JUSTICIA letter on latest attack against the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee


JUSTICIA letter on latest attack against the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee

October 2, 2019

The members of the JUSTICIA European Rights Network strongly condemn the request of the Bulgarian National Movement (VMRO/ВМРО – Българско Национално Движение), one of the parties in the ruling coalition in Bulgaria, seeking the de-registration of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) as a non-profit organisation. The move is an extremely worrying attempt to silence civil society in Bulgaria, as the BHC is an invaluable resource and a champion of human rights, especially for the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in society.

According to its own press release from 30 September 2019, VMRO has requested BHC’s de-registration for no reason other than the fact that it has engaged in activities that could only be described as legitimate human rights advocacy. These include criticising the government for human rights violations before the European Court of Human Rights, and campaigning to ensure that a convicted prisoner’s rights are respected. The JUSTICIA members were also concerned to learn that the complaint includes an allegation that BHC’s work training judges and magistrates amounts to an interference with the impartiality of the judiciary.

In their letter to Prime Minister Borisov and Prosecutor General Tsatsarov, the JUSTICIA members:

  • Call on VMRO to desist from its continued intimidation and harassment of BHC;
  • Expect the Prosecutor General of Bulgaria to handle the complaint against BHC impartially and free from political interference, recognising the essential role of human rights defenders, and Bulgaria’s international human rights obligations; and
  • Call on the Government of Bulgaria to ensure that human rights defenders are protected from harassment and intimidation, and to take steps to ensure that civil society organisations are able to operate freely.

JUSTICIA stands in solidarity with BHC, and strongly opposes the unjustified attacks on the organisation that further narrows the space for civil society in Bulgaria.

Read the letter to the Prime Minister and the Prosecutor General of Bulgaria here.

Members of the JUSTICIA European Rights Network are: Open Society Justice Initiative, Ludwig Boltzmann Institute, Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Croatian Law Center, Civil Rights Defenders, Res Publica, Hungarian Helsinki Committee, Greek Helsinki Monitor, Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Czech League of Human Rights, Statewatch, Human Rights Centre, KISA, Antigone, Human Rights Monitoring Institute, Netherlands Helsinki Committee, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, APADOR, The Peace Institute, Rights International Spain.

JUSTICIA brief on pre-trial detention in the European Union

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JUSTICIA brief on pre-trial detention in the European Union

It’s time for EU action to end excessive use

September 17, 2019 – Pre-trial detention




The members of the JUSTICIA European Rights Network (a coalition of the European leading civil liberties organizations working on the right to a fair trial) call on the European institutions to adopt legislation that ensures that pre-trial detention is used fairly and only when it is really justified.

In this joint brief, the JUSTICIA European Rights Network asks the European Commission to table legislation on pre-trial detention that protects the right to liberty and the presumption of innocence, and the European Parliament and Council to ensure that it contains key procedural protections, requires the use of alternatives to detention, excludes minor offences, among other safeguards.

The JUSTICIA European Rights Network considers that the unjustified and excessive use of pre-trial detention is all too common in the EU. Evidence shows that it is something that is needlessly wasting huge amounts of public funds, and contributing to prison overcrowding and adding to inhumane conditions. This situation also threatens to undermine mutual trust and judicial cooperation among EU member states. Demand for action is growing and legislation in this area must be introduced without delay

Read the JUSTICIA brief here.

Members of the JUSTICIA European Rights Network are: Open Society Justice Initiative, Ludwig Boltzmann Institute, Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Croatian Law Center, Civil Rights Defenders, Res Publica, Hungarian Helsinki Committee, Greek Helsinki Monitor, Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Czech League of Human Rights, Statewatch, Human Rights Centre, KISA, Antigone, Human Rights Monitoring Institute, Netherlands Helsinki Committee, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, APADOR, The Peace Institute, Rights International Spain.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +32 (0) 2 360 04 71.

