Civil Rights and Political Liberties

   

To what extent does the state respect and protect civil rights and how effectively are citizens protected by courts against infringements of their rights?

EUOECD
 
All state institutions respect and effectively protect civil rights. Citizens are effectively protected by courts against infringements of their rights. Infringements present an extreme exception.
10
Finland
Civil rights are widely respected and protected in Finland. The country has received the highest possible rankings for civil rights in Freedom House’s annual rankings since the early 1980s. The law provides for freedom of speech, which is also respected in practice. Furthermore, Finns enjoy full property rights and freedom of religion, with the government officially recognizing a large number of religious groups. Freedoms of association and assembly are respected in law and practice, while workers have the right to organize, bargain collectively and strike. In November 2014, after long and contentious discussions, parliament voted to provide marriage rights for same-sex couples, and adoption-rights legislation for same-sex couples became effective in March 2017.
Norway
State institutions respect and protect civil rights. Personal liberties are well-protected against abuse by state and non-state actors. People cannot be detained without charge for more than 24 hours. A court decides whether a suspect should be held in prison during an investigation, a question given more serious consideration here than in some other countries. The issue of civil rights receives considerable attention in the media and from intellectuals as well as from the government bodies responsible for the protection of civil rights. The court system is, however, not always effective. It may take considerable time for a case to be handled in the courts.

Access to the courts is free and easy, and the judiciary system is viewed as fair and efficient. The most difficult recent court case was that of Anders Breivik, who on 22 July 2011 orchestrated domestic acts of terrorism, killing 77 people and causing massive material damage. This incident was regarded as a national trauma, but from a judicial perspective was handled scrupulously and according to due process. There is full freedom of movement and of religion. Respect for civil rights extends to the rights of asylum-seekers.

Privacy is less protected than in some other countries. All residents are recorded in a compulsory population register with a unique number that is also used in all official and much private business, including banking.
9
Canada
The state and the courts in general show a high degree of respect for civil rights and political liberties in Canada. Of course, there is a trade-off between protecting the rights of individuals from government intrusion and ensuring public safety and security from terrorist threats. Two recent security breaches, the shooting of a soldier on ceremonial sentry duty at the Canadian National War Memorial in Ottawa and an attack on military personnel in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, have given new impetus to the government’s plans to introduce new anti-terrorism legislation. In 2015, the government passed the Anti-Terrorism Act (Bill C-51), representing sweeping changes to the Canadian security apparatus. It includes expanded surveillance and intelligence sharing, a remodeling of the Canadian no-fly regime in the style of the United States,’ and expanded powers and courtroom anonymity for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). The bill was the subject of intense public debate as many civil libertarians and privacy advocates opposed the bill.

In a 2015 report, the U.N. Human Rights Committee expressed concerns about the bill. Two civil liberty organizations, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, have since launched a legal challenge to C-51 under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom. Without repealing C-51, the government has introduced Bill C-59, an omnibus bill that would make significant changes to national security policy. However, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association maintains that the bill stops short of repealing measures in C-51 which threaten civil liberties.
Citations:
Bill C-51, An Act to enact the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act and the Secure Air Travel Act, to amend the Criminal Code, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts (2015). Retrieved from the Parliament of Canada website http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&DocId=8056977.

Canadian Civil Liberties Association, “CCLA with Civil Society Groups Issue Join Letter on Bill C-59 and National Security Law in Canada,” September 19, 2017, posted at https://ccla.org/ccla-civil-society-groups-issue-joint-letter-bill-c-59-national-security-law-canada/

United Nations Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations on Canada’s sixth report in relation to Canada’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, August 2015. http://docstore.ohchr.org/SelfServices/FilesHandler.ashx?enc=6QkG1d%2fPPRiCAqhKb7yhskswUHe1nBHTSwwEsgdxQHJBoKwgsS0jmHCTV%2fFsa7OKzz9yna94OOqLeAavwpMzCD5oTanJ2C2rbU%2f0kxdos%2bXCyn4OFm3xDYg3CouE4uXS
Denmark
Civil rights are protected by the Danish constitution, including personal liberty (Article 72), inviolability of property (Article 73), inviolability of dwellings (Article 72), freedom of speech (Article 77), freedom of association and freedom of assembly (Article 79). The authorities and courts normally protect these freedoms.

Denmark ratified the European Convention on Human Rights in 1953. Since 1976, Denmark has had a number of cases at the European Court of Human Rights. Denmark lost some cases, especially concerning freedom of association (Article 11 in the European Convention) and concerning unnecessarily lengthy case proceedings (Article 6 in the European Convention), including the 2009 Christensen v. Denmark Judgment. These cases indicate Denmark could do better when it comes to protection of civil rights.

The Danish Institute for Human Rights issues an annual report with detailed accounts of the human rights situation in Denmark and recommendations for the government. Some recommendations concern the rights of immigrants and asylum-seekers.

It is being contested whether recent changes in relation to asylum-seekers, including rules for family reunification, violate the Geneva Convention.

In its 2016 – 2017 report, Amnesty International referenced “serious restrictions to asylum and migration laws,” and “the government’s suspension of an agreement with the U.N. Human Rights Committee to receive 500 refugees annually for resettlement from refugee camps.”

The Danish government has announced that it will use its forthcoming chair of the Council of Europe (November 2017 to May 2018) to initiate a reconsideration of the European Convention of Human Rights. Article 8 of the convention is seen as a hindrance to the adoption of a more restrictive family reunification policy.
Citations:
Henrik Zahle, Dansk forfatningsret 3: Menneskerettigheder. Copenhagen: Cristian Ejlers’ Forlag, 2007.

Institut for menneskerettigheder, “Danske sager,” http://menneskeret.dk/menneskerettigheder/europa,+oplysning+og+rettigheder/europar%C3%A5det/den+europ%C3%A6iske+menneskerettighedsdomstol/danske+sager (accessed 15 April 2013).

European Court of Human Rights, “Case of Christensen v. Denmark,” http://menneskeret.dk/files/DoekerPDF/Case%20of%20Christensen%20v.%20Denmark.pdf (accessed 15 April 2013).

Danish Institute for Human Rights, Human Rights in Denmark: Status 2014-15. A Summary. http://www.humanrights.dk/files/media/dokumenter/udgivelser/status/status_uk_2015.pdf (accessed 7 October 2015).

Niels Rohleder, “Danish chairmanship of the Council of Europe to weaken human rights,” http://refugees.dk/en/news/2017/may/danish-chairmanship-of-the-council-of-europe-to-weaken-human-rights/ (Accessed 16 October 2017).

Amnesty International, Denmark 2016/2017. https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/europe-and-central-asia/denmark/report-denmark/ (Accessed 16 October 2017).
Estonia
Civil rights are widely respected and government does not interfere in the activities of the courts. Equal access to the law and equal treatment by the law are legally guaranteed. Time needed to resolve civil, commercial, and administrative cases has steadily declined and, with average of 39 days, Estonia shows the second lowest figure in the EU. The same is true for the number of pending cases. Overall, the Estonian court system can be regarded as efficient in cross-European comparison on the basis of several indicators. However, according to the country’s Chief Justice, legal advice in Estonia is too expensive for many citizens. The annual public budget allocated to legal aid is far below the EU average.

The Chancellor of Justice plays an important role in ensuring civil rights. She ensures that authorities and officials performing public duties do not violate people’s constitutional rights and freedoms, and that persons held in detention are not treated in a degrading, cruel or inhumane way. Individuals can bring concerns directly to the Chancellor’s office or send a letter detailing the issue of concern.
Citations:
Com (2017) The 2017. EU Justice Scoreboard. April 2017. http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-890_en.htm(accessed 25.10.2017)
Germany
In general, all state institutions respect individual freedoms and protect civil rights. Civil rights are guaranteed by the Basic Law and their modification is possible only by a two-thirds legislative majority. Some provisions concerning basic human rights are not alterable at all. The court system works independently and effectively protects individuals against encroachments by the executive and legislature. In the Global Democracy Ranking 2015, Germany ranked 8, while in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index and other indexes Germany is positioned near or outside of the top 10 countries.

Recent scandals revealed that the intelligence services neglected laws and disregarded national boundaries. The federal privacy officer, Andrea Voßhoff, deplored in September 2016 that the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) systematically violated basic civil rights in collecting private data from citizens. Her report claimed that data collection was illegal (Die Zeit, 1 September 2016). So far, these accusations have not been substantiated through any successful court proceedings.

