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European Convention on Human Rights First Protocol to the Convention (04/11/1950)

The European Convention on Human Rights First Protocol to the Convention

DATE: 4th November, 1950

ECHR

The Governments signatory hereto, being Members of the Council of Europe,

Being resolved to take steps to ensure the collective enforcement of certain rights and freedoms other than those already included in Section I of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms signed at Rome on 4th November, 1950 (hereinafter referred to as “the Convention “).

Have agreed as follows:

Article 1

Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law.

The preceding provisions shall not, however, in any way impair the right of a State to enforce such laws as it deems necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest or to secure the payment of taxes or other contributions or penalties.

Article 2

No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.

Article 3

The High Contracting Parties undertake to hold free elections at reasonable intervals by secret ballot, under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature.

Article 4

Any High Contracting Party may at the time of signature or ratification or at any time thereafter communicate to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe a declaration stating the extent to which it undertakes that the provisions of the present Protocol shall apply to such of the territories for the international relations of which it is responsible as are named therein.

Any High Contracting Party which has communicated a declaration in virtue of the preceding paragraph may from time to time communicate a further declaration modifying the terms of any former declaration or terminating the application of the provisions of this Protocol in respect of any territory.

A declaration made in accordance with this Article shall be deemed to have been made in accordance with Paragraph (1) of Article 63 of the Convention.

Article 5

As between the High Contracting Parties the provisions of Articles 1,2,3 and 4 of this Protocol shall be regarded as additional Articles to the Convention and all the provisions of the Convention shall apply accordingly.

Article 6

This Protocol shall be open for signature by the Members of the Council of Europe, who are the signatories of the Convention; it shall be ratified at the same time as or after the ratification of the Convention. It shall enter into force after the deposit of ten instruments of ratification. As regards any signatory ratifying subsequently, the Protocol shall enter into force at the date of the deposit of its instrument of ratification.

The instruments of ratification shall be deposited with the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, who will notify all Members of the names of those who have ratified.

Done at Paris on the 20th day of March 1952, in English and French, both texts being equally authentic, in a single copy which shall remain deposited in the archives of the Council of Europe. The Secretary General shall transmit certified copies to each of the signatory Governments





Yeğer v. Turkey-ECHR 07/06/2022

The European Court of Human Rights

CASE OF YEĞER v. TURKEY

(Application no. 4099/12)

JUDGMENT

Art 6 § 1 (criminal) • Fair hearing • Conviction in absentia after not personally being served with documents concerning criminal proceedings, and inability to obtain fresh determination of merits of case • Failing to inform authorities of address change and going abroad for extended period of time not amounting to unequivocal waiver of right to appear and defend oneself, or evading justice

Art 5 § 1 • Unlawful Detention, stemming from a conviction resulting from proceedings manifestly contrary to provisions or principles of Article 6

STRASBOURG

DATE: 7 June 2022

This judgment will become final in the circumstances set out in Article 44 § 2 of the Convention. It may be subject to editorial revision.

In the case of Yeğer v. Turkey

The European Court of Human Rights (Second Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:

Jon Fridrik Kjølbro, President,
Carlo Ranzoni,
Branko Lubarda,
Pauliine Koskelo,
Jovan Ilievski,
Gilberto Felici,
Saadet Yüksel, judges,
and Hasan Bakırcı, Section Registrar,

Having regard to:

the application (no. 4099/12) against the Republic of Turkey lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by a Turkish national, Mr İhya Tamer Yeğer (“the applicant”), on 8 December 2011;

the decision to give notice to the Turkish Government (“the Government”) of the complaints concerning Articles 5 and 6 of the Convention and to declare the remainder of the application inadmissible;

the parties’ observations;

Having deliberated in private on 17 May 2022,

Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:

INTRODUCTION

1. The application concerns under Article 6 of the Convention (i) the alleged unfairness of criminal proceedings owing to the applicant’s trial and conviction in absentia, (ii) the alleged breach of his right of access to a court on account of the domestic courts’ refusal to grant him leave to appeal out of time, and (iii) the alleged unlawfulness under Article 5 of the Convention of his resulting detention.

THE FACTS

2. The applicant was born in 1958 and lives in Istanbul. He was represented before the Court by Mr M. Erbil, a lawyer practising in Istanbul.

3. The Government were represented by their Agent, Mr Hacı Ali Açıkgül, Head of the Department of Human Rights of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Turkey.

4. The facts of the case, as submitted by the parties, may be summarised as follows.

5. On 17 November 2009 the Istanbul Criminal Court of First Instance convicted the applicant in his absence of issuing an uncovered cheque under section 16(1) of the Law on the Protection of Payees and the Regulation of Payments by Cheque (Law no. 3167), as in force at the material time, and sentenced him to a judicial fine in the amount of 80,000 Turkish liras (approximately 36,364 euros at the material time).

6. Throughout the criminal proceedings, the trial court was unable to notify the applicant in person of the proceedings, the hearings or the decisions it had taken. To that end, the trial court took the following steps. Firstly, it attempted to serve the writ of summons at the business address indicated on the document containing the specimen signatures of authorised signatories of the company (imza sirküleri) of which the applicant had been the managing director. When the letters were returned with the indication that the applicant had not been found at that address, the trial court ordered the police to carry out address inquiries with a view to ascertaining his whereabouts. Subsequently, the police established the applicant’s residential address and thereafter the trial court used that address in its attempts, in vain, to serve the documents relating to the criminal proceedings against him.

7. On 31 July 2008 the writ of summons was served on the district chief (muhtar) of the neighbourhood where the applicant’s residence was located, after the postmen had observed that the applicant was at work at that time and had informed the applicant’s neighbour, F.K., of the situation, in line with the procedure prescribed in section 21 of the Notification Act.

8. On 2 December 2009 the trial court’s decision dated 17 November 2009 was served at the applicant’s residential address pursuant to section 35 of the Notification Act and a notice of service was posted on the door of the building located at that address. That judgment became final on 10 December 2009 without an appeal having been lodged against it.

9. On 12 April 2010 the Istanbul public prosecutor responsible for the execution of sentences converted the judicial fine imposed on the applicant into a term of imprisonment, noting that it had not been paid within the statutory period.

10. On 12 January 2011 police officers visited the business address in the context of their attempts to locate the applicant following the finalisation of his sentence and collected information from a certain neighbour, who stated that even though he had been residing at that address for over twenty years, he had not heard of the applicant’s name. Subsequently, police officers went to the address which – following the inquiry carried out by police officers during the trial (see paragraph 6 above) – had been ascertained as the applicant’s place of residence, and interviewed the building manager, N.Ş., who told them that the applicant had resided in the apartment building three years previously but that he had later moved out of it owing to issues relating to his debts.

11. On 30 March 2011 the applicant was arrested and placed in prison to start serving his sentence. In a letter dated 25 April 2011, the applicant asked the trial court to hold a retrial and to hear him in court, arguing that he had not been served with any document in relation to his trial because he had gone abroad in July 2008 and had returned to Turkey in July 2009.

12. On 3 May 2011 the trial court rejected the applicant’s request, holding that even though the writ of summons and its decision dated 17 November 2009 had been served at his residential address pursuant to section 21 of the Notification Act, the applicant had not attended the hearings. On 6 June 2011 the Istanbul Assize Court dismissed an objection by the applicant against that decision with final effect and in a summary fashion which did not contain any case specific assessment. The applicant’s lawyer was notified of that decision on 2 August 2011.

13. On 30 May 2011 the applicant’s lawyer lodged an application with the trial court to have the conviction declared void, arguing, inter alia, that the applicant had not been aware of the criminal proceedings on account of having been abroad for an extended period of time until July 2009.

14. On 6 October 2011 the Istanbul Criminal Court of First Instance dismissed the applicant’s application, holding that he had failed to lodge an appeal against his conviction within the statutory seven-day time-limit for appeals as provided for in Article 315 of the former Code of Criminal Procedure. Even though it was amenable to appeal, the applicant did not lodge an appeal against that decision.

15. On 3 February 2012 the applicant was released owing to the introduction of new legislative amendments, pursuant to which issuing an uncovered cheque no longer carried a prison sentence.

RELEVANT LEGAL FRAMEWORK AND PRACTICE

16. The relevant domestic law regarding trials in absentia may be found in M.T.B. v. Turkey (no. 47081/06, §§ 30-36, 12 June 2018).

17. Section 21 of the Notification Act, as in force at the material time, provided that in the event that the addressee or other persons entitled to accept the service of documents on his or her behalf were not present at the address or declined to accept the service thereof, the documents were to be served on, inter alios, the district chief subject to the latter’s signature, and a notice indicating the address of the person on whom the service was effected was to be posted on the building located at that address. In addition, an attempt was to be made, in so far as possible, to contact a neighbour in order to have him or her inform the addressee of the situation. In that event, the service was considered to have been performed on the day the notice was posted.

18. The Government provided the Court with two judgments, delivered by the Fourth and Tenth Divisions of the Court of Cassation, in which that court had reversed the first-instance courts’ decisions dismissing appeals lodged after the expiry of the time-limit prescribed for that purpose, holding that the notifications made by those courts had been unlawful in that they had been contrary to either the Notification Act or the Regulations for the implementation of that Act (judgment of the Tenth Criminal Division of the Court of Cassation of 17 November 2008 (2007/6711 E. and 2008/16830 K.) and judgment of its Fourth Criminal Division of 24 December 2015 (2013/30256 E. and 2015/40800 K.)). Furthermore, the Court of Cassation allowed the appeals and quashed the judgments of the lower courts in those two cases after carrying out an examination on the merits.

THE LAW

ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 6 § 1 OF THE CONVENTION
19. The applicant complained that his right to a fair trial as provided in Article 6 of the Convention had been breached, as he had been tried and convicted without having been able to exercise his rights to be present and to defend himself in person. In the same vein, the applicant complained that he had been unable to lodge an appeal against his conviction owing to his trial and conviction in absentia. The relevant part of Article 6 reads as follows:

“1. In the determination of … any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair … hearing by [a] … tribunal …”

Admissibility
The parties’ submissions
(a) The Government

20. The Government raised two preliminary objections: in the first place, they argued that, had the applicant taken the view that there had been no effective remedy in respect of his complaint he should have lodged his application with the Court no later than six months from the date of his arrest on 30 March 2011, the date on which he had taken cognisance of his conviction. The application should thus be declared inadmissible owing to the applicant’s failure to comply with the six-month time-limit, given that he had lodged his application with the Court on 8 December 2011.

21. In the second place, the Government argued that the applicant had failed to exhaust the domestic remedies available to him by failing to lodge an appeal with the Court of Cassation against the trial court’s refusal of leave to appeal dated 6 October 2011. In support of that contention, the Government referred to the two judgments of the Court of Cassation wherein that court had examined the first-instance courts’ refusals of leave to appeal and had reversed those refusals, finding that the service of the convictions handed down by those courts had not been effected in accordance with the provisions of the Notification Act and the Regulations for the implementation of that Act. In the Government’s view, had the applicant lodged an appeal against the trial court’s decision rejecting his appeal as having been lodged out of time, the Court of Cassation could have reviewed the lawfulness of the service of the conviction and could potentially have quashed it. Accordingly, the applicant’s failure to have recourse to that remedy meant that he had failed to exhaust the domestic remedies available to him.

(b) The applicant

22. The applicant submitted that he could not have lodged an appeal against his conviction in absentia within the statutory time-limit, simply because he had had no knowledge of it. However, as soon as he had been arrested, he had seized the first opportunity to inform the trial court of his situation and asked for a retrial, which had been unduly refused. Considering that he had lodged his application with the Court within six months from the date on which that refusal had become final, the applicant submitted that he had complied with the six-month rule.

23. Furthermore, the applicant contended that appealing against the trial court’s refusal to grant him leave to appeal out of time had offered no prospect of success and had thus been far from providing him with relief, given that he had been in prison at the material time. In any event, by suggesting that he should have had recourse to a remedy which hinged on the unlawfulness of the service of his conviction, the Government had in effect acknowledged that the domestic courts had acted contrary to the procedure and law in his case.

The Court’s assessment
24. The Court observes that the Government’s preliminary objections are inextricably linked to the merits of the applicant’s complaint that he was tried and convicted in absentia in that the thrust of those objections turns on the examination carried out by the domestic courts. Accordingly, the Court joins the Government’s preliminary objections to the merits of the case.

25. The Court notes that this complaint is neither manifestly ill-founded nor inadmissible on any other grounds listed in Article 35 of the Convention. It must therefore be declared admissible.

Merits
The parties’ submissions
(a) The applicant

26. The applicant submitted that he had never been informed, nor had he been aware, of the criminal proceedings against him. He contended that, in fact, he had not received any document relating to those proceedings, including the trial court’s judgment convicting him. In his view, the argument that he had failed to notify the court of the change of his address was irrelevant, as he had been unaware of the criminal proceedings, which was the underlying reason why he could not lodge an appeal against the judgment within the statutory time-limit.

27. The applicant further contested the Government’s contention that he had absconded, arguing that he had had no reason not to appear before the domestic courts, as he had not been wanted for any reason during his criminal trial. In fact, it was the domestic authorities which had failed in their duty to show the requisite diligence to locate him and to inform him of the criminal proceedings. The applicant further asserted, without giving any details, that he had not lived at his residential address at the material time: hence, he could not have received any of the documents served at that address. In view of the above, the domestic courts’ dismissal of his requests had amounted to a violation of his defence rights and his right of access to a court, as protected under Article 6 of the Convention.

(b) The Government

28. The Government submitted that the domestic authorities had taken all the necessary steps in order to discharge their duty to duly notify the applicant of the existence of the criminal proceedings against him. In that connection, the trial court had instructed the police officers to inquire into the applicant’s address following the failure of its first attempt to serve the summons at the address indicated on the cheque. Subsequently, the police officers had informed the court of what they had established to be the applicant’s address, which had thereafter been used by the court for the service of documents during the trial. In fact, the notification had been duly served at that address in line with the Notification Act. However, the applicant had neither been present at that address, nor had he provided the authorities with his new address.

29. Furthermore, the Government emphasised that the applicant had willingly and knowingly absconded from the proceedings by failing to provide the authorities with his address, by moving out of his residence on account of his debts and by going abroad for an extended period of time. It was also significant that neither his written submissions before the domestic courts nor the application form lodged with the Court had contained any information as regards his address throughout his criminal prosecution. Accordingly, the applicant’s trial and conviction in absentia had stemmed from his own conduct, which indicated that he had evaded justice and had thus waived his right to appear in court and defend himself in person.

The Court’s assessment
(a) General principles

30. The general principles with regard to the compatibility with Article 6 of the Convention of proceedings held in the absence of the accused may be found in Sejdovic v. Italy ([GC], no. 56581/00, §§ 81-88, ECHR 2006-II; see also Sanader v. Croatia, no. 66408/12, §§ 50-53 and 67-74, 12 February 2015, and M.T.B. v. Turkey, no. 47081/06, §§ 48-64, 12 June 2018, for the application of those principles in the context of criminal proceedings in Turkey).

(b) Application of the above principles to the present case

31. The applicant was tried and convicted in absentia in the criminal proceedings before the Istanbul Criminal Court of First Instance resulting in the imposition of a judicial fine on him, which was eventually converted into a term of imprisonment following his failure to pay it. Accordingly, the applicant served just over ten months in prison prior to his release, which was brought about by the legislative amendments abolishing the penalty of imprisonment in respect of the offence of which he had been convicted.

32. It is common ground that the applicant was not personally served with any documents in the context of the criminal proceedings against him (see Sejdovic, cited above, § 96, and Sanader, cited above, § 77 in fine; compare Medenica v. Switzerland, no. 20491/92, § 59, ECHR 2001‑VI, with further references). However, the Government argued that the applicant had knowingly and willingly absconded from the proceedings and had thus waived his right to be present, because he had (i) moved out of his residential address on account of his debts (as indicated by the statements of the building manager, N.Ş); (ii) failed to inform the authorities of his address change; and (iii) gone abroad for an extended period of time.

33. The Court cannot find that those grounds corresponded to objective factors which were in and of themselves sufficient to conclude that he could have been deemed to have had effective knowledge of the proceedings against him (see Sejdovic, cited above, § 99, and compare Vyacheslav Korchagin v. Russia, no. 12307/16, § 76, 28 August 2018) or that he had intended to escape trial or otherwise waived his right to be present in any other way (see Chong Coronado v. Andorra, no. 37368/15, §§ 42-43, 23 July 2020).

34. First of all, at no stage of the proceedings did the domestic courts assess those points, on which the Government relied before the Court to support their above-noted assertion. Secondly, while it is true that the building manager stated that the applicant had moved out of his apartment owing to issues related to his debts, it is not clear whether those debts were the same as those that formed the basis of the criminal proceedings against the applicant. Thirdly, even assuming that the applicant could potentially be reproached for failing to inform the authorities of his address (see Colozza v. Italy, 12 February 1985, § 32, Series A no. 89), the Court considers that it would be too great a leap to attach to such a failure the rationale that the applicant was either aware of the criminal proceedings or intended to evade justice. Fourthly, the same consideration also holds true in respect of the mere fact of being abroad – a fact that was not contested by the applicant – which does not in and of itself suffice to provide an unequivocal indication in respect of the Government’s argument (see Stoyanov-Kobuladze v. Bulgaria, no. 25714/05, § 41, 25 March 2014, and compare H.N. v. Italy, no. 18902/91, Commission decision of 27 October 1998, unreported, § 1).

35. Given the absence of any objective factors allowing a conclusion to be drawn as regards the applicant’s knowledge of the criminal proceedings (see Sejdovic, cited above, § 99), the Court cannot conclude that the applicant unequivocally waived his right to appear and defend himself or evaded justice. It remains to be determined whether the applicant was able to obtain from a court which has heard him a fresh determination of the merits of the charge, in respect of both law and fact (see Stoichkov v. Bulgaria, no. 9808/02, § 55, 24 March 2005).

36. In that connection, the Court notes that the applicant applied to the trial court, by means of his letter dated 25 April 2011, for the reopening of the proceedings against him, arguing that he had not been able to make any defence submissions on account of not having been served with any document relating to those proceedings. The trial court rejected that request on 3 May 2011, finding that the service of the writ of summons and conviction dated 17 November 2009 had been effected pursuant to the provisions of the Notification Act. The Court observes that neither the trial court nor the Istanbul Assize Court, the latter dismissing the applicant’s objection, verified whether the applicant had indeed been informed of the criminal proceedings in person or had otherwise had effective knowledge thereof (see paragraph 12 above). In view of the above, the Court concludes that the applicant, who was not shown to have had any knowledge of the criminal proceedings against him, was deprived of the possibility of obtaining a fresh determination of the merits of his case, a situation which is contrary to the elementary principles of the right to a fair trial under Article 6 of the Convention.

37. The Government have not argued that this remedy was not an effective one. When an applicant pursues a remedy in the course of which his complaint has been assessed, such as the one used by the applicant (see paragraph 36), use of another remedy which has essentially the same objective is not required (see Micallef v. Malta [GC], no. 17056/06, § 58, 15 October 2009). Having regard to the foregoing considerations, the applicant was not required to use any other remedy. Therefore, the Court dismisses the Government’s plea of non-exhaustion based on the applicant’s failure to lodge an appeal against the Istanbul Criminal Court’s decision of 6 October 2011 (see paragraph 14 above).

38. In any event, as far as the latter remedy is concerned, it transpires from the two judgments cited by the Government that the Court of Cassation’s review of the merits of the charge (in respect of both fact and law) was contingent upon the service of the conviction being contrary to the provisions of the Notification Act. The applicant did not advance such an argument before the domestic courts (see, mutatis mutandis, Campbell and Fell v. the United Kingdom, 28 June 1984, § 127, Series A no. 80), but he simply submitted that he had not been served with any document relating to the criminal proceedings against him. That being the case, the Court cannot conclude that the Government discharged their burden to demonstrate that this specific remedy was an effective one available in theory and in practice in respect of a person, such as the applicant, who has been tried and convicted in absentia and who did not have effective knowledge of the proceedings despite the legally valid service of a judgment given in his or her absence (see paragraphs 32 and 33 below).

39. Finally, since the Istanbul Assize Court’s decision dated 6 June 2011 dismissing the applicant’s objection against the trial court’s refusal to reopen the proceedings was served on the applicant’s lawyer on 2 August 2011 and the application was lodged with the Court on 8 December 2011, the Court also rejects the Government’s preliminary objection based on the applicant’s failure to comply with the six-month time-limit laid down in Article 35 of the Convention.

40. There has accordingly been a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.

41. In view of the above findings, the Court does not find it necessary to examine whether the refusal of the applicant’s late appeal gave rise to a further breach of his right of access to a court as protected under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.

ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 5 § 1 (a) OF THE CONVENTION
42. The applicant complained that he had served “eight months and three days” in prison owing to proceedings that had been conducted in an unlawful manner, in breach of Article 5 of the Convention, the relevant part of which reads as follows:

“1. Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be deprived of his liberty save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law:

(a) the lawful detention of a person after conviction by a competent court; …”

43. The Court notes that this complaint is neither manifestly ill-founded nor inadmissible on any other grounds listed in Article 35 of the Convention. It must therefore be declared admissible.

44. The applicant reiterated his complaint.

45. Referring to their observations relating to the complaint under Article 6 of the Convention, the Government submitted that the applicant’s conviction and his ensuing imprisonment had not been the result of criminal proceedings which could be described as a “flagrant denial of justice”, given (i) the requisite diligence exercised by the domestic courts in their attempts to serve the applicant with documents relating to his trial and (ii) the applicant’s absconding from the proceedings.

46. The Court notes that the requirement of Article 5 § 1 (a) that a person be lawfully detained after “conviction by a competent court” does not imply that the Court has to subject the proceedings leading to that conviction to a comprehensive scrutiny and verify whether they have fully complied with all the requirements of Article 6 of the Convention. However, although not every Article 6 violation results in a violation of Article 5 § 1 (a), the Court has also held that if a “conviction” is the result of proceedings which were “manifestly contrary to the provisions of Article 6 or the principles embodied therein”, the resulting deprivation of liberty would not be justified under Article 5 § 1 (a) (see Stoichkov, cited above, § 51, with further references; see also Kereselidze v. Georgia, no. 39718/09, § 48, 28 March 2019). What is required is a breach of the principles of a fair trial that is so fundamental as to amount to nullification, or destruction of the very essence, of the right guaranteed by Article 6 (ibid., § 53).

47. The Court has found (see paragraph 40 above) that the applicant’s conviction in absentia with no subsequent possibility of obtaining a fresh determination of the merits of the charge was indeed contrary to the elementary principles of the right to a fair trial under Article 6 of the Convention (see Stoichkov, cited above, §§ 56-59, and Gumeniuc v. the Republic of Moldova, no. 48829/06, §§ 25-26, 16 May 2017). In this specific situation, the applicant’s deprivation of liberty to serve the sentence stemming from a conviction resulting from proceedings as described above cannot be considered “lawful” within the meaning of Article 5 § 1 (a) of the Convention.

48. It follows that there has been a violation of Article 5 § 1 of the Convention.

OTHER ALLEGED VIOLATIONS OF THE CONVENTION
49. Lastly, the applicant complained under Article 1 of Protocol No. 4 to the Convention that he had been imprisoned owing to his debts. However, as Turkey has not ratified the above-mentioned Protocol, this complaint must be declared incompatible ratione personae with the provisions of the Convention and the Protocols thereto within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 (a) and must be rejected in accordance with Article 35 § 4 (see T. and A. v. Turkey, no. 47146/11, § 102, 21 October 2014).

APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION
50. Article 41 of the Convention provides:

“If the Court finds that there has been a violation of the Convention or the Protocols thereto, and if the internal law of the High Contracting Party concerned allows only partial reparation to be made, the Court shall, if necessary, afford just satisfaction to the injured party.”

Damage
51. The applicant claimed 1,430 euros (EUR) in respect of pecuniary damage, arguing that he had served his sentence in prison owing to his conviction in absentia, resulting in serious financial losses which had brought about the end of his business activities. Furthermore, the applicant had suffered congestive cardiac failure in 2013, that is, after his release from prison, and despite his best efforts, he could not manage to resume his business activities, resulting in his inability to pay the expenses relating to his dependent child. In support of his claims in respect of pecuniary damage, the applicant submitted (i) a letter he had sent to the Silivri public prosecutor’s office – to which he had not received a reply – wherein he had asked to be given a document detailing the amount of money sent to him during his time in prison, which he purported amounted to EUR 1,330; (ii) the payment order issued by the Ümraniye Tax Office on 10 April 2017 in the amount of 735 Turkish liras, corresponding to the amount of food he had consumed while he had been in prison; and (iii) certain medical reports. The applicant further claimed EUR 50,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage.

52. The Government submitted that there had been no causal link between the violations found and the pecuniary damage reportedly incurred by the applicant and that the claims were excessive. In any event, the applicant’s claims under this head remained unsubstantiated owing to his failure to provide any proof of payment. As for non-pecuniary damage, the Government argued that the applicant’s claim was excessive, unsubstantiated and did not correspond to the amounts awarded in the Court’s case-law.

53. The Court dismisses the applicant’s pecuniary damage claim under item (i) above, as it is not convinced that applying to the Silivri public prosecutor was the only possible avenue to obtain documentary proof in respect of the expenses he had allegedly incurred while serving his prison sentence. In any event, the applicant’s failure to explain the particulars of his expenditure in prison prevents the Court from assessing whether they would have been incurred only as a result of his being in prison or not. The Court also dismisses the applicant’s claims in respect of pecuniary damage in so far as they concern item (ii) owing to his failure to submit any document showing that he had paid the payment order and item, (iii) as no causal link could be established between the health problems the applicant had encountered long after his release and the violations found in the present case (see Marinova and Others v. Bulgaria, nos. 33502/07 and 3 others, § 119, 12 July 2016, and compare Bragi Guðmundur Kristjánsson v. Iceland, no. 12951/18, § 81, 31 August 2021). The Court is also unable to assess the expenses concerning the applicant’s dependent child owing to his failure to quantify the amount thereof and submit any document in respect of them. It therefore dismisses that claim.

54. As for non-pecuniary damage, the Court notes that Article 311 of the Code of Criminal Procedure allows for the reopening of domestic proceedings in the event that the Court finds a violation of the Convention. Nevertheless, the applicant must have suffered distress and anxiety due to the violations of Articles 5 and 6 of the Convention as a result of which he served a little more than ten months in prison, which justifies awarding him compensation in respect of non-pecuniary damage. Deciding on an equitable basis, the Court awards the applicant EUR 12,000, plus any tax that may be chargeable.

Costs and expenses
55. The applicant also claimed EUR 1,020 for the costs and expenses incurred before the Court, corresponding to (i) legal fees (EUR 600), (ii) the work undertaken by his lawyer and his assistants and stationery expenses (EUR 350), and (iii) translation costs (EUR 90). In support of those claims, the applicant submitted an invoice, a breakdown of costs issued by his lawyer, and an invoice for the translation services.

56. The Government contested that claim, arguing that the applicant had neither submitted sufficient documents showing that he had incurred the costs and expenses nor sufficiently itemised the legal fees, for example by showing how many hours had been spent and on which days.

57. According to the Court’s case-law, an applicant is entitled to the reimbursement of costs and expenses only in so far as it has been shown that these were actually and necessarily incurred and are reasonable as to quantum. In the present case, regard being had to the documents in its possession and the above criteria, the Court grants the amount claimed in full.

Default interest
58. The Court considers it appropriate that the default interest rate should be based on the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank, to which should be added three percentage points.

FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT, UNANIMOUSLY,

Declares the complaints under Articles 5 and 6 of the Convention admissible;
Declares the complaint under Article 1 of Protocol No. 4 to the Convention inadmissible;
Holds that there has been a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention on account of the applicant’s trial and conviction in absentia and his inability to obtain a fresh determination of the case in respect of both law and fact;
Holds that there is no need to examine the remaining complaint under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention concerning the applicant’s right of access to a court;
Holds that there has been a violation of Article 5 § 1 of the Convention;
Holds
(a) that the respondent State is to pay the applicant, within three months from the date on which the judgment becomes final in accordance with Article 44 § 2 of the Convention, the following amounts, to be converted into the currency of the respondent State at the rate applicable at the date of settlement:

(i) EUR 12,000 (twelve thousand euros), plus any tax that may be chargeable, in respect of non-pecuniary damage;

(ii) EUR 1,020 (one thousand and twenty euros), plus any tax that may be chargeable to the applicant, in respect of costs and expenses;

(b) that from the expiry of the above-mentioned three months until settlement simple interest shall be payable on the above amounts at a rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank during the default period plus three percentage points;

Dismisses the remainder of the applicant’s claim for just satisfaction.
Done in English, and notified in writing on 7 June 2022, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.

Hasan Bakırcı Jon Fridrik Kjølbro
Registrar President




Taganrog LRO and Others v. Russia- ECHR 07/06/2022

Owing to its accessibility and capacity to store and communicate vast amounts of information, the Internet has now become one of the principal means by which individuals exercise their right to freedom of expression and information. The Internet provides essential tools for participation in activities and discussions concerning political issues and issues of general interest, it enhances the public’s access to news and facilitates the dissemination of information in general.

CASE OF TAGANROG LRO AND OTHERS v. RUSSIA

The European Court of Human Rights (Third Section)

CASE OF TAGANROG LRO AND OTHERS v. RUSSIA

(Applications nos. 32401/10 and 19 others – see appended list)

JUDGMENT

Art 9 (read in light of Art 11) ● Art 10 ● Freedom of religion ● Freedom to impart information ● Forced dissolution of a Jehovah’s Witnesses’ (JW) local religious organisation (LRO) ● Declaration of JW’ publications as “extremist” ● Not “prescribed by law” and necessary in democratic society

Art 10+11 (read in light of Art 9) ● Freedom of expression ● Freedom of association ● Domestic courts’ failure to provide relevant and sufficient reasons and to uphold adversarial nature of proceedings when declaring JW’ publications “extremist” and prosecuting individual JW applicants ● No balancing exercise conducted by domestic courts for dissolution of a LRO for using those publications

Art 10 (read in light of Art 9) ● Freedom to impart and receive information ● Withdrawal of distribution permit and prosecution of JW for distributing unregistered media ● Declaration of JW’ international website as “extremist” ● Neither “prescribed by law” nor necessary in democratic society

Art 9 (read in light of Art 11) ● Dissolution of JW’ Administrative Centre and LROs ● Policy of intolerance by authorities ● Failure to act in good faith and breach of State’s duty of neutrality and impartiality

Art 9 ● Art 5 ● Arbitrary criminal prosecution of applicants for continuing to practice their religion ● Unlawful pre-trial detention of individual applicant

Art 1 P1 ● Peaceful enjoyment of possessions ● No legal basis for seizure of publications, immovable and personal property

Art 46 • Individual measures • Respondent state required to take measures to secure the discontinuation of pending criminal proceedings against JW and release of all imprisoned JW

DATE: 7 June 2022

This judgment will become final in the circumstances set out in Article 44 § 2 of the Convention. It may be subject to editorial revision.

In the case of Taganrog LRO and Others v. Russia,

The European Court of Human Rights (Third Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:

Georges Ravarani, President,
Georgios A. Serghides,
Darian Pavli,
Peeter Roosma,
Andreas Zünd,
Frédéric Krenc,
Mikhail Lobov, judges,

and Milan Blaško, Section Registrar,

Having regard to:

the twenty applications against the Russian Federation (see the list of applications in Appendix I) lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by religious organisations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, publishers of religious literature and individual followers (see a list of applicants in Appendix II) (“the applicants”);

the decision to give notice to the Russian Government (“the Government”) of the complaints relating to the alleged violations of the rights to freedom of religion, expression and association, the right to a fair trial, the right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions and the right to be protected against discrimination, and to declare inadmissible the remainder of applications marked with an asterisk in Appendix I;

the decision to give priority to applications nos. 10188/17 and 3215/18 (Rule 41 of the Rules of Court);

the decision by the Danish Government to exercise their right to intervene in the proceedings involving their national, Mr Christensen;

the decision by the German Government not to exercise their right to intervene in the proceedings involving the German company publishing the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ religious literature;

the comments by a third-party intervener, ADF International, which was granted leave to intervene by the President of the Section;

the parties’ observations;

Having deliberated in private on 5 April and 3 May 2022,

Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on the last-mentioned date:

INTRODUCTION

1. The case concerns the forced dissolution of Jehovah’s Witnesses religious organisations in Russia, the banning of their religious literature and international website on charges of extremism, the revocation of the permit to distribute religious magazines, the criminal prosecution of individual Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the confiscation of their property.

THE FACTS

2. The applicants were represented by a legal team led by Dr Petr Muzny, professor of law at the University of Geneva, Switzerland.

3. The Government were initially represented by Mr M. Galperin, the then Representative of the Russian Federation to the European Court of Human Rights, and later by Mr M. Vinogradov, his successor in this office.

4. The facts of the case, as submitted by the parties, may be summarised as follows.

JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES IN RUSSIA

5. Jehovah’s Witnesses have been present in Russia since 1891. They were banned after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and criminally prosecuted for practising their faith in the USSR.

6. After the USSR Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organisations Act was enacted in 1990, the RSFSR Ministry of Justice registered the Administrative Centre of the Religious Organisations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the USSR. On 29 April 1999 that national religious entity was re-registered as the Administrative Centre of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia (“the Administrative Centre”), under Russia’s new Religions Act.

7. In order to carry out their religious worship and practice throughout Russia, religious associations of Jehovah’s Witnesses were formed into groups or communities, called “congregations”. They operated under the authority of the Administrative Centre, an umbrella organisation for the Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses. There were approximately 400 local congregations and 175,000 individual Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. Their places of worship were known as “Kingdom Halls”.

8. In January 2007 a deputy Prosecutor General sent out a circular letter to regional prosecutors, asserting that Jehovah’s Witnesses represented a public threat:

“Various branches of foreign religious and charitable organisations operate in Russia, whose activities do not formally violate the provisions of Russian law but quite often contribute to the escalation of tensions in society. Representatives of foreign religious associations (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unification Church, Church of Scientology, etc.), followers of various Oriental beliefs, and followers of Satanism form branches that frequently carry out activities harmful to the moral, mental, and physical health of their members.”

He directed subordinate prosecutors as follows:

“To check whether territorial bodies of the [telecoms regulator Roskomnadzor] … properly execute their legal duty to uncover extremist material in the media belonging to religious associations (Church of Scientology, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other religious organisations that have their own printing facilities).”

CIRCUMSTANCES OF INDIVIDUAL CASES

Forced dissolution of the Taganrog organisation, confiscation of its property and banning of publications (application no. 32401/10)
9. The first applicant, the Taganrog local religious organisation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (the “Taganrog LRO”), was originally registered in 1992 as an independent religious association. In 1998 it was re-registered as a local religious organisation operating within the structure of the Administrative Centre (the second applicant). The third and fourth applicants are the German and US publishers of Jehovah’s Witnesses religious literature. The fifth to sixteenth applicants are twelve congregations in Taganrog which shared the Kingdom Hall with the Taganrog LRO.

10. Reacting to the letter from the deputy Prosecutor General, on 13 September 2007 a deputy Rostov Regional Prosecutor directed all town and district prosecutors to carry out inspections of the religious organisations of Jehovah’s Witnesses:

“Structures of the foreign religious organisation (FRO) of Jehovah’s Witnesses, registered … in the Rostov Region, are actively functioning in the territory of Rostov Region. The organisation, as a matter of course, refuses to recognise the State authority in the countries in which its branches are located. The activity of the FRO has been banned in several jurisdictions.

Despite having official registration, by carrying out their cult activity followers of the FRO of Jehovah’s Witnesses regularly commit violations of Russian law. In particular, they preach refusal to fulfil civil responsibilities (serving in the army, paying taxes, commission of administrative and criminal offences). They forbid their followers from accepting medical assistance in the form of blood transfusions resulting in death or serious harm being caused to their health, including that of children. A characteristic feature of the organisation is the aggression it openly displays towards representatives of other religious confessions …

The findings of a religious expert study of several printed publications that had been distributed by the Jehovists in the Rostov Region, carried out in August of this year by the Rostov Center for Court Expert Studies indicate that they contain indicators of incitement to religious enmity.

On the basis of the above, it is necessary for you to organise and conduct a thorough investigation of local religious organisations of Jehovah’s Witnesses located in your jurisdictions, together with the territorial agencies of the Federal Security [Service] and the registration service, and to take all possible reactive measures, including examining the question of preparing and sending to courts applications to liquidate local organisations for violations of law they committed, and to inform the regional prosecutor’s office with details of reactive measures by 10 October 2007.”

11. The expert study to which the deputy prosecutor referred, had been commissioned on 2 August 2007 by the acting prosecutor in the Tarasovskiy district with a view to determining whether or not a number of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ books and magazines contained “indicators of inciting hatred or hostility, or of debasing human dignity on account of one’s attitude toward religion, or of advocating the exclusivity of one religion in comparison with another”. An expert from the Rostov Centre for Forensic Studies found that, while the texts studied contained elements of hatred towards the “Christendom”, that is all religious movements recognising Jesus Christ and the Bible except Jehovah’s Witnesses, there were no expressions inciting hostility which could “encourage readers to take action aimed at the destruction of the object of hatred”. The texts also advocated the exclusivity of one religion, inasmuch as the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ movement pronounced itself to be the only true religion, whereas all other Christian religions were seen to be Satanic.

12. In pursuance of the Rostov Regional deputy prosecutor’s letter of 13 September 2007 and referring to the findings of the expert study, on 31 October 2007 the acting deputy Taganrog prosecutor issued a warning to the Taganrog LRO, advising it “to stop extremist activities”. The Taganrog LRO sent a written reply, considering the warning to be unlawful.

13. The Taganrog prosecutor also pursued other lines of investigation into the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the region. On 17 October 2007 his senior assistant requested the head doctor of the city hospital to provide a copy of the medical record of Ms S. who had been treated in the hospital in 2004, and the contact details of the medical staff in charge of the treatment. S. had been one of the founding members of the Taganrog LRO; on 17 March 2004 she had been admitted to the hospital following a serious traffic accident. Throughout her treatment, she requested that the doctors should refrain from administering blood products. On 8 April 2004 she died due to her extensive injuries. Both the post-mortem diagnosis and the medical examiner who conducted forensic autopsy for the purposes of a criminal investigation against the driver had concurred that her death had been caused by trauma, blood loss and multiple organ failure.

14. On 9 June 2008 the Rostov Regional Prosecutor’s office filed a claim in the Rostov Regional Court to liquidate the Taganrog LRO. The stated grounds for liquidation were:

(a) the death of S. which was alleged to have been the consequence of her refusal of blood transfusion;

(b) the ongoing distribution of religious literature which the expert study had found to contain indicators of extremism;

(c) the fact that the Taganrog LRO had held services of worship outside the area of operation indicated in its documents;

(d) the materials of a criminal case against Mr G. who had been convicted of refusing to accept alternative civilian service which was to be carried out at a factory connected with the military;

(e) the failure to amend the list of founders of the Taganrog LRO following S.’s death;

(f) the omission of the full details of the publisher religious organisation in certain printed materials of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

15. The Taganrog LRO sought to join the Administrative Centre and two publishers of religious literature as parties to the proceedings since they were responsible for the printing, publishing, and distribution of the religious literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. All such applications were denied.

16. On 11 August 2009 the prosecutor supplemented his claim in the case with the request that the sixty-eight publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses submitted for a composite study be declared extremist material. On 7 September 2009 the prosecutor again amended the claim by requesting that the Taganrog LRO not only be liquidated but also be declared an extremist organisation and that its property and all existing copies of the sixty-eight religious publications be confiscated.

17. By judgment of 11 September 2009, the Rostov Regional Court granted the prosecutor’s claim, ordering the liquidation of the Taganrog LRO as an extremist organisation and the banning of its activities. The Regional Court founded its judgment on the following evidence.

18. On the charge of extremism, the Regional Court reproduced the findings of the composite expert study which established that thirty-four – out of a total of sixty-eight – publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses contained “indicators of inciting religious discord”:

“Assessing the research conducted by the experts and their oral evidence before it, the court has reached the conclusion that part of the literature and printed publications distributed by the [Taganrog] LRO contain a number of expressions … demonstrating the negative attitude of Jehovah’s Witnesses toward various elements of traditional Christianity, a negative image of Catholicism as a traditional Christian denomination, and a sharply negative assessment by one religious group, including accompanying illustrations directed at the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church. The literature contains information capable of undermining the reader’s respect for Christian religions (except Jehovah’s Witnesses) and for their Christian religious figures, and also contains expressions and content urging [people] to leave other Christian religions (false religions) and to join the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Such appeals are expressed in various forms – declarations of intent, directives, pleading, appeals, and advice. Manipulative devices are used to exert psychological influence on the consciousness of the perceiver.”

The Regional Court referred to the statements by two Orthodox priests and five Orthodox believers who claimed having been offended by the Witnesses’ criticism of Orthodox Christianity. On the basis of their testimony, the Regional Court found that the Witnesses’ literature and views “outrage religious feelings, provoke conflict on interreligious grounds, and inflame religious discord”.

19. The Regional Court then turned to the grounds for the liquidation of a religious organisation established in the Religions Act. On the charge of incitement to refuse medical assistance, the court took evidence from Ms S.’s husband and the head of emergency unit. They confirmed that after the accident Ms S. had been repeatedly offered blood transfusion which she had firmly refused, citing her religious duty as a Jehovah’s Witness. In the doctor’s opinion, the medicine her fellow believers had brought for her had not been the kind of the blood substitutes she had needed. On the basis of the above-mentioned expert study, the testimony by witnesses and Ms S.’s medical record, the Regional Court considered it established that –

“… the refusal of a blood transfusion did lead to a fatal outcome since other methods of treatment turned out to be ineffective. [The court] considers that the establishment of injury to health of at least one person is a proven gross violation of law which would be incompatible with the continued operation of the LRO.”

20. On the issue whether the Taganrog LRO advocated abandonment of civic duties, the Regional Court again referred to the expert study and also heard an official of the Taganrog military drafting office. He stated that in 2007 Mr G. had been one of ten conscripts who professed the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He had learnt of the existence of the Taganrog LRO from two young men who were on their way to serve when “attempts were made to influence them not to serve”. Mr G. had refused a specific assignment to perform alternative civilian service, for which he was found criminally liable. The Regional Court found this evidence sufficient to conclude that a breach of the law on the part of Mr G. had been the product of the influence of the Taganrog LRO:

“… the evidence produced at the trial confirms the fact that the Taganrog LRO committed actions inciting citizens to refuse to fulfil civic duties established by law. Those actions included distributing among believers of literature containing such appeals … and the influencing of citizens of conscription age not professing the said religion to refuse to perform military service. The last allegation is based on the testimony of the witness … from the Taganrog military drafting office [who] testified that he learned of the existence of conscripted believers in the spring of 2007 during the spring call-up, when conscripted young men approached him and said that other conscripted persons were influencing them to refuse to undergo service in the army.”

21. The Regional Court further considered the prosecutor’s allegation that the Taganrog LRO involved minors in its activities. The prosecution produced two witnesses: Mr S., former husband of a Jehovah’s Witness, stated that his former wife involved their child in the religious activities, despite his objections. He had sought a judicial order for amending the custody arrangements but it had been refused because his former wife and the child had “excellent living conditions”. The second witness, Ms B., an official of the Child Protection Authority, reported the case of a sixteen‑year-old student who had fallen behind in her studies because she had missed classes twice a week to visit a Sunday school. In the end the child had been helped and had finished school. Two witnesses for the Taganrog LRO, the former wife of Mr S. and another Witness mother, told the court that they read Bible together with their children and attended religious meetings twice a week but they did not celebrate birthdays or State holidays. The Regional Court drew the following conclusion from the testimony before it:

“The testimony … objectively confirms the arguments in the application regarding minor children being lured into the organisation’s activity, including into the preaching activity, as small or minor children are being obliged, together with their parents, regardless of weather or time of the year, to go on the streets and to apartments with the goal of distributing literature, and to be present for long periods of time at [religious] meetings …

The circumstances established during the trial testify to the violation by the religious organisation and its members of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Constitution, and the Family Code, as they involve very young children in the religious organisation without the consent of the other parent, who has equal rights and duties in the upbringing of the children, and do not consider the opinion and interests of the children.

The actions of the members of the Taganrog LRO constitute a direct violation of the provisions of Article 31 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which establishes that the States Parties recognise the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child, and to participate fully in cultural and artistic life.

The testimony of the witnesses who are members of the organisation, to the effect that they visit the park with their children, take trips to the zoo, and spend time with their children in nature, does not attest to the parents’ ensuring conditions for the full and comprehensive development of the children, since all these activities only take place with the participation of other members of the organisation. Not one of the witnesses demonstrated that their children actively participate in sports or in any type of sports leagues, are receiving a musical education, or are interested in and attending hobby groups of any kind, all of which are necessary for a comprehensive development of personality, abilities, and interests.”

22. The Regional Court also found that the activities of the Taganrog LRO led to destruction of family relations on account of religious differences. The court referred to the findings of the expert study to the effect that “faith in God takes priority over family relationships” and that “non-belief on the part of a spouse or children is considered to be a basis for marital instability … and also for termination of relations with the non‑believing family member”. It also took evidence from Mr St., director of the Consultative Centre, an entity under the patronage of the Orthodox Church, who told the court that Mr S. (see the preceding paragraph) and Mr K. had sought his advice on how to prevent their families from breaking-up because of their wives’ involvement in Jehovah’s Witnesses’ work. Mr S. and Mr K. confirmed that before the court. Five witnesses for the defence who testified about their harmonious relationships with their spouses were deemed unreliable by the Regional Court: according to the court, Mr V., a non-believer, did not speak the truth because “his wife was in attendance in the courtroom during his testimony” and the four Jehovah’s Witnesses had a vested interest in “continuing the activities of the organisation of which they were members”.

23. Lastly, the Regional Court considered it established that the Taganrog LRO “had encroached on the personality, rights and freedoms of citizens”. That charge had two facets: first, the Taganrog LRO “determined how the believers’ free time [was to be] spent and forbade them to celebrate holidays and birthdays”, and second, the members of the LRO preached at homes uninvited, “without giving heed to the opinion of persons whom they visited and whose private life they interfered with”.

24. On the strength of the above evidence, the Regional Court pronounced the Taganrog LRO to be an extremist organisation and ordered that it be liquidated, its activities banned and its property, including the “Kingdom Hall” and the adjacent plot of land, confiscated and transferred to the State. Thirty-four publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses were declared extremist material and also confiscated.

25. The Taganrog LRO filed a 125-page statement of appeal, in which it dissected the Regional Court’s judgment and complained in particular that the Jehovah’s Witnesses had been singled out for persecution and discrimination. It referred to the prosecutor’s letters which explicitly targeted the organisation, to the press publications about the trial, and to the fact that the Regional Court took evidence from Orthodox priests, avowedly Orthodox Cossacks and the director of an Orthodox-affiliated centre Mr St.

26. On 8 December 2009 the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation rejected the appeal in a summary fashion, without addressing the arguments in detail. On the same day it rejected an application by the Administrative Centre requesting that it be heard as a party to the proceedings.

Banning and confiscation of religious publications

27. The applicants in the below cases include the local religious organisations of Jehovah’s Witnesses (LROs), individual members of the affected congregations, the Administrative Centre, and the German and US publishers of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ literature.

Banning of eighteen publications in the Altay Region (application no. 44285/10)

28. On 22 December 2008 the town prosecutor in Gorno-Altaysk in the Altay Region filed an application with the Gorno-Altaysk Town Court to declare extremist twenty-seven religious publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He relied on an expert assessment which determined that the publications proclaimed the superiority of the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The number of publications was later reduced to eighteen, by withdrawing from consideration the publications held to be extremist by the Rostov court.

29. On 7 June 2009 the police searched the place of worship of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Gorno-Altaysk confiscating hundreds of items of religious literature. They also searched the homes of the legal representative of the Gorno-Altaysk LRO, and of another Jehovah’s Witness, seizing religious literature and their personal property.

30. On 1 October 2009 the Town Court declared extremist eighteen religious publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses (one brochure, seven Awake! magazines, and ten Watchtower magazines). The court endorsed in their entirety the findings of the expert assessment to the effect that the publications promoted “the superiority of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ teachings and the inferiority of other religions.” It ordered that the publications be confiscated and added to the federal List of Extremist Materials. On 27 January 2010 the Supreme Court of the Altay Republic dismissed the appeal in a summary fashion.

Banning of three publications in the Rostov Region (application no. 2269/12)

31. Following a complaint by a member of the public asserting that certain publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses proclaim the superiority of their religion over others, the town prosecutor in Salsk in the Rostov Region asked a linguistic expert to conduct a study on the literature concerned. The expert concluded that the texts did not contain signs of extremism but that they could “cause the incitement of hostility to other religions” and did contain “traces of propaganda of the superiority of one religion over others”. A subsequent court-appointed study concluded that four publications contained statements capable of “undermining respect, or of evoking hostile feelings, towards religions other than Jehovah’s Witnesses” and information “about the exclusivity and moral superiority of Jehovah’s Witnesses”. The prosecutor filed an application with a court to have the publications declared extremist.

32. On 27 June 2011 the Salsk Town Court granted the prosecutor’s application in part, ruling to pronounce the nine of the twelve publications extremist, extensively quoting from, and fully endorsing the findings of, the expert studies. Following an appeal hearing on 13 October 2011, the Regional Court amended the judgment in the part concerning the six publications which were already on the Federal List of Extremist Materials and upheld the finding of an extremist nature of the remaining three publications.

Banning of four publications in Krasnodar (application no. 2269/12)
33. On 11 March 2009 the Krasnodar regional prosecutor filed an application with the Pervomayskiy District Court of Krasnodar, requesting that four publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses – which had been allegedly discovered in a public park – be pronounced extremist: three issues of The Watchtower magazine, and the book Draw Close to Jehovah. The claim was based on the findings of a linguist from the Krasnodar regional police and concerned one issue of The Watchtower magazine which had been pronounced as not containing signs of extremism in the Rostov proceedings (see paragraph 18 above).

34. On 29 June 2009 the District Court appointed a psychological linguistic assessment of the publications which was completed on 18 February 2011. The experts found that the publications contained indications of disrespectful or hostile attitude to religions other than Jehovah’s Witnesses and of their superiority over other religions, but that there were no statements inciting religious hatred or calls for enmity or violent acts against any other social or religious group.

35. Relying on the findings of the expert study, on 22 April 2011 the District Court granted the prosecutor’s application in full and pronounced the four publications extremist. It rejected the expert studies that had been supplied by the defence on the grounds, in particular, that the studies had been carried out at the request of a party to the case. On 16 August 2011 the Krasnodar Regional Court upheld the judgment on appeal.

Banning of six publications in Kemerovo (application no. 2269/12)
36. On 22 September 2010 the Zavodskiy district prosecutor in Kemerovo asked the Zavodskiy District Court to declare six publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses (the book The Bible—God’s Word or Man’s?, the brochure Keep on the Watch!, and four issues of the Watchtower and Awake! magazines) to be extremist. The application rested on a linguistic assessment which concluded that the publications incited to enmity and hatred towards Catholicism and Catholic priests but did not contain calls to violence or other unlawful actions. Members of the local congregation, the Administrative Centre or the publishers were not summoned to participate as parties to the case. On the basis of the expert’s report as the sole piece of evidence, on 28 October 2010 the District Court granted the prosecutor’s application and declared the publications extremist.

37. The applicants only became aware of the decision when the publications appeared on the Federal List of Extremist Materials after it had been updated on 18 January 2011 on the web site of the Ministry of Justice.

38. Between 25 and 27 January 2011 fifteen Jehovah’s Witnesses from Kemerovo, the Administrative Centre and the publishing houses filed statements of appeal. On 28 March 2011 the District Court rejected the appeals, holding that, as the applicants had not participated in the 28 October 2010 hearing, they did not have the right to appeal against the decision.

39. The applicants challenged the refusal to consider their appeals before the Regional Court. On 8 July 2011 the Kemerovo Regional Court rejected the complaint, finding that the District Court’s judgment did not interfere with the applicants’ right to freedom of religion.

Banning of a new edition of the same book in Krasnoyarsk (application no. 74387/13)
40. On 20 March 2012 the head of the Central Military District of the Federal Security Service (FSB) wrote to the Sovetskiy district prosecutor in Krasnoyarsk that they had been carrying out “operational-investigative measures aimed at suppressing the extremist activity of followers of the Jehovah’s Witnesses” to prevent them from “recruiting military personnel of military units of the Krasnoyarsk garrison into the destructive activity of the religious organisation of Jehovah’s Witnesses”. As a result of these measures, they seized a copy of the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? published in Germany in 2009, that was identical in its contents to the earlier 2005 edition which had already been pronounced to be extremist by the Rostov Regional Court in 2009 (see paragraph 18 above). The FSB requested the prosecutor to institute judicial proceedings to have the 2009 edition also declared extremist.

41. On 28 April 2012 the prosecutor filed such an application with the Sovetskiy District Court of Krasnoyarsk. By judgment of 14 February 2013, the District Court granted the prosecutor’s application, finding that the 2009 edition was identical in its contents to the 2005 edition which had been pronounced extremist. On 20 May 2013 the Krasnoyarsk Regional Court upheld the judgment on appeal.

Banning of a brochure in Krasnoyarsk (application no. 79240/13)
42. On 13 June 2012 the FSB wrote to the Sovetskiy district prosecutor that they had prevented the Jehovah’s Witnesses from carrying out extremist activities and recruiting military personnel and had seized thirteen publications which had the characteristics of extremist material.

43. On 25 June 2012 the prosecutor in Krasnoyarsk filed an application with a court, seeking a declaration that the brochure Will You Follow Jehovah’s Loving Guidance? was extremist. By way of justification, the prosecutor referred to an expert assessment. The expert found that the brochure “contained calls to reject one’s own religion in favour of that of Jehovah’s Witnesses” through declaring that “all non-Christian religions [were] clearly false” and “emphasising the true nature of the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses”.

44. On 24 January 2013 the Sovetskiy District Court granted the application, fully endorsing the findings contained in the expert opinion. On 24 July 2013 the Regional Court upheld the judgment on appeal.

Banning of the book “Bearing Thorough Witness” About God’s Kingdom (application no. 28108/14)
45. On 2 November 2011 a district prosecutor of the Krasnodar Region asked the Uspenskiy District Court to declare extremist the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ book “Bearing Thorough Witness” About God’s Kingdom. A first court-commissioned expert assessment concluded that the book did not contain calls to enmity and hatred or any statements degrading the dignity of others. The second assessment appointed at the prosecutor’s request found that the book contained “indicators of indirectly inciting citizens to refuse to perform lawfully established civic obligations, in particular non-compliance with judicial decisions and government bans conflicting with the principles of the religious teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses” and statements “capable of creating in the reader a negative perception … of ministers of traditional Christian denominations”. An Orthodox priest, heard at the request of the prosecutor, was of the view that the book had an extremist character.

46. On 19 June 2013 the District Court pronounced the book extremist, relying exclusively on the findings in the second expert assessment and the statements by the Orthodox priest. On 8 October 2013 the Krasnodar Regional Court dismissed their appeals and upheld the judgment in a summary fashion.

Banning of two brochures (application no. 16578/15)
47. On 14 October 2013 a military prosecutor in Vladimir asked the Leninskiy District Court of Vladimir to pronounce two brochures of Jehovah’s Witnesses to be extremist on the grounds of an expert’s assessment that the brochures incited religious hatred and advocated superiority of one religion above others. On 23 October 2013 the Leninskiy District Court granted the prosecutor’s application, relying exclusively on the expert report. The publisher of the brochures or any other representatives of Jehovah’s Witnesses were not summoned to the hearings. The judgment became final on 2 December 2013.

48. On 26 May 2014 a prosecutor in Birobidzhan in the Yevreyskiy Region issued an official warning letter to the local organisation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. With reference to the judgment of the Leninskiy District Court of Vladimir, he advised the applicants to cease the distribution of the brochures.

49. Having thus become aware of the judgment of the Leninskiy District Court, the applicants appealed against it, requesting the District Court to restore the time-limit for lodging an appeal. On 7 August 2014 the District Court dismissed their request, finding that the judgment did not interfere with the applicants’ rights and that they did not give a valid reason for missing the time-limit for appeal. On 7 October 2014 the Vladimir Regional Court upheld this decision on appeal.

Prosecution of applicants for distributing “extremist” literature
50. In the second half of 2010 individual Jehovah’s Witnesses were prosecuted for using the religious literature declared to be “extremist” in religious ministry.

51. Mr Boltnyev and Mr Mardonov in Tatarstan (applications nos. 3488/11 and 3492/11) were stopped by the police in the street. The police demanded to see their documents and contents of their bags; on discovering Jehovah’s Witnesses’ literature, the police took them to the station and seized all the literature in their possession, including their personal Bibles and notepads. On 9 June 2010 the magistrates’ court in Nizhnekamsk found them guilty of “mass dissemination of extremist material”, an offence under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offences (CAO) on the basis the fact that they had in their possession the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? which had been previously declared extremist. They were fined 1,000 Russian roubles (RUB) each. On 7 July 2010 the Nizhnekamsk Town Court rejected their appeals.

52. In the case of Mr Aliyev in Birobidzhan (application no. 14821/11), a certain Mr M., posing as a member of the public, attended a meeting of the local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses with the stated aim of “studying the religion”. He made audio recording of the meeting and provided it to the Birobidzhan prosecutor, claiming that he was concerned about distribution of extremist literature. A joint team of the police, prosecutors and security services interrupted a religious meeting on 31 March 2010 in which a partial copy of religious textbook Come be my Follower was being used. By judgment of 26 May 2010, as upheld on appeal on 11 August 2010 by the Birobidzhan Town Court, the magistrates’ court found Mr Aliyev guilty of mass dissemination of extremist material, noting that he had allowed the text to be distributed and commented upon in his presence, and fined him RUB 3,000.

53. Mr Fedorin in the Rostov Region (application no. 17552/11), one of Jehovah’s Witnesses since 1959 who had been sentenced to six years’ imprisonment in 1972 for his religious convictions, was found guilty of the distribution of religious literature, including “extremist” publications, among residents of the village of Sredniy Yegorlyk. He was fined RUB 1,000 (final decision – 21 September 2010, the Tselinskiy District Court).

