NGO influence at European Court of Human Rights comes under investigation

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The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has announced an investigation into the independence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg. Although the body of the document released this April does not directly acknowledge the existence of a deficit in impartiality, its title is very telling as far as the gravity of the allegations directed against the court. The reply to written questions from the Parliamentary Assembly is entitled “How to remedy potential conflicts of interest of judges at the European Court of Human Rights? Restoring the integrity of the European Court of Human Rights. The systemic problem of conflicts of interests between NGOs and judges of the European Court of Human Rights.”

Although complaints about the ECHR’s alleged political bias and collusion with far-left NGOs has often been dismissed or ignored in the past, a damning report by the European Centre for Law and Justice may have finally prompted parliamentarians to demand an investigation. The report published in 2020 had found several facts that could call the ECHR’s independence into questions.

“This report shows that at least 22 of the 100 permanent judges who have served on the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) between 2009 and 2019 are former officials or collaborators of seven NGOs that are highly active before the Court. Twelve judges are linked to the Open Society Foundation (OSF) network, seven to the Helsinki committees, five to the International Commission of Jurists, three to Amnesty International, and one each to Human Rights Watch, Interights and the A.I.R.E. Centre. The Open Society network is distinguished by the number of judges linked to it and by the fact that it funds the other six organizations mentioned in this report.”

The report goes on to detail cases where judges have presided over cases brought by NGO’s which they were personally involved with. Within ten years, there were 88 such cases. It also accuses the ECHR of a “lack of pluralism” in its interpretation of the law due to the fact that it had largely adopted the political and moral outlook of these left-wing NGOs.

The well-researched report confirms the concerns of those who have previously warned about the increasing influence of left-wing human rights lobby groups on the European justice system, and of one in particular, George Soros’ Open Society Foundation that finances and supports many of these. Read from a different angle, it is also a testament to the fact that most of the Western world’s NGOs now operate within the stranglehold of budgets, mission statements, and rules set by billionaire US oligarch George Soros.

The Council of Europe’s Advisory Panel of Experts had set themselves a generous timeframe to investigate reports such as the one above. They have until 2024 to implement the necessary changes to re-establish confidence in the independence of the Court. Their task is to provide additional safeguards to ensure the independence of judges and to set up a more effective system allowing the recall of judges presiding over a case in which there is a risk of a conflict of interest.

Among the judges known for their direct involvement with Soros’ educational and political empire was Hungarian academic András Sajó, co-founder of the Central European University. He was a member of the chamber that in 2009 ruled against the display of crucifixes in Italian schools.

Another controversial appointee among the judges, Yonko Grozev, had strong links with the Helsinki Committee, an Open Society Funds sponsored human rights lobby group. He is now a section president at the ECHR. The Helsinki Committee has received millions of dollars in funding from the Open Society Funds in past years and remains one of the most vocal critics of democratically-elected conservative political forces. Until 2015, Grozev had represented the Russian feminist punk group Pussy Riot at the ECHR as a lawyer, yet during the same year he became an ECHR judge while the trial was still active. In 2018, the court had decided against Russia.

The ECHR plays a crucial role in confirming or correcting decisions made by European courts and had remedied several miscarriages of justice in the past, most notably cases concerning Europe’s indigenous minorities. The fact that almost a quarter of its judges have or had ties to aggressive human rights lobby groups, lawyers and politically divisive NGOs, means that one important legal sign-post is gradually being removed from where European democratic nations could get their bearings.

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