Justicia: Arrest of KISA Director reflects wider European trend of criminalising support for migrants

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Arrest of KISA Director reflects wider European trend of criminalising support for migrants

admin – August 16, 2019 – migration, freedom of association, rule of law, civil society, Justicia


Earlier this month, the Executive Director of KISA – Action for Equality, Support, Anti-racism, a member of the JUSTICIA network coordinated by Fair Trials, was arrested for allegedly “obstructing police work” and “attempting to escape lawful arrest,” after offering assistance to a young man, a foreign national, who was being questioned aggressively by the police outside of KISA’s offices in Nicosia, Cyprus. This is the sixth arrest of KISA’s Executive Director over the past two decades, and it is part of a broader crackdown on NGOs assisting refugees and migrants in the context of rule of law backsliding and shrinking space for civil society in the European Union.

“KISA is of the view that this case, the sixth, is part of the criminalisation [process] and [an] attempt to intimidate and retaliate against it for its work in supporting migrant women and protecting human rights,” reads KISA’s statement on the arrest.

After being interrogated by the police, KISA’s Executive Director was accused of “obstructing police work,” an offense which carries a maximum fine of 150 pounds or jail time of one month, or both, and of “attempting to escape lawful arrest and custody,” which carries a prison sentence of up to five years.

Other charges brought against the Director since 2002 have included: illegal fundraising (for an urgent surgery of a migrant domestic worker); the use of megaphones without a licence during a solidarity event; trespassing (to investigate the death of a migrant man at the hands of the police); and rioting during the 13th Rainbow Festival, which was attacked by extreme-right groups. In five out of six cases, charges brought against him were either dropped by the Attorney General or led to acquittal.

In the last case, however, the Director of KISA was fined for “disturbing the peace” when he visited a police station in Nicosia and attempted to urge the police to take action to protect a migrant woman who had been a victim of violence and harassment.

Following the latest arrest of the Executive Director, the police officer also threatened to arrest all other KISA staff, if they published photographs or other material from the scene of the incident. The officer in question had been on KISA’s radar for a while, having received numerous complaints from non-nationals regarding his violent and disrespectful behaviour in breach of their human rights, including fair trial rights. KISA has filed a complaint with the local police watchdog to investigate the conduct of officer in question, but also asked for a broader examination into police abuses.

According to KISA’s press release, the Cypriot government is stifling the work of civil society groups by depriving them of resources and funding. Although the Cypriot police did not issue a press release about the latest arrest of KISA’s Executive Director, local media coverage portrayed his actions and the work of KISA in a negative, defamatory light. Both risk further shrinking civil society space in Cyprus, which could have long-term consequences for the rule of law, freedom of association and fundamental rights in the country.

The number of individuals criminalised for humanitarian activities in the EU has grown tenfold in the past three years, contributing to a general climate of mistrust and suspicion towards civil society. Such prosecutions are often politically motivated so as to defame individuals or civil society actors, to deter solidarity and create a hostile environment for migrants.

Last June, Members of European Parliament in the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee highlighted in a non-legislative resolution that EU laws are having “unintended consequences” for EU citizens, because they fail to properly distinguish between human smuggling and humanitarian work. They called on EU member states to include an exemption in their national laws for individuals and civil society organisations who assist migrants for humanitarian reasons and to ensure that they are not prosecuted for doing so.

In July 2019, several members of our JUSTICIA network signed a joint statement together with other European and national human rights organisations on the growing number of cases of criminal investigation and prosecution against individuals who provide humanitarian assistance, which Member States are unwilling or unable to provide, despite being obliged to do so according to international and EU law.

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JUSTICIA statement on the new amendment to Polish Code of Criminal Procedure

JUSTICIA statement
on the new amendment
to Polish Code of Criminal Procedure

14 August 2019

The members of the JUSTICIA European Rights Network (a coalition of the European leading civil liberties organizations working on the right to a fair trial) express their deep concerns regarding the compatibility of an amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure with international law standards, since it will allow public authorities to arbitrarily deprive individuals of liberty and their right to appeal against conviction.

Under the amendment, public prosecutors will have a final say in some cases concerning pre-trial detention. Moreover, the adopted amendment will also allow appeal courts to sentence a person whom a first instance court had previously conditionally discontinued criminal proceedings and imposed probation measures. Furthermore, the amended CCP will not provide for any possibility for such a person to appeal their conviction.

