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. Finland is one of three countries that received the maximum aggregate score (100) in the category of political rights and civil liberties in Freedom House’s 2019 Freedom in the World survey. The country’s legal system 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 UN 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. For its part, the Trudeau administration passed Bill C-59, which made sweeping changes to the National Security Act. The measure removed some of the powers given to CSIS and the Communications Security Establishment (CSE; the country’s signals-intelligence agency) by the previous government, and introduced several oversight mechanisms designed to make these bodies more accountable. However, the bill also expanded the CSE’s mandate, giving it new abilities and roles. Many experts are worried about domestic data privacy, as the bill does not prevent the CSE from collecting data on Canadians via the internet. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association maintains that the bill stops short of repealing the measures in C-51 that had threatened 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

Forcese, G. and K. Roach,”A Report Card on The National Security Bill,” Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP), June 22 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. These matters have also led to criticism from Amnesty International.

It is being contested whether recent changes in relation to asylum-seekers, including rules for family reunification, violate the Geneva Convention. There has also been debate in Denmark about whether the country should start receiving so-called quota refugees again.

A ban on wearing face veils was a relatively controversial measure, which was passed by the parliament.

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.

The new Social Democratic government, which came to power in June 2019, decided to start receiving quota refugees again.

The new government is also initiating an investigation into whether, under the former minister of immigration, Inger Støjberg, there was any wrongdoing in relation to the separation of young couples seeking asylum.
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).

Regering og støttepartier laver Støjberg-kommission. (Accessed 17 October 2019).
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, dependent on the discretionary decision of the court. Estonia is one of the few EU member states where the right to legal aid is not linked to the income of the applicant.

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 (2019) The 2019 EU Justice Scoreboard. (accessed 09.10.2019)
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. According to the Freedom House (2019) civil liberties index, Germany is ranked as free.
Freedom House (2019):
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 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.
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. The national police have prioritized tackling organized crime and, in 2019, the government, under heavy criticism from the center-right opposition, rolled out a program addressing the issue of organized crime.
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.

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-wing populist and conservative view, the internationalization of law and international court decisions against the results of Swiss referendums 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 prosecutes 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. Numerous observers have argued that the repression of the Yellow Vest protests entailed a disproportionate use of force. However, the use of violence by protesters also reached a level rather rare even by French standards.
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 antiquated and advanced plans for the construction of a modern prison in the city of Liepāja, although these plans have been delayed for budgetary reasons. In 2019, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of an inmate who had been prevented from attending his father’s funeral due to sexual discrimination, as men that have been found guilty of a serious crime are automatically placed in the highest security category, while women found guilty of a comparable crime are placed in less restrictive, part-closed prisons.

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 were not held accountable.
1. Ombudsman of Latvia (2017), Annual Report, Available at:, Last assessed: 05.11.2019

2. Ombudsman of Latvia (2016), Annual Report, Available at: 489647331.pdf, Last assessed: 05.11.2019

3. European Court of Human Rights (2019) Prison sentence law which prevented male inmate from attending father’s funeral led to sexual discrimination, Available at:, Last assessed: 12.11.2019.
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. In a 2019 Freedom House report, Lithuania was given a score of 1 out of 7 on the issue of 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 2019, available at
Civil rights are officially protected in Luxembourg. 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. 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 19 Oct. 2019.

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, Bonn, S. 393 - 416.
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 2019 Freedom in the World Report – published by the U.S.-based think tank Freedom House – awards New Zealand an almost perfect score of 58/60 on the “civil liberties” dimension.

However, this does not mean that there are no infringements of citizens’ civil rights in New Zealand. For one, 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.

A further line of critique concerns the treatment of prison inmates. An independent report published by the Human Rights Commission in 2017 highlights that solitary confinement and restraint practices were not always used as emergency last resort tools, as required by international law. The use of tie-down beds and/or waist restraints in at-risk units was found to amount to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. Following the report, the Corrections Department decided in April 2019 to ban their use of tie-down beds prisons.
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).
Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2017/2018: New Zealand (
Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2019: New Zealand (
Human Rights Commission, Independent report highlights urgent need for action on seclusion and restraint practices (
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.

During the previous review period, the government of Portugal passed a law – the National Strategy for Equality – to increase the social and political rights of citizens. The law includes several strategic objectives to be achieved by 2030 and three action plans to implemented by 2021. The law focuses on promoting gender equality, preventing domestic violence, and combating discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. A report was produced highlighting the measures already adopted in 2018, though the impact of these educational measures will take time to percolate through to changes in attitudes and behaviors.
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. 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 to access 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.

