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‘Abduction of Europa’ (Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Amsterdam - 1632 - fragment)

Thursday, 9 January 2014

This week in Strasbourg - A roundup of the European Court of Human Rights' case law - 2014 weeks 1-2



 Texts build on the press releases of the European Court of Human Rights. 
This selection covers categories 1 and 2 judgments.

Article 8 (right to respect for private and family)

Transmission of the father’s surname reflects discrimination based on the parents’ sex 

In the case of Cusan and Fazzo v. Italy the European Court of Human Rights held, by a majority, that there had been a violation of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights, taken together with Article 8 (right to respect for private and family) of the Convention. The case concerned a challenge to transmission of the father’s surname to his children. The Court held that the decision to name a child based on transmission of the father’s surname was based solely on discrimination on the ground of the parents’ sex, and was incompatible with the principle of non-discrimination:

"64.  La Cour rappelle que si une politique ou une mesure générale a des effets préjudiciables disproportionnés sur un groupe de personnes, la possibilité qu’elle soit considérée comme discriminatoire ne peut être exclue même si elle ne vise pas spécifiquement ce groupe (McShane c. Royaume-Uni, no 43290/98, § 135, 28 mai 2002). De plus, seules des considérations très fortes peuvent amener la Cour à estimer compatible avec la Convention une différence de traitement exclusivement fondée sur le sexe (Willis, précité, § 39 ; Schuler-Zgraggen c. Suisse, 24 juin 1993, § 67, série A no 263 ; et Losonci Rose et Rose, précité, § 80).
65.  La Cour rappelle qu’elle a eu l’occasion de traiter des questions en partie similaires dans les affaires Burghartz, Ünal Tekeli et Losonci Rose et Rose, précitées. La première concernait le refus opposé à une demande du mari qui souhaitait faire précéder le nom de famille, en l’occurrence celui de son épouse, du sien propre. La deuxième avait pour objet la règle de droit turc selon laquelle la femme mariée ne peut porter exclusivement son nom de jeune fille après le mariage, alors que l’homme marié garde son nom de famille tel qu’il était avant le mariage. L’affaire Losonci Rose et Rose portait sur la nécessité, en droit suisse, de soumettre une demande commune aux autorités pour les époux souhaitant prendre tous deux le nom de la femme, le nom du mari leur étant autrement attribué par défaut comme nouveau nom de famille après le mariage.
66.  Dans toutes ces affaires, la Cour a conclu à la violation de l’article 14 de la Convention, combiné avec l’article 8. Elle a notamment rappelé l’importance d’une progression vers l’égalité des sexes et de l’élimination de toute discrimination fondée sur le sexe dans le choix du nom de famille. Elle a en outre estimé que la tradition de manifester l’unité de la famille à travers l’attribution à tous ses membres du nom de l’époux ne pouvait justifier une discrimination envers les femmes (voir, notamment, Ünal Tekeli, précité, §§ 64-65).
67.  La Cour ne peut que parvenir à des conclusions analogues dans la présente affaire, où la détermination du nom de famille des « enfants légitimes » s’est faite uniquement sur la base d’une discrimination fondée sur le sexe des parents. La règle en cause veut en effet que le nom attribué soit, sans exception, celui du père, nonobstant toute volonté différente commune aux époux. Par ailleurs, la Cour constitutionnelle italienne elle‑même a reconnu que le système en vigueur procède d’une conception patriarcale de la famille et des pouvoirs du mari, qui n’est plus compatible avec le principe constitutionnel de l’égalité entre homme et femme (paragraphe 17 ci-dessus). La Cour de cassation l’a confirmé (paragraphe 20 ci‑dessus). Si la règle voulant que le nom du mari soit attribué aux « enfants légitimes » peut s’avérer nécessaire en pratique et n’est pas forcément en contradiction avec la Convention (voir, mutatis mutandis, Losonci Rose et Rose, précité, § 49), l’impossibilité d’y déroger lors de l’inscription des nouveau-nés dans les registres d’état civil est excessivement rigide et discriminatoire envers les femmes."

Article 10 (freedom of expression)

Slovakian courts did not pay enough attention to right to freedom of expression in their examination of libel cases against newspaper Nový Čas 

