A report by the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) in Strasbourg has revealed several conflicts of interest between judges at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and NGOs funded by George Soros. The report, published last week after six months’ research, concludes 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 shows 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. 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 George Soros Open Society network is distinguished by the number of judges linked to it and by the fact that it funds the other six organisations mentioned in the report including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty.
Since 2009, there have been at least 185 cases in which at least one of these seven NGOs is officially involved in the proceedings. Of these, in 88 cases, judges sat in a case in which the NGO with which they were previously linked was involved, without declaring a conflict of interest and without withdrawing from hearing the cases. For example, in the case of Big Brother Watch v. the United Kingdom, still pending before the Grand Chamber of the ECHR, 10 of the 16 applicants which brought the case are NGOs funded by the Open Society Foundation, as are 6 of the NGOs acting as third parties. Of the 17 judges who have sat in the Grand Chamber, 6 are linked to the applicant and the intervening NGOs.
Over the same period, there were only 12 cases in which a judge withdrew from a case, apparently because of a link with an NGO involved in the case.
The links between the judges and the NGOs are substantial. They include working for years as members of the board of directors or executive council of these NGOs; having teaching posts at institutes funded by them; being a salaried director of programmes for the Open Society Foundation or associated NGOs; and undertaking other forms of paid work for them. The report does not include less formal forms of collaboration with NGOs, such as occasional work for them at conferences and seminars. This means that the links are even greater than those specifically addressed in the report.
The report also covers other human rights officers, such as the Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe from 2012-2018 – Nils Muiznieks – who does not sit as a judge but who was for years a salaried activist of the Open Society Foundation in Latvia and who has used his official position to campaign against the so-called ‘anti-Soros’ legislation inHungary.
These NGOs are extremely active at the ECHR. For example, The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights in Poland filed 16 applications, and defended 32 cases, in 2017 alone. A case can be defended by lawyers from one NGO with pleas heard from other NGOs as third parties, even though the other organisations are in fact financed by the same source as the applicant, usually Soros’ OSF.
There would be nothing wrong with judges having engaged in activity for an NGO prior to becoming a judge if these same NGOs were not themselves active as parties who bring cases to the ECHR, either as applicants themselves, as lawyers for applicants, or as third parties giving supposedly expert evidence but in reality lobbying for a cause, and if those judges did not then hear those cases. The findings of the report calls into question the independence of the Court and the impartiality of the judges and is contrary to the rules which the ECHR itself imposes on States in this area. It is all the more problematic because the Court’s power is exceptional.
British author, academic, historian and specialist in international affairs, John Laughland, has expressed his concerns about the lack of independence of the ECHR. Reporting in RT Question More about the ECLJ report, he wrote:
“The fact that this corrupt system has been able to flourish has several causes. The first is that Soros and the NGOs he finances dominate the human rights industry across the Balkans and in the Baltic states. His millions flood these small, poor countries (he has spent $131 million in Albania since 1992, for instance) and they in turn appoint judges to the ECHR which rules on human rights issues for the 47 member states of the Council of Europe. Indeed, the report finds that the total spending of the Open Society Foundation in Europe, $90 million a year, actually exceeds the annual budget of the European Court of Human Rights ($70 million).
“Second, new procedures introduced in 2012 specifically provide for NGOs to take part in the selection procedure for judges at the ECHR. These NGOs can propose candidates and they can lobby for their selection. They have done this on many occasions, as the report shows. In the case of Albania in 2018, for instance, two out of the three candidates were executives of the Open Society Foundation; one of them was elected.
“Finally, there is no requirement that people appointed to be judges at the ECHR have any judicial experience at all. Some 51 out of the 100 judges who have sat on the ECHR bench since 2009 had never been judges or magistrates before. Instead, they were very often human rights activists working for Soros or one of his front organisations.