In reaction to the increasing risk of radical Islamic terrorism, new measures have been taken which raise debates about the right balance between privacy and security. In June 2016, the German government expanded the competences of the BND for wiretapping. In addition, the government established a new state agency for continuous monitoring of internet traffic, which was strongly criticized by the federal privacy office. In July 2016, Germany’s domestic intelligence service (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, BfV) was permitted to exchange data with their foreign counterparts. To sum up, the threat of radical Islamic terrorism has begun to change the structure of security policies in Germany and the balance between protecting and infringing liberal civil rights. Despite these changes, the overall level of protection remains high.
Citations:
https://netzpolitik.org/2017/g20-polizeistaatliches-spektakel-statt-festival-der-demokratie/

http://democracyranking.org/wordpress/rank/democracy-ranking-2016/

https://infographics.economist.com/2017/DemocracyIndex/

http://www.eiu.com/public/topical_report.aspx?campaignid=DemocracyIndex2015

http://www.yabiladi.com/img/content/EIU-Democracy-Index-2015.pdf

http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2016-09/bundesnachrichtendienst-andrea-vosshoff-gesetzesverstoesse
Ireland
The Irish constitution enshrines the full range of fundamental civil rights associated with a liberal-democratic state. Article 38 establishes the right to a fair trial; Article 40 the rights to life, liberty, property, freedom of expression and equality before the law; Article 41 contains provisions for the protection of the family. In November 2012, the constitution was amended by referendum to strengthen the provisions regarding the rights of the child.

Operating under the common-law system inherited from the era of British rule, the Irish courts have been active in discovering “unenumerated” rights implied by these articles. These include the right to bodily integrity, to freedom from torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the right to work and earn a livelihood and the right to privacy.

Following the passage of the European Convention on Human Rights Act (2003) by the Irish parliament, the rights interpreted and developed by the European Court of Human Rights are directly enforceable before the Irish courts. The Criminal Justice (Legal Aid) Act 1962 established an extensive system of free legal aid to promote equal access to the law and the courts. Access to free legal aid in certain civil cases was established by the Civil Legal Aid Act (1995).

However, a plaintiff who takes a civil case through the courts and loses is likely to have to meet not only his/her own legal costs but also those of the defendant. The best legal advice is very expensive. These considerations limit the effectiveness of equality of access to justice especially in matters relating to defamation, property disputes and other areas not covered by legal aid.

The Protected Disclosures Act 2014 came into force in July 2014. This will offer legal protections for workers who report concerns about wrongdoing in the public, private and non-profit sectors. The law will cover all employees, contractors, agency workers, members of the police force (An Garda Síochána), and members of the Defense Forces.
Sweden
Civil rights and legality are core values in Swedish governance. The constitution has a chapter devoted to human rights. Legal security is an essential guideline for the public administration. In all these respects, Sweden earns a top score for this indicator.

However, the emphasis on efficiency in administrative reform is undermining legal security. This applies, for instance, to the immigration service and the performance management system used by the police, which incentivizes staff to prioritize efficiency and closure over full legal consideration. Moreover, the immigration administrative system has come under considerable stress from the rapid increase in asylum-seekers caused by the Syrian war. The Migration Agency has done its utmost to step up to this challenge by increasing staff and introducing work shifts to deal with the soaring number of immigrants.

Also, there were instances in the recent past which raise issues about the extent to which state institutions or actors uphold the basic civil rights codified in the constitution. There is a current debate about whether it is humane to return young Afghan men or boys who have been denied asylum to their country of origin. While such extradition is consistent with the law – migrants that have been denied asylum are to be extradited – these cases still raise questions about what constitutes humane treatment. The number of cases where extradition has raised objections in the media increased significantly in 2015 and 2016 along with the increase in asylum applications.

Lastly, it is worth noting that organized crime has taken a hold in some metropolitan regions of Sweden. Without a doubt, infringement of individual freedom caused by private actors such as organized crime is a real and growing problem. In response, the national police have made curbing organized crime a priority.
Switzerland
Civil rights are guaranteed by the constitution. However, the country does not have a classic Constitutional Court able to monitor the conformity of federal laws with the constitution outside the context of a particular case. Federal laws are binding for the federal courts. In contrast, the Federal Supreme Court in Lausanne monitors the conformity of federal regulations and cantonal laws with the constitution. With respect to basic civil rights, the European Court of Human Rights complements the Swiss Federal Supreme Court.

In December 2012, a parliamentary attempt to give the Federal Supreme Court the right to abstain from applying federal law if the federal law was incompatible with the constitution failed. The main argument was that in a direct democracy, the Constitutional Court should not be authorized to declare federal laws void as a whole. Thus, Switzerland, for different reasons but in a manner similar to the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands and Great Britain, does not possess a comprehensive judicial power of constitutional review.

In international comparison, the country’s record of guaranteeing human rights is outstanding. However, conflicts between human rights and direct democracy have emerged, particularly in recent years. One such concern was represented by the successful 2004 popular initiative for the life imprisonment of particularly dangerous criminal offenders without any opportunity for re-examination. This conflicts with the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. This convention guarantees periodic reviews in which the necessity for continued imprisonment can be evaluated.

Likewise, there have been conflicts between popular votes on naturalization and the call by foreign-born individuals for fair and transparent treatment, and the opportunity to appeal naturalization decisions. Some observers have argued that the current naturalization procedure fails to conform to the standard of human rights set out in the constitution. The Federal Supreme Court decided in 2003 that naturalization procedures previously established by popular vote were unconstitutional, since they violated constitutional norms of non-discrimination and the right to a lawful legal procedure.

The ban on the construction of minarets, approved in a popular vote in 2009, represents a particularly problematic decision. The basic claim of proponents was that minarets signify the potential aggression and power claims of Islam, which need to be suppressed as a strategy for keeping the peace. However, it is evident that the popular initiative was clearly aimed against Islam and the Islamization of Europe. Legal scholars tend to argue that the decision violates the freedom of worship and the non-discrimination rule.

The major underlying problem is the claim by many political actors that the people have an unrestricted right to decide any matter through popular vote. This conflicts with the basic rule of any liberal democracy that there are limitations to the will of the majority, such as human rights standards and protections for minorities. Switzerland’s public debate on the limits to majority rule (through popular vote) shows little cognizance of these traditional limitations to majoritarian rule. This has become very obvious in recent debates over the conflicts between international law and Swiss citizens’ decision-making rights in popular votes. Although anxiety over the ebbing of popular sovereignty extends beyond conservatives, this latter group in particular feels uneasy with the internationalization of law and some recent interpretations of human rights that have been made by professional lawyers. In the right-populist and conservative view, the internationalization of law and international court decisions against the results of Swiss referenda contradict Switzerland’s legislative culture, which is characterized by the principle of subsidiarity and guided by the idea that popular decisions have the highest degree of legitimacy. Consequently, in the summer of 2016, the country’s strongest political party, the Swiss People’s Party, had collected a sufficient number of signatures for an initiative that aims at giving federal law precedence over international law; this initiative will be decided upon in the near future.
 
The state respects and protects rights, with few infringements. Courts provide protection.
8
France
In France, even though there is an established tradition of the rule of law and the recognition and protection of civil and fundamental rights, there is also a long history of infringements of those rights. The two main reasons for this are related to the distrust, and often contempt, of government toward the judiciary. This behavior dates back to the French Revolution and has been further exacerbated by the country’s fraught political history; violations have continued to occur up until the 1980s.

The situation has improved considerably in recent history for several reasons. France’s judicial system now acts in the shadow of international courts which sanction national violations of the rule of law. The European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union play an incremental but decisive role in this progress.

With the proclamation of a state of emergency by the government following the terrorist attacks of 13 November 2015 and its extension until 1 November 2017 by the parliament, the question of possible infringements of civil rights has become an important issue. The Council of Europe has been informed about this measure, which implies a possible breach of human rights, according to article 15 of the European Human Rights Convention. Up to now, infringements have been rather limited, and the administrative courts have exerted control of the individual or collective measures adopted by the government in spite of pressures from right-wing political parties and the police to further restrict the rights of persons suspected of supporting terrorist activities.
Iceland
The Icelandic state fully respects and protects civil rights, and courts effectively protect citizens. Where there is evidence of disregard for civil rights, courts generally rule against the government.