54. The police entered the flat of Ms Chekhovskaya in Belgorod (application no. 17552/11) acting on information received from her grandfather, who had let them in without a search warrant in her absence. The officers seized Ms Chekhovskaya’s entire personal library of religious literature, including books, journals, hymn books and Bibles. By judgment of 27 July 2010, as upheld on appeal on 14 September 2010 by the Sverdlovskiy District Court of Belgorod, she was found guilty of possession of extremist literature with the intent of mass dissemination and fined RUB 1,000.

55. Ms Savelyeva in Yoshkar-Ola (application no. 17552/11) and her fellow believers were placed under surveillance by the Centre for Suppression of Extremism (CSE) of the Mariy El Police Department. They were detained in a joint operation carried out by the chief, deputy chief and a senior officer from the CSE, and an officer from the Department for the Protection of the Constitution. By judgment of 12 October 2010, as upheld on appeal on 22 December 2010 by the Yoshkar-Ola Town Court, she was found guilty of disseminating one title of extremist literature and intending to disseminate two others and fined RUB 1,200.

56. On 7 October 2010 officers from the Department for the Protection of the Constitution of the Samara division of the FSB arrived at the residence of Ms Ebenal in the Samara Region (application no. 17552/11). They showed her a court order authorising the inspection of her apartment and asked her to hand over her religious literature, since it was alleged that she had distributed the publication What Does the Bible Really Teach? in the spring of that year. The officers seized her entire personal library of religious publications. By judgment of 15 November 2010, as upheld on appeal on 29 December 2010 by the Volzhskiy District Court of Samara Region, she was found guilty of mass dissemination of extremist materials and fined RUB 1,000.

57. In the case of Ms Belimova in Tver (application no. 17552/11), she was initially found guilty of mass dissemination of extremist material on the grounds that she had supplied religious publications to Ms F. and also studied Bible with her (final judgment of 18 March 2011 by the Tsentralniy District Court of Tver). On 18 October 2011 the President of the Tver Regional Court quashed the judgments by way of supervisory review and discontinued the proceedings because communication of extremist materials to one another person did not constitute “mass dissemination” of such materials. The order to confiscate and destroy thirty-eight publications which had been declared extremist was maintained.

Forced dissolution of the Samara organisation and confiscation of its property (application no. 15962/15)
58. The applicants are the local religious organisation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Samara (the “Samara LRO”) and six members of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ groups of the Samara Region, including Mr Moskvin from the Novokuybyshevsk congregation. At the time the Samara LRO had a membership of ten, but the thirteen Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations in the Samara Region were made up of more than 1,500 members.

59. On 29 January 2013 the Novokuybyshevsk town police in the Samara Region inspected the premises rented by the Samara LRO in which the Novokuybyshevsk congregation held their religious services. During the inspection, ten issues of the brochures which had been declared extremist by the Rostov court were uncovered and seized. Mr Moskvin, an “elder” (religious minister) of the Novokuybyshevsk congregation, was charged with “mass dissemination of extremist material” under Article 20.29 of the CAO. By judgment of 3 April 2013, as upheld on appeal on 13 May 2013, the Novokuybyshevsk Town Court fined him RUB 3,000.

60. Referring to Mr Moskvin’s conviction, a regional prosecutor issued identical warnings to the Novokuybyshevsk congregation and the Samara LRO, advising them that any form of extremist activity was prohibited on pain of liquidation. The Samara LRO replied to the prosecutor that Mr Moskvin was not one of its members and that the Novokuybyshevsk congregation was not a structural division of the LRO. No reply was received to their submission.

61. On 22 January 2014 the Samara Regional police department decided to inspect the premises rented by the Samara LRO at the local community centre for the purpose of “collecting additional information [allowing the prosecutor] to decide on the institution of criminal proceedings”. The police were instructed to seize all objects and documents “relevant to the illegal activity”. In a box inside a cabinet, they found seven copies of four books which had been declared extremist by the Rostov court. Following the inspection, the Samara LRO was charged with possession of extremist material with intent to mass dissemination. By judgment of 7 March 2014, as upheld on appeal on 17 April 2014, the Sovetskiy District Court of Samara fined it RUB 50,000.

62. On 22 April 2014 the Samara Regional prosecutor asked the Samara Regional Court to declare the Samara LRO “extremist organisation” and to liquidate it. The prosecutor cited the Mr Moskvin’s and the Samara LRO’s convictions for possession of extremist materials. The Samara LRO objected to the prosecutor’s claim, by asserting that the facts of storage of extremist literature were wrongly imputed to it, since Mr Moskvin did not belong to the Samara LRO and that the Novokuybyshevsk community operated as an independent religious group.

63. The Regional Court dismissed the Samara LRO’s arguments as an attempt to impeach the findings of the Novokuybyshevsk Town Court and the Sovetskiy District Court. With reference to the final decisions by those courts, on 29 May 2014 the Regional Court held that the Samara LRO’s administrative conviction under Article 20.29, intervening as it did within twelve months after the prosecutor had given an anti-extremism warning, constituted a sufficient ground to declare it an “extremist organisation”, to liquidate it and to confiscate its property.

64. On 12 November 2014 the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by the Samara LRO in a summary fashion.

Withdrawal of the distribution permit and prosecution of applicants for the distribution unregistered media
Withdrawal of the permit to distribute religious magazines (application no. 76162/12)

65. In 1997 the Russian media regulator granted the German publisher of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Watchtower and Awake! magazines a permit to distribute the magazines in Russia. The Administrative Centre was listed in the permit as the “applicant and distributor of the magazines” produced by the German publisher.

66. On 26 April 2010 the successor media regulator (known by its Russian abbreviation “Roskomnadzor”) issued an order to withdraw the permit. The order referred to the judgments by the Rostov Regional Court and the Gorno-Altaysk Town Court by which certain issues of the magazines had been pronounced extremist.

67. The applicants challenged the order in court. The courts at two instances upheld the validity of the order but on 22 June 2011 the Federal Commercial Court of the Moscow Circuit ruled to quash their judgments and remit the matter for a new hearing. It found in particular that the lower courts had not established a legal basis granting Roskomnadzor the power to revoke permits.

68. On 6 October 2011 the Moscow City Commercial Court found that that the order had been unlawful:

“… the law does not authorise [Roskomnadzor] to revoke a permit to distribute a foreign printed periodical … the disputed order indicates that all issues of the magazines are prohibited for distribution in Russia, whereas court decisions declared only individual issues of these periodicals extremist.

… [Roskomnadzor] did not present adequate evidence to establish that courts had declared extremist all issues of the printed periodicals Awake! and The Watchtower. Thus, its revocation of the permit to distribute all issues of the printed periodicals Awake! and The Watchtower in Russia was unlawful.”

69. On 25 January 2012 the Commercial Court of the Ninth Circuit overturned the City Court’s judgment on the grounds that using mass media for the promotion of extremism was prohibited in the Mass-Media Act and that the functioning of a media outlet promoting extremism should be terminated in accordance with the Suppression of Extremism Act.

70. On 29 May 2012 the Federal Commercial Court of the Moscow Circuit upheld that judgment, finding a legal basis for the revocation in section 32 of the Mass Media Act:

“In view of the fact that the legislation does not directly regulate the revocation of a permit to distribute foreign printed periodicals, Roskomnadzor used, by an analogy of law, the legislation governing a similar situation – section 32 of the Mass-Media Act, ‘Revocation of a License’ – in issuing the order.”

71. On 25 October 2012 the Supreme Commercial Court refused the applicants’ supervisory appeal.

Prosecution of applicants for the distribution of unregistered media (application no. 17552/11)

72. In the second half of 2010 the authorities obtained copies of The Watchtower and Awake! magazines in various ways. In the case of Mr Sirotyuk in the Primorskiy Region, the head of the village administration and an assistant district prosecutor had asked him for “some religious literature” during a religious meeting. Mr Ebeling in the Smolensk Region was stopped by the police on his way home; they asked him to show them the contents of his bag on the grounds that they had been ordered to detain anyone distributing “banned literature”. In another case from the Primorskiy Region, the police set up video surveillance in a car parked near the building where applicant Mr Konyukhov lived; they also asked a member of the public to go to his flat and obtain magazines from him. In the case of Ms Bondareva from the Kamchatka Region, the police seized magazines from the homes of individuals who told the police that they had received them from her. Lastly, in the case of Mr Komarov in Udmurtiya, the police stopped the car in which he was travelling and seized the publications from the boot of the car.

73. In all cases, the applicants were found guilty on charges of distributing unregistered magazines, an offence under Article 13.21 of the CAO, and were fined between RUB 1,000 to 1,200. The court decisions included an order to confiscate and destroy the publications. The final decisions were issued as follows: Mr Sirotyuk: 19 November 2010, the Khankayskiy District Court of the Primorskiy Region; Mr Ebeling: 13 September 2010, the Gagarinskiy District Court of the Smolensk Region; Mr Konyukhov: 30 September 2010, the Pogranichniy District Court of the Primorskiy Region; Ms Bondareva: 7 December 2010, the Ust‑Bolsheretskiy District Court of the Kamchatka Region; and Mr Komarov: 21 December 2010, the Oktyabrskiy District Court of Izhevsk.

Seizure of a consignment of religious literature (application no. 5547/12)

74. In 2010 the Administrative Centre received from a German organisation of Jehovah’s Witnesses a free gift of religious publications. After going through customs formalities, the publications were released for unrestricted distribution in the territory of Russia. The Administrative Centre sent a portion of the publications by railway to Kemerovo for the use by local Jehovah’s Witnesses, with applicant Mr Gareyev being listed as the recipient. Not one of the publications included in the shipment had been pronounced extremist by a court anywhere in Russia.

75. Applicants Mr Gareyev and Mr Rashevskiy collected the literature and loaded it into a private van with the intention of delivering it to Jehovah’s Witnesses in local congregations. On their way, they were intercepted by the armed police and taken to the Investigations Committee for questioning. After they had been questioned, the investigator ordered that the religious literature from the vehicle be seized on the grounds that the van could contain “religious literature relevant to the criminal case”. The police seized more than 100 packages of literature weighing over one ton.

76. On 17 February 2011 the applicants complained to a court that the seizure order was unlawful as it did not indicate what specific literature was of relevance to the criminal case. Not one item of the literature in the vehicle had been pronounced extremist or was subject to any restriction under Russian law.

77. By judgment of 1 April 2011, as upheld on appeal on 19 July 2011, the Zavodskiy District Court rejected the complaint. It found that the seizure order had been issued by the investigator lawfully and that the purpose of the seizure was “to form an objective view on the activities of the organisation” rather than to uncover extremist literature.

78. The consignment has never been returned to the applicants.

Blocking of access to Jehovah’s Witnesses’ website (application no. 2861/15)

79. The applicants are the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York (“Watchtower New York”) as the owner of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ international website at jw.org, the Administrative Centre, and ten individual Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses who have various perceptive limitations (visual or hearing impairments).

80. On 7 August 2013 the Tsentralniy District Court in Tver, on an application by a prosecutor, pronounced the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ website to be extremist on the ground that it contained copies of the brochures What Does the Bible Really Teach?, Draw Close to Jehovah and the book Come Be My Follower which had been previously declared extremist by the Rostov courts. It also referred to the information from the FSB, according to which the website contained copies of the brochures How Can Blood Save Your Life? and What Does God Require of Us? and copies of Awake! and The Watchtower magazines whose distribution permit had been revoked. Watchtower New York and the Administrative Centre were not informed about the proceedings. The District Court held that a decision declaring the website extremist in Russia would not affect the rights of Watchtower New York, making its participation in the proceedings unnecessary.

81. On 12 September 2013 the applicants became aware of the District Court’s decision from media reports. They filed separate appeals, complaining in particular that the decision had affected their rights without giving them an opportunity to take part in the proceedings; that the decision to block the access to the entire website had been excessively broad, because, in addition to the material that had been declared extremist, the website contained religious literature, audio and video records in hundreds of languages, and the decision prevented worshippers in Russia from accessing those non-extremist materials. The individual applicants who had physical limitations also complained that the website was the only source of religious materials with special features, such as sign language commentaries or audio recordings for blind users.

82. On 22 January 2014 the Tver Regional Court examined the appeal by Watchtower New York and quashed the decision of 7 August 2013. It found, firstly, that Watchtower New York, as the website’s owner, should have been afforded an opportunity to take part in the proceedings. It further noted that the materials declared extremist were no longer accessible on the website from within the Russian territory. Finally, it held that the District Court had gone beyond the scope of the prosecutor’s request by referring to other materials on the website, and that the reference to the revocation of the publication permit was irrelevant. The Regional Court further held that publication of certain extremist materials was not a ground for declaring the entire website to be extremist.

83. On 18 March 2014 a judge of the Tverskoy Regional Court refused the prosecutor leave to appeal to the cassation instance.

84. On 21 July 2014 a deputy Prosecutor General lodged a second cassation appeal with the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. On 2 December 2014 the Supreme Court quashed the Regional Court’s decision and reinstated the District Court’s decision declaring the website extremist. Watchtower New York was notified about the hearing by registered mail but did not attend because an English translation of the notice had not been ready until after the hearing. On 29 December 2014 and 9 January 2015 it unsuccessfully requested the Supreme Court to re-open the case.

85. On 21 July 2015 the Ministry of Justice added jw.org to the Federal List of Extremist Materials as item 2904.

Forced dissolution of the Administrative Centre and local religious organisations (applications nos. 10188/17 and 3215/18)

86. On 2 March 2016 a deputy Prosecutor General issued an official warning to the Administrative Centre. With reference to the domestic judgments banning local religious organisations of Jehovah’s Witnesses (LROs) and declaring their publications “extremist”, the Administrative Centre was advised to cease any “extremist activity” on pain of liquidation.

87. On 15 March 2017 the Ministry of Justice asked the Supreme Court to declare the Administrative Centre an “extremist organisation”, to liquidate it, together with all 395 LROs of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and to confiscate their property. The Ministry alleged that the Administrative Centre had “systematically breached” the extremism legislation by importing religious publications which had subsequently been declared “extremist”, distributing such publications through its LROs, and also by financing, coordinating and directing LROs, including those whose activities had been declared “extremist”, and by failing to implement any “preventive organisational measures” after being warned about the prohibition on any form of extremist activity. On the same day, the Ministry, on its authority, suspended the activities of the Administrative Centre and of the LROs pending the examination of the liquidation claim.

88. The LROs did not receive notice of the banning claim from the Ministry of Justice or from the Supreme Court. A majority of them learned of the banning claim from the media. On 5 April 2017 they filed an application to be added as co-defendants, and another application to the same effect was lodged by the Administrative Centre. By a same-day decision, the judge summarily rejected the applications. On 10 April 2017 he also returned an appeal against his decision without consideration on the grounds that the decision was not amenable to a separate appeal.

89. The Administrative Centre objected to the claim on the grounds that its liquidation would constitute an unjustified interference with the right to freedom of religion and freedom of assembly and that its activity was entirely peaceful. It further asserted that the LROs of Jehovah’s Witnesses were independent entities and, therefore, the breaches of the Suppression of Extremism Act on their part should not have been imputed to the Administrative Centre and, vice versa, that its possible liquidation should not entail repercussions for the LROs.

90. By judgment of 20 April 2017, the Supreme Court granted the claim, ordering the liquidation of the Administrative Centre and the local organisations of Jehovah’s Witness in Russia and the confiscation of their property. In granting the banning claim, the Supreme Court noted that from 2009 to 2016, eight LROs and eighty-eight publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses and also their website had been banned as “extremist”, and that, after the deputy Prosecutor General’s anti-extremism warning, eight more LROs had been found guilty of “mass dissemination of extremist material”. Accordingly, the Administrative Centre was to be banned as an “extremist organisation” because it had not taken “effective measures” to prevent the LROs from engaging in “extremist activity” after the liquidation warning, and all LROs were to be banned because they were part of the structure of the Administrative Centre. The Administrative Centre was responsible for all unlawful activities of its regional or structural subdivisions and also for the importation of religious publications which were declared to be extremist. The Supreme Court held that “the application of such an exceptional measure” did not constitute arbitrary interference with, or unlawful restriction on, citizens’ rights to association or freedom of worship. It pursued “a socially significant aim defined by law – counteracting extremist activity” and sought to protect the rights and lawful interests of others and to guarantee national security and public order. It was also proportionate and necessary in a democratic society in so far as the elimination of violations of rights of others and of “a real threat of harm to the person and health of others”, public order, public security, society and the State was “the only means of ensuring a balance of the rights and lawful interests of participants in legal relations in the public legal domain”.

91. On 19 May 2017 the Administrative Centre lodged an appeal against the liquidation order and the refusal to join the LROs as co-defendants. The LROs also lodged appeals, relying on the provision of the Code of Administrative Procedure which stipulated that persons not called to participate in the first-instance hearing may lodge an appeal if the judgment affected their rights and obligations (Article 295 § 2). In May, June and July 2017 the judge of the Supreme Court ruled to return their appeals without consideration on the grounds that the decision to liquidate those organisations as “extremist” and confiscate their property did not “rule on matters concerning their rights and obligations”. Some local organisations also attempted to lodge appeals directly with the Appellate Chamber of the Supreme Court.

92. On 17 July 2017 the Appellate Chamber of the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal by the Administrative Centre in a summary fashion. By decisions rendered in July, August and September 2017, it also summarily rejected the appeals by LROs.

93. Since the date of the Prosecutor General’s liquidation warning to the Administrative Centre, the LROs transferred ownership of their places of worship, to protect them from State seizure, to foreign religious organisations of Jehovah’s Witnesses and in a few cases private individuals who in turn agreed to permit congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses to continue to use those places of worship on the basis of a contract of free use. The LROs succeeded in transferring 269 properties before the liquidation decision entered into legal force but were unable to transfer the remaining 97 properties.

94. In the months since the liquidation decision entered into legal force, the Russian authorities initiated court proceedings to annul the transfers. In each case, the domestic courts ruled in favour of the State by annulling the transfer and ordering that the property be confiscated by the State based on the liquidation decision. As of 1 September 2021, the Russian authorities have confiscated (1) the 21 properties that were owned by the Administrative Center on the date of the liquidation decision; (2) the 97 properties owned by the LROs on the date of the liquidation decision; and (3) 128 of 269 properties that had been transferred by the LROs to foreign religious organisations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the months prior to the liquidation decision.

Criminal prosecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Prosecution of applicants in Taganrog and Rostov-on-Don (application no. 24622/16)

95. On 5 August 2011 the South Federal Circuit police opened criminal proceedings under Article 282-2 of the Criminal Code against “unidentified individuals” who allegedly sought to resume the activities of the banned Taganrog LRO. Those individuals were suspected of renting out premises on which they had organised meetings of followers, distributed banned literature and incited attendants “to refuse medical assistance, break up family ties and abandon civil duties”.

96. On 4 February 2012 another criminal case under the same provision was opened against ten applicants for “participation in an extremist organisation” which the banned Taganrog LRO was taken to be. They were accused of organising daily meetings of followers and services of worship for the Vostochnoye congregation with a view “to preaching the superiority of Jehovah’s Witnesses and inferiority of the other religions”; some applicants were accused of rendering technical assistance during meetings in the way of setting-up audio equipment and passing microphones to members of the congregation who wished to speak.

97. On 30 May 2012 a third criminal case was opened under Article 150 § 4 of the Criminal Code (“involving a minor in a criminal organisation”). The “elders” of the congregation were alleged to have “lured” the sixteen‑year-old applicant Mr Kruglikov and ten-year-old N.P. into the “organised extremist criminal group congregation Vostochnoye of the Tanganrog LRO”, “assigning them to preaching and distributing literature, and also to providing technical assistance to the elders in the organisation of meetings.”

98. On an unspecified date all criminal proceedings against the applicants were joined into one criminal case and the applicants were required to give an undertaking not to leave the place of their residence.

99. On 5 April 2013 a deputy Prosecutor General approved the list of charges and submitted the case to the Taganrog City Court for trial. The first trial ended with a conviction which was pronounced on 29 July 2014 but later quashed on appeal.

100. The second trial opened on 22 January 2015. The applicants pleaded not guilty. They put forward the following arguments in their defence: (i) the activity of the Taganrog LRO could not have been resumed after the judgment banning and liquidating the organisation; (ii) that judgment did not concern any other legal entities or individuals apart from the Taganrog LRO and did not affect the applicants’ right to practice their religion which they continued to do as an unregistered religious group; (iii) their services of worship were not “extremist”, they did not read or discuss any literature banned as “extremist”; (iv) the elders did not “lure” any minors who had attended the services together with their parents and, according to their testimonies and the statements by their parents, did so voluntarily and enjoyed it.

101. The trial court dismissed their arguments as an “attempt to evade criminal liability”. By the judgment of 30 November 2015, it held that the applicants, while aware of the judgment of the Rostov Regional Court banning the Taganrog LRO, resumed and continued its activities by calling meetings, organising religious events, conscripting new members, including minors, distributing extremist literature, collecting donations, organising preaching and involving other applicants into the organisation. In doing so, they were driven by extremist motives “manifested by [their] expressions debasing human dignity on the basis of religious orientation; inciting hatred, especially for ‘Christendom’; advocating the exclusivity of one religion in relation to another; rejecting medical treatment on religious grounds for people whose life and health are in danger; encouraging citizens to refuse to fulfil legally established civic duties, including performing military service; involving young children and minors in the activity of the organisation”.

102. The trial court held that the applicants had formed a “stable extremist group” which had existed from the day the Rostov Regional Court judgment banning the Taganrog LRO became final and which had (i) a common purpose of resuming and continuing the banned activities, (ii) common organisers, (iii) “interchangeable and mutually complementary character of their actions”, and (iv) an “illegal income” which the applicants had obtained “in the form of voluntary donations from citizens which was used for the purposes of extremist activities.”

103. “The criminal activity of the extremist group” consisted in “inciting religious discord, and advocating the exclusivity and superiority of a religion by degrading other religions”, “organising recruitment of new members”, “breaking up the family, marriage, and family relationships, alienating people from the family circle because their relatives did not, according to this specific religion, have the correct world view”, “choosing only part-time work in order to devote more time to preaching and service considering the work of the organisation to be of primary importance”, “distributing extremist materials and … possessing them with the intent to mass distribute them and use them in religious services, sermons, and speeches”, “inciting citizens to refuse to fulfil their legally established civic duties by not entering military service”, “inciting … to reject medical treatment on religious grounds …. in particular, the transfusion of blood and its components even under grave and life-threatening conditions”, and “involving minor children … in the preaching activity when young children were forced to be in attendance with their parents for discussions at meetings for lengthy periods of time.”

104. The criminal acts committed by the applicants were defined as organising and taking part in a series of religious events in the period between 30 April and 15 August 2011 and giving “extremist speeches” during these meetings. The trial court also found it established that “the elders” of the community “by deceit and by other means” had involved applicant Mr Kruglikov and N.P. in the criminal activity, assigning them to preaching, distributing literature and assisting during the meetings.

105. The Town Court sentenced the “elders” of the community to five years’ imprisonment conditional on five years’ probation and fined them RUB 100,000 each. The other applicants were convicted of membership of an extremist religious organisation and fined between RUB 20,000 and 70,000.

106. The applicants appealed. On 17 March 2016 the Rostov Regional Court corrected an erroneous legal characterisation of the offences in respect of twelve applicants, reduced the amount of their fines and upheld the judgment in the remaining part. On 22 December 2016 and 24 April 2017 the Rostov Regional Court and the Supreme Court of Russia, respectively, refused the applicants leave to appeal to the cassation instance.

Imprisonment of an applicant for “continuing the activities of an extremist organisation” (applications nos. 39417/17 and 44386/19)

107. Mr Dennis Ole Christensen, a national of Denmark, and his wife, a Russian national, were Jehovah’s Witnesses living in Oryol. By judgment of 14 June 2016, as upheld on appeal on 18 October 2016, the Orlovskiy District Court liquidated and banned the Oryol local religious organisation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (“the Oryol LRO”) on the grounds of possession of “extremist” publications. Mr Christensen was not a member of the Oryol LRO; he was a member of the Tsentralnoye religious group, one of three congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses without legal-entity status.

108. On 16 February 2017 the Regional Court granted the request of an FSB investigator to conduct covert surveillance of the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Oryol. The surveillance recorded Mr Christensen taking part in Bible-themed discussions.

109. On 25 May 2017 the FSB officers first interrupted the religious service in the Kingdom Hall and carried out a personal search of everyone in attendance. Later they searched Mr Christensen’s flat and arrested him on charges of continuing the activities of an extremist organisation, the Oryol LRO. Following Mr Christensen’s overnight detention, the Sovetskiy District Court authorised his detention on remand, holding that his ten-year-long legal residence in Russia, stable income and a Russian wife were all insufficient guarantees against absconding in view of his foreign nationality. On 21 June 2017 the Oryol Regional Court upheld the detention order in a summary fashion. Subsequently, the pre-trial detention was extended several times, each time on the same grounds for an additional three- to four-month period. The detention was maintained even after Mr Christensen had obtained, on 15 September 2017, a letter from the Danish embassy in Moscow giving the assurance that the embassy would not issue him with a new passport or otherwise help him leave Russia.

110. On 9 February 2019 the Zheleznodorozhniy District Court in Oryol sentenced Mr Christensen to a six-year term in a general regime penal colony for having continued the activities of an extremist organisation:

“… the liquidation of the [Oryol LRO] did not deprive that organisation’s participants of the possibility to individually perform religious worship that was not associated with the distribution of extremist religious literature. However, it has been established in the case that D. O. Christensen did not individually perform worship but performed administrative functions within the [LRO] in accordance with its goals and plans and with the intent of continuing the organisation’s activity, which he knew had been banned on the basis of a court decision …

It can be seen from the combined testimony of said individuals that D. O. Christensen was the leader of the LRO … As an elder, he opened and closed the religious premises. He organised the cleaning of the building and adjacent territory. He assigned persons to be on duty at the entrance before the meeting. He determined who gave sermons and other presentations at the meetings, and designated persons to engage in preaching activity. In the absence of religious literature, he recommended that fellow believers study the literature using electronic devices with access to the Internet. He personally conducted meetings, during which he gave advice, explained the meaning of religious literature and designated the persons participating in the discussion of that literature. He reminded people of the need to donate money and collected the money that was received.”

111. In his appeals, Mr Christensen submitted that his religious activities had been part of his worship and were therefore protected by his right to freedom of religion. He emphasised that he had never been a member of the Oryol LRO.

112. On 23 May 2019 the Oryol Regional Court upheld the judgment on the basis that Mr Christensen “harmonised and coordinated his actions in directing the [Oryol LRO] with the [Administrative Centre] liquidated by the Supreme Court’s judgment dated 20 April 2017”. As to the alleged lack of extremist motives in his conduct, the Regional Court noted:

“The fact of organising the activity of a religious association declared extremist and distributing information that incites religious discord and advocates the exclusivity, superiority and inferiority of citizens based on their attitude toward religion, indicates in itself that the motive behind [his] actions was religious hatred.”

Further criminal proceedings against Jehovah’s Witnesses
113. As of 1 September 2021, 559 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia have been charged for allegedly organising, participating in or financing the activity of an “extremist” organisation. Similar to Mr Christensen, 133 Jehovah’s Witnesses have already been convicted and sentenced under Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code; at least 255 Jehovah’s Witnesses have been placed in pre-trial detention or under house arrest, and more than 1,547 homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been searched by police.

RELEVANT LEGAL FRAMEWORK

RUSSIAN LAW

Suppression of Extremism Act (Law no. 114-FZ of 25 July 2002)

114. Section 1(1) – as worded at the time of the proceedings against the Taganrog LRO – defined “extremist activity (extremism)” as follows:

“– a forcible change of the foundations of the constitutional system and violations of the integrity of the Russian Federation;

– the public justification of terrorism and other terrorist activity;

– the stirring up of social, racial, ethnic or religious discord;

– propaganda about the exceptional nature, superiority or deficiency of persons on the basis of their social, racial, ethnic, religious or linguistic affiliation or attitude to religion;

– violations of human and civil rights and freedoms and lawful interests in connection with a person’s social, racial, ethnic, religious or linguistic affiliation or attitude to religion;

– public appeals to carry out the above-mentioned acts or the mass dissemination of knowingly extremist materials, and likewise the production or storage thereof with the aim of mass dissemination;

– the organisation of and preparation for the aforementioned actions and inciting others to commit them;

– funding the aforementioned actions or any assistance in organising, preparing or carrying them out, including the provision of training, printing and material/technical support, telephonic or other types of communication links or information services.”

115. Where indicators of extremist activities are identified in the activities of an association, a competent prosecutor or executive body may issue a letter of warning to caution the association against extremist activities. If new indicators of extremist activities are identified within twelve months of the date of the letter, the association is subject to dissolution (section 7).

116. A religious association engaging in “extremist activities resulting in a violation of human and civil rights and freedoms, harm to a person’s health, environment, public order, public safety, property, or the lawful economic interests of individuals or legal entities, society and the State or creating a real threat of causing such harm” may be liquidated by a judicial decision and its property confiscated (section 9).

117. The grounds for the liquidation of a religious organisation and the banning of its activities are set out in section 14(2) of the Religions Act (Law no. 125-FZ of 26 September 1997). They include in particular the “undermining of social order and security”, “actions aimed at inciting extremist activities”, “forcing the breakup of family”, “infringement on the identity, rights and freedoms of a citizen”, “encouraging suicide or refusal on religious grounds of medical help to persons in life-threatening or health endangering situations”, and “inciting citizens to refuse to fulfill their civic obligations established by law” (see, for details, Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow and Others v. Russia, no. 302/02, § 77, 10 June 2010).

Criminal Code

118. Actions aimed at inciting hatred or enmity and undermining the dignity of an individual or a group of individuals on account of, in particular, ethnic origin, religion or membership of a social group, are punishable with a fine, mandatory works or up to two years’ deprivation of liberty (Article 282(1)). The same acts if committed by an organised group are punishable with up to five years’ imprisonment (Article 282(2)(c)).

119. The establishing or leading of a religious or public association whose activities involve violence or harm to a person’s health, inducement to refuse to perform civic duties or to commit other unlawful acts, may be punishable with up to three years’ imprisonment (Article 239(1)). Participation in the activities of such an association may be punishable by deprivation of liberty for up to two years (Article 239(2)).

The Mass Media Act (Law no. 2124-1 of 27 December 1991)

120. Section 4 prohibits mass media from being used for the distribution of extremist materials.

121. Section 32, as worded prior to its repeal on 10 November 2011, established that a broadcasting license could be revoked (1) if it had been obtained fraudulently, (2) if the licencing conditions had been breached and a written warning had been issued, (3) if the license had been secretly transferred to another entity.

Code of Administrative Offences

122. Article 20.29 provides that “mass dissemination of extremist materials listed in the published Federal List of Extremist Materials, and also production or possession thereof with the intent to disseminate”, may be punishable with a fine of between 1,000 and 5,000 Russian roubles or with up to fifteen days’ detention.

Case-law of the Constitutional Court

123. On 21 April 2010 the Constitutional Court gave judgment no. 10-P concerning the exercise of the right to appeal by persons who were not parties to the proceedings at first instance. It affirmed its constant position that hearing a claim in the absence of persons whose rights and obligations might have been affected undermined their right to the judicial protection and the principles of fairness and adversarial nature of the proceedings. If a judicial decision affected the rights or freedoms of, or imposed additional obligations on, the person which was not a party to the proceedings, such person should have the right to submit an appeal which a court of appeals would have to consider (paragraph 3.1).

124. On 2 July 2013 the Constitutional Court declared inadmissible a complaint by a member of the Church of Scientology who had seen his copy of a Ron Hubbard’s book confiscated on the basis of a Moscow court’s decision pronouncing Scientology literature to be extremist material (decision no. 1053-O). In the Constitutional Court’s view, the pronouncement of certain materials to be extremist implied ipso facto that they represented a real threat to human rights and freedoms, to the constitutional foundations, integrity and security of the Russian Federation. Irrespective of where such material was found, kept or used, the finding of their extremist nature cannot but be followed by a confiscation measure seeking to curtail access to such material and to prevent the threat of their negative impact on anyone, including their owners. The owner must be able to take part in the proceedings in which the extremist nature of the materials is established and their confiscation ordered; otherwise, the constitutional right to the judicial protection of private property would not be secured.

Guidance by the Plenary Supreme Court

125. The Plenary Supreme Court’s Resolution on judicial practice in criminal cases concerning extremist offences, no. 11 of 28 June 2011, provides that actions aimed at inciting hatred or enmity were to be understood as comprising in particular the speech justifying or advocating a genocide, mass repression, deportations and other illegal actions, including use of violence against members of a certain ethnicity or race or followers of a certain religion. The criticism of political organisations, ideological and religious associations, political, ideological and religious beliefs, national and religious customs should not, in itself, be regarded as actions aimed at inciting hatred or enmity (paragraph 7).

126. Paragraph 20, as amended by the Plenary Supreme Court on 28 October 2021, reads as follows: “Where there is a final court decision to dissolve or ban the activities of a public or religious association or another organisation in connection with extremist activities, subsequent individual acts unconnected with the continuation or resumption of activities of the extremist organisation concerned that consist solely in the exercise of the right to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, including through individual or joint religious worship, the performance of religious services or other religious rites and ceremonies, do not in themselves constitute criminal offences under Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code provided they do not contain indicators of extremism”.

127. Experts who carry out a forensic assessment of extremist material may not be requested to resolve issues of law which fall outside their competence and involve a characterisation of the impugned act. Determination of such issues shall be the exclusive competence of a court. In particular, experts may not be requested to answer questions whether a text contains calls for extremist activity or whether material is directed at inciting hatred or enmity (paragraph 23).

COUNCIL OF EUROPE

Parliamentary Assembly

128. In the report on the honouring of obligations and commitments by the Russian Federation (Doc. 13018, 14 September 2012), the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) expressed the concern that the extremism law had been “misused as a tool against the activities of certain religions, particularly Jehovah’s Witnesses, a large community of 162 000 people in Russia” and that the “misuse has dramatically increased since the introduction of amendments to the law in 2006” which removed the phrase “associated with violence or calls to violence” from the definition of “extremism” (paragraphs 497-98).

Venice Commission

129. The Report by the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) on the Relationship Between Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Religion (CDL-AD(2008)026, 23 October 2008) emphasised that “the purpose of any restriction on freedom of expression must be to protect individuals holding specific beliefs or opinions rather than to protect belief systems from criticism” and that “it should be allowed to scrutinise, openly debate, and criticise, even harshly and unreasonably, belief systems, opinions, and institutions, as long as this does not amount to advocating hatred against an individual or groups” (§ 49). The Venice Commission underlined that “religious groups must tolerate, as other groups must, critical public statements and debate about their activities, teachings and beliefs, provided that such criticism does not amount to incitement to hatred and does not constitute incitement to disturb the public peace or to discriminate against adherents of a particular religion” (§ 72). It also stressed that “it must be possible to criticise religious ideas, even if such criticism may be perceived by some as hurting their religious feelings” (§ 76).

130. It its revised opinion on Russia’s Suppression of Extremism Act (CDL(2012)011rev, 1 June 2012), the Venice Commission expressed the opinion that “in order to qualify ‘stirring up of social, racial, ethnic or religious discord’ as ‘extremist activity’, the definition should expressly require the element of violence” (§ 38). In the view of the Commission, “to proclaim as extremist any religious teaching or proselytising activity aimed at proving that a certain worldview is a superior explanation of the universe” could “affect the freedom of conscience or religion of many persons” and could “easily be abused in an effort to suppress a certain church thereby affecting not only the freedom of conscience or religion but also the freedom of association” (§ 40). The Commission concluded that the Suppression of Extremism Act “on account of its broad and imprecise wording” gives “too wide discretion in its interpretation and application, thus leading to arbitrariness” and carries “potential dangers to individuals and NGOs” of being “interpreted in harmful ways” (§§ 77-78).

European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)

131. ECRI’s General Policy Recommendation No. 15 on combating hate speech, adopted on 8 December 2015 indicated that “hate speech” should be understood as “the advocacy, promotion or incitement, in any form, of the denigration, hatred or vilification of a person or group of persons, as well as any harassment, insult, negative stereotyping, stigmatization or threat in respect of such a person or group of persons [on account of their characteristics]”, while recognising that “forms of expression that offend, shock or disturb will not on that account alone amount to hate speech”. It recommended the Governments of member States to take action “against the use, in a public context, of hate speech which is intended or can reasonably be expected to incite acts of violence, intimidation, hostility or discrimination” (see, for a fuller citation of the ECRI’s Recommendation, Karastelev and Others v. Russia, no. 16435/10, § 44, 6 October 2020).

132. In its fifth periodic report on the Russian Federation (5 March 2019)[1], ECRI reiterated its concern that “the anti-extremism legislation was being used against certain minority religions, notably Jehovah’s Witnesses”. It noted that the situation had “deteriorated substantially” since its previous report on account of the 2017 extremism ruling by the Supreme Court which had “effectively bar[red] Jehovah’s Witnesses from practising their faith throughout the country” (§ 101). As regards Jehovah’s Witnesses who had been convicted and sentenced to imprisonment and fines, ECRI recalled that “criminal law has a symbolic effect which raises the awareness of society of the seriousness of the conduct and has a strong dissuasive effect” and did not accept that peaceful practice of a religion “could justify criminal prosecution” (§ 102). ECRI was alarmed at the Plenary Supreme Court’s guidance, according to which parents could be stripped of their parental rights “for involving their children in the activity of a banned public or religious association”, and the Ministry of Education’s recommendation on “resocialisation of adolescents subjected to destructive psychological influence” which named specifically children of members of the ISIS and children in families of Jehovah’s Witnesses”. It considered that “the association of Jehovah’s Witnesses with a terrorist organisation” was “seriously misleading and unreasonable” (§ 103). ECRI expressed concern about those developments, noting that “Jehovah’s Witnesses [were] another group whose departure from ‘traditional values’ [had] prompted persecution and repression” (§ 104).

Committee of Ministers
133. At its 1419th meeting (30 November – 2 December 2021), the Committee of Ministers considered the state of execution of the cases concerning the dissolution of the Moscow community of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow and Others, no. 302/02) and the dispersal of a peaceful religious ceremony (Krupko and Others, no. 26587/07) (CM/Del/Dec(2021)1419/H46-31). The Ministers’ Deputies reiterated “serious concerns about the 2017 blanket ban criminalising any participation in the activities of this religious group and its alarming effects, evidenced by different sources that, as a consequence of this ban, members of the religious community of the Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to be arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned merely for manifesting their religious beliefs” (§ 3). They called on the Russian authorities “to take all necessary measures to re-establish the right of Jehovah’s Witnesses to freedom of religion, such as by reversing the 2017 ban, re-examining the related criminal cases, as well as reviewing the current anti-extremism legislation” (§ 4).

UNITED NATIONS

Special Rapporteur

134. The Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr Frank La Rue, submitted in accordance with Human Rights Council resolution 16/4, A/67/357, of 7 September 2012, listed the elements essential for determining whether an expression constitutes incitement to hatred: “real and imminent danger of violence resulting from the expression”; “intent of the speaker to incite discrimination, hostility or violence”; and “careful consideration by the judiciary of the context in which hatred was expressed, given that international law prohibits some forms of speech for their consequences, and not for their content as such”. The Special Rapporteur emphasised that “any contextual assessment must include consideration of various factors, including the existence of patterns of tension between religious or racial communities, discrimination against the targeted group, the tone and content of the speech, the person inciting hatred and the means of disseminating the expression of hate” (§ 46). The Special Rapporteur reiterated that “no one should be penalized for the dissemination of hate speech unless it has been shown that they did so with the intention of inciting discrimination, hostility or violence” (§ 50 (b)).

Human Rights Committee
135. The Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee of 31 March 2015 on the seventh periodic report of the Russian Federation on the observance of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR/C/RUS/7/CO) reflected the Committee’s concerns that “the vague and open-ended definition of ‘extremist activity’ [in Russian law] [did] not require any element of violence or hatred to be present” and that “numerous reports [indicated] that the law [was] increasingly used to curtail freedom of expression, including political dissent, and freedom of religion, targeting, inter alia, Jehovah’s Witnesses …” (§ 22).

Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
136. In 2019 and 2020 the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the UN Human Rights Council adopted three opinions (nos. 11/2019, 34/2019 and 10/2020) concerning more than twenty Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia who had been held in pre-trial detention, under house arrest or had been imprisoned following conviction on the charges of continuing the activities of an “extremist organisation”. The Working Group found that their deprivation of liberty was arbitrary on four separate grounds.

First, their pre-trial detention had no legal basis as no reasons for that measure had been provided and as their appeals against the detention order had been summarily dismissed.

Second, the arrest and imprisonment were arbitrary because they resulted from the lawful exercise of their human rights. None of the activities imputed to them could be described as being “extremist”, and the sole reason for their arrest and prosecution was “the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of religion under article 18 of the Covenant”. Their actions had “always been entirely peaceful” and there was no evidence that “[they] or indeed the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Russian Federation [had] ever been violent or incited others to violence”. The Working Group emphasised that none of the Jehovah’s Witnesses “should have been arrested and held in pre-trial detention and no trial of any of them should take or should have taken place”.

Third, the deprivation of liberty was arbitrary on account of Jehovah’s Witnesses being kept in cages in the courtrooms and the initial arrests being carried out by large numbers of police officers and use of force, even though no one resisted the arrest or was violent, which was indicative of intimidation and a breach of the presumption of innocence.

Fourth, in so far as these individuals were part of a growing number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia who had been arrested, detained and charged with criminal activity on the basis of mere exercise of freedom of religion, their deprivation of liberty was discriminatory on the basis of religion. While noting that its opinion concerned the particular situation of the complainants, the Working Group emphasised that “its findings in this opinion [should] apply to all others in similar situations”.

The Working Group requested the Russian Government “to take the steps necessary to remedy the situation” of the affected individuals “without delay and bring it into conformity with the relevant international norms”. It considered that “the appropriate remedy would be to release [the detained individuals] “immediately” and “unconditionally”, “expunge their criminal records” and “accord them an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations”.

THE LAW

JOINDER OF THE APPLICATIONS

137. Having regard to the similar subject matter of the applications, the Court finds it appropriate to examine them jointly in a single judgment.

ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLES 9, 10 AND 11 OF THE CONVENTION ON ACCOUNT OF FORCED DISSOLUTION OF THE TAGANROG RELIGIOUS ORGANISATION

138. The Court will first consider the complaint of the forced dissolution of the Taganrog local religious organisation (“Taganrog LRO”), the banning of its activities and the declaration of religious literature to be “extremist material” (section A of the Facts). The applicants complained that the measures had breached their rights to freedom of religion, expression and association guaranteed by Articles 9, 10 and 11 of the Convention which read as follows:

Article 9 – Freedom of thought, conscience and religion

“1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

Article 10 – Freedom of expression

“1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority …

2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others …”

Article 11 – Freedom of assembly and association

“1. Everyone has the right … to freedom of association with others …

2. No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others …”

Admissibility
139. The Government submitted that the complaint was inadmissible by virtue of Article 17 of the Convention which prohibits “groups or individuals with totalitarian goals from using the principles provided for in the Convention for their own interests” (they referred to W.P. and Others v. Poland (dec.), no. 42264/98, ECHR 2004‑VII (extracts), and Norwood v. the United Kingdom (dec.), no. 23131/03, ECHR 2004‑XI). In their view, the Court should use the same approach it had followed to declare inadmissible an application by a militant Islamic group which called for the destruction of Israel and killing of its citizens (Hizb ut-Tahrir and Others v. Germany (dec.), no. 31098/08, 12 June 2012).

140. The applicants replied that it was a well-established fact that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a religion committed to pacifism (they referred to Bayatyan v. Armenia [GC], no. 23459/03, § 111, ECHR 2011). The mere allegation that some persons might be “offended” by their religious publications or by the claim that they displayed a “negative attitude” towards “traditional” religions did not remove them from the protection of Article 10 of the Convention.

141. The Court finds that Article 17 of the Convention has no application to this case. This Article is applicable only “on an exceptional basis” and “in extreme cases”, such as to statements denying crimes against humanity or vilifying entire ethnicities or religions, as is illustrated by the Court’s case-law (see Paksas v. Lithuania [GC], no. 34932/04, §§ 87-88, ECHR 2011 (extracts), with further references). The Court cannot find any such expressions in the applicants’ activities or publications.

142. The Court considers that this complaint is not manifestly ill‑founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 (a) of the Convention. It further notes that it is not inadmissible on any other grounds. It must therefore be declared admissible.

Merits
Submissions by the parties
143. The applicants submitted that the liquidation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ organisation deprived believers of a registered religious organisation and exposed them to criminal and administrative liability. The interference was neither “prescribed by law” nor “necessary in a democratic society”. The definition of what constituted “extremism” under Russian law was not sufficiently accessible or foreseeable because it could be misapplied to any religious activities or religious speech, no matter how peaceful. It would be absurd to suggest that Jehovah’s Witnesses had been a threat to “national security” or that the liquidation of their organisations had been necessary to “prevent disorder”. The Russian authorities had previously liquidated the religious organisation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow using the same allegations that they had used for dissolving the Taganrog and Samara organisations in the instant case. In Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow and Others v. Russia (no. 302/02, 10 June 2010), the Court had found a violation of Articles 9 and 11 on account of the forced dissolution of the Moscow community of Jehovah’s Witnesses on similar charges and the same conclusions would apply here.

144. The Government submitted that the interference with the applicants’ rights was lawful and justified. The Taganrog LRO had engaged in illegal activities, including by distributing printed materials which proclaimed the superiority of their religion. It had also been active outside of Taganrog, in two adjacent districts in which it had not established local chapters. The courts had established that Jehovah’s Witnesses had imposed their views on Orthodox believers, incited their followers to refuse medical assistance on religious grounds and to carry the No-Blood card, and involved children in door-to-door preaching without the contest of the other parent.

The Court’s assessment

(a) General principles

145. As enshrined in Article 9, freedom of thought, conscience and religion is one of the foundations of a “democratic society” within the meaning of the Convention. This freedom is, in its religious dimension, one of the most vital elements that go to make up the identity of believers and their conception of life, but it is also a precious asset for atheists, agnostics, sceptics and the unconcerned. The pluralism indissociable from a democratic society, which has been dearly won over the centuries, depends on it (see Kokkinakis v. Greece, 25 May 1993, § 31, Series A no. 260‑A, and İzzettin Doğan and Others v. Turkey [GC], no. 62649/10, § 103, 26 April 2016; for relevant principles under Articles 10 and 11, see Bédat v. Switzerland [GC], no. 56925/08, § 48, 29 March 2016, and Sidiropoulos and Others v. Greece, 10 July 1998, § 40, Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1998‑IV).

(b) Existence of interference

146. The Russian courts’ decision to dissolve the Taganrog LRO and ban its activities had the effect of stripping it of legal personality and preventing it from exercising a wide range of rights reserved under Russian law to registered religious organisations, such as the right to establish places of worship or to hold religious services in public places. The Taganrog LRO ceased to exist as a registered religious organisation and the individual applicants, as its members, were deprived of the right to manifest their religion in community with others and to carry out activities which were an integral element of their religious practice. The Court finds that the forced dissolution of the Taganrog LRO amounted to interference with the organisation’s and its members’ rights under Article 9 of the Convention, which must be interpreted in the light of Article 11 since religious communities traditionally exist in the form of organised structures (see Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow and Others, cited above, §§ 101-03).

147. In so far as the decision also declared a number of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ publications to be “extremist” resulting in a State-wide ban on their distribution and use in worship, it also interfered with the organisation and its members’ right to freedom of religion and the right of the applicant publishers of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ literature to impart information under Article 10 of the Convention (see Association Ekin v. France, no. 39288/98, § 42, ECHR 2001‑VIII).

148. The requirements and structure of the three provisions – Articles 9, 10 or 11 of the Convention – are essentially similar. The interference will infringe the Convention unless it can be shown that it was “prescribed by law”, pursued one or more of the legitimate aims set out in paragraph 2 of the respective provision and was “necessary in a democratic society” to achieve those aims.

(c) Justification for the interference

(i) General principles

149. The Court observes at the outset that the interference in question consisted in the dissolution of the applicant religious and the banning of its activities and religious literature, with immediate effect, which are harsh measures entailing significant consequences for the believers (see Biblical Centre of the Chuvash Republic v. Russia, no. 33203/08, § 54, 12 June 2014). Such a drastic measure as the forced dissolution would be warranted only in the most serious of cases, as the exceptions to the rights to freedom of religion and association are to be construed strictly and only convincing and compelling reasons can justify restrictions on that freedom (see Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow and Others, cited above, §§ 102 and 108, and Association Rhino and Others v. Switzerland, no. 48848/07, § 62, 11 October 2011, with further references).

150. When the Court carries out its scrutiny, its task is not to substitute its own view for that of the relevant national authorities but rather to review the decisions they delivered in the exercise of their discretion. This does not mean that it has to confine itself to ascertaining whether the respondent State exercised its discretion reasonably, carefully and in good faith; it must look at the interference complained of in the light of the case as a whole and determine whether it was “proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued” and whether the reasons adduced by the national authorities to justify it are “relevant and sufficient”. In so doing, the Court has to satisfy itself that the national authorities applied standards which were in conformity with the principles embodied in the Convention and, moreover, that they based their decisions on an acceptable assessment of the relevant facts (see United Communist Party of Turkey and Others v. Turkey, 30 January 1998, § 47, Reports 1998‑I).

(ii) “Prescribed by law”

151. On the first limb of its inquiry – whether the interference was “prescribed by law” – the Court notes that the sanction imposed was contained within the range of penalties provided for in the Suppression of Extremism Act and the Religions Act. In that sense, it can be said that the interference was “prescribed by law”. However, the Court’s scrutiny of the lawfulness requirement does not stop at ascertaining that there was a statutory basis for the interference. The Court must be satisfied that the statutory basis, as interpreted by the domestic courts, was sufficiently precise and foreseeable in its application so as to enable the applicants to anticipate the legal consequences of their acts and regulate their conduct accordingly. To that end, the Court will consider individually each of the charges raised against the Taganrog LRO.

(α) On the proclamation of the superiority of Jehovah’s Witnesses

152. The first ground for declaring the Taganrog LRO to be an “extremist” organisation was the charge that its texts stoked religious hatred by casting “traditional” Christian denominations in a negative light, undermining respect for their religious figures, urging people to leave those religions, and proclaiming the superiority of the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses (see paragraph 18 above).

153. The Court reiterates that preference for one’s own religion, the perception of it as unique and the only true one or as a “superior explanation of the universe” is a cornerstone of almost any religious system, as is the assessment of the other faiths as “false”, “wrong” or “not conducive to salvation” (see Ibragim Ibragimov and Others v. Russia, nos. 1413/08 and 28621/11, §§ 116-17, 28 August 2018). Proclaiming the superiority of a particular religious dogma or conception of life is an essential aspect of a legitimate exercise of the right to try to convert others by means of non‑coercive persuasion which enjoys the protection under Article 9 of the Convention (see Kokkinakis, cited above, § 48, and Larissis and Others v. Greece, 24 February 1998, §§ 51 and 59, Reports 1998‑I). In the absence of expressions that seek to incite or justify violence or hatred based on religious intolerance, any religious entity or individual believers have the right to proclaim and defend their doctrine as the true and superior one and to engage in religious disputes and criticism seeking to prove the truth of one’s own and the falsity of others’ dogmas or beliefs (see, mutatis mutandis, Gündüz v. Turkey, no. 35071/97, § 51, ECHR 2003‑XI).

154. The Regional Court attached significant weight to the fact that Orthodox priests and believers felt offended by the texts of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Court reiterates that, in a pluralist and democratic society, those who exercise their right to freedom of religion, whether as members of a religious majority or a minority, cannot reasonably expect to be shielded from exposure to ideas that may offend, shock or disturb. They must tolerate and accept the denial by others of their religious beliefs and even the propagation by others of doctrines hostile to their faith (see Otto‑Preminger‑Institut v. Austria, 20 September 1994, § 47, Series A no. 295‑A, and Sekmadienis Ltd. v. Lithuania, no. 69317/14, § 81, 30 January 2018). Religious people may be genuinely offended by claims that others’ religion is superior to theirs. However, just because a remark may be perceived as offensive or insulting by particular individuals or groups does not mean that it constitutes “hate speech”. Although such sentiments are understandable, they cannot in themselves set limits on freedom of expression, let alone inhibit the enjoyment of freedom of religion by others (see Ibragim Ibragimov and Others, cited above, § 115, and paragraph 130 above).

155. The key issue is thus whether the expressions in question, when read as a whole and in their context, could be seen as promoting violence, hatred or intolerance (see Perinçek v. Switzerland [GC], no. 27510/08, § 240, ECHR 2015 (extracts)). Inciting to hatred does not necessarily entail a call for an act of violence, or other criminal acts. Attacks on individuals committed by insulting, holding up to ridicule or slandering vulnerable groups of the population can be a sufficient ground warranting the suppression of such speech (see Féret v. Belgium, no. 15615/07, § 73, 16 July 2009, and Vejdeland and Others v. Sweden, no. 1813/07, § 55, 9 February 2012).

156. The Regional Court’s judgment did not identify any expressions promoting violence, hatred or intolerance in the texts of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ publication which it held to be “extremist”. Even accepting that the texts promoted the idea that the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses was superior to others or that it was better to be a Jehovah’s Witness than a member of another Christian denomination, it is significant that the texts did not insult, hold up to ridicule or slander non-Witnesses; nor did they use abusive terms in respect of them or of matters regarded as sacred by them (see Ibragim Ibragimov and Others, cited above, § 117, with further references). The Court concurs with the Venice Commission in that there is nothing extremist about criticising, “even harshly and unreasonably, belief systems, opinions, and institutions, as long as this does not amount to advocating hatred against an individual or groups” (see paragraph 130 above). Peacefully seeking to convince others of the superiority of one’s own religion and urging them to abandon “false religions” and join the “true one” is a legitimate form of exercise of the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression which enjoys the protection under Articles 9 and 10 of the Convention.

157. For the Court, it is highly significant that no evidence of violence, hatred or coercion was adduced in the proceedings against the Taganrog LRO. Both the applicants’ religious activities and the content of their publications appear to have been peaceful in line with their professed doctrine of non-violence. It was not shown that anyone, whether members of the Taganrog LRO or third parties, had been forced, prevailed upon or pressured into following religious injunctions against his or her will. The courts failed to identify evidence of the use of any improper methods to persuade others to prefer the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Not one of the banned publications was found to contain calls or incitement to violence or any insulting, slanderous or discriminatory statements against members of other faiths.

158. It follows that the Russian authorities failed to put forward any elements which, according to the Court’s case-law, could have warranted interference with the applicants’ rights to freedom of religion, expression or association. The Court concurs with the assessment by the Venice Commission, the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and the UN Human Rights Committee that the interference with the applicants’ fundamental rights was made possible because of the overly broad definition of “extremism” in Russian law (see paragraphs 128, 130 and 135, and also Ibragim Ibragimov and Others, cited above, § 85). The Court reiterates that it is vitally important that criminal law provisions directed against expressions that stir up, promote or justify violence, hatred or intolerance clearly and precisely define the scope of relevant offences, and that those provisions be strictly construed in order to avoid a situation where the State’s discretion to prosecute for such offences becomes too broad and potentially subject to abuse through selective enforcement (see Savva Terentyev v. Russia, no. 10692/09, § 85, 28 August 2018). The protection against arbitrariness is also an aspect or element or function of the principle of effectiveness as a norm of international law. However, the extremely broad definition of “extremist activities” in section 1 of the Suppression of Extremism Act which does not require any elements of violence or hatred opens up the possibility of having individuals and organisations prosecuted on extremism charges for entirely peaceful forms of expression or worship, such as those pursued by the applicants in the instant case. That broad definition of “extremism” not only could – and did – lead to arbitrary prosecutions, but also prevented individuals or organisations from being able to anticipate that their conduct, however peaceful and devoid of hatred or animosity it was, could be categorised as “extremist” and censured with restrictive measures. As the Venice Commission observed, “where definitions are lacking the necessary precision, a law such as the Extremism Law dealing with very sensitive rights … can be interpreted in harmful ways” and misused for the prosecution of believers or religious ministers on the basis of the content of their beliefs alone (see paragraphs 130 and 135 above).

159. Accordingly, the Court finds that the definitions of “extremism” and “extremist activities” in section 1 of the Suppression of Extremism Act, as formulated and applied in practice by the Russian authorities, fell short of the lawfulness requirement. Furthermore, the facts of the present case demonstrate that a judicial review of the charges against the Taganrog LRO did not provide adequate and effective safeguards against an excessively broad interpretation of the concept of “extremism” by the prosecution authorities. In considering the charges, the courts failed to examine the matter in the light of the principles established in the Court’s case-law. The impermissibly broad definition of “extremism activities”, coupled with a lack of judicial safeguards, is sufficient for a finding of a violation on the basis that the interference on the charge of “proclaiming superiority” was not “prescribed by law”.

(β) The other charges

160. As regards the other charges levelled against the Taganrog LRO under section 14 of the Religions Act, the Court is prepared to assume, as it did in the previous case of Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow, that the interference was “prescribed by law” and pursued the legitimate aims of the protection of health and the rights of others (see Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow and Others, cited above, §§ 105 and 107). It will consider the justification for those charges from the standpoint of the necessity requirement (ibid., § 108).

(iii) “Necessary in a democratic society”

(α) On the refusal of medical assistance

161. The Rostov court held the Taganrog LRO responsible for causing death of its founding member S. by encouraging her to refuse a blood transfusion (see paragraph 19 above).

162. The Court has found that the provisions of Russian law on “the incitement to refuse medical assistance” reflect the assumption that the State’s power to protect believers from the harmful consequences of their medical choices ought to override the right to respect for their private life and the freedom to manifest their religion in practice and observance (see Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow and Others, cited above, § 134). However, the freedom to accept or refuse specific medical treatment or to select the alternative form of treatment is vital to the principles of self-determination and personal autonomy. For this freedom to be meaningful, patients must have the right to make choices that accord with their own views and values, regardless of how irrational, unwise or imprudent such choices may appear to others. A competent adult patient is free to decide, for instance, whether or not to undergo surgery or, by the same token, to have a live blood transfusion or to prefer artificial blood substitutes. Free choice and self‑determination are fundamental constituents of life and that, absent any indication of the need to protect public health, the State must abstain from interfering with the individual freedom of choice in the sphere of health care, for such interference can only lessen and not enhance the value of life (ibid., §§ 135-36, and Vavřička and Others v. the Czech Republic [GC], nos. 47621/13 and 5 others, § 276, 8 April 2021).

