The families of three Bosnian Muslims filed a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) against the Netherlands for failing to investigate whether its peacekeeping commanders in Srebrenica allowed Bosniaks to be killed.
The move came after a Dutch appeals court ruled in April that Dutch Battalion (“Dutchbat”) commander Thom Karremans, his deputy Rob Franken and personnel officer Berend Oosterveen should not be prosecuted.
The appeal was brought by Hasan Nuhanovic, a Srebrenica survivor and former translator for the UN peacekeepers, and the family of Rizo Mustafic, who was killed by Bosnian Serb forces.
The three former UN Dutchbat commanders led the Dutch soldiers during the fall of the Muslim enclave. About 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered and buried in mass graves in mid-July 1995 at Srebrenica by Serb forces commanded by Ratko Mladic, now on trial for genocide and war crimes before the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
When the Bosnian Serb Army overran Srebrenica, Nuhanovic’s relatives and Mustafic, along with several hundred others, sought refuge inside the Dutch peacekeepers’ base in Potocari.
Instead of finding safety however, they were handed to the Serbs by Dutch soldiers and subsequently killed.
Nuhanovic’s lawyer, Liesbeth Zegveld, said that she was optimistic about the case because the Dutch authorities should have at least brought the case before a criminal court, instead of just briefly dealing with it through a military prosecution.
“We think it is clear the Dutch authorities should have opened a criminal investigation and not just read historical records. The military prosecution said they read the historical records and found the three commanders were not criminally complicit. This was not at all for them to decide,” said Zegveld.
By Nora Jaber*
Rutkowski and Others v. Poland and Gazso v. Hungary are two pilot cases decided in July 2015 that highlight a major point of contention faced by the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”): the right to be tried within a reasonable time as enshrined within Article 6(1) of the Convention. At the time of the Rutkowski judgement there were over another 650 similar cases pending before the ECtHR, and over 300 Polish cases pending before the Committee of Ministers at the execution stage.
This demonstrates the scale of the relevance of Article 6(1) to the Court’s jurisprudence today. In fact, it is the most contentious issue before the Court, and has been at the forefront of the Court’s caseload for a very long time. The Court has issued hundreds of judgments on Article 6(1) and has stressed the importance of minimising delays in order for justice to be delivered. Despite this, the problem of undue delays in proceedings persists and warrants attention.
It is said that ‘justice delayed is justice denied.’ Delays can and do compromise the effective administration of justice. An excessively long procedure can result in a weakening of the position of the accused by, for example, a deterioration of the quality of evidence or a loss of it. Such situations become more plausible the longer the duration of the trial procedure and should be avoided in order to ensure a proper administration of justice.
In an effort to tackle Italy’s notoriously slow justice system, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has announced a “revolution” that would break down bureaucracy. Friday, the Council of Ministers approved a series of measures designed to improve delays before courts. The “Sblocca Italia” programme provides for first-instance trials to last one year top and to reduce judicial summer break to speed up procedures.
Italy has already been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights for its slow legal procedures. Civil cases take in average eght years to be resolved. Legal delays have contributed to damage busness activity in a country that has recently slumped back into recession : a business that goes to court to enforce a contract can wait three years for a verdict.
On 1 July 2014, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) rendered its Grand Chamber Judgement in the case of S.A.S. v. France.
The case concerned the complaint of a French national, who is a practising Muslim, that she is no longer allowed to wear the full-face veil in public following the entry into force, on 11 April 2011, of a law prohibiting the concealment of one’s face in public places.
In her submissions the applicant said that she wore the burqa and niqab in accordance with her religious faith, culture and personal convictions. As she explained, the burqa is a full-body covering including a mesh over the face, and the niqab is a full-face veil leaving an opening only for the eyes. The applicant also emphasised that neither her husband nor any other member of her family put pressure on her to dress in this manner. She added that she wore the niqab in public and in private, but not systematically. She was thus content not to wear the niqab in certain circumstances but wished to be able to wear it when she chose to do so. Lastly, her aim was not to annoy others but to feel at inner peace with herself
The Court emphasised that respect for the conditions of “living together” was a legitimate aim for the measure at issue and that, particularly as the State had a lot of room for manoeuvre (“a wide margin of appreciation”) as regards this general policy question on which there were significant differences of opinion, the ban imposed by the Law did not breach the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Court thus held, by a majority, that there had been no violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the Convention, and no violation of Article 9 (right to respect for freedom of thought, conscience and religion). The Court was unanimous on the non-violation of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention combined with Articles 8 or 9.