However, there are specific exceptions to this rule. Most importantly, the United Nations Committee on Human Rights (UNCHR) issued a binding opinion in 2007 to the effect that, because of its discriminatory nature, the management system of Iceland’s fisheries constituted a violation of human rights. It furthermore instructed the government to change the system and to pay damages to those whose rights had been violated. The government responded by promising to pass a new constitution with a provision declaring the country’s natural resources to be the property of the nation. The UNCHR later dropped the case, saying that Iceland’s promise of a new constitution was partly sufficient. However, the parliament has not ratified a new constitution nor tried seriously to revise the old one from 1944.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has heard several petitions by Icelandic citizens recently that their civil rights have been violated. In almost all of these cases, the ECJ has ruled in favor of the petitioner, casting doubt on the ability of Icelandic courts to protect civil rights effectively. Most recently, for example, journalists who had been found guilty of libel in Iceland were declared innocent by the ECJ. Following a number of similar ECJ rulings in recent years, Icelandic courts have demonstrated an increased tendency to acquit defendants in politically motivated libel cases. Nevertheless, defendants in several recent libel cases have had to bear the cost of their legal defense, despite being acquitted.
Citations:
Gylfason, Thorvaldur (2016), Constitution on Ice, forthcoming in Iceland’s Financial Crisis: The Politics of Blame, Protest, and Reconstruction, eds. Valur Ingimundarson, Philipe Urlfalino, and Irma Erlingsdóttir, Routledge, London. — Also available as CESifo Working Paper 5056, November 2014.
Latvia
Civil rights are generally respected and protected. In cases of infringement, courts provide protection. Individuals have equal access to and are accorded equal treatment by the courts. A significant court overload, however, creates difficulties in obtaining timely access to justice.

Despite improvements, there are ongoing concerns over poor conditions in the country’s prisons and detention facilities, and about lengthy pre-trial detention periods.

A number of cases have cast a spotlight on the state’s inability to prevent unjustifiable interventions into individuals’ personal lives. The unsanctioned publication of private e-mails, personal data, internet browsing histories and telephone transcripts have led some to question the efficacy of privacy protections, and even the state’s own ability to safeguard information. In 2015, an individual who downloaded data from the State Revenue Service and published a portion of that data in the public interest was prosecuted, found guilty and sentenced to community service, although he was pardoned by the president in December 2017. The published data, detailing the salaries of public servants, has since been categorized as openly accessible information. Nevertheless, the state pursued the individual for an unjustifiable violation of an individuals’ right to privacy, because his download of information pertained to private individuals, not public officials. The civil servants responsible for leaving vast amounts of personal data on an unprotected website have not been held accountable.
Citations:
1. Ombudsman of Latvia (2016), Annual Report, Available at: http://www.tiesibsargs.lv/uploads/content/lapas/tiesibsarga_2016_gada_zinojums_1489647331.pdf, Last assessed: 29.11.2017.
Lithuania
It is relatively easy for all residents to gain Lithuanian citizenship, and civil rights are officially protected by the constitution and other legislative provisions. However, there are some problems regarding effective protection of citizens’ rights. According to the U.S. Department of State, Lithuania’s most significant human rights problems include poor prison conditions, intolerance of sexual and ethnic minorities, and the lengthy detention of people awaiting trial. Additional problems include interference with personal privacy, domestic violence, child abuse, and libel and anti-discrimination laws that limit the freedom of expression. Lithuanian authorities do seek to prosecute or otherwise punish officials who committed abuses, and Lithuanian courts provide legal protection against illegitimate or unjustifiable interventions into personal life. However, on the Civic Empowerment Index, produced by the Civil Society Institute since 2007, Lithuania scored 37 out of 100 in 2016 compared to 33.4 in 2015.

Lithuanian society shows only an average interest in public affairs, while the social environment remains unfavorable for civic engagement. A total of 18% of the Lithuanian population indicated in 2014 that they had experienced violations of their rights, and again only 18% said they had taken action to protect themselves, indicating an insufficient degree of awareness of human rights.
Citations:
Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2011 on Lithuania is available at http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrp t/humanrightsreport/index.htm#wrapp er
The Index of Civil Power measured by the Civil Society Institute is available at http://www.civitas.lt/lt/?pid=74&id=78
Survey on the situation of human rights in Lithuania, http://www.hrmi.lt/musu-darbai/tyrimai178/visuomenes-nuomones-apklausos/
Luxembourg
Civil rights are officially protected in Luxembourg and all state institutions respect these rights, with a few exceptions. Four institutions are in charge of protecting civil rights: the Constitutional Court, an advisory board on human rights, the National Commission on Data Protection and a parliamentary ombudsman. However, the judiciary system’s slow processing of cases has led to concerns over due process and equitable treatment. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has reprimanded the country on several occasions because of delays in court proceedings. The mediation law grants a maximum of four months for processing, with the aim of speeding up administration procedures. The influence and the number of complaints to the ombudsman’s office continues to grow. A total of 856 complaints were made in 2016, an increase when compared to the 743 complaints filed in 2015. The rate of favorable rulings or settlements is high at 87.68% in 2016, compared to 84.21% in 2015. These high figures show both the efficiency and necessity of this institution. Due to overcrowding in prisons, a new remand prison will be opened in 2022. Furthermore, three EU directives, concerning the right to have an interpreter and legal representation for detainees and prisoners as well as the right to inspect relevant files, are expected to be implemented.
Citations:
Accès citoyens aux documents détenus par l’administration. Chambre des Métiers, 2013. http://www.cdm.lu/download/3430/avis-acces-des-citoyens-aux-documents-detenus-par-l-administration.pdf. Accessed 21 Dec. 2017.

“Mémorial A n° 128 de 2003.” Journal officiel du Grand-Duché de Luxembourg, 3 Sept. 2003, legilux.public.lu/eli/etat/leg/memorial/2003/128#page=2. Accessed 7 Mar. 2017.

Projet de loi relative à l’accès des citoyens aux documents détenus par l’administration. Le gouvernement du Grand-Duché de Luxembourg. Ministère d’État, 2013. www.chd.lu/wps/PA_RoleDesAffaires/FTSByteServingServletImpl?path=/export/exped/sexpdata/Mag/197/101/119060.pdf. Accessed 21 Dec. 2017.

Rapport d’activité 2016. Médiateur du Grand-Duché de Luxembourg, 2017. www.ombudsman.lu/userfiles/files/Rapports%20annuels/RA%202016.pdf. Accessed 21 Dec. 2017.

“Reformen im Luxemburger Rechtswesen.” Tageblatt, 26 Sept. 2014, www.tageblatt.lu/nachrichten/luxemburg-nachrichten/reformen-im-luxemburger-rechtswesen-26766397. Accessed 21 Dec. 2017.
New Zealand
Civil and human rights protection is based on the Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the Human Rights Act 1993, the latter of which defines the tasks of the Human Rights Commission. The Commission actively promotes compliance with civil and human rights by public bodies and in society. Recent activities concern rights within the Treaty of Waitangi and a Human Rights Action Plan 2005 with regard to violence against women and children and maltreatment in prisons and mental institutions. These have led to various activities, such as the establishment of a high-level taskforce for action on sexual violence, chaired by the secretary for justice, to advise the government. Amnesty International reported in its Annual Report 2012 that it had met with parliamentary members to discuss progress made with regard to social, economic and cultural rights (e.g., the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011). New Zealand signed the Optional Protocol to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography in September 2011.

The powers of the Communications Security Bureau to conduct surveillance on New Zealanders has recently been the subject of scrutiny by civil rights, internet and legal groups, including the New Zealand Law Society. The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) and the Related Legislation Amendment Bill, which was debated in parliament in 2013, extended the provisions under which the GCSB could investigate and gather information on residents and citizens. This bill amended the GCSB Act 2003, which stipulated that the GCSB’s role was to conduct foreign, not domestic, surveillance. Prior to and during the 2014 election campaign, the activities of the GCSB came under close scrutiny. Controversially, New Zealand continues to be an active member of the so-called Five Eyes network, a government-level alliance that shares intelligence information on a global scale.

