NEW YORK—Human rights groups from across Central and Eastern Europe are urging the 47 members of the Council of Europe to ensure that current discussions on reform of the European Court of Human Rights do not result in any weakening of the Court's authority.
Seventy European rights groups have signed a joint statement ahead of a conference next month in Brighton, England, which will set policy on ways to reduce the Court's high case load and backlog of 150,000 applications.
The draft declaration currently being negotiated by member states of the Council of Europe contains important and timely recommendations to strengthen domestic implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights.
But the joint statement stresses that reducing the Court's workload depends ultimately upon member states properly implementing its judgments to eliminate rights abuses. It argues that no further changes to the European Convention on Human Rights should be adopted in the absence of clear evidence of their expected impact, and until previously-approved reforms have been fully implemented and adequately resourced.
The majority of European groups signing the statement are from the former communist states of East and Central Europe, underlining the vital role the Court plays in the continuing struggle to protect and strengthen fundamental rights.
Yonko Grozev, a Bulgarian human rights lawyer who has successfully argued cases before the European Court of Human Rights, said:
"The Court's judgments are enormously important not only in reinforcing our efforts to protect and strengthen human rights in our countries, but also more generally for establishing the rule of law. Anything that could undermine the authority of the Court would send the wrong signal to those governments who are already too prone to ignore their rights obligations."
The statement was also signed by global rights and justice groups, including Human Rights Watch, Greenpeace International, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Article 19 and Index on Censorship. It has also been endorsed by prominent international human rights lawyers and academics.
James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, said: "Those of us who bring cases to the Court must now speak out. Member states should not rush through reforms without first doing their homework, to see if the changes will have the effect intended, or whether there is a danger that they will make things worse".
The Council of Ministers will meet in Brighton from April 19-20. The Open Society Justice Initiative has prepared a question and answer introduction to the issues under discussion, as well as a series of fact sheets on the legal background, and a glossary of Court terms.