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?

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.
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.
“Freedom House” (
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.
In general, the state and the courts 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 security breaches in 2014, the shooting of a soldier on ceremonial duty at the Canadian National War Memorial in Ottawa and an attack on military personnel in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, gave 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), which introduced 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.
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

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

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.
Civil rights are protected by the Danish constitution, including personal liberty, inviolability of property, inviolability of dwellings, freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of assembly. 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 and concerning unnecessarily lengthy case proceedings. 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.” There is now a political debate in Denmark about whether the country should start taking these so-called quota refugees again.

Recently, the Parliamentary Ombudsman concluded that the separation of couples seeking asylum (where one partner is under the age of 18) is a violation of the Danish Act on Public Administration and possibly a violation of the right to family life.

A recent ban on wearing face veils was a relatively controversial measure, which was passed by the parliament.
Henrik Zahle, Dansk forfatningsret 3: Menneskerettigheder. Copenhagen: Cristian Ejlers’ Forlag, 2007.

Institut for menneskerettigheder, “Danske sager,”,+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,” (accessed 15 April 2013).

Danish Institute for Human Rights, Human Rights in Denmark: Status 2014-15. A Summary. (accessed 7 October 2015).

Amnesty International, Denmark 2017/2018. (Accessed 3 October 2018).
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. The courts are widely seen to be independent. Time needed to resolve civil, commercial, and administrative cases has steadily declined and Estonia shows the second lowest figure in the European Union. 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. Primary legal advice is free for citizens with an income considerably below the national average. At the same time, Estonia is one of the few EU member states that require a recipient of legal aid to pay a court fee.

Besides the courts of law, 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.
Com (2018) The 2018 EU Justice Scoreboard. (accessed 12.10.2018)
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 Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index, Germany has consistently ranked 13th in recent years.

In her recent activity report, the federal privacy officer, Andrea Voßhoff, noted that access to information and basic civil rights are in good shape, and respected by government and the respective courts. However, the president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Hans-Georg Maaßen, was involved in various scandals and – after heated debates within the government, and between the government and opposition – was forced into premature retirement.
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.

On 25 May 2018, a referendum on “The Thirty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland,” which proposed permitting the Irish Parliament (the Oireachtas) to legislate for abortion, was passed by 66.4% of voters. It was signed into law by the president on 18 September 2018.

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 wrong-doing 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.
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. National police have made curbing organized crime a priority, but thus far the problem has grown.
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 United Kingdom, 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 sufficient signatures for an initiative aiming to give federal law precedence over international law. This initiative was rejected on 25 November 2018.
The state respects and protects rights, with few infringements. Courts provide protection.
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.
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, in 2007, the United Nations Committee on Human Rights (UNCHR) issued a de facto (if not de jure) binding opinion stating to the effect that, because of its discriminatory nature, the management system of Iceland’s fisheries constituted a violation of human rights. Furthermore, the UNCHR 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 the new constitution, which was approved by 67% of the voters in the 2012 national referendum. Showing disregard for the outcome of the 2012 referendum, the current prime minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir (who took office in November 2017), has stated that steps should be taken during the current mandate period to revise the constitution, which would require the parliament to overrule the national referendum. What happens next remains to be seen. Two of the political parties most opposed the constitution bill are part of the current cabinet.

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.
Gylfason, Thorvaldur (2016), “Constitution on Ice,” 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.

Gylfason, Thorvaldur (2018), “Chain of legitimacy: Constitution making in Iceland,” in Elster, J., R. Gargarella, V. Naresh, and B. E. Rasch (eds.), Constituent Assemblies. Cambridge University Press, New York, 2018. Also available as CESifo Working Paper No. 6018, July 2016.
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 concerns over poor conditions in the country’s prisons and detention facilities, lengthy pre-trial detention periods, and the general accessibility of the court system. The 2017 Ombudsman report rated the overall prison infrastructure as being out of date.