163. This position has been reflected in Russian law which safeguards the patients’ freedom of choice in the sphere of medical assistance. The Fundamentals of Russian Legislation on Health Protection, in force at the material time, and the Health Protection Act (Law no. 323-FZ of 21 November 2011), which replaced it with effect from 1 January 2012, have established the patients’ right to refuse a specific medical treatment or to request its discontinuation on condition that they have received full and accessible information about the possible consequences of that decision (see Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow and Others, cited above, § 137).

164. The informed-consent requirement is particularly relevant in the circumstances of the instant case in which the refusal of blood transfusion had been formulated by an adult Jehovah’s Witness having capacity to make medical decisions for herself. However, the fact that she had exercised her legal right to refuse a specific form of medical treatment was not addressed or mentioned in the domestic judgments. For the Court, the crucial legal test in this situation is whether the refusal was an expression of the person’s authentic will or whether the degree of external influence brought to bear on the person had been such as to persuade him or her to depart from his or her own wishes (ibid., § 138). Yet, nothing in the domestic judgments suggests that any form of improper pressure or undue influence was applied. There is no evidence that she wavered in her refusal of a blood transfusion upon admission to hospital. There was accordingly no factual basis for claiming that her will was overborne or that the refusal of a blood transfer did not represent her true or genuine decision.

165. In the absence of any evidence of improper pressure, the refusal of blood transfusion was an expression of free will of a community member exercising her right to personal autonomy in the sphere of health care protected both under the Convention and in Russian law. The imputation of Ms S.’s death to the Taganrog LRO solely because Jehovah’s Witnesses preach the doctrinal importance of abstaining from blood transfusions in their religious literature amounted to a declaration that their religious beliefs relating to the sacred nature of blood were illegitimate (see Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow and Others, cited above, § 141). The Court reiterates that States do not have the right under the Convention to decide what beliefs may or may not be taught because the right to freedom of religion as guaranteed under the Convention excludes any discretion on the part of the State to determine whether religious beliefs or the means used to express such beliefs are legitimate (see Manoussakis and Others v. Greece, 26 September 1996, § 47, Reports 1996‑IV, and Hasan and Chaush v. Bulgaria [GC], no. 30985/96, § 78, ECHR 2000‑XI).

(β) On the abandonment of civic duties

166. The Rostov court further held it against the Taganrog LRO that a conscript had requested alternative civilian service unconnected with military facilities as a result of talking to other conscripts who tried to convince him “not to serve” (see paragraph 20 above).

167. It is a well-known fact that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a religious group committed to pacifism and that their doctrine prevents individual members from performing military service, wearing uniform or taking up weapons (see Thlimmenos v. Greece [GC], no. 34369/97, § 42, ECHR 2000‑IV). Jehovah’s Witnesses agree to carry out alternative civilian service on condition it is not connected with military organisations (see Faizov v. Russia (dec.), no. 19820/04, 15 January 2009). Russia’s Constitution (Article 59 § 3) and the Religions Act (section 3 § 4) explicitly recognise the right of Russian nationals to conscientious objection to military service in which case it may be substituted with alternative civilian service. The right to alternative civilian service has been consistently upheld by the Russian courts, including in cases where it was exercised by a Jehovah’s Witness (see Faizov, cited above).

168. The Court reiterates that the right “to try to convince one’s neighbour” is an essential element of religious freedom (see Kokkinakis, cited above, § 31, and Larissis and Others, cited above, § 45). In the Larissis case the Court drew a distinction between the position of servicemen who had found it difficult to withdraw from religious conversations initiated by their superiors, and that of civilians who had not been subject to pressures and constraints of the same kind as military personnel. The former could be viewed as a form of harassment or the application of improper pressure, whereas the latter would be seen as an innocuous exchange of ideas (see Larissis and Others, §§ 51, 54, and 59).

169. In the instant case, the discussion about military service took place among conscripts, with Jehovah’s Witnesses trying to convince others of the virtue of their pacifist beliefs and sharing their religious literature with them. The conscripts were peers, there was no formal hierarchy among them, no superiors or subordinates. The domestic courts did not establish that any harassment or improper pressure had been brought to bear on the conscripts who were not Jehovah’s Witnesses. They were free to withdraw from the conversation or refuse to engage with the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ arguments. The religious admonishment to refuse military service did not break any Russian laws and the Jehovah’s Witnesses were entitled to seek to persuade others that they should prefer alternative civilian service instead of taking up weapons.

170. For the Court, it is obvious that choosing one of the two legally available alternatives does not amount to incitement to abandon the civil duties. In the absence of any evidence of improper pressure, holding the Taganrog LRO responsible for disseminating pacifist convictions among conscripts also amounted to an impermissible judgment on the legitimacy of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ beliefs and means of their expression.

(γ) On the involvement of minors

171. The Rostov court held the Taganrog LRO liable for violating children’s right to leisure and recreation as a result of their participation in door-to-door preaching and religious meetings, despite the objections of a non-religious parent. It also held that the children did not thrive because all recreational activities were taking place “with the participation of other members of the organisation” and because they did not attend any sports, music or hobby groups (see paragraph 21 above).

172. The Court has held that the decisions of Jehovah’s Witnesses regarding their employment, celebration of events significant to them, and allocation of free time are all matters falling the sphere of “private life” of community members (see Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow and Others, cited above, § 117). It is a common feature of many religions that they determine doctrinal standards of behaviour by which their followers must abide in their private lives, including matters such as attendance at church services, performance of rituals, wearing specific clothes or observing dietary restrictions. Jehovah’s Witnesses’ regulations on engaging in door-to-door preaching and attendance at religious meetings are no different from similar limitations that other religions impose on their followers’ private lives. By obeying these precepts in their daily lives, believers manifest their desire to comply strictly with the religious doctrine they profess and their freedom to do so is guaranteed by Article 9 of the Convention (ibid., § 118). An interference with that freedom may only be permissible if their choices are incompatible with the key principles underlying the Convention, such as polygamous or underage marriage or a flagrant breach of gender equality, or if they are imposed on the believers by force or coercion, against their will (ibid., § 119, with further references).

173. The Court reiterates that Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 requires the State to respect the rights of parents to ensure education and teaching in conformity with their own religious convictions and that Article 5 of Protocol No. 7 establishes that spouses enjoy equality of rights in their relations with their children. Russia’s Religions Act does not make religious education of children conditional on the existence of an agreement between the parents. Both parents, even in a situation where they adhere to differing doctrines or beliefs, have the right to raise their children in accordance with their religious or non-religious convictions and any disagreements between them in relation to the necessity and extent of the children’s participation in religious practices and education are private disputes that are to be resolved according to the procedure established in family law (ibid., § 125).

174. The Court finds no legal or factual basis for the Regional Court’s finding that the children’s alleged lack of participation in sports, music or hobby groups was detrimental to their development or imputable to the Taganrog LRO. There is no single normative parenting style or mandatory set of parenting practices, and the general conclusion that such are elements of a harmonious development, regardless of the age or circumstances of a child, would normally be supported by evidence of scientific, legal or social consensus, which was not the case here. It is significant that, in reaching its findings, the Regional Court did not hear any evidence from the children themselves and did not identify any instances of abuse, coercion or non-consensual involvement of children in the religious practices.

175. As long as there is no evidence of abuse, violence or unlawful coercion, decisions about whether to give a child a religious or non-religious education, whether to involve him or her in sports, science, arts or music, whether to provide unstructured free time or a strict daily routine, and whether to keep company with like-minded people, are to be made exclusively by the child’s parents or, as the case may be, the custodial parent. Such decisions fall within the sphere of the private and family life which is protected from unjustified State interference. It follows that what was taken by the Russian courts to constitute impermissible involvement of minors was in fact a manifestation of the parents’ beliefs in their private lives in the sense protected by Article 9 (ibid., § 121).

176. Lastly, the Regional Court did not give any reasons for the finding that the Taganrog LRO should be held responsible for the parents’ decision to involve their children in religious activities. Russia’s Religions Act prohibits those who are not parents or substitute parents from coercing a child into participation in religious practices or education (ibid., §§ 73 and 124). In holding the Taganrog LRO responsible, the Regional Court did not point to any evidence showing that the organisation itself or any non-parent members of the organisation had resorted to improper methods for involving minors in its activities, whether against their own will or that of their parents. On the contrary, the involvement of children in the community’s religious life appears to have been approved and encouraged by one of the parents who had been a Jehovah’s Witness himself or herself. Thus, the situation which had been imputed to the organisation had not actually been related to anything the organisation did or did not do, but to the actions of its individual members who were parents of those children (ibid., § 124).

(δ) On the destruction of family relationships

177. The Rostov court found that the Taganrog LRO encouraged the “destruction of family relationships” in that it had forced the families of its members to break up (see paragraph 22 above).

178. The Court has previously found, in relation of a similar charge, that, in so far as the Russian courts did not give examples of any coercive, forceful or threatening action on the part of the applicant organisation, what was taken by the courts to constitute “coercion into destroying the family” was the frustration that non-Witness family members experienced as a consequence of disagreements over the manner in which their Witness relatives decided to organise their lives in accordance with the religious precepts, and their increasing isolation resulting from having been left outside the life of the community to which their Witness relatives adhered. It is a known fact that a religious way of life requires from its followers both abidance by religious rules and self-dedication to religious work that can take up a significant portion of the believer’s time. Nevertheless, as long as self-dedication to religious matters is the product of the believer’s independent and free decision and however unhappy his or her family members may feel about that decision, the ensuing estrangement cannot be taken to mean that the religion caused the break-up in the family. Quite often, the opposite is true: it is the resistance and unwillingness of non‑religious family members to accept and to respect their religious relative’s freedom to manifest and practise his or her religion that is the source of conflict. It is true that friction often exists in marriages where the spouses belong to different religious denominations or one of the spouses is a non-believer. However, this situation is common to all mixed-belief marriages and Jehovah’s Witnesses are no exception (ibid., §§ 110-11).

179. The Court is not satisfied that the Regional Court’s findings were based on an acceptable assessment of facts. There was nothing to indicate that the religious organisation had made any demands on its members as a condition for continuing their family relationship or, in the other sense, that it had imposed any kind of condition or made any demands on non-Witness members of the families of its followers under threat of breaking up their family relationship.

180. In addition, the way in which the Regional Court dealt with witness evidence was tainted by bias against Jehovah’s Witnesses. Its decision on the credibility of testimony had nothing to do with its factual accuracy but referred, as the sole criterion, to the witnesses’ affiliation with the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The evidence of a harmonious family life given by four Jehovah’s Witnesses and the non-religious spouse of a Jehovah’s Witness had not been shown to be untrue. However, the Regional Court refused to accept it, finding the members of the Taganrog LRO to be inherently unreliable witnesses, while at the same time accepting as reliable the evidence from the aggrieved non-believer spouses and a member of an Orthodox entity (see paragraph 22 above).

(ε) On the encroachment on the rights of others

181. Lastly, the Rostov court established that the Taganrog LRO had encroached on the rights of its members by determining how they were spending their free time and prohibiting them from celebrating holidays and birthdays. It also encroached on the rights of those whom Jehovah’s Witnesses had visited at their homes without invitation (see paragraph 23 above).

182. On the first limb of the charge, the Court reiterates that the right of Jehovah’s Witnesses to organise their lives, including their daily routines, in accordance with the precepts of their religion is protected by Article 9 of the Convention (see paragraph 172 above). The Russian courts did not cite any evidence showing that members of the Taganrog LRO had been forced or prevailed upon to devote their free time to preaching and Bible study or to abstain from celebrating State holidays or personal events (ibid., § 120). Moreover, the Court reiterates that “participation in celebrations during State holidays” is not a civil duty as defined by law. In fact, there is no law compelling celebration of any holidays, whether secular or religious, and such compulsory participation in celebrations, had it been elevated to the rank of a legal obligation, could arguably have raised an issue under Articles 9 and 10 of the Convention (compare Efstratiou v. Greece, 18 December 1996, § 32, Reports 1996‑VI, concerning the participation of Jehovah’s Witness children in a school parade).

183. The allegation that the Witnesses’ practice of door-to-door preaching had invaded the privacy of others was not supported with any evidence. As the Court observed in the Kokkinakis case, “bearing Christian witness … [is] an essential mission and a responsibility of every Christian and every Church” which has to be distinguished from improper proselytism that takes the form of offering material or social advantages with a view to gaining new members for a church, exerting improper pressure on people in distress or in need or even using violence or brainwashing (see Kokkinakis, cited above, § 48). The Regional Court did not cite a single case in which members of the Taganrog LRO had resorted to such abusive or improper methods or had trespassed into anyone’s home. There is nothing to indicate that non-religious people were forced to talk to them or compelled to open the door and let them in.

(στ) Nature and severity of the penalty

184. The Court has thus found that none of the charges against the Taganrog LRO were borne out by an adequate assessment of facts or justified with “relevant and sufficient” reasons. It considers nevertheless that the particular character of the interference in the present case entailing as it does significant consequences for the believers requires it to consider briefly the issue whether a sanction of that nature and severity could be justified as being “necessary in a democratic society” (see Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow and Others, cited above, § 154).

185. The Court reiterates that, to discharge their duty to uphold the right to freedom of religion in democratic societies in which several religions coexist within one and the same population, States have responsibility for ensuring, neutrally and impartially, the exercise of various religions, faiths and beliefs. Their role is to help maintain public order, religious harmony and tolerance, including in relations between the adherents of various religions, faiths and beliefs. Since States are not allowed to assess the legitimacy of religious beliefs or the ways in which those beliefs are expressed, the role of the authorities is not to remove the cause of tension by eliminating pluralism, but to ensure that the competing groups tolerate each other (see Ibragim Ibragimov and Others, cited above, § 90, with further references).

186. As in a previous case concerning the forced dissolution of the Moscow congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Court finds that a blanket ban on the activities of a religious community belonging to a known Christian denomination is an extraordinary occurrence (see Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow and Others, cited above, § 155). It is even more extraordinary when such measure is imposed on grounds of the protection of members of a majority religion from attempts to convince them peacefully of the superiority of a minority religion (see paragraphs 153-156 above). The free exchange of ideas is what characterises a democratic society. As the Court has held, democracy does not simply mean that the views of a majority must always prevail: a balance must be achieved which ensures the fair treatment of people from minorities and avoids any abuse of a dominant position (see İzzettin Doğan and Others, cited above, § 109).

187. As the Court has found above, the proceedings resulting in the banning of the Taganrog LRO were based on the assessment of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ religious beliefs and practices rather than on any evidence of incitement to hatred or violence (see paragraphs 165 and 170 above). Before the decision dissolving it was made, the local religious organisation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Taganrog had been in existence and operated legally for more than seventeen years, from 1992 to 2009. Throughout that period, the organisation, its elders or members had not been held liable for any criminal or administrative offence or a civil wrong; no such evidence was produced in the domestic dissolution proceedings or before the Court. Remarkably, an inquiry into the cause of death of a founding member of the organisation in 2004 did not begin until three years later, after first the deputy Prosecutor General and later the regional prosecutor had instructed their subordinates to investigate communities of Jehovah’s Witnesses and lodge applications for liquidation of their organisations (see paragraphs 8 and 10 above). The regional prosecutor’s letter appeared to consider “violations of law [committed by Jehovah’s Witnesses]” to be an established fact, disclosing a predisposed bias against Jehovah’s Witnesses and a determination to achieve the desired outcome of terminating the legal existence of their organisation. By instituting and conducting the extremism proceedings in the absence of any evidence of hatred or violence on the part of the applicants, the Russian authorities had not acted in good faith and had breached the State’s duty of neutrality and impartiality vis-à-vis the applicants’ religious organisation (see Kuznetsov and Others v. Russia, no. 184/02, § 74, 11 January 2007; Members of the Gldani Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Others v. Georgia, no. 71156/01, §§ 131 and 132, 3 May 2007; and Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow and Others, cited above, § 157). This was also incompatible with the principle of effectiveness which requires that the permissible exceptions to the right to freedom of association must be narrowly interpreted so as to give practical and effective protection to that freedom (see Sidiropoulos and Others, cited above, § 38, and Demir and Baykara v. Turkey [GC], no. 34503/97, § 146, ECHR 2008).

188. The judicial decisions brought an end to the legal form of existence of an entire religious community and imposed an indefinite ban on its activities. The Court reiterates that this was obviously the most severe form of interference, affecting, as it did, the rights of many local congregations and hundreds of individual Jehovah’s Witnesses who were consequently denied the possibility of joining with fellow believers in prayer and observance (see Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow and Others, cited above, § 159). The additional confiscation order deprived the applicants of many items of religious literature and the prayer hall, leaving them without a place where to come for worship and Bible study. The Court reiterates that, if a religious community cannot have a place to worship, the right to freedom of religion in its collective dimension will be devoid of all substance (see Association for Solidarity with Jehovah’s Witnesses and Others v. Turkey, nos. 36915/10 and 8606/13, § 90, 24 May 2016). Most importantly, the finding of the “extremist” nature of the religious organisation and their publications exposed the applicants to the risk of criminal prosecution which did not fail to materialise (see paragraphs 95‑106 above). The domestic courts, faced with a decision of such a sweeping scope which was to curtail the fundamental rights of many believers, did not even acknowledge, let alone consider at any length, the effect of the dissolution, banning and confiscation orders on the applicants’ rights under Articles 9, 10 and 11 of the Convention or their domestic-law equivalents (see Perinçek, cited above, § 277, and Ibragim Ibragimov and Others, cited above, § 107). Accordingly, the Court finds that the interference was also not “necessary in a democratic society”.

(iv) Conclusion

189. Having regard to the foregoing, the Court concludes that the interference was not “prescribed by law” in so far as it was based on the provisions of section 1(1) of the Suppression of Extremism Act and that it was also not “necessary in a democratic society”. There has accordingly been a violation of Article 9 of the Convention, read in the light of Article 11, on account of the forced dissolution of Taganrog LRO and a violation of Article 10 of the Convention on account of the declaration of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ publications “extremist”.

ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLES 9, 10 AND 11 OF THE CONVENTION ON ACCOUNT OF THE BANNING OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES PUBLICATIONS AND PROSECUTION FOR THEIR USE IN RELIGIOUS MINISTRY

190. The Court will next consider the applicants’ complaints relating to the banning of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ religious publications as extremist material (section B of the Facts) and also the prosecution of individual Jehovah’s Witnesses and forced dissolution of their organisations for using such publications in religious ministry (sections C and D of the Facts). The applicants complained that such actions by the Russian authorities had been in breach of Articles 9, 10 and 11 of the Convention.

Admissibility
191. The Government submitted that the complaints by Mr Fedorin and Ms Chekhovskaya in application no. 17552/11 were belated as the application form was dated more than six months after the final decisions in their cases. The applicants replied that the date of introduction should be the date of the letter stating their intention to lodge an application with the Court. As that letter had been sent within six months of the final decisions, their complaints were not belated.

192. In accordance with its practice and the Rules of Court, as they applied at the material time, the Court considered the date of the introduction of an application to be the date of the first communication indicating an intention to lodge an application and giving some indication of its nature. Such first communication was in principle sufficient to interrupt the running of the six-month period, provided that it was followed up by the submission of the completed application form within the time-limit fixed by the Court (see Yartsev v. Russia (dec.), no. 13776/11, §§ 21-22, 26 March 2013). In application no. 17552/11, on 28 March 2011 the Court acknowledged receipt of the introductory letter of 11 March and asked the applicants to return the completed application form no later than 23 May, which they actually did on 20 May. The date of introduction is therefore 11 March 2011. As that date was less than six months from the dates of the final decisions (see paragraphs 53-54 above), the complaints are not belated.

193. The Government also claimed that the complaint was inadmissible by virtue of Article 17 of the Convention. The Court has dismissed the Government’s identical objection in paragraph 141 above and does not need to revisit this finding.

194. The Court further notes that this complaint is not manifestly ill‑founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 (a) of the Convention or inadmissible on any other grounds. It must therefore be declared admissible.

Merits
Submissions by the parties
195. The applicants submitted that the ban on religious publications had interfered with their ability to study and discuss religious texts and exposed them to criminal and administrative liability for using the publications the courts declared “extremist”. The courts had banned the publications simply because they demonstrated a negative attitude toward various elements of traditional Christianity and urged people to leave other Christian religions. Yet peaceful disagreements about religious doctrine and practices were at the heart of religious pluralism guaranteed by Article 9, and the right “to try to convince one’s neighbour” was an essential element of religious freedom. The expert assessment of the publications amounted to an impermissible State evaluation of the legitimacy of their religious beliefs but, even so, the experts concurred that the publications did not contain calls or incitement to violence, and the Government did not argue otherwise. The publications had not been gratuitously offensive, disrespectful or hateful. They had been sincere statements of religious belief on the interpretation and application of scriptures from the Bible. In the case of the Samara LRO, the applicants alleged that the banned literature had been planted on its premises by police officers disguised as “electricity inspectors”. When they had come back in uniform, they had known where precisely to look and found seven copies of brochures in a closed box in the cloakroom. Using planted evidence as a basis for dissolving the organisation rendered the interference unlawful. In addition, holding the Samara LRO liable for the activities of its congregations contradicted the position of Russia’s Supreme Court which held that religious groups, such as congregations, could not be part of the structure of religious organisations. Mr Moskvin had not been the director or member of the Samara LRO, and his conviction was not imputable to the organisation. Finally, it was disproportionate to punish the Samara LRO with a modest fine in the administrative proceedings and, less than three months later, to pronounce the most severe sanction, the forced dissolution, without any further alleged violations by the Samara LRO.

196. The Government submitted the applicants’ rights to freedom of religion and expression had to be weighed against the public interest in the protection of national security and the prevention of disorder or extremist offences. Distribution of extremist material was not a form of lawful exercise of the applicant’s rights under Articles 9 and 10 of the Convention. The Russian courts had thoroughly and comprehensively scrutinised the publications and upheld the prosecutor’s claim that, even though the literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses did not contain direct calls for violence or incitement to violence, it nevertheless offended religious feelings, incited religious enmity, provoked inter-faith conflicts and encouraged relinquishment of civil duties. The individual applicants had been brought to administrative liability for breaching the ban on disseminating extremist material, not for their religious convictions or for the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. In the case of the Samara LRO, there had existed a close connection between the Novokuybyshevsk community and the Samara LRO. The latter had rented the place where the former had celebrated religious services. The Novokuybyshevsk community had not sent a notice to the municipal authorities to inform them of its existence as an independent religious group; instead, it had functioned as part of the Samara LRO. By keeping the publications which it ought to have known to have been extremist, the Samara LRO had maliciously carried on its extremist activities after the prosecutor’s warning. In those circumstances, after preventive measures had turned out to be ineffective, the Russian courts had deemed liquidation to be the only appropriate sanction.

The Court’s assessment
(a) Existence of interference

197. There is no dispute between the parties that declaring Jehovah’s Witnesses’ publications “extremist” and sanctioning the applicants for the possession or distribution of the publications amounted to “interference by a public authority” with their right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the Convention which must be interpreted in the light of Article 9 to take account of the religious nature of the publications and their intended use it for religious purposes. As the Court stated, the “collective study and discussion of religious texts by the members of the religious group of Jehovah’s Witnesses [is] a recognised form of manifestation of their religion in worship and teaching” (see Kuznetsov and Others, cited above, § 57). The ban on publications also interfered with the rights of the applicant publishers of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ literature (see paragraph 147 above).

198. In so far as possession of prohibited publications was relied upon as a ground for the forced dissolution of a religious organisation, the complaint must be considered as an instance of interference with the applicants’ right to freedom of association safeguarded by Article 11 of the Convention, interpreted in the light of Article 9. Such interference will infringe the Convention unless it can be shown that it has satisfied the requirements of the second paragraph of those provisions.

(b) Justification for the interference

199. The general principles regarding freedom of expression and religion have been summarised in the case of Ibragim Ibragimov and Others, cited above, §§ 88-99. In its assessment of the interference with freedom of expression in cases concerning allegedly extremist speech, the Court takes into account such factors as the existence of a tense political or social background; the presence of calls for – or a justification of – violence, hatred or intolerance, the manner in which the statements were made, and their potential to lead to harmful consequences. It is normally not sufficient that the interference was imposed because its subject-matter fell within a particular category or was caught by a legal rule formulated in general terms; what is rather required is that it was necessary in the specific circumstances (see also Perinçek, cited above, §§ 205-08).

200. The Court notes that the Russian courts banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ publications as “extremist” on the grounds that they incited religious hatred and discord by proclaiming the “superiority” of the “true” religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses and “hostility” to other “false” religions or their ministers and that they encouraged relinquishment of civic duties and military service. However, no elements of violence, hatred, abuse, insults, ridicule or calls for anyone’s exclusion or discrimination have been identified in any of the publications (see paragraphs 30, 31, 34, 36, 40, 43, 45 and 47 above). There is no indication that the domestic courts perceived the texts in question as capable of leading to public disturbances or unrest. Neither the domestic courts nor the Government referred to any circumstances indicative of a sensitive background at the material time. Although the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ publications have been widely available in many countries for decades, including in Russia, the Government have not submitted any evidence that they have caused interreligious tensions or led to any harmful consequences or violence, in Russia or elsewhere (see, for similar reasoning, Öztürk v. Turkey [GC], no. 22479/93, § 69, ECHR 1999‑VI).

201. The Court has found above that peaceful and non-violent attempts to persuade others of the virtues of one’s own religion and the flaws of others and to urge them to abandon “false religions” and join the “true one” is a legitimate form of exercising the rights to freedom of religion and expression, and that it was also permissible to seek to convince others to prefer alternative civilian service (see paragraphs 156 and 170 above). It has also found that the banning of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ publications solely on that basis, in the absence of any statements advocating violence, hatred or intimidation, was only possible because the definition of “extremism” in Russian law was overly broad and could be, and had been, applied to entirely peaceful forms of expression (see paragraph 158 above). This sweeping definition enabled the Russian authorities to restrict the distribution of non-violent religious publications but also prevented publishers and users of the publications to anticipate, on account of its lacking the necessary precision, which publications could be categorised as “extremist” and banned on that account. It thus failed to meet the quality-of-law requirement which is a key element of the test of whether the interference was “prescribed by law” (see paragraph 159 above).

202. Apart from the above elements, the principle of effectiveness and the procedural guarantees afforded are the factors which may have to be taken into account when assessing the interference with freedom of expression (see Karácsony and Others v. Hungary [GC], nos. 42461/13 and 44357/13, § 133, 17 May 2016, with further references). The Court reiterates that it was first of all for the national authorities to carry out a comprehensive assessment of the statements in the context, putting forward relevant and sufficient reasons for justifying the interference and considering the applicant community’s right to freedom of expression and religion (see Religious Community of Jehovah’s Witnesses v. Azerbaijan, no. 52884/09, § 36, 20 February 2020).

203. The Court has previously identified a number of fundamental procedural flaws in the manner in which Russian courts have considered applications to categorise materials as “extremist”. The first such flaw is the courts’ relinquishment of their duty to rule on issues of law in favour of a wholesale endorsement of expert conclusions which go beyond addressing purely specialist issues, such as clarifying the import or meaning of particular words and expressions, and provide what is in effect a legal assessment of publications. The Court has found that situation unacceptable and stressed that all issues of law should be determined exclusively by judges (see Mariya Alekhina and Others v. Russia, no. 38004/12, § 262, 17 July 2018, and Dmitriyevskiy v. Russia, no. 42168/06, § 113, 3 October 2017). This position has been also reflected in the binding guidance by the Supreme Court of Russia (see paragraph 127 above). A second procedural flaw stems from the fact that Russian law does not establish explicitly the right for affected parties, such as authors or publishers of the texts liable to be banned, to participate in the proceedings under the Suppression of Extremism Act. The Court has held that a domestic court would not be in a position to provide “relevant and sufficient” reasons for the interference without some form of adversarial proceedings in which the arguments put forward by the prosecutor could be weighed up against those of the affected party (see Mariya Alekhina and Others, cited above, §§ 265-67).

204. In the instant case, the domestic courts’ decisions were based on expert reports obtained by the prosecutors or police from experts in linguistics or in religious studies, and, in one case, on a statement by an Orthodox priest who offered his opinion on the “extremist” nature of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ publications (see paragraph 47 above). The courts limited their analysis to reproducing a summary of findings by expert witnesses which they endorsed in their entirety without drawing any legal conclusions from them, stating simply that they had no reason to doubt them. It is apparent from the judgments that it was not the court that made the decisive findings as to the “extremist” nature of the Jehovah’s Witnesses publications but the experts selected by the prosecutors and police (see Dmitriyevskiy, cited above, § 113). The courts made no attempt to conduct their own legal analysis of the allegedly “extremist” statements and consider them in the broader context of publications, seeking to establish the ideas they sought to impart. Nor did they apply the Court’s case-law relating to the extremist speech and freedom of expression in general or assess the effect of the ban on the applicants’ rights under Article 9 of the Convention or its domestic-law equivalent (see Ibragim Ibragimov and Others, cited above, § 107). The Court cannot therefore accept the reasons provided by the Russian courts as “relevant and sufficient” for the purpose of justifying the interference in question.

205. Furthermore, not only did the courts fail to provide relevant and sufficient reasons to justify the interference, they also failed to uphold the adversarial nature of the proceedings. Some applicants were unable to effectively put forward arguments in defence of their position, as the courts rejected their evidence, including alternative expert opinions, on the grounds that they had been prepared by a party to the case (see paragraph 35 above). Other applicants had not been even informed of the banning proceedings and denied the possibility to challenge the first-instance judgment by way of appeal (see paragraphs 37-39 above). This brings the Court to the conclusion that the applicants were stripped of the procedural protection that they were entitled to enjoy by virtue of their rights under Article 10 of the Convention (see Dmitriyevskiy, cited above, § 116).

206. As regards the applicants who were convicted on charges of “mass dissemination of extremist literature” for using the previously banned publications in religious ministry, the Court notes that an offence of mass dissemination of extremist material under Article 20.29 of the CAO is conceptualised under Russian law as a formal offence. It is sufficient to establish that the publication in question was included in the Federal List of Extremist Material and that the offender engaged in its dissemination or possessed it with a view to disseminating. The law does not require the courts hearing the charges to evaluate the context in which the dissemination occurred, to examine the intentions of the offender, or to assess its actual or likely deleterious consequences. Because of the formal nature of the offence, the court decisions holding the applicants liable for the dissemination of extremist material did not contain any assessment of the context of dissemination or its potential for harmful consequences. However, the fact that domestic law does not require proof that the offence has had any concrete effect does not obviate the need to justify the interference and to show that it was necessary in the specific circumstances (see Öztürk, cited above, § 69, and Perinçek, cited above, § 275). By focusing exclusively on the formal elements of an offence under Article 20.29 of the CAO, the domestic courts failed to consider the criteria developed by the Court in cases relating to freedom of expression and religion and adduce “relevant and sufficient” reasons for the interference (see Gözel and Özer v. Turkey, nos. 43453/04 and 31098/05, § 51, 6 July 2010). In the case of the Samara LRO, the domestic courts neither considered a very serious allegation that the extremist publications had been planted on their premises (see paragraph 195 above) nor assessed the proportionality and necessity of such a drastic measure as the dissolution of a religious organisation in a situation where copies of the “extremist” publications were apparently kept in a locked cabinet. The failure to carry out a balancing exercise leads the Court to the conclusion that the interference did not pursue any “pressing social need” and was therefore not “necessary in a democratic society”.

207. There has therefore been a violation of Articles 10 and 11 of the Convention, read in the light of Article 9, on account of the declaration of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ publications “extremist” and the prosecution of individual applicants and the forced dissolution of the Samara LRO for using those publications in their religious ministry.

ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 10 OF THE CONVENTION, READ IN THE LIGHT OF ARTICLE 9, ON ACCOUNT OF THE WITHDRAWAL OF THE DISTRIBUTION PERMIT

208. The applicants complained that the decision to withdraw the permit to distribute religious magazines (see section E of the Facts) had had no basis in Russian law and was not necessary in a democratic society. They relied in particular on Articles 9 and 10 of the Convention which have been cited above.

Admissibility
209. The Government submitted that the complaints by Mr Ebeling and Mr Konyukhov in application no. 17552/11 were belated. The Court has dismissed a similar objection in paragraph 192 above in which it established the date of introduction of that application to be 11 March 2011. As that date was less than six months from the dates of the final decisions (see paragraph 73 above), the complaints were not belated.

210. The Court considers that this complaint is not manifestly ill‑founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 (a) of the Convention. It further notes that it is not inadmissible on any other grounds. It must therefore be declared admissible.

Merits
Submissions by the parties
211. The applicants emphasised that the application of section 32 of the Mass Media Act “by analogy”, without any advance notice, without a court hearing or court order and by reference to the Rostov and Gorno-Altaysk proceedings, to which neither the applicant nor the Roskomnadzor had been parties, was not foreseeable. Section 32 related exclusively to television and radio broadcasting; it had never been applied to print media. The Roskomnadzor had not invoked that provision when making the 2010 order. It was raised for the first time in the Federal Commercial Court’s decision of 29 May 2012. By that time, however, section 32 was no longer in force, having been replaced in 2011 with a new procedure in which a license could be revoked only on notice and only by court order. The applicants submitted that they could not have foreseen which of many provisions the Roskomnadzor would apply “by analogy”, for it could have issued instead a “warning” or make an application to a court to suspend the circulation of periodicals. Finally, the decision did not pursue any “pressing social need”. Contrary to the Government’s assertion, the publications had not incited “religious hatred”, as mere comparison of religions and beliefs, even unfavourable, was not tantamount to inciting “hatred”.

212. The Government submitted that the Watchtower and Awake! magazines were foreign printed media which could be distributed in Russia on the basis of a permit. After the Rostov and Gorno-Altaysk courts had identified certain publications to be extremist, the applicants should have faced the consequences of publishing such materials. Since the Russian legislation at that time had not established a clear procedure for annulling the distribution permit, section 32 of the Mass Media Act had been applied by analogy which, in the Government’s view, was the only accessible mechanism for exercising State control over distribution of extremist materials in Russia. The decision to revoke the permit had pursued the legitimate aims of the protection of national security, prevention of disorders and crimes of extremist nature. There had been a trend towards an increasing number of extremist publications: of the twenty-six publications printed between 1998 and 2009, eleven had been issued after 2007.

The Court’s assessment
213. The Court notes that under Russian law, distribution of foreign printed periodicals in Russia requires a distribution permit. The decision to withdraw the permit had prevented both the German publisher of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ magazines and the Administrative Centre from distributing them in Russian territory and exposed individual applicants to administrative sanctions for doing so. Accordingly, it amounted to an interference with their freedom to impart information under Article 10 of the Convention which must also be examined in the light of the requirements of Article 9 (see Religious Community of Jehovah’s Witnesses, cited above, §§ 24-25).

214. On the legal basis for the interference, the Court reiterates that the expression “prescribed by law” not only refers to a statutory basis in domestic law, but also requires that the law be formulated with sufficient precision to enable the individual to foresee the consequences which a given action may entail. The law must afford a measure of legal protection against arbitrary interferences by public authorities with the rights safeguarded by the Convention, and indicate with sufficient clarity the scope of any discretion conferred on the competent authorities and the manner of its exercise (see Hasan and Chaush, cited above, § 84). The scope of a restriction must not be extended to the detriment of the person concerned, for instance by analogy (see Karademirci and Others v. Turkey, nos. 37096/97 and 37101/97, § 40, ECHR 2005‑I).

215. In the instant case, the domestic courts at all levels of jurisdiction recognised that Russian law did not specify the conditions under which a permit to distribute foreign printed periodicals could be withdrawn (see paragraphs 68, 69 and 70 above). The reference to section 32 of the Mass Media Act was not part of the original decision to revoke the permit and appeared for a first time in a judicial decision taken six months after that provision had been repealed (see paragraphs 71 and 121 above). In any event, that provision set out the conditions for revoking broadcasting licences which were granted and regulated by their own set of norms. The court did not explain why that particular provision and not another should be applied “by analogy”, did not refer to any jurisprudence in which such an application “by analogy” had been previously made and did not indicate which of the three conditions set out in that provision had not been met. In these circumstances, the Court finds that the interference did not have a clear and foreseeable legal basis.

216. The Court also considers that, in addition to lacking a clear and foreseeable legal basis, the interference was not “necessary in a democratic society”. The decision to withdraw the permit had not been preceded with any advance notice or warning to the applicants, depriving them of the opportunity to put right the alleged violation (see Biblical Centre of the Chuvash Republic, cited above, § 57). The Court also concurs in the assessment made by the Moscow City Commercial Court that the measure was excessively broad in its effects in that it affected the distribution of any and all issues of the magazines, of which only certain issues were declared extremist (see paragraph 68 above). After the Moscow City Commercial Court’s decision had been overturned on appeal, no assessment of the proportionality of the measure was conducted in the subsequent proceedings.

217. As regards the individual applicants prosecuted for “distributing” unregistered media, the Court notes that the proceedings against them were brought at a time when the judicial challenge to the withdrawal decision was still being considered. It does not appear that the applicants were aware that they were breaking the law by continuing to use the magazines in their religious ministry or that they had in fact engaged in the “distribution” in so far as the publications had been obtained by the authorities on their own initiative including through the use of special police measures (see paragraph 72 above). By seeking to sanction the applicants without waiting for the outcome of the proceedings, the domestic authorities revealed their determination to impose undue burden on the exercise of the right to freedom of religion by individual Jehovah’s Witnesses (compare Biblical Centre of the Chuvash Republic, cited above, § 57). Accordingly, the interference with their rights was not “necessary in a democratic society”.

218. There has been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention, read in the light of Article 9, on account of the withdrawal of the distribution permit and the prosecution of the applicants for distributing unregistered media.

ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 10 OF THE CONVENTION, READ IN THE LIGHT OF ARTICLE 9, ON ACCOUNT OF DECLARING THE JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES’ WEBSITE “EXTREMIST”
219. The applicants complained that the decision to declare the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ international website “extremist” (see section G of the Facts) had no basis in Russian law and was not necessary in a democratic society. They relied in particular on Articles 9 and 10 of the Convention which have been cited above.

Admissibility
220. The Court considers that this complaint is not manifestly ill‑founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 (a) of the Convention. It further notes that it is not inadmissible on any other grounds. It must therefore be declared admissible.

Merits
Submissions by the parties
221. The applicants submitted that the material on jw.org was crucially important to Jehovah’s Witnesses’ public ministry of and Bible study, as religious publications and videos were available in more than 900 spoken languages and also in many of the world’s sign languages. The website was also accessible to the visually impaired believers by being compatible with software that audibly reports cursor movements. Blocking access to jw.org had deprived the individual applicants of a significant means of exercising their right to freedom to receive information and ideas and deprived applicant Watchtower New York of its right to impart information to individual Jehovah’s Witnesses and other interested persons in Russia. The banning of the website as extremist had also exposed all Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia to criminal sanctions for attempting to access it or encouraging others to do so. That interference had to be seen in the light of the Russian authorities’ simultaneous decision to prohibit all imports of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ literature and to seize thousands of copies of the Bible and other literature. The interference was not “prescribed by law” because the applicants could not foresee that the entire website would be declared extremist due to the presence of three “extremist” publications, representing a miniscule fraction (0.07%) of the 3,900 religious items available on the site. Watchtower New York had not received a prior warning or notice of the impending ban. The interference also did not pursue a legitimate aim because as soon as Watchtower New York had found out of the first-instance court’s decision it had blocked access to the three “extremist” publication from within Russia. That happened more than fourteen months before the Supreme Court had ruled to ban the entire website. Lastly, the interference had not been necessary in a democratic society. The website did not contain “extremist material” and none of the publications had contained calls to violence, hatred or intolerance. In any event, declaring the entire website “extremist” was disproportionate. If the authorities had a legitimate concern, they could have blocked access to the offending web pages only. This was done in many other cases: the Federal List of Extremist Materials included hundreds of “extremist” web pages from YouTube or social network websites which however had not been declared “extremist” in their entirety.

222. The Government reiterated that a number of publications which had been available on the website had been found to be extremist by the Rostov court. The fact that those publications were available for downloading from the website had been sufficient to restrict access to that website. Access to the blocked website could be restored if the offending information had been removed. However, Watchtower New York had not produced evidence that it had deleted such information and had informed the telecoms regulator accordingly. Watchtower New York had been informed by registered mail about the date and time of the cassation hearing before the Supreme Court.

The Court’s assessment
(a) General principles

223. The Court reiterates that owing to its accessibility and capacity to store and communicate vast amounts of information, the Internet has now become one of the principal means by which individuals exercise their right to freedom of expression and information. The Internet provides essential tools for participation in activities and discussions concerning political issues and issues of general interest, it enhances the public’s access to news and facilitates the dissemination of information in general. Article 10 of the Convention guarantees “everyone” the freedom to receive and impart information and ideas. It applies not only to the content of information but also to the means of its dissemination, for any restriction imposed on the latter necessarily interferes with that freedom. The measures blocking access to websites are bound to have an influence on the accessibility of the Internet and, accordingly, engage the responsibility of the respondent State under Article 10 (see Ahmet Yıldırım v. Turkey, no. 3111/10, §§ 48-54, ECHR 2012).

(b) Existence of interference

224. For the Court, it is clear that the declaration of an extremist nature of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ international website which was owned and operated by applicant Watchtower New York (see paragraph 79 above) interfered with its right to impart information to individual Jehovah’s Witnesses and other interested persons in Russia. The measure which prevented visitors to Jehovah’s Witnesses’ website from accessing its content from within Russia amounted to “interference by a public authority” with the right to receive and impart information since Article 10 guarantees not only the right to impart information but also the right of the public to receive it (see Cengiz and Others v. Turkey, nos. 48226/10 and 14027/11, § 56, ECHR 2015 (extracts), and OOO Flavus and Others v. Russia, nos. 12468/15 and 2 others, § 29, 23 June 2020). Since the affected material was of a religious nature, the interference must also be examined in the light of the requirements of Article 9 of the Convention.

225. As regards the individual applicants, the Court reiterates that the answer to the question whether an applicant can claim to be a victim of a measure blocking access to a website will depend on an assessment of all circumstances of each case, in particular the way in which the person concerned uses the website and the potential impact of the measure on him or her. For the applicants having various types of perceptive limitations, such as a visual or hearing impairment, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ website was the only accessible source of downloadable religious materials addressing their specific needs: audio books and descriptions, sign language commentaries, etc. It follows that the blocking of those applicants’ access to the specifically adapted religious materials available on jw.org amounted to interference with their right to receive information under Article 10 of the Convention, read in the light of Article 9.

226. Lastly, in so far as the blocking of access to the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ website affected the religious literature accessible from within Russia which was a crucial element of religious ministry, it also constituted interference with the Administrative Centre’s right to receive and impart information under Article 10 of the Convention, read in the light of Article 9, which the Administrative Centre enjoyed as a collective body established to uphold and defend the rights and interests of Jehovah’s Witnesses (see Association for Solidarity with Jehovah’s Witnesses and Others, cited above, § 87).

(c) Justification for the interference

227. The Court reiterates that interference must be “prescribed by law”, pursue one or more of the legitimate aims and be “necessary in a democratic society” to achieve those aims. In the present case the questions of compliance with the law and of the existence of a legitimate aim cannot be dissociated from the question of whether the interference was “necessary in a democratic society”. The Court will therefore examine them together, having regard to its findings in similar cases concerning the blocking of access to websites in Russia (see, among others, OOO Flavus and Others, cited above, and Bulgakov v. Russia, no. 20159/15, 23 June 2020).

228. As the Court has previously found, Russian law contains no procedural safeguards capable of protecting website owners from arbitrary interference. It does not provide for any form of their participation in the blocking proceedings and does not give them an opportunity to remove the offending content before the blocking decision takes effect. Nor does it require the authorities to assess the impact of the blocking measure, to justify the necessity and proportionality of the interference with the freedom of expression online, and to ascertain that the blocking measure strictly targets the unlawful content and has no arbitrary or excessive effects, including those arising from blocking access to the entire website (see OOO Flavus and Others, cited above, §§ 40-41).

229. In the instant case, Watchtower New York as the owner of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ international website had not received a warning or any other notice that the website was allegedly in breach of the extremism legislation. The prosecutor’s application for a blocking order had been prepared without advance notification to the parties whose rights and interests were likely to be affected. Watchtower New York had not been informed of the prosecutor’s application or afforded the opportunity to remove the allegedly illegal content before the application was lodged with the court. Nor had it been invited to participate in the blocking hearing on the basis that the blocking would not interfere with its rights (see paragraph 80 above). Even after the court of appeals acknowledged that its participation in the proceedings was essential, it had not been properly summoned to the Supreme Court hearing at which the blocking decision was reinstated (see paragraph 84 above). The Court finds that the blocking proceedings which were conducted in the website owner’s absence were not adversarial in nature and did not provide a forum in which the interested parties could have been heard (see Bulgakov, cited above, §§ 35-36).

230. Turning next to the scope of the decision declaring the entire website “extremist”, the Court reiterates that the wholesale blocking of access to a website is an extreme measure which deliberately disregards the distinction between lawful and unlawful information that a website may contain and renders inaccessible a large amount of content which has not been identified as unlawful. Blocking access to the entire website has the practical effect of extending the scope of the blocking order far beyond the unlawful content that was originally targeted (see OOO Flavus and Others, cited above, § 37).

231. The Court has found above that the decision to declare the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ religious publications “extremist” disclosed a violation of the Convention. This finding applies to the publications, brochures and magazines which had been referenced in the request for a blocking order. However, even if there had been exceptional circumstances justifying the blocking of unlawful content, the measure blocking access to the entire website would have needed a justification of its own, separately and distinctly from the justification underlying the order targeting unlawful content, and by reference to the criteria established by the Court under Article 10 of the Convention. Blocking access to legitimate content can never be an automatic consequence of another, more restricted blocking measure because indiscriminate blocking measure – interfering as it does with lawful content as a collateral effect of a measure aimed solely at illegal content – amounts to arbitrary interference with the rights of website owners (see OOO Flavus and Others, cited above, § 38).

232. The Government did not indicate a statutory basis or put forward a justification for the wholesale blocking order affecting the international website of Jehovah’s Witnesses in its entirety. They did not explain what legitimate aim or “pressing social need” the domestic authorities pursued by blocking access to the entire website which contained a large amount of undisputedly lawful content, including material meeting the particular perceptive needs of the individual applicants. The failure to provide a justification for that broad blocking measure is particularly salient in the light of the fact that Watchtower New York had taken down the offending publications upon learning of the District Court’s decision. This fact was acknowledged in the Regional Court’s appeal judgment of 22 January 2014 which also considered that the blocking of the entire website was excessive (see paragraph 82 above). By the time the Supreme Court decided to reinstate the blocking order in December 2014, there had been no arguably unlawful content on the website. Accordingly, the Court finds that the decision to block access to the entire website was unlawful and disproportionate already at a time when the website contained a few items of the allegedly extremist material. This finding applies a fortiori to the blocking of the entire website after that material had been removed (see Bulgakov, cited above, § 38).

233. As the interference was not “prescribed by law” and was not “necessary in a democratic society”, there has been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention, read in the light of Article 9, on account of the declaration of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ international website “extremist”.

ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 9 OF THE CONVENTION, READ IN THE LIGHT OF ARTICLE 11, ON ACCOUNT OF THE FORCED DISSOLUTION OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE CENTRE AND LOCAL RELIGIOUS ORGANISATIONS

234. The applicants complained that the forced dissolution of the Administrative Centre and the LROs of Jehovah’s Witnesses (section H of the Facts) had violated their rights to freedom of religion and association. The Court will consider this complaint under Article 9 of the Convention, interpreted in the light of Article 11.

Admissibility
235. The Government submitted that the complaint was inadmissible by virtue of Article 17 of the Convention. The Court dismisses the objection for the same reasons as above. It further considers that this complaint is not manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 (a) of the Convention or inadmissible on any other grounds. It must therefore be declared admissible.

Merits
Submissions by the parties
236. The applicants submitted that that the liquidation decision had been the culmination of the State’s decades-long attack against Jehovah’s Witnesses to silence and outlaw a peaceful religious minority with had begun in January 2007 when a deputy Prosecutor General directed subordinate prosecutors to find “extremist material” in the religious literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses. During the liquidation proceedings, the Supreme Court denied the Administrative Centre and the 395 LROs the most basic procedural rights, refusing to ensure their effective participation in the proceedings. The liquidation decision had been grossly disproportionate, as 387 out of the 395 local organisations had never been charged, much less convicted, of any “extremist” activity in the twenty or more years of their legal existence and the decision to ban them as “extremist” was nothing but arbitrary. The Administrative Centre had likewise in all the years of its existence never been charged, much less convicted, of any “extremist” activity. Liquidating the Administrative Centre for the alleged activity of third parties had been also disproportionate. The true effect of the liquidation decision had been severe. It had criminalised the peaceful religious activity of the more than 175,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia by making it a criminal offence for them to meet together to read and study the Bible, to publicly share religious beliefs, and to teach their children their beliefs and practices. In April 2018 alone four religious ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses had been arrested and put in pre-trial detention for conducting a meeting of worship. The Ministry of Education had issued a circular letter to specify that children of Jehovah’s Witnesses should be “re-socialised”. Hundreds of families who are Jehovah’s Witnesses had fled Russia. Such severe measures could not be justified as “necessary” in a free and democratic society.

237. The Government submitted that the court decisions to dissolve the Administrative Centre and the LROs had been based on the provisions of the Constitution, the Religions Act and the Suppression of Extremism Act. They had also pursued the important public interests to protect the rights of others, public order and national security and to oppose extremist activities. Diligent action was required to avoid a situation where the cumulative adverse effect of extremist activities would reach the point of turning the risk of harm to individual rights or public order into actual harm to citizens’ health or life, public order or other public and State interests. The interference had also been necessary in a democratic society as over the previous seven-year period, a total of eighty-eight publications had been declared extremist, eighteen warning letters had been issued cautioning against the continuation of extremist activities, eight LROs had been dissolved for extremist activities and further extremist acts had been committed after the Ministry of Justice’s warning letter. In those circumstances, forced dissolution had been the only measure capable of preventing harm to the health and lives of citizens, public order and national security. The Government emphasised that the liquidation decision did not restrict or prohibit anyone from practising the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses on an individual basis.

238. The third party, ADF International, submitted that the Russian authorities had enforced restrictions on religious minorities which had been often framed as protection against “extremism”. They referred, by way of example, to the 2016 “anti-terrorism” legislation which prohibited foreigners from engaging in “missionary activities” and required anyone engaged in “evangelisation” to carry permits that showed their connection to a registered religious group. The third party also provided a summary of the Court’s case-law under Articles 9 and 14 of the Convention.

239. Responding to the AFD International’s submissions, the Government asserted that the allegations of undue pressure being brought to bear on religious minorities in Russia were unsubstantiated. In their view, holding a religious organisation liable for engaging in extremist activities did not violate the constitutional right to freedom of association.

The Court’s assessment
(a) Existence of interference

240. The Court holds that the forced dissolution of the Administrative Centre and the LROs of Jehovah’s Witnesses amounted to interference with these organisations’ and their members’ rights under Article 9 of the Convention, read in the light of Article 11. The dissolution decision had the effect of stripping the organisations of legal personality and preventing them from exercising a wide range of rights reserved under Russian law to registered religious organisations. It also deprived the individual applicants, as their members, of the right to manifest their religion in community with others and to carry out activities which were an integral element of their religious practice (see paragraph 146 above).

(b) Justification for the interference

241. The Court refers to a summary of general principles concerning forced dissolution of associations in paragraphs 149 and 150 above. It emphasises that the right of believers to freedom of religion encompasses the expectation that believers will be allowed to associate freely, without arbitrary State intervention, and that the dissolution of an existing religious organisation requires very serious reasons by way of justification in order to be recognised as “necessary in a democratic society” (see Biblical Centre of the Chuvash Republic, cited above, § 54). It also reiterates that the principle of effectiveness – an overarching principle of the Convention underlying every Convention provision securing a human right – requires that all human rights enshrined and guaranteed therein must be protected practically and effectively and not in a theoretical or illusory manner.

242. The decision on the forced dissolution of the Administrative Centre and the LROs relied crucially on earlier decisions to ban the LROs of Jehovah’s Witnesses and to declare their publications “extremist”. Since the Court has found that these earlier decisions violated the applicants’ Convention rights because they lacked a sufficiently foreseeable legal basis (see paragraphs 189 and 207 above), this finding also vitiates the dissolution decision. Nevertheless, it considers the applicants’ claim that the dissolution decision was “the culmination of the State’s decades-long attack against Jehovah’s Witnesses to silence and outlaw a peaceful religious minority” to be sufficiently serious to warrant an examination of its merits from the standpoint of the requirement that the authorities must in good faith fulfil the duty of neutrality and impartiality towards all religious organisations (see the case-law cited in paragraph 187 above).

243. The Court stresses that legal formalities should not be used to hinder the freedom of association of groups disliked by the authorities or advocating ideas that the authorities would like to suppress. In cases where the circumstances are such as to raise doubts in that regard, the Court must verify whether an apparently neutral measure interfering with an organisation’s activities in effect seeks to penalise it on account of the views that it promotes (see The United Macedonian Organisation Ilinden – PIRIN and Others v. Bulgaria (no. 2), nos. 41561/07 and 20972/08, § 83, 18 October 2011). To consider the applicants’ allegation that the Russian authorities singled out Jehovah’s Witnesses for a campaign of harassment and persecution, the Court will need to review the sequence of events in their entirety, rather than as separate and distinct incidents, in order to place the interference in its proper context (see Ivanova v. Bulgaria, no. 52435/99, § 83, 12 April 2007).

244. Since their emergence in the late nineteenth century Jehovah’s Witnesses have established a legal presence in many parts in the world, including all European States which are now members of the Council of Europe. In those States, they have been allowed to practise their religion in community with others, although they may have experienced delays and difficulties in obtaining formal recognition (see, among others, Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow and Others, cited above, § 155). Since the early 1990s Jehovah’s Witnesses had also been allowed to practice their religion lawfully in Russia and register their religious organisations at the federal and regional levels. Almost four hundred local regional organisations of Jehovah’s Witnesses were established throughout Russia (ibid., § 156).

245. After the introduction of the new Religions Act which required religious organisations to apply for new registration, Jehovah’s Witnesses appear to have been singled out for a differential treatment, along with other religious organisations deemed to be “non-traditional religions”, including the Salvation Army and the Church of Scientology. The Court found that they had all been denied new registration on spurious legal grounds and that, in doing so, the Russian authorities in the capital city of Moscow had not “acted in good faith” and had “neglected their duty of neutrality and impartiality” (see Moscow Branch of the Salvation Army v. Russia, no. 72881/01, § 97, ECHR 2006‑XI; Church of Scientology Moscow v. Russia, no. 18147/02, § 97, 5 April 2007; and Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow and Others, cited above, §§ 157 and 181).

246. In parallel, the authorities had instituted forced dissolution proceedings against the Moscow organisation of Jehovah’s Witnesses under the provisions of the new Religions Act. The proceedings ended in 2004 with a decision on the forced dissolution of the organisation and a permanent ban on its activities (see Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow and Others, cited above, §§ 54-67). Following a detailed analysis of the different justifications advanced by the authorities in support of that decision, the Court found that the domestic courts did not adduce “relevant and sufficient” reasons to show that the Moscow community forced families to break up, infringed the rights and freedoms of its members or third parties, incited its followers to commit suicide or refuse medical care, impinged on the rights of non-Witness parents or their children, or encouraged members to refuse to fulfil any duties established by law. It also held that the sanction of dissolution had been disproportionate to whatever legitimate aim that had been pursued and found a violation of Article 9 of the Convention, read in the light of Article 11 (ibid., § 160).

247. The subsequent developments are particularly significant for the present case. In 2006 the extremism legislation was amended to expand the definition of “extremist activities” by removing the requirement that the allegedly “extremist” activities must contain elements of violence in order to be categorised as such (see paragraph 158 above). Thereafter, a deputy Prosecutor General sent out a circular letter which targeted all “foreign religious associations” in general and named Jehovah’s Witnesses in particular. While acknowledging that they had committed no violations of Russian law, the letter instructed regional prosecutors – as part of their oversight powers over other State agencies – to verify whether the media regulator had properly fulfilled its duty to search for indicators of extremism in the publications of “foreign religious organisations”. Jehovah’s Witnesses came under particular scrutiny due to the fact that they owned printing facilities (see paragraph 8 above).

248. A newly expanded definition of “extremist activities” and the instructions from the deputy Prosecutor General spurred prosecutors in various regions of Russia to seek court decisions declaring dozens of Jehovah’s Witnesses religious publications “extremist”, in the absence of any elements of violence or hatred (see paragraphs 10 and 27-49 above). The categorisation of the publications as “extremist” exposed individual Jehovah’s Witnesses and religious organisations using them in religious ministry and worship to the prosecution on charges of “mass dissemination of extremist material” and the forced dissolution (see paragraphs 62 and 107 above). As the Court has found above, the formal nature of the offence of “mass dissemination” left no room for assessing the proportionality of the interference in the light of the Convention standards (see paragraph 206 above). The “extremist” categorisation was also used to ban the distribution of all issues of two Jehovah’s Witnesses’ magazines and to block access to the entire website of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Court has held that those decisions were not lawful and were not justified in their excessive breadth (see paragraphs 216 and 233 above).

249. The authorities’ campaign against Jehovah’s Witnesses did not stop at targeting the organisations and individuals found to be in possession of the banned “extremist” literature. In 2016 a deputy Prosecutor General issued an anti-extremism warning to the national organisation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Administrative Centre (see paragraph 86 above). Although the Administrative Centre had not been found guilty of a single violation of Russian law in the more than twenty years of its existence, the Suppression of Extremism Act allowed the authorities to hold it objectively liable for any transgressions committed by the LROs which were considered to be part of its structure. Under the Suppression of Extremism Act, the warning was the first step in the procedure leading to the dissolution of the warned organisation if new “indicators of extremism” had been identified within twelve months of the date of warning (see paragraph 115 above).