In addition, the chronic lack of judicial staff, which has recently led to a public outcry from judges and judicial staff. At present, the provision of judicial services by the state is seriously undermined by the lack of adequate funding.

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. At the end of 2019, while basic civil rights in Austria remain guaranteed by the constitution and the Constitutional Court, it is evident that the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice will have to decide whether a policy to reduce the liberty of any group (e.g., the Islamic community) would represent a violation of these basic rights.
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 2019, the basic civil rights in Austria are still guaranteed by the constituiton and the Constitutional Court. And it became also clear that the European Cour of Human Rights as well as the European Court will have to decide whether any policy reducing the liberty of any group (e.g., the Islamic community) will violate basic rights.
Cyprus’s constitution and laws guarantee and protect the civil rights of all residents, not only citizens of the Republic. However, problems do persist, including the treatment of asylum-seekers, economic and irregular migrants as well as forced labor. Compliance with EU and international rules and standards remains deficient.

The U.S. Department of State has placed Cyprus on Tier One, considering that it “fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.” A delegation of the anti-traffic group of experts (GRETA) of the Council of Europe visited Cyprus in mid-2019. Their compliance report is expected in 2020.

Despite a new policy framework and an EU harmonization law (2014), problems persist. Though a Council of Europe’s SPACE report on prisons indicated overcrowding in prisons as no longer a problem, a 2018 Ombudsman’s report concluded that detention conditions, services and support provided to detainees were problematic. In other 2019 reports the Ombudsman’s Office observes shortcomings and problems in the treatment of asylum-seekers, including the provision of assistance, living conditions, employment opportunities and exploitation. Migrant workers face similar challenges. Despite improvements in official policies that aim to eliminate labor exploitation, the results remain unsatisfactory. Actions by NGOs appear to slightly mitigate problems, while also highlighting existing deficiencies. Though improving, the society’s highly negative stance toward immigrants, as shown in Eurobarometer surveys, appears antithetical to solving these problems.

Progress is noted, but remains slow. More proactive and sustained measures to support vulnerable group are required. Policies should also aim at a new culture toward migrants and other marginalized groups to increase acceptance by both society and the authorities. The fact that the at-risk-of-poverty-or-social-exclusion rate for non-EU citizens was 40% in 2018 points to the vulnerability of these groups and the need for assistance.
1. USA State Department Report on Human Rights, Cyprus -Released 2019,
2. GRETA visits Cyprus as part of the third evaluation round, 18 June 2019,
3. Ombudsman’s report on the legal framework regulating the living conditions of asylum-seekers outside the reception center (in Greek), 6 June 2019m$file/%CE%91%CE%A01799_2016_06062019.pdf?OpenElement
The government and administration of Czechia respect and protect its citizens’ basic civil rights. As indicated by complaints lodged with the European Court of Human Rights and the Public Defender of Rights, Czechia’s ombudsman, 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 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 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. 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. However, this would require the parliament to overrule the national referendum from 2012. What happens next remains to be seen. Two of the political parties most opposed to the constitution bill are part of the current cabinet.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has heard several petitions by Icelandic citizens recently that their civil rights have been violated. In almost all of these cases, the ECHR has ruled in favor of the petitioners, 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 ECHR. Following a number of similar ECHR 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. Recently, the ECHR has also ruled against Iceland in connection with controversial judicial appointments.
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.

