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Return to the roots of ECtHR

This week, on 7-8 April, Oslo hosted a conference discussing the future of the European Court of Human Rights The event, organised under the auspices of the Council of Europe, became one of the most important in a series of debates on the Court’s long-term future started with the Brighton Conference in 2012.

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, together with 20 organisations from Central and Eastern Europe, drafted an open letter to the conference participants. In their joint statement the organisations acknowledged the role of the ECtHR’s case law in the remedying of structural deficiencies which appear in countries in democratic transition.

“In the open letter, the organisations emphasise that the preservation of the Court and the human rights protection system should become a European priority”, says Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska, HFHR’s lawyer. “States must reaffirm their commitment to fulfill the Convention obligations. A return to the root ideas of the Convention is required, but it is also necessary to grant institutional and financial support to the Court”, adds Ms Bychawska-Siniarska.

The organisations remembered that the Council of Europe’s philosophical and political roots go back to the fight and resistance against Nazism and Fascism and are based on the belief that the horrors and crimes caused by these ideologies should never be allowed to re-appear. The founding fathers of the Convention System were determined to create a united Europe, well-entrenched in a solid basis of strong, common values and ideas. These fundamentals, as well as the member states’ determination to uphold them, are the reason why the mechanism has survived and flourished for more than 60 years. The respect for the case law of the ECtHR and the proper implementation of its judgments at a national level are key elements of the Convention System’s progress and effectiveness.

On the other hand, the organisations noted that certain member states have been vehemently attacking and questioning the European Court of Human Rights’ legitimacy. This behaviour has appeared during the Strasbourg Court’s reform process when attempts have been made to limit the possibility of lodging an individual application or introduce the requirement of professional legal representation. Such a hostile approach also resulted in the formulation of political statements disrespectful of the Court and the Registry. The consequences of these actions may negatively affect individuals, human rights defenders and NGOs from the countries where the Court is often the only hope for justice.

“The system of the European Convention on Human Rights, despite the criticisms it faces and the ECtHR’s backlog of cases, is globally regarded as the most effective human rights protection mechanism. Many other parts of the world may only envy Europe”, says Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska.

The open letter is available for reading here.

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