250. Less than two weeks after the twelve-month time-limit had expired, the Ministry of Justice applied for the forced dissolution of the Administrative Centre, claiming that more LROs had been found guilty of possessing or using “extremist” religious publications in the intervening period and that the Administrative Centre had allegedly failed to prevent such “extremist activities” on their part (see paragraph 87 above). Significantly for the Court’s analysis, the claim for the forced dissolution of the Administrative Centre cited no evidence of “extremist activities” on its own part and no conviction of extremist offences or explained how it could have been possible to foresee that publications it had imported years ago would be subsequently declared “extremist”. The suspension of the activities of the Administrative Centre by the same-day decision, on the authority of an executive agency, without waiting for the outcome of judicial review, is indicative of the authorities’ determination in seeking to put an end to the existence of the organisation (see Biblical Centre of the Chuvash Republic, cited above, § 57).

251. The scope of the claim for the forced dissolution of the Administrative Centre went beyond resolving the fate of the national organisation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as the existence of any and all religious organisations of Jehovah’s Witnesses registered in Russia was also at stake in those proceedings. This was so because the authorities claimed that LROs should be liquidated along with the Administrative Centre as part of its structure, notwithstanding their legal status as separate and independent legal entities. Leaving aside the question whether or not such course of action was compatible with Russian law, the Court notes that 387 out of the 395 LROs had not been charged, much less convicted, of any “extremist” activity in the twenty or more years of their legal existence and that no extremist charges against them were levelled in the proceedings against the Administrative Centre. The only justification for their forced dissolution was that they were “financed, coordinated and directed” by the same organisation (the Administrative Centre) as the remaining eight LROs liquidated on extremist charges. The Court considers this connection too tenuous to meet the “very serious reasons” standard which needs to be satisfied in case of a forced dissolution of an association.

252. However, of even greater concern to the Court is the fact that the forced dissolution proceedings were fundamentally flawed in that the LROs, whose very legal existence was in jeopardy, were not informed of the proceedings and were not invited to participate. Their representatives learned of the proceedings from media reports and unsuccessfully attempted to join them. Their application to that effect, and another one from the Administrative Centre, were rejected and an appeal was not even considered (see paragraph 88 above). The LROs were thus prevented from making submissions and putting forward arguments against their forced dissolution. They were also barred from lodging an appeal after the judgment had been passed (see paragraph 91 above). The Court considers that the Supreme Court’s finding that the judgment which ordered their liquidation and confiscation of their property “did not concern their rights and obligations” was arbitrary.

253. The Court lastly reiterates that it fell to the Supreme Court, as the ultimate guardian of individual rights and freedoms, to consider the matter in the light of the Convention standards and to carry out a balancing exercise by examining whether the interference with the applicants’ rights was proportionate to the legitimate aims pursued. Yet the Court cannot find that a genuine balancing exercise has been undertaken in the present case. As noted above, the Supreme Court did not allow the organisations directly affected by its judgment to submit arguments in their defence. Nor did it acknowledge, much less consider at any length, the effect of its dissolution, banning and confiscation decision on the rights of 175,000 individual Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia who were put before a stark and impossible choice: to reduce their religious activities to praying in isolation, without the company and support of fellow believers and without a place for worship, or to face criminal prosecution on charges of “continuing the activities of an extremist organisation”. It did not explain who the “others” were whose rights were supposedly in need of protection, given that Jehovah’s Witnesses had not been found to have used any coercion or improper methods of conversion, or what kind of “real threat” to public order and security the avowedly peaceful and non-violent religious activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses posed. The Court finds that the Supreme Court’s judgment relied on generalities instead of actually engaging in reasoning and trying to find a balance between competing rights. These shortcomings were not remedied on appeal.

254. Considering the above elements and the sequence of events, the Court finds that the forced dissolution of all religious organisations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia was not merely the result of a neutral application of legal provisions but disclosed indications of a policy of intolerance by the Russian authorities towards the religious practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses designed to cause Jehovah’s Witnesses to abandon their faith and to prevent others from joining it. The use of an excessively broad wording of the extremism legislation to disband the communities of Jehovah’s Witnesses across Russia, the breaking-up of their religious meetings, the confiscation of their religious publications, searches in their homes and places of worship, surveillance by the security services, and other forms of interference with their religious practices reinforce this conclusion. The Court reiterates that respect for religious diversity undoubtedly represents one of the most important challenges to be faced today; for that reason, the authorities must perceive religious diversity not as a threat but as a source of enrichment (see İzzettin Doğan and Others, cited above, § 109). By seeking to suppress the religious activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses as they did, the Russian authorities failed to act in good faith and breached the State’s duty of neutrality and impartiality vis‑à‑vis the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

255. There has therefore been a violation of Article 9 of the Convention, read in the light of Article 11, on account of the dissolution of the Administrative Centre of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and the LROs of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLES 5 AND 9 OF THE CONVENTION ON ACCOUNT OF CRIMINAL PROSECUTION OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES

256. The applicants concerned complained that their criminal conviction on charges of “continuing the activities of an extremist organisation” for organising services of worship and practicing their religion in community with others (see section I of the Facts) had violated their rights to freedom of religion and association under Articles 9 and 11 of the Convention. Mr Christensen also complained that his pre-trial detention had been incompatible with the requirements of Article 5 of the Convention, of which the relevant parts read as follows:

“1. Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be deprived of his liberty save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law:

(c) the lawful arrest or detention of a person effected for the purpose of bringing him before the competent legal authority on reasonable suspicion of having committed an offence …

3. Everyone arrested or detained in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 1 (c) of this Article shall be … entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release pending trial. Release may be conditioned by guarantees to appear for trial.”

Admissibility
257. As regards Mr Christensen’s initial application concerning his pre‑trial detention imposed for what he considered to be a legitimate exercise of his right to freedom of religion (no. 39417/17), the Government submitted that the complaint under Article 9 was premature and inadmissible for non‑exhaustion of domestic remedies, as the sentence had not yet been passed.

258. The Court reiterates that measures capable of having a chilling effect on the exercise of a Convention right may confer on the affected individuals the status of a “victim” of an alleged violation even in the absence of a final conviction and that the existence of a deprivation of liberty would be indicative of interference with that right (see Dilipak v. Turkey, no. 29680/05, § 50, 15 September 2015, and Döner and Others v. Turkey, no. 29994/02, § 88, 7 March 2017). In so far as Mr Christensen’s arrest and detention prevented him from continuing to hold services of worship in community with his fellow believers, it falls to the Court to verify whether that measure was designed to repress the exercise of his Convention rights and stifle the spreading of the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses (see Nolan and K. v. Russia, no. 2512/04, § 62, 12 February 2009, and Cox v. Turkey, no. 2933/03, § 28, 20 May 2010). By lodging an appeal against the detention order, he afforded the Russian authorities the opportunity to redress, through their own legal system, the alleged violation of his right to freedom of religion and has therefore exhausted the domestic remedies. In any event, the Government’s objection has become moot now that Mr Christensen’s conviction was pronounced and became final.

259. The Court considers that this complaint is not manifestly ill‑founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 (a) of the Convention. It further notes that it is not inadmissible on any other grounds. It must therefore be declared admissible.

Merits
Submissions by the parties
260. The applicants emphasised that prosecuting and criminally convicting them for organising and attending religious services was a form of State coercion calculated to intimidate them and also their co-believers into abandoning their faith. The trial courts had considered dozens of hours of covert audio and video recordings of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ meetings but had not identified a single “extremist” expression allegedly uttered by any of them or any “extremist” activities such as those that incite violence or religious hatred. In any event, not one of the applicants’ activities had been prohibited by law. Possessing and using religious texts enjoyed the protection of Article 9. It was not illegal to meet together for peaceful religious worship, and the right of “conducting services of worship not associated with the distribution of extremist literature” was recognised in the liquidation decision concerning the Oryol LRO. Nor was it illegal to receive donations to meet the costs of renting a place for religious services. Minors had taken part in the religious services at the initiative of their parents who were also Jehovah’s Witnesses. The interference did not pursue any legitimate aim. By holding the applicants criminally liable, simply for continuing religious services, the Russian authorities imposed a disproportionate and unjustifiable burden on the exercise of their freedom of religion and association. In addition, the applicants’ criminal records had limited available employment and exposed them to risk of imprisonment should they “re-offend”. Two applicants who were parents of a young girl had left Russia and successfully applied for asylum abroad.

261. The Government submitted that the founding members of the Taganrog LRO could not have been unaware of the liquidation decision which had been published on the websites of the Regional Court and the Ministry of Justice. Nevertheless, acting in an organised group, they had continued the activities of the banned LRO and involved minors into those activities. In the case of Mr Christensen, the court remanded him in custody because it was determined that he could put pressure on witnesses, destroy evidence or flee Russia. Mr Christensen must have been well aware that he was engaging in unlawful activities as he had restricted access to the Kingdom Hall only to pass holders and urged his fellow believers to exercise caution and discretion in the performance of their duties. His activities fully overlapped with those of the banned Oryol LRO; they were carried out in a place of worship supported by donations and included the distribution of religious literature, which is characteristic of a religious organisation since, under Russian law, religious groups cannot own places of worship and distribute literature. Correspondence with the banned Administrative Centre had been found on his computer, and audio surveillance had recorded him discussing the names of persons who could be sent for training to the Administrative Centre’s management school. The Government concluded that all applicants had been prosecuted and convicted for organising, and participating in, the activities of the banned organisations. Their conviction was not related to their religious beliefs and was balanced against the public interest in protecting national security and preventing extremist offences.

262. The Government of Denmark, in their comments on Mr Christensen’s case, submitted that there had been no basis for the charges against him. He had never been a member of the Oryol LRO, nor had it ever been possible for him to become a member because foreign nationals were prohibited from being members of religious organisations under Russian law. Moreover, the liquidation decision had explicitly stated that Jehovah’s Witnesses were not prohibited from conducting services of worship not associated with the distribution of “extremist” literature. Mr Christensen had reasonably expected that he would be entitled to conduct services of worship of the Tsentralnoye congregation.

263. In response to the Government of Denmark’s comments, the Government submitted that Mr Christensen had been found criminally liable for extremist activities rather than for a manifestation of his religious beliefs.

The Court’s assessment
(a) Existence of interference

264. The Court reiterates that the imposition of criminal sanctions for manifestation of religious beliefs amounts to an interference with the exercise of the right to freedom of religion under Article 9 § 1 of the Convention (see Kokkinakis, cited above, § 36, and Manoussakis and Others, cited above, § 36).

265. The parties disagreed on the nature of the activities which had been sanctioned by the Russian authorities. For the Government, the prosecution and conviction of the applicants were related not to the exercise of their right to freedom of religion but to their attempts to revive the activities of a banned extremist organisation and to participate in them. The applicants maintained that they had been punished for merely practising their faith and conducting services of worship together with fellow believers. The Court will therefore review the findings of the domestic courts to determine whether or not the sanction was imposed on them for practising their religion in community with others.

266. In the Taganrog and Oryol trials, the Russian courts held that the continuation of the activities of the banned religious organisations consisted of the following elements: organising and conducting religious meetings; opening, closing and cleaning the premises where religious meetings were held and determining the order of speakers at meetings (Mr Christensen); studying and discussing religious literature available on paper or on the Internet; preaching Jehovah’s Witnesses doctrine on blood transfusion and conscientious objection; assigning members of the congregation, including minors, to perform religious duties; bringing new members into the congregation, and collecting donations for the needs of the congregation (see paragraphs 101-104 and 110 above).

267. The Court reiterates that Article 9 lists a number of forms which manifestation of one’s religion or belief may take, namely worship, teaching, practice and observance. It protects the right of believers to meet peacefully in order to worship in the manner prescribed by their religion and also the right to provide, open and maintain places or buildings devoted to religious worship (see The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints v. the United Kingdom, no. 7552/09, § 30, 4 March 2014, and Cumhuriyetçi Eğitim ve Kültür Merkezi Vakfi v. Turkey, no. 32093/10, § 41, 2 December 2014). Collecting donations is also an important aspect of freedom of religion guaranteed by Article 9 of the Convention, for without financial resources, religious associations might be unable to provide religious services or ensure their survival (see Association Les Témoins de Jéhovah v. France, no. 8916/05, §§ 49 and 53, 30 June 2011).

268. In so far as the domestic judgments appeared to suggest that it was sufficient that the right to manifest one’s religion “individually” was allowed (see paragraph 110 above), the Court reiterates that the right to manifest one’s religion “in community with others” has always been regarded as an essential part of the freedom of religion and that the two alternatives “either alone or in community with others” in Article 9 of the Convention cannot be considered as mutually exclusive, or as leaving a choice to the authorities, but only as recognising that religion may be practised in either form (see X. v. the United Kingdom, no. 8160/78, Commission decision of 12 March 1981, Decisions and Reports 22, p. 27).

269. Accordingly, the Court finds that the applicants were sanctioned for the conduct which amounted to the exercise of their right to freedom of religion in community with others. It notes in this connection that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention reached the same conclusion in the cases concerning the arrest and prosecution of other Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia on substantially similar charges (see paragraph 136 above). There has therefore been an interference with the applicants’ rights protected under Article 9 of the Convention.

(b) Justification for the interference

270. The Court has found above that both the decision to liquidate the Taganrog LRO as an “extremist” organisation and the various decisions to categorise the Jehovah’s Witnesses publication as “extremist” – which subsequently laid the basis for the decision to liquidate the Oryol LRO – rested on an arbitrarily broad definition of “extremist activities” in Russian law and disclosed, in particular, a violation of Article 9 of the Convention (see paragraphs 157-159 and 201 above).

271. These findings are applicable to the complaint of the applicants’ criminal prosecution and conviction, as the grounds for the prosecution and conviction of the applicants were no different from the reasons underlying the decisions to dissolve the Taganrog LRO and to ban the publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Court reiterates that only religious statements and actions involving or calling for violence, hatred or discrimination may warrant suppression as being “extremist”. Accordingly, the authorities were required to demonstrate that the applicants had made any such statements or engaged in any such acts. Yet the texts of the judgments in the Taganrog or Oryol proceedings go no further than paraphrasing the definition of “extremist activities” in the Suppression of Extremism Act and holding that the “extremist motives” in the applicants’ conduct were manifested in particular through proclaiming the superiority of the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses, rejecting medical assistance in the form of blood transfusions, inciting refusal of military service, and involving minors in religious activities (see paragraphs 101 and 112 above). The courts did not identify any word, deed or action by the applicants which would be motivated or tainted by violence, hatred or discrimination against others. The claim that Mr Christensen’s actions were motivated by religious hatred because he had resumed the activities of an organisation banned as “extremist” was flawed because it conflated alleged actions with motives for such actions and because it cited no evidence in support of the conclusion.

272. The State has a narrow margin of appreciation in the sphere of religious freedom and must advance serious and compelling reasons for an interference with the choices that people may make in pursuance of the religious doctrines provided that such choices remain compatible with the key principles underlying the Convention and are the result of a free and independent decision (see Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow and Others, cited above, §§ 111-19). Since the authorities failed to demonstrate that the applicants were involved in any socially dangerous activities of an extremist nature, the Court holds that their prosecution and conviction for peacefully practising the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses in community with others was based on the impermissibly broad formulation and application of the extremism legislation and also did not pursue any legitimate aim or “pressing social need”.

273. There has therefore been a violation of Article 9 of the Convention on account of the criminal prosecution of the applicants. Having thus found that the entire criminal procedure was tainted with arbitrariness, the Court finds that Mr Christensen’s pre-trial detention and imprisonment were not based on a “reasonable suspicion” of his having committed any offence and was therefore in breach of the requirements of Article 5 of the Convention.

ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 1 OF PROTOCOL No. 1
274. The applicant organisations complained that the decisions to confiscate their publications, places of worship and other property (sections A, B, D and F of the Facts) had violated their right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions. Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 provides as follows:

“Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law …

The preceding provisions shall not, however, in any way impair the right of a State to enforce such laws as it deems necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest …”

Admissibility
275. The Court considers that this complaint is not manifestly ill‑founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 (a) of the Convention. It further notes that it is not inadmissible on any other grounds. It must therefore be declared admissible.

Merits
Submissions by the parties
276. The applicants submitted that, in addition to “extremist” publications confiscated pursuant to the court orders, a substantial amount of “non-extremist” printed material and electronic devices had been seized from the premises of the applicant organisations and from the individual applicants and never returned. Simple possession of “extremist” material was not an administrative or criminal offence, as only the “mass dissemination” of such material was prohibited under Article 20.29 of the CAO. The interference did not have a legal basis and was arbitrary. As regards the properties transferred to foreign organisations prior to the liquidation decision, the Russian courts had confirmed in their decisions annulling the transfers that the LROs had remained the owners of the properties up to the date on which the liquidation decision became effective.

277. The Government submitted that the confiscation orders had been based on section 13 of the Suppression of Extremism Act, as upheld by the Constitutional Court (see paragraph 124 above). The confiscation orders had pursued the legitimate aim of the protection of rights and freedoms and constitutional order. The authorities had sought to bar access to extremist material for the purpose of preventing its negative impact on the constitutionally important values. Since the LROs had intentionally alienated 269 places of worship, they were no longer the legal owners of those properties and had thus renounced any claim to them.

The Court’s assessment
(a) Existence of interference and the applicable rule

278. The complaint concerns three types of “possessions”: (i) the allegedly “extremist” publications which were seized from the applicants’ homes, places of worship and other premises; (ii) the publications which had not been declared “extremist” and other personal property of the applicants including their computers, notebooks and printed material; (iii) immovable property owned by the Administrative Centre and the LROs.

279. While the Government did not dispute that the applicants were the legal owners of the first and second types of possessions, they did assert that the Administrative Centre and the LROs no longer owned the properties which they had reassigned to foreign entities. Their position however is inconsistent with the view taken by the domestic courts which considered that the transfer deeds had been null and void under Russian law and that the Administrative Centre or the LROs had been the legal owners of the property on the date of the liquidation decision which incorporated an order for their confiscation (see paragraph 94 above).

280. The Court reiterates that both the seizure and retention of objects in criminal proceedings and confiscation measures fall to be considered from the standpoint of the State’s right to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest (see Smirnov v. Russia, no. 71362/01, § 54, 7 June 2007, and Silickienė v. Lithuania, no. 20496/02, § 62, 10 April 2012).

(b) Justification for the interference

281. The first and most important requirement of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 is that any interference by a public authority with the peaceful enjoyment of possessions should be “lawful”. In particular, the second paragraph of Article 1, while recognising that States have the right to control the use of property, subjects their right to the condition that it be exercised by enforcing “laws”. The principle of lawfulness presupposes that the applicable provisions of domestic law are sufficiently accessible, precise and foreseeable in their application (see Smirnov, cited above, § 55).

(i) “Extremist” publications and confiscated property

282. The Court has found above that the decisions to declare the publications “extremist” and to dissolve the religious organisations of Jehovah’s Witnesses were based on an unforeseeable application of extremism legislation (see paragraphs 159, 201 and 242 above). As the confiscation orders in respect of the “extremist” publications and immovable property of the liquidated organisations were integral part of those decisions, the Court finds that they also lacked a clear and foreseeable legal basis and that the interference with the applicants’ “possessions” was not lawful.

(ii) Non-extremist publications and personal property

283. The Court reiterates that retention of material evidence may be necessary in the interests of proper administration of justice, which is a “legitimate aim” in the “general interest” of the community. It has found however that continued retention of personal property items had no justification where such objects were not in themselves an object, instrument or product of any criminal offence, and constituted thus a disproportionate interference with the right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions (see Kruglov and Others v. Russia, nos. 11264/04 and 15 others, §§ 144-46, 4 February 2020).

284. The Government did not challenge the applicants’ contention that the consignment of religious literature had not contained any items pronounced “extremist” or otherwise restricted in circulation under Russian law (see paragraphs 74 and 76 above). Similarly, the applicants’ personal items, such as notebooks, magazines and electronic devices, were not in themselves objects, instruments or products of any criminal offence. Nor did the authorities claim that those items had any evidentiary value for the criminal proceedings. In these circumstances, the Court cannot find any legal basis for the domestic authorities’ continued retention of the applicants’ religious literature and personal property.

(iii) Conclusion

285. There has therefore been a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 in respect of all types of possessions.

OTHER ALLEGED VIOLATIONS OF THE CONVENTION
286. Lastly, the applicants complained under Article 14 of the Convention, taken in conjunction with Article 9, that they had been discriminated against on account of their religious beliefs, and under Article 6 of the Convention that the applicants who wished to join the dissolution proceedings had been denied that possibility.

287. As Article 6 is applicable to disputes involving the right to freedom of expression and restrictions on dissemination of information (see Kenedi v. Hungary, no. 31475/05, § 33, 26 May 2009), the Court declares these complaints admissible. However, having regard to the facts of the case, the submissions of the parties and its findings above, the Court considers that there is no need to give a separate ruling on the merits of these complaints.

APPLICATION OF ARTICLES 41 AND 46 OF THE CONVENTION

Individual measures
288. Article 46 of the Convention provides in the relevant part:

“1. The High Contracting Parties undertake to abide by the final judgment of the Court in any case to which they are parties.

2. The final judgment of the Court shall be transmitted to the Committee of Ministers, which shall supervise its execution.”

289. The Court has found above that the criminal prosecution and sentencing of Jehovah’s Witnesses in connection with the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of religion has disclosed a violation of the Convention. The Court emphasises that the execution measures that must now be taken by the respondent State, under the supervision of the Committee of Ministers, must be compatible with the conclusions and spirit of this judgment (see Ilgar Mammadov v. Azerbaijan (infringement proceedings) [GC], no. 15172/13, § 182, 29 May 2019).

290. However, where the nature of the violation found is such as to leave no real choice as to the measures required to remedy it, the Court may decide to indicate a specific individual measure (see Assanidze v. Georgia [GC], no. 71503/01, §§ 202-03, ECHR 2004‑II; Del Río Prada v. Spain [GC], no. 42750/09, §§ 138-39, ECHR 2013; and Selahattin Demirtaş v. Turkey (no. 2) [GC], no. 14305/17, § 442, 22 December 2020, with further references). In the present case, it is apparent that the continued prosecution and imprisonment of Jehovah’s Witnesses would entail a prolongation of the violation of their rights and a breach of the obligation on the respondent State to abide by the Court’s judgment in accordance with Article 46 § 1 of the Convention. This view is also consistent with the requirement of release of all imprisoned Jehovah’s Witnesses addressed to the Russian Government in the Opinion No. 10/2020 by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (see paragraph 136 above). Accordingly, the Court holds that the respondent State must take all necessary measures to secure the discontinuation of all pending criminal proceedings against Jehovah’s Witnesses, including by reference to the recently amended guidance by the Supreme Court of Russia (see paragraph 126 above), and release of all Jehovah’s Witnesses who have been deprived of their liberty.

Just satisfaction
291. Article 41 of the Convention provides:

“If the Court finds that there has been a violation of the Convention or the Protocols thereto, and if the internal law of the High Contracting Party concerned allows only partial reparation to be made, the Court shall, if necessary, afford just satisfaction to the injured party.”

Pecuniary damage
292. The applicants asked the Court to give the Russian authorities a period of no more than six months to restore the registration of the dissolved organisations and the ownership of the confiscated property. In the alternative, they claimed the value of the properties, reconstruction costs incurred to return them to the state in which they had been seized, and the cost of items which had been held there at the time of seizure. The value of the immovable and movable property, converted into euros (EUR) on the date of submission of the claims and adjusted for inflation, amounted to EUR 91,140 in the case of the Taganrog LRO and EUR 73,276 in the case of the Samara LRO. The twenty-one properties owned by the Administrative Centre and the ninety-seven properties owned by LROs on the date of the liquidation decision were valued at EUR 40,568,252, and the 280 properties which had been transferred to foreign religious organisations of Jehovah’s Witnesses before the liquidation and in respect of which the Russian authorities were seeking to annul transfer deeds, had a total value of EUR 25,510,994. The loss of enjoyment of use of those properties was estimated at EUR 500,000 for the national headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses, EUR 300,000 and EUR 200,000 for the St Petersburg and Moscow Assembly Halls respectively, and EUR 10,000 for each of the 395 other properties. In addition, the Administrative Centre claimed EUR 6,243, representing the amount of cash seized from its bank accounts.

293. The individual applicants claimed, in respect of pecuniary damage, the amount of the fines they had paid and the replacement value of the property which had been seized from them. Mr Christensen claimed, in two applications, EUR 1,500 for the replacement value of his computer and other personal items seized from him and EUR 16,344 for the loss of income.

294. The Government submitted that no compensation in respect of pecuniary damage should be awarded because there had been no violation of the applicants’ rights. In their view, the confiscation orders in respect of the applicants’ funds in banks had been “a legitimate act” which could not be considered a violation of the applicants’ rights. They pointed out that the Samara LRO did not complain of a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 and disputed the ownership of properties in respect of which the Administrative Centre claimed compensation. They also submitted that a statement of Mr Christensen’s past income was not sufficient evidence of future losses he claimed. Finally, they added that no compensation for loss of enjoyment was due because there had been no violation.

295. The Court reiterates that a clear causal connection must be established between the pecuniary damage alleged and the violation of the Convention that has been found. It has refused to accept claims for loss of income which allegedly resulted from the domestic authorities’ decision to maintain pre-trial detention without sufficient reasons (see Bykov v. Russia [GC], no. 4378/02, § 110, 10 March 2009). The situation in Mr Christensen’s case is however different in that the Court found that not only his pre-trial detention but also his prosecution and imprisonment had been effected in breach of the Convention. It is therefore satisfied that, had it not been for his arrest, detention and conviction on the extremism charges, he would have continued to earn the established and regular income he had had before his imprisonment. Accordingly, the Court awards Mr Christensen the amount of EUR 16,344 in respect of the loss of income. It also awards Mr Christensen and the other applicants the amounts they claimed for the loss of the seized personal property (see the amounts in Appendix II) and the fines they had paid, plus any tax that may be chargeable.

296. The Court further notes that a judgment in which it finds a violation of the Convention imposes on the respondent State a legal obligation to put an end to the breach and make reparation for its consequences in such a way as to restore as far as possible the situation existing before the breach (status quo ante). If the nature of the violation allows for restitutio in integrum, it is the duty of the State held liable to effect it, the Court having neither the power nor the practical possibility of doing so itself. If, however, national law does not allow – or allows only partial – reparation to be made for the consequences of the breach, Article 41 empowers the Court to afford the injured party such satisfaction as appears to it to be appropriate (see Iatridis v. Greece (just satisfaction) [GC], no. 31107/96 § 32, ECHR 2000-XI, and Guiso-Gallisay v. Italy (just satisfaction) [GC], no. 58858/00, § 90, 22 December 2009).

297. The Court has found above that the decisions to dissolve the applicant organisations and confiscate their property had been made in breach of the Convention requirements. The Court’s finding of a violation of the Convention is a ground for reopening domestic proceedings with a view to reviewing the final judgments in the light of the Convention principles (see, among others, Biblical Centre of the Chuvash Republic, cited above, § 66). The Court considers that such a review would be the most appropriate means of making reparation for the consequences of the violations it has found and restoring the status quo ante, including the return of the confiscated properties to the applicants. Alternatively, should the return of the confiscated properties not be effected within three months of the present judgment becoming final in accordance with Article 44 § 2 of the Convention, the respondent State is to pay, in respect of pecuniary damage, the amounts specified in Appendix II, plus any tax that may be chargeable on these amounts.

Non-pecuniary damage
298. The applicants claimed: EUR 20,000 to the Taganrog LRO and the Administrative Centre and EUR 250 to each individual applicant in the case of the Taganrog LRO; EUR 5,000 to the Gorno-Altaysk LRO, EUR 250 to each member of its congregation and EUR 20,000 to the Administrative Centre and two publishers of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ literature; EUR 30,000 to the Samara LRO; EUR 10,000 to Mr Aliyev; EUR 100,000 each to the publisher and distributor of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ publications in the case concerning the withdrawal of the distribution permit; EUR 25,000 each to Watchtower New York and the Administrative Centre and EUR 10,000 to the individual applicants in the case concerning the declaration of the website extremist; EUR 15,000 to each applicant in the case concerning the criminal conviction of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Taganrog; EUR 115,000 to Mr Christensen; EUR 250,000 to the Administrative Centre and EUR 30,000 to each LRO in the cases concerning their forced dissolution.

299. The Government submitted that the claims were excessive and that the finding of a violation, if any, would constitute sufficient just satisfaction.

300. The Court awards EUR 15,000 each or such smaller amount as was actually claimed to the individual applicants who were convicted in criminal proceedings; EUR 7,500 each or such smaller amount as was actually claimed to the liquidated or banned applicant organisations and congregations and to the applicants who were convicted in administrative proceedings; and EUR 1,000 each or such smaller amount as was actually claimed to the other applicants, in respect of non-pecuniary damage, plus any tax that may be chargeable (see Appendix II for the amounts awarded).

Punitive damages
301. Some applicants also claimed punitive damages to reflect the particular character of the violations they suffered and to serve as a deterrent in respect of violations of a similar nature by the respondent State.

302. The Court has declined to award “punitive damages” in the past (see Carter v. Russia, no. 20914/07, § 180, 21 September 2021) and finds no reason to depart from its established case-law. It rejects the claims under this head.

Costs and expenses

303. The applicants claimed: EUR 9,000 for the work of their representatives before the Court in the case of Taganrog LRO; EUR 4,483 and EUR 4,500 for the work in the domestic and Strasbourg proceedings respectively in the case of Samara LRO; EUR 9,000 in the case of the Gorno-Altaysk LRO; EUR 3,500 in the case of Mr Aliyev; EUR 22,000 in the case concerning the withdrawal of the distribution permit; EUR 4,500 in the case concerning the banning of the website; EUR 91,078 for the defence of Mr Trotsyuk and other applicants by a team of eight lawyers on 158 court days over a four-year trial and EUR 4,500 for their representation before the Court; EUR 48,450 for Mr Christensen’s representation in the domestic and Strasbourg proceedings; and a total of EUR 35,190 for the work in the cases concerning the dissolution of the Administrative Centre and LROs.

304. The Government submitted that the amounts claimed for costs and expenses were excessive and that evidence of disbursements had not been provided.

305. According to the Court’s case-law, an applicant is entitled to the reimbursement of costs and expenses only in so far as it has been shown that these have been actually and necessarily incurred and are reasonable as to quantum. The dissolution, administrative and criminal proceedings initiated by the Russian authorities to suppress the activities of the Jehovah’s Witnesses community in Russia were exceptionally complex and generated a substantial amount of legal costs and expenses (compare Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow and Others, cited above, § 211). Making a global assessment of costs and expenses on the basis of the documents submitted, the Court awards the applicants jointly EUR 125,000, plus any tax that may be chargeable to them on that amount, payable into the bank account specified by their representative before the Court.

Default interest
306. The Court considers it appropriate that the default interest rate should be based on the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank, to which should be added three percentage points.

FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT

Decides, by a majority, to join the applications;

Declares, unanimously, the applications admissible;

Holds, by six votes to one, that there has been a violation of Article 9 of the Convention, read in the light of Article 11, on account of the forced dissolution of Taganrog LRO and a violation of Article 10 of the Convention on account of the declaration of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ publications “extremist”;
Holds, by six votes to one, that there has been a violation of Articles 10 and 11 of the Convention, read in the light of Article 9, on account of the declaration of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ publications “extremist” and the prosecution of individual applicants and the forced dissolution of the Samara LRO for using those publications in their religious ministry;
Holds, by six votes to one, that there has been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention, read in the light of Article 9, on account of the withdrawal of the distribution permit and the prosecution of the applicants for distributing unregistered media;
Holds, by six votes to one, that there has been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention, read in the light of Article 9, on account of the declaration of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ international website “extremist”;
Holds, by six votes to one, that there has been a violation of Article 9 of the Convention, read in the light of Article 11, on account of the dissolution of the Administrative Centre of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and the LROs of Jehovah’s Witnesses;
Holds, by six votes to one, that there has been a violation of Article 9 of the Convention on account of the criminal prosecution of the applicants for continuing to practice their religion and a violation of Article 5 of the Convention in respect of Mr Christensen;
Holds, by six votes to one, that there has been a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1;
Holds, unanimously, that it is not necessary to give a separate ruling on the merits of the remaining complaints;
Holds, by four votes to three, that the respondent State is to take all necessary measures to secure the discontinuation of pending criminal proceedings against Jehovah’s Witnesses and release of the imprisoned Jehovah’s Witnesses;
Holds, by six votes to one, that the respondent State, in order to satisfy the applicants’ claim for pecuniary damage incurred through the confiscation of their properties, is to ensure that the properties be returned to the applicants, within three months of the present judgment becoming final in accordance with Article 44 § 2 of the Convention;
Holds, by six votes to one, in the alternative that should the respondent State fail to return the properties as specified in the preceding paragraph, it is to pay, within three months from the date on which the judgment becomes final in accordance with Article 44 § 2 of the Convention, the amounts specified in Appendix II, to be converted into the currency of the respondent State at the rate applicable at the date of settlement in case of the applicants who are resident in Russia;
Holds, by six votes to one,
(a) that the respondent State is to pay, within three months from the date on which the judgment becomes final in accordance with Article 44 § 2 of the Convention, the amounts specified below and detailed in Appendix II, to be converted into the currency of the respondent State at the rate applicable at the date of settlement in case of the applicants who are resident in Russia:

(i) the amounts claimed, plus any tax that may be chargeable, in respect of pecuniary damage;

(ii) EUR 15,000 (fifteen thousand euros) each to the individual applicants who were convicted in criminal proceedings; EUR 7,500 (seven thousand five hundred euros) each to the liquidated or banned applicant organisations and congregations and to the applicants who were convicted in administrative proceedings; and EUR 1,000 (one thousand euros) each or such smaller amount as was actually claimed to the other applicants, plus any tax that may be chargeable, in respect of non-pecuniary damage;

(iii) EUR 125,000 (one hundred and twenty-five thousand euros) jointly to all applicants in respect of costs and expenses, plus any tax that may be chargeable to them, payable into the bank account specified by their representative before the Court;

(b) that from the expiry of the above-mentioned three months until settlement simple interest shall be payable on the above amounts at a rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank during the default period plus three percentage points;

Dismisses, unanimously, the remainder of the applicants’ claims in respect of non-pecuniary damage and costs and expenses.

Done in English, and notified in writing on 7 June 2022, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.

Milan Blaško Georges Ravarani
Registrar President

DATE: 7 June 2022

APPENDIX I: LIST OF APPLICATIONS ( NOT ADDED)





School Shooting in Uvalde, Texas – Remarks by President Biden ( 24/05/2022)

MAY 24, 2022

Roosevelt Room

8:41 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good evening, fellow Americans.

I had hoped, when I became President, I would not have to do this again.

Another massacre. Uvalde, Texas. An elementary school. Beautiful, innocent second, third, fourth graders. And how many scores of little children who witnessed what happened see their friends die as if they’re on a battlefield, for God’s sake. They’ll live with it the rest of their lives.

There’s a lot we don’t know yet, but there’s a lot we do know.

There are parents who will never see their child again, never have them jump in bed and cuddle with them. Parents who will never be the same.

To lose a child is like having a piece of your soul ripped away. There’s a hollowness in your chest, and you feel like you’re being sucked into it and never going to be able to get out. It’s suffocating. And it’s never quite the same.

And it’s a feeling shared by the siblings, and the grandparents, and their family members, and the community that’s left behind.

Scripture says — Jill and I have talked about this in different contexts, in other contexts: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” So many crushed spirits.

So, tonight, I ask the nation to pray for them, to give the parents and siblings the strength in the darkness they feel right now.

As a nation, we have to ask: When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby? When in God’s name will we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done?

It’s been 340- — 3,448 days — 10 years since I stood up at a high school in Connecticut — a grade school in Connecticut, where another gunman massacred 26 people, including 20 first graders, at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Since then, there have been over 900 incidents of gunfires reported on school grounds.

Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Santa Fe High School in Texas. Oxford High School in Michigan. The list goes on and on.

And the list grows when it includes mass shootings at places like movie theaters, houses of worship, and, as we saw just 10 days ago, at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York.

I am sick and tired of it. We have to act. And don’t tell me we can’t have an impact on this carnage.

I spent my career as a senator and as Vice President working to pass commonsense gun laws. We can’t and won’t prevent every tragedy. But we know they work and have a positive impact. When we passed the assault weapons ban, mass shootings went down. When the law expired, mass shootings tripled.

The idea that an 18-year-old kid can walk into a gun store and buy two assault weapons is just wrong.

What in God’s name do you need an assault weapon for except to kill someone?

Deer aren’t running through the forest with Kevlar vests on, for God’s sake. It’s just sick.

And the gun manufacturers have spent two decades aggressively marketing assault weapons which make them the most and largest profit.

For God’s sake, we have to have the courage to stand up to the industry.

Here’s what else I know: Most Americans support commonsense laws — commonsense gun laws.

I just got off my trip from Asia, meeting with Asian leaders, and I learned of this while I was on the aircraft. And what struck me on that 17-hour flight — what struck me was these kinds of mass shootings rarely happen anywhere else in the world.

Why? They have mental health problems. They have domestic disputes in other countries. They have people who are lost. But these kinds of mass shootings never happen with the kind of frequency that they happen in America. Why?

Why are we willing to live with this carnage? Why do we keep letting this happen? Where in God’s name is our backbone to have the courage to deal with it and stand up to the lobbies?

It’s time to turn this pain into action.

For every parent, for every citizen in this country, we have to make it clear to every elected official in this country: It’s time to act.

It’s time — for those who obstruct or delay or block the commonsense gun laws, we need to let you know that we will not forget.

We can do so much more. We have to do more.

Our prayer tonight is for those parents, lying in bed and trying to figure out, “Will I be able to sleep again? What do I say to my other children? What happens tomorrow?”

May God bless the loss of innocent life on this sad day. And may the Lord be near the brokenhearted and save those crushed in spirit, because they’re going to need a lot of help and a lot of our prayers.

God love you.





Remarks by  Biden and President Andrzej Duda of Poland on Humanitarian Efforts for Ukraine-23/03/2022

But, you know, you’re helping millions of people — millions of people. And we must — have to continue to scale up that assistance and coordinate it closely with the government of Ukraine, which is really — I think even you Poles, who know Ukraine so well, have to be a little bit surprised at how what — how much courage and capacity for resiliency of the Ukrainian people.

PRESIDENT BIDEN

Rzeszów-Jasionka Airport
Rzeszów, Poland

4:48 P.M. CET

PRESIDENT BIDEN: Madam Ambassador, thank you very much. And, Mr. President, thanks for the welcome. Thanks for having us here. And to — and we sent you our best. We sent you Brzezinski as our ambassador, and I’m glad he’s here as well.

And, you know, as you and I have spoken before, Mr. Ambassador — excuse me, Mr. President — the single-most important thing that we can do from the outset is keep the democracies united in our opposition and our effort to curtail the devastation that is occurring at the hands of a man who, quite frankly, I think is a war criminal. And I think it will meet the legal definition of that as well.

But I want to thank everyone for — and I think it’s been a surprise — about how we’ve all stayed together across the board. The most severe punishing sanctions in the history of the world — economic sanctions — have been imposed. And there’s more that will come.

But, you know, there’s still an awful lot of suffering. I, like many of you, in the past have been through refugee camps all around the world, literally, and seen the devastation as a consequence of people who were abandoned and — in war-ravaged regions of the world, whether it’s in the Middle East, or Africa, or wherever.

I mean, it’s just devastating to see those little babies, little children, who are looking at mothers who — you don’t have to understand the language they speak — you just see in their eyes the pain. And I mean, literally, the pain of watching their children.

I don’t think there’s anything worse for a parent than to see a child suffering — their child suffering. I mean that sincerely. It’s not hyperbole. I mean it from the bottom of my heart.

And so what you, the humanitarian community, are doing is of such enormous consequence.

Brother, this is what we say we’re about. This is what we say that our obligations are. But you’re living up to it. We’re doing it every day, all of you who are sitting at this table.

And so, you know, I’m here in Poland to see firsthand the humanitarian crisis. And quite frankly, part of my disappointment is that I can’t see it firsthand, like I have in other places — they will not let me, understandably; I guess it would cross the border — and take a look at what’s going on in Ukraine.

But, you know, I’m eager to hear from you, the humanitarian community, about what you see, what you’re doing, and where you think we go from here — because you’re doing it every day.

As has been pointed out, 10 million people have been displaced thus far; 3.8 million people to other countries, including more than a million children. And according to the U.N., there are thousands of civilian casualties, 12 million in need of assistance, but hundreds of thousands — hundreds of thousands of people who are being cut off from help by Russian forces and are in — besieged in places like Mariupol. I mean, it’s not stopping. It’s like something out of a science fiction movie. You turn on the television and see what these towns look like, and the cities.

And I want to thank each one of you and your organizations. Excuse me. (Takes sip of a drink.) When I was visiting our troops, they had pizza pie with hot peppers on it. (Laughter.)

But, you know, you’re helping millions of people — millions of people. And we must — have to continue to scale up that assistance and coordinate it closely with the government of Ukraine, which is really — I think even you Poles, who know Ukraine so well, have to be a little bit surprised at how what — how much courage and capacity for resiliency of the Ukrainian people. When you see a 30-year-old woman standing there in front of a tank with a rifle — I mean, talk about what happened in Tiananmen Square; that’s Tiananmen Square squared.

And, look, the — whether it’s food or a blanket or cash or the care for medical teams that we send in, or child welfare specialists, they need it now. They need it as rapidly as we can get it there.

And so, yesterday I announced, on behalf of the American people, we’re prepared to provide another 1 billion, as the Ambassador pointed out — 1 billion dollars for those who fled and those who are affected around the world as a consequence of the negative impact of this war on food security.

The bad news is they’re — been the breadbasket of the world, Ukraine and Russia. But we, the United States, are going to do our part because we’re the third-largest producer of wheat in the world. And our Canadian friends are going to do the same thing. But we’re going to try very hard.

But in the meantime, the suffering that is taking place now is at your doorstep. You’re the ones who are risking, in some cases, your lives and risking all you know to try to help. And the American people are proud to support your efforts.

And today, I want to hear from all of you. The problem is I know they’re going to tell me I have to get on the plane, and I’m going to have to leave. But I have a lot of questions because I — I really mean it — I learned a great deal from you and your counterparts as I’ve traveled the world in the last 30 years.

And so, I’m honored that President Duda is here today. And I’m joined by Secretary Blinken — he’s an old friend, as well as my Secretary of State; and our USID — USAID Administrator, Samantha Powers, who, like my sister — whatever I say, she says, “It’s not enough.” “It’s not enough. I don’t get to do more.” And this is a workhorse.

So — but now going to turn it back to her so we can get to the question-and-answer period.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much. Thank you, Mr. President.

President Duda, I’d love — if you’d like to say a few words. And before you do though, just — I think, on the behalf of the entire humanitarian community, we just want to extend our thanks to you for the way that you and the Polish people have opened your borders, your hearts, your homes. The generosity and the show of solidarity has been breathtaking. Thank you so much, sir. Over to you.

PRESIDENT DUDA: Thank you very much, Madam Ambassador.

Excellency, Mr. President; Mr. Secretary; Madam Ambassador; Polish and American friends: Please, if you can take these electronic devices and use it — channel two is English — because I would like to speak in my mother tongue, Polish.

(As interpreted.) Your Excellency, Mr. President; dear American and Polish friends; ladies and gentlemen: Thank you so much to you, Mr. President, and to the whole U.S. delegation for coming to Poland. But first and foremost, thank you for coming here to Rzeszów, to the region of Podkarpackie, which is very close — which is located directly to the Polish-Ukrainian border.

Thank you for coming to the place where this influx of refugees to Poland is the biggest. Your presence here, Mr. President, first of all, sends a very big sign of unity. This is a huge sign of support and Euro-Atlantic unity — unity with my country, with Poland. It demonstrates great friendship between Poland and the United States, and a very profound alliance.

This is an evidence of great support and care for our mutual relations, but also — a thing of importance to me — it is a sign and a message that you care about the security of Poland.

Today, Mr. President, you met with U.S. soldiers who are deployed here and who watch over our security. They also help in this very difficult work, which is receiving millions of refugees who are crossing the border to our country right now. But first and foremost, they are guarding the security of the Polish border and guarding the security also of the entire Euro-Atlantic community of the whole of NATO — because, today, the eastern flank of NATO — and I do not hesitate to say this; I also said it yesterday at NATO summit — this is a front line today, the eastern flank.

I’m very happy to have you here, Mr. President, because as I said, your presence here sends a great signal and evidence of unity — unity within NATO. It demonstrates a huge support and also a big significance attached by the United States to the stability and world peace, to reinstating the peace where difficult situations are happening in places where somebody resorts to acts of aggression against other democratic and free nations, as it is happening today against Ukraine where the Russian aggression, unfortunately, happening for a month now is effect.

But your presence, Mr. President, here today in the city of Rzeszów is also a great sign of support to us — support in terms of humanitarian assistance, which today is provided to the refugees from Ukraine, but also it is provided to us Poles who are receiving guests — because this is the name we want to apply to them. We do not call them “refugees.” They are our guests, our brothers, our neighbors from Ukraine who today are in a very difficult situation where 12 million people have fled their houses by the war, by the Russian attacks. More than 3.5 million have already fled abroad. They crossed different borders, but first and foremost, they have crossed the border with Poland.

Today, we have got 2.5 million people in Poland, and the number is growing all the time. So, the number — exceeding 2 million right now — is still growing. And all signs are that if the Russian aggression continues, those numbers will continue to grow.

So, first and foremost, this — it gives me an opportunity to extend my gratitude to you, Mr. President, to our guests from the United States, but also to the NGOs, both from my country — starting from the organizations which are present here at this table today — but also, I want to express my gratitude to all NGOs — Polish NGOs who are involved.

But also, I would like to thank the U.S. organizations. A big number of them is already present in Poland, and a lot of them sends assistance to our country. And in this context, I’m so much grateful to you, Mr. President, for your support.

But also, I would like to ask you to convey my personal words of thanks to the First Lady of the United States, to Mrs. Jill Biden — your spouse, Mr. President. And please convey very heartfelt greetings from my wife to your wife. Both ladies had a conversation a couple of days ago. My wife gave an account of the situation in Poland. Both ladies exchanged their views on the possibilities of help. Then my wife paid a visit to the United States. And from the United States, she brought — in order to support Ukraine; in order to support Ukraine hospitals and also centers here in Poland, which treats children from Ukraine, also wounded children from Ukraine — she brought from the United States a number of medical equipment and medicines from the United States.

So, thank you so much for this very swift assistance. Thank you so much. And please convey these words of greetings and these words of thanks to your wife. And also, please convey very heartfelt wishes from my wife to your wife.

So, ladies and gentlemen, this presents a huge challenge. This assistance is something unprecedented, because within a couple of weeks, more than 2 million people have come to our country. We have never experienced anything like that throughout our history. This is the first time.

But I would also like to thank all my compatriots who have opened their hearts and opened their houses, who have welcomed refugees — but as I said, first and foremost, our neighbors, our brothers from Ukraine — who are in a difficult position today, who are in need today. And all of us want to help them so much. They are staying in private houses, and they’re staying in different facilities. Very often, these people are very much affected by the war — wounded persons, ill persons. Many of them have undergone mental trauma after the experiences they had.

Recently we have received people without any belongings to Poland. They fled from bombs. So the situation is extremely difficult. That is why we are so much thankful for any help and assistance, because this is what we very much need today.

On our part, we are doing everything we can with huge dedication and devotion. NGOs have also demonstrated huge dedication. Also volunteers, firefighters. So there is a lot of assistance from NGOs, from churches — Catholic church, but also other churches in our country and religious communities.

There is a lot of support offered from all different sides, also from abroad. And once again, we’re so much grateful for that. This presents a huge challenge to us, but it is also a huge challenge to the whole free world as we understand it, and we all have to live up to it.

Once again, thank you for this visit. And I’m so happy and delighted with the conversation that we can have. All the authorities in Poland are involved in providing assistance. It’s not only the government, NGOs, and volunteers, but also local governments.

Tomorrow, Mr. President, you will meet refugees in Warsaw. But also, the Prime Minister of the Polish government will be present there, Mr. Mateusz Morawiecki. The Mayor of Warsaw, Mr. Rafał Trzaskowski, will be there. And they will share with you, sir, all the activities that are being conducted in Poland in order to live up to this difficult situation, in order to solve the problem.

So, once again, we are delighted with the visit you are paying here, sir, and a very warm welcome to our country.

PRESIDENT BIDEN: I’m going to get in real trouble if I don’t — I forgot to say something: My wife sends her best as well. She also went to St. Jude’s Hospital, which is a cancer hospital in the United States, to see those young Ukrainian children who were brought over seeking serious, serious help with the cancers they have. And she said to give her best to your wife. That’s why she’s not with me today. She’s out west doing that. So, thank you. Thank you for saving me.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: (Laughs.) Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you, President Duda, so much. If I may just ask now the media to leave the room — thank you so much for being — so we can commence our discussion on the humanitarian circumstances. Thank you so much.





High-Level Debate On International Migration – By Monsignor Antoine Camilleri -27/02/2019

All migrants, regardless of their status, deserve to be treated with dignity and to have all their human rights respected and protected along their entire migratory journey, including when they cannot remain.

High-Level Debate On International Migration
By Monsignor Antoine Camilleri
Under-Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See
High-Level Debate on International Migration
Panel 1: Overview on Progress in Achieving Migration Goals

New York, 27 February 2019

Law

Distinguished panelists,

If someone were listening to the news for the very first time today, they might assume that migration is synonymous with border insecurity, humanitarian disaster and human trafficking. The time-tested truth that migration is largely regular, the sign of a healthy economy and the bedrock of many modern nation States rarely makes the news. Yet, when we take a closer look at our own personal history or that of the communities and countries where we live together, one easily recognizes the obvious: migration, especially when it is well-managed, safe, orderly and regular, makes an undeniably positive and necessary contribution to the development of culture, the economy and society.

As we will hear emphasized throughout today’s debate, migration is a fact. There is no denying that it can create challenges and that the root causes of forced migration and internal displacement should be addressed, first by national governments, as well as through international cooperation. When migration is well managed, however, it becomes both voluntary and sustainable. This is the work to which the international community has committed itself in the goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda and it is the basis for the best practices and policy instruments that form the foundation of the 360-degree approach taken by the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM).

Distinguished panelists,

It is a sad fact that many migrants are forced to leave their home. Facing political and religious persecution, acts of violence and discrimination, extreme poverty, and environmental degradation, migrants flee to survive and to protect their families. These are the root causes of the humanitarian emergencies, border insecurity and situations of human trafficking that make the news. These are the adverse drivers that undermine the prior right of every individual to remain in his or her country of origin, in peace and security, and to lead prosperous lives.

We are here today because we have an obligation as an international community to address these underlying negative push factors of migration, even as we work to make regular migration ever safer, ever more orderly, ever more regular, and thus ever more beneficial to all.

We do this by taking concrete steps to end poverty in all its forms everywhere. We do this by ensuring healthy lives. We do this by ensuring the material and spiritual well-being of our children and youth. We do this by committing ourselves to inclusive and equitable quality education and by promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all. We do this by fighting inequality and violence, ensuring decent work, combatting climate change and building more peaceful and inclusive societies, with more accountable and effective institutions at all levels. In short, we do this by achieving the commitments of the 2030 Agenda and ensuring the integral human development of every person at every age.

Distinguished panelists,

All migrants, regardless of their status, deserve to be treated with dignity and to have all their human rights respected and protected along their entire migratory journey, including when they cannot remain. “Welcoming others,” as Pope Francis has said, “requires concrete commitment, a network of assistance and good will, vigilant and sympathetic attention, the responsible management of new and complex situations that at times compound numerous existing problems, to say nothing of resources, which are always limited. By practicing the virtue of prudence, government leaders should take practical measures to welcome, promote, protect, integrate and, within the limits allowed by a correct understanding of the common good, to permit [them] to become part of a new society”.[1]

This realistic and holistic approach to the management of international migration informs the entire GCM. As with any living document, there will always be room for improvement, especially through the International Migration and Review Forum. The GCM, however, remains the most comprehensive set of best practices and policy instruments that exists within the international system, offering States the opportunity to work together with greater cohesion, along with the UN System, to ensure that international migration is truly advantageous to all.

I thank you.


1. Pope Francis, Address to the Members of the Diplomatic Corps Accredited to the Holy See for the Traditional Exchange of New Year Greetings, 8 January 2019.

Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations
25 East 39th Street
New York NY 10016-0903





Amnesty is not a human rights organization, but just another radical organization : Israel Foreign Minister Yair Lapid-31/01/2022

 Date – 31.01.2022

MFA Press release: Amnesty UK expected to publish a false, biased, and antisemitic report tomorrow

FM Lapid: Amnesty is not a human rights organization, but just another radical organization that echoes propaganda with no serious examination. Instead of seeking facts, Amnesty quotes lies spread by terrorist organizations.

(Communicated by the MFA Spokesperson)

Law

The State of Israel absolutely rejects all the false allegations that appear in the report that Amnesty is expected to publish tomorrow. 

The report consolidates and recycles lies, inconsistencies, and unfounded assertions that originate from well-known anti-Israeli hate organizations, all with the aim of reselling damaged goods in new packaging. Repeating the same lies of hate organizations over and over does not make the lies reality, but rather makes Amnesty illegitimate. 

In publishing this false report, Amnesty UK uses double standards and demonization in order to delegitimize Israel. These are the exact components from which modern antisemitism is made.

The report denies the State of Israel’s right to exist as the nation state of the Jewish people. Its extremist language and distortion of historical context were designed to demonize Israel and pour fuel onto the fire of antisemitism. A few days after International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we once again learn that antisemitism is not just a part of history, but unfortunately, is also part of today’s reality. Just last weekend, Jews were attacked in London simply because they were Jewish. Amnesty’s report effectively serves as a green light for the perpetrators and others to harm not only Israel, but Jews around the world. 

The State of Israel is a strong and vibrant democracy that grants all its citizens equal rights, regardless of religious or race. The State of Israel was established as the national home of the Jewish people with broad international support, in light of the lessons of the Holocaust. Amnesty criticizes the very existence of the State of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, and effectively denies its right to exist at all. 

It is not surprising that this report is being published by the British branch of Amnesty International, and under the auspices of the organization’s Secretary General. This branch is notorious for being corrupted by racism and xenophobia, and the organization’s Secretary General has previously accused Israel – with no basis or evidence – of murdering Arafat. It is not surprising that it took Amnesty eight years to back down from this serious and baseless accusation. 

We call on Amnesty to withdraw from the report which is set to be published. This is a report which would be preferable not to publish at all, given that it does not respect those who truly value and are trying to project human rights.

The State of Israel will continue to promote the values of democracy and inclusiveness, in whose light it was established and continues to exist. 

Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid: “Amnesty was once an esteemed organization that we all respected. Today, it is the exact opposite. It is not a human rights organization, but just another radical organization that echoes propaganda with no serious examination. Instead of seeking facts, Amnesty quotes lies spread by terrorist organizations. Five minutes of serious factchecking were enough to know that the facts that appeared in the report published this week were a delusion divorced from reality. Israel is not perfect, but it is a democracy committed to international law and open to scrutiny, with a free press and strong Supreme Court. 

“Amnesty does not call Syria an ‘apartheid state’ – a country whose government murdered half a million of its own citizens – nor Iran or any other corrupt and murderous regime in Africa or Latin America. I hate to use the argument that if Israel were not a Jewish state, nobody in Amnesty would dare argue against it, but in this case, there is no other possibility.” 





American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (1948)

Whereas

The American peoples have acknowledged the dignity of the individual, and their national constitutions recognize that juridical and political institutions, which regulate life in human society, have as their principal aim the protection of the essential rights of man and the creation of circumstances that will permit him to achieve spiritual and material progress and attain happiness;

The American States have on repeated occasions recognized that the essential rights of man are not derived from the fact that he is a national of a certain state, but are based upon attributes of his human personality;

The international protection of the rights of man should be the principal guide of an evolving American law;

The affirmation of essential human rights by the American States together with the guarantees given by the internal regimes of the states establish the initial system of protection considered by the American States as being suited to the present social and juridical conditions, not without a recognition on their part that they should increasingly strengthen that system in the international field as conditions become more favorable,

The Ninth International Conference of American States

AGREES:

To adopt the following

Preamble

All men are born free and equal, in dignity and in rights, and, being endowed by nature with reason and conscience, they should conduct themselves as brothers one to another.

The fulfillment of duty by each individual is a prerequisite to the rights of all. Rights and duties are interrelated in every social and political activity of man. While rights exalt individual liberty, duties express the dignity of that liberty.

Duties of a juridical nature presuppose others of a moral nature which support them in principle and constitute their basis.

Inasmuch as spiritual development is the supreme end of human existence and the highest expression thereof, it is the duty of man to serve that end with all his strength and resources.

Since culture is the highest social and historical expression of that spiritual development, it is the duty of man to preserve, practice and foster culture by every means within his power.

And, since moral conduct constitutes the noblest flowering of culture, it is the duty of every man always to hold it in high respect.

Chapter 1

Rights

Right to life, liberty and personal security.
Article I. Every human being has the right to life, liberty and the security of his person.

Right to equality before law.
Article II. All persons are equal before the law and have the rights and duties established in this Declaration, without distinction as to race, sex, language, creed or any other factor.

Right to religious freedom and worship.
Article III. Every person has the right freely to profess a religious faith, and to manifest and practice it both in public and in private.

Right to freedom of investigation, opinion, expression and dissemination.
Article IV. Every person has the right to freedom of investigation, of opinion, and of the expression and dissemination of ideas, by any medium whatsoever.

Right to protection of honor, personal reputation, and private and family life.
Article V. Every person has the right to the protection of the law against abusive attacks upon his honor, his reputation, and his private and family life.

Right to a family and to protection thereof.
Article VI. Every person has the right to establish a family, the basic element of society, and to receive protection therefor.

Right to protection for mothers and children.
Article VII. All women, during pregnancy and the nursing period, and all children have the right to special protection, care and aid.

