Citizens from Balkans are increasingly seeking justice at the Strasbourg-based court as governments struggle to improve the protection of human rights.
By Katica Djurovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 13/03/13
Serbia and Turkey are among the six nations with the largest number of lawsuits in the Strasbourg-based court. [AFP]
Serbia and Turkey are undertaking measures to improve the quality and efficiency of their judicial systems, as well as to protect human rights, in order to stem the increasing number of lawsuits submitted by their citizens to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Of the nearly 127,000 cases pending in January, 16,700 cases, or 13 percent, were from Turkey, while 10,450, or 8 percent, were from Serbia.
"The main reason for such a large caseload is long judicial proceedings [in the countries] -- a violation of the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time," Predrag Savic, a Belgrade-based attorney who heads the NGO House of Justice Strasbourg, told SETimes.
Savic said that many of the cases concern violations of Articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which concern death under suspicious circumstances and torture while in detention.
Former ECHR President Nicolas Braca said in September 2012 that Serbian authorities need to improve the quality and effectiveness of the country's jurisprudence in order to reduce the number of cases submitted to the Strasbourg court.
A 2009 judicial reform in Serbia showed mixed results as court proceedings in the country lasted six years on average.
Last November, Serbia Justice Minister Nikola Selakovic promised a set of new measures.
"The justice ministry plans to adopt an action plan for solving problems in the justice system and implement a reform that will give results," Slavoljub Caric, deputy minister of justice, told SETimes.
Foremost among the measures is to create a council for relations with the court, which will gather legal experts specialising in human rights, and provide training to judges and lawyers.
"The council will be established soon as we are waiting for the government to make a decision," Caric said.
Cases from Turkey mostly concern violations of Articles 5 and 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which deal with unduly long pretrial detentions and the right to a fair trial.
Turkish citizens have also petitioned the Strasbourg court on freedom of speech violations.
A law that was introduced last September stipulates individuals can now petition the country's constitutional court, and compensation for damages must be paid within three months of the verdict.
"It could mean a drop in cases to the ECHR from Turkish citizens," Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch in Turkey, told SETimes.
In 2012, the court ruled against Serbia in 64 out of 75 cases, awarding over 2 million euros in damages to Serbian citizens. Turkey paid Strasbourg litigants 207 million euros in damages between 2004 and 2011.
SETimes correspondent Frederike Geerdink in Istanbul contributed to this article