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.
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 4 of the constitution. These rights are legally enforceable before the courts, and the sphere of rights enjoyed by individuals has expanded greatly since independence, thanks to decisions by the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights. Delays in the administration of justice have often been the cause of complaints, but recent court reforms 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 (though these gains were eroded somewhat with the increased number of asylum-seekers in 2019), a shift to open reception 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. A recent report highlighted the right to marry, as migrants who do not have residency permits face a number of barriers when wishing to marry. In May 2019, the U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights chastised Malta for the decision to charge three migrants, two of whom were minors, with terrorist charges stemming from an incident on a commercial ship carrying a hundred rescued people. Exploitation of refugees by commercial interests remains a challenge. A Human Rights and Equality Commissioner has been appointed, and a new integration policy launched in 2019 ratified the relevant conventions on statelessness. The violation of the rights of prisoners confined in overcrowded and substandard conditions has also been noted. With regard to gender issues, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights has noted the introduction of the morning-after pill, but has also called for the decriminalization of abortion in Malta. The latter issue remains very divisive. The U.N. Committee for the Rights of the Child has recommended that Malta’s marriage law be amended to forbid people under 18 from getting married. Freedom in the World 2019 allocated Malta a score of one out of seven, with one being the best score in terms of civil liberties. Shortcomings cited included the degree of government influence over state media, the vulnerability of and hostility toward irregular migrants, and the continued prevalence of domestic violence.
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
Global Detention project: Immigration detention in Malta betraying European Values? 11/06/2019
Aquilina, K., (2018) Human Rights Law Faculty of Law, University of Malta
Times of Malta 02/07/2019 Too young to get married
Freedom in the world: Malta 2019
Malta Today 14/12/19 UNHCR welcomes Malta accession to convention on stateless persons
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 drastically reduced and the number of backlog cases dropped by 56% in the last five years, reaching the lowest levels since the 1990s.
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 populations such as migrant workers, refugees and sexual minorities. South Korea also maintains the possibility of the death penalty, though there has been a moratorium on executions since 1997. On a positive note, in November 2018 the Korean Supreme Court for the first time accepted “conscience or religious beliefs” as a justifiable reason for conscientious objection to the country’s mandatory military service. Unfortunately, the government has to date been slow to offer alternatives to military service for conscientious objectors. In April 2019, the Constitutional Court strengthened women’s rights, ruling that Korea’s 65-year ban on abortion was unconstitutional. Refugees’ difficulties in gaining asylum in South Korea has recently become an issue drawing public attention (see “Integration”). In 2019, the government’s plan to limit the power of the public prosecutor’s office turned into a major political struggle. Prosecutors in Korea are free to prosecute suspects or not as they see fit, a system that has been criticized as being prone to political meddling.
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
Human Rights Watch. 2019. “South Korea: Events of 2018.” Retrieved from
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 continued to debate 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, due to the early elections called for April 2019, the proposal could not be put to a parliamentary vote. The PSOE government has also introduced some measures to include Council of Europe opinions in provisions for express deportations and the filming of police officers.

Individuals’ rights are rigorously safeguarded in Spanish criminal proceedings. This was demonstrated during the trial of 12 Catalan independence movement leaders, which started in February 2019. The trail was public, transparent, and carried out in compliance with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the European Convention on Human Rights.
May 2019, Publico: “Sánchez tiene ya una mayoría en el Congreso para derogar la reforma laboral y la ‘ley mordaza’’”
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 counterterrorism 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, 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. And in December 2018, the government passed legislation that imposes new requirements on organizations to assist law-enforcement and security agencies with requests to access information, introduces new computer access warrants that enable law enforcement to covertly obtain evidence directly from a device, and increases 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:
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 56th 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:
The state and the courts efficiently protect civil rights. However, the huge income gap in the population, as well as prevalence of discrimination against indigenous people, leads to inequality in the exercise of those rights. Anti-terror legislation – which dates back to 1984 and violates international conventions signed by Chile – has in recent years been applied in conflicts involving ethnic minorities, such as the Mapuche community in the southern region of Chile, generating human rights violations. There have been multiple cases in which detainees in the Mapuche conflict have been held significantly longer than average, independently of any results of an investigation. During the period under review, two severe incidents were revealed (the “Catrillanca case” and “Operation Huracán”) involving the infringement of rights and perpetration of criminal offenses by the government and police officials within the context of the Mapuche conflict.

Enacted in November 2016, Law No. 20,968 modified the competences of the military justice system 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.

In response to the mass protest of October 2019, President Piñera declared a state of emergency that included a one-week curfew in several regions and the deployment of soldiers in the streets. Reports subsequently emerged that state forces – in particular the police (Carabineros) – had committed severe human-rights violations during protests and after arrests were made. At the time of this writing, official investigations were still under way. According to the Chilean Institute for Human Rights, at least 23 people died, more than 1,700 were injured and 5,000 detained during the protests. Former president and current High Commissioner of the United Nations’ Office for Human Rights (OHCHR) Michelle Bachelet sent a team to investigate the incidents.
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.

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 was still under way.

