by Whitney Hayes

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A progress report presented to the Parliamentary Assembly by Christos Pourgourides, a rapporteur assigned to monitor implementation of the Court’s decisions, revealed that of the 47 Council of Europe member states, 36 have failed to execute critical Court judgments five or more years after the cases were decided. Article 46 of the European Convention binds Member States to the Court’s judgments and designates the Committee of Ministers to monitor enforcement progress. The report, declassified on September 11, 2009, expressed concern over the increasing number of cases pending before the Committee of Ministers, which has risen from 2,298 in 2000 to 6,614 in 2008.

According to Pourgourides three categories of unenforced decisions are particularly prevalent: death or mistreatment by state officials without adequate investigation; exceedingly lengthy judicial proceedings; and non-enforcement of domestic judicial decisions. Cases involving death or mistreatment by state officials generally address violations of Articles 2 and 3 of the Convention. These cases are of principal concern because Articles 2 and 3 embody the most fundamental guarantees of the Convention, the right to life and the prohibition of torture and inhuman treatment. The report specifically noted Bulgaria, Greece, Russia and Turkey as countries with outstanding judgments in this category of cases. The second and third subjects Pourgourides identified as serious problem areas pertain to malfunctions in domestic judicial processes. Greece, Italy and Poland are the leading member states with cases presenting claims of lengthy judicial proceedings, while Turkey and Russia have the most unenforced cases dealing with the failure to enforce domestic court decisions.

According to the report, Russia is one of the member states with the worst record of implementing judgments, signaling a lack of commitment to the Court. One-fifth of all new complaints filed before the Court originate in Russia, with abuses committed by state officials in Chechnya accounting for most of these cases. As of October 1, 2009, Russia had approximately 690 judgments pending before the Committee of Ministers. According to Kommersant, a Russian newspaper, “[i]n Russia the European Court is often treated [as] an anti-Russian organization, whose verdicts are directed against the state.” Additionally, a recent Human Rights Watch report noted that in several cases Russia has flatly contested the Court’s findings. These sentiments severely inhibit compliance with Court decisions.

Lack of enforcement of Court decisions is a significant obstacle to the advancement of human rights in Europe. When member states fail to enforce Court decisions, wrongful practices remain uncorrected, and the same injustices continue to appear in new cases before the Court. This places a considerable burden on the Court, “distracting it from its essential function.” Had earlier decisions been effectively implemented, the Court would not need to spend time repeatedly addressing systematic problems.

Improving enforcement of Court decisions requires active involvement of the Parliamentary Assembly. To this end Pourgourides has engaged in dialogue with 11 member states, including Russia, that have had significant implementation problems. Still, steadfast commitments from domestic governments to abide by final judgments are the “principal pillar” for the efficacy of the Court. Pourgourides concludes his report with a call to action, stressing to member states that “without speedy and full execution of the Strasbourg Court’s judgments [by domestic governments,] there can be no justice.”