Over the last few days, the abuse of a law against terrorism was spotlighted both at the UN in Geneva and at the annual human rights conference of the OSCE/ ODIHR in Warsaw – writes Willy Fautré , director of Human Rights Without Frontiers
At the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council, a spokesperson of Human Rights Without Frontiers made an oral statement highlighting the case of such an abuse suffered by the Kokorev family (Vladimir Kokorev and his wife, both in their sixties, and their 33-year old son).
A Spanish judge put them 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, terrorism suspects and violent criminals. Under Spanish law, this system of extreme surveillance is known as Ficheros de Internos de Especial Seguimiento, level 5 or FIES 5.
All three family members, who never used or incited violence, were imprisoned in late 2015 on a vaguely worded suspicion of money-laundering. Two of them were detained until late 2017 and one until early 2018. No formal charges were brought forward because there was no evidence that the Kokorev family had handled illicitly generated money.
Towards the end of these two years of imprisonment, their detention was extended for a further two years, despite the absence of a formal charge and evidence of a predicate crime. However, after a number of Members of the European Parliament held a round table in Brussels to denounce the misuse of the FIES system, the extension of their pre-trial detention by two more years was changed to territorial confinement. This measure restricts the family to Gran Canaria and requires them to report weekly to the local court.
As the Kokorev case demonstrates, the FIES system seems to be implemented in an indiscriminate and inconsistent manner without proper supervision and control mechanisms.
This case was part of the campaign of Human Rights Without Frontiers against the controversial FIES system which for many years has been criticized by the United Nations, the Council of Europe, Spanish MPs and MEPs as well as by human rights organizations.
At the UN in Geneva, Human Rights Without Frontiers recommended that Spain
- reform the FIES system by publicly outlining specific criteria for each status from FIES 1 to 5 and clarifying a chain of command and decision-making process for the placement of prisoners under each of the FIES statuses;
- improve detention conditions in both prisons in Gran Canaria, including an increase in the number of staff at both facilities;
- review the implementation of the Directive 2012/13/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council from 22 May 2012 regarding the right to information in criminal proceedings to ensure that the secreto de sumario regime does not compromise the rights of the detainees, in particular that no evidence or reasoning on which pretrial detention is grounded is withheld from them.
At the OSCE conference in Geneva, Human Rights Without Frontiers recommended that Spain
- repeal the law on incommunicado detention;
- cease holding detainees without formal charges;
- make much more extensive use of alternatives to prison detention;
- stop applying the FIES classification for non-dangerous inmates;
- abolish the secreto de sumario regime;
- put an end to pre-trial detention as a means of punishment;
- respect the presumption of innocence;
- respect the special diligence obligation;
Human Rights Without Frontiers also encouraged Spain to comply with the recommendations of the United Nations and the Council of Europe. The Brussels-based NGO concluded by calling upon the OSCE/ODIHR to include this issue in their collaboration program with the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe.
Issuance of green bonds will strengthen the international role of the euro
Eurogroup ministers discussed the international role of the euro (15 February), following the publication of the European Commission's communication of (19 January), ‘The European economic and financial system: fostering strength and resilience’.
President of the Eurogroup, Paschal Donohoe said: “The aim is to reduce our dependence on other currencies, and to strengthen our autonomy in various situations. At the same time, increased international use of our currency also implies potential trade-offs, which we will continue to monitor. During the discussion, ministers emphasized the potential of green bond issuance to enhance the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate transition objective.”
The Eurogroup has discussed the issue several times in recent years since the December 2018 Euro Summit. Klaus Regling, the managing director of the European Stability Mechanism said that overreliance on the dollar contained risks, giving Latin America and the Asian crisis of the 90s as examples. He also referred obliquely to “more recent episodes” where the dollar’s dominance meant that EU companies could not continue to work with Iran in the face of US sanctions. Regling believes that the international monetary system is slowly moving towards a multi-polar system where three or four currencies will be important, including the dollar, euro and renminbi.
European Commissioner for the Economy, Paolo Gentiloni, agreed that the euro’s role could be strengthened through the issuance of green bonds enhancing the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate objectives of the Next Generation EU funds.
Ministers agreed that broad action to support the international role of the euro, encompassing progress on amongst other things, Economic and Monetary Union, Banking Union and Capital Markets Union were needed to secure the euros international role.
European human rights court backs Germany over Kunduz airstrike case
The ruling by the Strasbourg-based court rejects a complaint by Afghan citizen Abdul Hanan, who lost two sons in the attack, that Germany did not fulfil its obligation to effectively investigate the incident.
In September 2009, the German commander of NATO troops in Kunduz called in a U.S. fighter jet to strike two fuel trucks near the city which NATO believed had been hijacked by Taliban insurgents.
The Afghan government said at the time 99 people, including 30 civilians, were killed. Independent rights groups estimated between 60 and 70 civilians were killed.
The death toll shocked Germans and ultimately forced its defence minister to resign over accusations of covering up the number of civilian casualties in the run-up to Germany’s 2009 election.
Germany’s federal prosecutor general had found that the commander did not incur criminal liability, mainly because he was convinced when he ordered the airstrike that no civilians were present.
For him to be liable under international law, he would have had to be found to have acted with intent to cause excessive civilian casualties.
The European Court of Human Rights considered the effectiveness of Germany’s investigation, including whether it established a justification for lethal use of force. It did not consider the legality of the airstrike.
Of 9,600 NATO troops in Afghanistan, Germany has the second-largest contingent behind the United States.
A 2020 peace agreement between the Taliban and Washington calls for foreign troops to withdraw by May 1, but U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing the deal after a deterioration in the security situation in Afghanistan.
Germany is preparing to extend the mandate for its military mission in Afghanistan from March 31 until the end of this year, with troop levels remaining at up to 1,300, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.
Digitalization of EU justice systems: Commission launches public consultation on cross-border judicial co-operation
On 16 February, the European Commission launched a public consultation on the modernization of EU justice systems. The EU aims to support member states in their efforts to adapt their justice systems to the digital age and improve EU cross-border judicial co-operation. Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders (pictured) said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of digitalization, including in the field of justice. Judges and lawyers need digital tools to be able to work together faster and more efficiently.
At the same time, citizens and businesses need online tools for an easier and more transparent access to justice at a lower cost. The Commission strives to push this process forward and support member states in their efforts, including as regards facilitating their cooperation in cross-border judicial procedures by using digital channels.” In December 2020, the Commission adopted a communication outlining the actions and initiatives intended to advance the digitalization of justice systems across the EU.
The public consultation will gather views on the digitalization of EU cross-border civil, commercial and criminal procedures. The results of the public consultation, in which a broad range of groups and individuals can participate and which is available here until 8 May 2021, will feed into an initiative on digitalisation of cross-border judicial cooperation expected at the end of this year as announced in the 2021 Commission's Work Programme.
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