In August 2016, the New Zealand Intelligence and Security Bill 2016 was introduced. The bill modifies existing legislation and enhances transparency of New Zealand’s intelligence and security agencies. The introduction of the bill resulted in a significant increase in the scope and powers of the GCSB. According to the Human Rights Commission, although the bill is a significant improvement in legislation, “there are aspects of the bill which are still of concern,” notably the definition of national security. In March 2017, the Intelligence and Security Act was passed with cross-party support. It brings the GCSB and the NZ Security Intelligence Service (SIS) under the same law. In a fundamental shift in policy, it permits the GCSB to monitor New Zealanders if national security issues are at stake.
Citations:
Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand Annual Report 2016: https://www.amnesty.org.nz/sites/default/files/Amnesty%20International%20NZ%20Annual%20Report%202016_May.pdf (accessed November 30, 2016).
Human Rights Act 1993 (Wellington: The Government of New Zealand 2011).
New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (Wellington: The Government of New Zealand 1994).
NZ Intelligence and Security Bill 2016. New Zealand parliament https://www.parliament.nz/en/pb/bills-and-laws/bills-digests/document/51PLLaw23781/new-zealand-intelligence-and-security-bill-2016-bills (accessed 13 September, 2016).
Spying reforms allowing GCSB to spy on Kiwis pass into law with little opposition. New Zealand Herald. 21 March 2017 (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=11822634) (accessed January 16, 2018).
Portugal
The Portuguese constitution of 1976 defines broad categories of rights and guarantees for the population in articles 12-23 and 24-27. This is generally also the case in practice. However, poorer elements of society, as in any country, tend to lack the educational, legal and other means to take full advantage of these guarantees. Moreover, the justice system continues to be very slow, which also reduces its ability to effectively protect citizens.
Citations:
Patricia Pires, “Europa quer mais medidas contra a corrupcao em Portugal” Reuters October 2, 2016.
7
Australia
Australia is the only major established democracy which does not have a bill of rights, but civil rights are protected through a significant body of legislation and by the constitution, which contains certain implied rights which are subject to interpretation by the High Court.

While Australia’s record of protecting human rights is internationally regarded as strong, criticism continues to be voiced regarding treatment of the indigenous population and the respect accorded to asylum-seekers’ civil rights. Even the Labor Party supports the policy of offshore processing of asylum-seekers, which is of course denying them rights enjoyed by Australian citizens.

Concerns have also been raised about counter-terrorism legislation. The Anti-Terrorism Act 2005 includes a variety of individual powers, including detention for up to 14 days, and restrictions on the movement, activities and contacts of persons subject to “control orders,” whether or not those persons have been accused or convicted of any offense. The coalition government has implemented four further tranches of legislation since October 2014. These include the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Act 2015, which requires telecommunications service providers to retain and secure telecommunications metadata for two years. Twenty-two agencies, including the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO), state police forces, the Australian Crime Commission and the Australian Taxation Office are able to view the data without a warrant. The act is opposed by a wide range of groups, including human rights organizations and civil liberties groups, on the basis that it represents an excessive encroachment on Australians’ privacy. Most recently, the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015 grants the government explicit powers to revoke Australian citizenship from dual citizens convicted of engaging in terrorist-related activities. The bill has also been criticized for being unconstitutional and for allowing possible retrospective application.

In late 2017, the government proposed further changes, including new commonwealth criminal offenses for people in possession of instructional terrorist material and for people who engage in terrorism hoaxes; creation of a national facial biometric matching capability; and increasing the role of the military in responding to terrorism incidents.
Citations:
http://www.amnesty.org.au/news/comments/36221/

Leonard, P (February–March 2015). “The metadata retention debate rages on” Internet Law Bulletin: http://www.gtlaw.com.au/wp-content/uploads/The-Metadata-Retention-Debate-rages-on.pdf

https://theconversation.com/improved-citizenship-bill-still-invites-criticism-and-high-court-challenges-47153

http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/a-new-low-labor-slams-turnbull-government-plans-to-put-asylum-seekers-on-the-street-20170827-gy4z9b.html
Austria
The rule of law as well as basic civil rights are guaranteed in Austria, at least for Austrian citizens. This is less so the case for non-citizens (and especially non-EU-citizens). Austrian laws concerning naturalization are extremely strict, which leaves hundreds of thousands of persons living legally in Austria excluded from political rights. Recent cases documented by NGOs have shown members of the Austrian police to have used cruelty and violence in interactions with non-citizens (especially migrants without a residence permit).

Right-wing populist parties, especially the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), instrumentalize social and economic anxieties among the broader population to blame migrants and refugees for any kind of negative development, ranging from crime to unemployment. Mainstream political parties have sometimes been reluctant to insist that the guarantees provided by human-rights declarations signed by Austria (such as the Council of Europe’s Declaration of Human Rights) cover refugees and migrants, and must be implemented without reservation.

The European Court of Human Rights has been especially critical of the way Austrian courts implement the freedom of speech. There is a tendency within Austria’s administration and judiciary to define this freedom in a more restrictive way than the court believes is correct.

With respect to religious freedom, all major denominations enjoy the status of officially recognized religious communities. This status enables access to the public-education system in form of religious instruction in schools, paid for by the government; a privileged way of “taxing” members of religious communities (through the church tax, or Kirchensteuer); and other entitlements. As a consequence of these various financial links and other relationships, there is no clear separation between religious denominations and the state. However, the religious denominations (especially the still-dominant Roman Catholic Church) have resisted identification with any specific political party.

As a consequence of the significant number of people coming from Muslim-majority countries over recent years (especially during the “refugee crisis” of 2015), the acceptance of Islam has become politically less secure than in the past. Islam is officially recognized and, like all other religious denominations, Islam has been entitled to organize religious instruction in public schools and pre-school institutions (“Kindergarten”). The fear that Islam (or at least significant Muslim elements) are using their position in the educational system to preach a fundamentalist form of Islam, including the promotion of violence and resistance to gender equality, is feeding a debate concerning the status of Islam. Political debates over radical preaching and terrorism are often intermingled with discussions about the status of Islam.

Two groups of Austrians are disadvantaged by this system of officially recognized denominations: members of the small denominations that lack official recognition, and atheists (or agnostics) who may feel that religion as such is privileged in Austria compared with non-religion.

Access to the courts in Austria has become increasingly difficult as a result of legal fees that have reached exorbitantly high levels, particularly in the civil branch of the judiciary system.

While the state does in some cases provide financial assistance, in many cases, the fees required for access to the Austrian judicial system constrain or altogether block access for people with limited means. In practice, this has fed the growth of a legal-insurance sector. People who cannot afford to pay for legal-insurance policies find the high court fees a significant obstacle to defending their rights in the Austrian court system.
Chile
The state and the courts efficiently protect civil rights, but certain specific conflicts (e.g., those related to indigenous groups) have led to human-rights violations in the recent past. In conflicts involving ethnic minorities, such as the ongoing conflict regarding the Mapuche minority in the southern region of Chile, anti-terror legislation – which dates back to 1984 and violates international conventions signed by Chile – have been applied in recent years. Additionally, within the context of the Mapuche conflict, it is quite noticeable that there have been multiple cases of detainees being held significantly longer than average, independent from the respective results of an investigation.

Furthermore, some occasional conflicts between civilians and the military or the police are overseen by military courts, whose impartiality is questionable. In general, the enormous income gap between population groups tends to marginalize the poorest people, who receive less state protection against infringements of their rights and for whom access to justice is more difficult.

In November 2016, Law No. 20,968 was enacted which modified the competences of the military justice defined by Law No. 20,477. Henceforth, no civilian – perpetrator or victim – will be prosecuted by military courts. The new law also introduced the crime of torture into the criminal code.
Citations:
http://www.latercera.com/noticia/bachelet-pide-perdon-al-pueblo-mapuche-presenta-medidas-la-araucania/

https://prensa.presidencia.cl/comunicado.aspx?id=56160

https://www.bcn.cl/leyfacil/recurso/delito-de-tortura

http://radio.uchile.cl/2016/12/02/nueva-modificacion-a-la-justicia-militar-un-avance-hacia-el-pleno-estado-de-derecho-en-chile/
Cyprus
Cyprus’s constitution and laws guarantee and protect the civil rights of all resident individuals, whether citizens of the republic or of other EU or non-EU countries. However, many problem areas exist. They relate to the treatment of asylum-seekers and economic and irregular migrants, overcrowding in prisons and other issues. Compliance with European and international rules and standards remains deficient. On human trafficking, Cyprus has again moved to Tier Two in the U.S. Department of State 2017 report, the actions of Cyprian authorities’ deemed non-satisfactory.