In the meantime, the living conditions of 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. The outcry was intensified in September 2019 after a woman died in a deadly fire in that camp. Similarly intolerable conditions were observed on the islands of Samos and Symi in the summer of 2019. However, starting in October 2019, the government began actively relocating refugees and migrants to better and smaller camps around mainland Greece.

In summary, the state protects civil rights, but organizational and bureaucratic obstacles in practice stand in the way of the comprehensive protection of these rights, particularly with regard to migrants and asylum-seekers. Very recent efforts by the government that took power in July 2019 have begun to alleviate this situation.
Information on the dismal conditions of the refugee of Moria (on Lesbos island) is drawn on the New York Times, and also on the Guardian,
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. Arrested suspects can be kept in prison for 23 days without a formal charge being lodged, with a further 10 days of detention possible with a routine court request. Assistance by lawyers during interrogation can be denied. Interrogations can last for up to eight hours per day. Supporters of Japan’s justice system point to its high confession rate, which has produced a record number of convictions. However, there is clearly a dark side to this. In a recent extreme case, Japanese financier Nobumasa Yokoo spent 966 days in pre-trial detention, while former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghoshn spent 108 days in pre-trial detention. Neither confessed to the crimes that they were alleged to have committed.

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.

In response to the ILO international harassment guidelines of 2018, Japan revised its legislation on the issue of workplace harassment in 2019.

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.

The controversial anti-conspiracy/anti-terror legislation of 2017, passed in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, 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,

Kana Inagaki and Robert Harding, Fate of Olympus financier shines light on Japanese legal system, Financial Times,
9 June 2019,

Motoko Rich and Jack Ewing, Japanese Justice Faces Scrutiny in Case of Nissan Chief and U.S. Board Member, 19 December 2018, New York Times,

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

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

Japan bolsters fight against workplace harassment, but laws lack punitive measures, The Japan Times, 29 May 2019,
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. New problems have emerged since conservative forces (including several Christian churches) formed an alliance, which opposes LGBTI rights and “gender ideology,” and promotes “traditional family” values. SNS leader Andrej Danko has helped to propel the issue to the top of the political agenda and succeeded in forging a majority for a parliamentary resolution asking the government not to ratify the Istanbul Convention.
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 UN 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 childcare) and travel behavior. 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. Most recently, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Philip Alston criticized the Dutch government (and parliament) for its use of an algorithmic system (Systeem Risico Indicatie) to detect social-benefits fraud. The system linked data from across all government databases to generate an individual fraud-risk profile. A system of this design violated everybody’s privacy rights, but particularly those of poor people and individuals with a migrant background, Alston said.

Human Rights Watch has criticized recent Dutch legislation restricting the number of locations for hosting asylum-seekers, as well as the long wait times for asylum decisions and family-reunion procedures, 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, with this verdict upheld in a higher appeals court.
Human Rights Watch. World Report| 2019. Events of 2018 (, consulted 3 November 2019)

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

Nieuwsuur, 22 October 2019. VN-rapporteur zeer bezorgd over Nederlands opsporingssysteem voor uitkeringsfraude.

Nieuwsuur, 4 November 2019. Minister Grapperhaus wil toegang to chat – en berichtendiensten.
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. An upshot of this episode was the introduction of a new Investigatory Powers Act in 2016, with regulations coming into force in 2018.

There have been several legal challenges to the government approach, often initiated by NGOs such as Liberty or Privacy International. 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. After being declared unlawful by the Court of Appeal, significant parts of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, better known as the “Snoopers’ Charter,” will need to be overhauled by the legislators. However, as Computer World reported in summer 2019, the courts have supported the government position on, for example, the right to appeal judgments of the tribunal.

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 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 have resulted from actions taken by the Bush administration, which include the National Security Agency being able to order widespread wiretapping and internet surveillance, entirely without statutory authority.

In December 2018, 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. In 2019, however, the Justice Department, under Attorney General William Barr, has openly criticized the reform law and sought to discourage its full implementation.
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 not 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.

After much of political controversy, the Croatian parliament ratified the Istanbul Convention in 2018. However, data for 2019 show an increase in the number of family-related violence cases, most of which encompass male offenders. These cases are also more shocking in terms of the brutality displayed. Prevention initiatives and the penal system have been too inert in tackling the issue. The government endorsed stiffer penalties for offenders, while attacks on social workers will now be treated as criminal offenses. It remains to be seen whether the stiffer penalties will deter serious offenders and molesters in light of the very slow and inefficient judiciary.