Finally, the adopted amendment will, in some extraordinary cases, allow criminal courts to conduct the evidentiary proceedings without the presence of both the defendant and the defence counsel, even when their absence is justified.

The JUSTICIA European Rights Network considers that none of the solutions adopted in the amendment can be reconciled with the requirements of the right to a fair trial.

Read the letter to the President of Poland here.

JUSTICIA European Rights Network expresses its deep concerns on the decision of Poland to introduce a possibility to sentence a convict for a whole life sentence


The members of the JUSTICIA European Rights Network (a coalition of the European leading civil liberties organizations working on the right to a fair trial) would like to express their deep concerns regarding the recent Polish Parliament decision to adopt an amendment to the Criminal Code introducing a possibility to sentence a convict for a whole life sentence.

Pursuant to the newly adopted provision the Criminal Court will have a power to exclude the possibility of conditionalearly release whenever the nature or circumstances of convict’s crime, as well as its personal characteristics, indicate that the convicted person’srelease from prison will result in a permanent threat to the life, health, liberty orsexual freedom of any other person. Moreover, the Court will also be able to make a similar decision in the case of convicts who were previously sentenced to life imprisonment.The JUSTICIA European Rights Network would like to emphasize that these provisions raise serious concerns regarding theircompatibility with the Conventionfor the Protection of Human Rightsand Fundamental Freedoms(the “Convention”). The European Court of Human Rights has on numerous occasionspointed out that all life prisoners cannot be denied a prospect of a release and they should have a possibility to apply for the review of their sentence1.Otherwise, their punishment will result in inhuman treatment violating requirements arising from art. 3 of the Convention. This is also required by other international human rights standards. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, for example,indicates that the essential aim of the penitentiary system should be a prisoner’s reformation and social rehabilitation. Moreover, theCouncil of 1See e.g.: ECtHR judgement (Grand Chamber) of 9 July 2013 in the case Vinter and Others v. the United Kingdom, application no. 66069/09; ECtHR judgement (Grand Chamber) of 26 April 2016 in the case Murray v. Netherlands, application no. 10511/10;ECtHR judgement of 4 October 2016 in the case T.P. and A.T. v. Hungary, application no. 37871/14

Europe Recommendationsindicate conditional release to be available to all sentenced prisoners, including life–sentenced prisoners2.Likewise, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (“CPT”) has indicated its serious reservations regarding countries which have introduced whole life sentence. In the CPT’s opinion,imprisonment for life without any real hope of releasehas constitutesinhumantreatment.3Therefore, the members of JUSTICIA European Rights Network hope that Polish authorities will revoke proposed changes in Criminal Code and ensure compliance of the national system of conditional release with the requirements of the Council of Europe. As a result, we call upon the President of Poland to veto the proposed amendment. The adoption of this law will significantly underminehuman rights in Poland. 2Recommendation Rec(2003)22 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on conditional release (parole)3Situation of life-sentenced prisoners, Extract from the 25th General Report of the CPT, published in 2016, available at: https://rm.coe.int/16806cc447

When It Comes to Race, European Justice Is Not Blind


When It Comes to Race, European Justice Is Not Blind

In Bulgaria, half of the people in prison in 2015 were Roma. In Estonia, foreigners are disproportionately represented among people being held in pretrial detention. In Greece foreigners who are convicted of a crime receive heavier sentences than Greeks. Roma in Hungary are three times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police, and are less likely than non-Roma to be released awaiting trial.

These alarming findings are highlighted in a new scoping study, produced by the two of us with Justicia, the EU criminal justice reform network, that looked at the treatment of minority groups and non-nationals by the police and justice systems across 12 European Union member states. The conclusion, unfortunately, is that there is a significant level of unfairness in how people are treated, depending on their ethnic background.

This is believed to be one of the first studies of its kind. Despite efforts by the European Union to ensure that EU members apply common standards in their justice system in terms of arrest rights—such as ensuring early access to a lawyer—the question of standards of ethnic or racial bias have not been on the agenda.