Also, a late 2015 report by the CoE’s Group of Experts on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) committee noted a rise in labor exploitation. Despite a new policy framework and an EU harmonization law (2014), problems persisted. These concern the detention of migrants and asylum-seekers, exploitation of migrant workers, offering of low salaries, and denial of social insurance. Thus far, measures to combat trafficking and eliminate labor exploitation, including more severe penalties for offenders, appear to not be yielding satisfactory results. Interventions by NGOs appear to slightly compensate for deficient official action by assisting various groups in overcoming barriers that constrain access to legal protection. Cyprian society’s perceived complacency continues to show signs of positive change on some issues. Cyprus responded to the GRETA report and provided information and data on its actions in December 2016.

More proactive and sustained measures are necessary because of the effects the financial crisis has had on vulnerable groups. New policies and forms of assistance are needed because of increased competition in the labor market. Under economic crisis conditions, both locals and immigrants hesitate to seek the legal protection of their rights. Instead, repatriation appears to be a favored solution for foreign workers and emigration for locals.
Citations:
1. USA State Department Report on Human Rights, Cyprus -Released 2017, https://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2016/eur/265408.htm
2. CoE GRETA report on Human Trafficking, 2015, https://rm.coe.int/CoERMPublicCommonSearchServices/DisplayDCTMContent?documentId=0900001680631b96
3. USA State Department 2017 Report on Trafficking, Cyprus https://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/countries/2017/271175.htm
Czech Rep.
The government and administration of the Czech Republic respect and protect its citizens’ basic civil rights. As complaints lodged with the European Court of Human Rights and the Office of the Public Defender of Rights (ombudsman) have indicated, the main problem is the length of legal proceedings. The relatively high number of complaints compared to other East-Central European countries shows that Czech citizens are increasingly aware of their civil rights and have the resources (financial, cultural and social) to pursue these rights.
Malta
The state generally respects human rights and human rights issues have judicial protection. The integration of the European Convention on Human Rights into Maltese law has strengthened protection of human rights, and decisions by the European Court of Human Rights are normally implemented; however, experts have criticized general practices saying that court procedures take far too long. This appears to be the case with human trafficking, where Malta is still said to not meet minimum standards. However, recent reforms in the courts have improved matters. The extension of rights to members of the LGBT community has improved civil rights protections. An increased focused on gender equality has improved matters considerably as has the transposition into domestic law of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention). There has been a similar development regarding disabled persons in Malta. Reforms concerning the civil rights of immigrants and asylum-seekers, including the removal of automatic detention, along with the high numbers of asylum-seekers being accorded humanitarian protection status has been noted. Nonetheless, the recognition rate of refugee status remains low. Better access to housing and support for migrants to integrate with the community needs to be made available. The prime minister has declared that the government will tackle the exploitation of refugees by employers, while a Human Rights and Equality Commissioner has been appointed and a new integration policy is being launched. Malta has not, however, ratified the relevant conventions on statelessness. The dereliction of the rights of prisoners confined in overcrowded and substandard conditions has also been noted. On a recent visit to Malta, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights noted the introduction of the morning after pill, but stressed the lack of debate on access to safe abortions; the island country continues to have one of the most restrictive abortion regimes in Europe. In the Freedom in the World Report 2017, Malta’s score remained unchanged at 96 out of 100.
Citations:
The Malta human rights report 2015 The people for change foundation.
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20160713/editorial/Spotlight-on-human-trafficking.618620
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20160819/local/maltas-laws-on-detention-are-still-unclear-says-unhcr.622400
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20160914/life-features/malta-and-lgbtiq-equality-one-year-on.624868
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20160818/local/trangender-policy-for-prisons-launched.622376
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20160803/local/fewer-complaints-filed-with-commission-for-people-with-a-disability.620908
http://inewsmalta.com/article.php?ID1=39241
The Guardian 07/12/16 Malta becomes first European Country to ban gay cure therapy
Amnesty International Annual Report Malta 2015/16
Times of Malta 03/01/16 New Migrant strategy is a step in right direction
Times of Malta 19/11/16 No More temporary humanitarian protection N for failed asylum-seekers
Times of Malta 14/10/17 No flushing toilets for 120 prisoners
Times of Malta 11/11/17 Commissioner Taken aback by non-debate on abortion
Freedom of the World 2017
Council of Europe, Commissioner for human rights, country Visit Malta 2017: Malta should step up efforts to enhance protection of women’s and migrant’s rights
Slovakia
In Slovakia, civil rights are largely respected. However, the integrity of the judiciary and the long duration of court proceedings remain a problem, as do the police discrimination and mistreatment of the Roma population. In the period under review, clashes over these issues between the government and Public Defender of Rights (Ombudswoman) Jana Dubovcová continued.
Spain
A controversial new law on public safety (Ley Orgánica 4/2015) was passed in 2015. This so-called gag law (ley mordaza) has been widely regarded as an anti-protest instrument, with the aim of reducing the tide of demonstrations against the government’s austerity policies and has thus been strongly resisted by the opposition and activists. It includes a new system of executive fines imposed for insulting (or sometimes simply criticizing) police officers, as well as for taking part in public unauthorized demonstrations (see also “Political Liberties”).

The new law also introduces civil-rights guarantees and makes some timid progress on racial profiling by police in the course of carrying out searches in public spaces. Under the new regulation, police searches must be carried out by a member of the same sex as the person being searched and can only be conducted for the purpose of preventing or investigating a crime. People who fail to supply ID can be taken to a police station only in order to prevent a crime or if they have already committed a misdemeanor.

State institutions generally respect and protect civil rights; the rights guaranteed by the constitution and in ordinary legislation are enforced, even if some infringements occur in practice (e.g., concerning illegal immigrants). Separately, the systematic delays and lack of adequate resources (both human and technological) in the Spanish courts are factors that serve to undermine the effective protection of fundamental rights to some degree. Over the long term, the inability to address the conflict in Catalonia politically may have strained human rights protections in Spain, being interpreted by some in Catalonia as an abusive interpretation of the rule of law.
Citations:
February 2017, El País: “Facebook user faces €30,000 fine for posting video of policeman online”
https://elpais.com/elpais /2017/02/17/inenglish/1487338337_48 5063.html
Netherlands
The Netherlands guarantees and protects individual liberties, and all state institutions respect and – most of the time – effectively protect civil rights. The Netherlands publicly exposes abuses and reports them to the U.N. Human Rights Council or the European Union. It cooperates with the monitoring organizations of all international laws and treaties concerning civil liberties signed by the Dutch government.

However, there are developments worthy of concern. The right to privacy of every citizen tops the list of preoccupations. Dutch citizens are more at risk than ever of having their personal data abused or improperly used. In addition, current policies regarding rightful government infringement of civil rights are shifting from legally well-delineated areas like anti-crime and terrorism measures toward less clearly defined areas involving the prevention of risky behavior (in personal health, education, child care, etc.) and travel behavior. There is an urgent need to rethink privacy rights and the broad use of policy instruments within the context of the information revolution.

Human Rights Watch has criticized recent Dutch legislation restricting the rights of asylum-seekers (especially long waits for asylum decisions and family reunion procedures), and efforts to only offer shelter, clothes and food to irregular migrants in the five largest cities (and nowhere else). Recently, the government has expanded its list of safe third countries for asylum-seekers (including, surprisingly, Afghanistan) and the Council of State was criticized for failing to uphold the rights of asylum-seekers in appeals to government decisions. On the other hand, the Dutch government withdrew a bill that would have criminalized illegal residence, allowing authorities to put those lacking residence permits in jail. There were concerns about racial profiling by police officers and white Dutch citizens interfering in protests against the traditional “Black Pete” (“Zwarte Piet”) figure in traditional Santa Claus festivities.
Citations:
Human Rights Watch in Nederland (hrw.org., consulted 8 October, 2017))

NRC Handelsblad, Rechters bij Raad van State kiezen ‘zelden de kant van de vluchteling,’, dd. 21 October 2014 (nrc.nl., consulted 23 October 2014)

“Bestaande technologieën met totalitaire trekken,” NRC-Handelsblad, 11 March 2017
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Belgium
Belgian courts operate independently of political interests, and regularly challenge political decisions. Tensions between judges and politicians can even be said to have increased in recent years. In most cases, civil rights are well-protected.