Right to residence and movement.
Article VIII. Every person has the right to fix his residence within the territory of the state of which he is a national, to move about freely within such territory, and not to leave it except by his own will.

Right to inviolability of the home.
Article IX. Every person has the right to the inviolability of his home.

Right to the inviolability and transmission of correspondence
Article X. Every person has the right to the inviolability and transmission of his correspondence.

Right to the preservation of health and to well-being.
Article XI. Every person has the right to the preservation of his health through sanitary and social measures relating to food, clothing, housing and medical care, to the extent permitted by public and community resources.

Right to education.
Article XII. Every person has the right to an education, which should be based on the principles of liberty, morality and human solidarity.

Likewise every person has the right to an education that will prepare him to attain a decent life, to raise his standard of living, and to be a useful member of society.

The right to an education includes the right to equality of opportunity in every case, in accordance with natural talents, merit and the desire to utilize the resources that the state or the community is in a position to provide.

Every person has the right to receive, free, at least a primary education.

Right to the benefits of culture.
Article XIII. Every person has the right to take part in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts, and to participate in the benefits that result from intellectual progress, especially scientific discoveries.

He likewise has the right to the protection of his moral and material interests as regards his inventions or any literary, scientific or artistic works of which he is the author.

Right to work and to fair remuneration.
Article XIV. Every person has the right to work, under proper conditions, and to follow his vocation freely, insofar as existing conditions of employment permit.

Every person who works has the right to receive such remuneration as will, in proportion to his capacity and skill, assure him a standard of living suitable for himself and for his family.

Right to leisure time and to the use thereof.

Right to leisure time and to the use thereof.
Article XV. Every person has the right to leisure time, to wholesome recreation, and to the opportunity for advantageous use of his free time to his spiritual, cultural and physical benefit.

Right to social security.
Article XVI. Every person has the right to social security which will protect him from the consequences of unemployment, old age, and any disabilities arising from causes beyond his control that make it physically or mentally impossible for him to earn a living.

Right to recognition of juridical personality and civil rights.
Article XVII. Every person has the right to be recognized everywhere as a person having rights and obligations, and to enjoy the basic civil rights.

Right to a fair trial.
Article XVIII. Every person may resort to the courts to ensure respect for his legal rights. There should likewise be available to him a simple, brief procedure whereby the courts will protect him from acts of authority that, to his prejudice, violate any fundamental constitutional rights.

Right to nationality.
Article XIX. Every person has the right to the nationality to which he is entitled by law and to change it, if he so wishes, for the nationality of any other country that is willing to grant it to him.

Right to vote and to participate in government.
Article XX. Every person having legal capacity is entitled to participate in the government of his country, directly or through his representatives, and to take part in popular elections, which shall be by secret ballot, and shall be honest, periodic and free.

Right of assembly.
Article XXI. Every person has the right to assemble peaceably with others in a formal public meeting or an informal gathering, in connection with matters of common interest of any nature.

Right of association.
Article XXII. Every person has the right to associate with others to promote, exercise and protect his legitimate interests of a political, economic, religious, social, cultural, professional, labor union or other nature.

Right to property.
Article XXIII. Every person has a right to own such private property as meets the essential needs of decent living and helps to maintain the dignity of the individual and of the home.

Right of petition.
Article XXIV. Every person has the right to submit respectful petitions to any competent authority, for reasons of either general or private interest, and the right to obtain a prompt decision thereon.

Right of protection from arbitrary arrest.
Article XXV. No person may be deprived of his liberty except in the cases and according to the procedures established by pre-existing law.

No person may be deprived of liberty for nonfulfillment of obligations of a purely civil character.

Every individual who has been deprived of his liberty has the right to have the legality of his detention ascertained without delay by a court, and the right to be tried without undue delay or, otherwise, to be released. He also has the right to humane treatment during the time he is in custody.

Right to due process of law.
Article XXVI. Every accused person is presumed to be innocent until proved guilty.

Every person accused of an offense has the right to be given an impartial and public hearing, and to be tried by courts previously established in accordance with pre-existing laws, and not to receive cruel, infamous or unusual punishment.

Right of asylum.
Article XXVII. Every person has the right, in case of pursuit not resulting from ordinary crimes, to seek and receive asylum in foreign territory, in accordance with the laws of each country and with international agreements.

Scope of the rights of man.
Article XXVIII. The rights of man are limited by the rights of others, by the security of all, and by the just demands of the general welfare and the advancement of democracy.

Chapter 2 Duties

Duties to society.
Article XXIX. It is the duty of the individual so to conduct himself in relation to others that each and every one may fully form and develop his personality.

Duties toward children and parents.
Article XXX. It is the duty of every person to aid, support, educate and protect his minor children, and it is the duty of children to honor their parents always and to aid, support and protect them when they need it.

Duty to receive instruction.
Article XXXI. It is the duty of every person to acquire at least an elementary education.

Duty to vote.
Article XXXII. It is the duty of every person to vote in the popular elections of the country of which he is a national, when he is legally capable of doing so.

Duty to obey the law
Article XXXIII. It is the duty of every person to obey the law and other legitimate commands of the authorities of his country and those of the country in which he may be.

Duty to serve the community and the nation.
Article XXXIV. It is the duty of every able-bodied person to render whatever civil and military service his country may require for its defense and preservation, and, in case of public disaster, to render such services as may be in his power.

It is likewise his duty to hold any public office to which he may be elected by popular vote in the state of which he is a national.

Duties with respect to social security and welfare.
Article XXXV. It is the duty of every person to cooperate with the state and the community with respect to social security and welfare, in accordance with his ability and with existing circumstances.

Duty to pay taxes.
Article XXXVI. It is the duty of every person to pay the taxes established by law for the support of public services.

Duty to work.
Article XXXVII. It is the duty of every person to work, as far as his capacity and possibilities permit, in order to obtain the means of livelihood or to benefit his community.

Duty to refrain from political activities in a foreign country.
Article XXXVIII. It is the duty of every person to refrain from taking part in political activities that, according to law, are reserved exclusively to the citizens of the state in which he is an alien.





Communist Party of China and Human Rights Protection – A 100 Year Quest – 2021 

State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China, translated by Government of the People’s Republic of China

White paper titled “The Communist Party of China and Human Rights Protection – A 100-Year Quest” on June 24.

The Communist Party of China and Human Rights Protection – A 100-Year Quest

June 2021

First Edition 2021

Contents

Foreword
I. For People’s Liberation and Wellbeing
II. The Principle of Respecting and Protecting Human Rights Embedded in Governance
III.Ensuring the People’s Position as Masters of the Country
IV. Making Comprehensive Progress in Human Rights
V. Protecting the Basic Rights of Citizens in Accordance with the Law
VI. Advancing Human Rights Around the World
VII.Adding Diversity to the Concept of Human Rights
Conclusion

Foreword

The year 2021 marks the centenary of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Over the past century, the CPC has invested a huge effort in human rights protection, adding significantly to global human rights progress.

A hundred years ago, the CPC came into being – its mission to salvage the country and save the Chinese people at a perilous time of domestic upheaval and foreign aggression. This was an epoch-changing moment. Under the leadership of the CPC, the Chinese people embarked on a new journey towards prosperity, national rejuvenation, and wellbeing.

Over this period of one hundred years, the CPC has united and led the people in toppling the “three mountains” of imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat-capitalism, creating the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and completing the New Democratic Revolution and the Socialist Revolution. The political and institutional foundations were thereby laid down to ensure the rights and freedoms of the people. Through successes and setbacks, China has pioneered reform and opening up, set the goal of socialist modernization, and ushered in a new era of building socialism with Chinese characteristics. The Chinese nation has stood up, become better off, and grown in strength. Now, it is embarking on a new journey to build a modern socialist country in all respects.

For a hundred years, the CPC has always put people first, applying the principle of universality of human rights in the context of the national conditions. It regards the rights to subsistence and development as the primary and basic human rights, and believes that living a life of contentment is the ultimate human right. It promotes the well-rounded development of the individual, and strives to give every person a stronger sense of gain, happiness and security. Its success in pioneering human rights in a socialist country is unique and readily apparent.

For a hundred years, the CPC has committed itself to peaceful development and common progress. China is firm in its international stance – to safeguard world peace and seek progress through cooperation, ensuring human rights with the benefits deriving from development. It has been an active participant in matters of international human rights, providing a Chinese contribution to global human rights governance and progress, and working with other countries to forge a global community of shared future.

I. For People’s Liberation and Wellbeing

1. Human Rights Trampled after the Mid-19th Century

The Chinese nation is a great nation boasting a civilization spanning five millennia. China once led the world in composite national strength over a long period of time. But beginning in the middle and latter half of the Qing Dynasty (1636-1911), and especially after the Opium War in 1840, China plunged into stagnation due to a corrupt, incompetent government and ever growing Western aggression. It was eventually reduced to a semi-colonial, semi-feudal state where the people were enslaved and suffered immeasurably.

Beginning in 1840, the Western imperialist powers, through war and other aggressive means, forced the Chinese government into hundreds of unequal treaties, regulations and conventions, grabbing territory, demanding reparations and privileges, and engaging in a process of colonization and plunder throughout China. Western invasion and colonization shackled the Chinese people, trampling on their dignity and putting their very lives in jeopardy.

It was a tragedy for the country and the people. Oppressed by imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat-capitalism, the Chinese people suffered from hunger and poverty and the nation from backwardness and subjugation.

The subsistence crisis raged in all directions. The economy was in a shambles. Low agricultural productivity, land annexation, harsh taxes and levies, natural disasters, and frequent wars turned large numbers of small farmers and peasants into farm laborers for hire or homeless poor. Industry and commerce developed to a certain extent, but was small in scale, low in productivity and unbalanced in structure. Manipulated by foreign and domestic bureaucrat capital, it was impossible to sustain the nation or the people. Under a shattered economy, the people were destitute and struggled to survive. It is estimated that 80 percent of the population was constantly haunted by dire hunger or inadequate food supply, and that tens or even hundreds of thousands of people starved to death every year.

China was also tortured by diseases and hindered by the lack of education among its people. Epidemics such as plague, smallpox and cholera swept across the country and recurred every year, taking a heavy toll on the populace due to the lack of health services. The average life expectancy in old China was only 35 years. When the PRC was founded in 1949, 80 percent of the 540 million population were illiterate, less than 20 percent of school-age children were in elementary schools, and there were only 117,000 students receiving higher education. Commenting on the miseries of the people, Mao Zedong said, “The poverty and lack of freedom among the Chinese people are on a scale seldom found.” With the people struggling for survival, it was impossible to talk about any other rights.

2. National Salvation on the Shoulders of the CPC

With the nation under threat and the people in pain, many people of lofty ideals and insight devoted themselves to the cause of national salvation – leading peasant uprisings, creating initiatives to learn from the West, attempting reformist experiments, and launching a bourgeois revolution. But none of these freed the Chinese from oppression and slavery. The mission of national independence and the liberation of the people fell to the CPC.

In July 1921, the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China announced the founding of the Party, heralding a new stage in the Chinese revolution. It reversed the tragic fate of the Chinese people and laid down the foundations for them to enjoy their basic rights. The first Marxists in China, including Chen Duxiu, Li Dazhao and Mao Zedong, already understood the close connection between liberation, independence and the people’s interests. They knew well that only through revolution could the proletariat and the working people establish and maintain their rights, and that only through revolution could China get back on its feet and its people emerge from poverty and humiliation.

The CPC was a party of the proletariat from the very beginning. Through its programs, proposals, and declarations, it made its mission clear and its stance known – to save the nation and secure human rights for its people. The original aspiration and the mission of the Party is to seek happiness for the people of China and rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. It is also the root of its stance on human rights. The CPC, with its people-centered position, has won the support of the Chinese people, making it the spine of the Chinese revolution.

3. Human Rights Protection During the New Democratic Revolution

In the New Democratic Revolution to liberate and free the people and make them masters of the country, the CPC always applied Marxist human rights theory to the Chinese context, pioneering a path of human rights predicated on the universality of human rights and one that is distinctively Chinese.

In the Great Revolution (1924-1927), the CPC took on improving people’s lives and protecting their right to subsistence as key objectives. In the Agrarian Revolutionary War (1927-1937), the CPC-led Chinese Soviet Government promulgated the Land Law, giving the peasants political rights as well as land to till, so that they could make a living. In the full-scale phase of the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-1945), the Party formulated a series of regulations and measures for human rights protection, and enacted tax and interest reduction policies in the Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia Border Region. In the War of Liberation (1945-1949), the Party emphasized protection of human rights and ensuring basic livelihoods for the people, formulated the Outline of the Land Law of China and carried out land reform among 100 million people in the liberated areas, distributing land among peasants and putting an end to feudal production relations. It organized production campaigns to ensure self-sufficiency, encouraged privately-owned industrial and commercial businesses, and provided social relief, all to ensure the people’s wellbeing.

Making the people masters of the country was a primary goal in ensuring human rights during the New Democratic Revolution. Universal suffrage was implemented in the CPC-led Central Soviet Area and the Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia Border Region, and the long-oppressed people finally had the right to participate in politics and have their voice heard. During the War Against Japanese Aggression, the base areas established democratic governments with CPC members, progressive non-CPC figures, and centrists each occupying one third of the official posts. These policies and systems greatly encouraged the people to take part in revolution and political administration.

The legitimate rights and interests of women were protected. Following the guidelines of the CPC Central Committee on women’s liberation and marriage reform, and the marriage laws and regulations enacted and applied to all the soviet areas, arranged and mercenary marriage was abolished, and keeping maids or concubines was forbidden. Monogamy was established along with freedom of marriage, and postnuptial property was regarded as community property. For the first time, women gained the freedom of their person and economic equality in marriage. With rising social status, women became more active in revolution and in the workplace.

Culture, education, and health services flourished in the CPC-led areas. In the Outline of the Constitution of the Chinese Soviet Republic promulgated in the Central Soviet Area, it was stipulated that the working masses enjoyed equal right to education. Schools were built and training sessions organized to help improve people’s educational levels. In the Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia Border Region the government set up night schools and newspaper reading groups to eliminate illiteracy, opened elementary and middle schools despite the difficult conditions, and founded the Lu Xun School of the Arts, the Yan’an Academy of Natural Sciences, and other institutions of higher education and research.

The Chinese Soviet Republic formed an epidemic prevention and control committee at the central level, and health departments (offices) were set up at the district, county and provincial levels. Hospitals were built for workers and peasants, as well as clinics for the poor and public health centers. The cohort of health workers was strengthened and mass campaigns were rolled out to prevent and control epidemics. All this significantly improved people’s health.

4. Human Rights Protection in the PRC

The founding of the PRC in 1949 ushered in a new era for people’s rights. It put an end to the exploitation, oppression and slavery that had shackled the Chinese nation for a century, and signified the beginning of substantial progress in human rights in a socialist country under the leadership of the CPC.

Since 1949, human rights in China have undergone three stages of development.

Stage 1: Beginning in 1949, the Chinese people committed themselves to socialist revolution and economic development under CPC leadership, establishing the basic systems of socialism, completing the most extensive and profound process of social change in Chinese history, and promulgating the first socialist constitution. All these laid the political and institutional foundation for human rights in China.

From a political perspective, the system of people’s democracy was established and consolidated, with democracy of the people and socialism as the basic principles. With the implementation of the system of people’s congresses, it was guaranteed that all rights of the state belonged to the people.

From an economic perspective, the completion of the land reform triggered a burst of great creativity among the people. Socialist transformation was completed in agriculture, individual craft industries, and capitalist industry and commerce, and the basic socialist system was formed to ensure equal access to economic development and the sharing of economic gains.

From a social perspective, the Marriage Law was promulgated, stipulating the free choice of spouses, the principle of monogamy, equal rights for men and women, and the protection of the lawful rights and interests of women and children. Efforts were made to promote education and health services, and medical and preventive care networks were established at every local level – village, township, county, city and province. Labor insurance was created and social relief was provided. The government stood firmly against ethnic oppression and discrimination, upheld equality among all ethnic groups, and introduced regional ethnic autonomy. In developing the legal framework, important laws were formulated and promulgated in line with the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China to protect citizens’ basic rights.

Stage 2: Beginning in 1978, when reform and opening up was introduced, the CPC led the Chinese people on a path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, unleashing an immense wave of social development and productivity. Thanks to tremendous progress in human rights the people enjoyed better protection of their rights to subsistence and development and other basic rights. Reform and opening up is a great revolution on the part of the Chinese people under CPC leadership. The Party pursues development as its top priority in governance and as the key to solving the problems of China; it strives to promote social productivity and improve human rights protection through development. During this stage the people enjoyed better lives and grew more active economically and socially. Under CPC leadership, China upheld the rule of law in all areas, and included in the Constitution as an important principle of national governance respect for and protection of human rights. Human rights progress was included in national development strategies and plans, the mechanisms for ensuring human rights in the context of China’s realities were improved, and the system for ensuring human rights with Chinese characteristics began to take shape.

Stage 3: Since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era. China has completed the mission of eradicating absolute poverty as scheduled under the strong leadership of the Party Central Committee with Xi Jinping at the core. Decisive success has been achieved in the final stage of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, and human rights protection has been brought to new heights. Upholding people-centered development, the CPC is grounding its efforts in the new development stage, applying the new development philosophy, and creating a new framework of development. Focusing on high-quality development, it endeavors to meet the fundamental goal of satisfying the people’s growing desire for a better life. Implementing the Five-sphere Integrated Plan[ This refers to China’s overall plan for building socialism with Chinese characteristics, that is, to promote coordinated progress in the economic, political, cultural, social and eco-environmental fields.] and the Four-pronged Comprehensive Strategy[ This refers to China’s strategic plan for building socialism with Chinese characteristics, that is, to make comprehensive moves to complete a moderately prosperous society in all respects, to further reform, to advance the rule of law, and to strengthen Party self-governance.], the Party has made sure that the people enjoy a greater sense of gain, happiness and security. As the Belt and Road Initiative builds momentum, the concept of a global community of shared future has been widely recognized.

II. The Principle of Respecting and Protecting Human Rights Embedded in Governance

1. In the Constitution as a Guiding Principle

As the fundamental law of a country, the Constitution is a written guarantee of the rights of citizens. Under the leadership of the CPC, China has established a Chinese socialist legal system with the Constitution at the core, thus laying a solid legal foundation for ensuring human rights.

In September 1954, the First Session of the First National People’s Congress (NPC) adopted the Constitution of the PRC, which declared that all power in the country belongs to the people. It provided a wide range of rights and freedom that citizens enjoy in political, economic, social, cultural, personal and other respects. In December 1982, the Fifth Session of the Fifth NPC adopted the current Constitution of the PRC, in which “The Fundamental Rights and Duties of Citizens” was moved forward and made second only to Chapter I, “General Principles”. This adjustment highlighted the importance of citizens’ rights. Meanwhile, this Constitution also expanded the range of rights under protection. Later, the NPC adopted five amendments to the Constitution in 1988, 1993, 1999, 2004 and 2018, to better protect human rights. These involved the basic economic system, distribution system, protection of citizens’ private property, and the social security system.

The amendment adopted at the Second Session of the 10th NPC, held in March 2004, added the line “The state respects and safeguards human rights” into the Constitution. Since then, respecting and protecting human rights has been a basic principle of the system of socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics and a binding rule of conduct and a legal obligation of all state organs, armed forces, political parties, social organizations, enterprises and public institutions. No laws, regulations, rules and normative documents can be in conflict with the principle, and accountability must be enforced on all acts that violate it.

The CPC leads the people in fully and strictly enforcing the Constitution and takes the lead in fulfilling the constitutional responsibility of respecting and protecting human rights. This has been achieved through improving laws, regulations and institutional systems and developing various undertakings of the state. China has established mechanisms best suited to its political systems and national conditions for enforcing the Constitution and the oversight thereof. It has set up the NPC Constitution and Law Committee to carry out constitutional review, so as to better uphold the authority of the Constitution and ensure that the provisions of the Constitution are observed.

2. In State Governance as a Philosophy

Serving the people wholeheartedly is the fundamental purpose of the CPC. The Party adheres to a people-centered philosophy of development, exercises power for the people, and ensures that development is for the people and by the people and that its benefits are shared by the people. It embodies the principle of respecting and protecting human rights in its governance and self-improvement.

At the 15th CPC National Congress held in 1997, the report to the congress included for the first time the following expression: “ensuring that the people enjoy extensive rights and freedom endowed by law, and respecting and guaranteeing human rights”. The 16th CPC National Congress held in 2002 reiterated that “human rights are respected and guaranteed”, and included the following words in the goals of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects: “The political, economic and cultural rights and interests of the people will be respected and guaranteed in real earnest” and “promoting the all-round development of people”. The report to the 17th CPC National Congress held in 2007 read that “We must respect and guarantee human rights, and ensure the equal right to participation and development for all members of society in accordance with the law”, and “It [the CPC] respects and safeguards human rights” was formally added into the CPC Constitution.

Since the 18th CPC National Congress held in 2012, to further reform on all fronts and accelerate the modernization of China’s governance system and capacity, the CPC has attached greater importance to improving the systems and mechanisms for respecting and protecting human rights. At the 18th CPC National Congress, the principle that “human rights should be fully respected and protected” was included in the report to the congress and listed as one of the key strategic goals of building a moderately prosperous society and furthering reform and opening up in an all- round way. In 2014, the Fourth Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee adopted the Resolution of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Advancing the Rule of Law. The resolution emphasized the need to “provide stronger judicial protection of human rights” and to “strengthen awareness throughout the whole of society about the need to respect and safeguard human rights”. It stipulated ways to ensure that citizens’ rights are protected by the law: enhancing judicial protection of human rights and legislation in key areas, protecting citizens’ rights in accordance with the law, establishing a legal system featuring equal rights, equal opportunities and fair rules for all, ensuring the inviolability of citizens’ rights including personal rights, property rights and basic political rights, and making sure that citizens enjoy rights in economic, cultural, social and all other respects. The Fifth Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee in 2015 made it clear that “human rights should be fully protected” is a major goal of promoting the rule of law during the entire 13th Five-year Plan period.

In 2017, the report to the 19th CPC National Congress stated: “the principal contradiction facing Chinese society in the new era is that between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life. We must therefore continue commitment to our people-centered philosophy of development, and work to promote well-rounded human development and common prosperity for everyone.”

The report drew a blueprint for future progress in China’s human rights: From 2020 to 2035, on the basis of completing the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects, the rights of the people to participate and to develop as equals will be adequately protected; from 2035 to the middle of the 21st century, building on having achieved basic modernization, we will develop China into a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful; common prosperity for everyone will be largely achieved; the Chinese people will enjoy happier, safer, and healthier lives; we will strengthen legal protection for human rights to ensure that the people enjoy extensive rights and freedoms as prescribed by law.

In 2019, the Fourth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee pointed out that improving the wellbeing of the people and promoting well-rounded human development are essential to the Party’s commitment to serving the public good and exercising power in the interests of the people. In 2020, the proposal of the CPC Central Committee on formulating the 14th Five-year Plan for economic and social development and the long-range objectives through the year 2035 was adopted at the Fifth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee. The proposal set higher goals for China’s development, which include promoting well-rounded human development and all-round social advancement and promoting comprehensive progress in human rights.

3. In National Development Plans for Its Realization

From 1953 to 2021, China has formulated 14 plans for national economic and social development, providing for the country’s development in economic, social, cultural, environmental and other respects.

In accordance with the proposal adopted at the Fifth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee, the Fourth Session of the 13th NPC held in March 2021 deliberated and adopted the Outline of the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) for National Economic and Social Development and the Long-Range Objectives Through the Year 2035 of the PRC. The outline set forth specific objectives, tasks, policies and measures for China’s development in economic, political, cultural, social, ecological and other fields in the next five years and 15 years. In the outline, it was emphasized that we must pursue people-centered development, adopt a new vision for development, and ensure the principal status of the people; we must move steadily toward common prosperity, safeguard the fundamental interests of the people, and unleash their enthusiasm, initiative and creativity; we must promote social equity and justice, improve the wellbeing of the people, and realize the people’s aspiration for a better life. This approach to development embodies the principle of respecting and protecting human rights.

Protecting people’s economic, social and cultural rights, especially their rights to employment, basic living, social security, health, education, culture, environment, property and other services, is essential to the rights of all to life and development. The state makes constant progress in protecting citizens’ basic rights by formulating outlines and plans for the development of various undertakings. In the past 10 years alone, the Chinese government formulated dozens of policy documents concerning people’s rights to subsistence and development in many fields. These include the Outline of Development-Driven Poverty Alleviation in Rural Areas (2011-2020), the Outline of Healthy China 2030, the Outline of National Medium- and Long-Term Program for Education Reform and Development (2010-2020), the Outline of the Development of Human Resources and Social Security Undertakings During the 13th Five-Year Plan Period, the Outline of China’s Environmental Protection, the Program for Developing Ethnic Minority Areas and Ethnic Groups with Small Populations During the 13th Five-Year Plan Period, the Program for the Development of Women in China (2011-2020), the Program for the Development of Children in China (2011-2020), the Plan for the Development of China’s Old-Age Programs and Elderly-Care System, the Outline for the Development of People with Disabilities During the 13th Five-Year Plan Period, and the Rural Revitalization Strategic Plan (2018-2022). China also worked out a series of institutions and measures to protect citizens’ civil and political rights, particularly citizens’ personal rights, their rights to fair trial, freedom of religion, the rights to be informed, to be engaged and to be heard, and the right to oversee.

China actively responds to the initiatives of the international community. Since 2009, it has worked out three national human rights action plans, which is quite unusual among countries of the world. Currently, the work has begun to produce the fourth – the National Human Rights Action Plan (2021-2025). China has integrated its national human rights action plans with its national development plans.

III. Ensuring the People’s Position as Masters of the Country

Since the founding of the PRC in 1949, the CPC has established systems that respect China’s actual conditions and ensure the people’s principal status as masters of the country. The main ones are people’s congresses, which form the fundamental political system of China, CPC-led multiparty cooperation and political consultation, regional ethnic autonomy, and grassroots self-governance. These systems have laid a firm institutional foundation for protecting the fundamental interests of the people.

1. Ensuring Human Rights Through the Fundamental Political System

The system of people’s congresses is China’s fundamental political system. The essence of the system is to ensure that all power in the country belongs to the people and that the people participate in the management of state affairs and exercise power as masters of the country through the people’s congresses.

The system of people’s congresses ensures the rights of the people as the masters of the country. First, the National People’s Congress (NPC) is the highest state organ of power. The NPC and the local people’s congresses at all levels are created through democratic election; they are responsible to the people and subject to their oversight. The right to vote and stand for election is a basic right. Constituencies and organizations have the power to elect deputies and to remove them from office in accordance with procedures prescribed by law.

Second, in strict accordance with the principle of democratic centralism, people’s congresses and their standing committees exercise state power, decide on matters collectively, and represent the will and the fundamental interests of the people. Each NPC and local people’s congress has a term of five years. An NPC session is held once every year, while each local people’s congress convenes at least once every year.

Third, state power is exercised through people’s congresses. All administrative, supervisory, judicial and prosecuting organs of the state are created by the people’s congresses, answer to them, and are subject to their oversight.

Fourth, the NPC and its Standing Committee exercise the legislative power of the state. Amendments to the Constitution must be adopted by a vote of at least two-thirds of NPC deputies, while laws and other bills shall be adopted by a majority vote of NPC deputies or of members of the NPC Standing Committee.

As of April 2021, there are more than 2.6 million deputies to people’s congresses at all levels. The deputies are broadly representative of all ethnic groups, sectors, social strata and political parties. Among them are a considerable number of deputies who are workers or peasants. Among the deputies to the 13th NPC, workers and peasants account for 15.7 percent. To ensure that state power is truly in the hands of the people, deputies must represent the interests and will of the people when performing their duties. Deputies are entitled to submit, examine and vote on bills and proposals. The statements and votes of deputies at meetings of people’s congresses are protected by the law.

The system of people’s congresses is a unique political structure created by the people of China. It embodies the nature of the PRC as a socialist country and ensures that the Chinese people are the masters of the country. Through this system, the peoples of all ethnic groups hold the destiny of China and the nation firmly in their own hands.

2. Ensuring Human Rights Through the Political Party System

The political party system of China involves multiparty cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the CPC. It is different from the two-party or multiparty systems of Western countries and the one-party systems of some other countries. In China, in addition to the governing CPC, there are eight other political parties. These are not opposition parties. They maintain good relations with the CPC, accepting the latter’s leadership and cooperating fully with it; they are participants in governance under the framework of socialism with Chinese characteristics. This framework of multiparty cooperation and participation under CPC leadership and governance is the defining feature of China’s political party system. This system is a new model that has grown out of the soil of China. It was established and developed by the CPC, other political parties and prominent individuals without party affiliation (non-affiliates) over the long period of China’s revolution, economic development and reform. It was a historical necessity; it represents great ingenuity; it possesses enormous strengths.

The CPC encourages the free airing of views. Through multiparty cooperation and political consultation it is committed to developing socialist democracy and advancing extensive, multilevel and institutionalized consultative democracy. In participating in governance, the main duties of the other political parties and the non-affiliates are assuming government office, and participating in consultations over major policies and candidates for key leadership positions, the management of state affairs, and the formulation and implementation of state policies, laws and regulations. Before decision-making on major issues concerning the country’s stability and the people’s wellbeing and during its implementation, the CPC carries out direct consultation with the other political parties and the non-affiliates and holds extensive consultations with people from all sectors of society at the sessions of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

Since the 18th CPC National Congress, central committees of the other political parties and non-affiliates have submitted more than 730 proposals to the CPC Central Committee and the State Council. From the First Session of the 13th CPPCC National Committee held in March 2018 to April 2021, the CPPCC National Committee received 23,048 proposals. Many of these have been adopted, playing an important role in building consensus and helping to modernize the country.

The CPC-led multiparty cooperation and political consultation system has realized unity between governance and participation in governance, leadership and cooperation, and consultation and oversight. It embodies the essential requirement of socialist democracy. It is conducive to protecting the interests of all social groups in China and ensuring that their expectations are met; it is conducive to making the voice of the people heard, reflecting their wishes, and improving their wellbeing. This structure ensures that people’s rightful claims are honored through a procedure guaranteeing the supremacy of the people

3. Ensuring Human Rights Through the System of Regional Ethnic Autonomy

China is a unified multiethnic state. Heightening a sense of identity of the Chinese nation, always maintaining the integrity and unification of the country, and all ethnic groups working jointly for common prosperity and development are the goals of the CPC’s ethnic policies. The system of regional ethnic autonomy means that areas with large ethnic minority populations shall practice regional autonomy, establish autonomous organs, and exercise the power of self-government under the unified leadership of the state. This basic political system is clearly specified in the country’s Constitution and its Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy.

Territorial integrity and national unification are preconditions for regional ethnic autonomy. They combine unification with autonomy and ethnic factors with regional factors, and are perfectly suited to China’s realities. China’s regional ethnic autonomy is autonomy under the unified leadership of the state. All ethnic autonomous areas are inseparable parts of the country, and all autonomous organs of these areas are local governments subject to the unified leadership of the central government.

Regional ethnic autonomy provides institutional and policy guarantees to ensure that ethnic minority citizens enjoy rights to equality and freedom and to economic, social and cultural services. On all standing committees of people’s congresses of the 155 ethnic autonomous areas, there are citizens from the ethnic groups exercising autonomy assuming the office of chair or vice chair; all governors, prefectural commissioners, heads of counties, or banners of ethnic autonomous areas are citizens from the ethnic groups exercising autonomy. China considers the characteristics and needs of all ethnic minorities, and assists all ethnic minority areas in accelerating their economic and cultural development.

4. Ensuring Human Rights Through the Institutions of Grassroots Democracy

The institutions of grassroots democracy are crucial to protecting the immediate interests of the people. Grassroots democracy operates in multiple forms, including self-governance through villagers committees in rural areas, self-governance through urban residents committees, and self-governance in enterprises and public institutions through workers congresses. Through these organizations, the people participate extensively and directly in the management of social affairs. The Constitution, the Organic Law of the Villagers Committees, the Organic Law of the Urban Residents Committees, the Trade Union Law and other laws and regulations contain provisions on the system of democratic self-governance at the grassroots level, providing a legal basis and institutional guarantee.

Through grassroots urban and rural organizations for self-governance, the people directly exercise their rights to democratic elections, consultations, decision-making, management, and oversight and manage their own affairs by involving the local residents in educating and serving the community and exercising public scrutiny. Urban and rural residents have elected almost 2.8 million members of the grassroots committees. The systems of committee meetings and congresses are improving, and the channels for urban and rural residents to participate in democratic decision-making are widening. Localities conduct discussions and consultations in flexible and diverse forms such as councils, hearings and others. All rural villages and urban communities have formulated their codes of conduct and the self-regulation of urban and rural residents has become more rule-based. Oversight committees have been universally established; the work to make community affairs more transparent is expanding; democratic appraisal and economic responsibility audit are carried out as a norm.

Across the country, 28 provinces and equivalent administrative units have formulated 35 local regulations concerning democratic management of enterprises. A preliminary institutional framework has been formed, with workers congresses as the basic element. The framework features open access to enterprise affairs, employees serving as board directors and board supervisors, and negotiation of collective contracts on an equal footing, supplemented by employees committees for democratic management and employees democratic councils.

IV. Making Comprehensive Progress in Human Rights

The CPC upholds the rights to subsistence and development as the primary and basic human rights, and works hard to ensure and improve people’s wellbeing through development. The Party makes every effort to achieve comprehensive progress in human rights and ensure the well-rounded development of all the people.

1. Ensuring the Right to Subsistence

After a long period of unremitting work, the Chinese people have attained liberation, secured adequate food and clothing, become better off and achieved moderate prosperity in all respects step by step, and they are now heading towards a higher level of common prosperity.

Poverty is the greatest obstacle to human rights. China has engaged in a huge program of poverty reduction focusing on development-driven poverty alleviation in rural areas. Since the 18th CPC National Congress held in 2012, the central Party leadership with Xi Jinping at the core has made specific plans and set clear goals and tasks for winning the battle against poverty. Resources across the Party and the whole country have been pooled for this battle. After eight years of continuous struggle, at the end of 2020 China achieved the goal of eliminating absolute poverty as scheduled. All the 99 million rural poor living below the current poverty line were raised from poverty, as were all the 832 counties and 128,000 villages classified as poor. Overall regional poverty no longer exists. China’s achievements in this field have written a new chapter in the history of human rights, and created a miracle in the global human rights effort. China is 10 years ahead in its plan to realize the goals of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. China’s contribution represents more than 70 percent of the global poverty reduction effort, and has significantly reduced the world’s impoverished population.

Living standards have improved. In 1952, China’s GDP was RMB67.9 billion and its per capita GDP was RMB119. In 1978, the GDP figure was RMB367.9 billion and the per capita figure was RMB385. In 2020, GDP reached RMB101.6 trillion, and per capita GDP was RMB72,000, more than the threshold of US$10,000 for the second year. In 1956, per capita disposable income of Chinese citizens was RMB98 and per capita consumer spending was RMB88. In 1978, the figures were RMB171 and RMB151. In 2020, per capita disposable income stood at RMB32,189, and per capita consumer spending was RMB21,210.

The rights to life and health are better protected. Treating health services as a matter of public welfare, the CPC has continued to drive deeper reform of the medical and health care system. Since the 18th National Congress of the CPC, the Central Committee has followed two guidelines: “People’s health is a strategic priority for development”, and “Without a healthy population, we will be unable to achieve moderate prosperity”. Based on such understanding, the leadership took a major decision to carry out the Healthy China initiative. In 2019, the life expectancy of Chinese citizens rose to 77.3 years, compared with 35 years in 1949; the maternal and perinatal mortality rate dropped to 17.8 per 100,000; and the infant mortality rate to 5.6 per 1,000. Main health indicators were generally higher than the average level of middle- and high-income countries. The protection of women and children’s rights to life and health has been extended considerably. In this area, China is recognized by the World Health Organization as one of the 10 fast-track countries to MDGs 4 and 5a.

At the start of 2020, a Covid-19 epidemic spread in outbreaks all around the world. This is a global pandemic with the largest impact that humanity has encountered in a century, a serious crisis and a daunting challenge for the international community. Under the strong leadership of the CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping at its core, China has put the people’s interests and their lives and health first – nothing is more precious than people’s lives.

Launching the largest medical assistance operation since the founding of the PRC, China mobilized all its medical resources to support the efforts in Wuhan and other locations in Hubei Province. From January 24, Chinese New Year’s Eve, to March 8, it rallied 346 national medical teams, consisting of 42,600 medical workers and more than 900 public health professionals to the immediate aid of Hubei, especially the city of Wuhan. Nineteen provinces and equivalent administrative units assisted 16 other prefectures/cities in Hubei in the form of paired assistance. Employing proactive, science-based, and flexible ways of treatment, the medical workers did everything possible to treat each and every patient, from an infant only 30 hours old to a centenarian. The goal was to save every single victim whatever the cost. The Chinese government provided free treatment for patients. Government funds for Covid-19 control were made available in advance to ensure that they could receive timely treatment and local authorities could proceed smoothly with measures for medical treatment and epidemic control. The individual cost for treating some Covid-19 patients in critical conditions reached hundreds of thousands of yuan, and in some extreme cases even exceeded RMB1 million, all covered by the state.

The current round of Covid-19 vaccination is free to all. With informed and voluntary consent of the recipients, the vaccines and vaccination costs are borne by the medical and health care insurance fund with subsidies from the state budget.

2. Ensuring Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights

Employment is pivotal to people’s wellbeing. The CPC prioritizes employment in economic and social development. It carries out a pro-employment strategy and pursues a more proactive employment policy. In 2020, to compensate for the impact of the Covid-19 epidemic, the CPC Central Committee coordinated epidemic prevention and control with economic and social development. Employment topped the list of measures to stabilize the six fronts (employment, finance, foreign trade, inbound investment, domestic investment, and market expectations), and to guarantee the six priorities (jobs, daily living needs, food and energy, industrial and supply chains, the interests of market players, and the smooth functioning of grassroots government). A series of policies and measures were launched to reduce the burden on businesses, and stabilize and expand employment. As a result, the urban unemployment rate at the end of 2020 stood at 5.2 percent; 11.9 million new urban jobs were created, 2.9 million more than the forecast of 9 million.

China has put in place the world’s largest social security system, including pensions, medical and health care, and social assistance, expanding coverage and improving protection. In 2020, the basic medical insurance scheme covered 1.36 billion people, and a total of 44.3 million urban and rural residents received subsistence allowances. By April 2021, a little over 1 billion people had subscribed to basic old-age insurance across the country. In 2016, China pioneered a long-term nursing insurance system and launched real-time settlement of patient’s medical expenses for treatment incurred outside the administrative area of insurance registration.

Living conditions continue to improve. At the start of reform and opening up the per capita floor space of urban residents was only 6.7 sq m and rural residents 8.1 sq m. In 2019, the corresponding figures were 39.8 sq m and 48.9 sq m. Construction projects have been launched to provide affordable housing to urban residents, providing better housing to 200 million poor, and dilapidated rural dwellings have been renovated.

Travel facilities are also improving. At the end of 2020, China’s road network totaled 5.2 million km in length, 64 times of the figure in 1949 when the PRC was founded. China’s figure of 161,000 km of expressways is the highest in the world. The rural road network reached 4.4 million km, and 99.4 percent of administrative villages had bus services, realizing the dream of the rural people to have easy access to public transport. Urban passenger transport services such as buses, trams, and rail transit have developed rapidly. New business models such as online car-hailing, online bicycle rental, and time-share leasing continue to emerge. At the end of 2020, the rail network extended 146,000 km, including 38,000 km of high-speed rail. The country had 241 civil aviation airports.

The right to education is guaranteed. Investment in education has grown substantially; conditions and standards in schools have greatly improved; rural education has been strengthened, and major strides have been made in ensuring equal access to education. Free compulsory education is available across the country. In 2020, the completion rate of the free nine-year compulsory education was 95.2 percent; in this metric China has reached the average of high-income countries. China’s gross enrollment rate in senior secondary education was 91.2 percent, higher than the average of upper-middle-income countries. Vocational education has developed rapidly, and higher education is transitioning from mass access to universal access. In 2020, about 9.7 million undergraduate students and 1.1 million postgraduates enrolled in colleges and universities.

Socialist cultural undertakings in China are flourishing in every respect. A public cultural service system covering both urban and rural areas is in place, and an increasing number of public cultural facilities are open to the public without charge. In 2019, China had 44,073 public cultural centers, including 33,530 township cultural facilities; the centers hosted 8,094 literary and artistic groups; and the township facilities hosted 441,800 amateur art groups. There were 3.7 million sports venues nationwide covering an area of 3.1 billion sq m, or a per capita area of 2.2 sq m. This represented a significant increase in public sports venues including stadiums, fitness centers, sports parks (or parks with sports facilities), and open fitness facilities.

China upholds the basic national policy of environmental protection, and follows the path of sustainable development, believing that a good eco-environment is the most inclusive form of public wellbeing. Since the 18th CPC National Congress, the central leadership has adopted the philosophy of green development: “Clear waters and green mountains are invaluable assets.” It has incorporated eco-environmental progress into the Five-sphere Integrated Plan of building socialism with Chinese characteristics together with economic, political, cultural and social progress, and pursues green and low-carbon development with priority given to the eco-environment.

Satellite images show that from 2000 to 2017, China contributed a quarter of the world’s newly forested land, ranking first among all countries. According to preliminary calculations, China’s carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP in 2020 were 48.4 percent lower than that in 2005, over-delivering on its greenhouse gas emissions reduction target by 40-45 percent. In 2020, clean energy consumption accounted for 24.3 percent of total energy consumption, a rise of 17.7 percentage points from 1978. The average concentration of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in cities at or above the prefecture level fell by 28.8 percent compared with 2015; and the proportion of excellent and good quality surface water (I-III) grew to 83.4 percent while that of inferior Class V surface water dropped to 0.6 percent.

3. Coordinating Protection of Civil and Political Rights

Personal rights protection has been strengthened in China. The Constitution states that “the personal freedom of citizens of the PRC shall not be violated.” The Legislation Law stipulates that matters involving criminal offences and penalties, compulsory measures and penalties involving deprivation of a citizen’s political rights or restriction of personal freedom, and the justice system must be governed by laws developed by the National People‘s Congress (NPC) and its Standing Committee. The Criminal Law sets the principles of legality, equality before the law, and punishment fitting the crime. It punishes criminal acts that violate citizens’ rights to life, health, freedom, etc., as provided for by the law. The Criminal Procedure Law states in the General Provisions that respecting and protecting human rights is one of the objectives of this law, and defines the principles of presumption of innocence and exclusionary rule to protect the human rights of criminal suspects, defendants and criminals. The Civil Code states that a natural person’s right to life, life safety and dignity are protected by law and free from infringement by any organization or individual. The Law on Administrative Penalty, the Administrative Compulsion Law and other administrative laws protect the personal rights of citizens by regulating administrative power. China has successively abolished the systems of re-education through labor and of detention education to better protect the personal freedom of its citizens.

The right to vote is guaranteed by law. The right to vote and to stand for election is a basic political right of citizens defined in the Constitution: All citizens who have reached the age of 18 have the right to vote and stand for election, regardless of ethnicity, race, gender, occupation, family background, religious belief, education, property status, or length of residence, except persons deprived of political rights in accordance with the law. The principles of universality, equality, combination of direct and indirect elections, competitive election and secret ballot are applied to ensure equal right to vote for everyone in accordance with the law. The election system ensures that both rural and urban areas are represented by people’s congress deputies in proportion to their population, and that all regions, ethnic groups, and sectors of society have a certain proportion of deputies.

People’s rights to know, to be involved, to express views, and to supervise the exercise of power are better protected. A mechanism through which public opinion is consulted in drafting laws has been established and improved. By April 2021, the state legislatures had solicited public opinion on 230 draft laws. A total of 425,762 comments were received for the draft Civil Code alone, collecting 1,021,834 pieces of opinion.

Administrative work of the government has been made more transparent. Following the principle that public disclosure is the rule rather than the exception, a list of well-defined powers, a list of responsibilities and a negative list for governments at different levels have been introduced across the country. The power list for governments at provincial, city and county levels has been published nationwide.

The mechanism in which decisions are made in accordance with the law has been improved, with a focus on the effectiveness of public participation and the quality of expert discussion, so as to protect the citizens’ right to participate in administrative decision-making.

The public complaints reporting system has been steadily improved to ensure problems are handled in a lawful and timely manner, and people’s legitimate rights and interests are protected. The national public complaints information system links the public complaints and proposals departments of all the provincial-level administrative units on the Chinese mainland, and 42 departments of the CPC Central Committee and ministries of the central government. This system makes it easier for people to report information, or raise suggestions, complaints, or requests.

A system to solicit proposals from the public has been set up. China provides smooth channels through which people express their opinions, and offers innovative means of public supervision. It has put in place convenient and effective online platforms for citizens to offer their views and advice, express their demands, and participate in social management in an orderly manner, making such platforms an important channel for realizing whole-process democracy.

Citizens and social organizations have the right to supervise state organs and public functionaries. The NPC Standing Committee performs its constitutional and legal duty of supervision. The system for recording and reviewing regulations, rules and other normative documents has been improved, and a national platform has been set up to this end.

Freedom of religious belief is guaranteed. Based on the realities of the country and the conditions applying to its religions, China follows the policies of separation of government from religion and of freedom of religious belief, maintains religious harmony, builds active and healthy religious relations, and respects and protects the citizens’ right to follow or not to follow any religion. The government protects normal religious activities, and manages religious affairs involving national and public interests but does not interfere in the internal affairs of religions. It supports all religions in upholding the principle of independence and self-management, and in carrying out external exchanges on the basis of independence, equality, friendship, and mutual respect. In China, believers and non-believers respect each other and live in harmony; they work together in China’s reform and opening up and socialist modernization for the realization of the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation.

4. Protecting the Rights of Special Groups in All Respects

China maintains that all ethnic groups are equal. It ensures that people of all ethnic groups have equal rights to administer state affairs in accordance with the law. China protects the rights of ethnic minority groups through the Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy, the Electoral Law for the National People’s Congress and Local People’s Congresses, the Education Law, the Law on the Standard Spoken and Written Chinese Language, the Employment Promotion Law, and other relevant laws and regulations.

All 55 ethnic minority groups have deputies at the NPC and members in the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). The 13th NPC has 438 deputies from ethnic minority groups, accounting for 14.7 percent of the total, and the 13th CPPCC National Committee has 247 members from ethnic minority groups, making up 11.5 percent of the total.

China has invested a significant effort in ethnic minority education. It works to ensure their right to education by running boarding schools in farming and pastoral areas, opening preparatory courses and special classes for ethnic minorities at colleges and schools, and prioritizing ethnic minority areas in developing higher education. Nine-year compulsory education (elementary and junior high schools) is universal in ethnic minority areas. In Tibet Autonomous Region and south Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, students are exempt from charges for education for a total of 15 years from preschool to senior high school.

With the exception of the Hui, who have used Han Chinese historically, and the Manchu and She peoples who now generally use Han Chinese, the other 52 ethnic minorities have their own spoken languages, and over 20 groups use nearly 30 written scripts. The Chinese government protects by law the legitimate use of the spoken and written languages of ethnic minorities in the areas of administration and judicature, press and publishing, radio, film and television, and culture and education.

China has put in place a legal system of more than 100 laws and regulations that comprehensively protects the rights and interests of women and children. It has enacted three guidelines on women’s development and three on children’s development, coordinating protection of women and children with economic and social development.

China promulgated a special law to prevent and stop domestic violence and protect the legal rights of family members.

The Criminal Law and the Criminal Procedure Law have been amended many times to strengthen the protection of minors. Robust action has been taken against criminal acts against minors, and the system of special protection for minors involved in crimes has been improved. In April 2021, there were more than 1,800 juvenile courts, and more than 1,500 juvenile prosecuting organs with more than 4,400 prosecutors.

Respecting the elderly is a traditional virtue of the Chinese culture. The Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly has been formulated and amended a number of times, while regional regulations were made in 31 provinces and equivalent administrative units to protect the legitimate rights and interests of the elderly. In November 2019, the CPC Central Committee and the State Council issued the Medium and Long-term Plan for Proactive National Response to Population Aging, strengthening the top-level framework for protecting the rights and interests of the elderly.

All provincial-level administrative units on the Chinese mainland have adopted the subsidy system for elderly people experiencing economic difficulties or suffering from disabilities. China is building a health service system for the elderly. In March 2021, China had more than 330,000 institutions and facilities with 8.2 million beds to provide services to the elderly. 14.8 million senior citizens received subsistence allowances; 3.8 million received assistance and support for people in extreme difficulty; 32.9 million received advanced age subsidies, nursing subsidies, and other old-age subsidies.

Protection of the rights of persons with disabilities has been strengthened. By April 2021, China had more than 90 laws and more than 50 administrative regulations on protection of the rights and interests of this group. China has established a subsidy system to provide living expenses for disabled persons in need and to pay the nursing costs of persons with severe disabilities. By 2020, this system had benefited 12.1 million of the former and 14.7 million of the latter.

China provides 12-year free education for disabled students with financial difficulties; 15-year free education for such students has been realized in Beijing, Liaoning, Jiangsu, Tibet, Xinjiang and some other provinces and equivalent administrative units. The government provides vocational training and employment services for persons with disabilities. By 2020, 6.3 million people with disabilities had received vocational skills training.

China gives strong support to creating an accessible environment, and developing the industry of assistive appliances for rehabilitation. It has established and implemented a rehabilitation and assistance system for children with disabilities, and made constant efforts to improve social care services for low-income people with severe disabilities. It is moving faster to develop community rehabilitation services for mental disorders, and to build mental health welfare institutions.

V. Protecting the Basic Rights of Citizens in Accordance with the Law

The CPC has integrated law-based governance with human rights protection, promoting both throughout the whole process of socialist rule of law. In advancing law-based governance, sound legislation has created a legal system to protect human rights, strict law enforcement has fostered a good law-based environment for human rights protection, and judicial justice has provided an effective channel for judicial remedy in the field of human rights. A sound system of intra-Party regulation has been formed based mainly on the Party Constitution and supplemented by other intra-Party rules, which is most effective in fighting corruption and safeguarding people’s interests.

1. Improving the Legal System to Protect People’s Basic Rights[edit]

Under the leadership of the CPC and based on the Constitution, a Chinese socialist system of laws has taken shape, providing a relatively complete legal system to protect human rights. As of April 2021, there were 277 laws in force in China, including the Constitution and related laws, civil and commercial law, administrative law, economic law, social law, criminal law and procedural law related to litigation and non-litigation. The Civil Code plays an important role in equal protection of people’s rights and advancing the cause of human rights in such areas as life and health, property, people’s wellbeing and human dignity. The Law on Promotion of Basic Medical and Health Care, the Food Safety Law, the Law on Prevention and Treatment of Infectious Diseases and the Law on Physical Culture and Sports include provisions to protect citizens’ rights to life and health. The Criminal Law and the Criminal Procedure Law provide the principles of legality, presumption of innocence, and exclusion of evidence obtained by illegal means, explicitly banning forced confessions. The Legislation Law, the Administrative Compulsion Law and the Law on Administrative Penalties follow the principle of strictly confining any compulsory measures and penalties involving personal freedom within the precise scope of the relevant laws. The Electoral Law, the Labor Law and the Education Law have incorporated into the protection system the citizens’ rights to vote, to be elected, to work and to access education.

2. Applying Rule of Law in Governance to Safeguard the Basic Rights of the People

China has made efforts to strengthen law-based governance and build a government that is open, impartial, clean, efficient and honest, with properly defined functions, statutory powers and responsibilities, and strict law enforcement. Since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, the CPC Central Committee and the State Council have released the Implementation Outline for Building a Law-based Government (2015-2020) and the Plan on Developing the Rule of Law in China (2020-2025) and other documents, putting forward measures and ideas for government functions, administrative institutions, administrative decisions, administrative law enforcement, and thinking in terms of the rule of law, thus effectively ensuring that people enjoy their basic rights.

Administrative power is constrained within the perimeter of the law. China has established a principle under which administrative bodies must not take any action that is not mandated by law. It has completed reform of the administrative structure, and prohibited any exercise of power not provided for by law, or any illegal use of power. The state has issued regulations on enacting normative documents and supervising and managing the implementation of such documents, and regulations on major administrative decision-making processes. It is prescribed that all government departments should employ legal advisers and government lawyers. China has improved its procedural standards for administrative law enforcement, and established a system of benchmarks for administrative discretion. It has developed systems to conduct investigations and collect evidence in administrative law enforcement, to keep any parties concerned informed, to manage the revenues from fines and confiscation, and to connect administrative law enforcement with criminal justice. The state has established public notification of administrative law enforcement, a recording system throughout the whole process of law enforcement, and a legal review of major law enforcement decisions. It has expanded the scope of hearings, and defined the effectiveness of hearing procedures. It has promoted non-mandatory law enforcement, carried out humane and flexible law enforcement, and established the principle of no punishment for a first offense that is trivial and has no serious consequences.

China has strengthened the supervision of administrative enforcement of the law in all respects and improved the remedial process. China uses IT application in the management and on-site recording of case-handling procedures, and has strengthened real-time supervision over law enforcement activities. It has established a performance appraisal system with the focus on law enforcement, and put in place a sound administrative review system that is impartial, efficient and convenient and works in the interest of the people. The state has developed platforms to provide information and online supervision concerning administrative law enforcement, ensuring that enforcement personnel are professional and follow standardized rules in their work, and law enforcement management is systematic, and applying IT in the procedure. It has strengthened accountability mechanisms and effectively regulated administrative acts.

In its effort to build a service-oriented government, China has continued to deepen reform, accelerate the transformation of government functions, ensure an environment of fair competition by legal means, and strengthen oversight and service provision. It has phased out licensing of matters not covered by the Law on Administrative Licensing, and replaced the provision of documentary evidence with an undertaking that relevant conditions have been met, for applications concerning individual matters and operating permits required for businesses, with strengthened oversight during and after the process. Government departments have published a full list of their services, established a government service evaluation system, and streamlined work processes to create a quality and efficient service environment. The central government has promoted online public services, advanced a national online platform for government services, and improved the standards, efficacy and connectivity of the service platforms of different regions and departments, ensuring that everyone has equitable and convenient access to basic public services.

3. Improving the Judiciary to Protect the Basic Rights of Citizens

By deepening reform of the judiciary, China has improved the allocation of judicial powers and responsibilities to ensure independent and impartial exercise of judicial power and the power of prosecutors. It has reformed the category-based management of judicial personnel and job security for the judicial profession. The state has carried out unified management of personnel, funds and property in people’s courts and procuratorates under the provincial level, and set up trans-regional people’s courts and people’s procuratorates. Courts to handle intellectual property and financial cases, and online courts have been established in some provinces and equivalent administrative units.

To implement judicial accountability in all respects, China has carried out comprehensive and integrated reform of the judicial system. The state has made clear the powers and responsibilities of judges and prosecutors, improved the disciplinary mechanisms, and strengthened checks and oversight. The people’s courts have improved the list of judicial power and responsibilities, and strictly implemented the accountability system for unlawful judicial decisions, ensuring that those who hear cases pass judgments and take accountability for the cases they have adjudicated. The people’s procuratorates have developed a performance measurement system and evaluation mechanisms for prosecutors, focusing on the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of their case handling, to ensure that those who handle a case and make a ruling assume full responsibility for it. China has strictly implemented regulations to prevent interference in the justice system.

China has strictly implemented a case docketing and registration system across the board to fully protect citizens’ right to take legal action. The judiciary has continued to combine harsh punishment and leniency in handling criminal cases, and apply appropriate penalties in accordance with the law. It has improved criminal proceedings and standardized the system of showing leniency to suspects and defendants who confess to their crimes. China has improved a fast-track sentencing procedure for criminal cases and further separated the handling of simple and complex cases to punish those found guilty promptly in accordance with the law and to protect human rights. In 2020, 87 percent of the criminal cases were treated with leniency after the accused pled guilty. China has amended the Civil Procedure Law and improved the system of civil evidence to provide solutions to disputes more effectively. Separation of simple and complex civil cases has been piloted in 305 courts in 20 cities in 15 provinces. The state has strengthened judicial protection of public interest, and improved the system by which prosecuting bodies can bring public interest lawsuits to court. It has amended the Administrative Procedure Law, strengthened the protection of the legitimate rights and interests of any individual subjected to an administrative action, and issued regulations stipulating that the individual in charge of an administrative agency should appear in court if a lawsuit is filed against the agency.

Judicial activities are becoming more open to increase judicial transparency. China has improved the information-releasing platforms on judicial procedures, trials, written judgments, and the execution of judgments. It keeps improving the service of China Procuratorial Network and China Procuratorial Hearing Network. As of April 2021, China Judgments Online had published over 119 million judgments, attracting 60.7 billion visits. About 12.7 million court trials had been broadcast live. China has strengthened supervision over judicial activities, criminal proceedings and civil administrative proceedings, and carried out supervision over public interest litigation. It has implemented the Law on People’s Jurors, improved the system of people’s jurors, and deepened reform of the system of people’s supervisors.

China strives to ensure that those accused of criminal offences receive a fair trial. China has promoted reform of the criminal litigation system centered on the court trial. It strictly follows the principles of legality, presumption of innocence, and evidence-based verdict, and excludes any evidence obtained by illegal means. It has improved the mechanism for witnesses to appear in court, and ensures that court trial plays the decisive role in the judicial process. China has fully guaranteed the rights of criminal suspects and defendants to defense and to legal aid. Pilot work has been advanced to ensure that a legal defense is provided in all criminal cases. The state protects defense lawyers’ right to meet their clients, to examine the case files, to investigate and obtain evidence, to conduct cross-examination, to debate and defend, and other rights related to court hearings. It has improved the mechanism for lawyers to perform their duties in accordance with the law, and formed a joint quick response system to ensure lawyers’ right to practice. China follows the principle of seeking truth from facts and corrects any mistakes found in judicial proceedings to prevent and address miscarriage of justice. China is very cautious about using the death penalty, and the number of crimes punishable by the death penalty has been reduced significantly.

