According to several submissions to the UN’s Universal Periodic Review, the Spanish legal system allows for violation of human rights, either by directly ignoring EU standards, or through loopholes in existing laws, writes Human Rights Without Frontiers Director Willy Fautré.
An emblematic case in point is the abuse suffered by the Kokorev family (Vladimir Kokorev, his wife and their son), in which the Spanish judge put three family members in a lengthy pre-trial detention, combined with no access to their case file (a regime called “secreto de sumario”), and particularly harsh prison conditions reserved for terrorists and violent criminals (called FIES regime under Spanish laws).
According to attorney Scott Crosby, who submitted an application in July on behalf of Vladimir Kokorev to the European Court of Human Rights, a Spanish judge imprisoned all three family members from 2015 to late 2017 on a vaguely worded suspicion of money-laundering. No formal charges were laid, nor “could they be laid because there was no evidence that the Kokorevs had handled illicitly generated money”, Crosby says in his submission. Towards the end of these two years of imprisonment, detention was extended for a further two years, still in the absence of a formal charge and evidence of a predicate crime. On appeal this was commuted to territorial confinement which restricted the family to Gran Canaria and required them to report weekly to the local court.
During their pre-trial detention, the Kokorevs were robbed of their presumption of innocence, being treated in all respects as dangerous prisoners such as terrorists, sexual offenders or war criminals (FIES-5, the highest and harshest level of detention conditions) although they had never used or incited violence and had no prior criminal record, in Spain or elsewhere.
Over the last fifteen years, the European Parliament and the Council of Europe, in particular the Committee of Prevention of Torture (CPT), have expressed serious concerns and warnings about the FIES system. According to the submission of Human Rights Frontiers, the FIES - 5 status, to which the Kokorev family was subjected resulted in:
“...frequent changes of cell, the use of mechanical restraints when being moved, restricted visits and allowing the prison administration to monitor and record without judicial authorisation all of their communications and visits… [denial of] the benefit of European Prison Rules, such as the right to be detained separately from convicted prisoners...day release...contact between the family…[and the option to post] bail. Alternatives to incarceration were not considered or offered.”
Furthermore, the Kokorevs were subjected to the secreto de sumario regime, which meant that neither they nor their lawyers had any access to the Court files, the evidence, or the reasoning being used by the judge to keep them in prison.
As Human Rights Without Frontiers’ submission to the UPR explains: “Significantly, this case offers a unique corroboration that the Directive 2012/13/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 May 2012 on the right to information in criminal proceedings (which should prevent the secreto de sumario from being used in the context of pretrial detention), has not been properly implemented by Spain via the Ley Orgánica 5/2015 of 27 April 2015.”
Another joint submission by a number of Spanish law firms that specialise in criminal and penitentiary law, denounces that pretrial imprisonment is used by Spanish judges to “soften” the person under investigation. The submission concludes, after explaining that Spain takes a predominantly inquisitorial approach to the criminal investigation, that: “This tendency towards the abuse of pretrial imprisonment is the result of (a) the features of the Spanish criminal system, in which there is an investigative judge; (b) the opportunities for the investigation derived from pretrial imprisonment, particularly when it is applied simultaneously with other measures that exist in the Spanish legal system, such as the secreto de sumario and the FIES, and (c) the fact that the right to compensation for [unlawful] pretrial imprisonment is contingent upon [proof of] innocence (there even existing different kinds of innocence for these purposes)."
Stakeholder submissions called for Spain to be held accountable for these human rights violations. Repeated recommendations from various voices call Spain to abolish the secreto de sumario and FIES system, to respect the presumption of innocence, and to reform the practice of lengthy pre-trial detention.
Currently, the Kokorev Case seems to be the only instance in which a Spanish judge used these three measures in combination with each other and therefore will also be the first chance for the European Court of Human Rights to rule on this kind of practice.
EAPM: Beating cancer inequalities, getting ready for summer hols and transparency
Good afternoon, health colleagues, and welcome to the European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) update – there is much to discuss, on beating inequalities in cancer treatment, clinical data transparency and, importantly, planning for summer holidays writes EAPM Executive Director Dr. Denis Horgan.
Commissioner says EU cancer plan must ‘break the silence’ on women’s cancers
There is a large inequality of access to women’s cancer services and treatments across the EU, according to the bloc’s health chief, who highlighted the role of Europe’s Beating Cancer plan in bridging these disparities. Speaking during a webinar, Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said there is a need to “break the silence” and talk openly about gynaecological cancers.
The EU, she added, has “to assure that all women in all corners of the EU, get the support, have access to the screening and the vaccination, the information and the multidisciplinary care that they should be having”.