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.
1. Ombudsman of Latvia (2017), Annual Report, Available at:, Last assessed: 04.01.2019

2. Ombudsman of Latvia (2016), Annual Report, Available at: 489647331.pdf, Last assessed: 05.01.2019
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. According to a 2018 Freedom House report, Lithuania scored 1 out of 7 on civil liberties – the best possible score.

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.
Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2011 on Lithuania is available at t/humanrightsreport/index.htm#wrapp er
The Index of Civil Power measured by the Civil Society Institute is available at
Survey on the situation of human rights in Lithuania,
Freedom House Report on Lithuania 2018, available at
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 1,149 complaints were made in 2017, an increase from 2016. Most of these dossiers have already been fully (938) or partially (11) completed. The institution of the “Ombudsman” was launched in 2003. The Ombudsman has the mandate to mediate in disputes between citizens and public authorities. Thus, in some cases, a problem can be resolved before goes to trial.
Rapport annuel Ombudsman 2017. Accessed 22 Oct. 2018.

Meyers, Paul-Henri/Lorig, Wolfgang H. (2019): Luxemburg, in: Arthur Benz/Stephan Bröchler/Hans-Joachim Lauth (eds.), Handbuch der europäischen Verfassungsgeschichte im 20. Jahrhundert. Institutionen und Rechtspraxis im gesellschaftlichen Wandel, Band 5: seit 1989, Verlag J.H.W. Dietz Nachf. (forthcoming).
New Zealand
New Zealand has a well-institutionalized liberal democracy with fully implemented and protected civil rights. Based on the Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the Human Rights Act 1993, the Human Rights Commission actively promotes compliance with civil and human rights by public bodies and in society. The government enforces strong legislation protecting the rights of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) individuals. 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. 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. According to the Child Poverty Monitor 2018 Technical Report, almost one out of three children in New Zealand were living in poverty in 2017, with children of Māori and Pacific Islander descent being particularly vulnerable. The Labour-led govenrment has made fighting child poverty a priority, a condition that is widely considered to be a threat to the human rights of large numbers of New Zealand children.
The powers of the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) 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. 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. The New Zealand Intelligence and Security Bill 2016 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 represents a significant improvement to legislation, “there are aspects of the bill which are still of concern,” notably the definition of national security. The 2017 Intelligence and Security Act 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.
New Zealand Child and Youth Epidemiology Service 2018. Child Poverty Monitor. 2018. Technical Report.
NZ Intelligence and Security Bill 2016. New Zealand parliament (accessed 13 September, 2016).
Spying reforms allowing GCSB to spy on Kiwis pass into law with little opposition. New Zealand Herald. 21 March 2017 ( (accessed January 16, 2018).
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.

In the period under review, the government of Portugal passed a law – the National Strategy for Equality – to increase the social and political rights of its citizens.
Australia is the only major established democracy which does not have a bill of rights. 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 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. 22 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 announced new laws making it a criminal offense to be in possession of instructional terrorist material or to engage in terrorism hoaxes, and reached agreement with the states and territories to develop national facial biometric matching capability. As of the end of the review period, the government is seeking to pass legislation which imposes new requirements on organizations to assist law enforcement and security agencies to access information, introduces new computer access warrants that enable law enforcement to covertly obtain evidence directly from a device, and increase the power of law enforcement to access data through search and seizure warrants. Opponents argue that these measures represent unjustified infringements on civil liberties.

Leonard, P (February–March 2015). “The metadata retention debate rages on” Internet Law Bulletin:
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.

There is a discourse concerning basic rights of immigrants, especially Muslim immigrants. Key points of contention focus on whether the governing majority is entitled to restrict freedom of religious expression (e.g., restrictions on the right of women to wear headscarves) and guarantees on the rights of asylum-seekers, concerning the possibility of asylum-seekers being sent back to their country of origin. However, at the end of 2018, basic civil rights are still guaranteed by the constitution and the Constitutional Court.
There is a discourse concerning basic rights of immigrants, especially of Muslim immigrants: Is the governing majority entitled to reduce the freedom of deciding how to cover the head? Is the government entitled to outlaw the use of foreign languages in public schools? At this moment, there is a debate within the government – some of its prominent members are backing these tendencies, others disagree openly. But at the end of 2018, the basic civil rights in Austria are still guaranteed by the constituiton and the Constitutional Court.
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 have been 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.
Cyprus’s constitution and laws guarantee and protect the civil rights of all residents, both citizens of the republic or others. However, many problem areas exist. They relate to the treatment of asylum-seekers and economic and irregular migrants, forced labor, overcrowding in prisons – where some improvement was noted – and other issues. Compliance with European and international rules and standards remains deficient. On human trafficking, the U.S. Department of State placed Cyprus again onto Tier One, as authorities improved services providing for the protection of victims and conviction of traffickers.