China ensures the legitimate rights and interests of criminal suspects, defendants, prisoners, minor offenders under community correctional programs, people on drug rehabilitation and people released from jail after serving their sentence. China has put in place sound systems of commutation, parole and temporary execution of sentence outside prison, and continues to improve the mechanisms for promoting open, dynamic, transparent, and convenient law enforcement in prison, and to standardize law enforcement in prison. The government has promulgated the Community Correction Law and measures for its implementation, which has helped to institutionalize and standardize sentences of community services and made the system more professional. It has strengthened supervision, management and education of and assistance to those sentenced to community service, and a less restrictive social environment can help them reintegrate into society more smoothly. The state has promulgated the Narcotics Control Law and the Regulations on Drug Rehabilitation, ensured the legitimate rights and interests of persons in rehabilitation, and carried out law enforcement supervision in this regard. China has improved the institutions and mechanisms for social organizations to help educate the people released from jail after serving their sentence, ensured their access to social assistance, and provided employment assistance to them to facilitate their return to normal life.

China has improved the system of remedy for infringement of rights and judicial assistance. It has put in place a state compensation system. Compensation has increased over the years along with the economic and social development of the country. The daily compensation for violation of a citizen’s personal liberty has risen from RMB17.2 in 1995 to RMB373.1 in 2021. China has improved the state judicial assistance system. It has established judicial assistance committees, and improved the institutions for dovetailing judicial assistance with social assistance and legal aid to help victims of a crime who are unable to obtain sufficient compensation to extricate themselves from financial difficulties.

China strives to improve its public legal services. The state has stepped up efforts to develop a modern network covering both urban and rural areas that provides convenient and efficient public legal services to all. A sound legal aid system has been established and specifications for criminal, civil and administrative legal aid services have been issued to provide legal aid to more people. China encourages the development of the legal profession. As of April 2021, there were 529,000 lawyers throughout the country.

VI. Advancing Human Rights Around the World

The CPC is committed to bringing freedom and happiness to the Chinese people, and peace and progress to the whole of humanity. Its achievements prove that it is a peace-loving political party committed to progress, justice and human rights in the world.

1. Devoted to World Peace and Progress

Since the founding of the PRC in 1949, the CPC has taken world peace as its most serious concern, because it is critical to the future of humanity. China supported the efforts of developing countries to get rid of colonial domination, achieve national independence, and end racial segregation. In the 1950s, the CPC initiated the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence:

• mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity

• mutual non-aggression

• non-interference in each other’s internal affairs

• equality and mutual benefit

• peaceful coexistence

In 1955, the Bandung Conference set these five principles as the basis for Asian and African countries to establish friendship, cooperation and good-neighborly relations. The Non-Aligned Movement that rose in the 1960s set these principles as its guideline. These principles were also accepted in a number of declarations adopted at the 1970 and 1974 UN general assemblies. The five principles have been an important foundation by which the CPC handles China’s foreign affairs, and have become a cornerstone of international law and international relations, widely recognized and observed by the international community.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the CPC made the judgment that peace and development are the themes of today’s world. Upholding peace, development, cooperation and mutual benefit, China has become a major force in promoting world peace and progress. Adhering to the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter, China is committed to upholding the UN-centered international system and the international law-based global order. To promote peaceful settlement of disputes, and safeguard world peace and regional security and stability, it advocates global governance based on extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, and champions a new vision of security that is common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable.

China began to participate in UN peacekeeping operations in 1990, and dispatched peacekeeping police for the first time in 2000. It now ranks first among the permanent members of the UN Security Council in terms of the number of peacekeepers dispatched, and is the second largest fund contributor to the UN’s peacekeeping actions. China has sent more than 40,000 military personnel to participate in about 30 UN peacekeeping missions in Sudan, Lebanon, Cambodia, Libya, and other countries and regions.

China actively participates in international arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation, opposes arms races, and safeguards global strategic balance and stability. China has signed up more than 20 multilateral arms control, disarmament or non-proliferation treaties such as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. As a UN Security Council permanent member, China is active in the political settlement of international and regional flashpoints, and in international cooperation on law enforcement and security. To combat terrorism, separatism, extremism, and drug-related crimes it has intensified cooperation under the framework of international and regional organizations, including the UN, the International Criminal Police Organization and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Committed to poverty elimination and its own development, China also provides assistance, without any political conditions, to strengthen other developing countries’ capacity for development, improve and enrich the lives of their people, and promote their economic growth and social progress. China’s aid takes various forms, including complete projects, goods and materials, technological cooperation, cooperation on training human resources, medical teams and volunteers, humanitarian aid, and debt relief. Over the past seven decades, it has assisted 166 countries and international organizations, sent over 600,000 people on aid missions, and canceled matured government interest-free debts owed by heavily indebted poor countries and least-developed countries on seven occasions. It has provided medical assistance to 69 Asian, African, Latin American and Caribbean, and Oceanian countries, and helped more than 120 developing countries achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals. Since 1998, in order to support mine-clearance in over 40 affected countries and help their rebuilding efforts, China has provided RMB100 million in the forms of donations, materials, training sessions and on-the-spot guidance, and trained more than 1,000 demining specialists.

China actively participates in the consultations on the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It has implemented the agenda at home in all respects, and took the lead in publishing its national plan and progress report, delivering early results in a number of fields. China has assisted other developing countries to pursue the agenda within the south-south cooperation framework. By 2020, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Sub-Fund of the China-UN Peace and Development Trust Fund had launched 34 projects covering the economy, society and the environment in support of the agenda. The South-South Cooperation Assistance Fund launched by China in 2015 has carried out over 100 development cooperation projects concerning disaster relief, health, women and children, refugees and environmental protection in more than 50 countries in Asia, Africa, America and other continents.

2. Engaging in International Human Rights Undertakings

China has signed 26 international human rights instruments, including six core UN conventions. It fulfills its obligations prescribed in these human rights conventions, ensures that the formulation, legislation, and any amendments of its laws and policies are consistent with these conventions, and submits periodic reports to give feedback on the progress made and any difficulties and problems encountered in implementing them. China attends the reviews from the treaty bodies on its implementation. China has conducted constructive dialogue with the relevant treaty bodies and adopted their suggestions in accordance with the actual conditions in China. It has also undertaken three cycles of United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Universal Periodic Review since 2009, with its reports being adopted, and it has given due attention and responsible feedback to all suggestions from other countries. Most countries have affirmed China’s achievements in this regard and its contribution to international human rights.

Since China recovered its legitimate seat in the UN in 1971, it has played an active role in international human rights issues. In 1982, China became an official member state of the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) and has maintained this position ever since. Since the UNHRC was established in 2006, it has been elected a council member five times, and about 20 Chinese experts served on the UN’s multilateral human rights organizations and special commissions.

China maintains constructive contacts with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), receiving eight visits by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to China, and inviting many of the OHCHR officials to visit China. By April 2021, China has invited 11 visits by nine UN representatives and groups:

• the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief,

• the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention,

• the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education,

• the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,

• the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food,

• the UN Working Group on discrimination against women and girls,

• the UN Independent Expert on foreign debt,

• the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, and

• the UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons.

China handles letters from the Special Procedures of the UNHRC with due attention, carrying out any necessary investigations and giving timely replies.

China is a contributor to international human rights standards:

• It has attended the meetings of the drafting groups of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, and the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, along with other important documents on human rights protection.

• As one of the major initiators, it took part in the drafting of the Declaration on the Right to Development.

• It urged other Asian countries to adopt the Bangkok Declaration on human rights in 1993, and participated in drafting the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action at the Second World Conference on Human Rights.

• It actively participates in the formulation of international rules on labor protection, humanitarianism and social responsibility.

• As one of the first signatories to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, it participated in and effectively promoted the whole multilateral process of climate change issues, and made a positive contribution to the adoption of the Paris Agreement.

China supports the reform of international human rights organizations in a fair, rational and inclusive direction. In establishing the UNHRC, China advocated membership based on equitable geographical distribution, so as to increase the representation of developing countries. It proposes to reverse the present practice of politicizing human rights issues, do away with double standards, refrain from confrontation or minimize its impact, facilitate cooperation, and encourage the UNHRC to review human rights issues in a just, objective, non-selective and universal manner. China supports the UNHRC in establishing specialized mechanisms for securing safe drinking water, protecting cultural rights, and defending the rights of persons with disabilities. It advocates for special conferences on food security and global financial mechanisms, and promotes the international mechanisms for protecting human rights. China stands by the necessary reform of the human rights treaty bodies, seeing that they perform their duties within their mandate and engage in dialogue and cooperation with signatory states on the basis of mutual respect.

Since 1990, China has held dialogues and discussions on human rights with Western countries and international organizations such as the US, Australia, Canada, the UK, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, New Zealand and the EU, and held consultations with developing countries and international organizations including Russia, Egypt, South Africa, Brazil, Malaysia, Pakistan, Belarus, Cuba, and the African Union. The China Society for Human Rights Studies, China Foundation for Human Rights Development and other human rights NGOs in China have taken an active part in the UNHRC conferences and activities, organized teams to visit dozens of countries in Asia, North America, South America, Europe, Oceania and Africa. They have also invited government officials, experts and academics on human rights from various countries to visit China to enhance mutual understanding and trust. Through a series of international mechanisms like the Beijing Forum on Human Rights, the South-South Human Rights Forum, the China-Europe Seminar on Human Rights, and the Sino-American Dialogue on the Rule of Law and Human Rights, China has expanded its exchanges and cooperation with other countries on human rights, leading to greater mutual understanding in this respect.

3. Building a Global Community of Shared Future

Belt and Road cooperation is a major platform for building a global community of shared future. Upholding the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, and pursuing open, green and clean cooperation, the Belt and Road Initiative promotes policy, infrastructure, trade, financial and people-to-people connectivity and targets high-standard, sustainable and people-centered goals. It is an initiative for common development and also for protecting human rights. According to a World Bank study[ The World Bank, Belt and Road Economics: Opportunities and Risks of Transport Corridors, 2019.], the initiative could help lift 7.6 million people out of extreme poverty and 32 million people out of moderate poverty. It could boost trade by 2.8 to 9.7 percent for the corridor economies, and by 1.7 to 6.2 percent for the world. Global real income could increase by 0.7 to 2.9 percent. In addition to a path towards peace, prosperity, opening up, innovation, and cultural exchanges, the Belt and Road is also a route to common development and full human rights for the whole of humanity.

China is also striving to create a just and rational global environmental governance system driven by cooperation and mutual benefit, and eventually to build a community of harmony between humanity and nature. China has established the China-EU High-Level Environment and Climate Dialogue, and continued south-south cooperation on climate change. It inaugurated the China-Africa Environmental Cooperation Center, and promoted the adoption of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. Taking eco-environmental cooperation as a major element of Belt and Road cooperation, it has launched a series of green action initiatives, and adopted such measures as green infrastructure construction, green energy, green transport and green finance, so as to deliver solid benefits to all peoples of the countries participating in the Belt and Road. China has announced that it will try to make its carbon dioxide emissions peak before 2030 and will strive to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. This strategic policy decision is based on its commitment to help build a global community of shared future and its internal need for sustainable development.

China has engaged itself actively in building a global community of health for all. By building hospitals, offering medicine and medical equipment, dispatching medical teams, training local healthcare workers, and carrying out exchanges and cooperation on disease prevention and control, it has helped recipient developing countries further improve their medical and healthcare provision, raise the standards of their disease prevention and control, and strengthen their capabilities in public health. By April 2021, it had dispatched 27,000 medical workers on aid missions abroad, who have treated 280 million patients.

China has been carrying out exchanges and cooperation with the international community since the onset of the Covid-19 epidemic. It has done all it can to provide assistance and support to international organizations and other countries, contributing ingenuity and strength to the global battle against the coronavirus. President Xi Jinping acted in person to promote international cooperation, calling for solidarity from all countries in the battle, and joint efforts in building a global community of health for all. By April 2021, China had donated USD50 million in cash to the World Health Organization (WHO), and sent 37 medical expert teams to 34 countries. It has already provided or is offering assistance to 151 countries and 14 international organizations, and has contributed to the UN Covid-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan. All these efforts support international epidemic prevention and control. At the same time, China has strengthened communication and exchanges with the WHO, conducted exchanges and cooperation with other countries on research in virus traceability, medicines, vaccines, and testing, shared scientific research data and information, and jointly studied prevention, control and treatment strategies.

VII. Adding Diversity to the Concept of Human Rights

For China, there are no ready models to copy in respecting, protecting and developing human rights. China must proceed from its prevailing realities and go its own way. Applying the principle of universality of human rights to China’s national conditions, the CPC has opened a new path of human rights protection, and added diversity to the concept of human rights with its own practices.

– Upholding CPC leadership and the socialist system in promoting human rights. We would not have socialism in China without the leadership of the CPC, nor could we protect the fundamental interests of the people without socialism as the basic system. The people as the masters of the country is the basic political principle of the CPC on human rights, realized by democracy, freedom, equality and other rights, which are also important core socialist values. By developing and protecting human rights, the CPC can strengthen its leadership and better develop socialism for long-term peace, stability, and prosperity.

– Promoting human rights through development. Development is the key to solving all China’s problems; it drives human rights progress in the country. Based on its prevailing realities, the CPC considers the rights to subsistence and development to be the primary rights; this is the secret of China’s progress in human rights. The right to subsistence comes before any other right, and the right to development is closely connected to the right to subsistence. The CPC believes that putting subsistence and development first and subsequently developing other rights is the only way to meet the people’s expectation that their rights will be protected.

– Taking a people-centered approach to human rights. The CPC comes from the people and has its roots in the people. It serves the people and seeks to improve their wellbeing. Putting people first and ensuring their principal status have always been the core of the CPC’s view on human rights. In his letter to the seminar on the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, President Xi Jinping proposed that living a happy life is the primary human right, giving new meaning to China’s progress in human rights in the new era. His thought on human rights highlights the position of the people and the essentials of human rights development in China. There is no end to human rights development and human rights protection is an ongoing cause. Human rights in China should be judged only by the Chinese people, and gauged by their sense of gain, happiness and security.

– Aiming for people’s well-rounded development. Well-rounded development is a goal of the people in their pursuit of a strong, modern socialist country under the CPC leadership, and the ultimate goal of the cause of human rights in China. According to classical Marxist writers, the free development of each individual is the precondition for the free development of all people. Well-rounded development means all-round development for all people, including development of character, ability, knowledge, and rights. The CPC’s drive to advance human rights in the context of building Chinese socialism is designed to lay down the foundations for the free and well-rounded development of the people. The Party attaches equal attention to collective rights and individual rights; to the primary position of the rights to subsistence and development and to the coordinated development of civil rights, political rights, and economic, social and cultural rights; to the coordination of the economy, society, resources, and environmental protection, and to sustainable development for people’s wellbeing now and in future.

– Building a global community of shared future. Confronted by a scale of change unseen in a century, President Xi Jinping has proposed to build a global community of shared future that puts people first and prioritize people’s development. In response to the global call for peace, development, cooperation, and common progress, the proposal emphasizes inclusiveness, cooperation, openness, and sharing of benefits. It is intended to build an open, inclusive, clean, and beautiful world that enjoys lasting peace, universal security, and common prosperity. It is in line with humanity’s aspiration for progress and contributes to the global advancement of human rights. The concept has been included in UN documents and has become an influential concept with a significant impact on today’s world.

Conclusion

From a small boat on the Nanhu Lake by southeastern China’s Jiaxing City, to a giant flagship leading China’s national rejuvenation, the CPC has a glorious century. Unruffled by constant change, it has remained committed to building a bright future for the Chinese nation. From revolution, economic development and reform into the new era, it has never forgotten its original aspiration and founding mission. It has achieved numerous successes throughout the land in the process of bringing happiness to the Chinese people and national rejuvenation to the Chinese nation. Its pursuit of world peace and progress, and a global community of shared future, opens a new chapter for human civilization.

The founding of a new China could not have happened without the CPC, nor could the progress that has been made in human rights protection. CPC leadership is the most fundamental guarantee that underpins every progress in and better protection of human rights in China.

Under the leadership of the CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping at the core, China has won the battle against poverty, and achieved major strategic results in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects. The First Centenary Goal has been completed on schedule, and the CPC has fulfilled this historic commitment to the people. Now it is leading them towards the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation and the Second Centenary Goal – to build China into a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful by the middle of the century, soon after the centenary of the PRC (2049).

At that centenary, all rights of the Chinese people will be safeguarded at a higher level, and they will have a better sense of dignity, freedom and happiness. At that time, China will make a greater contribution to the protection of human rights, enabling the world to develop better and become more prosperous.





Progress in the Judicial Protection of Human Rights in China-2016

The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China on Monday issued a white paper on new progress in the judicial protection of human rights in China.

 DATE: 2016-09-12

Full text of the document.

New Progress in the Judicial Protection of Human Rights in China

The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China

September  2016

Contents

Foreword

I. Strengthen the Mechanism of Judicial Protection of Human Rights

II. Further Improve the Legal Guarantee Procedure of Human Rights

III. Enhance Judicial Protection of Human Rights

IV. Safeguard the Legitimate Rights and Interests of Detainees

Foreword

Respecting and protecting human rights is a constitutional principle in China. It also reflects the will and pursuit of the Communist Party of China (CPC), the Chinese government and the Chinese people. The judiciary is the last line of defense to safeguard social fairness and justice, and judicial protection of human rights is an important part of human rights progress in a country. In recent years, especially since the 18th National Congress of the CPC, China has upheld the dominant position of the people, taking a people-first approach and ensuring that the people are the masters of the nation. The state strives to ensure the rights of the people, fully protects their interests, and promotes legislature based on rational analysis, strict law enforcement, judicial justice, and observance of the law by all citizens. Progress has been made in modernizing the system and capacity of state governance. China has effectively protected the people’s rights and freedoms in an extensive array of fields in accordance with the law, while its people duly fulfill their obligations.

As China enhances the rule of law in all respects, new progress has been made in human rights protection in the field of justice. The reform of the judiciary has been driven to a deeper level, with improvements in the allocation of judicial powers and responsibilities, judicial accountability and opening-up, and the protection of lawyers’ right to practice their profession. Channels of public participation in justice have been expanded, and the judicial protection of human rights has been improved. China has implemented a case-filing register system, revamped and improved its litigation system, and strictly enforced principles of legality, in dubio pro reo, exclusion of unlawful evidence. The state is resolute in preventing and correcting miscarriages of justice, and the procedures for protecting human rights in judicial practice have been raised to higher standards. The judiciary exercises its power independently and impartially in accordance with the law, leading to strengthened public credibility. Further efforts have been made in terms of state compensation and legal aid. Judicial fairness and justice is safeguarded, and citizens’ rights are effectively protected. Crime suspects, defendants and criminals are treated in a more civilized manner, punishments are meted out in a more standardized way, and the personal dignity, safety, and legal property of detainees are all well protected, as are their rights of appeal, accusation, and impeachment.

There is no end to mankind’s pursuit of progress. There is still much room for improvement for the rule of law in China. Strengthening judicial protection of human rights will continue to be a major task in implementing the rule of law. China will proceed from its prevailing reality, learn from the achievements of other countries regarding the rule of law, enhance judicial protection of human rights, safeguard social fairness and justice, and implement the rule of law in all respects.

I. Strengthen the Mechanism of Judicial Protection of Human Rights

China is striving to drive reform of the judiciary to a deeper level, allocate judicial powers and responsibilities in a more rational way, improve the judicial accountability system, promote judicial transparency, establish a national judicial assistance system, and ensure the right of lawyers to practice their profession and the rights of citizens to act as assessors and overseers.

Further improve the allocation of judicial powers and responsibilities, and ensure the independent and impartial exercise of the judicial and procuratorial power. Major plans for deeper reform of the judiciary were made at the 18th National Congress of the CPC and the third and fourth plenary sessions of the 18th Central Committee of the CPC. In 2014-2015, the Central Leading Group for Deepening Overall Reform held 19 meetings, 13 of which involved reform of the judiciary. The Group examined and approved 27 judiciary reform documents in total. Public security organs have improved the mechanism of law enforcement, changed the case-filing review system to case-filing register system, and strengthened examination and supervision of case admitting work. The Supreme People’s Procuratorate has issued the “Opinions on Deepening Procuratorial Reform (Work Plan for 2013-2017),” and the Supreme People’s Court has released the “Opinions on Deepening the Reform of People’s Courts in All Respects – the Fourth Five-Year Reform Plan of the People’s Courts (2014-2018).” Since 2014, pilot programs have been promoted nationwide to improve performance in the following areas: judicial accountability, category-based management of judicial personnel, job security for the judicial profession, and unified management of the personnel, finance and property of people’s courts and procuratorates below the provincial level. The reform of trial-centered litigation is making headway.

In 2014, people’s courts and people’s procuratorates transcending administrative boundaries were established in Beijing and Shanghai, to handle major cross-regional criminal, civil and administrative cases. This was to address certain parties’ concerns over the authority of the jurisdiction in charge of their cases, and to promote the unified and correct application of laws. In 2015, the Supreme People’s Court set up its first and second circuit courts in Shenzhen and Shenyang for major cross-regional administrative, civil and commercial cases. In 2015 the circuit courts handled 1,774 cases and concluded 1,653 of them, concluding all cases within the time limit.

Improve the judicial accountability system, and enhance the central role of judges and prosecutors in case handling. We will improve the accountability systems of presiding judges, collegial benches, and prosecutors for the cases they handle. The powers and responsibilities of judges and prosecutors have been made clear, and they have lifelong accountability for the cases they adjudicate. A strict accountability system for misjudgments has been implemented. Thus a judiciary operation mechanism with clear distinction between and unification of powers and responsibilities, and well management has taken shape. The judiciary has reformed the signing of written judgments, with a clear provision that other than in cases decided by a judicial committee, the presidents, vice presidents and divisional chief judges will not review and sign the written judgments of cases they did not participate in. It has been made clear that presidents and divisional chief judges of people’s courts are not allowed to air judgmental opinions on cases they did not hear, or negate the opinion of trial judges and collegial benches, unless they attended deliberations, on such cases at the judicial committees or meetings of judges with specialized knowledge.

Reform has been carried out in judicial committees. The deliberation sessions of judicial committees are recorded with audio-visual devices from beginning to end, and all committee members who have participated in the discussion and cast their votes must sign their names in the meeting minutes. A performance appraisal and internal public evaluation system has also been established for judicial committees. In pilot courts of Shanghai, the rate of cases handled independently by trial judges and collegial benches reached 99.9 percent of all cases, with only 0.1 percent of cases submitted to judicial committees for discussion.

The Ministry of Public Security amended the Regulations on the Appraisal of Law Enforcement by Public Security Organs, and the Regulations on Law Enforcement Accountability of People’s Police of Public Security Organs, establishing a complete and effective appraisal system for monitoring the quality of law enforcement and for improving accountability in the investigation of misconduct during law enforcement. Forced confessions and illegal employment of police instruments or weapons are subject to strict investigation for their responsibility. The Chinese authorities issued the Regulations on the Recording, Notification, and Accountability Investigation of Leading Officials for Interventions in Judicial Activities and Handling of Specific Cases, and the Regulations on the Recording and Accountability Investigation of Staff Members of Judicial Organs for Their Intervention in Case Handling. People’s courts at all levels have set up special archives in their case information management systems for recording internal and external interest and intervention in case-handling, so as to record in a complete, strict, and timely fashion any intervention in judicial activities by leading officials and any interest in cases expressed by staff members. On November 6, 2015 and February 1, 2016, 12 such cases were made public, and those adjudged to have transgressed received punishments pursuant to the law.

Promote judicial transparency, and ensure the right to know and the right to supervise for concerned parties and the public. The Supreme People’s Court has established three platforms for releasing information on judicial process, written judgments, and the execution of judgments. By the end of 2015 China Judicial Process Information Online had had a total of 878,500 visits, China Judgments Online had released 14,480,000 copies of written judgments and garnered 410 million visits, and China Law Enforcement Information Online had publicized 34,347,000 information entries about persons subject to judgment execution, and offered information services to 36,850,000 visitors. In 2015, Chinacourt.org broadcasted 3,795 live trials online. The January 2016 online broadcast of the Qvod Player (Kuaibo) case attracted more than one million viewers. The case information disclosure system of the people’s procuratorates was officially launched in October 2014, and by 2015 it had released 2,540,000 pieces of information about the judicial process, 1,020,000 entries providing information on key cases, and 760,000 copies of effective legal documents.

Judicial organs have innovated the form of releasing judicial information, such as press conferences, websites, Weibo (microblog), WeChat, and news apps. In 2015, the Supreme People’s Court held 26 press conferences. The Supreme People’s Procuratorate held 14, and the Ministry of Public Security held 12. By 2015, people’s courts at all levels nationwide had opened 3,980 Weibo and 1,447 WeChat accounts, and created 1,468 news apps. People’s procuratorates at all levels nationwide had opened 4,085 Weibo and 3,186 WeChat accounts, and launched 2,550 news apps. Public security organs had opened 26,000 Weibo and WeChat accounts, and administrative organs of justice at all levels had opened a total of 8,000 Weibo and WeChat accounts and legal education apps and websites. The Supreme People’s Court launched a mobile TV app, releasing 2,862 videos by 2015, with 22,245 minutes of updated content and 651,800 users.

Ensure lawyers’ right of practice, so that lawyers are playing a bigger role in safeguarding the legitimate rights and interests of parties concerned. In 2015, the Supreme People’s Court, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of State Security, and the Ministry of Justice jointly issued the Regulations on Protecting Lawyers’ Right of Practice in Accordance with the Law, which further implements relevant legal provisions, makes clear various measures to protect lawyers’ right of practice, makes it more convenient for lawyers to participate in litigation, and improves the remedy and accountability mechanisms for ensuring lawyers’ right to practice. Within the scope of their functions and duties and as prescribed by the law, judicial organs have protected lawyers’ rights to know, their rights of application and appeal, and the rights to meet their clients, to read case files, to collect evidence and ask questions, to cross-examine, and to debate in court. Judicial organs have ensured that lawyers are not deterred from defending and representing the parties concerned, whose legitimate rights are protected in accordance with the law.

Public security organs at all levels have accelerated the provision of lawyers’ meeting rooms, and opened online platform for lawyers to make appointments to visit their clients and made known to the public such appointment phone numbers, providing convenience to meetings between lawyers and their clients and ensuring their conversations are not monitored. Procuratorial organs have effectively fulfilled their role of supervision over the obstruction of lawyers’ right to practice.

In 2015, procuratorial organs at all levels resolved 1,093 cases involving infringement of lawyers’ procedural rights pursuant to the law. In December 2015, the Supreme People’s Court launched a lawyers service platform, collating 21,707 entries concerning law firms and 81,476 entries concerning lawyers. The platform offers convenient legal services to lawyers, including online case register, online access to case files, case information inquiry, electronic service of legal documents, and judges’ contact details.

By 2015, 1,734 courts had opened the “12368” litigation service hotline, providing self- or staff-service information for parties concerned and lawyers, and handled a total of 76,270 inquiry calls.

In January 2016, the Supreme People’s Court issued the Regulations on Effectively Protecting Lawyers’ Procedural Rights in Accordance with the Law, which further clarifies the protection of lawyers’ procedural rights and personal safety by people’s courts, and stipulates that courts should, if conditions allow, provide lounges with desks, chairs, drinking water and other necessities for lawyers participating in court trials. Some courts in Beijing and Sichuan have provided changing rooms and waiting rooms for lawyers, protecting their dignity in litigious activities.

Conduct pilot programs to reform the system of people’s assessors and supervisors, and ensure citizens’ right to act as assessors and supervisors. In April 2015, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) issued the Decision on Authorizing the Implementation of the Pilot Program to Reform the System of People’s Assessors in Certain Areas. In May 2015, the Supreme People’s Court and the Ministry of Justice jointly issued the Measures on Implementing the Pilot Program to Reform the System of People’s Assessors, rolling out reform at 50 courts in 10 provinces (autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the central government). By 2015, these courts had welcomed 7,800 new people’s assessors, four times the number of judges. In 2015, people’s assessors took part in the trial of 2,846,000 cases. At the Dongying Intermediate People’s Court of Shandong Province, people’s assessors participated in a major work-related crime for the first time when hearing the trial of Ni Fake for accepting bribery and obtaining significant revenues from unclear sources. In September 2014, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate and the Ministry of Justice jointly launched a pilot program to reform the system of people’s supervisors in Beijing and nine other provinces (autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the central government), supervising the handling of 1,505 cases according to the new reform requirements. Currently there are 15,000 people’s supervisors at all levels of procuratorial organs. In 2012-2015, people’s supervisors participated in 8,161 cases of work-related crimes, which are under the categories of “might be revoked” and “might not be prosecuted.” Of the 216 cases in which people’s supervisors gave opinions different from the preliminary decisions of procuratorial organs, 109 cases, or 50.5 percent, were ruled in favor of the people’s supervisors. People’s supervisors also presented 1,040 opinions regarding the nine situations within their supervisory scope.

Appropriately handle letters and visits involving lawsuits in accordance with the law, and improve the channels of rights relief. A working mechanism of handling letters and visits involving lawsuits has been established, which runs according to the principles that litigation and letters and visits are separated, that letters and visits are divided in an orderly manner, and that letters and visits are handled in accordance with the law. There has been greater standardization in the scope, procedure, and responsibilities involving letters and visits concerning lawsuits. More channels are now available for people to air their grievances, including letters, visits, telephone calls, the internet, and videos, and integrated online platforms have been introduced for this purpose, ensuring that the people have access to claim their rights in accordance with the law. Lawyers have been invited to participate in activities of receiving letters and visits, and act as agents to handle them, in a way that strengthens public faith in the letters and visits system.

The Supreme People’s Court opened an online platform for complaints and appeals in February 2014, and an online video system to receive complaints and appeals in May of that year, which handled a total of 8,200 cases by 2015. In 2015, visits to the Supreme People’s Court of those who were seeking legal justice to their own case dropped by 12 percent on a year-on-year basis. The Supreme People’s Procuratorate established an online video system to receive appeals, which connects procuratorial organs at all four levels. In 2015, procuratorial organs at all levels received and handled 1,148,000 letters and visits. In 2012-2015, the Ministry of Justice received 19,788 people, registered 6,537 visits, and received 73,843 letters, including 10,337 letters on matters relating to the administrative organs of justice.

Abolish the system of reeducation through labor, and strengthen social governance with the rule of law. For more than 50 years, the system of reeducation through labor played a positive role in China, appropriate to the historical circumstances, in protecting public security, maintaining social order, ensuring social stability, and educating and rehabilitating lawbreakers. But over time its functions were gradually replaced with the implementation of laws such as the Law on Penalties for Administration of Public Security and the Law on Narcotics Control, and also through improvements in the Criminal Law. Over the years, as the relevant laws became increasingly applicable in cases of reeducation through labor, the correction system played a lesser role. In December 2013, the Standing Committee of the NPC passed the Decision on Annulment of the Regulations on Reeducation Through Labor, putting an end to the system. It was also decided that persons who were receiving reeducation through labor as prescribed by law should be released and exempted from their remaining terms.

Establish a national judicial assistance system, and strengthen the protection of victims. In 2014, six state organs, including the Supreme People’s Court, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, and the Ministry of Public Security, jointly issued a document for establishing the national judicial assistance system. Under the framework, the state provides economic assistance to victims of crime who are unable to obtain financial compensation, to help them through difficulties. Judicial organs strictly perform their duty of notifying such victims of their right to apply for judicial assistance, and ensuring that eligible applicants receive timely relief. In 2015, 1.67 billion yuan went to 71,700 victims and their families. By the end of 2015, public security organs had given 140 million yuan in judicial assistance to 6,338 persons. From January 2014 to October 2015, procuratorial organs at all levels received 13,000 applications for judicial assistance, and granted 120 million yuan of relief. From 2013 to 2015, people’s courts at all levels allowed 625 million yuan in reduction or exemption of litigation fees for parties in economic difficulty.

II. Further Improve the Legal Guarantee Procedure of Human Rights

We have reformed the case admitting system by converting the case-filing review system into a case-filing register system. We have revised the Criminal Procedure Law, and implemented principles of legality, presumption of innocence, exclusion of unlawful evidence. We have revised the Civil Procedure Law to effectively settle disputes. We have also revised the Administrative Procedure Law to strengthen the protection of legitimate rights and interests of private parties in administrative lawsuits. We have enacted the first Anti-Domestic Violence Law to strengthen legal protection of the personal rights of victims of domestic violence.

People’s courts change the case-filing review system into a case-filing register system to better protect litigants’ right of appeal. On May 1, 2015, a case-filing register system came into operation. People’s courts should accept and register all cases of litigation, handle all those that meet the conditions of admissibility and prosecution, and ensure that all cases are entered and properly handled, and that litigious right is exercised without obstruction. From May to December in 2015, 9.94 million first trial cases were registered at courts across the country, a year-on-year increase of 29.54 percent; the on-the-spot case registration rate was 95 percent, among which civil cases increased by 26.45 percent, administrative cases 66.51 percent and criminal cases 58.66 percent. Difficulties in filing administrative lawsuits concerning housing demolition, land acquisition, and government information disclosure were significantly eased.

Put in place a system to exclude unlawful evidence and protect the legitimate rights and interests of criminal suspects. The Criminal Procedure Law revised in 2012 has specific provisions on respecting and protecting human rights, and their implementation has been guaranteed through improving the evidence system, compulsory measures, defense system, investigation methods, trial procedure, and enforcement procedures, and by adding special procedures. The Criminal Procedure Law stipulates that after detaining and arresting suspects, the law enforcement agencies should immediately commit detainees and arrestees to custody in detention houses and ensure the interrogations of suspects and defendants are audio- and video-recorded. In 2014, the Ministry of Public Security issued more explicit regulations concerning the scope of and interrogation recording requirements for cases subject to audio and video recording. The interrogation rooms of public security organs and detention houses are all equipped with audio and video recording facilities to prevent misconduct in law enforcement such as extorting confessions by torture and obtaining evidence through illegal means. The Supreme People’s Procuratorate issued the Provisions on Making Synchronous Audio and Video Recordings Throughout the Entire Process of Interrogation of Suspects in Work-Related Offences by People’s Procuratorates to further regulate investigation and interrogation activities and strengthen protection of the legitimate rights and interests of criminal suspects. The Criminal Procedure Law outlines the scope of unlawfully-obtained evidence and procedures for excluding such evidence. The judicial organs should exclude such unlawful evidence if they find any during the criminal investigation, examination and prosecution, or trial of a case. In 2015, the procuratorial organs at all levels demanded the withdrawal of 10,384 cases wrongly filed by investigation organs, and regulated 31,874 cases of illegal conduct involving abuse of compulsory measures and unlawfully obtaining evidence. In 2014, the procuratorate of Shunping County, Hebei Province resolutely excluded illegally-obtained evidence in reviewing a murder case and decided not to approve arrest, and demanded provision of more evidence. The real murderer was later caught by a public security organ.

Implement the principle of presumption of innocence to prevent and correct miscarriages of justice. In 2013, the Ministry of Public Security issued the Notice on Further Strengthening and Improving Law Enforcement to Prevent Miscarriages of Justice and some other documents to prevent cases of misjudgment and to strengthen comprehensive, complete and real-time scrutiny of law enforcement to prevent miscarriages of justice at source. The Ministry of Justice issued the Opinions on Maximizing the Functions of the Forensic Assessment System to Prevent Miscarriages of Justice to strengthen forensic assessment management and further regulate such activities. The Supreme People’s Procuratorate released Several Opinions on Effectively Performing Procuratorial Functions to Prevent and Correct Miscarriages of Justice, scrutinizing all activities concerning evidence, procedures and application of laws and to improve the system of discovery, correction, and prevention of cases of misjudgment, and to hold to account those responsible. In 2015, the procuratorial organs at all levels decided not to arrest 131,675 people and not to prosecute 25,778 in cases involving lack of evidence or actions that do not constitute a crime. In addition, they appealed against 6,591 judgments of criminal cases that they deemed wrong judgments. The Supreme People’s Court issued the Opinions on Establishing and Improving the Working Mechanisms for the Prevention of Miscarriages of Justice in Criminal Cases, stipulating that the defendants should be acquitted for lack of evidence and no one should be prosecuted without criminal evidence. From 2012 to 2015, people’s courts at all levels acquitted 3,369 defendants. A number of wrongful convictions were overturned in accordance with the law.

These included the following cases:

. rape and murder by Zhang Hui and Zhang Gaoping, nephew and uncle

. poisoning by Nian Bin

. rape and murder by Hugjiltu

. rape and murder by Xu Hui

. murder by Huang Jiaguang

. rape and murder by Wang Benyu

. murder by Yu Yingsheng

. murder and arson by Chen Man

. poisoning by Qian Renfeng

. murder by Xu Jinlong

. murder by Yang Ming

Carry out the pilot program of fast-track sentencing procedure for criminal cases to ensure defendants get speedy trials. In June, 2014, the Decision on Authorizing the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate to Launch the Pilot Program of Fast-Track Sentencing Procedure for Criminal Cases in Certain Areas was issued by the Standing Committee of the NPC. In August, 2014, the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate were authorized to launch a pilot program of fast-track sentencing for criminal cases in 18 cities including Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Chongqing. It concerns cases involving dangerous driving, traffic offenses, theft, fraud, forcible seizure, personal injury, picking quarrels and making trouble, or any other violation where the circumstances are minor and the accused may be sentenced to imprisonment of not more than one year, criminal detention, control, or a fine. If the facts are clear, the evidence is sufficient, the defendant voluntarily confesses to the crime, and the parties do not dispute the application of law, the relevant procedure shall be simplified, provided that it is in conformity with the basic principles of the Criminal Procedure Law, and the litigation rights of the parties concerned are fully protected.
By 2015, 31,086 criminal cases suitable for the fast-track sentencing procedure were concluded in 212 pilot courts at the primary level nationwide, 33.13 percent of all cases involving imprisonment of not more than one year in the same period in pilot courts at the primary level, representing 15.48 percent of all criminal cases in all courts nationwide. 92.77 percent of these were concluded within 10 days, and the pronouncement rate in court was 95.94 percent; the appeal rate of the plaintiffs with incidental civil action was zero and that of defendants was only 2.13 percent.

Regulate compulsory measures and reduce application of compulsory custodial measures. The Criminal Procedure Law further improved compulsory custodial measures, refined conditions for arrest, defined the social risk criteria of offences and reduced the application of compulsory custodial measures to standardize the application of criminal coercive measures and better protect citizens’ rights of personal freedom. In 2014, the Supreme People’s Court, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, and the Ministry of Public Security jointly issued documents to specify who should be notified when there are any changes in the place or time of custody, procedure of custody change, notification procedure and form of delivery, etc. as another attempt to prevent and correct extended custody. The procuratorial organs strictly abide by arrest conditions and procedures prescribed by law, with a view to being prudent when making arrest decisions and reducing the numbers of arrests. In 2015, the procuratorial organs at all levels decided not to arrest 90,086 people suspected of crimes but posing no social danger, and decided not to prosecute 50,787 people accused of minor offenses but not subject to punishment according to law. A review system on the need for custody has been established. After the arrest of criminal suspects and defendants, the people’s procuratorate still conducts a review on the necessity of keeping them in custody. If this is not necessary, it would suggest the relevant judicial organs release them or modify the compulsory measures. In 2015, procuratorate organs nationwide advised the release of 29,211 criminal suspects who needed no continued custody or whose compulsory measures be changed.

Improve procedures for juvenile criminal cases to help underage offenders better reintegrate into the society. The Criminal Procedure Law amended in 2012 added a chapter of procedures for juvenile criminal cases in the special procedures section, specifying the principle of “education, persuasion and rehabilitation” for juvenile offenders, sticking to the principle of applying primarily educational measures, and taking punitive sanctions as ancillary means. Judicial organs assign officials who have a good knowledge of the physical and psychological characteristics of minors to handle juvenile cases. The Ministry of Public Security revised the Provisions on the Procedures for Handling Criminal Cases by Public Security Organs, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate amended the Rules for the People’s Procuratorate’s Handling of Criminal Cases Involving Minors, and the Supreme People’s Court released a judicial interpretation applicable to the Criminal Procedure Law, further detailing the special protection measures for juvenile offenders. Public security organs at all levels set up special agencies or designated full-time staff to deal with juvenile delinquency in line with special requirements. In 2015 the Supreme People’s Procuratorate set up the Procuratorial Office for Juvenile Delinquency. By March, 2016, 12 procuratorates at provincial level, 123 at city level and 893 at primary level had established special independent procuratorial agencies for juvenile delinquency. People’s courts are pressing ahead with the building of juvenile courts. By 2015, there were 2,253 juvenile courts and over 7,200 judges of juvenile court nationwide.

The public security organs, people’s procuratorates and people’s courts strictly implement requirements such as reviewing age, designating lawyers for defendants, and prudently applying custody measures in handling juvenile criminal cases, and notifying legal representatives and appropriate adults to be present. The judicial organs may take into consideration the family and school background, cause of crime, guardianship and education of a juvenile offender and use these as references when handling a case. Trials of cases in which the offenders are under the age of 18 will not be open to the public. If the offender is under 18 at the time of the crime and sentenced to less than five years of imprisonment, the records of the crime will be sealed. Efforts are made to educate and transform juvenile delinquents and minors involved in misbehavior. Since 2002, the juvenile relapse rate has been brought below 2 percent, and juvenile delinquency cases have decreased gradually to a ratio of 3.56 percent of all crimes in 2015.

Improve civil procedure system to strengthen protection of social and public interests. The Civil Procedure Law revised in 2012 set up a public interest litigation system. For conduct which damages public interests such as environmental pollution, or infringement of consumers’ legitimate rights and interests, the relevant units and organizations prescribed by law may bring a lawsuit to the people’s court. In 2015, the Supreme People’s Court released a judicial interpretation to specify the prosecutor, court of jurisdiction, and trial procedure in environmental civil public interest litigation. In 2015, with the authorization of the Standing Committee of the NPC, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate launched a pilot program for public interest litigation in the fields of ecological and resource protection, state assets protection, assignment of land use right of state-owned land, food and drug safety, etc. The pilot procuratorates launched pre-trial procedure in 325 cases, gave suggestions and urged relevant administrative organs to take action or correct 224 violations and some social organizations to institute six public interest litigations. In cases of non-performance of duties, or in absence of social organizations taking any action, while public interests are being continually damaged, the procuratorial organs may institute public interest litigations. In 2015, there were 12 such cases.

Formulate and implement Anti-Domestic Violence Law to strengthen legal protection of the personal right of victims. The revised Civil Procedure Law stipulates provisions for behavior regulation and defines the legal basis for rulings on personal protection. In December 2015, the Standing Committee of the NPC adopted the Anti-Domestic Violence Law, which stipulates that the offender should be given a written admonition, or subject to public security punishment or criminal sanctions based on the seriousness of the case. A personal safety protection writ system was set up for the first time to effectively protect the legitimate rights and interests of victims of domestic violence, particularly minors, the elderly, the disabled, and pregnant and lactating women. The Supreme People’s Court, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Justice jointly released the Opinions on Handling Domestic Violence Cases in Accordance with Law to strengthen timely judicial intervention in cases of domestic violence. From 2014 to 2015, the Supreme People’s Court released 15 typical cases involving domestic violence, providing judicial guidance to further protect the legitimate rights and interests of women, minors, and the elderly. The people’s court of Yuexiu District, Guangzhou City accepted an application for personal safety protection from a woman named Lin, and issued a Personal Safety Protection Writ, forbidding respondent Xu, her husband, from inflicting violence on her and her family, and from interfering with the normal life of her and her family by harassing or tracking, and prohibiting his presence within 200 meters of her residence to effectively protect the personal safety of the applicant.

Reform the administrative litigation system to protect the legitimate rights and interests of private parties to administrative lawsuits. The revised Administrative Procedure Law in 2014 aimed to resolve difficulties in filing, adjudication, and execution of court rulings. It specifies that administrative agencies are not allowed to interfere with or impede the admission of administrative cases by the people’s courts. In handling administrative cases, the people’s courts can review regulatory documents formulated by ministries under the State Council, local people’s governments and their departments, and if they find them unlawful, such documents cannot be used as references of legality in administrative cases and people’s courts should offer suggestions to the enactment bodies. It also stipulates that if the reconsideration organ’s decision sustains the original administrative action, the administrative organ taking the original administrative action and the reconsideration organ shall be co-defendants. The individual in charge of an administrative organ against which a complaint is filed shall appear in court to respond to the complaint. Measures should be improved to motivate administrative organs to implement effective judgments, and if they refuse to implement such judgments, convictions or mediation papers, people’s courts may impose fines on or arrest leading members of administrative organs, persons in direct charge and others held accountable.

III. Enhance Judicial Protection of Human Rights

China punishes crimes by law, tries civil and administrative cases fairly, and strengthens the execution of effective judgments. It endeavors to improve institutions of community correction, state compensation and legal aid, and diligently safeguard citizens’ right of life, property right, right of livelihood and other legitimate rights and interests.

Handle all kinds of criminal cases by law to protect people’s right of life and property right. The state focuses on punishing violent terrorist crimes, serious crimes of violence, gangland crimes, crimes involving guns and explosives, crimes endangering food and medicine safety, crimes related to drug production and trafficking, and some other crimes. Public security organs have launched a series of special actions to fight against violent terrorist activities, combat organized criminal gangs, crack down on illegal gathering and trading of citizens’ information, and combat telecommunication fraud and the use of pseudo base stations.

Together with the Ministry of Public Security and the China Food and Drug Administration, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate has formulated working methods connecting administrative law enforcement on food and medicine crimes with criminal justice. In 2015, procuratorial organs at all levels recommended to food and drug regulatory authorities to bring 1,646 suspected criminal cases to lawsuit, and supervised and urged public security organs to file 877 cases. The mechanism enabling procuratorial organs to synchronously engage in investigating and handling industrial accidents has been improved. In 2015 procuratorial organs prosecuted 2,199 people for being liable for serious accidents, and investigated and dealt with 823 involved in these accidents for work-related crimes. After the Tianjin Port fire and explosion incident on August 12, 2015, procuratorial organs quickly launched an investigation, and then placed on file 25 cases of criminals suspected of dereliction of duty, abuse of power, and bribery. From 2012 to 2015, courts at all levels concluded 4,062,600 criminal cases of first instance. Related courts tried, according to the law, the case of the Kunming terrorist attack on March 1, 2014, that of Beijing terrorist attack on October 28, 2013, and other cases of violent terrorist crimes. Courts concluded 2,070 cases of gangland crimes, 1,050,500 cases of murder, robbery, kidnapping, rape and other crimes, and 417,300 cases of drug-related crimes.

Punish by law crimes of corruption and work-related crimes to create a favorable political and legal environment for the protection of human rights. In 2015, procuratorial organs at all levels placed on file and investigated 40,834 cases of work-related crimes involving 54,249 people. Specifically, they investigated and dealt with 4,490 cases of embezzlement, bribery, and defalcation of more than one million yuan each, a year-on-year increase of 22.5 percent; 13,210 people for taking bribes and 8,217 for offering bribes; 13,040 civil servants for dereliction and malfeasance; and 20,538 people for work related crimes in land requisition and demolition, social security, education, health care, the Three Rural (agriculture, rural areas and farmers) issues and other livelihood fields concerning immediate interests of the people. From 2012 to 2015, courts at all levels concluded 94,900 cases of corruption and bribery and sentenced 100,200 criminals; concluded 10,300 cases of offering bribes and sentenced 9,219 criminals; and concluded 21,300 cases of dereliction of duty, and sentenced 23,500 criminals. Among the defendants, 381 were formerly at/above the department or bureau level, and 2,269 were at/above the county or division level. Zhou Yongkang was sentenced to life imprisonment and deprived of political rights for life, and his personal assets were confiscated. Bo Xilai was sentenced to life imprisonment and deprived of political rights for life, and his personal assets were confiscated.

Advance special actions against human trafficking, and make important progress in combating trafficking in women and children. China has made unremitting efforts to prevent and crack down on the abduction and trafficking of women and children. It has worked to implement China’s National Plan of Action on Combating Trafficking in Women and Children (2013-2020) and to rescue abducted victims. Amendment (IX) to the Criminal Law increases penalties for whoever buys an abducted woman or child. Public security organs have launched special actions against human trafficking, and improved their working mechanisms. The principal leader or a leader in direct charge of a public security organ at the county (city or district) level should take charge of a special group for the examination of child trafficking cases, and take responsibility throughout the whole process. A mechanism for quickly searching for missing children has been put in place around the country, under which police resources are fully mobilized to quickly find missing children. A uniform operation of thorough search and investigation for children of unknown origin has been carried out nationwide, in which DNA information of children suspected of being the victims of abduction is collected and recorded into a national DNA database for comparison. As of 2015, the national DNA database against trafficking had helped more than 4,100 abducted children find their birth parents. The Anti-Trafficking Office of the Ministry of Public Security opened a Weibo to popularize information on anti-trafficking, promote public awareness in preventing and combating trafficking, and encourage people to support and participate in anti-trafficking work. Through these efforts, crimes of trafficking in women and children have been effectively curbed, and the number of such cases has decreased year by year since 2013. The number of cases of trafficking in women and children that courts at all levels concluded in 2015 fell by 55.55 percent compared to 2010.

Bring to justice criminals who infringe the rights of minors, and strengthen the protection of minors’ rights. In 2013, the Supreme People’s Court, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Justice jointly issued the Opinions on Legally Punishing the Crime of Sexual Assault Against Minors, highlighting protection of minor victims’ rights and severe punishment of criminals engaging in sexual assault against minors. In October 2014, the Supreme People’s Court, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Civil Affairs issued the Opinions on Several Issues Concerning Law-based Handling of the Infringement of the Rights and Interests of Minors by Their Guardians, deciding that guardianship of parents or other guardians who sexually assault, treat with violence, abuse and abandon minors will be revoked according to law. Amendment (IX) to the Criminal Law abolishes the crime of sex with a girl under the age of 14, and stipulates that whoever has sexual relations with a girl under the age of 14, as applicable to the Criminal Law, shall be deemed to have committed rape and shall be given a heavier punishment. It also stipulates that anyone who maltreats a minor or an elderly person whom they are responsible for guarding and nursing, if the case is serious, shall be sentenced to imprisonment or criminal detention of not more than three years. From 2013 to 2015, people’s courts at all levels concluded 7,610 cases involving child molestation, and sentenced 6,620 criminals; and concluded 224 criminal cases of maltreatment. In 2015, the People’s Court of Tongshan District, Xuzhou City, Jiangsu Province concluded the first case of revoking the guardianship of a minor’s parents. Public security organs have strengthened police on campus and in surrounding areas, and effectively maintained campus safety. Around the country, 170,000 police offices and security sentry boxes have been set up in surrounding areas of schools, and 260,000 posts for protecting students have been set up, representing a daily patrol force of 300,000. Schools have employed 700,000 security guards and provided them with 1.2 million items of protective equipment, and installed 680,000 sets of equipment for technical defense.

Strictly control the death penalty and employ it with prudence to ensure that it applies only to a very small number of extremely serious criminal offenders. Following the Amendment (VIII) to the Criminal Law in 2011 which abolishes the death penalty for 13 economy-related, non-violent offenses, Amendment (IX) to the Criminal Law, adopted in 2015, again reduces the number of crimes for capital punishment, abolishing the death penalty for nine areas of crime: smuggling arms and ammunitions, smuggling nuclear materials, smuggling counterfeit currency notes, counterfeiting currency, illegally raising funds, organizing others for prostitution, forcing others into prostitution, obstructing commanders or personnel in the performance of their military duties, and creating rumors and misleading the people during time of war. Amendment (IX) to the Criminal Law also extends the possibility of reprieve in cases of capital sentence. In death penalty cases, the defendant’s right to defense and other legitimate rights and interests are fully protected, as hearings are held for all death penalty cases of second instance. When the Supreme People’s Court reviews a death penalty case, it focuses on interrogating the defendant in accordance with the law, and listening to opinions of the defense counsel.

Try civil and commercial cases by law to effectively protect people’s right of livelihood. From 2012 to 2015, courts at all levels concluded 32,302,400 civil and commercial cases. Among these, 90,100 involved rural contract disputes, 10,000 involved homestead disputes, and 6,611,600 cases involved marriage and family, upbringing and inheritance. The courts properly handled cases relating to personal injury, employment, education, health care, housing, and other areas closely related to people’s daily and working life, protecting people’s livelihood according to the law. From 2012 to 2015, people’s courts at all levels concluded a total of 2,334,300 such cases.

Hear cases involving the environment or resource use to protect citizens’ environmental rights. In June 2014, the Supreme People’s Court established a tribunal for lawsuits involving the environment and resource use. As of 2015, courts of 24 provinces (autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the central government) had established 456 tribunals, collegial benches and circuit courts for environment cases. From 2012 to 2015, courts at all levels concluded a total of 495,500 such cases. From 2013 to 2015, the Supreme People’s Court notified the public of 33 typical environment cases on four occasions, trying to ensure environment and resource laws are properly applied in a comprehensive, correct, and consistent way, and to promote environmental protection on the basis of the law.

Hear administrative cases to safeguard legitimate rights and interests of private parties. From 2012 to 2015, courts at all levels concluded 579,000 administrative cases of various types. The courts properly heard administrative proceedings involving house demolitions of high social concern, protecting the legitimate rights and interests of displaced people in accordance with the law. They concluded 32,800 administrative cases involving house demolitions. The system whereby the individual in charge of an administrative agency appears and defends the organ in court in accordance with the law has been improved. In 2014 and 2015, among Jiangsu administrative agencies involved in administrative proceedings, more than 90 percent of those in charge appeared in court. Three consecutive magistrates of Hai’an County People’s Government personally appeared in court. For six years, all heads of various administrative organs of this county, when involved in administrative proceedings, appeared in court. Coordination of administrative cases and enforcement of non-litigation administrative cases have been strengthened, helping resolve administrative disputes. Timely feedback on prominent law enforcement problems found in court trials has been provided to administrative agencies to promote law-based administration. From 2014 to 2015, the Supreme People’s Court made known to the public ten cases concerning land acquisition, house demolition and relocation, ten information disclosure cases, ten cases concerning environmental protection, ten cases concerning administrative nonfeasance, and ten administrative cases concerning commercial interests. In so doing, it has regulated administrative law enforcement, and provided uniform criteria for judgment.

Safeguard legitimate rights and interests of applicants in state compensation cases. In 2015, the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate jointly issued the Interpretation on Several Issues Concerning the Application of Law in the Handling of Criminal Cases Regarding Compensation, elaborating on the circumstances under which investigation of criminal liabilities is terminated. The document has helped solve problems for citizens who cannot apply for state compensation due to protracted criminal cases, and played an important role in urging case handling organs to exercise functions according to the law and in protecting the right to state compensation. From 2012 to 2015, courts at all levels concluded a total of 12,300 cases on state compensation. On January 7, 2016, the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate brought the public’s attention to eight typical criminal cases on state compensation.

Reinforce enforcement of effective judgment to protect legitimate rights and interests of relevant parties. The Supreme People’s Court revised Several Provisions on Restricting Extravagant Spending of the Persons Subject to Enforcement, restricting expenditure not necessary for life or business operation by the persons who are included in the list of dishonest persons subject to enforcement. This effort helped set up a public mechanism for penalizing dishonest people. As of 2015, 3.08 million people subject to enforcement had been included in the list of dishonest persons, 3,577,000 attempts by these people to buy airline tickets had been intercepted, as well as 598,800 attempts to buy soft sleeper tickets and first-class tickets on high-speed trains. From 2012 to 2015, courts at all levels received 12,591,400 new cases of application for enforcement, of which 11,906,000 were enforced and concluded. Enforcement of cases relating to essential requirements of daily life has been reinforced. From December 1, 2015 to February 15, 2016, the Supreme People’s Court enforced such cases in a centralized way, with focus on nine categories, including recovering payment for labor, migrant workers’ wages, alimony, and payment for children’s upbringing. As of January 15, 2016, about 60,000 cases had been enforced and concluded, involving sums of about two billion yuan.

Improve community correction work to effectively protect correction subjects’ legitimate rights and interests. Administrative organs of justice at all levels have implemented the Opinions on Organizing Social Forces to Participate in Community Correction. They have covered community correction funds in financial budgets at all levels; encouraged and guided social forces to participate in community correction; tried to solve employment, schooling, social assistance, social security and other issues for correction subjects; strengthened education for and assistance to them through various channels; and directed attention to their psychological treatment. In so doing they have helped them better reintegrate into society. As of 2015, administrative organs of justice around the country had received a total of 2,702,000 offenders for community correction, among whom 2,004,000 were discharged from correction and 698,000 remained for correction. Only 0.2 percent of offenders committed crimes during the correction period. Altogether 1,339 community correction centers have been established nationwide in counties or districts. There are 24,787 bases for community service, 9,218 bases for education, 8,165 bases for employment, and 672,000 community correction groups. Around the country, 83,000 social workers and 690,000 volunteers are engaged in community correction. Haidian District Community Correction Center of Beijing founded the Zhongtu (Midway) College with five universities. In the college, university teachers provide targeted, classified education for correction subjects. Chaohu Community Correction Center, Anhui Province, has established mental health records for correction subjects, and provides consulting services.

Increase legal aid to enable citizens to better enjoy the right to legal aid. A framework of grassroots legal aid has been put in place. More than 3,500 offices have been opened to provide convenient legal aid to the public, and more than 70,000 legal aid work stations have been set up, improving grassroots infrastructure. Judicial organs have worked to spread the national legal aid information management system, which helps to simplify the process of acceptance and review, and thus make it easier for citizens to receive legal aid. They have expanded the scope of supplementary items for legal aid, relaxed criteria for economic difficulty applying to legal aid, and increased fund guarantee for legal aid. From 2012 to 2015, the central government allocated 1.52 billion yuan to legal aid. The Central Authorities have urged local governments to include a legal aid fund in their budgets. As of 2015, 24 provinces (autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the central government) had established a provincial-level specialized fund for legal aid, and 91.4 percent of all local governments had covered the legal aid fund in their budgets. From 2012 to 2015, 4.7 million legal aid cases were handled around the country. This represents an average annual increase of 7.4 percent, benefiting more than 5.26 million people and providing legal advice to 25.87 million.