Nevertheless, issues remain. The judicial system is chronically underfunded, which means that many cases face a delay of years before a decision is made. Abnormally long delays occasionally force judges to dismiss cases. This has damaged Belgium’s position in both the World Economic Forum (WEF) and World Bank rankings. The WEF’s Global Competitiveness Report indicates that there have been de facto reductions in judicial independence. The World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business analysis gives Belgium a grade of 8 out of a possible 18 points in its Quality of Judicial Processes index. This has overall brought Belgium down to 52nd place in terms of contract enforcement (compared to 43rd place in the June 2015 report).

The government passed several new laws in the wake of the terrorist attacks on France, Belgium and Germany. Human Rights Watch has determined that “at least six of the government’s newly adopted laws and regulations threaten fundamental rights.”
Citations:
http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/belgium#enforcing-contracts

http://reports.weforum.org/global-competitiveness-index-2017-2018/countryeconomy-profiles/#economy=BEL

Human Rights Watch: https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/belgium1116_web.pdf
Greece
Civil rights are protected by and included in the constitution (passed in 1975 and amended in 1986, 2001 and 2008) and the criminal code. Judges are tenured and cannot be removed nor transferred by incoming governments. Courts guarantee the protection of life, freedom and property and protect all individuals against illegitimate arrest, exile, terror, torture or unjustifiable intervention into personal life. Greek citizens enjoy equal access to the law and are treated equally by the law. Notably, despite intense political conflict since the start of the economic crisis (2010), Greek democracy has continued to function and the courts have administered justice, albeit with very significant delays. Judges are unable to handle the constant overflow of cases, while lack of digital infrastructure and modern management methods aggravate the situation.

There are rare cases of officials failing to uphold the law as far as human rights protection are concerned. Such cases, which have occurred in detention centers for migrants and in prisons, have acquired wide publicity, but have taken a long time to be processed by the courts system. Independent control mechanisms, such as free media, NGOs and social movements, are very sensitive to such violations. Moreover, in March 2017, Greece was condemned by the European Court of Human Rights in a case in which Greek authorities had failed to protect rights of migrant workers.

In the period under review, little progress was been made in a major trial against militants of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party. Several members of Golden Dawn were accused of assassinating a left-wing rap singer in September 2013 but did not stand trial until November 2015. At the time of writing, the trial is still under way.

In the meantime, the living conditions of approximately 60,000 migrants and asylum-seekers, stranded in detention centers on Greek islands, have not improved. Many reception centers are overstretched as more than 200 people continue to arrive every day, 40% of them are children. Camps suffer from inadequate facilities, violence and harassment of women.

In summary, the state protects civil rights, but in practice organizational and infrastructural obstacles stand in the way of comprehensive protection of these rights particularly with regard to migrants and asylum-seekers.
Citations:
Information on the case of forced migrant labor in Greece is available from Amnesty International, at https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2017/03/greece-victory-for-strawberry-pickers-trafficked-into-forced-labour-and-shot/
Italy
The legal system includes detailed constitutional provisions and a series of ordinary laws that provide an articulated protection of a broad set of rights. Strongly independent courts serve in principle to guarantee their implementation. In practice, however, inefficiencies in the judicial administration, the heavy backlog of many courts and the consequent length of judicial procedures can make the protection of civil rights (both personal and property) less effective. The current government has further promoted reforms to judicial procedures and the organization of courts. These actions are slowly reducing the backlog of judicial proceedings, particularly civil proceedings.

The legal protection of the rights of immigrants, especially if they are illegal, is far from satisfactory. Some cases of police violence are reported. Actions by the security agents of the various authorities (including the state police) sometimes seem to contradict the principles of the rule of law. Immigrants and homosexuals sometimes experience discrimination. After years of discussion and on request of supranational institutions, Italy has finally introduced a law against torture.
Citations:
http://www.camera.it/leg17/522?tema=reato_di_tortura
Japan
Civil and human rights are guaranteed under the Japanese constitution. However, courts are often considered to be overly tolerant of alleged maltreatment by police, prosecutors or prison officials. LDP governments have made little effort to implement institutional reform on this issue. Critics have demanded – so far unsuccessfully – that independent agencies able to investigate claims of human rights abuse should be created. There is no national or Diet-level ombudsperson or committee tasked with reviewing complaints. Citizens have no legal ability to take their complaints to a supra- or international level. Unlike 35 other UN member states, Japan has not signed the so-called Optional Protocols to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Japan has been widely criticized for its harsh prison conditions, and for being one of the few advanced countries still to apply the death penalty. Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government, 21 executions had been carried out by the end of 2017. Prisoners are given only a few hours’ notice, and families are usually informed afterwards.

In 2017, parliament passed controversial anti-conspiracy/anti-terror legislation in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Critics say these rules threaten to undermine civil liberties, as police powers have been expanded, and courts are traditionally reluctant to interfere.
Citations:
United Nations Human Rights, Japan Webpage, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/JPIndex.aspx

Justin McCurry, Japan passes ‘brutal’ counter-terror law despite fears over civil liberties, The Guardian, 15 June 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/15/japan-passes-brutal-new-terror-law-which-opponents-fear-will-quash-freedoms

Japan hangs two death row inmates, including man who killed Chiba family as a minor, Japan Times, 19 December 2017, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/12/19/national/crime-legal/japan-hangs-triple-murderer-man-minor-killed-chiba-family-four/#.WlNHgvCnGJA
Slovenia
In Slovenia, civil rights are largely respected. Citizens are effectively protected by courts and by independent institutions like the ombudsman against infringements of their rights. Some problems exist with regard to the integrity of the judiciary. By contrast, the duration of court proceedings, which was very long in the past, has been reduced.
South Korea
Despite the establishment of the Human Rights Commission in 2001 and the relatively effective performance of courts in protecting civil rights, many problems remain.

Under the Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye administrations (2008 – 2016), South Korea experienced many symptoms of a reversal of democracy, across a wide range of areas. The country is now in the process of restoring that democracy. Civil-rights conditions are expected to improve under President Moon, a former human-rights lawyer.

Serious issues include limits on the freedom of association; limits on free speech related particularly to the National Security Law; inadequate rights accorded to migrant workers; insufficient protection accorded to refugees; inadequate protection for LGBT rights, particularly within the military; and the imprisonment of conscientious objectors. South Korea also maintains the death penalty, though there has been a moratorium on executions since 1997. The threat from North Korea has been used in the past to suppress civil and political rights. Recently, several people indicted in 2013 on suspicion of being North Korean spies were determined to be innocent, and the charges are today regarded as fabrications by the National Intelligence Service and the Prosecutor’s Office.
Citations:
AI – Amnesty International: Amnesty International Report 2014/15 – The State of the World’s Human Rights – South Korea, 25 February 2015 (available at ecoi.net)
http://www.ecoi.net/local_link/297359/419715_en.html (accessed 15 May 2016)
Amnesty International, Report on South Korea 2013, http://www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/annual-report-south-korea-2013
“2013 was a poor year for South Korean democracy,” Globalpost, Jan 17, 2014
Seoul News, Toward the Military that can be trusted, http://www.seoul.co.kr/news/newsView.php?id=20151026010003
Amnesty International Report 2014/2015, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/pol10/0001/2015/en/
Amnesty International Report 2015/2016
https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/pol10/2552/2016/en/
“After South Korean farmer’s death, family continues fight for justice,” Amnesty International Korea, 27 September 2016.
https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2016/09/after-south-korean-farmers-death-family-continues-fight-for-justice/
Freedom on the Net 2016, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/freedom-net-2016
UK
In the United Kingdom, civil liberties have long been protected despite the absence of a written constitution and an accompanying bill of rights. The country thus shows that effective protection is possible if support for civil rights is firmly rooted in society and therefore is expected of the government of the day. However, UK citizens have been afforded additional rights of protection from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Events of the last decade such as terrorist attacks have also demonstrated that the balance between state interests and individual rights can be more easily tilted if there are no institutional protections at hand. Various anti-terrorism acts (2000; 2001; 2005; 2006; 2008) have given the UK government more and harsher instruments to fight terrorism. For most citizens, these anti-terrorist measures are not an issue, but for the very small minority that they affect, they can be a source of dismay. In the past, governments had objected to rulings from the ECHR, to the extent that some government ministers advocated a UK withdrawal from the court. The absolute national sovereignty of British courts was a crucial argument to the campaign to leave the European Union.