The latest available report by the Council of Europe’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. Detention conditions, services and support provided to detainees are problematic in many respects according to a study and an Ombudsman’s report (2018). Among others, asylum-seekers face constraints in seeking employment as well as exploitation; the latter also faces migrant workers. Despite various measures by authorities that aim to eliminate labor exploitation, including severe penalties for offenders, the results remain unsatisfactory. Actions by NGOs appear to slightly mitigate deficient action and sub-optimal services by authorities, but despite the resilience of NGOs it remains an uphill struggle. Society’s perceived complacency further shows signs of positive change on some issues.

Though some progress may be noted, this is slow and points to the need for more proactive and sustained measures to support vulnerable groups. However, beyond the urgency of adopting new policies and forms of assistance, testimonies highlight the need for changing the culture of both the society and authorities toward migrants, irregular migrants, and asylum-seekers. The fact that almost one in two non-EU citizens is at risk of poverty or social exclusion as well as the decline of foreign labor in recent years point to the vulnerability of these groups.
1. USA State Department Report on Human Rights, Cyprus -Released 2018,
2. CoE GRETA report on Human Trafficking, 2015,
3. UNHCR Cyprus & University of Nicosia, The Living Conditions of Asylum-Seekers in Cyprus, 2018
The government and administration of Czechia 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 financial, cultural and social resources to pursue these rights.
The state generally respects human rights, and human rights are subject to judicial protection. Malta affords the highest possible level of protection to civil and political human rights, as enshrined in chapter four of the 1964 constitution. These rights are legally enforceable before the courts. However, analysts note that economic, social and cultural rights, which are found in chapter two of the constitution, are identified as “principles,” and thus need to be upgraded. 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. A recent landmark Constitutional Court ruling declared that two statements made by the accused when his lawyer was not present were inadmissible, and were thus expunged from the record; this reinforced the principle that a lawyer must be present at all times when an accused person is being questioned. A new section in the superior court of appeal has been created with the aim of increasing the system’s efficiency and effectiveness. The extension of rights to members of the LGBT community has improved civil-rights protections. For the third year running, the country has retained its place at the top of the European index that assesses rights granted to LGBTIQ persons in 49 countries. An increased focus 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, and a national disabilities strategy is being finalized. A 2018 report by the Aditus Foundation, a human-rights organization, noted further reforms concerning the civil rights of immigrants and asylum-seekers, including the removal of automatic detention, a shift to open centers and a more efficient processing system, improved rights by applicants to access their own files, and better family reunification measures. Moreover, a relatively high number of asylum-seekers have been accorded humanitarian protection status. However, the rate of recognition for actual 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 issue of abortion remains a very sensitive and divisive issue.
The Malta human rights report 2015 The people for change foundation.
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
Malta Today 25/09/18 New section within appeals court established
Malta Today 05/10/18 Suspects must be assisted by lawyer at all times during police questioning, court says in landmark ruling
AIDA Asylum information base: Country report Malta 2017 Aditus
Times of Malta 12/12/2018 In Malta some rights are more valued than others
Times of Malta 05/12/2018 Human Rights Day
South Korea
Despite the courts’ relatively effective performance in protecting civil rights, and the election of a former human-rights lawyer as president, many problems remain. Serious issues include limits on the freedoms of association and assembly (see also “Rule of Law”), limits on free speech related particularly to the National Security Law, and inadequate rights accorded to migrant workers. South Korea also maintains the death penalty, though there has been a moratorium on executions since 1997. On a positive note, the Korean Supreme Court in November 2018 for the first time accepted “conscience or religious beliefs” as a justifiable reason for conscientious objection to the mandatory military service. In doing so, it overturned a lower-court ruling in which a Jehovah’s Witness was sentenced to 18 months in prison. It remains to be seen how the government will react to this ruling, and whether it will offer an alternative civil service for conscientious objectors. Refugees’ difficulties in gaining asylum in South Korea has recently become an issue drawing public attention (see “Integration”).
Amnesty International Report 2017/18,
Freedom on the Net 2018,
“In Landmark Ruling, South Korea’s Top Court Acquits Conscientious Objector”, New York Times, Nov. 1, 2018
Spanish state institutions generally respect and protect civil rights. The rights guaranteed by the constitution and ordinary legislation are enforced, and only few infringements occur in practice (e.g., concerning illegal immigrants). Courts provide effective protection even if systematic delays and a lack of adequate resources (both human and technological) are factors that undermine this effectiveness to some degree. The political conflict associated with Catalonia’s bid for independence has included the very debatable claim by Catalan nationalist forces that the central government and the courts may have supported an abusive interpretation of the rule of law.