Her hopes are on Europe’s beating cancer plan, which must bring “real change”. “This is what European citizens expect from us. And I also believe that we don’t have a right to fail them. We have an opportunity and we need to seize it,” Kyriakides said. Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan was set in 2020 to tackle the entire disease pathway, from prevention to treatment, with the goal to equalise access to high-quality care, diagnosis and treatment across the bloc.
About 40% of cancer cases are preventable through effective cancer prevention strategies. The commissioner added that the EU cancer plan “aims to offer breast cancer screening to 90% of people who qualify for it by 2025”.
EMA chief sceptical about waiving patents as answer to vaccine inequity
The head of the European Medicines Agency expressed scepticism that waiving patents on coronavirus vaccines will bring about equitable access, saying that instead the answer was increasing distribution and availability.
In an interview with several national European newspapers, EMA Executive Director Emer Cooke said that she firmly believes in “equitable access to vaccines and that nobody is safe until we are all safe,” when asked about the U.S. proposal for a vaccine patent waiver.
“For me, however, the way to solve this problem at the moment is to increase the distribution and availability of vaccines,” she said, pointing to a significant number of doses set to be available over the next several months.
Cooke said that the focus should be on “enabling innovation.” “None of our existing vaccines would have come about if there hadn’t been an environment that made innovation attractive,” she said.
Despite this, Cooke conceded that in the “long term” the debate on patent protection should be carried out.
More action on rare diseases
Any disease affecting fewer than five people in 10,000 in the EU is considered rare. Although this might appear small, it translates into approximately 246,000 people. Most patients suffer from even rarer diseases affecting 1 person in 100,000 or more. Approximately 5,000-8,000 distinct rare diseases affect 6-8% of the EU population i.e. between 27 and 36 million people.
Public Health Policy Director Anna Kole has said that the successful launch of Europe’s Beating Cancer plan had provided inspiration for the idea of creating a dedicated action plan for rare diseases.
Meanwhile, the Commission is moving on several different fronts to improve rare disease treatment in the EU. An impact assessment evaluating proposals to change EU regulations for medicines for rare diseases and for children is expected to run until the first quarter of next year. That will open the door to new legislative changes. And creation of a European health data space will allow pooling data from rare disease patients across different member countries.
Kole said that an action plan would allow better coordination across the disparate fields that the Commission is acting on, as well as the introduction of new flagship initiatives.
“If there’s one disease area where EU added value can’t be more clearly demonstrated, it’s rare diseases,” said Kole, who pointed to the benefits of allowing patients to move across borders for specialist treatment, or for facilitating data sharing throughout the bloc, as examples.
The EU supports research into rare diseases through Horizon 2020, the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. Horizon 2020 is the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme ever, with nearly €80 billion of funding available over 7 years (2014 to 2020). Close to €900 million, is available to more than 160 collaborative projects related to rare diseases.
Rich-poor vaccine inequity
The disparity in access to COVID-19 vaccines between rich and low-income countries has become impossible to ignore; according to UNICEF data, 86% of all doses given worldwide up to 30 March were administered to those in high- and upper-middle-income countries, while just 1% of jabs have been given to those in the world’s poorest.
Low-risk groups in the UK, US and Israel are becoming eligible for jabs, while vulnerable populations elsewhere remain at risk of contracting the virus. The hoarding of vaccines by wealthy countries, as the pandemic ravages economically disadvantaged nations, has brought the issue of vaccine patents to the fore.
Biotechnology Innovation Organization wrote in the Economist that the proposal “undermines the very system that produced the life-saving science in the first place”, and “destroys the incentive for companies to take risks to find solutions for the next health emergency”.
Regulators and WHO call for clinical data transparency
World regulatory authorities are calling for increased transparency from the pharmaceutical industry in how they report and give access to clinical trial data. In a joint statement, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Coalition of Medicines Regulatory Authorities (ICMRA) cited need for “wide access to clinical data for all new medicines and vaccines”.
Data related to a therapy or vaccine “must be published at the time of finalization of the regulatory review,” they said, regardless of whether the decision is positive or negative. “It cannot be justified to keep confidential efficacy and safety data of a medicine available on the market, or which has been refused access to the market.”
The two bodies cited “overriding public health interest” in their statement, which called for pharmaceutical companies to report clinical trial results without redacting information that would otherwise be confidential because of commercial reasons. Only personally identifying information and individual patient data should be redacted from publicly available clinical trial data, wrote WHO and ICMRA.
People can ‘start thinking about Europe summer travel’
People can start thinking about summer holidays in Europe on condition of being vaccinated, the EU has said, as its planned digital travel 'health pass' is on track for use from mid-June. The plan is that a European-wide health pass will be launched at the same time across the EU, and countries that do not have the resources to put it in place will be supported by the Commission, to avoid delays. Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said: “I seriously believe that we can start thinking about [summer travel], probably like last year in Europe. “It will be important to open the continent gradually, and to be able to go on holiday. Everyone must go to get vaccinated. As soon as you are called, go to get vaccinated.”