IV. Safeguard the Legitimate Rights and Interests of Detainees

We should further improve the conditions of prisons and detention houses, enhance scrutiny of supervisory activities and the execution of punishment, standardize commutation, parole, and execution of sentence outside prison, and stipulate that criminal defendants and appellants no longer need to wear clothing bearing the name of the detention house, so as to safeguard the detainees’ personal dignity, safety, legal property, and legitimate rights including the rights to defense, to appeal, to complain, and to report violations of law.

Strengthen the construction and management of detention houses to safeguard detainees’ personal safety. We must implement the new “Construction Standards for Detention Houses,” replace shared beds with single beds, and define the construction standards and minimal per capita floor space in detention houses. We must strictly implement the system of physical examination upon admission, establish a long-term mechanism for preventing and combating prison bullies, adopt transition management over new detainees, and strictly forbid detainees from managing cells. We should strengthen the arraignment and interrogation system. When taking out a suspect from the detention house for identification – which must be done by no fewer than two investigators at a time – or recovering property related to a case, the case handling organs should hold a written instruction signed by the leading official of the organ above the county level which bears the legal causes for the investigation.

By the end of 2015, psychological counseling rooms had been built in 2,169 detention houses in China, and 2,207 detention houses had provided two-way video via the internet for those who serve their term of imprisonment in the detention houses. We should urge legal aid centers to locate in detention houses. More than 2,500 detention houses have set up offices for providing legal aid and consultation services to detainees and their families.

Standardize medical services and life management in prisons and detention houses to safeguard detainees’ right to health. Detention houses should strictly follow the food supply quantity standard for detainees, which has been approved by local financial authorities. Meal standards, weekly menus and accounts should be posted in cells for supervision. Prisons should strictly follow the Regulations on Strengthening Management of Daily Life and Hygiene Work of Prisons, implement the prisoners’ food supply quantity standard which was adjusted in 2013, practice food sampling and sample reservation, and implement the system of invitation for bidding for and procurement of daily necessities. We should strengthen management of daily life and hygiene work of prisons, and guarantee a scientific diet which is reasonably adjusted with fine management for prisoners while eliminating waste. We should take into consideration the special customs of ethnic minority prisoners, and provide special meals for those who are subject to dietary restrictions.

Prisons and detention houses should improve medical services for detainees, create medical records for them, staff them with stationed doctors, who make rounds of the cells every day, and transfer those who need to be treated in hospitals outside in a timely manner. Regulations on purchase, storage and use of medicines in prisons should be strictly followed. We should improve medical facilities, strengthen disease prevention and control, provide timely treatment to sick detainees, and guarantee their rights to life and health in accordance with the law.

The Supreme People’s Court, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of Justice and the National Health and Family Planning Commission jointly formulated the Regulations on Execution of Sentence Outside Prison, which came into effect on December 1, 2014. If persons serving sentences are injured or maimed while working during imprisonment, and are allowed to enjoy execution of sentence outside prison, the fees including their medical subsidies and living allowances outside the prison will be reimbursed in accordance with the relevant regulations of the state. Pregnant or lactating women, those who suffer severe illnesses and need to be released on bail for medical treatment, and those who cannot take care of themselves are also allowed to enjoy execution of sentence outside prison.

Enhance supervision over prisons and detention houses to safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of detainees. To increase the transparency of their law enforcement, detention houses should open to the public on a regular basis. By 2015, a complaint handling mechanism for detainees had been installed in 2,610 detention houses, and 2,558 had employed special supervisors. Procuratorial organs supervise activities in detention houses such as health examinations upon entrance and temporary removal of detainees, with a view to preventing and rectifying illegal interrogation and forced confessions outside detention houses. We should strengthen supervision over the term of criminal detention and urge relevant departments to settle outstanding cases. In 2013, 4,459 detainees involved in outstanding cases had been in detention for more than three years, but the figure fell to six in 2015.

Standardize commutation, parole and execution of sentence outside prison and safeguard detainees’ rights to implementation of penalty change. We must open prison affairs wider to the public, including the legal conditions, procedures and results of commutation, parole and execution of sentence outside prison. People’s courts should improve online public notification and hearings, and open a national information network on commutation, parole and execution of sentence outside prison. From 2012 to 2015 people’s courts adjudicated 2,406,100 commutation cases and 160,100 parole cases. Prisons and detention houses should carry out relevant procedures in a timely manner for those who are qualified to enjoy commutation, parole or execution of sentence outside prison in accordance with the law. People’s procuratorates should strictly perform their supervisory duties so as to ensure the justice and fairness of penalty changes.

Implement national amnesty to highlight humanitarianism. On August 29, 2015, the 16th session of the 12th Standing Committee of the NPC approved the decision on amnesty for prisoners, and Chinese President Xi Jinping signed an amnesty decree, granting amnesty for four types of criminals who had been serving sentences according to effective judgments made by people’s courts before January 1, 2015 and were no longer considered to be a danger to society on release. This was the eighth national amnesty since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and the first time since the adoption of reform and opening-up in 1978. It was a new approach to implementing the amnesty system stipulated in the Constitution, to implementing rule of law and highlighting humanitarianism, so it was of great political and legal significance. According to judgments made by people’s courts, 31,527 prisoners were granted amnesty across the country. Those who were incapable of work, or had no job, no source of income, and no legal supporters were granted subsistence allowances so that they could better reintegrate into society.

2016-09-12





U.S. Dept of Treasury bans high ranking officers of Bangladesh(RAB), DPRK, Burma-10/12/2021

PRESS RELEASES

Treasury Sanctions Perpetrators of Serious Human Rights Abuse on International Human Rights Day

 

Designations target those connected to human rights abuse, including technology-enabled abuse

WASHINGTON — Today, on International Human Rights Day, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is designating 15 individuals and 10 entities for their connection to human rights abuse and repression in several countries around the globe, pursuant to multiple sanctions authorities. Separately, OFAC is also imposing investment restrictions on one company in connection with the surveillance technology sector of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) economy, highlighting the human rights abuse enabled by the malign use of technology. Human Rights Day is observed annually on December 10, which marks the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. That declaration enumerates the fundamental human rights of freedoms of expression, religion or belief, association, and peaceful assembly, and the right to be free from arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy.

“On International Human Rights Day, Treasury is using its tools to expose and hold accountable perpetrators of serious human rights abuse,” said Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo. “Our actions today, particularly those in partnership with the United Kingdom and Canada, send a message that democracies around the world will act against those who abuse the power of the state to inflict suffering and repression.”

Today’s actions are taken pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13818, which builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, and targets perpetrators of corruption and serious human rights abuse; E.O. 13959, as amended, which targets, among other things, companies that operate or have operated in the surveillance technology sector of the PRC economy, and entities that own or control such companies; E.O. 13687 and E.O. 13722, which target the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the Workers’ Party of Korea and certain conduct related to labor; and E.O. 14014, which targets a range of malign activities, including serious human rights abuse in Burma.

TECHNOLOGY-ENABLED SERIOUS HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSE IN XINJIANG

As the President stated at the opening of the Summit for Democracy, we will “work with our partners to … reduce the potential for countries to abuse new technologies including surveillance technologies, to suppress the rights of their people to express their views.”

Technology is a key tool used to advance the exercise of freedom of expression and the protection of other human rights globally. However, authoritarian states misuse technology to facilitate human rights abuse and repression, target members of racial and ethnic minority groups, manipulate information, and spread disinformation.

Abuse of technologies, like the exploitation of data for intrusive surveillance, is on the rise and threatens the security of all people. It is therefore critically important that the United States and other democracies around the world take a firm stance against these repressive activities.

Shohrat Zakir served as the Chairman of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China (XUAR) from at least 2018 until 2021. Erken Tuniyaz (Tuniyaz) now serves as the acting Chairman of the XUAR and had served as the Vice Chairman of the XUAR since 2008. During their tenures, more than one million Uyghurs and members of other predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups have been detained in Xinjiang. On July 9, 2020, OFAC designated the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau (XPSB), a constituent department of the XUAR, for its role in the serious human rights abuse that has occurred in Xinjiang since at least late 2016.

The XPSB has deployed the “Integrated Joint Operations Platform” (IJOP), an artificial intelligence (AI)-assisted computer system that created biometric records for millions of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region. The XPSB, through the IJOP, uses digital surveillance systems to track Uyghurs’ movements and activities, to include surveilling who they interact with and what they read. In turn, IJOP uses this data to determine which persons could be potential threats; according to reports, some of these individuals are subsequently detained and sent to detention camps, being held indefinitely without charges or trial. According to press reporting, the IJOP technology looks exclusively for Uyghurs, based on their appearance, and keeps records of their movements. The mass detention of Uyghurs is part of an effort by PRC authorities to use detentions and data-driven surveillance to create a police state in the Xinjiang region.

Zakir and Tuniyaz are designated pursuant to E.O. 13818 for being foreign persons who are or have been a leader or official of an entity, including any government entity, that has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, serious human rights abuse relating to their tenure.

Today, the U.S. Department of State announced visa restrictions under Section 7031(c) of the FY 2021 Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act on Zakir and Tuniyaz due to their involvement in gross violations of human rights, making them ineligible for entry into the United States.

OFAC is also identifying a Chinese firm, SenseTime Group Limited (SenseTime), as a Non-SDN Chinese Military-Industrial Complex Company (NS-CMIC) pursuant to E.O. 13959, as amended by E.O. 14032. SenseTime owns or controls, directly or indirectly, a person who operates or has operated in the surveillance technology sector of the PRC’s economy. SenseTime 100 percent owns Shenzhen Sensetime Technology Co. Ltd., which has developed facial recognition programs that can determine a target’s ethnicity, with a particular focus on identifying ethnic Uyghurs. When applying for patent applications, Shenzhen Sensetime Technology Co. Ltd. has highlighted its ability to identify Uyghurs wearing beards, sunglasses, and masks.

SERIOUS HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSE IN BANGLADESH: RAPID ACTION BATTALION

Widespread allegations of serious human rights abuse in Bangladesh by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB)—as part of the Bangladeshi government’s war on drugs—threaten U.S. national security interests by undermining the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the economic prosperity of the people of Bangladesh.

RAB is a joint task force founded in 2004 and composed of members of the police, army, navy, air force, and border guards seconded to the RAB from their respective units. Its mandate includes internal security, intelligence gathering related to criminal activities, and government-directed investigations. NGOs have alleged that RAB and other Bangladeshi law enforcement are responsible for more than 600 disappearances since 2009, nearly 600 extrajudicial killings since 2018, and torture. Some reports suggest these incidents target opposition party members, journalists, and human rights activists.

RAB is designated pursuant to E.O. 13818 for being a foreign entity that is responsible for or complicit in, or has directly or indirectly engaged in, serious human rights abuse.

Additionally, the following individuals are designated pursuant to E.O. 13818 for being foreign persons who are or have been a leader or official of RAB, an entity that has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, serious human rights abuse relating to their tenure:

  • Chowdhury Abdullah Al-Mamun, Director General, RAB, April 15, 2020 to present
  • Benazir Ahmed, former Director General, RAB, January 2015 to April 14, 2020
  • Khan Mohammad Azad, Additional Director General (Operations), RAB, March 16, 2021 to present
  • Tofayel Mustafa Sorwar, former Additional Director General (Operations), RAB, June 27, 2019 to March 16, 2021
  • Mohammad Jahangir Alam, former Additional Director General (Operations), RAB, September 17, 2018 to June 27, 2019
  • Mohammad Anwar Latif Khan, former Additional Director General (Operations), RAB, April 28, 2016 to September 17, 2018

Today, the U.S. Department of State has announced visa restrictions under Section 7031(c) of the FY 2021 Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act on Benazir Ahmed due to his involvement in gross violations of human rights, making him ineligible for entry into the United States.

DPRK WORKERS IN FOREIGN COUNTRIES

DPRK nationals often work in other countries, including for the purpose of generating foreign currency earnings that the DPRK can use to support its unlawful weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile programs. UN Security Council resolution 2397, adopted on December 22, 2017, requires UN Member States to have repatriated DPRK nationals earning income in their jurisdictions by December 22, 2019, subject to limited exceptions. Foreign firms involved in the employment of DPRK labor contribute to the poor treatment workers endure, which can include being subjected to constant surveillance, forced to work long hours, and having a significant portion of their wages confiscated by the regime. In the last several years, there has been an increase in the abuse of non-work visas, such as student and tourist visas, for DPRK workers to enter and work in countries such as the PRC and Russia.

The Russian university European Institute Justo and its provost, Dmitriy Yurevich Soin, have sponsored hundreds of student visas for DPRK construction workers in Russia. Some of these workers were affiliated with a DPRK WMD entity, and the revenue they generated from their labor could have been used to support DPRK WMD programs. The European Institute Justo is designated pursuant to E.O. 13722 for having engaged in, facilitated, or been responsible for the exportation of workers from North Korea. Dmitriy Yurevich Soin is designated pursuant to E.O. 13722 for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, European Institute Justo.

The DPRK’s government-run animation studio, SEK Studio, through its animation workers located in the DPRK and the PRC, performs work for foreign customers. Seemingly fueled by the desire for unreasonably low-cost labor, foreign media companies continue to subcontract animation work to SEK StudioSEK Studio has utilized an assortment of front companies to evade sanctions targeting the Government of the DPRK and to deceive international financial institutions.

SEK Studio is designated pursuant to E.O. 13722 for being owned or controlled by, or having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the Government of North Korea.

Lu Hezheng, a senior employee and former shareholder of Nings Cartoon Studio, worked with representatives of SEK Studio to facilitate wire transfers through Nings Cartoon Studio and other front companies in the PRC. Lu Hezheng is also the sole shareholder of Shanghai Hongman Cartoon and Animation Design Studio. In recent years, these front companies received millions of dollars from foreign customers. Lu Hezheng is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13722 for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of SEK Studio.

Nings Cartoon Studio is designated pursuant to E.O. 13722 for being owned or controlled by, or having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, SEK Studio, while Moxing Cartoon is being designated for having attempted to act or purport to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, SEK StudioShanghai Hongman Cartoon and Animation Design Studio is designated pursuant to E.O. 13722 for being owned or controlled by, or having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, Lu Hezheng.

UNFAIR JUDICIAL SYSTEM IN THE DPRK

While DPRK workers abroad endure poor working conditions, individuals who remain inside the country are also often subjected to forced labor, constant surveillance, and severe restrictions on their exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The DPRK Central Public Prosecutors Office and court system reportedly are used to prosecute and punish persons for political wrongdoing in a legal process involving fundamentally unfair trials. These trials sometimes end in sentencing to the DPRK’s notorious prison camps, run by the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of Social Security. Ri Yong Gil is the previous DPRK Minister of Social Security and recently assigned Minister of People’s Armed Forces, a UN- and U.S.-designated entity.

The DPRK Central Public Prosecutors Office is designated pursuant to E.O. 13687 for being an agency, instrumentality, or controlled entity of the Government of North Korea or the Workers’ Party of Korea. Ri Yong Gil is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13687 for being an official of the Government of North Korea or the Workers’ Party of Korea. Both the Central Public Prosecutors Office and Ri Yong Gil were designated by the European Union in its sanctions action in March 2021 under the European Union’s Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime.

Foreigners have also been the victims of the DPRK’s fundamentally unfair justice system, such as American prisoner Otto Warmbier, who was arrested in 2016, and other foreign prisoners who remain detained in the DPRK today. The treatment and eventual death of Otto Warmbier, who would have turned 27 years old this year, were reprehensible. The DPRK must continue to be held to account for its abysmal human rights record.

SERIOUS HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSE IN BURMA

On February 1, 2021, the military of Burma disregarded the will of the people and overthrew the democratically elected civilian government. The military regime’s subsequent and ongoing brutal crackdowns against the people of Burma, including children and members of ethnic minority groups, continue to undermine respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. The persons sanctioned today are associated with the military regime’s ongoing attacks on democracy and brutal repression.

Today’s Treasury actions targeting those connected to human rights abuse in Burma complement actions also taken today by the United Kingdom and Canada, who imposed sanctions on several of the same targets. Coordinated actions with our likeminded partners enable us to form a unified front in the fight to identify, promote accountability for, and disrupt access to the international financial system by those who abuse human rights.

Myo Swe Win is the Chief Minister of the Bago Region of Burma. On April 9, 2021, the region of Bago erupted in violence, with armed forces killing at least 82 people—the second-highest death toll in a single day and the highest number of casualties in one day in a single location since the military began crackdowns on protests following the February 1, 2021 coup.

Myo Swe Win and the following three individuals are designated pursuant to E.O. 14014 for being foreign persons who are or have been a leader or official of the Government of Burma on or after February 2, 2021:

  • Saw Myint Oo is the Chief Minister of Kayin State in Burma.
  • Maung Ko is the Chief Minister of the Mandalay Region of Burma.
  • Khat Htein Nan is the Chief Minister of Kachin State in Burma.

The Directorate of Defense Industries (DDI) is under direct control of the Ministry of Defense of Burma and is responsible for manufacturing weapons that are primarily used by the Burmese military and Police Force. Weapons manufactured by the DDI have almost certainly been used in the military’s brutal violence against the people of Burma.

The Quartermaster General Office (QGO), an entity that is subordinate to the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for securing supplies for the Burmese military to include bullets and artillery that were used to kill more hundreds of civilians since the coup.

The Myanmar War Veterans Organization’s (MWVO) stated objective is to take part as a reserve force of the Armed Forces of Burma for national defense and security. The organization’s leadership is composed of several senior military leaders and aims to coordinate with Ministries on matters related to national defense and security.

The DDI, the QGO, and the MWVO are designated pursuant to E.O. 14014 for operating in the defense sector of the Burmese economy.

SANCTIONS IMPLICATIONS

Today’s NS-CMIC identification prohibits the purchase or sale by U.S. persons of any publicly traded securities, or any publicly traded securities that are derivative of such securities or are designed to provide investment exposure to such securities, of the entity identified above pursuant to E.O. 13959, as amended.

As a result of today’s actions taken pursuant to E.O. 13818, E.O. 13687, E.O. 13722, and E.O. 14014, all property and interests in property of the persons designated above that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. In addition, any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked. Unless authorized by a general or specific license issued by OFAC, or otherwise exempt, all transactions by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of designated or otherwise blocked persons are prohibited. The prohibitions include the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any blocked person or the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services from any such person.

GLOBAL MAGNITSKY

Building upon the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, E.O. 13818 was issued on December 20, 2017, in recognition that the prevalence of human rights abuse and corruption that have their source, in whole or in substantial part, outside the United States, had reached such scope and gravity as to threaten the stability of international political and economic systems. Human rights abuse and corruption undermine the values that form an essential foundation of stable, secure, and functioning societies; have devastating impacts on individuals; weaken democratic institutions; degrade the rule of law; perpetuate violent conflicts; facilitate the activities of dangerous persons; and undermine economic markets. The United States seeks to impose tangible and significant consequences on those who commit serious human rights abuse or engage in corruption, as well as to protect the financial system of the United States from abuse by these same persons.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center assisted OFAC in identifying perpetrators of serious human rights abuse and corruption.





Seminar on Human Trafficking-Supreme Court of Cyprus-2020

ΧΑΙΡΕΤΙΣΜΟΣ Γ. ΕΡΩΤΟΚΡΙΤΟΥ
ΣΤΟ ΣΕΜΙΝΑΡΙΟ ΓΙΑ ΤΗΝ ΕΜΠΟΡΙΑ ΠΡΟΣΩΠΩΝ
(HUMAN TRAFFICKING)
ΑΝΩΤΑΤΟ ΔΙΚΑΣΤΗΡΙΟ
4 Μαρτίου 2020

Παρακαλώ να μου επιτρέψετε από αβρότητα και μόνο προς τους ξένους προσκεκλημένους μας, να μιλήσω στα Αγγλικά.

On behalf of the Supreme Court and the Judicial Training School, it is with great pleasure that I welcome you to today’s Seminar on Human Trafficking.

The idea to hold the Seminar belongs to the Ministry of Interior, as the National Co-ordinator against Human Trafficking. When they first approached us, we immediately embraced the idea, as we all agree that Human Trafficking is indeed a very serious problem and not only are its dimensions growing, but also its manifestations are constantly changing and the authorities cannot keep up with the new methods that are adopted by those involved in HT on an organized basis.

Human Trafficking is an extremely complex phenomenon, as it involves social, political and economic factors. In this respect, most people agree that we have to fully understand the driving forces behind trafficking, in order to be able to combat the crime.

Despite the progress made, so far, we have not been able to eliminate this form of crime. One of the reasons, is that it has not been made a top priority of many Governments, who in the past have been extremely tolerant. Even today, there are a number of countries that don’t even have Human Trafficking legislation.

Unfortunately, some Governments use Human Trafficking to further their own political goals. I refer to our neighbouring country Turkey, which allows the refugee trade to flourish on its shores and borders. And the only reason I mention this, is because we have proportionally become the first country in Europe with the most refugees, who now constitute almost 4% of the population, thus presenting a huge security problem to Cyprus.

Human Trafficking is not a new phenomenon. It existed throughout history.

The slave trade which was the most ancient form of Human Trafficking existed in Babylon, where they even had a legal code to regulate it. Also, in Egypt where the Exodus of the Jews marked the biggest manumission of slaves.

Even in ancient Greece, the birthplace of democracy and human rights, prostitution and slavery were predominant. The prostitutes were considered slaves of “barbarian” origin, meaning of non-Greek origin, which means they were trafficked from other territories. The so called “Solonian brothels” were very famous at the time.

The irony is that most Greek philosophers like Aristotle and Euripides, although they were great advocates of human liberty, they defended slavery as a natural and necessary institution.

Human slavery and trafficking continued in ancient Rome, where there was a lucrative trade. In fact, the slaves contributed greatly to the economic growth and expansion of Rome.

In contrast, ancient Persia formally banned most forms of slavery and opted for paid labour.

In medieval history, it was the Portuguese, the Spanish and the British that were mainly involved in human trafficking. I remind you of the massive slave trade in the 16th century, from Africa to America.

Today, the problem of Human Trafficking, as I am sure you will hear from our distinguished speakers, exists in both developed and underdeveloped societies.

In developed countries, where the sexual trade flourishes, there are sexually exploited women. In many European capitals, you often see beggars in the streets, many of whom are victims of human trafficking.

In underdeveloped countries one cannot ignore the phenomenon of child soldiers, or people who are trafficked in order to sell their organs.

Unfortunately, laws are useless, unless enforced. And this explains why, although the number of laws about Human Trafficking has increased all over the world, the number of traffickers who have been prosecuted, has not followed a relative increase.

With us today, we have three distinguished speakers who are experts in Human Trafficking and I would like to thank each one of them for accepting our invitation, and despite their busy schedule, they travelled all the way to Cyprus to enlighten us on Human Trafficking.

I would like to thank Judge Michelle Brewer, who is an immigration and Asylum Judge from the United Kingdom, who will concentrate mainly on the European perspective of Human Trafficking.

I would also like to thank Judge Jamie Cork from Minesota USA and Mrs Laura Provinzino, who is the Attorney responsible for Major Crimes and Priority Prosecutions at the Attorney’s Office in Minnesota.

They will concentrate more on the victims of human trafficking and the trauma that they experience. They will also deal with some of the challenges that we are facing and they will refer to some best practices in United States Courts. Right after lunch, they will discuss with you some case studies.

It is a great pleasure indeed to have all three colleagues with us and I wish them a pleasant stay in our small island which for 46 years is divided and occupied by Turkish forces.

I would like to thank the Ministry of Interior and the US Embassy for their support and collaboration, without which we would not have been able to organise this very specialised event.

I wish you a fruitful discussion.

Nicosia
4 March 2020


SOURCE: Supreme Court of Cyprus




INTER-AMERICAN CONVENTION ON PROTECTING HUMAN RIGHTS OF OLDER PERSONS-2015

INTER-AMERICAN CONVENTION ON PROTECTING THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF OLDER PERSONS (A-70)

Adopted at: Washington, D.C., United States of America.
Date: 06/15/2015 (Monday, June 15, 2015).
Conf/Assem/Meeting: Forty-fifth regular session of the OAS General Assembly.
Entry into Force: 1/11/2017, January 11, 2017 (the thirtieth day after the date of deposit of the second instrument of ratification or accession to the Convention with the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States).
Depository: General Secretariat OAS (Original Instrument and Ratifications).
UN Registration: 02/27/2017 No. 54318

OAS

PREAMBLE

The States Parties to the present Convention,

Recognizing that unqualified respect for human rights has been enshrined in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and reaffirmed in other international and regional instruments;

Reiterating the intention of consolidating, within the framework of democratic institutions, a system of individual liberty and social justice founded upon respect for the fundamental rights of persons;

Bearing in mind that, pursuant to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights, the ideal of a free human being, free from fear and poverty can only be achieved if conditions are created that enable each individual to enjoy their economic, social, and cultural rights, as well as their civil and political rights;

Reaffirming that all human rights and fundamental freedoms are universal, indivisible, interdependent, and interrelated, as well as the obligation to eliminate all forms of discrimination, in particular, discrimination for reasons of age;

Underscoring that older persons have the same human rights and fundamental freedoms as other persons and that those rights, including the right not to be subjected to age-based discrimination nor any form of violence, are rooted in the dignity and equality inherent in all human beings;

Recognizing also that, as a person ages, they should continue to enjoy a full, independent, and autonomous life, health, safety, integration, and active participation in the economic, social, cultural and political spheres of their society;

Recognizing the need to address matters of old age and ageing from a human-rights perspective that recognizes the valuable current and potential contributions of older persons to the common good, to cultural identity, to the diversity of their communities, to human, social, and economic development, and to the eradication of poverty;

Recalling what has been established in the United Nations Principles for Older Persons (1991), the Proclamation on Ageing (1992), and the Political Declaration and Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (2002), as well as in such regional instruments as the Regional Strategy for the Implementation in Latin America and the Caribbean of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (2003), the Brasilia Declaration (2007), the Plan of Action on the Health of Older Persons, including Active and Healthy Aging (2009) of the Pan American Health Organization, the Declaration of Commitment of Port of Spain (2009), and the San José Charter on the Rights of Older Persons in Latin America and the Caribbean (2012);

Determined to incorporate and prioritize the subject of ageing in public policy, and to raise and allocate the human, material, and financial resources needed to achieve appropriate implementation and evaluation of the special measures undertaken;

Reaffirming the value of solidarity and complementarity in international and regional cooperation to promote the human rights and fundamental freedoms of older persons;

Actively supporting the incorporation of a gender perspective into all policies and programs designed to ensure the effective exercise of the rights of older persons and underscoring the need to eliminate all forms of discrimination;

Convinced of the importance of facilitating the formulation and enforcement of laws and programs to prevent abuse, abandonment, negligence, and mistreatment of and violence against older persons, and of the need to have national mechanisms that protect their human rights and fundamental freedoms;

Convinced also that the adoption of a broad, comprehensive convention will contribute significantly to protecting, promoting, and ensuring the full enjoyment and exercise of the rights of older persons and to fostering an active ageing process in all regards;

Have agreed to sign the following Inter-American Convention on Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons (hereinafter, the “Convention”).

CHAPTER I
PURPOSE, SCOPE, AND DEFINITIONS

Article 1
Purpose and scope

The purpose of this Convention is to promote, protect and ensure the recognition and the full enjoyment and exercise, on an equal basis, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms of older persons, in order to contribute to their full inclusion, integration, and participation in society.

Nothing in this Convention shall be interpreted as placing limits on broader or additional rights or benefits recognized to older persons in international law or the domestic laws of States Parties.

Where the exercise of any of the rights or freedoms referred to in this Convention is not already ensured by legislative or other provisions, States Parties undertake to adopt, in accordance with their constitutional processes and the provisions of this Convention, such legislative and other measures as may be necessary to give effect to those rights or freedoms.

The States Parties may only establish restrictions or limitations on the enjoyment and exercise of the rights established in this Convention by means of laws promulgated for the purpose of preserving the general welfare in a democratic society and only to the extent that they are not incompatible with the purposes and reasons underlying those rights.

The provisions of the present Convention shall apply to all parts of federal States without limitations or exceptions.

Article 2
Definitions

For the purposes of this Convention the following definitions shall apply:

“Abandonment”: Lack of action, deliberate or not, to comprehensively care for an older person’s needs, which may jeopardize their life or physical, psychological, or moral integrity.

“Palliative care”: Active, comprehensive, and interdisciplinary care and treatment of patients whose illness is not responding to curative treatment or who are suffering avoidable pain, in order to improve their quality of life until the last day of their lives. Central to palliative care is control of pain, of other symptoms, and of the social, psychological, and spiritual problems of the older person. It includes the patient, their environment, and their family. It affirms life and considers death a normal process, neither hastening nor delaying it.

“Discrimination”: Any distinction, exclusion, or restriction with the purpose or effect of hindering, annulling, or restricting the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise, on an equal basis, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, cultural, economic, social, or any other sphere of public and private life.

“Multiple discrimination”: Any distinction, exclusion, or restriction toward an older person, based on two or more discrimination factors.

“Age discrimination in old age”: Any distinction, exclusion, or restriction based on age, the purpose or effect of which is to annul or restrict recognition, enjoyment, or exercise, on an equal basis, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, cultural, economic, social, or any other sphere of public and private life.

“Ageing”: A gradual process that develops over the course of life and entails biological, physiological, psychosocial, and functional changes with varying consequences, which are associated with permanent and dynamic interactions between the individual and their environment.

“Active and healthy ageing”: The process of optimizing opportunities for physical, mental, and social well-being, participation in social, economic, cultural, spiritual, and civic affairs, and protection, security, and care in order to extend healthy life expectancy and quality of life for all people as they age, as well as to allow them to remain active contributors to their families, peers, communities, and nations. It applies both to individuals and to population groups.

“Abuse”: A single or repeated act or omission to the detriment of an older person that harms their physical, mental, or moral integrity and infringes the enjoyment or exercise of their human rights and fundamental freedoms, regardless of whether or not it occurs in a relationship of trust.

“Negligence”: Involuntary error or unintentional fault, including, inter alia, neglect, omission, abandonment, and failure to protect, that causes harm or suffering to an older person, in either the public or the private sphere, in which normal necessary precautions proportional to the circumstances have not been taken.

“Older person”: A person aged 60 or older, except where legislation has determined a minimum age that is lesser or greater, provided that it is not over 65 years. This concept includes, among others, elderly persons.

“Older person receiving long-term care services”: One who resides temporarily or permanently in a regulated, public, private or mixed establishment, which provides quality comprehensive social and health care services, including long-term facilities for older persons with moderate or severe dependency, who cannot receive care in their home.

“Integrated social and health care services”: Institutional benefits and entitlements to address the health care and social needs of older persons with a view to guaranteeing their dignity and well-being and to promoting their independence and autonomy.

“Household unit or home”: A group of individuals who live in the same dwelling, share the main meals, and address the common basic needs together, without necessarily being relatives.

“Old age”: Social construct of the last stage of the life course.

CHAPTER II
GENERAL PRINCIPLES

Article 3

General principles that apply to the Convention:

a) Promotion and defense of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of older persons;
b) Recognizing older persons, their role in society, and their contribution to development;
c) The dignity, independence, proactivity, and autonomy of older persons;
d) Equality and non-discrimination;
e) Participation, integration, and full and effective inclusion in society;
f) Well-being and care;
g) Physical, economic, and social security;
h) Self-fulfillment;
i) Gender equity and equality, and the life course approach;
j) Solidarity and the strengthening of family and community protection;
k) Proper treatment and preferential care;
l) Differentiated treatment for the effective enjoyment of rights of older persons;
m) Respect and appreciation of cultural diversity;
n) Effective judicial protection;
o) Responsibility of the State and participation of the family and the community in the active, full, and productive integration of older persons into society, and in the care of, and assistance to, the older person, in accordance with domestic law.

CHAPTER III
GENERAL DUTIES OF STATES PARTIES

Article 4

States Parties undertake to safeguard the human rights and fundamental freedoms of older persons enunciated in this Convention without discrimination of any kind and, to that end, shall:

a) Adopt measures to prevent, punish, and eradicate practices that contravene this Convention, such as isolation, abandonment, prolonged physical restraint, overcrowding, expulsion from the community, deprivation of food, infantilization, medical treatments that are, inter alia, inadequate or disproportional or that constitute mistreatment or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment that jeopardizes the safety and integrity of older persons;

b) Adopt affirmative measures and make such reasonable adjustments as may be necessary for the exercise of the rights established in this Convention and shall refrain from adopting any legislative measure that is incompatible with it; by virtue of this Convention, affirmative measures and reasonable adjustments that are necessary to expedite or attain de facto equality for older persons, or to ensure their full social, economic, educational, political, and cultural engagement, shall not be considered discriminatory; such measures shall not lead to the maintenance of separate rights for different groups, nor be continued beyond a reasonable time once their objectives have been attained;

c) Adopt and strengthen such legislative, administrative, judicial, budgetary, and other measures as may be necessary to give effect to and raise awareness of the rights recognized in the present Convention, including adequate access to justice, in order to ensure differentiated and preferential treatment for older persons in all areas.

d) Adopt, to the full extent of their available resources and commensurate with their level of development, such measures as they consider necessary in the framework of international cooperation to progressively achieve in accordance with domestic law the full realization of economic, social, and cultural rights, without prejudice to such obligations as may be immediately applicable under international law;

e) Promote public institutions specializing in the protection and promotion of the rights of older persons and their integral development;

f) Encourage the broadest participation by civil society and other social actors, especially older persons, in the drafting, implementation, and oversight of public policies and laws to implement this Convention;

g) Promote the gathering of adequate information, including statistical and research data, with which to design and enforce policies to implement this Convention.

CHAPTER IV
PROTECTED RIGHTS

Article 5
Equality and non-discrimination for reasons of age

This Convention prohibits discrimination based on the age of older persons.

In their policies, plans, and legislation on ageing and old age, States Parties shall develop specific approaches for older persons who are vulnerable and those who are victims of multiple discrimination, including women, persons with disabilities, persons of different sexual orientations and gender identities, migrants, persons living in poverty or social exclusion, people of African descent, and persons pertaining to indigenous peoples, the homeless, people deprived of their liberty, persons pertaining to traditional peoples, and persons who belong to ethnic, racial, national, linguistic, religious, and rural groups, among others.

Article 6
Right to life and dignity in old age

States Parties shall adopt all measures necessary to ensure older persons’ effective enjoyment of the right of life and the right to live with dignity in old age until the end of their life and on an equal basis with other segments of the population.

States Parties shall take steps to ensure that public and private institutions offer older persons access without discrimination to comprehensive care, including palliative care; avoid isolation; appropriately manage problems related to the fear of death of the terminally ill and pain; and prevent unnecessary suffering, and futile and useless procedures, in accordance with the right of older persons to express their informed consent.

Article 7
Right to independence and autonomy

State Parties to this Convention recognize the right of older persons to make decisions, to determine their life plans, to lead an autonomous and independent life in keeping with their traditions and beliefs on an equal basis, and to be afforded access to mechanisms enabling them to exercise their rights.

States Parties shall adopt programs, policies, or actions to facilitate and promote full enjoyment of those rights by older persons, facilitating their self-fulfillment, the strengthening of all families, their family and social ties, and their affective relationships. In particular, they shall ensure:

a) Respect for the autonomy of older persons in making their decisions, and for their independence in the actions they undertake.

b) That older persons have the opportunity, on an equal basis with others, to choose their place of residence and where and with whom they live, and are not obliged to live in a particular living arrangement.

c) That older persons progressively have access to a range of in-home, residential, and other community-support services, including personal assistance necessary to support living and inclusion in the community and to prevent their isolation or segregation from the community.

Article 8
Right to participation and community integration

Older persons have the right to active, productive, full, and effective participation in the family, community, and society with a view to their integration.

States Parties shall adopt measures to enable older persons to participate actively and productively in their community and to develop their capacities and potentialities. To that end, States Parties shall:

a. Create and strengthen mechanisms for the participation and social inclusion of older persons in an environment of equality that serves to eradicate the prejudices and stereotypes that prevent them from fully enjoying those rights;

b. Promote the participation of older persons in intergenerational activities to strengthen solidarity and mutual support as key components of social development;

c. Ensure that facilities and community services for the general population are available to older persons on an equal basis and that they take account of their needs.

Article 9
Right to safety and a life free of violence of any kind

Older persons have the right to safety and a life without violence of any kind, to be treated with dignity, and to be respected and appreciated regardless of their race, color, sex, language, culture, religion, political or other opinions, social origin, nationality, ethnicity, indigenous and cultural identity, socio-economic status, disability, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, economic contribution, or any other condition.

Older persons have the right to a life without any kind of violence or mistreatment. For the purposes of this Convention, violence against older persons shall be understood as any act or conduct that causes death or physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering, either in the public or the private sphere.

Violence against older persons shall be understood to include, inter alia, different forms of financial, physical, sexual, and psychological abuse and mistreatment, expulsion from the community, and any form of abandonment or negligence that takes place within the family or household unit or that is perpetrated or tolerated by the State or its agents, regardless of where it occurs.

States Parties undertake to:

a. Adopt legislative, administrative, and other measures to prevent, investigate, punish, and eradicate acts of violence against older persons, as well as those that would enable reparation for harm occasioned by such acts.

b. Produce and disseminate information in order to generate diagnostic assessments of possible situations of violence with a view to developing prevention policies.

c. Promote the creation and strengthening of support services to address cases of violence, mistreatment, abuse, exploitation, and abandonment of older persons. Foster access for older persons to such services and provide them with information about them.

d. Establish or strengthen mechanisms for preventing any form of violence in the family or household unit, facilities that provide older persons with long-term care services, and society at large, with a view to effectively protecting the rights of older persons.

e. Inform and sensitize society as a whole about the various forms of violence against older persons and about how to identify and prevent them.

f. Train and sensitize government officials, social workers, and health care personnel responsible for attending to and caring for older persons in long-term care facilities or at home about the different forms of violence, in order that they are treated with dignity and to prevent negligence, violence, and mistreatment.

g. Develop training programs for family members and persons providing home care services, in order to reduce violence in the home or household unit.

h. Promote appropriate and effective complaint mechanisms for cases of violence against older persons and strengthen legal and administrative mechanisms for dealing with such cases.

i. Actively promote the elimination of all practices that generate violence and affect the dignity and integrity of older women.

Article 10
Right not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman,
or degrading treatment or punishment

Older persons have the right not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

States Parties shall take all necessary measures of a legislative, administrative, judicial, or other nature to prevent, investigate, punish and eradicate all forms of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of older persons.

Article 11
Right to give free and informed consent on health matters

Older persons have the inalienable right to express their free and informed consent on health matters. Denial of that right constitutes a form of violation of the human rights of older persons.

In order to ensure the right of older persons to express their prior and informed consent in a voluntary, free, and explicit manner to any medical decision, treatment, procedure, or research in the area of health, and the right to modify or revoke such consent, States Parties undertake to prepare and enforce appropriate and effective mechanisms to prevent abuse and strengthen the capacity of older persons to fully understand existing treatment options and their risks and benefits.

Those mechanisms must ensure that the information provided is appropriate, clear and timely, available on a non-discriminatory basis in an accessible and easily understood form, and commensurate with the older person’s cultural identity, level of education, and communication needs.

Public or private institutions and health professionals may not administer any medical or surgical treatment, procedure, or research without the prior and informed consent of the older person.

In life-threatening medical emergencies where it is not possible to obtain informed consent, exceptions established in accordance with domestic law may be applied.

Older persons have the right freely to consent to, refuse, or suspend medical or surgical treatment—including that of the traditional, alternative, and complementary kind—research, or medical or scientific experiments, whether physical or psychological, and to be given clear and timely information about the potential consequences and risks of such a decision.

States Parties shall also establish a procedure that enables older persons to expressly indicate in advance their will and instructions with regard to health care interventions, including palliative care. In such cases, that advance will may be expressed, amended, or expanded at any time by the older person only through legally binding instruments in accordance with domestic law.

Article 12
Rights of older persons receiving long-term care

Older persons have the right to a comprehensive system of care that protects and promotes their health, provides social services coverage, food and nutrition security, water, clothing, and housing, and promotes the ability of older persons to stay in their own home and maintain their independence and autonomy, should they so decide.

States Parties shall design assistance measures for families and caregivers through the introduction of services for those providing care to older persons, taking into account the needs of all families and other forms of care, as well as the full participation of older persons and respect for their opinions.

States Parties shall adopt measures toward developing a comprehensive care system that takes particular account of a gender perspective and respect for the dignity, physical, and mental integrity of older persons.

In order to ensure that older persons can effectively enjoy their human rights when receiving long-term care, States Parties undertake to:

a) Establish mechanisms to ensure that the initiation and conclusion of long-term care services are subject to an indication by the older person of their free and express will.

b) Ensure that such services have specialized personnel who can provide appropriate, comprehensive care and prevent actions or practices that could cause harm or exacerbate an existing condition.

c) Establish an appropriate regulatory framework on the operations of long-term care services that allows the situation of older persons to be assessed and supervised, as well as the adoption of measures to:

i. Ensure access for older persons to information, especially to their own physical or digital records, promote their access to the various media and sources of information, including social networks, and apprise them of their rights and of the legal framework and protocols governing long-term care services.

ii. Prevent arbitrary or illegal intrusions in their private life, family, home, household unit, or any other sphere in which they are involved, or in their correspondence or any other form of communication.
iii. Promote older persons’ interaction with their family and society, bearing in mind all families and their affective relationships.

iv. Protect older persons’ personal security and the exercise of their personal liberty and freedom of movement.

v. Protect the integrity of older persons as well as their privacy and intimacy in all their activities, particularly in acts of personal hygiene.

d) Enact the necessary legislation, in accordance with domestic mechanisms, so that the corresponding personnel and long-term care givers may be held liable to administrative, civil, and/or criminal penalties, as applicable, for any acts they commit that cause harm to older persons.

e) Adopt appropriate measures, as applicable, to ensure that older persons receiving long-term care also have palliative care available to them that encompasses the patient, their environment, and their family.

Article 13
Right to personal liberty

Older persons have the right to personal liberty and safety, regardless of their environment.

States Parties shall ensure that older persons enjoy the right to personal liberty and safety, and that in no instance shall age be used to justify the arbitrary denial or restriction of liberty.

States Parties shall ensure that any measure to deprive or restrict liberty is in accordance with law and that older persons who are deprived of their liberty because they are under prosecution are afforded, on an equal basis with other sectors of the population, due guarantees in keeping with international human rights law and treated in accordance with the purposes and principles enshrined in this Convention.

States Parties shall ensure access for older persons deprived of their liberty to special and comprehensive care programs, including rehabilitation mechanisms for their reintegration in society and, as appropriate, shall promote alternatives to custodial measures, in accordance with their domestic laws.

Article 14
Right to freedom of expression and opinion, and access to information

Older persons have the right to freedom of expression and opinion, and access to information on an equal basis with other sectors of the population, by whatever medium they choose.

States Parties shall adopt measures to ensure the effective exercise of these rights by older persons.

Article 15
Right to nationality and freedom of movement

Older persons have the right to freedom of movement, to choose their residence, and to hold a nationality on an equal basis with other segments of the population, without discrimination on grounds of age.

States Parties shall adopt measures to ensure the effective exercise of these rights by older persons.

Article 16
Right to privacy and intimacy

Older persons are entitled to privacy and intimacy, and neither their private life, family, home, household unit, nor any other environment in which they function, nor their correspondence, nor any other communications shall be the subject of arbitrary or illegal intrusion.

Older persons have the right not to have their dignity, honor, and reputation attacked. They are also entitled to privacy in their personal hygiene and other activities, regardless of their environment.
States Parties shall adopt the measures necessary to guarantee these rights, particularly for older persons receiving long-term care services.

Article 17
Right to social security

All older persons have the right to social security to protect them so that they can live in dignity.

State Parties shall progressively promote, within available resources, the provision of income to ensure a dignified life for older persons through social security systems and other flexible social protection mechanisms.

States Parties shall seek to facilitate, through institutional agreements, bilateral treaties, and other hemispheric mechanisms, the recognition of benefits, social security contributions, and pension entitlements for migrant older persons.

Everything in this article will be in accordance with national legislation.

Article 18
Right to work

Older persons have the right to dignified and decent work and to equal opportunity and treatment on the same terms as other workers, whatever their age.

States Parties shall adopt measures to prevent labor discrimination against older persons. It is prohibited to make any kind of distinction that is not based on the specific requirements of the job, in accordance with domestic laws and local conditions.

The same guarantees, benefits, labor and union rights, and pay should apply to all workers in the same employment or occupation and for similar tasks and responsibilities.

States Parties shall adopt legislative, administrative, and other measures to promote formal work for older persons and to regulate the various forms of self-employment and domestic work, with a view to preventing abuse and ensuring them adequate social coverage and recognition for unremunerated work.

States Parties shall promote programs and measures that will facilitate a gradual transition into retirement, for which they may rely on the participation of organizations representing employers and workers, as well as of other interested agencies.

States Parties shall promote labor policies that take account of the needs and characteristics of older persons, with the aim of fostering workplaces that are suitable in terms of working conditions, environment, work hours, and organization of tasks.

States Parties shall encourage the design of training and knowledge-certification programs in order to promote access for older persons to more-inclusive labor markets.

Article 19
Right to health

Older persons have the right to physical and mental health without discrimination of any kind.

States Parties shall design and implement comprehensive-care oriented intersectoral public health policies that include health promotion, prevention and care of disease at all stages, and rehabilitation and palliative care for older persons, in order to promote enjoyment of the highest level of physical, mental and social well-being. To give effect to this right, States Parties undertake to:

a. Ensure preferential care and universal, equitable and timely access to quality, comprehensive, primary care-based social and health care services, and take advantage of traditional, alternative, and complementary medicine, in accordance with domestic laws and with practices and customs.

b. Formulate, implement, strengthen, and assess public policies, plans, and strategies to foster active and healthy ageing.

c. Foster public policies on the sexual and reproductive health of older persons.

d. Encourage, where appropriate, international cooperation in the design of public policies, plans, strategies and legislation, and in the exchange of capacities and resources for implementing health programs for older persons and their process of ageing.

e. Strengthen prevention measures through health authorities and disease prevention, including courses on health education, knowledge of pathologies, and the informed opinion of the older person in the treatment of chronic illnesses and other health problems.

f. Ensure access to affordable and quality health care benefits and services for older persons with non-communicable and communicable diseases, including sexually transmitted diseases.

g. Strengthen implementation of public policies to improve nutrition in older persons.

h. Promote the development of specialized integrated social and health care services for older persons with diseases that generate dependency, including chronic degenerative diseases, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.

i. Strengthen the capacities of health, social, and integrated social and health care workers, as well as those of other actors, to provide care to older persons based on the principles set forth in this Convention.

j. Promote and strengthen research and academic training for specialized health professionals in geriatrics, gerontology, and palliative care.

k. Formulate, adapt, and implement, in accordance with domestic law, policies on training in and the use of traditional, alternative, and complementary medicine in connection with comprehensive care for older persons.

l. Promote the necessary measures to ensure that palliative care services are available and accessible for older persons, as well as to support their families.

m. Ensure that medicines recognized as essential by the World Health Organization, including controlled medicines needed for palliative care, are available and accessible for older persons.

n. Ensure access for older persons to the information contained in their personal records, whether physical or digital.

o. Promote and gradually ensure, in accordance with their capabilities, coaching and training for persons who provide care to older persons, including family members, in order to ensure their health and well-being.

Article 20
Right to education

Older persons have the right to education, on an equal basis with other sectors of the population and without discrimination, in the modalities determined by each State Party; to participate in existing educational programs at all levels; and to share their knowledge and experience with all generations.

States Parties shall ensure effective exercise of the right to education for older persons and shall:

a) Facilitate access for older persons to appropriate educational and training programs that provide access, inter alia, to the different levels of the education cycle, to literacy, post-literacy, technical and professional training, and to continuing education, especially for groups in situations of vulnerability.

b) Promote the development of accessible and suitable educational programs, materials, and formats for older persons that fit their needs, preferences, skills, motivations, and cultural identities.
c) Adopt the necessary measures to reduce and progressively eliminate barriers and obstacles to educational goods and services in rural areas.

d) Promote education and training for older persons in the use of new information and communication technologies (ICTs) in order to bridge the digital, generational, and geographical divide and to increase social and community integration.

e) Design and implement active policies to eradicate illiteracy among older persons, especially women and groups in situations of vulnerability.

f) Foster and facilitate the active participation of older persons in both formal and non-formal educational activities.

Article 21
Right to culture

Older persons have the right to their cultural identity, to participate in the cultural and artistic life of the community, to enjoy the benefits of scientific and technological progress and those resulting from cultural diversity, and to share their knowledge and experience with other generations in any of the contexts in which they participate.

States Parties shall recognize, ensure, and protect the intellectual property rights of older persons on an equal basis with other sectors of the population and in accordance with domestic laws and international instruments adopted in this area.

States Parties shall promote the necessary measures to ensure preferential access for older persons to cultural goods and services in accessible formats and conditions.

States Parties shall promote cultural programs to enable older persons to develop and utilize their creative, artistic, and intellectual potential for their own benefit as well as for the enrichment of society as conduits of values, knowledge, and culture.

States Parties shall foster the participation of older persons’ organizations in the planning, execution, and dissemination of educational and cultural projects.

States Parties shall, through acts of recognition and incentives, encourage the contributions of older persons to different artistic and cultural expressions.

Article 22
Right to recreation, leisure, and sports

Older persons are entitled to recreation, physical activity, leisure, and sports.

States Parties shall promote the development of recreational services and programs, including tourism, as well as leisure and sports activities, taking into account the interests and needs of older persons, particularly those receiving long-term care, in order to improve their health and quality of life in all respects and to promote their self-fulfillment, independence, autonomy, and inclusion in the community.

Older persons shall be able to participate in the creation, management, and evaluation of such services, programs, or activities.

Article 23
Right to property

All older persons have the right to the use and enjoyment of their property and not to be deprived of said property on the grounds of age. The law may subordinate such use and enjoyment to the interests of society.

No older person shall be deprived of their property except upon payment of just compensation, for reasons of public utility or social interest, or in the cases and according to the forms established by the law.

States Parties shall adopt all necessary measures to ensure the effective exercise of older persons’ right to property, including the right to freely dispose of their property, and to prevent the abuse or illegal transfer thereof.

States Parties undertake to eliminate all administrative or financial practices that discriminate against older persons—especially older women and groups in situations of vulnerability—where the exercise of their right to property is concerned.

Article 24
Right to housing

Older persons have the right to decent and adequate housing and to live in safe, healthy, and accessible environments that can be adapted to their preferences and needs.

States Parties shall adopt appropriate measures to promote the full enjoyment of this right and facilitate access for older persons to integrated social and health care services and to home care services that enable them to reside in their own home, should they wish.

States Parties shall ensure the right of older persons to decent and adequate housing and shall adopt policies to promote the right to housing and access to land, recognizing the needs of older persons and the priority of allocating to those in situations of vulnerability. Likewise, States Parties shall progressively foster access to home loans and other forms of financing without discrimination, promoting, inter alia, collaboration with the private sector, civil society and other social actors. Such policies should pay particular attention to:

a) The need to build or progressively adapt housing solutions, so that they are architecturally suitable and accessible for older persons with disabilities and restricted mobility;

b) The specific needs of older persons, particularly those who live alone, by means of rent subsidies, support for housing renovations, and other pertinent measures, within the capacities of States Parties.

States Parties shall promote the adoption of expedited procedures for complaints and redress in the event of evictions of older persons and shall adopt the necessary measures to protect them against illegal forced evictions.

States Parties shall promote programs to prevent accidents inside and in the vicinity of older persons’ homes.

Article 25
Right to a healthy environment

Older persons have the right to live in a healthy environment with access to basic public services. To that end, States Parties shall adopt appropriate measures to safeguard and promote the exercise of this right, inter alia:

a. To foster the development of older persons to their full potential in harmony with nature;

b. To ensure access for older persons, on an equal basis with others, to basic public drinking water and sanitation services, among others.

Article 26
Right to accessibility and personal mobility

Older persons have the right to accessibility to the physical, social, economic, and cultural environment, as well as to personal mobility.

In order to ensure accessibility and personal mobility for older persons, so that they may live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, States Parties shall progressively adopt appropriate measures to ensure for older persons access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public, both in urban and in rural areas. These measures, which shall include the identification and elimination of obstacles and barriers to accessibility, shall apply to, inter alia:

a. Buildings, roads, transportation, and other indoor and outdoor facilities, including centers of education, housing, medical facilities, and workplaces;

b. Information, communications, and other services, including electronic services and emergency services.

States Parties shall also take appropriate measures to:

a. Develop, promulgate, and monitor the implementation of minimum standards and guidelines for the accessibility of facilities and services open or provided to the public;

b. Ensure that public and private entities that offer facilities and services which are open or provided to the public take into account all aspects of accessibility for older persons;

c. Provide training for all stakeholders on accessibility issues facing older persons;

d. Promote other appropriate forms of assistance and support to older persons to ensure their access to information;

e. Promote access for older persons, at the lowest possible cost, to new information and communications technologies and systems, including the Internet;

f. Foster access for older persons to preferential fees, or no fees, for transportation services open or provided to the public;

g) Promote initiatives, in transportation services open or provided to the public, for the provision of reserved seats for older persons, which should be identified by appropriate signs;

h) In buildings and other facilities open to the public, provide signage in formats that are easy to read and understand, and are appropriate for older persons.

Article 27
Political rights

Older persons have the right to participate in political and public life on an equal basis with others and not to be discriminated against for reasons of age.

Older persons have the right to vote freely and to be elected. The State shall facilitate the conditions and the means for exercising those rights.

States Parties shall ensure for older persons full and effective enjoyment of their right to vote. To that end, they shall adopt the following pertinent measures:

a) Ensure that electoral procedures, facilities, and materials are appropriate, accessible, and easy to understand and use;

b) Protect the right of older persons to cast their votes in secret and without intimidation in elections and public referendums;
c) Ensure that older persons are able to freely express their will as voters and, to that end, when necessary and with their consent, to allow a person of their choice to assist them in voting;

d) Create and strengthen mechanisms for citizen participation with a view to including the opinions, contributions, and demands of older persons and their groups and associations in decision-making processes at all levels of government.

Article 28
Freedom of association and assembly

Older persons have the right to assemble peacefully and to freely form their own groups and associations, in accordance with international human rights law.

To that end, States Parties undertake to:

a) Facilitate the creation and legal recognition of said groups or associations, respecting their freedom of initiative and lending them support for their formation and activities, within the capacities of States Parties;

b) Strengthen older persons’ associations and the development of positive leadership to facilitate the achievement of their objectives and dissemination of the rights enunciated in this Convention.

Article 29
Situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies

States Parties shall adopt all necessary specific measures to ensure the safety and rights of older persons in situations of risk, including situations of armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies, and disasters, in accordance with the norms of international law, particularly international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

States Parties shall adopt assistance measures specific to the needs of older persons in preparedness, prevention, reconstruction, and recovery activities associated with emergencies, disasters, and conflict situations.

States Parties shall foster the participation of interested older persons in civil protection protocols in the event of natural disasters.

Article 30
Equal recognition before the law

States Parties reaffirm that older persons have the right to recognition as persons before the law.

States Parties shall recognize that older persons enjoy legal capacity on an equal basis with others in all aspects of life.

States Parties shall take appropriate measures to provide access by older persons to the support they may require in exercising their legal capacity.

States Parties shall ensure that all measures that relate to the exercise of legal capacity provide for appropriate and effective safeguards to prevent abuse in accordance with international human rights law. Such safeguards shall ensure that measures relating to the exercise of legal capacity respect the rights, will, and preferences of older persons, are free of conflict of interest and undue influence, are proportional and tailored to older persons’ circumstances, apply for the shortest time possible, and are subject to regular review by a competent, independent and impartial authority or judicial body. The safeguards shall be proportional to the degree to which such measures affect older persons’ rights and interests.

Subject to the provisions of this article, States Parties shall take all appropriate and effective measures to ensure the equal right of older persons to own or inherit property, to control their own financial affairs, and to have equal access to bank loans, mortgages, and other forms of financial credit, and shall ensure that older persons are not arbitrarily deprived of their property.

Article 31
Access to justice

Older persons have the right to a hearing, with due guarantees and within a reasonable time, by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal, previously established by law, in the substantiation of any accusation of a criminal nature made against them or for the determination of their rights and obligations of a civil, labor, fiscal, or any other nature.

States Parties shall ensure effective access to justice for older persons on an equal basis with others, including through the provision of procedural accommodations in all legal and administrative proceedings at any stage.

State Parties shall ensure due diligence and preferential treatment for older persons in processing, settlement of, and enforcement of decisions in administrative and legal proceedings.

Judicial action must be particularly expedited in instances where the health or life of the older person may be at risk.
Likewise, States Parties shall develop and strengthen public policies and programs to promote:

a. Alternative dispute settlement mechanisms;

b. Training in protection of the rights of older persons for personnel associated with the administration of justice, including police and prison staff.

CHAPTER V
AWARENESS-RAISING

Article 32

States Parties agree to:

a. Adopt measures to achieve dissemination of, and to progressively educate the whole of society about, this Convention.

b. Foster a positive attitude to old age and dignified, respectful, and considerate treatment of older persons, and, based on a culture of peace, encourage actions to disseminate and promote the rights and empowerment of older persons, and avoid stereotypical images and language in relation to old age;

c. Develop programs to sensitize the public about the ageing process and older persons, encouraging the participation of the latter and of their organizations in the design and formulation of such programs;

d. Promote the inclusion of content that fosters understanding and acceptance of ageing in study plans and programs at different levels of education, as well as in academic and research agendas;

e. Promote recognition of the experience, wisdom, productivity, and contribution to development that older persons offer society as a whole.

CHAPTER VI
FOLLOW-UP MECHANISM TO THE CONVENTION
AND MEANS OF PROTECTION

Article 33
Follow-up Mechanism

In order to monitor the commitments under this Convention and to promote its effective implementation, a Follow-up Mechanism will be established that shall comprise a Conference of States Parties and a Committee of Experts.

The Follow-up Mechanism shall be established upon deposit of the tenth instrument of ratification or accession.

The General Secretariat of the Organization of American States shall serve as secretariat of the Follow-up Mechanism.

