also find the Rule 9.2. communications from the Legal Resources Centre from Moldova on this case here (2016) and here (2018). 

Kehayov v Bulgaria (Application Nos 41035/98 36925/10)

This group of cases concerns inhuman and degrading treatment of the applicants in penitentiary facilities between 1996 and 2016, in particular owing to overcrowding, poor sanitary and material conditions, limited possibilities for out-of-cell activities, inadequate medical care and prolonged application of a restrictive penitentiary regime, in respect of accused or convicted persons, combined with the effects of inadequate material conditions (violations of Article 3 ECHR). In certain cases, the Court also found that there was no preventive remedy and that there were various shortcomings in the functioning of the domestic compensatory remedy (violations of Article 13 ECHR).

 Ecaterina-Georgiana Gheorghe, Association for the Defence of Human Rights in Romania, the Helsinki-Committee, and Adela Katchaounova, Bulgarian Helsinki Committee

Ecaterina-Georgiana Gheorghe, Association for the Defence of Human Rights in Romania, the Helsinki-Committee, and Adela Katchaounova, Bulgarian Helsinki Committee

Ms Katchaounova, Legal Programme Director at the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, underlined that, whilst one could witness some improvement of living conditions in some prisons and prison hostels, there was still need for renovation in prisons buildings. Similarly, conditions in investigative detention facilities remained problematic, she said. As far as the legal remedy is concerned, Ms Katchaounova underlined the progress made through the 2017 Act which amended Article 3 of the Execution of Punishments and Pre-Trial Detention Act, noting however that it was too early to estimate the effectiveness of these dedicated preventive and compensatory remedies. Ms Katchaounova’s memo and the most recent Rule 9.2. submission made by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee on this group of cases can be found here. You can also consult the 2017 Action Plan of Bulgaria on this group of cases and its addendum



EIN launches new office in Strasbourg

   EIN Secretariat near the European Court of Human Rights and other Council of Europe organs.

EIN Secretariat near the European Court of Human Rights and other Council of Europe organs.

EIN launches new office in Strasbourg

On 3 January 2018, the European Implementation Network (EIN) opened its first physical office in Strasbourg. The office serves as the secretariat for Network members and partners across Europe and is located at the premises of René Cassin Foundation - International Institute of Human Rights.

Based just next to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), the office will enable the Network to maintain regular operations and activities and strengthen interaction and engagement with Council of Europe entities and Permanent Representations of Council of Europe member states in support of the implementation of human rights judgments of the ECtHR.

The move was made possible thanks to Jean-Paul Costa, President of the René Cassin Foundation; Sébastien Touzé, the Foundation’s Director; and the rest of the Foundation team, who agreed to provide EIN with its own working space separate from the Foundation.

The move to a physical office marks another important development in EIN history. Initially conceived as a project of Judgment Watch, an organisation in Geneva dedicated to advocating the implementation of human rights judgments across the globe, EIN and the Open Society Justice Initiative began convening joint quarterly briefings in 2015 on ECtHR judgments for the Committee of Ministers, the Council of Europe body that supervises the implementation process. In January 2017, EIN was legally registered as an association in Strasbourg following its launch event in December 2016 at the ECtHR. The first EIN Director as well as the Finance and Events Officer were hired during 2017. The inaugural EIN training seminar for Network members and partners, focused on strengthening the role of NGOs in the judgement execution process of the Committee of Ministers, took place in February 2018 in Warsaw at the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights.

