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European countries urged to reject changes to rights convention

Human rights groups including Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy websites] on Tuesday urged [press release] Council of Europe [official website] member states to reject proposed changes to the European Convention on Human Rights [text]. The proposed changes, entitled the Brighton Declaration [text, PDF], were introduced by the UK [JURIST report], and began circulating to member states in February. The groups warned that two of the proposed measures that would have an impact on the future of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website]—one limiting the court's ability to hear cases involving serious human rights abuses, and one emphasizing "principles that serve the interests of governments over those of the potential victims of human rights violations"—are particularly problematic and could undermine the effectiveness of the court. Under the proposed measures, the ECHR would lack jurisdiction to review potential human rights abuses if a national court already considered the issue and applied an analysis similar to that used by the ECHR in previous cases. The second measure would give national courts latitude in determining how the ECHR's previous case law should be applied. The rights groups warned that the changes could have a serious impact in countries like Russia and Turkey, where the absence of an independent judiciary has led to the ECHR becoming the only path for redress of over alleged war crimes or political persecution. This year, petitions to the court from Russia account for 26 percent [Telegraph report] of all petitions, while petitions from Turkey make up 11 percent of the petitions. Due to the controversial nature of the amendments, unanimous approval from all 46 member states must be received before the proposal can go through.

The proposed amendments are directly in line with a statement [JURIST report] by the UK's highest judge in October that found ECHR decisions are not binding. In February, a UK think tank urged the country to withdraw [JURIST report] from the ECHR altogether in favor of a national high court. Tensions between the court and the country have been high for years due to the UK's lack of agreement with some of the court's rulings. In 2005 the court found that British prisoners should be given the right to vote [JURIST report]. The ECHR and the UK have also clashed over the issue of extradition of terror suspects. In February 2011 the UK government's independent reviewer of terror laws published a report [JURIST report] saying that rulings from the ECHR made it difficult to remove foreign terror suspects from Britain. The ECHR refused to grant the government's request that a terror suspect be required to show that it is more likely than not that he would be subject to ill-treatment. The ruling lowered the suspect's burden of proving that he would be faced with ill-treatment upon returning to his home country. In July 2008, the ECHR stayed the extradition of four terrorism suspects [JURIST report] from the UK to the US, holding that potential punishment could violate Convention's provisions on the prohibition of torture and inhumane or degrading treatment.

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