While courts and public pressure have from time to time succeeded in stopping practices like the indefinite detention of non-nationals, the state has usually succeeded in reintroducing them after some time under a different name, for example when replacing “control orders” with “terrorism prevention and investigation measures.” However, it does so under quite intense media scrutiny. The files leaked by former U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) subcontractor and system administrator Edward Snowden disclosed a degree of digital surveillance in the United Kingdom that far exceeded expectations. The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), with its Tempora and MUSCULAR programs, as well as the NSA/GCHQ PRISM joint venture, tracks and evaluates a very large share of national and international electronic communications. But despite the initial media outcry, public opposition to these programs has been relatively mild. Furthermore, wider society is well aware of the proactive tradition of its national intelligence services, and criticism tends to be limited outside the context of libertarian pressure groups. The most sustained opposition today comes from communication firms whose servers were hacked by government agents to access private data.

In October 2016, the investigatory power tribunal, which is the only court that hears complaints against the intelligence agencies (i.e., MI5, MI6 and GCHQ), ruled that the mass collection of private data as committed by the security services between 1998 and 2015 failed to comply with Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights and was therefore illegal. Although the government has announced plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a new Bill of Rights, it is unclear what will change and how court decisions based on EU law will be made when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.

The House of Lords is currently debating the investigatory powers bill, the so-called snoopers charter, which aims to set clear legal standards for electronic and digital mass surveillance for the first time. However, until then, 17 years of unlawful spying makes a clear case for an infringement of civil rights.
USA
The emphasis on protections from intrusion by the state has been compromised significantly as a result of the anti-terrorism measures following the attacks of 9/11. The Patriot Act, widely reviled by civil-liberties advocates, has taken a more balanced approach than is generally recognized, although some surveillance and investigative procedures have opened the way for abuse. The more significant compromises of privacy protections resulted from actions of the Bush administration, notably the ordering of widespread wiretapping and internet surveillance by the National Security Agency, which was entirely without statutory authority. The Obama administration did not produce a sweeping change to these actions, however. Congress also authorized parts of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) wiretapping program, at least as it pertains to foreign suspects.


From 2014 to the present, African-American activists (the Black Lives Matter movement) have charged urban police departments of reckless, sometimes fatal use of force against black citizens. Despite some scandalous episodes captured in video recordings, according to a controversial study by Harvard economist Roland Fryer, empirical evidence has not shown a general pattern of racial bias in police use of lethal violence (shootings). Critics have argued that police training overemphasizes avoidance of risk to the officer, resulting in overly quick violent responses. In 2015, police review boards (for investigating citizen complaints of police abuse) were strengthened in some cities. In addition, a bipartisan group in Congress made progress promoting a sentencing-reform bill that would reduce excessive sentences for nonviolent offenses.

Trump has rejected complaints about excessive use of force by police (endorsing the counter-slogan Blue Lives Matter) and withdrawn support for legislative efforts at sentencing reform.

President Trump’s proposed budget assumes a major reduction of staff in the civil rights division of the Justice Department, the section charged with enforcing laws against discrimination and protecting the right to vote. Since taking office, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has rescinded Obama-era guidance on combating discrimination against transgender students and announced his intention to end the civil rights division’s aggressive oversight of police departments, even seeking to rescind a court-monitoring agreement overseeing police in Baltimore. The budget proposal also makes no mention at all of fighting discrimination against people with disabilities, a prominent change from the Obama-era 2016 request, which described it as a major priority.
Citations:
http://www.nber.org/papers/w22399
https://scholar.harvard.edu/jfeldman/blog/roland-fryer-wrong-there-racial-bias-shootings-police
 
Despite formal protection, frequent infringements of civil rights occur and court protection often proves ineffective.
5
Bulgaria
The Bulgarian constitution and legislation provide a comprehensive, gradually improving framework guaranteeing civil rights and their protection. In practice, rights are generally respected by state agencies and citizens have legal recourse when infringements of these rights do occur. Bulgarian citizens actively use the administrative-justice process to challenge the actions of state agencies, and the courts regularly side with citizen plaintiffs. Bulgarian cases are also regularly heard at the European Court of Human Rights.

The most frequent and serious rights violations are the overuse of force by law-enforcing government bodies, especially against Roma. Citizens regularly report failures to investigate and protect rights related to some types of crimes, especially crimes against property. The length of legal proceedings represents a significant problem.
Croatia
Civil rights are formally protected by the constitution and other laws. The ombudsman and specialized ombudspersons play an important role in the protection of human rights. However, the ombudsman’s recommendations are not always carefully followed up on. The Kosor government’s judicial-reform strategy (2011 – 2015) was designed to increase the effectiveness of the judicial system. Nevertheless, the need to reduce the backlog of civil, commercial and enforcement cases is still pressing. Domestic war-crimes prosecutions remain a weak point within the judicial system, as the process is slow and marked an institutional bias in favor of ethnic-Croat suspects. The rights of tenants of Serbian ethnicity who were expelled from the country in 1995 remain an open issue, as the implementation of housing programs for returning refugees continues at a slow pace.
Israel
By law, the effort to safeguard civil rights is constituted in the basic law’s section on human dignity and liberty, which protects the right of each citizen to privacy, property, dignity, life and so forth.

This basic law is procedurally protected from nullification. However, aspects of the law can be overruled under specific conditions of urgency as stated by the government and the courts.

Much of the work of protecting civil rights in Israel is done through acts of judicial review, operating independently of the legislative and executive branches. Civil rights claims are voiced through media pressure, NGO activities, appeals to the Supreme Court, legislative amendments and appeals to government bodies that investigate public complaints.

The basic law in Israel does not grant individuals the right to express their opinions; however, the Supreme Court has affirmed this right as an essential component of human dignity. Despite this ruling, the Knesset has adopted legislation that severely curtails the exercise of the right to freedom of expression. The Boycott Prohibition Law and the Budget Foundations Law impose economic sanctions on anyone that expresses opinions criticizing injustices and human-rights violations in the Occupied Territories.

Moreover, there is a gap between the formal guarantees of equal civil rights and the reality of unequal opportunities as experienced mainly by the Arab minority, primarily due to the conflict between civil rights and other core social values such as religious identity, security and communal rights. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) has highlighted legislative activity over the last year that threatens civil rights, including the successful Entry to Israel bill (prohibiting persons who support a boycott against the State of Israel from entering the State of Israel), bills relating to contempt of the flag (an amendment to the law proposing significantly stricter penalties for those who harm the flag of Israel), a state education-bill amendment targeting organizations that “oppose educational values” and the armed forces, and more.

The ACRI’s annual report for 2016 pained a complex picture of human-rights safeguards and violations. The report identified some civil rights violations such as the intention to increase enforcement and punishment of building violations within the Arab population and ongoing discriminatory planning processes targeting the Bedouin population in the Negev. Alongside civil rights violations, there were some positive developments regarding health, housing and the rights of persons with mental or cognitive disabilities. In addition, three groundbreaking reports recognizing long-term discrimination against these groups were released: a report on the economic integration of the Arab minority, the Biton Report on empowering the Sephardi and Mizrachi cultures, and the report of the Palmor Committee on discrimination against Ethiopian-Israelis. However, few of the recommendations in these reports were expected to be implemented in the 2017 – 2018 state budget.
Citations:
Dahan, Tal, “Situation report: The state of human rights in Israel and the OPT 2016,” The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, http://www.acri.org.il/campaigns/report2016en/

Adalah, Adalah’s Annual Report of Activities 2016, April 2017, https://www.adalah.org/uploads/uploads/PDF_Adalah’s_Annual_Report_of_Activities_2016_15.4.2017_FINAL.pdf

“Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty”: http://www.knesset.gov.il/laws/spec ial/eng/basic3_eng.htm

Hermann, Tamar et.al., The Israeli Democracy Index 2016, The Israel Democracy Institute, Jerusalem 2016. https://en.idi.org.il/media/7811/democracy-index-2016-eng.pdf

CIVICUS Monitor. “Tracking civic space,” 01.09.2016, https://monitor.civicus.org/newsfeed/2016/09/01/expression-Israel/

