The rule of law is under pressure in many States. In recent times, for example, Hungary and Poland have been severely criticised for changes they have made to their systems that undermine judicial impartiality and independence. Moreover, in several States, the pluriformity of the media is under pressure, the role of civil society is threatened, and the fundamental rights of minorities and asylum seekers are breached. These are all worrisome signs of the erosion of democracy and the rule of law in Europe. An important question is what can be done to stop this process of erosion and protect the values underlying the rule of law? Of course, political mechanisms can be used, but people and institutions also increasingly turn to supranational courts such as the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and the Court of Justice of the EU (ECJ). For example, in Hungary, the number of applications lodged at the ECtHR concerning rule of law issues has surged, and in Poland, both the Supreme Court and other Polish courts have brought rule of law issues to the ECJ’s attention. From a strategic perspective, the question can be asked whether it makes a difference for those who want to be involved in this type of litigation to address either the ECtHR or the ECJ with rule of law concerns?This post argues that it does, because of the differences in procedure and approach taken by the two European Courts. Continue reading
Courts and public agencies are developing in their own way under different pressures, but their paths seem to converge. For the judiciary the key issue is independence; in public agencies it is all about autonomy. These two concepts derive from different perspectives, but are very similar in their consequences for governance. This was one of the conclusions of the workshop on independence in the public sector, which was hosted by the Montaigne Centre and RENFORCE and jointly organised with ACTORE, the Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence of the University of Antwerp on Friday 16 November 2018. Comparing judicial systems with modern agencies, my conclusion is that many judiciaries are governance wise in suspended animation: judicial organisations are generally out-dated, but cannot be changed because of the fear of the other state powers of losing control over the judiciary. Continue reading
(The below blog is based on a draft article presented at the conference ‘Guarantees of Non-Recurrence: Transformative Police Reform’ on 5 November 2018 in Utrecht, the Netherlands)
Countries around the world grapple with how to address excessive police violence that violates human rights. For decades, scholars and practitioners have stressed the importance of establishing better relationships between police and the communities they serve and have adopted various ways to bring about real police reform that fosters relationships of trust. Community policing, democratic policing, and problem-oriented policing are some of the ways in which police have sought to make this change. At the international level, Security Sector Reform (SSR) is the umbrella term used to describe reform programmes adopted in States where the security sector (namely the military, police, gendarmes, and militias) has become a source of insecurity. The current view of SSR is that it must be a transformative process built upon human security and democratic governance. Human security demands that the interests of the individual, rather than the State, should dictate security policy (Ball 2010). Democratic governance requires respect for human rights, rule of law and adherence to principles such as inclusiveness, transparency and accountability (OECD DAC 2005). The transformation of the security system requires all of relevant actors (police, politicians and civil society) to work together. Yet, whether in Ferguson, USA, Paris, France or Nairobi, Kenya, the gaps between the idealistic rhetoric and harsh realities of police/security practice are significant. As noted by Ball and Hendrickson, much of the work concerning police reform is ‘misleadingly optimistic about the prospects for change’ (p. 104). The consensus among scholars and practitioners is that SSR, and police reform in particular, has been extremely difficult to implement in large part because of mistrust, lack of accountability, and susceptibility to corruption. Given the slow progress on police reform initiatives, it may be useful to look to distinct but relevant fields to (re)frame police reforms. Guarantees of non-repetition (or non-recurrence as it is also referred to) from the post-conflict peacebuilding field offer a normative institutional policy framework built around human rights standards and State responsibility that could potentially shift the rhetoric to focus on State obligations that are context-driven. The language of and programming falling under guarantees of non-repetition could prove useful when addressing police reform; noting, however, that the success of any reform policy is ‘directly proportional’ to the State and communities’ enthusiasm for it (p. 35). Continue reading
If there is one issue that, as a human rights scholar, has puzzled me for years it is the continued popularity of the UN 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Permanently referring back to the UDHR, it seems to me, is like continuing to use an old Nokia when the Iphone X has just come out. Legally, we have come so far since that first non-binding Declaration stating 30 rights and the underlying principles. A Declaration, not a Treaty. An act of engagement, but not the actual marriage contract – as our colleague Fried van Hoof liked to put it. Ever since 1948, we’ve carefully and painstakingly constructed a whole architecture of binding treaties, monitoring bodies, special rapporteurs, and regional courts. Why do we continue to dig beneath all of that to draw attention to the foundation of human rights instead of simply focusing on the whole shiny construction? 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
