Belgium and the European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights is the most well-known institution of the Council of Europe. The Court was created in 1959 to monitor compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Belgium ratified this Convention in 1955. Hence, the Belgian Chairmanship coincides with the sixtieth anniversary of the ratification.
The Court is the keystone of the whole of monitoring mechanisms of the Council of Europe. Anyone present in the territory of a Member State of the Council of Europe can appeal Strasbourg when they are of the opinion that their fundamental rights have been violated by the authorities and all domestic remedies have been exhausted.
The judgments of the Court are binding on the 47 Member States of the Council of Europe. If a country is sentenced, it has to take measures to remedy the injustice and to prevent repetition of the events. This also applies to the Member States not directly affected by the sentence. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe meets four times per year in a special Human Rights committee to supervise the enforcement of the judgments.
Many judgments of the Court have led to changes to the regulations in Belgium. A recent example is the case of M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece, in which Belgium had to justify itself for the premature extradition of an asylum seeker to Greece. As a result of the judgment, the appeals procedure for asylum seekers in Belgium was modified. Another example is the case of Taxquet v. Belgium. The Court judged that someone who is found guilty by a jury at the Belgian Assize Court is entitled to an explanation of the reasons for this sentence. In the meantime, the Assize procedure has been modified, not only in Belgium but also in France. If you wish to know more about the cases against Belgium you can find an overview (PDF) on the website of the Court.
The Court in Strasbourg has become a victim of its own success. It has a delay in cases to be dealt with, and often years pass between the filing of a complaint and the sentence. To do something about this, a process of internal reforms has been started and the first positive results of this are already visible. The efficient functioning of the Court is not only a matter of good management and streamlined procedures. The Member States are also responsible, because they have to ensure that the judgments of the Court are enforced. They also have to do whatever necessary to prevent similar complaints being filed to the Strasbourg Court. The procedure for the monitoring by the Committee of Ministers is also being improved.
For this reason, during its Chairmanship Belgium will organise a conference in Brussels with the following working title: ‘The enforcement of the judgments of the Court: a shared responsibility’. The conference will take place from 26 to 27 March 2015 in the Egmont Palace under the direction of the Federal Public Service Justice.
Each Member State of the Council of Europe supplies only one judge to the Court. The ECHR stipulates the conditions to be met by the candidates: ‘The judges shall be of high moral character and must either possess the qualifications required for appointment to high judicial office or be legal counsels of recognised competence.’ Concretely, this means that candidates are selected on the basis of on their practical experience as judges or based on their curriculum as academics. The current Belgian judge at the Court, Paul Lemmens, has experience in both areas, as a judge and as a professor. The previous Belgian judges at the Court were Françoise Tulkens (1998-2012), Jan De Meyer (1986-1998), Walter-Jean Ganshof van der Meersch (1973-1986) and Henri Rolin (1959-1973). The latter was also President of the Court from 1968 to 1971.