During the period under review, parliament initiated a debate on the reform of the controversial 2015 law on public safety. That legislation has been widely regarded as an anti-protest instrument (including a system of executive fines imposed for insulting police officers, as well as for taking part in public unauthorized demonstrations). A specific reform proposal regarding the most controversial articles of the law was presented in December 2018; however, its prospect of success was dim, due to the government’s lack of a parliamentary majority. The socialist government has also taken some measures to include Council of Europe opinions when addressing provisions for express deportations and the filming of police officers.
June 2018, El País: “El Gobierno prevé derogar el núcleo de la ‘ley mordaza’” html
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 (e.g., in personal health, education and child care) 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.
Increased monitoring and digital surveillance technologies disproportionally target those most dependent on state support, creating inequalities in policing and fraud control. Many of the monitoring and surveillance technologies – which often link various databases – are also poorly monitored legally.

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 St. Nicholas festivities. However, Frisian pro-Black Pete activists – who stopped anti-racist protesters by blocking a highway – were condemned for disturbing the public order. Furthermore, the Dutch authorities’ responsibilities for protecting the human rights of Venezuelan refugees and asylum-seekers in Curaçao (a self-governing Caribbean territory of the Netherlands, bound by international treaties signed by the Dutch state) is becoming a political issue.
Human Rights Watch. World Report|2018. Events of 2017 (, consulted 25 October 2018)

Human Rights Watch, Latest News, Nederland moet Venezolaanse vluchtelingen bescherming bieden, 15 October 2018 (, accessed 25 October 2018)

RTL Nieuws, Taakstraffen geëist tegen snelwegblokkeerders: ‘Het draait niet om Zwarte Piet’ (, accessed 25 October 2018)

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

“Bestaande technologieën met totalitaire trekken,” NRC-Handelsblad, 11 March 2017
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 eight 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.”

Human Rights Watch:
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. In March 2017, Greek authorities were rebuked by the European Court of Human Rights for failing to protect the rights of migrant workers, who had been forced to work under abominable conditions in the Peloponnese.

Little progress has 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 the period under review, there was international outcry against the Greek government’s tolerance of inhuman conditions in the Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos.

In summary, the state protects civil rights, but in practice organizational and bureaucratic obstacles stand in the way of comprehensive protection of these rights particularly with regard to migrants and asylum-seekers.
Information on the case of forced migrant labor in Greece is available from Amnesty International, at
Information on the dismal conditions of the refugee of Moria (on Lesbos island) is drawn on the New York Times,
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 Gentiloni 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. Though the law has been criticized by U.N. authorities for being too restrictive.
The new Conte government, under the influence of Northern League leader Salvini, appears likely to adopt more restrictive law and order policies, which may constrain civil rights and political liberties.
Civil and human rights are guaranteed under the Japanese constitution. However, courts are often considered overly tolerant of alleged maltreatment by police, prosecutors or prison officials. Moreover, existing laws give prosecutors and the police substantial leeway in this area. Arrested suspects can be kept in prison for 23 days without a formal charge being lodged, with a further 10 days of detention possible upon request. LDP-led governments have made little effort to address such issues. Critics have demanded – to date unsuccessfully – the creation of independent agencies empowered to investigate claims of human rights abuses. 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.

