The European Court of Human Rights: A body under pressure | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 18.02.2010
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The European Court of Human Rights: A body under pressure

Increasing numbers of people suffering rights abuses are bringing cases before the European Court of Human Rights. The future of the court will be up for discussion when ministers meet in Switzerland this week.

European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg, France

The court is in Strasbourg, France

The European Court of Human Rights has grown in importance in recent years and now has over 100,000 cases on its plate. On Thursday, a two-day ministerial conference kicks off that could shape the future of the court.

The justice ministers from the 47-member states of the Council of Europe meet in the Swiss town of Interlaken to reaffirm their commitment to protecting human rights on the continent.

But more than this, a central aim of the meeting will be how the Strasbourg-based court can cope with the growing volume of applications being brought before it.

At the start of this year, the court had 119,300 pending cases. More than half of the applications had been lodged against one of four countries: Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and Romania.

Enforcing compliance

The court has delivered over 10,000 judgments since it was reformed in 1998. Now it concentrates on complex cases, which means it issues fewer decisions than it had in the past.

At Interlaken ministers will discuss how the court can better monitor the execution of its judgments. On a national level, countries are expected to comply with the court's verdicts, although the body has no power to enforce compliance. Critics say the court is toothless.

One way the court will be looking to counter the criticism is by improving human rights policing at the national level, another topic to be discussed at the Swiss summit.

Watershed moment

The European Convention on Human Rights, an international treaty drawn up within the Council of Europe, entered into force in 1953, less than a decade after the horrors of World War II. The aim was to provide a basis of trust and solidarity to burgeoning European unification and provide a safeguard against any erosion of people's basic rights and dignity.

Human-rights abuses range from ethnic or sexual discrimination to the improper conduct of trials and the mistreatment of prisoners. The court only hears a case when all domestic legal options have been exhausted.

Last month the court overcame a major hurdle when Russia ratified an international agreement to reform the institution. Russia had been the only country to resist approving Protocol 14 of the 2004 European Rights Convention, which called for changes to help improve the way the court processes cases.

Protocol 14's reforms were meant to strengthen the court's ability to throw out clearly inadmissible cases and increase judges' discretion to reject minor complaints.

To complete the ratification process, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and the upper house of parliament must give their endorsement, which they are expected to do.

Author: Darren Mara
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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