Council of Europe
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On June 2, upon the request of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) issued a preliminary opinion on Hungary’s draft law regarding foreign-funded non-governmental organizations (NGOs), concluding that while the law serves the legitimate aim of achieving transparency within civil society, its requirements and penalties are too strict. [Venice Commission Press Release] While the Hungarian government subsequently announced that it planned to submit a revised version of the law, on June 13 Hungary’s parliament passed an amended version that reportedly does not accommodate for all of the Venice Commission’s recommendations. [Washington Post; New York Times] The law, as presented to the Venice Commission, requires organizations receiving at least 7.2 million forints (approximately 24,000 Euros or 26,000 USD) to register as organizations “receiving support from abroad” and provides for the possible dissolution of an organization as a penalty for non-compliance – an option the Venice Commission would like to see stricken. The law presented to the Venice Commission also requires civil society organizations to abstain from receiving foreign funding for a period of three years prior to beginning the deregistration process – an obligation the Venice Commission finds excessive and believes should be replaced with a one-year period. The Venice Commission also suggested that the rationale behind the exclusion of several types of organizations, including sports and religious establishments, be clarified, among other recommendations. See European Commission for Democracy Through Law, Draft Law on the Transparency of Organisations Receiving Support from Abroad (Hungary), Opinion 889/2017, CDL-PI(2017)002, Preliminary Opinion of 2 June 2017. Reports indicate that the amended law as passed still allows for dissolution of organizations not in compliance but now only requires organizations to refrain from receiving foreign funding for two years before entering the process to deregister, a standard that fails to meet the Venice Commission’s recommendation of one year. [Washington Post; Politico] International experts and bodies as well as civil society members have expressed concern over the law as well, particularly as it appears to reflect a trend in the region to restrict civil society organizations and a trend to, according to the Council of Europe’s (COE) Commissioner of Human Rights, backslide on the right to freedom of association. [COE Press Release; HRW; Independent] Read more
The United Nations Human Rights Council
Credit: UN Photo/Elma Okic
In the month of June, several United Nations bodies and experts as well as a regional court will hold sessions, conduct country visits, or convene a hearing. Three United Nations treaty bodies will meet throughout June to review States’ compliance with their treaty obligations related to the rights of the child; economic, social, and cultural rights; and torture. The United Nations Human Rights Council will hold its 35th Session to consider various thematic and country-specific reports from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), United Nations independent experts, and the Secretary-General. Additionally, the Human Rights Council will host discussions on topics related to public health, unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents, the human rights of women, and the Council’s technical cooperation and capacity-building. Two United Nations working groups will conduct country visits to explore the issues of human rights and transnational corporations, and enforced or involuntary disappearances. Regionally, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights will hear a case concerning allegations of torture and the right to a fair trial.
The UN treaty body sessions and the public hearings of the European Court may be watched via UN Web TV and the European Court’s website, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit IJRC’s Hearings & Sessions Calendar. Read more
European Commission of the EU
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The European Commission, a body of the European Union, adopted a proposal to endorse the European Pillar of Social Rights that sets out 20 key principles and rights aimed at improving working and living conditions of persons within the EU, focusing specifically on labor markets and welfare systems. The principles and rights in the Pillar draw on already existing law in the region, both within the EU and the Council of Europe, and on legal instruments established through the United Nations. In particular, the Pillar draws on the 1989 Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers, the European Social Charter, and the European Code of Social Security of the Council of Europe. The Pillar makes binding EU legal provisions more explicit and understandable for citizens and stakeholders, and expands on elements of already existing law, specifically as they relate to equal opportunities and access to the labor market, fair working conditions, and social protection and inclusion. See European Commission, Commission Staff Working Document (2017), at 2-4. A scoreboard will monitor and assess the compliance of EU Member States with the principles of the Pillar. See European Commission, Scoreboard.
