‘The lack of implementation of the D.H. judgment deeply concerns the three submitting organizations…’. This sentence is taken from a Rule 9 Communication submitted by three NGOs to the Committee of Ministers, the body that supervises the execution of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (hereafter: ECtHR or Court). It is illustrative of the purpose of Rule 9 Communications: the submitting actor(s), which may be NGOs and National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), can provide the Committee of Ministers with their perspective on how a State is progressing with the execution of a judgment of the ECtHR. As such, this Rule 9 provides a crucial opportunity for NGOs and NHRIs to get involved in the execution process of the Court’s judgments. It is therefore striking that over the years, across the board, little attention has been devoted to these Rule 9 Communications. This appears, however, to be changing as the possibilities offered by this Rule 9 are getting more traction (see for instance the new page of the Execution Department). Rightly so, as Rule 9 Communications may play a valuable role in helping ensure the execution of judgments of the ECtHR. In this blog post, I offer a first exploration of Rule 9 Communications, thereby showcasing their potential and advocating their use by NGOs and NHRIs.
In October 2019, The Hague Court of Appeal rendered an important judgment in the Urgenda case. Urgenda is a Dutch foundation fighting for a sustainable society, which started a legal case to force the Dutch government to adopt more stringent climate policies. In that case, The Hague Court of Appeal found a violation of Articles 2 (right to life) and 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and ordered the Dutch State to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 per cent by the end of 2020. Inspired by this judgment, the NGO Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands), together with several related organisations, has taken yet another step in climate change litigation in the Netherlands by summoning Shell, one of the largest oil companies in the world. Although Milieudefensie is petitioning a company instead of a State, the claim is the same as the one against the State in the Urgenda case. Milieudefensie requests the court to order Shell to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. This claim is founded on the argument that Shell is guilty of hazardous negligence and violates human rights because of its (lack of a) climate policy. This argument shows that Milieudefensie has not only taken a further step in climate change litigation, but also contributes to the trend of increasingly holding private actors accountable for human rights violations. In this blog, I discuss Milieudefensie’s claim in more detail, and analyse whether, and how, human rights arguments can be used to impose greenhouse gas reduction orders on private actors. Continue reading
What if you see a runaway train moving toward five people tied-up on a track. Would you pull a lever to redirect the train to another track? Yes, of course. No doubt about it. But what if there was another person tied-up on the other track? The decision whether to pull the handle or not becomes inevitably harder. This famous philosophical conundrum applies in a similar, yet – fortunately – less gruesome way, to the European Court of Human Rights. The backlog in cases, the failure of states to implement the Court’s judgments, the increasingly harsh (political) criticism on the Court, and the shortage of resources have put a strain on the proper functioning of the European Convention on Human Rights’ system. This has given rise to the question of whether the Court should continue to provide justice to each applicant, possibly at the cost of the Convention system (track one), or whether it should focus on providing general justice, by ensuring justice for as many individuals as possible, even when it may come at the cost of the applicants before the Court (track two). This dilemma between individual and general justice is also relevant for the Court’s recent procedural turn… Continue reading