In terms of the freedom of expression and access to justice, Croatia still posts unsatisfactory results. However, in other walks of life, such as protecting civil and political rights (especially of gay people and minority nationalities), Croatia has made steady improvements or maintained relatively high standards, as witnessed by the 2019 court decision that allows gay couples to become foster parents. According to the Othering and Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley’s 2019 Inclusiveness Index, Croatia ranks a very credible 13 out of 132 countries worldwide.
Human Rights House Croatia (2018): Human Rights Defenders in Croatia: Obstacles and Challenges. Zagreb (

Othering & Belonging Institute (2019): The Inclusiveness Index Report 2019. Berkeley (
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. However, 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 judicial review, which operates independently from the legislator and the executive branches. Civil rights claims are voiced through the media, NGO activities, appeals to the Supreme Court, legislative amendments and appeals to government bodies that investigate public complaints.

Yet, there is a gap between the formal guarantees of equal civil rights and the reality of unequal opportunities. Such a gap exists mainly when there is a 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), the government and members of parliament have extensively promoted initiatives that infringe on basic democratic principles, such as minority rights, freedom of speech and the activity of civil society organizations. In particular, the ACRI has expressed concern about the central role played by the Knesset in these initiatives. While not all legislative proposals were adopted, those that were have influenced public discourse on and attitudes toward democracy, human rights, minority groups and the rule of law, among other things.
The ACRI published a list of 20 proposals for the new Knesset, which address problems in securing basic civil rights. The proposals include policies that aim to narrow socioeconomic gaps, ensure equal enforcement of the law, protect disadvantaged communities and promote social justice, as well as a commitment to the rights of citizens and democratic values.

Furthermore, the enactment of The Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People in 2018 provoked protests from Jewish, Druze and Arab communities, who criticized the law for failing to ensure equality for all Israeli citizens. The law, it was argued, discriminates against minorities and especially the Arab Israeli minority, since it downgraded the Arab language from its former position as an official state language.
“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,

Morag, G. and Friedson Y. “Shaked unveils criminal justice system reform bill,” Ynet, 28/05/2018:,7340,L-5273104,00.html

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel. “2018 – A bad year for democracy Human Rights in Israel – A Second Snapshot,” October 2018 (Hebrew):

ACRI: Israel 2020: 20 Proposals for the New Knesseth, December 2019,
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 further promoted reforms to judicial procedures and the organization of courts. These actions were slowly reducing the backlog of judicial proceedings, particularly civil proceedings. After years of discussion, and upon the request of supranational institutions, Italy finally introduced a law against torture. However, the law has been criticized by U.N. authorities for being too restrictive.

To some extent, the first Conte government reversed aspects of these past achievements. With the ostensible purpose of fighting crime, it introduced limitations to the preexisting statute-of-limitation rules (Legge 9 gennaio 2019); this will inevitably prolong proceedings unless countervailing measures are introduced to speed up the work of courts.
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.

The first Conte government, under the influence of Northern League leader Matteo Salvini, adopted a set of more restrictive law-and-order policies (Law Decree 4/10/2018 n. 113 and Law Decree 14/06/2019 n.53) dealing with matters of immigration and public demonstrations. Critics argued that the measures could constrain civil rights and political liberties. When signing the second decree, the president wrote that he had serious reservations about the measure. As of the close of the review period, the second Conte government had not modified these new provisions.
Civil rights are guaranteed by the constitution and are generally respected in practice. Romania responded to a European Court of Human Rights decision 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). NGO legislation introduced by the governing coalition in 2017 has weakened civil rights watchdog organizations.
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 new issue is the housing crisis, with the number of homeless people increasing across the countrywide and especially in Budapest. The Orbán government has neglected the issue, and even legislated against homeless people, declaring homeless a crime and initiating police action to tackle homelessness. The opposition has argued that housing is a basic social right and social housing has to be extended. When the united opposition won in the capital, the first order of the newly elected lord mayor, Gergely Karácsony, was to stop the dislodgement process.
There is not much trust in the government’s respect for civil rights due to its grip on the judiciary and frequent attacks on the Commissioner for Human Rights, and the xenophobic, discriminatory and offensive rhetoric used by prominent members of government against minorities, women activists and other people who do not fit into their worldview. In addition, the legislation on NGO financing enacted at the end of 2017 has made it more difficult for NGOs to monitor respect for civil rights. Access to public money is controlled by a new institution, the National Freedom Institute – Center for the Development of Civil Society. In a number of cases, NGOs that focus on women’s rights, domestic violence, and asylum-seekers’ and refugees’ issues have been denied funds. NGOs who try to defend civil rights are also increasingly confronted with hate speech, criticism of their activities and lawsuits.
Human Rights Watch (2017): Eroding Checks and Balances: Rule of Law and Human Rights Under Attack in Poland. New York (

