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 When Winning isn’t Enough: Civil Society and the European Court of Human Rights

14 April 2023

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is an important battleground for many civil society organisations (CSOs) and human rights defenders (HRDs) that are trying to bring about change in their own countries.  The NHC strongly believes in the importance of inspiring, engaging and supporting catalysts of change, wherever they may be.

The ECtHR is the court of last instance for victims of human rights violations seeking for protection of their fundamental human rights when their national courts fail. Unfortunately, there are situations when the ECtHR establishes a human right violation and orders the state responsible for the violation to compensate the victims and adopt measures to prevent the repetition of similar violations in the future, but the order oftentimes remains partially or fully unimplemented by that state.

In these instances when the ECtHR demand to improve the national legislations, many governments have dug in their heels and have developed tactics to delay or prevent the implementation of the demanded adjustments to their legislation and practices. Therefore, even if a victim of a human rights violation were to win a case at the ECtHR, the court’s judgements remain unimplemented. For more information on non-implementation please watch the video below.

The level of non-implementation of the ECtHR judgments is exceptionally high in Eastern European Countries, countries in the South Caucasus and Turkey, creating a major setback in fighting for free speech and against political persecution. As of January 2022, 47% of the leading judgments handed down by the Court in the last 10 years are still pending implementation. There are around 1,300 leading judgments pending overall. As of January 2022, the average time that leading judgments have been pending implementation is six years and two months. Especially in countries such as Azerbaijan and Hungary, the non-implementation gap remains persistent with Turkey holding the second highest overall number of pending leading judgements. The problem is currently left unacknowledged and the sheer number of non-implemented cases results in a watered down the effect of the ECtHR judgments. Showing that winning a case in the ECtHR is often not enough.

Tackling the problem of implementation

We believe that meaningful implementation of the ECtHR judgments can only take place when there is sufficient political will from governments and the authorities to tackle the problem. That is why, together with the European Implementation Network (EIN), the NHC implemented the Promoting Compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights – Fighting for Free Speech and Against Political Persecution in Eastern Europe. Since 2020, we have been working towards strengthening the capacity of civil society actors across Azerbaijan, Turkey and Ukraine to support the implementation of ECtHR judgments. Both through making full use of the mechanisms available at the level of the Council of Europe and by engaging in effective advocacy at the domestic level. Find out more about previous trainings and events.

“When winning isn’t enough”: Video Guides

To support the CSOs who are just entering into the field, video guides were created to help them navigate the process, as well as introduce them to the rule 9 submission mechanism of the Council of Europe.

(english subtitles)

To view the video with Turkish, Azerbaijani or Ukrainian subtitles please head to our YouTube channel here.