There are no European Union–wide regulations that have standardized data collection and monitoring of outcomes in the criminal justice systems, with particular attention to ethnic and racial minorities, and non-nationals.

In addition, in most of the countries covered by the study, there was a lack of ethnic and racial data. Even when this data was gathered, we noticed a lack of consistent methods of their collection and application of concepts of race, ethnicity, and national origin.

For instance, Romania, the Czech Republic, Italy, Spain, Hungary, Sweden, Slovenia, and Estonia gather criminal justice statistics that are broken down by nationality, but mostly in a selective and inconsistent manner. Only the UK has been systematically collecting data on ethnic and racial minorities for the last four decades in different areas of social life, including in criminal justice. This makes it very difficult to monitor the practices and outcomes of criminal justice institutions and poses main challenges in cross-country comparisons due to lack of correlating data.

Despite these challenges, two principal areas of concern emerged from this study.

First, institutional bias. According to the research, stereotypes deeply rooted in the society are reflected in the practice of police officers, prosecutors, judges, and even, sometimes, in the practice of legal aid lawyers.

Researchers have noticed this practice, among others, in Bulgaria, Spain, or Sweden. In Romania, for instance, an independent expert noted that courtroom officials are deeply biased against people they believe are Roma. In Spain, the existence of clear institutional bias was paralleled by the disproportionate representation of non-nationals in crime rates statistics, pretrial statistics, or prison population statistics.

Additionally, implied bias was noted among Italian and Hungarian police officers, as well those in Romania, who during interviews indicated a common belief that all Roma have criminal characteristics. In the UK, police uses ethnic stereotyping as an evident tactic. Black people, for example, are four times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than white people. Ethnic disparities introduced by stop-and-search, and other forms of police activity, remain significant throughout prosecution, conviction, and sentencing.

Second, the research clearly showed that non-nationals do not enjoy the same level of protection for their rights once they are arrested—principally due to a lack of access to both interpreters, and to information on their procedural rights in their own language. The situation is additionally exacerbated by the lack of effective legal aid provision in the majority of the 12 countries in the survey. While this affects detainees and suspects regardless of their ethnic identity or national status, it clearly becomes a far greater challenge when language barriers are also involved.

The limited methodology employed in this study—which is based largely on a survey of existing research and publicly available statistics supplemented by interviews with informative stakeholders—did not enable us to produce a comprehensive picture of existing disparities and their sources, but rather gave some snapshots of areas of greatest concerns. Yet it clearly demonstrates the extent of an issue that casts a shadow over the European Union’s ambitious efforts to introduce common standards of justice and rights across its member states. Having recognized the problem, it’s time to find ways to fix it.

Justicia: Comparative Report – Ethnic, Racial, or National Disparities in Criminal Justice


Comparative Report – Ethnic, Racial, or National Disparities in Criminal Justice


30 Nov 2018: In 2017, under the existing European Commission Framework Grant for the Justicia Network, Open Society Justice Initiative conducted a small scale, ten-day scoping study to initiate these explorations and obtain an overview of current practices and main challenges as regards ethnic, racial, or national disparities in criminal justice.

The context for this research is that most European Union Member States have very little or no statistical evidence, research or information on how suspects and accused persons belonging to racial or ethnic minorities are dealt with throughout all stages of criminal proceedings and how they experience those proceedings.

The study consisted primarily of a desk review aiming to collect both quantitative and qualitative data and a secondary analysis of empirical data collected through semi-structured key informant interviews. We carried out the scoping study across Spain, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Estonia, United Kingdom, Czech Republic, Italy, Sweden, Cyprus, Greece, and Hungary. Assessments were completed in the fourth quarter of 2017, and results were presented in country – specific reports.

Most importantly, all twelve European Union Members States at took part in the research established that disparities exist for people of various ethnic, racial, and national origins, at least at some stages of their criminal justice systems and in some form. However, the questions surrounding the real scope of the issue, its sources, impacts on criminal justice proceedings and outcomes, and key points in the criminal justice chain resulting in disparate treatment of ethnic, racial, or national groups could not be answered through this study and as such remain unanswered and in need of further in-depth analysis.

To read the report click the link below.