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On January 26, the President of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Guido Raimondi, presented the activities of the ECHR in 2016 and the state of affairs in Europe (Press Conference Speech by President Guido Raimondi (in French) and Press Release). In his introduction, he highlighted the non-refoulement as a principle of international law and the role of the courts in its implementation. This is particularly relevant to a case monitored by Soteria International, which involves the refugee Gregorian Bivolaru, who was extradited to Romania in 2016 by France, although having been granted refugee status by Sweden and, at the time, residing there.

Highlights of the press conference Annual Report 2016 include the 23% increase in volume of incoming cases (after having fallen in 2014 & 2015) due to the situation in three countries, among which and with regards to a case in which Soteria is active, is the country of Romania, which has had a 108% increase in cases brought to the ECHR in 2016. This increase is due to detention conditions, which are taken as a priority due to the violation of Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which condemns inhumane and degrading treatment. In addition, the court sees a repetition of cases related to detention, which indicates a problem at the systemic or structural level and, therefore, necessitates a global strategy to improve the situation. Not surprisingly, Romania also ranks within the top three countries with the highest number of judgements against them by the ECHR (86 judgements), and with only Russia (228) and Turkey (88) ahead of it. The ECHR Analysis of Statistics 2016 can be accessed here.

The ECHR has acknowledged the agency of the research and support provided by non-government organizations for the work of the court. On December 2, 2016, the ECHR hosted an event with civil society, in which representatives of Soteria International took part, and during which President Raimondi commended NGOs for defending the rights of individuals in situations of ‘great vulnerability’ through which “the protective power of the Court is triggered, [the] and guarantees set down in the Convention become concrete and tangible.” (Raimondi, December 2, 2016). He called the actions of third parties a “necessary part of the Convention model that is truly based on shared responsibility between the domestic systems and the European system” and noted that interventions from NGOs aided in the Court deliberation of half of the Grand Chamber cases in 2016.

There are a large number of cases of human rights abuses due to the violation of the Freedom of Religion and Belief observed at the European Court of Human Rights, due to the fact that national courts are unwilling to take in to account the opinions of citizens. This makes the work of Soteria, and other NGOs, so crucial for the individuals and groups wishing to peacefully practice their beliefs.