   Kevin Steeves, EIN Director, and Agnès Ciccarone, EIN Finance and Events     Officer, in front of the René Cassin Foundation, home of the EIN Secretariat

Kevin Steeves, EIN Director, and Agnès Ciccarone, EIN Finance and Events Officer, in front of the René Cassin Foundation, home of the EIN Secretariat

Measuring and improving engagement by NGOs in the Committee of Ministers’ execution of judgments process

In this article EIN’s Treasurer, Nigel Warner, explores how to measure the level of engagement of NGOs in the Committee of Ministers’ execution of judgments process, and what that level of engagement might, ideally, be. [1] He also sets out some practical steps for increasing this level of engagement, as suggested by his analysis. The article is intended to encourage discussion and thinking about these questions and is very far from definitive.[2]

 EIN Treasurer Nigel Warner

EIN Treasurer Nigel Warner

The Council of Europe’s process for ensuring execution of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights is arguably the most developed and rigorous international system for enforcing compliance with human rights in existence. The Committee of Ministers’ procedural rules give NGOs the unfettered right to make submissions. In many cases these submissions can make a vital contribution to the process’s effectiveness. Indeed, without them the Committee of Ministers can be put in a position where it hears only one side of the argument. An analogy – if inexact – is that of a trial where only one party is represented.   

A relative newcomer to this topic, I have gained first-hand experience of the merits of the process through my work for ILGA-Europe (the European Region of the International, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual,Trans and Intersex Association) supporting implementation of cases relating to the LGBTI community. I therefore find myself both baffled by the extent of the under-engagement of civil society, and intrigued by the question as to what the level of engagement should be. The headline figures could not be starker: in recent years the number of cases pending before the Committee of Ministers has been running at approximately 10,000.[3] Yet NGOs and NHRIs together (the figures are not collected or published separately) make only 80 or 90 submissions a year.[4]

So how can we get the 10,000 cases down to a realistic figure for the number meriting NGO intervention? The first step is straight forward: many cases raise identical issues, and would not of themselves merit separate submissions. The execution of judgments process deals with this problem by making a distinction between these “repetitive cases” and “leading cases”. The latter are defined as cases which give rise to new structural and/or systemic problems, and therefore require new general measures for effective implementation.[5] It seems clear that these are the cases which civil society should generally be targeting. In recent years the number of pending leading cases has been stable at around the 1500 level.[6]

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But this figure also overstates the number of cases civil society should address, since some leading cases are implemented straightforwardly and promptly without the need for submissions.[7] Quantifying these cases would require a detailed study. However, the proportion of cases resolved relatively quickly by the Committee of Ministers provides a rough surrogate for this figure. Of leading cases closed in 2015 and 2016, approximately 30% were closed within two years, reducing the proportion we need to consider – in very approximate terms – to perhaps 70%.

This may also be too high. For example, some leading cases may not raise issues of such general concern as to merit intervention by civil society. In others, the facts as to whether or not implementation has taken place may be sufficiently clear without civil society intervention. Again, detailed studies would be required to quantify these and other factors. In the absence of such research, or any other way of quantifying this figure, let us – for the sake of argument - assume this reduces the proportion needing consideration to an entirely hypothetical figure of 50%.

Turning now to the figures for current NGO involvement, what follows is based on data accessible for the first time because of the launch in March 2017 by the Department for the Execution of Judgments of its database, HUDOC-EXEC.

As noted above, the combined figure for submissions by NGOs and NHRIs is only 80 to 90 a year. Further research shows that this is not a useful metric because some cases – particularly property related cases - attract a disproportionately high number of submissions, leaving the number of cases addressed much lower: HUDOC-EXEC data that I have analysed manually shows that NGOs made 182 submissions over the 2 ½ year period from January 2015 to June 2017, but only addressed 95 cases.

So far I have tried to identify the number of cases meriting NGO intervention by starting from the total population of cases - and eliminating categories of case based on increasingly wild assumptions. Another – very pragmatic – approach to try to reach a figure is by taking the intervention rate in the country where NGOs have achieved the highest rate of engagement, and assuming this, or something not too different, is feasible across all countries.  Based on my analysis of HUDOC-EXEC data, this is Poland, where NGOs have engaged with 10 leading cases over the last two and half years, compared to 34 such cases pending at the end of 2016. In very approximate terms, a 25% level of engagement was achieved.

However, even this approach runs into problems because many states have excessively high levels of leading cases. The chart below compares leading cases by country pending at the end of 2016 with the number of cases addressed by civil society submissions over the two and half years up to June 2017. Bulgaria, Croatia, Italy, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine all had between 60 and (in the case of Russia) 204 leading cases pending at the end of 2016. It is perhaps too much to expect that NGOs in all these countries can be resourced to the point where they can engage effectively with a significant proportion of these cases.

