Today’s Opinion: Human Rights Court under fire

POSTED: 04/8/11 12:09 PM

The European Court for Human Rights has come under fire from the liberal VVD-faction in the Dutch parliament. Faction-leader Stef Blok and VVD MP Klaas Dijkhoff argue in an opinion piece that appeared in the Volkskrant yesterday to limit the court’s freedom, because it harms democratically established legislation in the member states.

The human rights court has also had its effect in St. Maarten, where attorneys have successfully called on the Salduz ruling that gives defendants the right to talk to an attorney before they are interrogated by the police.
But Blok and Dijkhoff are not so much concerned about the implications of the court’s rulings in criminal cases. Their focus is on rulings that affect for instance the rights to social benefits and the European policy for asylum seekers.

The Dutch parliament approved the European Human Rights Treaty in a landmark year – 1954, the same year it signed the Kingdom Charter.

The Netherlands was a different country then, both politicians point out. Immigration was a non-issue, and social benefits were limited. People migrated from the Netherlands to places like New-Zealand and Canada, and the extensive system of social benefits only came into being in the sixties and seventies.

Blok and Dijkhoff say that far reaching rulings by the European Human rights court affect situations the politicians that signed the treaty in 1954 could not foresee.

They argue now that it is up to democratically elected politicians, and not up to appointed judges to determine the content and the scope of legislation and treaties. They refer to the judges as politicians in a robe, and balk at a ruling that entitled a woman who had never contributed a penny to the social benefits system and who did not have the French nationality, still was entitles to social benefits in that country.

Another ruling has forced politicians to reshape their asylum policy that says that a request for asylum is dealt with in the first country where an asylum seeker arrives. That policy put a stop to traveling asylum seekers who went from one European country to the next after a rejection.

Blok and Dijkhoff acknowledge the importance of the court, but they argue that it is losing public support.

Reading their opinion, we think that the court is primarily losing support among frustrated liberal politicians. The VVD-parliamentarians want a more directing role towards the court for the European Council of Ministers. That smells suspiciously like an attempt at political interference with the justice system.

That is a remarkable argument, coming from liberal politicians who claim at the same time that the way the court operates amounts to an attack on the trias politica, the classical separation of powers in  a legislature, an executive and a judiciary.


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