Commission publishes open public consultation on the European Health Data Space
The Commission has published an open public consultation on the European Health Data Space (EHDS) - an important building block of the European Health Union. The EHDS aims to make full use of digital health to provide high-quality healthcare and reduce inequalities. It will promote access to health data for prevention, diagnosis and treatment, research and innovation, as well as for policy-making and legislation. The EHDS will place individuals' rights to control their own personal health data at its core.
The consultation will remain open for responses until 26 July 2021. Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: ″The European Health Data Space will be a crucial component of a strong European Health Union. It will enable EU-wide collaboration for better healthcare, better research and better health policy-making. I invite all interested citizens and stakeholders to take part in the consultation and help us leverage the power of data for our health. This will have to rest on a strong foundation of non-negotiable citizens' rights, including privacy and data protection.″
And that is everything from EAPM for now – stay safe, stay well, have a terrific weekend, see you next week.
European Jewish chief asks heads of state to step up security of Jewish institutions due to rising threat
Rabbi Menachem Margolin (pictured), the chairman of the Brussels-based European Jewish Association, has written to heads of state across Europe asking them to step up security around Jewish Institutions and increase their vigilance and monitoring of known extremist networks in light of the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict.
Europe wide surveys by agencies such as the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) show that whenever there is a conflict between Israel and Palestinians, there is a marked uptick in incidents of an anti-semitic nature.
Rabbi Margolin relayed to the Heads of State that Jewish communities across the continent were concerned that if was not a matter of “if” but “when” reprisals against Jews and Jewish Institutions would take place.
In his letter the EJA head wrote:
“I write with a heavy heart for having to do so, but with an urgent request for your consideration.
“Figures prove that whenever Israel is engaged in skirmishes with Palestinian terror groups or others that seek to undermine Israel’s sovereignty, there is a sharp and marked uptick in antisemitic attacks across Europe.
“In short, Jews are held responsible. Of course, this runs counter to the spirit and letter of the IHRA definition of antisemitism - namely that Jews should not be held responsible for events in Israel, but also that antisemitism and anti-zionism are two sides of the same coin.
“Our association are hearing from our communities that they are concerned that it isn’t a case of ‘if’ but ‘when’ there will be reprisals and acts carried out against them because of the ongoing conflict. These concerns are not without foundation as we have already seen a number of angry demonstrations outside synagogues in parts of Europe.
“I ask you humbly and respectfully to increase vigilance and security in and around Jewish Institutions by your forces of law and order during this tense and difficult time and to increase your monitoring of social media channels and extremist networks.”
Airbus and Air France ordered to stand trial over 2009 crash
Air France (AIRF.PA) and Airbus (AIR.PA) should stand trial for involuntary manslaughter over their role in a 2009 crash in the Atlantic that killed 228 people, the Paris court of appeal ruled on Wednesday. (12 May)
The ruling reverses a 2019 decision not to prosecute either company over the accident, in which the pilots lost control of the Airbus A330 jet after ice blocked its airspeed sensors.
Victims' families welcomed the ruling, but Airbus and Air France said they would seek to overturn it at the Cour de Cassation, France's highest appeal court.
"The court decision that has just been announced does not reflect in any way the conclusions of the investigation," Airbus said in an emailed statement.
Air France "maintains that it committed no criminal fault at the root of this tragic accident", said a spokesman for the carrier, which is part of Air France-KLM.
Air France flight AF447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris crashed on 1 June, 2009, killing everyone on board.
French investigators found that the crew had mishandled the situation arising from the loss of speed data from sensors blocked with ice and caused an aerodynamic stall by holding the aircraft's nose too high.
The earlier decision not to go to trial drew legal challenges from the families as well as pilot unions and prosecutors who had pursued charges against Air France alone.
Wednesday's ruling upheld new demands for a trial of both companies from senior prosecutors who have accused Air France of pilot training failures and Airbus for underestimating dangers posed by known problems with the speed sensors.
Africa4 days ago
South African political parties and civil society plan mass Palestine protest march
Defence4 days ago
Military leaders address collective Arctic security issues
Israel4 days ago
Borrell condemns violence in Sheikh Jarrah, says Israel’s actions are illegal under international humanitarian law
Ireland5 days ago
NI Unionism in trouble
Digital economy4 days ago
Digital transformation: Importance, benefits and EU policy
EU3 days ago
EU and Kazakhstan have committed to 'further strengthening' bilateral relations between the two sides
Economy4 days ago
European Year of Rail: Connecting Europe Express will travel across 26 countries in 36 days
Kazakhstan4 days ago
Kazakhstan to work with the EU on climate conference in Nur-Sultan