Ciobanu, C., W. Kość (2017): Warsaw grabs purse strings of Polish NGOs, in: Politico, August 12 (
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.

Article 148 of the constitution states that anyone who believes his or her human or civil rights, as defined in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), have been infringed upon by a public authority has the 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 December 2018, a total of 212,665 individual applications were received and 172,800 applications were concluded by the court. However, the court found that in only 7,140 applications had at least one right been violated. In 2018, the number of applications reached 38,186 and, in total, 35,395 applications were concluded violations, of which the court decided 1,197 cases involved a violation of the right to a fair trial. The cost of making an individual application was about €58 in 2019.

The European Court of Human Rights received a total of 290 cases against Turkey between January 2018 and September 2019. In total, 836 remained pending and 528 cases had been closed by the court as of September 2019. The court fined Turkey a total of €3 million in 2018 and 2019. Historically, Turkey is the country most condemned by the court for violating freedom of thought and expression, and ranked second after the Russian Federation overall.

According to the annual report of the OHAL Transactions Review Commission published in January 2019, 131,922 measures were adopted under the state of emergency decree laws. As a result of these measures, at least 125,678 public officials were dismissed, 270 student scholarships were canceled, 2,761 institutions and organizations were closed, and 3,213 government administrative staff were demoted. In addition, a total of 204 media organizations were shut down during the state of emergency. According to research on the social costs of the state of emergency, the actual number of those victimized by Decree Law 693 exceeded 250,000.

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).

The 2019 Judicial Reform Strategy, which was prepared by the Ministry of Justice with the participation of other parties, consists of nine objectives, 63 targets and 256 activities. The strategy was announced to the public on 30 May 2019. The Law on Criminal Procedure No. 7188 and the Law on Amendments to Certain Laws, which details some of the arrangements for realizing objectives and targets defined in the 2019 Judicial Reform Strategy, was published in the Official Gazette on 24 October 2019.
European Commission, Turkey 2019 Report, Brussels, 29.5.2019, report.pdf (accessed 1 November 2019)

World Justice Project, Rule of Law Index 2019, pdf (accessed 1 November 2019)

TC Anayasa Mahkemesi Bireysel Başvuru Kararları (23.09.2012-31.12.2018), (accessed 1 November 2019)

ECHR, Country Fact Sheet Turkey, (accessed 1 November 2019)

Olağanüstü Hal İşlemleri İnceleme Komisyonu Kararları Hakkında Duyuru (25.10.2019), (accessed 1 November 2019)

“Türkiye, AİHM tarihinde düşünce ve ifade özgürlüğünden en fazla mahkum olan ülke,” 10 July 2019, (accessed 1 November 2019)

“Verilerle 15 Temmuz sonrası ve OHAL süreci,” (accessed 1 November 2019)
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, more than 250,000 men and women have been killed in the “war on drugs,” with more than 36,000 killed in the first year of President López Obrador’s term in office – an average of 96 murders per day. The government has lost control of many parts of Mexico.

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. 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. A new internal security law, passed in December 2017, legalizing military involvement in domestic law enforcement, was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in November 2018. 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-2019, around 40,000 people are reported to have disappeared.

The government has appointed a new ombudsman for human rights in the Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDH), Rosario Piedra Ibarra, a former member of the ruling party MORENA and a social activist. The opposition has been critical of the appointment and has accused Ibarra of not acting independently.

The security situation deteriorated markedly in 2018 and 2019, as the number of homicides has increased to the highest level since the state began keeping systematic records on crime and violence. More than 36,000 homicides were reported in 2018, while more than 14,000 were reported in the first six months of 2019. A total of more than 250,000 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 President López Obrador has installed a special commission to investigate the case. Human Rights Watch has spoken of the “human rights catastrophe” that the new president has inherited and recent news coverage claims that Mexico is continuing to lose the battle against the cartels.
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