As the ILO noted when introducing international harassment guidelines in 2018, Japan has no adequate rules in place relating to issues of sexual or job-related harassment.

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. Prisoners are given only a few hours’ notice before executions, and families are usually informed afterward. In 2018, 13 members of the Aum Shinrikyo movement, which was responsible for the 1995 Sarin attack in Tokyo’s subway, were executed by hanging. For 10 of them, appeals for retrial were still pending.

The controversial anti-conspiracy/anti-terror legislation of 2017, passed in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, threatens to undermine civil liberties. Police powers have been expanded under the law, and courts are traditionally reluctant to interfere.
United Nations Human Rights, Japan Webpage,

Justin McCurry, Japan passes ‘brutal’ counter-terror law despite fears over civil liberties, The Guardian, 15 June 2017,

N.N., Aum cultists swiftly executed to avoid marring Tokyo Olympics, The Asahi Shimbun, 27 July 2018,

Jake Adelstein, 23 days later: Getting arrested in Japan, The Japan Times, 28 November 2018,

N.N., Japan lagging behind in attitude toward punishment for power, sexual harrassment, The Mainichi, 23 September 2018,
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, the murder of Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová in February 2018 has raised concerns about the state’s ability to protect its citizens. In his state of the nation address in June 2018, President Kiska identified a crisis of trust in justice and the rule of law and interpreted the murder as “materialization of the consequences of the tolerance of criminal behavior.” A controversial issue for some time has been the ratification of the Istanbul Convention. Within the governing coalition, Smer-SD and SNS have opposed ratification, and after the resignation of Prime Minister Fico, SNS leader Andrej Danko was quick to put the issue on the government agenda. These events led the members of the government’s Council for Human Rights, National Minority and Gender Equality to issue a joint statement expressing their concern that an issue of fundamental rights has become a topic of negative political and ideological campaigning.
Terenzani, M., R. Minarechová (2018): Istanbul ratification still nowhere in sight, in: Slovak Spectator, April 19 (
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.
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. Nevertheless, 17 years of unlawful spying makes a clear case for an infringement of civil rights.

After being declared unlawful by the Court of Appeal, significant parts of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, better known as the “Snoopers’ Charter,” need to be overhauled by the legislators. Various codes of conduct were published by the government following a public consultation concluded in 2017. However, since the judges based their verdict largely on citizens’ rights protected by EU law, it is currently one of many topics that will remain in limbo until a dependable idea of a post-EU United Kingdom emerges. The outcome remains uncertain as explained in the cited article.
The traditional legal protection 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, even though 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, entirely without statutory authority.

From 2014 to the present, African-American activists (the Black Lives Matter movement) have charged urban police departments with the reckless, sometimes fatal use of force against black citizens. Despite scandalous episodes captured in video recordings, empirical evidence has not shown any overall pattern of racial bias in police use of lethal violence. Disproportionate black fatalities reflect racial differences in the frequency of police encounters and of criminal offenses. Critics have argued that police training overemphasizes the avoidance of risk to the officer, which promotes violent responses, regardless of racial considerations. In 2015, police review boards (for investigating citizen complaints of police abuse) were strengthened in some cities. President Trump has rejected complaints of excessive use of force by the police. He has called for a major reduction of staff in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, and rolled back oversight of police departments, even seeking to rescind a court-monitoring agreement.