CIVICUS and Bread for the World (Brot für die Welt, Germany), “Atlas of the civil society. Report of the world situation” (German), January 2018.
Poland
The PiS government’s attempts to take control of the judiciary have raised some doubts about the government’s respect for civil rights, as has the anti-terrorism legislation introduced after the terrorist attacks in Brussels in March 2016. It has extended options for telephone and internet surveillance without a court’s order, has increased the period that suspects can be held without charges and has widened the Internal Security Agency’s (ABW) access to data.
Citations:
Human Rights Watch (2017): Eroding Checks and Balances: Rule of Law and Human Rights Under Attack in Poland. New York (https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/poland1017_web.pdf).
Romania
Civil rights are guaranteed by the constitution and are generally respected in practice. Romania responded to the decision by the European Court of Human Rights by adopting a new civil procedure order, which came into effect in February 2013. However, court protection has continued to suffer as a result of long and unpredictable proceedings. More specific concerns have been raised by the disproportionate use of preventive detention, often in conflagration of European legal standards, the bad conditions in Romanian prisons, and the large-scale surveillance activities of the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI). The NGO legislation introduced by the governing coalition is likely to weaken watchdog organizations in the field of civil rights.
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Hungary
The Orbán governments have formally respected civil rights. However, the rule of law has suffered from the government’s politicization of the courts, its failure to protect Roma and other minorities from harassment and hate speech and its attempts to criminalize the (former) left-wing elite. The Prosecutor General has acted more and more as a shield protecting Fidesz affiliates and initiating fake legal processes against opposition actors, damaging their economic situation and private life. In the context of the EU refugee crisis, the Orbán government adopted emergency legislation that has raised fears of an emerging police state both inside and outside Hungary. The forced detention for all asylum-seekers introduced in March 2017 has prompted harsh criticism by the international community. So has the government’s new legislation on NGOs adopted in June 2017 which obliges all NGOs receiving more than 7.2 million HUF (around Euro 24.000) annually from abroad to register with the courts and to present themselves to the public as “foreign-funded NGOs.” Like the Russian “foreign agent” legislation, it has especially aimed at stigmatizing those organization and activists which get resources from the international networks to protect civil rights, including Amnesty International or the Red Cross. The leading professional NGOs have declared that they would not abide this law and turned to the Constitutional Court. The European Commission triggered an infringement process against the Hungarian government, which is an ongoing process. The Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe criticized the law sharply and addressed a letter to the president of Hungary and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe asked the government not to pass the bill.
Citations:
Amnesty International Hungary (2017): We do not register. Budapest (http://www.amnesty.hu/news/2377/nem-regisztralunk-megyunk-a-birosagra).
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State institutions respect civil rights only formally, and civil rights are frequently violated. Court protection is not effective.
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Mexico
In principle, Mexico guarantees most civil rights via its legal and constitutional systems. Nevertheless, access to the court system and protection against violations are both highly unequal. Overall, the rule of law is weak and this undermines the effectiveness of formally guaranteed rights. Almost two-thirds of Mexicans indicate that they fear torture in custody if arrested by security forces, a poll by Amnesty International shows. In 2017, in response to public pressure, Mexico adopted a new law against forced disappearances. Implementation of this law, which promises more resources for the issue and a national registry of those reported missing, will be challenging, however.

The tension between formal rights and effective guarantees plays out especially forcefully in the field of security. Since 2006, the military has taken on a more prominent role in combating organized crime and drug-trafficking organizations. However, the Mexican military and other security forces are notorious for violating human rights and the courts do not provide adequate protection to citizens victimized by the military or police. Since the beginning of the drug war in 2006, Mexico’s Human Rights Commission received more than 10,000 complaints of abuse by the military, more than 2,000 of which occurred during the Peña Nieto administration. During the current administration the number of states in which the military operates has increased from six to 27 (out of Mexico’s 32 states). Critics of the current system argue that a better legal framework is necessary to regulate the military’s role in providing domestic security.

The security situation has deteriorated markedly in 2017 as the number of homicides, which had declined during the first years of the current administration, has increased to the highest level ever recorded since the state began keeping systematic records on crime and violence. Against the background of escalating violence, it has generally been impossible to effectively hold the security forces to account for abuses. Moreover, the government’s failure to provide security has led to the formation of self-defense forces in some parts of the country, which operate outside formal legal structures and are themselves associated with human rights violations.
Citations:
New York Times (26 May 2016) “Mexican Military Runs Up Body Count in Drug War.”

New York Times (16 March 2017) “While Scolding Trump, Mexico Seeks to Curtail Citizens’ Rights.”

Latin American Regional Report (May 2017) “Challenging abuse of authority one step at a time.”

New York Times (30 Sept 2017) “The Social Contract Is Broken’: Inequality Becomes Deadly in Mexico.”

New York Times (20 Nov 2017) “In Mexico, Not Dead.Not Alive. Just Gone.”

https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/12/07/mexico-reject-internal-security-law
Turkey
While Article 10 of the constitution guarantees equality before the law, and Article 12 enshrines fundamental rights and freedoms, concerns over shortcomings in judicial proceedings remain, including limited access by defense attorneys to prosecution files, lengthy pretrial detentions, and excessively long and catch-all indictments. This relates especially to numerous cases involving Kurdish activists, journalists, union members, students, military officers, and policy and security personal being tried for alleged violations of the Anti-Terror Law. Many such cases are considered by domestic and foreign observers to be partly or even fully politically motivated. Fundamental rights (e.g., freedom of association, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and right to privacy) are severely at danger. Improper influence over regulatory enforcement is moderately high and respect for due process is declining. The accessibility, affordability and effective enforcement of civil justice need to be strengthened.

In the aftermath of the 15 July coup attempt, even more serious violations of civil rights have occurred. Although the government claims it conducts the rules of emergency government with utmost care, these practices are based on executive decrees having the force of law and are not subject to judicial review. Some decrees affected policy areas outside the scope of the state of emergency. The institutionalized neglect of civil rights in Turkey are reflected in mass arrests of alleged coup plotters and sympathizers, confiscation of their properties, sentences against journalists and opposition politicians, renewed violence in the southeast, widespread restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly, a deteriorating judicial system, violence against women and impaired relations with key international actors. In July 2017, the State of Emergency Procedures Investigation Commission was established to receive the complaints from people who have been affected by the ongoing state of emergency. Over 100,000 people have submitted complaints to the commission to date. It is expected that the commission will make its first decisions in December 2017.

Political influence and pressure on the judiciary as well as allegations of conspiring with Gülenist organizations has weakened the independence of the judiciary as the sole guarantor for civil and political rights and liberties. The Justice Minister’s right of veto, as ex officio President of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK), continued to be a source of major concern. Despite the reorganization of the judiciary, the court system does not work effectively.

Since September 2012, the Constitutional Court accepts individual petitions if the right to a fair trial has been violated. Since September 2012, 1,314 violations of the right to fair trial have been noted by the court. Article 148 of the constitution states that anyone who believes his or her human or civil rights as set forth in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) have been infringed upon by a public authority has a right to apply to the Constitutional Court, after exhausting other administrative and judicial remedies. The cost of individual application was about €57.22 in 2017. Individual applications must be filed within 30 days after the notification of the final proceeding that exhausts other legal remedies. A total of 82 applications were made between January 2016 and November 2017. More than 16,000 applications were received by the European Court of Human Rights between January and July 2017, and about 13,000 cases remain pending.
Citations:
European Commission, Turkey 2016 Report, Brussels, 9.11.2016, http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/pdf/key_documents/2016/20161109_report_turkey.pdf (accessed 1 November 2016).
World Justice Project, Rule of Law Index 2016, https://worldjusticeproject.org/sites/default/files/documents/RoLI_Final-Digital _0.pdf (accessed 1 November 2017)Anayasa Mahkemesi Bireysel Başvuru Kararları, http://www.anayasa.gov.tr/icsayfalar/kararlar/kbb.html (accessed 1 November 2017)
ECtHR, Press Country Profile Turkey,http://echr.coe.int/Documents/CP_Turkey_ENG.pdf (accessed 1 November 2017)
T.C. Ministry of Justice (2014), Action Plan on Prevention of ECHR violations, http://www.inhak.adalet.gov.tr/eng/announced/actionplan.pdf (accessed 10 December 2014)
The Ombudsman Institution (2014) ‘The Chief Ombudsman Annual Press Conference,’ http://www.ombudsman.gov.tr/en/content_detail-322-779-the-chief-ombudsman-annual-press-conference.html (accessed 10 December 2014)
İnsan Hakları Kurulu Kararı, (Eşit Haklar İçin İzleme Derneği – Yüksek Seçim Kurulu), 25.06.2015, http://www.tihk.gov.tr/www/files/13-Temmuz-YSK-karari.pdf (accessed 27 October 2015)
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