In summary, it will have become evident that there is no easy answer to the question “what should be the level of engagement of NGOs in the execution of judgments process?”. The best that can be said is that, based on the (admittedly very broad) assumptions I have made above, in those countries where the number of leading cases is not excessive, a target level might be somewhere between 25% and 50%.

A by-product of my analysis of the HUDOC-EXEC data was to reveal the extent of involvement of NHRIs.This turned out – to me at least – to be inexplicably low. In the whole of the 2 ½ year period, NHRIs made nine submissions addressing just eight cases. Just eight.[8]

So what lies behind this under-engagement by NGOs and the NHRIs in the execution of judgments process? So far as NGOs are concerned, some reasons generally recognised are: a lack of knowledge about the execution of judgments process; the lack of transparency and remoteness of the process; and the fact that many cases are initiated by individuals without civil society support, so that NGOs may not be aware of them, or may not feel ownership of them. A further – and very important - factor is lack of resources. While no doubt a problem in most countries, lack of resources is likely to be a particularly serious concern for NGOs in those states with an excessive number of leading cases.

These explanations all no doubt also apply in the case of NHRIs. To them can probably be added, in some countries, a reluctance to challenge their national authorities in a high-profile international forum.

EIN will shortly be starting a programme of work addressing some of the concerns relating to NGOs, including training seminars, a handbook for civil society on engaging with the execution of judgments process, and outreach to civil society. The information assembled in this article suggests a number of further initiatives:

·       The low engagement by NHRIs is a major issue. The European Network of National Human Rights institutions has Observer Status at the Steering Group for Human Rights (CDDH), and has published guidelines for its members on implementing ECtHR judgments. More is needed. The Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights has a mandate to “facilitate the activities of national ombudsperson institutions and other human rights structures” and would therefore seem to be the appropriate Council of Europe institution to encourage further involvement by NHRIs. So far as HUDOC-EXEC is concerned, the fact that statistics for NGO and NHRI submissions are shown as one figure conceals the extent of the latter’s under-engagement. Identifying NHRI submissions separately would be a useful step towards their greater engagement.

·       As noted, increased resourcing for NGOs is very important, particularly in those countries with high levels of leading cases. There is a need to raise the awareness of funders of the strengths of the execution of judgments process, and the merits of targeting funding to support NGOs in this work. NGOs can play their part by including work on the implementation of judgments in their funding applications.

·       HUDOC-EXEC makes it possible to identify new leading cases entering the execution of judgments process. This offers a mechanism for alerting domestic NGOs to new cases so that they can assess whether a particular case merits intervention in domestic and Council of Europe implementation processes, and if so, how this can be resourced. Recent statistics suggest new leading cases come through at the rate of approximately 20 per month.



[1] Throughout this article the term "execution of judgments" refers to the Committee of Ministers’ execution of judgments process. "Implementation of judgments" is used to refer to implementation at the domestic level, or the combined domestic and Strasbourg processes.

[2] The article is written in a personal capacity, and does not necessarily reflect the views of EIN.

[3] Supervision of the Execution of Judgments and Decisions of the European Court of Human Rights - 10th Annual Report of the Committee of Ministers – page 50.

[4] Ibid. – page 66.

[5] Ibid. – page 43.

[6] Ibid – page 47.

[7] This statement is based on my experience of cases involving the LGBTI community such as: Vallianatos and Others v. Greece  (29381/09); Oliari and Others v. Italy (Application nos. 18766/11; Taddeucci and McCall v. Italy; and A.P. v. France (App. no. 79885/12).

[8] The NHRIs were as follows: Czech Republic - Public Defender of Rights; France - Commission Nationale Consultative des Droits de l'homme; Georgia - Public Defender of Georgia; Ireland - Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission; Serbia - Mediator; Slovenia - Ombudsman; United Kingdom - Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission; United Kingdom - Equality and Human Rights Commission.