Supporting the idea that the social and economic realms of Europe are intertwined, the Pillar’s goal is to curb employment and social challenges in the current financial and economic context, including the challenges that arose from the economic crisis, such as long-term unemployment. See European Commission, Proposal for an Interinstitutional Proclamation on the European Pillar of Social Rights (2017), at 4. The Pillar will be presented as a European Commission Recommendation and as a proposal for joint proclamation by the Parliament, the Council, and the Commission in the EU. The Council of Europe, a separate regional intergovernmental organization to which all EU Member States are a party, has also shown its support for the Pillar. [COE Press Release] Read more
The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly
Credit: Council of Europe
Due to “serious concerns” about Turkey’s compliance with its human rights obligations and the erosion of democratic institutions and functions, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) decided in a resolution issued last week to reinstate Turkey into its monitoring procedure, a process by which PACE ensures Council of Europe Member States are in compliance with their human rights obligations. [COE Press Release; Guardian: Pressure] While under monitoring, human rights officials will repeatedly visit the country and a progress report will be presented to PACE in 2018. [Guardian: Pressure] See Parliamentary Assembly, Resolution 2156, The functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey, 25 April 2017, para. 39. The resolution expresses PACE’s concerns about the Turkish government’s respect for “human rights, democracy and the rule of law,” particularly the actions taken under the ongoing state of emergency in the country, which PACE states has gone beyond “what is necessary and proportionate,” and the more recent steps towards consolidation of executive power through a constitutional amendment. [New York Times; COE Press Release; Guardian: Coup] The Assembly calls upon the State to lift its state of emergency, discontinue the improper use of emergency decree laws, release those who have been detained, and restore freedom of expression, among other requests. [COE Press Release] Previously, Turkey’s first monitoring procedure was closed in 2004 when the Assembly was satisfied that the State was meeting its obligations. See Parliamentary Assembly, The Monitoring Procedure of the Parliamentary Assembly. Turkey is obligated to guarantee the rights to life, liberty, and freedom of expression as a State party to the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Read more
European Court of Human Rights
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On April 6, 2017, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that France’s requirement that two transgender applicants first undergo an irreversible identity change through an operation or sterilizing treatment in order to correct their “sex” designation on their birth certificates violated Article 8 (right to respect for private life) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The ECtHR determined that such a requirement impermissibly conditioned the recognition of the right to respect for private life on forgoing the right to respect for one’s physical integrity. See ECtHR, AP., Garçon and Nicot v. France, Nos. 79885/12, 5247/13, 52596/13, ECHR 2017, Judgment of 6 April 2017, para. 131 (French version). The ECtHR found no violation of Article 8, however, where French law required an applicant to prove that they suffered from gender identity disorder before the State would grant a change to their birth certificate under the category of “sex.” See id. at para. 139. Similarly, the ECtHR held there was no violation of Article 8 where an applicant was ordered by a French court to undergo a medical examination to confirm the applicant’s sex reassignment surgery. See id. at para. 150-152.
The Court did note the expansion of transgender rights at the national and international levels, including in France where since the applicants submitted their claims, the law has changed so that corrections to official sex designations are no longer conditioned upon irreversible medical procedures or sterilization treatments, but rather require publicly presenting oneself as the claimed sex; being recognized by family, friends, and colleagues as their claimed sex; and evidence that their name has been changed to correspond with their claimed sex. The Council of Europe has called for an end to the practice of conditioning the recognition of an individual’s chosen gender identity in official documents on medical procedures and treatment. See id. at paras. 68-69, 75-77. Read more
María Soledad Cisternas Reyes, the former Chairperson of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, speaks at a press conference
Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe
On March 23, 2017, a chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that Finland did not violate the rights of a Finnish national with an intellectual disability, A.-M.V., when the domestic court refused to replace his mentor who would not allow him to move to his choice of residence. A.-M.V. desired to live in a village far from his hometown because his foster family had moved there, but his mentor denied his wishes, finding it best that he remain where his biological family resides. Before the ECtHR, he alleged violations of Article 8 (the right to respect for private and family) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 to the European Convention (the right to freedom of movement). See ECtHR, A.-M.V. v. Finland, no. 53251/13, Judgment of 23 March 2017. The Court found that there had been an interference to A.-M.V.’s right to respect for private and family life, but that given the facts of this case, the interference was justified as it balanced A.-M.V.’s will and preferences with “the need to protect his interests.” See id. at paras. 91-94.
The ECtHR took into account Article 12 of the United Nations International Covenant on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (ICRPD), noting that the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) – the treaty body that monitors compliance with the ICRPD and interprets its provisions – requires States to replace substitute decision-making models, often found in guardianship laws, with a supported decision-making model. The latter, according to the Committee, takes into account the person’s will and preferences while the former does not. See id. at paras. 42-45. The Court also acknowledged a third party submission elaborating on supported decision-making models, which, the third party explained, guards against overriding the preferences of the person with a disability. See id. at paras. 66-68. Read more