In December 2018 (after the review period), Congress passed a bipartisan bill under discussion for several years that reduced excessive sentences for many nonviolent offenses, such as minor drug offenses. The burden of such sentences had fallen heavily on blacks and Latinos.
Despite formal protection, frequent infringements of civil rights occur and court protection often proves ineffective.
The Bulgarian constitution and legislation provide a comprehensive 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. Sociological surveys continuously register very low levels of citizen satisfaction with the operation of the justice system, with the most serious negative perception being that the law does not apply equally to all citizens and that privileged people can bend the rules with impunity.
Civil rights are formally protected by the constitution and other laws, but always respected in practice. 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 need to reduce the backlog of civil, commercial and enforcement cases is still pressing, and the demonization of human rights’ advocates has continued. 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.
Horvat, K., D. Kalamujić, A. Katavić, S. Sharifi, I. Vejić (2018): Human Rights in Croatia: Overview of 2017. Zagreb: House of Human Rights Zagreb.
By law, the effort to safeguard civil rights is constituted in the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, which protects the right of each citizen to privacy, property, dignity, life and so forth. This basic law is meant to carry the spirit of the law and is procedurally protected from nullification. That being said, provisions from the law can be overruled under specific urgencies stated by the government and the courts. Much of the work of protecting civil rights in Israel is done through acts of judicial review, which operates independently from the legislator and the 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.

Nevertheless, there is a gap between the formal guarantees of equal civil rights and the reality of unequal opportunities (experienced mainly by the Arab minority) primarily due to the conflict between civil rights and other core social values (e.g., religious identity, security and communal rights). According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), some legislative activity in 2018 threatened civil rights, including Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People, restrictions on entry into Israel for those calling for a boycott on Israel, bills proposing stricter penalties for contempt of the flag and a bill to limit the funding of cultural bodies based on their political agenda. The passage of Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People has led to protests among Jew, Druze and Arab communities, since it did not include any statement declaring equality for all Israeli citizens. The main arguments were that the law discriminates against minorities and especially the Arab minority, since it downgraded the Arab language from its former position as an official state language.

ACRI’s annual report of 2017 illustrated a complex picture of safeguarding and violating human rights. Specifically, the report argued that the government has neglected asylum-seekers by failing to formulate a policy to address multiple immigration challenges. On the other hand, the “fair procedure” reform, intended to improve the rights of suspects in criminal law, led by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, was announced in May 2018.
“Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty”: ial/eng/basic3_eng.htm

Dahan, Tal, “Situation report: The state of human rights in Israel and the OPT 2017,” The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI),

Hermann, Tamar, The Israel Democracy Index 2018, The Israel Democracy Institute, Jerusalem 2018,

Hermann, Tamar, The Israeli Democracy Index 2016, The Israel Democracy Institute, Jerusalem 2016,

Morag, G. and Friedson Y. “Shaked unveils criminal justice system reform bill,” Ynet, 28/05/2018:,7340,L-5273104,00.html
The PiS government’s attempts to take control of the judiciary have raised 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. In August 2018, the case of Lyudmyla Kozlovska, a Ukrainian national and the president of the Open Dialogue Foundation (ODF) in Poland, attracted attention. Kozlovska was denied entrance to Belgium after a visit to Ukraine on the basis of a Polish entry ban reported through the Schengen Information System.

The new legislation on NGO financing will make it more difficult for NGOs campaigning against discrimination to access public money. In a number of cases, NGOs that focus on women’s rights, domestic violence or asylum-seeker and refugee issues have already been denied funds.
Brouwer, E. (2018): Schengen Entry Bans for Political Reasons? The Case of Lyudmyla Kozlovska, in: Verfassungsblog, August 30 (

Human Rights Watch (2017): Eroding Checks and Balances: Rule of Law and Human Rights Under Attack in Poland. New York (
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. There is no equal access to the law since well-positioned individuals, including politicians, are given preference by the courts. 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). During the period of review, the involvement of the SRI in the penal investigations conducted by the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) continued to violate the right to a fair investigation and the presumption of innocence. NGO legislation introduced by the governing coalition in 2017 has weakened watchdog organizations in the field of civil rights.
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 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 prompted harsh criticism by the international community. So had 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.
State institutions respect civil rights only formally, and civil rights are frequently violated. Court protection is not effective.
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 there is widespread impunity the rule, which undermines the effectiveness of formally guaranteed rights.

