Update: 19.02.2010

Declaration adopted at the Interlaken Conference on the Reform of the European Court of Human Rights

During its Chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, Switzerland organized a High Level Conference on the Future of the European Court of Human Rights, that took place in Interlaken on 18-19 February 2010. The aim of the conference was to find a solution for the chronic overload of the Court in Strasbourg, despite the entry into force of Protocol Nr. 14. A joint declaration, including a plan of action, was adopted. The Swiss Confederation said it was satisfied with the results. Because it doesn't entitle concrete plans, the Interlaken Declaration should rather be understood as a strong political statement. State members affirmed their common will to further establish the good functioning of the Court. It remains difficult to know if such a declaration will put reticent countries such as Russia - who did ratify the additional protocol 14 last January -  under sufficient pressure.

Action Plan

The Interlaken Declaration contains an ambitious plan of action for the years to come. It assures that the reform of the Court will remain an important object of the Ministers' Committee. Before the end of 2010, state members were asked to show which measures they took to discharge the Court. Unfortunately, no concrete proposals were made on the complementary mechanism to the additional protocol 14. The measures proposed by the state members could be discussed during the ministers' conference planed on 11 May 2010 - the last day of the Swiss Presidency.

Besides, the Interlaken Declaration gives no indications of additional financial means - on the opposite, it repeatedly states that the Court's reform must be made with the available means. One of the main NGOs claims remains therefore unheard: "A proposal to charge fees for filing an application, which received some support, could curtail access to the Court for people in Europe who are unable to pay the Court fees. Equality before the law and access to an effective remedy are rights that states simply cannot sell out." said Jill Heine Amnesty International's Legal Advisor for Europe.

States are held responsible

By repeating the principle of subsidiary, the Interlaken Declaration reminds the primary responsibility of the states members. They must respect the Court's decisions and implement them. The future will tell if the Declaration will weight enough to reform political practices of reticent countries such as Russia, Turkey, Romania or Ukraine, main providers of the chronically surcharged Human Rights European Court of Human Rights.

International call by human rights NGOs

Preparing the Conference, Switzerland had made declaration proposals (see articles in French or German) that included, in human rights organizations view, unacceptable restrictions. An international coalition of human rights organizations made a statement related to the reform of the Court.  What is needed, they say is "olitical will by the 47 Council of Europe states to respect the European Convention on Human Rights, to ensure effective domestic remedies for violations of Convention rights, to implement and ensure the implementation of the Court’s judgments and to adequately resource the European Court of Human Rights and the Department of Execution of Judgments". See more under the link below.

Any NGO of the Council of Europe member States may sign this call. An Europeigoteam@amnesty.org is enough. Like many other organisations, Humanrights.ch already signed it. The list of supportive organizations will be joined to a letter, that will be handed over to the Chairwoman of the Interlaken Conference, the Swiss Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey.

Finally the Human Rights Court's Reform can begin

After many years of blockade, Russia finally approved the ratification of Protocol 14 to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights (ECHR), which paves the way for court reform. On 15 January 2010, the State Duma finally supported the a long-delayed reform of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg, boosting an institution often critical of Moscow. This is a success for the implementation of human rights within the Council of Europe. With 392 votes in favour and 56 opposed, reversing its previous rejection of the protocol in 2006, the Duma vote seems to have been possible because Russia saws its interests preserved by the Court's reform. Indeed, one Russian representative will court among the judges and one among the group of experts on the judgments' implementation.

The decision was a relief to the Palais de l'Europe in Strasburg. «By joining the other 46 member states, Russia is sending a strong signal of its commitment to Europe,» declared the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, and it «reinforce its vital role in defending the human rights of individual citizens throughout Europe».

On Protocol No.14

The urgent need to adjust the control mechanism of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights was cited as a principal reason for the adoption of Protocol No. 14 to the Convention on 13 May 2004. In its introduction, it states the urgent need to «maintain and improve the efficiency of the control system for the long term, mainly in the light of the continuing increase in the workload» of the European Court of Human Rights. In particular, it reminds the role of the Court in Strasburg to play a pre-eminent role in protecting human rights in Europe. 

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