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Conflicts of Interest in the European Court of Human Rights under Review

In March 2020, I wrote an article here in Strasbourg that revealed several conflicts of interest between judges at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and NGOs funded by George Soros. That report concluded that “NGOs have an increasing influence on and within international institutions, particularly within the human rights protection system” and that the ECHR does not act in an independent or transparent fashion.

The report showed that at least 22 of the 100 permanent judges who have served on the ECHR between 2009 and 2019 are former officials or collaborators of seven NGOs that are highly active before the Court. George Soros’ Open Societies Foundation stands out because 12 of its employees have become judges in Strasbourg, and because it funds the other six NGOs in question, sometimes to a very large extent.

The massive presence of judges from the same network shows the hold of large foundations and private NGOs on the European human rights protection system and calls into question its impartiality. The report raised a series of questions about judicial procedure and ethics, which were brought to the attention of the bodies of the Council of Europe.

Since then, the report, which had been circulated around the world, was discussed in a number of parliaments across Europe, such as in the Netherlands and Denmark. Several politicians raised questions in the European Parliament and in the Council of Europe, as well as some national parliaments. None were raised in Dail Eireann. Some former judges of the ECHR also welcomed the report.

The ECHR did not respond publicly, but the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, upon which the ECHR depends, was forced to admit publicly that the report was true, indicating on 8 April this year that it would reassess “by the end of 2024, in light of further experience, the effectiveness of the current system for the selection and election of the Court’s judges.” Two week later and for the first time, the Open Societies Foundation failed to get one of its employees elected as a judge of the Court.

This week, Dr Grégor Puppinck, Director General of ECLJ, reported progress saying that in July “the Committee of Ministers publicly responded to two parliamentary questions pointing out the dysfunctional nature of the procedure for recusal and the impossibility of requesting a review of the Court’s decisions. This reply, like the previous one, showed the full attention of the ambassadors to these issues, while making it clear that it is only up to the Court to solve these problems. Here again, the Committee of Ministers provided a way out by revealing that the Court had undertaken to review its Rules ‘including Article 28’ which deals precisely with the issue of conflicts of interest.

“The inadequacy of Article 28 of the Rules of Court was precisely denounced in the ECLJ report because it did not require judges to declare their conflict of interest situations and did not provide for a formal procedure for recusal. Its revision is necessary, and we can rejoice that it be on its way, even if it is in a confidential manner and will not, it seems, be completed for several months” he said.

On 2 September, the ECHR published a revised version of its Resolution on Judicial Ethics. This sets out the rules of the court and the ethical obligations placed on judges. It responds in a significant way to the ECLJ report, and reinforces the obligations of integrity, independence and impartiality of judges. It obliges them to be independent from any institution, body or private entity referring to NGOs and foundations such as the Open Societies Foundation. The text adds that “They shall keep themselves free from undue influence of any kind, whether external or internal, direct or indirect. They shall refrain from any activity, expression and association, refuse to follow any instruction, and avoid any situation that may be considered to interfere with their judicial function and to affect adversely public confidence in their independence.”

Focusing on impartiality, the code states that judges “shall not be involved in dealing with a case in which they have a personal interest,” thus strengthening the prevention of conflicts of interest. Judges must also refrain from “any activity, expression and association that may be considered to affect adversely public confidence in their impartiality.”

The Court’s new Judicial Ethics Resolution also places a new obligation on judges to be diligent in their judicial duties, to limit their outside activities, and most significantly, to curb their language, by refraining “from expressing themselves, in whatever form and medium, in a manner which may undermine the authority and reputation of the Court or give rise to reasonable doubt as to their independence or impartiality.” It is most unusual that judges have to be reminded of this obligation, but we see judges in many jurisdictions, particularly in the U.S., engage in ‘judicial activism’, particularly around modern social issues being pursued by the elite liberals.

Another new prohibition concerns the acceptance of “any decorations or honours during their mandate as a Judge of the Court”. This measure follows the scandal caused by the way the current President of the ECHR, during an official trip to Turkey in September 2020, accepted an honorary doctorate from the public university, while failing to meet with opponents and victims of the regime.

Puppinck says that “overall, it appears that the scandal of the ‘Soros-Judges’ report – as the media called it – is bearing fruit, because it was justified. It was useful to shake up the Court, and even to take blows in return, to achieve an improvement in its internal procedures.” However, much more reforms are necessary for transparency and accountability.

The ECLJ has been doing inspiring work in raising awareness of the growing phenomenon of the stranglehold of a few private foundations and NGOs on the international bodies that set the world policy on human rights and democracy. These bodies are damaging the credibility of the human rights protection system.

The ECLJ analysed the financial reports of the Council of Europe, upon which the ECHR depends, and found that George Soros’s Open Society Foundations and Bill Gates’ Microsoft are the organisation’s two largest private donors. These two organisations respectively gave the Council of Europe nearly €1,400,000 between 2004 and 2013 and nearly €690,000 between 2006 and 2014. The ethics of private individuals or foundations funding arms of the parliamentary system should be a public concern as it raises questions around independence, impartiality, influence, and transparency.

On 23 March this year, I wrote an article here outlining research by the ECLJ on conflicts of interest in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. More recently, ECLJ published a concerning report on The Financing of UN Experts in the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council . These experts are commonly called Special Rapporteurs and they exercise considerable influence within the human rights system.

That report demonstrated the considerable financial weight acquired by a few private foundations on the UN human rights system. In particular, it revealed that at least 37 of the 121 experts in office between 2015 and 2019 received at least $11 million outside of any UN control, mainly from the Ford Foundation, the Open Societies Foundation and anonymous donors.

It also revealed how foundations and governments act to fund, influence, and even ‘recruit’ experts. Although violating UN rules and every anti-corruption legislation, these practices have been tolerated until now, with experts being considered untouchable, and protected by diplomatic immunity. Remember Katherine Zappone who was to be a ‘special envoy’ within this human rights protection system! Sadly, the mainstream media turn the other way not wanting to disturb the human rights system that has been captured by private foundations and individuals.


Matt Moran is an author and writer on social and religious issues contributing regular articles to Independent Catholic News in the UK and UCANews in Asia.


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