In the cases of Ringier Axel Springer Slovakia, A.S. v. Slovakia (no.2) and Ringier Axel Springer Slovakia, A.S. v. Slovakia (no.3) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights in both cases. The cases concerned the liability of the applicant company for the content of certain articles published in Nový Čas, one of the most widely read newspapers in Slovakia. The first application concerned the applicant’s liability for publishing the identities of the victim of a car accident and the victim’s father. The second application concerned its liability for a separate series of articles which reported that a contestant on the quiz show ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’ was suspected of having cheated. The applicant claimed that, in both cases, finding the company liable had been arbitrary in particular because the Slovakian courts had focused exclusively on the protection of the claimants’ privacy, completely disregarding the company’s right to freedom of expression. In both applications the Court held that the Slovakian courts had failed to examine the elements of the cases that they needed to consider – such as the context of the articles, whether they had been published in good faith, what was their aim, and whether there was a genuine public interest in their publication – in order to balance the newspaper’s right to freedom of expression against the claimants’ right to protection of privacy.
"49.  On the facts of this case, the Court observes that the applicant company published an article bearing on the traffic accident which had claimed the life of B. and on the circumstances of the ensuing investigation and pre-trial detention of A., suggesting that in the course of it the latter’s fundamental rights might have been breached. The article identified B. and C. with their full names, citing, inter alia, a short statement by C. and indicating that he was the Chief District Prosecutor.
50.  C. then sued the applicant company for libel and, as can be seen from his submissions in the domestic proceedings, as well as from the domestic courts’ conclusions, it has been precisely the disclosure of the full names of B. and C. which lay at the heart of his claim and of the courts’ rulings ordering an apology and payment of damages by the applicant company.
51.  The Court notes that the conclusions of the domestic courts stemmed specifically from the facts that the accident constituted a tragedy for the family of C., and that the disclosure of his and his late son’s identity without the former’s consent and in parallel with a description of the accident had revived the family’s suffering.
52.  Conversely, the Court observes that the domestic courts do not appear to have taken full judicial notice of the context and overall content of the impugned article, that is to say not only the part of it which concerned the circumstances of the accident but, and arguably more importantly, the circumstances of the ensuing investigation and detention of A.
53.  The Court notes specifically that the applicant company’s detailed factual and legal argumentation was summarily dismissed by the Constitutional Court in its decision of 18 September 2008 on the ground that a general court could not be held liable for a violation of fundamental rights and freedoms of a substantive nature unless there had been a violation of procedural rules (see paragraph 30 above) and by the Supreme Court in its decision of 24 February 2009 on the ground that the applicant company’s right to have the contested rulings properly reasoned was superseded by the general interest in legal certainty (see paragraph 35 above). No attention appears to have been given by the domestic courts to the presence or absence of good faith on the part of the applicant company, the aim pursued by it in publishing the article or the public interest at stake in correlation with the status of B. and C. and the necessity of disclosing their identity.
54.  Therefore, the Court is of the view that by failing to examine the elements of the case necessary for the assessment of the applicant company’s compliance with its “duties and responsibilities” under Article 10 of the Convention, the domestic courts cannot be said to have “applied standards which were in conformity with the principles embodied in [that provision]” or to have “based themselves on an acceptable assessment of the relevant facts”."

Articles 2 (right to life) and 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment)

Court finds violations of the Convention in further cases concerning the disappearance of 36 men in Russia’s North Caucasus between 2000 and 2006
In the case of Pitsayeva and Others v. Russia the Court held, unanimously, that there had been violations of inter alia Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights, both on account of the disappearance of the applicants’ relatives who were to be presumed dead and on account of the inadequacy of the investigation into the abductions; and a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) in respect of the applicants on account of their relatives’ disappearance and the authorities’ response to their suffering; a violation of Article 5 (right to liberty and security) on account of the unlawful detention of the applicants’ relatives; and, a violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy).

The case concerned the disappearances of 36 men after they were abducted in Chechnya by groups of armed men, in a manner resembling a security operation, between 2000 and 2006. The Court has regularly found violations of the same rights in similar cases in more than 120 judgments, resulting from the disappearances that have occurred in the Northern Caucasus since 1999. It confirmed its conclusion in previous cases that the situation resulted from a systemic problem of non-investigation of such crimes, for which there was no effective remedy at national level.

As to the facts, the Court found that the applicants in all twenty cases had presented a prima facie case that their respective relative(s) had been abducted by State servicemen. The burden of proof had thus been shifted to the Russian Government. The Government had not provided the Court with a satisfactory and convincing alternative explanation for the events. The Court therefore concluded that, in view of their detention in life-threatening circumstances and the long periods without any news of them, the applicants’ relatives should be presumed dead:

“399.  The Court will examine each of the applications in the light of the general principles applicable in cases where the factual circumstances are in dispute between the parties (see El Masri v. “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” [GC], no. 39630/09, §§ 151-53, ECHR 2012).
400.  The Court has addressed a whole series of cases concerning allegations of disappearances in the Chechen Republic. Applying the above mentioned principles, it has concluded that it would be sufficient for the applicants to make a prima facie case of abduction by servicemen, thus falling within the control of the authorities, and it would then be for the Government to discharge their burden of proof either by disclosing the documents in their exclusive possession or by providing a satisfactory and convincing explanation of how the events in question occurred (see, among many examples, Kosumova and Others v. Russia, no. 27441/07, § 67, 7 June 2011, and Aslakhanova and Others, cited above, § 99). If the Government failed to rebut that presumption, this would entail a violation of Article 2 in its substantive part. Conversely, where the applicants failed to make a prima facie case, the burden of proof could not be reversed (see, for example, Tovsultanova v. Russia, no. 26974/06, §§ 77-81, 17 June 2010, and Movsayevy v. Russia, no. 20303/07, § 76, 14 June 2011).
401.  The Court has also found in many cases concerning disappearances in Chechnya that a missing person could be presumed dead. Having regard to the numerous cases of disappearances in the region which have come before it, the Court has found that in the particular context of the conflict, when a person was detained by unidentified State agents without any subsequent acknowledgment of the detention, this could be regarded as life threatening (see, among many others, Bazorkina v. Russia, no. 69481/01, 27 July 2006; Imakayeva v. Russia, no. 7615/02, ECHR 2006 XIII (extracts); Luluyev and Others v. Russia, no. 69480/01, ECHR 2006 VIII (extracts); Baysayeva v. Russia, no. 74237/01, 5 April 2007; Akhmadova and Sadulayeva v. Russia, no. 40464/02, 10 May 2007; Alikhadzhiyeva v. Russia, no. 68007/01, 5 July 2007; and Dubayev and Bersnukayeva v. Russia, nos. 30613/05 and 30615/05, 11 February 2010).
402.  The Court has made findings of presumptions of death in the absence of any reliable news about the disappeared persons for periods ranging from four years (see Askhabova v. Russia, no. 54765/09, § 137, 18 April 2013) to more than ten years.”
 Texts are based on the press releases of the European Court of Human Rights. This selection covers categories 1 and 2 judgments.

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