The margin of appreciation doctrine of European Court of Human Rights gives states leeway in their interpretation of the European Convention on Human Rights. States also have the freedom to decide how they implement judgments finding violations against them. This has meant that individuals in each Council of Europe (CoE) member state experience rights protection and abuse in often quite different ways. The JURISTRAS project, which began in 2006 with a grant from the EU Sixth Framework Programme, has sought to shed light on that variation by analyzing the various relationships between the ECHR and human rights actors (both governmental and non) in CoE member states. The project coordinators at the Athens-based Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy structured the project to focus primarily on discrimination and the rights of minorities and other marginalized groups, and those themes have featured in all of the reports produced thus far. The nine partners of the project represent nine CoE members (Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Romania, Turkey and the United Kingdom), who were chosen because they have the largest amount of case law pertaining to the core civil liberties (i.e. ECHR Articles 8-11 & 14: right to private and family life; freedom of religion and belief; freedom of expression; freedom of association; freedom from discrimination). These nine countries can in turn be seen to represent at least part of the vast diversity of countries in that intergovernmental organization.
The various research reports, which have been spread over the course of three years, began with country-specific state of the art reports and case study reports, which provided the historical background for understanding the current relationships between each respective state and the Court. These reports provided insight into the complex ways that ECHR judgments affect, and are affected by, domestic actors, including governmental institutions, non-governmental human rights organizations, academics, lawyers and judges, the media, etc. Those reports were followed by a collection of very interesting comparative analyses, which focus on a variety of issues including gender rights, rights of ethnic minorities, rights of immigrants and asylum seekers, state-church relations, discrimination, and minority rights in general. Each partner then completed state-level policy recommendations, which were distributed to national legislators. Additionally, interviews with relevant individuals including government officials, prominent judges and lawyers, NGO executives, and leading academics were carried out to compliment the research and provide additional insight into the attitudes of key human rights players in each state.
Throughout the course of the research, different issues proved to be salient in each state. In some states discrimination against ethnic minorities has been identified as a pressing issue (Kurds in Turkey and Roma in Bulgaria, Romania, Greece). In others, cases involving gender and homosexual rights (United Kingdom) or freedom of expression (Austria) have made up a substantial amount of the case load, while still others experience immigration and asylum issues (France, Austria, United Kingdom), prisoner rights issues (Italy), religious minority issues (Greece, Bulgaria) or issues regarding restitution of property seized by the state (Bulgaria, Romania). As the reports display, the human rights issues across the CoE vary considerably, often as much as language and culture.
The project is now in its final stages and one book discussing the project’s findings is set to be published, while a second is currently being drafted. The state of the art reports, the case studies, the policy recommendations and the comparative analyses are all available on the project’s website (http://www.juristras.eliamep.gr/). Anyone interested in learning more about the project can also subscribe to receive email updates about project progress (follow link on website listed above).
What a complicated book that will be!