“This is a structural weakness which also affects international war crimes tribunals. As I showed in my book, ‘Travesty,’ it means that people can wield judicial power who are not, in fact, trained judges or magistrates or even necessarily lawyers, but instead political activists. In some very egregious cases, people have become judges on the benches of these tribunals without even having a law degree.
“The result is that the judges who sit on these bodies do not, in fact, behave as judges should. The role of the judge is to say what the law is, not to say what he or she thinks the law should be. Unfortunately, this is exactly what judges at the ECHR, and at the new international tribunals, do. In 1978, the ECHR proclaimed that the Convention was “a living instrument which must be interpreted in the light of present-day conditions” and that, therefore, its judges had the right to read new things into the Convention instead of agreeing to be bound by it. Such judicial activism is a travesty of the rule of law.
“It is a travesty because the areas in which ECHR judges exercise their judicial activism are precisely the most politically sensitive issues, which should properly be decided by politicians in elected parliaments, or by referenda, and not by an elite caste of unaccountable activists. Those areas include freedom of expression, asylum, LGBT rights, conditions of detention, minority rights, and so on. Using their freedom to make up the law, ECHR judges have over decades applied a new vision of man which is the opposite of the original intention of the Convention, which was to protect human beings and their families from abusive state power. Now the ECHR spends most of its time demanding more state power for this or that fashionable “woke” cause.
“George Soros has long been attacked for the excessive political power his gigantic fortune has bought, especially in post-communist Eastern Europe. This report by the European Centre for Law and Justice is, however, one of the first occasions in which the corrupting effect of that power has been scrupulously identified and documented with respect to the supreme body charged with protecting human rights in Europe.
“To date, the ECHR has not denied any of the facts outlined in the report and, to the extent that these facts cannot be denied because they come from the ECHR itself, its credibility as an independent judicial body now lies in ruins.”
This is the second time in recent months that the ECHR has come under scrutiny around its independence and transparency. Boštjan Zupančič, the longest-serving judge at the Court from 1998 to 2016 published a book – On the European Court of Human Rights: An Insider’s Retrospective (Eleven International Publishing, 2019) – which is very enlightening. On 9 December 2019, ECLJ published an exceptional interview with Zupančič based on his book
In the interview, this widely experienced judge pointed out some extraordinary detail about the workings of the court and the attitudes of its judges. He said: “The European Court of Human Rights has 47 signatory states and 47 different judges. They do not share a common understanding of human rights, and even less of its philosophy. What they do share is their legal reasoning.
“Over the years, the Court has gradually reduced its self-restraint, stating in hundreds of judgements that the European Convention is a ‘living instrument’ which should not be taken literally, but the meaning of which should be interpreted ‘in the light of current conditions’, thus, allowing its scope to be extended. A priori judges, not directly elected by the people, behave like a mini-parliament. But that is not their job. The consequence is a ‘judicial activism’ – the government of judges. This appears with the use of the term ‘living instrument’. This activism is present in many cases” he said. That has now been confirmed by the ECLJ report.
It is now both necessary and urgent to remedy this incredible situation. To that end, greater attention must be paid in particular to the choice of candidates for the posts of judges, avoiding the appointment of activists or people without proper legal training. The report also proposes solutions to: a) ensure the transparency of interests and links between applicants, judges and NGOs, and b) formalise the procedures of withdrawal and recusal by judges where conflict of interest arises, and which is standard practice within any good governance system.
Aware of the value of the human rights protection system in Europe and the need to preserve it, the ECLJ has submitted the report to the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in accordance with Rule 67 of the Rules of Procedure of the Assembly asking him “to put this matter on the Assembly’s agenda so that an investigation can be carried out and solutions to these malfunctions recommended to the Committee of Ministers.”The ECLJ has also opened a petition at https://eclj.org/geopolitics/echr/mettre-fin-aux-conflits-dinterets-a-la-cedh.
Matt Moran. (Additional Reporting by John Laughland is acknowledged)