The UN’s Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers Diego García-Sayán has been particularly affected by the visible lack of action on the part of the exemplary European Court of Human Rights regarding the serious violations of human rights in Turkey. With hundreds of judges still imprisoned, organisations of lawyers destroyed and their members also in prison, it is alarming that the Court is acting as if judicial institutions and legal defence are still functioning normally.
One is left with a feeling of ambivalence when adding up the balance on the 70th anniversary of both the American and the Universal Declaration On Human Rights. Referring to Clint Eastwood’s emblematic 1966 spaghetti western we could perhaps summarise the spread of appreciation as the good, the bad and the ugly.
As far as the good goes, three aspects stand out. First, worldwide democratic rights are now on balance not only stronger than in 1948 but awareness of these rights is much more widespread. In various regions, there has been notable progress in democratic rights: for example, the democratization in Latin America, or the effect that the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin wall had in Europe.
Secondly, the codification and extension of rights in universal or interamerican treaties. Not only do they demand compliance, but they have established a wide range of rights beyond the civil and political rights which were stipulated in a very broad and general sense in the Declarations of 1948. Topics absent in 1948 now take pride of place on the democratic agendas such as women’s rights, the rights of indigenous peoples and non-discrimination regarding sexual orientation.
Thirdly, people have access to international systems of justice. This takes matters beyond the mere declaration of the number of rights and translates them into internationally actionable obligations. Several international bodies of universal protection and regional courts stand out. In Europe and America, this comes in the form of two active regional tribunals which people may access if justice has been denied to them at home. More recently the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights has been added to these.
The bad: old violations persist, and new ones occur. Endless and relentless dictatorships persist in Asia, Africa and, to a lesser extent, Latin America, with the accompanying denial of the most elementary democratic rights. In addition to the survival of practices and policies in various countries, new and vigorous authoritarianism rears its ugly head not only in what used to be called the third world, but even in Europe itself. In countries such as Hungary, Poland, and Turkey (on the doorstep of Europe) judicial independence is under siege .
Beyond attacks of authoritarianism and regression of democracy there are other spheres of human life which are being threatened in a different way, with much more force and fierceness than in the past. Aspects of the negative side of the balance are global warming and the attack on the environment; all man’s doing. The unstoppable destruction of marine life and the deforestation as a result of uncontrolled illegal gold mining in the Amazonian region, for example, are taking place at the present time with impunity that may well be reinforced by policies like the ones announced by Bolsonaro in Brazil.
The ugly: institutional processes that are threatened or changed by geopolitical interests. I confess that I have been particularly affected by the visible lack of action on the part of the exemplary European Court of Human Rights regarding the serious violations of human rights in Turkey. It is disheartening to see that 30.063 claims presented on cases in Turkey have been declared “inadmissible” in the European Court in 2017 on grounds of “exhaustion of internal resources”.
With hundreds of judges still imprisoned, organisations of lawyers destroyed and their members also in prison, it is alarming that one is acting as if judicial institutions and legal defence are still functioning normally. Does Europe fail to act because of an apparent interest in not upsetting a country that blocks the migration of refugees? An ugly theme to follow.