Catan and 27 Others v Moldova and Russia, Caldare and 42 Others v Moldova and Russia and Cercavschi and 98 Others v Moldova and Russia
Forum: European Court of Human Rights
INTERIGHTS' role: Advisor to counsel
Keywords: Extra-territorial jurisdiction, right to education, family life, privacy, discrimination, remedies
Latest Case Update
On 19 October 2012, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights published its judgment in the case of Catan and others v Moldova and Russia, concerning the forced closure of schools and harassment and intimidation of ethnic Moldovans following the introduction of a law criminalising the use of Latin script in schools in the unrecognised breakaway region of Transdniestria. The Court, by a majority of 16 votes to 1, found that Russia had jurisdiction over Transdniestria and was responsible for violations of the applicants’ rights under Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 of the Convention (right to education).
The applicants in this case are a group of Moldovan nationals - children of school-going age, their parents and teachers - who suffered serious human rights violations in Transdniestria, part of the territory of the Moldovan state and under the de facto control of the Russian-supported local administration known as the Moldovan Republic of Transdniestria (MRT). The MRT administration introduced a law in 1994 banning and criminalising the use of Latin script in schools in Transdniestria and imposing a requirement that the Moldovan language be written in the Cyrillic script, a linguistic anomaly of no practical use. Following the introduction of this law a number of schools were opened in order to teach children of Moldovan ethnicity using the Latin script, in defiance of the MRT’s attempts to further isolate the Moldovan community in Transdniestria. As a result of sending their children to these schools, the parent applicants were subjected to detention, harassment and threats, while the children and teacher applicants had to suffer the storming and forced closure of their schools as well as intimidation and harassment. The applicants were also subjected to discrimination by the MRT authorities.
The majority of these events occurred between 2002 and 2004. A number of parents and teachers were arrested and sentenced to terms of imprisonment. Parents were threatened with loss of their jobs and removal of their parental rights if they failed to send their children to schools registered with the MRT. As a result of on-going violations of the applicants’ rights they filed a number of unsuccessful petitions and complaints with the authorities of the Russian Federation as well as with the Moldovan authorities. They then filed a complaint with the ECtHR, which found the case to be partly admissible (see the Court's admissibility decision of 2010, and for the webcast of this hearing, click here). INTERIGHTS lawyers Doina Ioana Straisteanu and Iain Byrne attended the admissibility hearing (held on 9 June 2009) as advisers to lawyers from Moldovan NGO Promo-LEX. On 25 January 2012, the Grand Chamber conducted a hearing on the merits of this case. INTERIGHTS lawyers Pádraig Hughes and Helen Duffy appeared on behalf of the applicants along with lawyers from Promo-LEX. To read a press release on the hearing from INTERIGHTS and Promo-LEX, click here. To view a webcast of the hearing, click here.
Decision of the Grand Chamber
The Grand Chamber issued its judgment on 19 October 2012, finding that Russia was in violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 2. It held that the historical background to this case had a significant bearing on the question of jurisdiction. The Court referred to its findings in previous cases that Russia had, through its military, political and economic assistance to the local administration, established and maintained the MRT. It found that because Russia did not offer any evidence to rebut the findings in the Ilascu judgment that during 2002 to 2004 Russia had jurisdiction over Transdniestria, within the meaning of Article 1 of the Convention, the applicants therefore came within the jurisdiction of Russia. The Court then considered the question of state responsibility, finding, by 16 votes to 1, that Russia was responsible for the violations of the applicants’ right to education because it exercised effective control over the MRT at the time of the incidents the subject matter of these proceedings.
The Court also found that Moldova had jurisdiction over the applicants during the relevant period as the MRT is part of Moldovan national territory and therefore, in accordance with public international law, it was obliged to use all legal and diplomatic means available to it to guarantee the rights of the applicants. However the Court decided that, as it had fulfilled its positive obligations by making what the Court described as ‘considerable efforts to support the applicants’, it had not committed a violation of the right to education provision of the Convention.
While INTERIGHTS welcomes the Grand Chamber’s finding in relation to Russia’s responsibility for violations of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1, regrettably the Court decided that on the basis of this finding it did not need to examine the applicants’ complaints under Article 8 (respect for private and family life) by 12 votes to 5, and Article 14 (right not to be discriminated against) together with either Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 or Article 8 by 11 votes to 6. A separate joint dissenting opinion noted that the applicants’ argument that the efforts of the MRT in trying to undermine, and ultimately eliminate, the linguistic heritage of the Moldova population in Transdniestria had some force and merited separate consideration. It noted the campaign of harassment and intimidation carried out by the local administration stating that “it seems clear to us that this atmosphere of intimidation affected the day-to-day lives of the families, who lived in a permanently hostile environment.” For those reasons it stated there were sufficient grounds to find a violation of Article 8. The dissenting judges also looked at the applicants’ complaint under Article 14 that they had been discriminated against. In particular in their separate opinion they noted the disadvantages the school-going applicants would be subjected to compared to members of other communities in Transdniestria as a result of a law requiring that they study in an artificial language. They reached the conclusion that on that basis the Court should have found a violation of Article 14.
This decision is important on two fronts. Firstly it makes clear that the Court will not tolerate the existence of any ‘legal black holes’ in the territory of the Council of Europe. The Court has held to account the failure by Russia to respect and ensure the Convention rights of the applicants in accordance with the well-established principle that there should be no legal vacuum within the Council of Europe and no gap in protection of rights under the Convention. Secondly the Court has recognised the fundamental importance of primary and secondary education “for each child’s personal development and future success” and reiterated that any attempt to interfere with that right must pursue a legitimate aim.
To read the Grand Chamber's judgment in full, click here.
For further information contact: Pádraig Hughes