Article 34
Conference of States Parties

The Conference of States Parties, the principal organ of the Follow-up Mechanism, comprises the States Parties to the Convention and has, inter alia, the following functions:

a. To monitor progress by States Parties in complying with the commitments under this Convention;
b. To draft its rules of procedure and adopt them by an absolute majority;
c. To monitor the activities of the Committee of Experts and make recommendations to improve the workings, rules, and procedures of said Committee;
d. To receive, analyze, and evaluate the recommendations of the Committee of Experts and present appropriate observations;
e. To promote the exchange of experiences and best practices as well as technical cooperation among States Parties, with a view to ensuring the effective implementation of this Convention;
f. To resolve any matter pertaining to the operations of the Follow-up Mechanism.

The Secretary General of the Organization of American States shall convene the first meeting of the Conference of States Parties within 90 days after the establishment of the Follow-up Mechanism. The first meeting of the Conference, to adopt its rules of procedure and working methodology, as well as to elect its officers, will be held at the headquarters of the Organization, unless a State Party should offer to host the meeting. Said meeting will be chaired by a representative of the first state to deposit its instrument of ratification of or accession to the Convention.

Subsequent meetings shall be convened by the Secretary General of the Organization of American States at the request of any State Party with the approval of at least two thirds of the States Parties. Other member states of the Organization may participate as observers in said meetings.

Article 35
Committee of Experts

The Committee of Experts shall comprise experts appointed by each State Party to the Convention. The quorum for meetings will be established in its rules of procedure.

The Committee of Experts shall have the following functions:

a. To assist in monitoring progress by States Parties in implementing this Convention and conduct a technical review of the periodic reports submitted by States Parties; to that end, States Parties undertake to present a report to the Committee of Experts on implementation of their obligations under this Convention, within one year of the first meeting; thereafter, States Parties shall submit reports every four years.

b. To submit recommendations for progressive compliance with the Convention based on reports presented by States Parties on the subject matter under review;

c. To draft and adopt its rules of procedure in accordance with the functions set forth in this article.

The Secretary General of the Organization of American States shall convene the first meeting of the Committee of Experts within 90 days after the establishment of the Follow-up Mechanism. The first meeting of the Committee, to adopt its rules of procedure and working methodology, as well as to elect its officers, will be held at the headquarters of the Organization, unless a State Party should offer to host the meeting. Said meeting will be chaired by a representative of the first state to deposit its instrument of ratification of or accession to the Convention.

The Committee of Experts shall have its headquarters at the Organization of American States.

Article 36
System of individual petitions

Any person or group of persons, or nongovernmental entity legally recognized in one or more member states of the Organization of American States may submit to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights petitions containing reports or complaints of violations of the provisions contained in this Convention by a State Party.

In implementing the provisions of this article, consideration shall be given to the progressive nature of the observance of the economic, social and cultural rights protected under this Convention.

In addition, any State Party, when depositing its instrument of ratification of, or accession to, this Convention, or at any time thereafter, may declare that it recognizes the competence of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to receive and examine communications in which a State Party alleges that another State Party has committed violations of the human rights established in this Convention. In such an instance, all the relevant procedural rules contained in the American Convention on Human Rights shall be applicable.

States Parties may consult the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on questions related to the effective application of this Convention. They may also request the Commission’s advisory assistance and technical cooperation to ensure effective application of any provision of this Convention. The Commission will, to the extent that it is able, provide the States Parties with the requested advisory services and assistance.

Any State Party may, when depositing its instrument of ratification of, or accession to, this Convention, or at any time thereafter, declare that it recognizes as binding, ipso jure and without any special agreement, the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on all matters relating to the interpretation or application of this Convention. In such an instance, all relevant procedural rules contained in the American Convention on Human Rights shall be applicable.

CHAPTER VII
GENERAL PROVISIONS

Article 37
Signature, ratification, and entry into force

This Convention is open to signature, ratification and accession by all member states of the Organization of American States. After its entry into force, this Convention shall be open to accession by all member states that have not signed it.

This Convention is subject to ratification by the signatory states in accordance with the procedures set forth in their constitutions. The instruments of ratification or accession shall be deposited with the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States.

This Convention shall enter into force on the thirtieth day following the date on which the second instrument of ratification or accession is deposited with the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States.

For each state that ratifies or accedes to the Convention after the second instrument of ratification or accession has been deposited, the Convention shall enter into force on the thirtieth day following deposit by that state of the corresponding instrument.

Article 38
Reservations

States Parties may enter reservations to this Convention when signing, ratifying, or acceding to it, provided that such reservations are not incompatible with the aim and purpose of the Convention and relate to one or more specific provisions thereof.

Article 39
Denunciation

This Convention shall remain in force indefinitely, but any State Party may denounce it through written notification addressed to the Secretary General of the Organization of American States. The Convention shall cease to have force and effect for the denouncing state one year after the date of deposit of the instrument of denunciation, and shall remain in force for the other States Parties. Denunciation of the Convention shall not exempt the State Party from its obligations under the Convention in respect of any act or omission that occurred before the date on which the denunciation took effect.

Article 40
Depository

The original instrument of the Convention, the English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish texts of which are equally authentic, shall be deposited with the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States, which shall send a certified copy thereof to the United Nations Secretariat for registration and publication pursuant to Article 102 of the United Nations Charter.

Article 41
Amendments

Any State Party may submit proposals for amendment of this Convention to the Conference of States Parties.

Amendments shall enter into force for the states ratifying them on the date of deposit of the respective instruments of ratification by two thirds of the States Parties. For the remaining States Parties, they shall enter into force on the date of deposit of their respective instruments of ratification.


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Special Report on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions in India by Christof Heyns – 2013

ORIGINAL TITLE : Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, on his mission to India

26 April 2013

Contents

I.Introduction

II.General observations

III.Violations of the right to life by State actors

A.Deaths resulting from excessive use of force

B.The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and related legislation

C.Deaths in custody

D.Imposition of the death penalty

IV.Violations of the right to life by non-State actors

A.Deaths resulting from attacks by armed groups

B.Killings related to communal violence

C.Practices affecting women’s right to life

V.Other challenges

A.Fight against impunity

B.Killings of vulnerable persons

C.Killings and enforced disappearances in Jammu and Kashmir

VI.The role of Human Rights Commissions

VII.Conclusions

VIII.Recommendations

I.Introduction

At the invitation of the Government of India, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Mr. Christof Heyns, conducted an official visit from 19 to 30 March 2012. He travelled to New Delhi, and Ahmedabad (State of Gujarat); Thiruvananthapuram (State of Kerala); Jammu and Srinagar (State of Jammu and Kashmir); Guwahati (State of Assam); and Kolkata (State of West Bengal). The visit focussed on the protection of the right to life by State and non-State actors in India.

The Special Rapporteur thanks the Government of India for the invitation. During this visit, he met with Secretaries from the Ministry of External Affairs, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), and the Ministry of Law and Justice, and high-level officials from the Ministry of Defence and other Ministries at Union level. At state level, he met the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, state Chief Secretaries and other Secretaries; Commissioners, Directors General and other relevant officers of the Police; and other senior officials. He visited the Supreme Court, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the Assam Human Rights Commission. He also held meetings with the United Nations agencies, and a wide range of domestic and international non-governmental organizations, lawyers, witnesses, and victims and their families. However, the Special Rapporteur regrets that his official meetings scheduled in Gujarat were cancelled at the last minute.

This report covers the situation as it was during the visit, although some reference is made to subsequent developments. This report was finalized on 12 April 2013.

II.General observations

The Indian Constitution guarantees a wide range of human rights. It is supported by broad public endorsement and enforced by a strong Supreme Court, whose human rights jurisprudence is widely recognized. The right to life, as protected in article 21 of the Constitution, has been given an extensive interpretation by the courts. There is a vigorous press in India, and a vibrant and engaged human rights civil society. India also accommodates a broad diversity in terms of religion, languages and culture, largely in a peaceful way. India manages to maintain a high level of protection for human rights while it faces significant challenges, including armed movements aimed at achieving various levels of autonomy, insurgencies, terrorism, and organized crime, who often do not hesitate to take innocent life.

The last few years appear to have registered a general drop in unlawful killings; however, extrajudicial killings remain a concern. To a large extent, the solution to these issues can be found within the existing mechanisms and standards established in India. Indeed, several issues raised by the Special Rapporteur during his visit have in the intervening period been recognized and addressed at the domestic level.It should be emphasized that none of the concerns expressed in this report are new – they have been expressed by official organs within the structures of the State, and in many instances have also been raised by other international bodies.

In 2011, India extended a standing invitation to the mandate-holders of all thematic special procedures of the Human Rights Council. The mandate on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions was the first to visit the country under this standing invitation. This may reflect a commendable willingness to engage with the international community on the issue of unlawful killings in a constructive manner.

The Special Rapporteur notes that some civil society representatives whom he met during the visit reported afterwards that they faced intimidation from the authorities for having cooperated with him. The Special Rapporteur calls on the Indian authorities to ensure that no intimidation or other type of reprisal takes place against any of the individuals or groups met.

III.Violations of the right to life by State actors

A.Deaths resulting from excessive use of force

The Special Rapporteur received a series of complaints regarding deaths resulting from the excessive use of force by security officers with little adherence to the principles of proportionality and necessity as defined under international human rights law standards. According to these principles, use of force by security officers should be proportional to the legitimate objective to be achieved, and lethal force may only be used as a last resort in order to protect other life.

The official statistics of India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) indicate that 109 civilian deaths occurred in the country due to police firing in 2011. The largest number of civilian casualties were found in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, mostly in the context of riot control, as well as during alleged anti-extremism and anti-terrorist activities.

Section 46 of the Indian Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) authorizes law enforcement officials to use “all means necessary” to perform an arrest which is forcibly resisted. In the Special Rapporteur’s view, these provisions are broadly formulated and may grant law enforcement officers powers to use force in response to resistance which go beyond those powers permitted under international human rights law.

Disproportionate use of force during demonstrations has also caused many deaths in various parts of the country. The Special Rapporteur received reports that, while many demonstrations occur without casualties, this is not always the case. For example, at least 100 deaths were caused due to excessive use of force against demonstrators in Jammu and Kashmir in 2010.The Special Rapporteur recalls in this regard that the international human rights standards on the use of force in line with the principles of necessity and proportionality, as explained in paragraph 8, also apply in the context of policing assemblies, including the dispersal of violent assemblies.

Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur’s attention was drawn to a practice known as “fake encounters” in parts of the country, which was widespread in the 1990s. While the extent thereof has dissipated, evidence shows that it still occurs. According to the NHRC, 2,560 deaths during encounters with police were reported between 1993 and 2008. Of this number, 1,224 cases were regarded by the NHRC as “fake encounters”. The police, the central armed police forces, and the armed forces have been accused of “fake encounters”. Complaints have been lodged, particularly against the Central Reserve Police Force, the Border Security Forces, and the armed forces acting under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). The existence of this practice was recently acknowledged in the courts.

Where they occur, “fake encounters” entail that suspected criminals or persons alleged to be terrorists or insurgents, and in some cases individuals for whose apprehension an award is granted, are fatally shot by the security officers. A “shootout scene” is staged afterwards. The scene portrays those killed as the aggressors who had first opened fire. The security officers allege in this regard that they returned fire in self-defence.

After the incident, the security officers register a First Information Report (FIR) which often reflects their account of events. The Special Rapporteur heard concerns that the content of these reports is frequently undisputed, which eventually leads to the swift closure of the case. Along the same line, it appears that few, if any, encounter cases have been brought to the point of conducting investigations and, where applicable, prosecuting alleged perpetrators. Where inquiries are undertaken, the results are frequently not disclosed. Another difficulty in the investigation of encounters lies in the lack of witnesses, often due to the fact that encounters take place mostly during the early hours of the morning. Alternatively, witnesses fear coming forward with testimonies. In some cases, such a situation is further complicated by a reported practice of offering gallantry awards and promotions to security officers after the encounters, as well as of pressuring law enforcement officers, who face already heavy workloads due to understaffing, to demonstrate results.

The Special Rapporteur heard inter alia of the encounter case that occurred on 30 April 2010, in the Machil Sector, Kupwara District of Jammu and Kashmir, where three young individuals were killed by the armed forces. Alleged to be terrorists, the individuals were later identified as civilians who went missing from their village Nadihal in Baramullah and had allegedly been exchanged for money to some members of the Army so they could be killed in a fake encounter for which awards were offered. The outcomes of the criminal case launched against the security officers involved are still pending.

According to information received, encounters have been used inter alia as a means to target specific groups. In Gujarat, a series of encounters specifically targeting Muslims were carried out. It is noteworthy that in 2012 a Special Task Force was consequently appointed to investigate them.

Several victims who made presentations to the Special Rapporteur on this issue emphasized the need to know the truth, and to “clear the names” of loved ones who had been labelled “terrorists” and killed in “fake encounters”. The NHRC also acknowledged the problem of encounters in India, and expressed its agreement with the view that encounter killings “have become virtually a part of unofficial State policy”.The Special Rapporteur reiterates therefore the importance of shedding light on the acts committed during encounters and of bringing the perpetrators to justice in all cases.

The Special Rapporteur takes note of a number of positive measures undertaken by the Indian authorities to address the problem of fake encounters, and stresses the need for their implementation. He commends the NHRC for the adoption on 2 December 2003 of Guidelines on Encounter Deaths. These Guidelines require that (a) police officers record information about an encounter and a FIR must be registered; (b) encounter cases should be investigated by an independent investigating agency; (c) a magisterial inquiry must be undertaken in instances where deaths have occurred and compensation is awarded to the dependents of the deceased; and (d) disciplinary action should be taken against delinquent police officers and no out-of-turn promotions should be made. The Special Rapporteur is concerned that, in the majority of incidents of encounter killings, the NHRC Guidelines appear not to be complied with.

At the time of drafting this report, a seminal case from the State of Andhra Pradesh is pending before the Supreme Court. The Andhra Pradesh High Court, on 13 July 2007 in the case Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties vs . State o f Andhra Pradesh, held that, in situations where deaths occur in cases of alleged returning of fire by the police, a FIR must be registered, the case investigated and the claim of self-defence by the police proven in a trial before the court.

The Special Rapporteur welcomes the steps taken by the Government to address excessive use of force in a more general context, such as the MHA decision of 22 September 2010 to establish a Task Force to recommend Standard Operating Procedures to handle public disturbances in a non-lethal manner.

B.The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and related legislation

The situation regarding the use of force in India is exacerbated by what in effect though not in law could constitute emergency measures. In this regard, AFSPA, enacted in 1958, regulates instances of use of special powers by the Armed Forces in so-called “disturbed areas” of the country. In order for AFSPA to be applied in an area, the area must be defined disturbed or dangerous to the extent that the use of armed force is deemed necessary.AFSPA first found application in the north-eastern States of Manipur and Assam as a way to address the continued unrest in the area, and was also extended to other areas, including in Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. In 1990, the Jammu and Kashmir Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, containing nearly identical provisions to those stipulated in AFSPA,was enacted in Jammu and Kashmir.

AFSPA provides wide-ranging powers to the Indian armed forces in respect of using lethal force in various instances, and fails to provide safeguards in case of excessive use of such powers, which eventually leads to numerous accounts of violations committed in areas where AFSPA is applied. The Special Rapporteur wishes to draw attention to two main concerns to which he was constantly alerted. Firstly, concerns were raised regarding AFSPA provisions regulating the use of lethal force. Section 4 of AFSPA provides: “Any commissioned officer, warrant officer, non-commissioned officer…may, in a disturbed area, (a) if he is of opinion that it is necessary to do so for the maintenance of public order, after giving such due warning as he may consider necessary, fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death, against any person who is acting in contravention of any law or order for the time being in force in the disturbed area…” Such provisions clearly violate the international standards on use of force, including lethal force, and the related principles of proportionality and necessity.

Secondly, Section 6 of AFSPA and 7 of the Jammu and Kashmir AFSPA, grant protection to the officers acting under these Acts and stipulate that prosecution of members of the armed forces is prohibited unless sanction to prosecute is granted by the central Government. Sanction is rarely granted in practice. In this context, the Special Rapporteur was informed of an application submitted in India under the Right to Information (RTI) Act in November 2011, requesting information on the number of sanctions for prosecution granted from 1989 to 2011 in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. The response received from the authorities revealed that in none of the 44 applications brought was sanction not granted. In addition to AFSPA, the CPC also protects members of the armed forces from being prosecuted without prior sanction being granted, which will be examined in chapter V.

The Special Rapporteur notes that the Supreme Court of India held that the declaration of a “disturbed area” under AFSPA must be “for a limited duration and there should be periodic review of the declaration before the expiry of six months”.He found, however, that this procedure is not followed in practice, and AFSPA remains effective for prolonged periods without a review of the context in the respective area.

The Special Rapporteur wishes to underline that several international bodies have called for the repeal or reform of AFSPA, including the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. Furthermore, Indian authorities at various levels have also expressed their support for the repeal of AFSPA. In this context, the Indian Government set up a special committee in 2004, tasked with examining the provisions of AFSPA and advising the Government on whether to amend or repeal the Act. The special committee found that AFSPA should be repealed – that it was “quite inadequate in several particulars” and had “become a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination”. The need to repeal AFSPA was reiterated by the Second Administrative Reforms Commission in its fifth report, published in June 2007. Finally, the NHRC shared with the Special Rapporteur its views in support of AFSPA’s repeal during a meeting held in New Delhi.

The Supreme Court of India ruled, however, in 1997 that AFSPA did not violate the Constitution. The Special Rapporteur is unclear about how the Supreme Court reached such a conclusion. The Special Rapporteur, however, notes that in the same case the Supreme Court declared as binding the list of “Dos and Don’ts” elaborated by the Armed Forces, and containing a series of specifications on the manner of applying AFSPA in practice. Although the list contains more precise guidelines on the use of lethal force under AFSPA, the Special Rapporteur believes that they still fail to bring AFSPA in compliance with the international standards in this regard.

In the Special Rapporteur’s view, the powers granted under AFSPA are in reality broader than that allowable under a state of emergency as the right to life may effectively be suspended under the Act and the safeguards applicable in a state of emergency are absent. Moreover, the widespread deployment of the military creates an environment in which the exception becomes the rule, and the use of lethal force is seen as the primary response to conflict. This situation is also difficult to reconcile in the long term with India’s insistence that it is not engaged in an internal armed conflict. The Special Rapporteur is therefore of the opinion that retaining a law such as AFSPA runs counter to the principles of democracy and human rights. Its repeal will bring domestic law more in line with international standards, and send a strong message that the Government is committed to respect the right to life of all people in the country.

The Special Rapporteur was encouraged to hear from several Government officials that AFSPA is in the process of being amended, which will lead to reduced powers provided to the armed forces acting under this Act. This is a welcomed first step.

C.Deaths in custody

According to the NCRB data for 2011, over 100 deaths occurred in police custody in India.In this regard, formal accusations were brought against a total of 14 police officers; none of them have been convicted.

A report released by the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) presented statistics gathered by the NHRC on deaths in custody in terms of which 1,504 cases of deaths in police custody and 12,727 cases of deaths in judicial custody were reported from 2001 to 2010. ACHR suggested that in the majority of deaths in police custody, the death was preceded by torture and occurred within the first 48 hours of arrest. These statistics may not reflect the full extent of custodial deaths in India, given that not all deaths may be reported to the NHRC. The Armed Forces are, for instance, not required to convey such information to the NHRC.

During confidential interviews held throughout the visit, the Special Rapporteur was informed of several cases of individuals unlawfully taken into custody, severely beaten and taken to hospital where they subsequently died. He was informed that no steps had been taken to bring perpetrators of these acts to account.

The Special Rapporteur, however, welcomes a series of steps undertaken in India to regulate the treatment of persons in custody with the aim of ensuring their rights. In this regard, in 1997 the Supreme Court of India elaborated directives on arrest and detention, following its judgement in the D . K . Basu vs . State of West Bengal case. The NHRC has also laid down Guidelines on Custodial Deaths and Rapes, including on the period within which a death is to be reported, the procedure to be followed and the methods to conduct autopsies. The guidelines also provide that a magisterial inquiry must be held in cases of deaths in custody, and, should a police officer be found responsible, prompt prosecution and disciplinary action must be taken. Judicial inquiries in cases of custodial deaths have been made mandatory through the adoption of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act in 2005. The Special Rapporteur found, however, that the mentioned provisions are not sufficiently complied with in practice. He heard that relatives are not informed immediately of the death, representatives of human rights organizations may not be present during the autopsy, and relatives are pressured to cremate the body, thereby destroying valuable evidence. In addition, autopsies are carried out by executive rather than judicial magistrates, who are not qualified to oversee such inquiries.

In 1997, India signed the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). In an effort to facilitate accession to this treaty, the Prevention of Torture Bill (PTB) was passed by the Lower House of the Indian Parliament on 6 May 2010. The Parliament’s Upper House referred it to the Parliamentary Select Committee for review. Since December 2010, the revised PTB with amendments proposed by the Upper House Select Committee has been pending before the MHA. In the Special Rapporteur’s view, India must bring its national legislation in line with CAT to allow for its ratification, and thus strengthen the framework to protect individuals against deaths in custody. He invites the Indian authorities to take prompt action in the process of adopting the related domestic legislation.

D.Imposition of the death penalty

The death penalty may still be imposed in India, although a de facto moratorium on executions had been in place since 2004. The Special Rapporteur notes with concern, however, that this situation changed several months after his visit. In this regard, India voted in November 2012 against a General Assembly draft resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penaltyand executed the first person since 2004.

Following the judgement of the Supreme Court of India in the case of Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab from 9 May 1980, Indian law provides that the death penalty may be imposed in the “rarest of rare” cases only. In the Special Rapporteur’s view, such a provision may be broader than the “most serious crime” requirement under international human rights law, stipulating that, in countries which have not abolished the death penalty, capital punishment may be imposed only for intentional killing. Certain legislative provisions in India provide for the imposition of the death penalty for offences that do not comply with the “the most serious crime” provision under international law, for example, for such offences as kidnapping not resulting in death, sabotage of oil and gas pipelines,and drug-related offences.

The Special Rapporteur is further concerned that India has recently moved to extend, rather than reduce, offences for which the death penalty may be imposed. For instance, the Anti-Hijacking (amendment) Bill, adopted in 2010, makes provision for the death penalty in respect of aircraft hijacking.

IV.Violations of the right to life by non-State actors

A.Deaths resulting from attacks by armed groups

A range of non-State actors in various parts of India, including in Jammu and Kashmir, resort to deadly violence which threatens the lives and security of civilians as well as the security of the State. The State has a duty to protect its people and the right to defend itself against such acts, in accordance with international human rights standards. The callous nature in which lives are taken by these non-State actors is strongly condemned. At the same time, the State must refrain from and act against any unlawful means to counter such violence, such as “fake encounters”.

The attention of the Special Rapporteur was drawn particularly to the loss of life in areas reportedly affected by the Naxalite-Maoist insurgencies. The Naxalite insurgencies arose in the poor, tribal and rural areas in 1967. The Naxalite movement claims to protect marginalized groups while simultaneously engaging in armed activities against the State.The violence appears at present to increasingly spill over into the cities. Maoist activities are spread across several states, the most affected being Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Orissa and Maharashtra.

The Special Rapporteur was informed that in 2005, in response to Naxalite violence, a vigilante group called “Salwa Judum” was established, supported by the central and local authorities. The group has been reportedly responsible for significant acts of violence. It has been frequently accused of targeting civilians, who are forced to take sides, and thus exposed to violations from all sides involved in the violence occurring in the affected areas. The Special Rapporteur welcomes the 2011 Supreme Court decision that held that the creation of the “Salwa Judum” violates the Constitution.

Maoist insurgents are also responsible for killing innocent civilians. They reportedly target the families of alleged deserters, as well as persons believed to support “Salwa Judum”. Moreover, Naxalites are known to conduct trials of suspected police informants or alleged traitors who if found guilty are executed.

India is faced with the serious challenge of terrorism, as one of the countries most affected by it.According to data provided by non-governmental sources, alleged terrorist violence between 1994 and 2009 resulted in 58,288 deaths in India. More than 50 per cent of these were civilians and members of the security forces.

As mentioned in paragraph 37, the Special Rapporteur strongly condemns the callous killing of ordinary citizens and members of the security forces. He takes note of the Government’s efforts, under the “Central Scheme for Assistance to Civilian Victims of Terrorists”, to pay compensation to the families of victims of terrorist, communal and Naxalite violence which has resulted in death or permanent incapacitation. He welcomes the extension of this scheme in 2010 to the victims of Naxalite violence.

B.Killings related to communal violence

Tension between representatives of various communities remains an ever-present concern in India. Reports by official Commissions of Inquiry, Committees and civil society organizations have, regarding many major incidents of communal violence, indicated that the State and its agents, particularly the police forces, wilfully did not exercise diligence in its duty to protect, and thus tolerated attacks on the life and rights of religious minorities, and, in some cases engaged, in active support.

According to the MHA, 580 communal incidents occurred in India in 2011, with 91 lives lost.

The Special Rapporteur was informed that attacks of communal violence are often planned in order to target members of a particular group or acquire its property. For instance, Hindu fundamentalists reportedly carried out attacks against Dalits, who had changed religion to escape the degrading treatment associated with being a Hindu Dalit. The Special Rapporteur was informed of the severe communal violence against Dalit and Adivasi Christians in Orissa, between 2007 and 2008 when, according to non-governmental sources, approximately 100 individuals were killed.In this regard, the Government of India commented that, in the communal violence between Hindus and Christians, three persons were killed in 2007, and 40 persons were killed in 2008.

The Special Rapporteur’s attention was particularly drawn to the high level of communal violence in Gujarat. The most serious incident dates to 2002, as a consequence of the burning of a train which caused the death of 58 Hindu pilgrims in February 2002. It was alleged that Muslims perpetrated the incident, which resulted in retaliatory acts and, eventually, communal violence. According to the data provided by the Government of India, the police records indicate 1,071 persons killed and 228 persons reported missing in the ensuing violence. Non-governmental organizations reported approximately 2,000 individuals killed and several hundred persons missing. The Special Rapporteur heard several testimonies from survivors of the 2002 events on violence occurred against them, and their family members. He was informed of widespread allegations that the violence was fuelled by members of the Government of the State of Gujarat.

The Special Rapporteur notes some progress, albeit slow, in respect of holding perpetrators of the 2002 Gujarat communal violence to account. He is concerned, however, about the lengthy and less than effective conduct of the current inquiries into these events. In particular, the Nanavati-Mehta Commission, which was appointed the same year to investigate the 2002 events in Gujarat, has not yet published its final report. At the time of drafting this report, the Commission’s term was extended for the 19th time in December 2012 and was required to publish its findings on 30 June 2013. The Special Rapporteur will follow the outcome in this regard.

The Special Rapporteur is concerned about the information received that the judicial investigations into the 2002 events are being hampered by destruction of evidence, refusal to investigate and witness intimidation. Furthermore, a large number of the accused standing trial for the 2002 violence appear to have been released on bail, thus living in the areas where they allegedly committed serious violations. The Special Rapporteur acknowledges that the MHA released funds to the Government of Gujarat to ensure payment of compensation to the victims of the 2002 killings. He also notes the comments of the Government of India that the authorities have been sensitive to the issue of witness and victim protection, and provided protection when required. He encourages the Indian authorities to treat witness and victim protection as a crucial element specifically in the process of shedding light on the 2002 events.

In a broader context, several Governmental bodies are charged with investigating and addressing communal violence. In this regard, the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill was elaborated in 2011, with the aim of preventing communal violence and ensuring accountability of those in positions of power and authority for failure to prevent it and protect life and property. The Bill also introduces the principle of command and/or superior responsibility, and stipulates the rights of victims to reparations and remedies.

It is also noteworthy that mechanisms have been put in place for investigating and prosecuting those responsible for violence motivated by religious tensions, namely through the creation of Special Investigative Teams (SIT) and Fast Track courts.The Special Rapporteur nevertheless was informed of concerns that high levels of corruption, religious bias and the inconsistent application of investigations impede effective progress in such cases, thus fostering a culture of impunity.

C.Practices affecting women’s right to life

The Government of India has actively sought to introduce mechanisms to ensure that men and women are placed on equal footing, such as the enactment of gender-sensitive legislation, the development of campaigns to generate awareness, and the creation in 1992 of the National Commission for Women, responsible for protecting and promoting the rights of women. In 1993, India ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Yet, it has not ratified the Optional Protocol to CEDAW.

Women in India remain vulnerable and are too frequently victims of lethal violence. Sexual violence also occurs in the context of other forms of violence against women. Concern surrounding the violence exercised against women, in all its forms, has been expressed by a variety of international bodies.

The Special Rapporteur stresses that beyond creating laws and policies to ensure the protection of women, these must also be properly implemented. It is therefore important that gender-sensitization programmes are undertaken, particularly insofar as the law enforcement forces are concerned. The Special Rapporteur was also informed that in Kerala more women have been recruited into the police force, which has led to positive results in encouraging women to report cases and in strengthening efforts to seek justice in cases of violations.

1.Dowry deaths

Dowry-related deaths are a country-wide concern. The obligation to pay dowry rests on the family of the woman who is married. Where this is not done, or the amount is deemed unsatisfactory, there are a number of reported instances when the woman is killed by her husband or his family.

The official statistics indicate that the number of dowry deaths amounted to a staggering 8,618 in 2011.The figure increased since 2010 and may still not fully reflect the scope of the problem due to apparent underreporting in respect of this particular offence.

The Government has taken steps to curb the problem of dowry deaths, including through the enactment of the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 and codification of “dowry deaths” as a separate offence in section 304B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

In 2010, in the Rajbir Raju and Another v s. State of Haryana case, the Supreme Court ordered prosecutors, in cases of dowry deaths, to include a charge of murder in addition to one of dowry death. A conviction for murder in terms of section 300 of the IPC may be punishable with the death penalty, while that of a dowry death may result at most in a sentence of life imprisonment. The Court stated that persons guilty of such an offence should face capital punishment. While the attempt by the Supreme Court to seriously address the concern of dowry deaths is commended, the Special Rapporteur does not encourage the imposition of the death penalty in such cases, in particular for a problem with such complex social roots.

2.“Honour” killings

So-called “honour” killings are committed against persons believed to have sullied the honour of a family. They are almost always directed against women, usually for having exercised their right to choose a partner whom the family does not approve of. There are reports of a strong correlation between “honour” killings and inequalities of castes and gender.

Although the NHRC regards the number as low, other sources estimate that approximately 1,000 to 1,200 deaths occur every year in honour-related killings.Most of them reportedly occur in Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh States.

Honour killings are not regulated under separate legislation in India, and fall under the broader crime of murder. In order to address honour killings, the IPC and Certain Other Laws (Amendment) Bill of 2010 proposed amendments to, inter alia, the IPC to create penalties for “honour” killings. Meetings of the Group of Ministers were convened in 2010 to discuss the matter of introducing amendments to the IPC or enacting separate legislation in order to address “honour” killings. Despite such steps, the Special Rapporteur was informed that there remains a lack of ensuring effective prosecution and prevention of such killings.

3.Witch killings

The Special Rapporteur observed the phenomenon of witch killings in parts of India, which appears to be largely directed against women. It is reportedly prevalent among poorer members of the population. Various reasons exist for accusing individuals of being witches, including superstitions and attempts to obtain property.

The NCRB reported 240 deaths due to witchcraft in 2011, an increase from 2010. The actual figure is likely higher due to possible underreporting. The Special Rapporteur heard from the Indian authorities that witch killings did not warrant his concern. Yet, authorities in Assam acknowledged that this was a valid concern and a growing one, as there was a trend of the practice’s spill-over beyond tribal groups.

The Special Rapporteur noted that a draft Act on matters of witchcraft was elaborated in Rajasthan, while legislation concerning witchcraft already exists in Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. The legal provisions provide punishment for labelling a person a witch. However, such conduct results in light sentences, not commensurate with the long-term negative impact of labelling individuals as witches. The Special Rapporteur was also informed that when prosecutions occur witnesses are often unwilling to provide testimonies, either due to their fear of being associated with the alleged witch, or because they regard the death as an appropriate punishment.

V.Other challenges

A.Fight against impunity
Impunity represents a challenge in India not only in cases of recent violations of the right to life, but also of those perpetrated in the past in respect of which effective investigations and prosecutions still have not been conducted. Complaints were widely raised that the wheels of justice, when they turn, do so too slowly. Legal proceedings drift for years, while alleged perpetrators remain at large in the community, often on bail.

The fight against impunity in India is faced with challenges at various stages of the accountability process. At the stage of reporting a crime, the Special Rapporteur has heard numerous allegations that the security forces refuse to register FIRs, including those related to killings or death threats. Persons attempting to register FIRs are often subjected to threatening treatment or to the fact that their complaints are not given serious consideration. The Special Rapporteur heard that in particular the Dalits, the representatives of lower castes, tribes and poorer communities, as well as women are exposed to difficulties in registering FIRs. Individuals who wish to report violations by security officers face similar challenges which dissuade them from complaining and impede the accountability of State agents.

The burden of initiating civil, criminal or writ proceedings in cases of unlawful killings is frequently placed on the victim’s family. Their vulnerable status often cripples their ability to seek and secure accountability. Families of victims are not always aware of their rights in respect of the investigation of the death of the victim. The lack of knowledge of such rights forecloses the very opportunity to enjoy these rights themselves.

Delay in judicial proceedings constitutes one of India’s most serious challenges and has clear implications for accountability. For example, lengthy and ineffective proceedings exist in Punjab where large-scale enforced disappearances and mass cremations occurred between the mid-1980s and 1990s. The lack of political will to address these disappearances is evident in a context where steps to ensure accountability have been reportedly inconclusive.

The slow pace of proceedings is another feature of the various public commissions created to investigate violations of the right to life. The slow progress of the Nanavati-Mehta Commission of Inquiry in Gujarat, mentioned in the previous chapter, is a vivid example of the challenge. The Commission has been functioning for more than 10 years without reaching any conclusive results.

The Special Rapporteur is concerned with the obstacles to hold public servants, including members of the security forces, accountable, particularly due to statutory immunities provisions. Section 197 of the CPC requires prior sanction from the concerned government before cognizance can be taken of any offence by a public servant for criminal prosecution. This provision effectively renders a public servant immune from criminal prosecution. It has led to a context where public officers evade liability as a matter of course, which encourages a culture of impunity and further recurrence of violations.

The situation is aggravated by the fact that security officers who committed human rights violations are frequently promoted rather than brought to justice. The Special Rapporteur has heard of the case of Mr. Sumedh Singh Saini, accused of human rights violations committed in Punjab in the 1990s, who was promoted in March 2012 to Director General of Police in Punjab. Promoting rather than prosecuting perpetrators of human rights violations is not unique to Punjab. The Special Rapporteur heard this complaint from families of victims throughout the country.

The Special Rapporteur regards the absence of deterrent punishment and lack of prosecution to be main contributors to impunity of State actors. Laws requiring sanction to arrest and prosecute must be repealed. It is important that the leaders of various security forces are held to account.

In this regard, the Special Rapporteur notes the directive of the Supreme Court of India, issued in the 2006 case of Prakash Singh and Others v s. Union of India and Others, to establish Police Complaints Authorities with the aim of creating oversight mechanisms for the acts of the law enforcement agents. The Special Rapporteur regrets that these mechanisms have not yet been established throughout the country or, where they have been created, are not fully functional.

The practice of paying compensation to victims or their respective families in cases of unlawful killings, while not pursuing criminal investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators in their cases further perpetuates impunity due to an absence of individual accountability. The Special Rapporteur stresses that, while compensation of the victim is a crucial element to redress violations, it cannot replace the judicial process of bringing a perpetrator to justice.

Families of victims face further difficulties as they lack full and easy access to autopsy reports, death certificates and other relevant documentation. Several accounts were given to the Special Rapporteur of post-mortem examinations taking an unnecessarily long time before being conducted and the subsequent deterioration of evidence, their inadequate conduct, as well as of an inability of the families to obtain death certificates for a very long period. The Special Rapporteur was informed inter alia of autopsies being performed by members of the Dom community instead of trained medical practitioners, casting doubts on the quality of the conclusion reached after the medical examination.

Autopsies play a crucial role in the investigation and prosecution of murder cases. The system of autopsies and release of death certificates should be reformed to bring it in line with internationally accepted standards and allow families to have closure of cases.

The Special Rapporteur notes the NHRC’s comments that the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR-OP1) does not constitute a vital concern, given that India has a strong judiciary as well as commissions that hear individual complaints.While the work of the Indian judiciary is acknowledged, the Special Rapporteur stresses that the ratification of the ICCPR-OP1 will enable individuals to hold the State responsible for all potential failures of ensuring accountability in all cases of violations, thus strengthening efforts to fight against impunity.

B.Killings of vulnerable persons

  1. Scheduled castes and tribes and other marginalized communities
    Discrimination on the basis of caste is prohibited in India, and some positive steps have been taken to improve the situation, although the impact on lower castes and tribes in practice so far is limited. According to NCRB, there were 35 murders registered in 2011 due to caste-related reasons. Non-governmental organizations indicate that 3,593 murders against scheduled castes or tribes occurred between 1995 and 2007.

The Special Rapporteur heard a number of cases on the killings of persons belonging to scheduled castes or tribes, as well as to other marginalized communities. The violence against them is more prevalent in rural areas, largely due to prejudices that are still firmly entrenched. Patterns of killings relate to condemnation of intermarriage between higher castes and scheduled castes, or witchcraft accusations. Tribal individuals may also be killed in the armed exchanges between the Government forces and armed groups, by any of the sides. In such contexts, members of tribes are sometimes labelled “terrorists” and killed, although later it becomes clear that they were ordinary civilians. Adivasis were moreover killed in ethnic violence in the 1990s, while their killing at present appears to be largely due to issues concerning land disputes and attacks in insurgency-affected areas.

The low social status of these persons renders them vulnerable to violations of all their rights, including the right to life, and hampers their access to justice and redress mechanisms.

The Special Rapporteur notes the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, adopted in 1989, which aims at dissuading violence by providing harsher punishment for persons committing offences against individuals protected under this Act. He is, however, concerned that Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians have not been incorporated into the definition of scheduled castes under this Act, and thus do not benefit from its provisions. In addition, he wishes to underline the importance of ensuring the protection of all marginalized communities in practice through proper implementation of the related legislation, as well as the conduct of relevant education and awareness-raising campaigns.

2.Human rights defenders

Human rights defenders are increasingly targeted by both State and non-State actors. Especially vulnerable are RTI activists, those exposing mining corruption, environmental and poverty issues, land rights of marginalized communities, and accountability concerns.

While the adoption of the RTI Act in 2005, aiming at ensuring access to information and transparency on violations of human rights, is a welcome measure, it is alarming that those who lodge requests for information are often targeted for doing precisely that and are sometimes killed. According to information received from non-governmental sources, it is estimated that 12 RTI activists were killed in 2010 and 2011.For instance, on 20 July 2010, Mr. Amit Jethwa, an RTI activist, was killed by unidentified assailants near the Gujarat High Court, due to his exposing political involvement in illegal mining activities.

Human rights defenders and journalists regularly are victims of violence between armed groups and Governmental forces, in a context where both sides suspect human rights defenders and journalists of supporting the other side.

The Government has attempted to address the concerns related to the protection of human rights defenders, including through its invitation to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders in 2011. Her 2012 report to the Human Rights Council provided a range of recommendations which could assist in curbing violence against human rights defenders. The Government is therefore invited to make a concerted effort to implement these recommendations.

3.Protection of victims and witnesses

The Special Rapporteur found that witnesses are often intimidated and threatened. However, there is no witness and victim protection programme in India. Interlocutors met explicitly stated that several investigations by commissions have been compromised due to the refusal of witnesses to testify. In the Special Rapporteur’s view, India must ensure that witnesses who may be exposed to intimidation and death are adequately protected. He was, for instance, informed of the case of Zahaira Habibulla H. Sheikh v s . State of Gujarat, concerning the deaths of 14 persons during the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat. In this case, 21 accused were acquitted due inter alia to the reported refusal of 37 witnesses for the prosecution to testify. The Special Rapporteur welcomes that the Supreme Court of India reversed the acquittals in this case, ordered a retrial outside Gujarat, and emphasized the crucial role of witness protection programmes.

C.Killings and enforced disappearances in Jammu and Kashmir

Concerns have been voiced to the Special Rapporteur on unmarked graves found in Jammu and Kashmir containing bodies of victims of extrajudicial executions from the 1990 to 2009 period. The Special Rapporteur was informed that a total of 2,700 unmarked graves containing over 2,943 bodies have been discovered, some of these graves containing more than one body. While the Government expressed its intention to conduct investigations into unmarked graves, this has not yet been done.

The Special Rapporteur was presented with several cases of enforced disappearances in Jammu and Kashmir, and the difficulties to seek accountability and redress in those cases. The Government has estimated that 4,000 people have gone missing, and claimed in exchanges with the Special Rapporteur that a large portion of those allegedly missing crossed the border to join armed groups in Pakistan. Other sources have estimated the number to be 5,000–10,000. India has signed, but not yet ratified, the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances.

VI.The role of Human Rights Commissions

The record of the NHRC includes important steps in protecting the right to life in India. The NHRC has, for instance, delivered several important guidelines on a variety of topics including deaths in custody and encounter killings and played a prominent role in ordering compensation in situations of “fake encounters”. The Special Rapporteur, however, had the impression that currently the NHRC could be taking a too legalistic and deferential approach, and that the NHRC should take a more proactive view, and where appropriate, should be willing to take a critical stance towards the decisions of courts.

The effective functioning of the NHRC is partially hampered by its mandate, and specifically by its competence to only investigate matters within one year from the date of the incident, which may constitute a serious impediment in efforts to shed light on past violations. Another difficulty lies in the lack of clarity on the NHRC’s powers to examine alleged human rights violations by members of the armed forces. Specifically, section 19 of the Protection of Human Rights Act authorizes the NHRC to request in such situations a report from the central Government and enables the NHRC to make recommendations to the Government. In the Special Rapporteur’s view, section 19 is formulated in a manner that does not provide express authorization to the NHRC to investigate members of the armed forces for alleged human rights violations.

With regard to the functioning of State Human Rights Commissions (SHRCs), the Special Rapporteur found they inspire little confidence, in terms of lack of independence from the authorities, limited resources and subsequent limited effectiveness. The Special Rapporteur was informed that the Manipur SHRC was for all practical purposes closed down after it challenged excess of power by the police. Interlocutors further revealed that they would refer no matters to the Assam SHRC in 2012, as it would be futile. The Assam SHRC mentioned to the Special Rapporteur that it was subordinate to the Government.

VII.Conclusions

Whil e India is to be commended for several positive aspects in its human rights record , there is reason for serious concern , specifically about extrajudicial executions. The main patterns of unlawful killings in India at present involve, inter alia , killings resulting from various instances of excessive use of force by the security force s, those occurring in the context of attacks by various armed groups , and killings of vulnerable persons.

Impunity is the central problem. The obstacles to accountability , especially the need for prior sanction of prosecutions of civil servants , should be removed.

To a large extent, the required structures to decrease extrajudicial executions are already in place. The steps to be taken have also largely been identified within the system. A concerted and systematic effort is req uired by the State, civil society and others concerned to eradicate the occurrence of unlawful killings . In this process, some best practices that are already followed in the country should be used as models for reform elsewhere.

There is a strong need for victims to speak about their experiences. A credible national process under the form of transformative justice is called for. J ustice for victims, accountability and punishment of the perpetrators are essential elements of such a process. Specific attention should be given to the following issues: (a) challenging the general culture of impunity; (b) addressing the practice of “fake encounters” to ensure that it is eliminated ; and (c) ensuring swift , decisive action, with concrete outcomes, is taken in cases of large-scale killings.

A public commitment to the eradication of the phenomenon of unlawful killings is needed .

VIII.Recommendations

A credible Commission of Inquiry into extrajudicial executions in India , or at least the areas most affected by extrajudicial executions, which inspires the confidence of the people , should be appointed by the Government. The Commission should also serve a transitional justice role. It should (a) investigate allegations concerning past and recent violations of the right to life; (b) propose relevant measures to tackle them ; and (c) work out a plan of action for the future to eradicate practices of extrajudicial executions. The Commission should submit recommendations on (a) legal reform ; (b) the reform of State structures, including security bodies; and (c) the fight against impunity. It must complete its work within a reasonably short period. The scale of the task may require some priority areas of investigation to be determined.

Ratification of the following treaties should take place promptly: (a) the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and its Optional Protocol; and (b) the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

Ratification of the following instruments should be considered: (a) the two Optional Protocols to the ICCPR; (b) the Optional Protocol to CEDAW; (c) the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court; and (d) the two Optional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions.

India should swiftly e nact the Prevention of Torture Bill and ensur e its compliance with CAT.

India should r epeal, or at least radically amend, AFSPA and the Jammu and Kashmir AFSPA , with the aim of ensuring that the legislation regarding the use of force by the armed forces provides for the respect of the principles of proportionality and necessity in all instances, as stipulated under international human rights law . It should also remov e all legal barriers for the criminal prosecution of members of the armed forces.

While waiting for the necessary amendment or repeal of AFSPA, it should be ensured that the status of a “disturbed area” under AFSPA is subject to regular review – for example , every six months – and a justified decision is made on its further extension.

Section 46 of the Criminal Procedure Code and legislation in all states regarding use of force, including the exceptional use of lethal force, by all security officers should be reviewed to ensure compliance with international human rights law principles of proportionality and necessity.

Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code should be reviewed in order to remove any legal barriers for the criminal prosecution of a public servant, including the need for prior sanction from the government before cognizance can be taken of any offence by a public servant for criminal prosecution.

The Schedule d Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act should be reviewed with the aim of extending its scope to Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians.

The criminal legislation should be reviewed to ensure that all gender-based killings, as well as killings of any member of a tribe or lower caste receive high sentences, possibly under the form of life imprisonment.

The Indian legislation regarding the imposition of the death penalty should be reviewed to provide that the death penalty may be imposed for the most serious crimes only, namely only for those crimes that involve intentional killing.

India should consider p lac ing a moratorium on the death penalty in accordance with General Assembly resolution s with a view to abolishing it.

India should put in place a mechanism of r egular review and monitoring of the status of implementation of the directives of the Supreme Court and the NHRC guidelines on arrest, encounter killings, and custodial violence and death.

The establishment and effective functioning of the independent Police Complaints Authorities should be made a priority in all states.

India should ensure that FIR registration is prompt and made mandatory in all cases of unlawful killings and death threats. The authorities should put in place an independent mechanism to monitor FIR registration following any request to do so , as well as of punishment of those law enforcement officials who refuse to register a FIR.

Compensation in cases of killings cannot play the role of replacement for criminal prosecutions and punishment. Alongside payment of compensation to the victims or their families, India should ensure that criminal investigations, prosecutions and trials are launched and conducted in a swift, effective and impartial manner in all cases of unlawful killings, irrespective of the status of the perpetrator.

P romotions and other types of awards for security officers suspected to have been involved in unlawful killings, including thro ugh encounters, should not be granted until a proper clarification of facts.

India should ensure that command and/or superior responsibility is applied for violations of the right to life by security officers .

All vigilante groups and civilians recruited to perform military or law enforcement tasks, and who are not part of the regular security forces, should be dissolved and prohibited with immediate effect.

The protection of civilians in all instances of violence should constitute the ultimate priority. All sides involved in armed activities should immediately cease attacking civilians, including members of tribes and castes, human rights defenders and journalists. While having the duty to protect its people from the attacks perpetrated by various non-State actors, the Indian authorities should ensure its acts do not target civilians by any means, and are directed in a very precise manner at neutralizing violent non-State actors.

An effective witness and victim protection programme should be established.

Autopsies should be carried out in conformity with international standards and families of victims should have full and easy access to autopsy reports, death certificates and other relevant documentation to allow them to proceed with the closure of the cases.

Information and awareness-raising campaigns should be launched to raise the level of knowledge o f human rights and access to justice of the public at large, with a particular focus on vulnerable persons such as women and members of tribes and lower castes. Legal aid mechanisms for these vulnerable persons should be devised to enable them to seek protection, justice and redress in cases of violation of their rights.

Increased sensiti zation and orientation programmes in respect of all forms of killings of women should be undertaken for the police, judiciary and the public at large, especially in areas of the country which are most affected.

Section 19 of the Protection of Human Rights Act should be amended to provide the NHRC with the express authori zation to investigate members of the armed forces for alleged human rights violations.

A legal basis should also be put in place to enable the exten sion of the period of one year under which the NHRC can consider cases .

The NHRC should issue guidelines on the conduct of inquests and autopsies in all cases of unlawful killings .

The independence and functioning of state human rights commissions should be reviewed to ensure compliance with the United Nations Principles relating to the Status of National Institutions .

The Nanavati-Mehta Commission, and all currently functioning Commissions of Inquiry on various violations of the right to life, should ensure that their findings are published in a swift and transparent manner.

India should consider launching a process of reflection upon the need to reform its judiciary with the aim of reducing the length of judicial proceedings and strengthening the independent functioning of the judiciary.

The practice of inviting United Nations special procedures should continue, especially in areas where international concern has been expressed, such as torture, counter-terrorism measures, enforced disappearances and minority rights. The recommendations made in 201 2 by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders should be given serious consideration with a view to their implementation.


A/HRC/23/47/Add.1

UNO Human Rights Commission




Declaration of Human Rights-China

Adopted on: 17 Jan 1979

Preamble

This Declaration is an inofficial document, which is also known as the 19 Articles on Human Rights, was adopted by the Chinese Human Rights Alliance after its founding on 1 Jan 1979.  Posted on Democracy Wall on Peking’s Tian An Men Square, it attracted wide attention and led to a lively discussion of its contents which were, however, far from universally acknowledged among Chinese citizens.

Article 1  [Freedom of Expression, No Deification]
(1) The citizens demand freedom of expression and the release of all political prisoners.  It is equally absurd to write an individual’s thought into the Constitution as it is absurd to include the name of an heir apparent in the Party and State Constitutions.  This is in violation of the principle of freedom of expression, in violation of a person’s thinking processes, and in violation of the fundamental principle of the complexity of matter in materialism.
(2) The people of the country deeply detest an ingratiating attitude, because they know there is nothing in the world that is sacred and inviolable.  The citizen demand the uprooting of superstitious deification and idol worship, the removal of the crystal coffin, and the conversion of the mausoleum to a memorial hall, the construction of Premier Zhou’s memorial hall and the annual solemn observance of the Tian An Men Incident in order to free faith from superstition.

Article 2  [Criticism, No Feudal Standards, Democracy]
(1) The citizens demand that the Constitution guarantee the right to criticize and evaluate Party and State leaders.
(2) In order to spare this generation and succeeding ones further misery, to uphold truth and justice, and to promote productivity, the citizens demand the complete abolition of the feudal and despotic standards now in force which equate opposition to certain individuals with counter-revolution.
(3) The citizens further demand that Chinese society be genuinely built on the foundation of democracy.

Article 3  [Minorities, Parties, Democratic Centralism]
(1) The citizens demand that minority nationalities be given broad autonomy.
(2) It is important to realize that China is not only a multi-national country, but also a multi-party country.  In marching down the road of socialism, our country must face the multi-party reality, allowing representation of all parties in the National People’s Congress.  It is absurd that although according to the law the highest organ of the state is the National People’s Congress, other parties are barred from participating in it.
(3) It is against the principle of democratic centralism to replace the Government with the Chinese Communist Party and to merge the Government and the Chinese Communist Party into one, for the result of such a merging is the inevitable continuation of rampant bureaucratism.  The citizens of our country do not want a good-weather Constitution.

Article 4  [Elections, Control]
(1) The citizens demand that nationwide general elections be held to choose state and local leaders by direct balloting.  Delegates to neither the Fourth nor the Fifth National People’s Congress were popularly elected.  This not only made a laughing-shock of our country’s socialist democracy, but also represented a fraud perpetrated on the human rights of the 970 million citizens of China.
(2) The citizens demand that a Citizens’ Committee or Citizens’ Board be elected as a permanent organ of the People’s Congress to participate in the national decision-making process and to supervise the government.
(3) The citizens further demand that party and state leaders violating the law be brought to justice and that party and state leaders be always under the purview of the law.

Article 5  [Information]
Every citizen of the People’s Republic of China must have the right to demand that the government make public the following information:
– state budget and gross national income,
– gross industrial and agricultural production,
– military expenditures,
– government administrative expenditures,
– investments and revenues,
– total number of industrial workers and cadres,
– total wages,
– size of armed forces,
– unemployment figures,
– workers’ insurance,
– welfare and relief statistics,
– retail price index,
– foreign trade volumes and foreign economic and military aid (including aid to parties not in power or involved in armed struggles),
– production figures in various sectors of the national economy,
– current population and population growth,
– deaths and injuries from industrial accidents,
– diplomatic agreements,
– budgetary deficits, and
– domestic and foreign debts.

Article 6  [Publicity]
The National People’s Congress shall not hold any secret sessions. The citizens shall have the freedom to attend the National People’s Congress, and the meetings of its Standing Committee and the Preparatory Committee.

Article 7  [Public Property Control]
(1) There must be a gradual abolition of the system of state ownership of the means of production and a gradual transition to the system of ownership by all of society, under which the citizens must have the right to supervise the control and distribution of the surplus labor of all citizens by the state.  This is to prevent further wanton exploitation by feudal-socialist swindlers like Lin Biao and the Gang of Four, so that the citizens will be spared further miseries which were brought about by such campaigns as the slogans:
“counter-attacking of the rightists,”
“the maladjustment of ratios,”
” the tearing up of agreements,”
“the all-out civil war,”
“the economic stagnation” and the one called
“bordering on collapse.”
(2) The citizens demand a voice in setting industrial, agricultural and commercial taxes, and the amount of industrial profits going to the state.

Article 8  [No Revisionism, Detente with America and Japan]
(1) The Chinese Communist Party has revised its perception of Comrade Tito and the theory and practice of his Yugoslav socialism, realizing that a backward theory inevitable goes together with backward productivity.  This perception follows the theory of turning revisionist.  After a 10-year tragedy involving everyone in the country, the Chinese national economy reached the brink of collapse.  Ironically, what Zhang Chun-chiao and Yao Wen-yuan called
“democratic factions turning into capitalist-roaders” and
“the Soviets turning into revisionists,”
actually share the same theoretical base.  In view of the major changes in our domestic and foreign policies and lines, the allegation of “turning revisionist” has totally collapsed both in theory and practice.  The objective basis on which the Sino-Soviet ideological differences once existed is now lacking.
(2) The citizen demand detente.  The Soviet people are a great people.  There should be everlasting friendship between the Chinese and American people, between the Chinese and the Japanese people, and between the Chinese and Soviet people as well.

Article 9  [Marxism, Western Traditions, Opening-Up]
(1) The citizen demand adherence to the teaching of Marxism that socialism leads to a society which insures individual freedom and that the model of a regime of any socialist country is inherited from the traditional model of a capitalist regime.  Divorced from the capitalist materialistic civilization, socialist democracy and freedom cannot survive.  This is the basic ideology in Marxist classics; it is also an important lesson learned by the Chinese people after wandering more than 20 years.
(2) We need to borrow not only from Western science and technology, but also from Western democratic, cultural traditions.
(3) The citizens demand that the government continue to open up previously closed doors, so as to allow ideological shackles to come down and freedom to sweep over the land, to allow intelligent Chinese people to share in the treasures of mankind, to allow the much-abused present generation to have a taste of freedom and the younger generation to be spared the same past misery, to eradicate class prejudices, and to end deceptive propaganda.

Article 10  [Foreign Information, Publication]
(1) Chinese citizens shall have the freedom to enter foreign embassies to obtain information materials, to hold press conferences with foreign newsmen and to publish their works abroad.  The citizens demand access to internal reading material and international motion pictures in order that there may be equality in cultural life.  The citizens shall have the freedom to subscribe to foreign newspapers and journals and to watch foreign television stations.
(2) The citizens demand that the state give them the right of publication according to the Constitution.

Article 11  [Work, Movement, Birth Control, Unemployment]
(1) The practice of life-time affiliation with a work unit should be completely abolished.  The citizens demand freedom of employment, attire, and movement; they demand that a solution be provided for the problems of husbands and wives working and living in different locations.  Cadres demand the freedom to switch jobs; security workers should have freedom in their love life and marriage; and middle-school graduates should have the freedom not to go to the production brigades in the countryside.
(2) We oppose coercive enforcement of birth control programs by the government and the use of government administrative power to enforce any kind of clarion call.
(3) The unemployed citizens demand that they have the right to receive state compensation.

Article 12  [Rations]
The citizens demand that the state guarantee the peasants basic grain rations in order to eliminate the need to beg.

Article 13  [Educated Youths in Agriculture]
Educated youths on state farms shall have the right to receive profit distributions.  All educated youths in agriculture demand that the state abolish their inhuman treatment, accord them political equality, improve their living conditions, and raise their wages.

Article 14  [Deceptive Recruiting]
The citizens demand that the state prohibit deceptive recruiting practices.  Units and cadres involved in deception must be brought to justice, particularly in cases involving the offering and taking of bribes.

Article 15  [Legal Remedies]
In working whole-heartedly for the four modernization, the government must also whole-heartedly and realistically serve the interests of the people.  It must heed the demand for improving the system of upward appeal by the victims of fabricated, unjust and mistaken cases, assuring that the upper echolons will handle the appeals directly and swiftly.

Article 16  [Secret Police, Arrest]
The secret police and the party secretary of a unit shall not have the right to arrest and to interrogate citizens.  The secret police system is extremely incompatible with socialist democracy and the citizens demand that the secret police be abolished.

Article 17  [Slums, Living, Exhibitions, Censorship, Political Review]
(1) The citizens demand the abolishment of slums, the practice of three generations living under the same roof and the custom of grown sons and daughters living in the same room.  The practice of organization controlling admission tickets should also be abolished.
(2) All exhibitions must be opened up to free admission.
(3) Censorship must be abolished and there must be a guarantee of the freedom of writing and freedom of the press.
(4) Political review in college entrance examinations must be abolished to insure equality based on examination scores alone.

Article 18  [Freedom to Travel]
We are the citizens of the world and as much, we demand the opening of borders, an active trade, cultural exchanges, export of laborers, the freedom to go aboard on work-study programs, and to work and travel abroad.

Article 19  [International Appeal for Support]
The Chinese Human Rights Alliance appeals to all governments, human rights organizations, and the public for support.