Reforming the ECHR

merkel041508.jpgDuring a speech to the Council of Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called upon Russia to not interfere with the reform process of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which is currently backlogged with tens of thousands of cases – one quarter of which come from Russia. From the Financial Times:

Merkel appeals to Russia on human rights By Tony Barber in Strasbourg Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, urged the Russian parliament on Tuesday to show its commitment to human rights by allowing important reforms to go ahead at the European Court of Human Rights, an organ burdened with a backlog of tens of thousands of cases. ”The court needs to be properly reformed, as that is what the whole human rights protection system in Europe hinges on,” Ms Merkel said in a speech to the Council of Europe, the 47-nation organisation that promotes democracy, human rights and the rule of law around Europe.

Governments and parliaments in all 47 countries have approved the reforms to the Strasbourg-based court, which would help it act more swiftly and efficiently, with the sole exception of the Russian legislature. Some Russian politicians have taken exception to what they see as court intrusions into internal Russian affairs.”I want to state in no uncertain terms that we must not hold up the reforms to the court, because any country that does so is calling into question our common values,” Ms Merkel said, in a reference to Russia.She said she had raised the matter with Vladimir Putin, Russia’s outgoing president, as well as the speaker of the Russian parliament, but so far to no avail.With Dmitry Medvedev due to take over as president and a new Duma [legislature] elected last December, Ms Merkel said she hoped it would be possible for Russia to grant final approval to the reforms. ”After all, this would be in everyone’s interest,” she said.The Christian Democrat chancellor’s direct appeal to Russia underlined the manner in which Ms Merkel has often taken a more forceful approach to human rights issues than Gerhard Schröder, her Social Democrat predecessor.Social Democrats in her coalition government criticised her for receiving the Dalai Lama last September, a step that triggered a frosty spell in German-Chinese relations. But last month Ms Merkel called for dialogue between Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader and the Chinese authorities in order to overcome recent unrest in Tibet.Ms Merkel’s speech to the Council of Europe highlighted the increasing burdens on the European Court of Human Rights, which was founded in 1959 and guarantees individuals all over Europe the right to seek legal protection of freedoms that their governments have signed up to uphold.The court had almost 80,000 cases pending at the end of last year, compared with 66,500 at the end of 2006 and only a few thousand 10 years ago.In spite of being granted extra resources in recent years, the court only manages to hand down about 1,500 judgements a year. As a result, it would take the court about 46 years to clear the current backlog, even in the unlikely event that it declined to take on new cases.One of the reasons for the huge rise in pending cases is that applying for human rights issues to be take up by the court has become increasingly popular in Russia. About 20,000 of the court’s outstanding cases, or almost one-quarter of the total, come from Russia.