An eye for an eye – the evolution of Human Rights regimes

webseite1“An eye for an eye” proclaims the Old Testament, which serves as the argument to shut down all discussions on the abolition of the death penalty in contemporary Catholic-dominated southern African states. However, EU officials proclaiming that the death penalty is not in accordance with “western values” and must be abolished as part of conditionality agreements is an imposition, not a strategy either. Europeans tend to forget what the representatives of the Southern African Legal Assistance Network (SALAN) were relieved to learn: that the death penalty was once admissible under the European Convention on Human Rights and that it took decades and public education to change European norms and values and for it to be legally abolished throughout Europe.

The eight representatives of Legal and Human Rights Organisations (and SALAN member organizations) from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia and Tansania travelled to Strasbourg on invitation of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom to gain an understanding of the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). They met with experts of the Council’s Committees and Commissions to discuss a variety of topics, ranging from racism and intolerance, gender equality and violence against women, prison conditions, and corporate social responsibility to more technical issues, s.a. constitutional matters, compliance and enforcement of rulings.

Former President of the European Court of Human Rights and current President of the International Institute of Human Rights, Jean-Paul Costa stressed that it is primarily thanks to the political will of the 47 member states that the court rulings are implemented. The ECHR has therefore been much more successful when it comes to implementation of its ruling than other regional or even international courts. Measures against non-compliant states are almost never needed and the courts’ decisions are accepted as final. This is in stark contrast to their home states, one of the participants said, where the government often does not even respect the rulings of domestic courts.

In a meeting at the European Court of Human Rights, Judge Angelika Nußberger, appointed to the ECHR by Germany, discussed the European Convention on Human Rights, as the basis of jurisdiction of the Court, the rules of proceedings and gave insight into the Courts’ activities and precedent rulings. She particularly highlighted two special features of the ECHR. So-called “pilot judgements” in which judgements of the ECHR serve as precedents, such that the Court’s decision in one case can be the basis for implementation in all like cases across member states and Rule 39, a specific “instrument for immediate action” developed by the Court to take action in cases of extradition to countries where the individual may be subjected to the death penalty of inhumane treatment.

Olena Petsun from the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights stressed the preventive role of the Commissioner, s.a. promoting education, awareness and respect for human rights in member states and ensuring the member states’ compliance with the Council’s instruments. Sonia Sirtori-Milner and Sonia Parayre from the Secretariat of the Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men and the Division on Gender Equality and Violence against Women, respectively, addressed the aspects of human rights related to gender and sexual orientation. A meeting with Stephanos Stavros from the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance and Charlotte de Broutelles from the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) concluded the study tour.

The Southern African Legal Assistance Network has been a long-standing partner of the FNF. Find out more about SALAN here.

Susan Schneider