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. 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).

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 has received more than 10,000 complaints of abuse by the military, more than 2,000 of which occurred under the Peña Nieto administration. Federal prosecutors have opened more than 9,000 investigations, without a single conviction. An anti-torture law, passed in April 2017, is yet to be implemented. In December 2017, a new law on internal security was passed, legalizing military involvement in domestic law enforcement. The law lacks any effective provision for transparency, accountability or civilian oversight. In 2017, in response to public pressure, Mexico adopted a new law against forced disappearances. This law, which promises more resources for the issue and a national registry of missing people, has also not been implemented so far. By mid-2018, more than 37,000 people are reported to have disappeared, more than 2,000 people disappeared in the first half of 2018 alone.

The security situation has deteriorated markedly in 2017 and 2018 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. More than 25,000 homicides were reported in 2017, while more than 16,000 were reported in the first six months of 2018. A total of more than 240,000 killings have been reported since the beginning of the so-called war on drugs. Against the background of escalating violence, it has generally been impossible to effectively hold the security forces to account for abuses. The disappearance of 43 Ayotzinapa teaching college students is indicative and remains unresolved. Although international commissions accused the local and regional security apparatus, the Peña Nieto administration denied any accusations and refused to cooperate. The incoming president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has promised a truth commission. Human Rights Watch has spoken of the “human rights catastrophe” that the new president will inherit.
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.

In the aftermath of the 2016 averted coup attempt, the government declared a state of emergency, which lasted two years and concluded on 18 July 2018. During the state of emergency, serious civil rights violations occurred. Although the government claims it conducted the state of emergency rules with utmost care, these practices are based on executive decrees, which have the force of law and are not subject to judicial review. Even more seriously, some decrees affected policy areas outside the scope of the state of emergency. Impunity during the state of emergency period limited law enforcement’s criminal liability. Another controversial decree, issued in December 2017, removed criminal liability for civilians who actively resisted the attempted coup and any acts in the aftermath of the coup.

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. As of November 2018, a total of 125,000 applications were received, 42,000 of which were concluded by the commission. The commission found only 3,000 complaints appropriate. The applicants of the rejected complaints have the right to appeal to the administrative court against the institution where s/he was employed.

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.

The National Human Rights and Equality Institution (NHREI) and the Ombudsman institution were established to deal with citizens’ complaints including human rights violations. However, they are in the process of being improved in accordance with international standards. Turkey is a signatory to most international human rights conventions, but has not signed some significant optional protocols in this area (e.g., a third optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child).

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. Individual applications must be filed within 30 days after the notification of the final proceeding that exhausts other legal remedies. Since September 2012, the Constitutional Court has accepted individual petitions, if the right to a fair trial has been violated. Between September 2012 and late September 2018, a total of 200,835 individual applications were received by the court. The number of applications was 40,530 in 2017 and has reached 27,356 in the first nine months of 2018. In total, only 2,879 violations of fair trial have ever been accepted by the court. The cost of making an individual application was about €50 in 2018. The European Court of Human Rights dealt with 31,053 (30,063 inadmissible) concerning Turkey in 2017 and 4,129 (4,040 inadmissible) during the first six months of 2018. As of July 2018, there were 8,109 pending applications.
European Commission, Turkey 2018 Report, Brussels, 17.4.2018, report.pdf (accessed 1 November 2018)
World Justice Project, Rule of Law Index 2017-2018, (accessed 1 November 2018)
Anayasa Mahkemesi Bireysel Başvuru Kararları, (accessed 1 November 2018)
ECtHR, Press Country Profile Turkey, (accessed 1 November 2018)
T.C. Ministry of Justice (2014), Action Plan on Prevention of ECHR violations, (accessed 1 November 2018)
Olağanüstü Hal İşlemleri İnceleme Komisyonu Kararları Hakkında Duyuru (09.11.2018), (accessed 15 November 2018)
“Anayasa Mahkemesi’ne bireysel başvuru 200 bini geçti,” (accessed 1 November 2018)
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