On 17 July 2018, the Rome Statute (RS) creating the International Criminal Court (ICC) celebrated its 20th anniversary. The ICC is a permanent court that investigates serious international crimes including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, and prosecutes individuals believed to be most responsible. In this way, the ICC promotes the rule of law internationally and seeks to end impunity for the most heinous crimes. The Statute’s agreement was a remarkable achievement many decades in the making. In the last 20 years, the ICC has grown from small beginnings into a fully-fledged court of international law. Progress has not, however, always been smooth, with many issues and obstacles arising, including in relation to culture. While international law (including international criminal law) is typically portrayed as objective and not limited or bound by a particular culture, as revealed especially in practice, law and culture cannot be so clinically separated. Culture influences our view of the law, of the facts to which it applies, and the fairness of any outcome. From the substantive charges and their defences to the scope and content of reparations and the operation of the criminal process, the impact of culture can be problematic given the nature and context of the ICC’s work. And, yet, culture and the ICC has not been comprehensively addressed in scholarship. Continue reading
Shuai Zhang in response to a previous blog post by Cong-rui Qiao
The National Congress of China has recently passed a highly controversial constitutional amendment removing the limitation on the President’s term of office. Consequently, it is no longer limited to two consecutive terms. While some consider this amendment as a step towards dictatorship, many are seemingly trying to interpret it in a more sympathetic way. A very popular discourse regards the change merely as a “practically unimportant” technical fine-tuning. Ironically, this argument is roughly supported by two rival groups. This blog elaborates why neither of these groups is right in labelling such a change as “practically unimportant”, and argues that the constitutional amendment is in fact very important. Continue reading
Dr. Erie Tanja, postdoctoral researcher
Nowadays, when talking about scientific research, the call to make it multi- or interdisciplinary, is never far away. Although the terms are often mixed up or used interchangeably, there is a difference. Multidisciplinary research is about ‘simply’ combining insights from different disciplines; interdisciplinary research is the ‘symbiosis of disciplinary questions, methods and outcome measures’, transforming scientific identities in the process (De Jonge Akademie 2015). As so many researchers are trying to find out how to go from mono- to multi- and interdisciplinary research, it is necessary to share experiences and insights to prevent all of us from unnecessarily reinventing the wheel. In this blog, I want to do just that. Sharing my personal experience and viewpoints, means n=1 and that the perspective is inherently subjective. In the social sciences, such results would not merit much attention. But sharing and comparing experiences will help other researchers that conduct multi- or interdisciplinary research to find the way forward.
This year we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). This document continues to represent a landmark achievement of the international community. Since 1948, much progress has been achieved, with numerous human rights treaties and instruments adopted nationally, regionally, and internationally. Despite this momentum, human rights continue to be violated in all states around the world, revealing the gap between law and practice. The challenge of implementation – of making legal norms a lived reality – is now most pressing. How to address this challenge was the focus of my PhD research completed earlier this year. This research focused on criticisms of state-centricity in international human rights law, as well as its tendency to take a legalistic approach to implementation. Identifying the shortcomings of state-centric legalism, my research proposed involving informal social institutions the domestic implementation of human rights due to their cultural embeddeness and ability to guide human behaviour.
This blog is the first in a series on the amendments to the Chinese constitution.
This blog is about an important affair in today’s China: the set of 21 amendments made to China’s Constitution in March 2018. It will interpret the political and practical implications of two high-profile amendments: 1) the constitutional change to the term limitation on the Presidency, which is the head of State; and 2) the constitutional inception of the State Supervisory Commission (“SSC”), which is the highest national supervisory body. It will do so in two dimensions. One is a textual reading of what has been amended in the Constitution. The other goes beyond textual aspects, explaining what changes these alterations imply. Where possible English translations to the text have been provided in the links. Continue reading