Fundamental Rights in a Futuristic Plant

INES-Member Sophie Gatzsche on this year`s INES-Seminar: “Human Rights and Hard Realities” in Strasbourg

“Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person” – Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, might sound like one of these statements easily made but hardly enforced in a world where political activists are still kept in prison without a fair trial and exposed to inhuman treatment every day. But in Strasbourg these promises become real, become enforced by their most powerful international protector: “The European Court of Human Rights”.

At this important place for Human Rights I participated in this year’s INES-seminar with the promising title “Human Rights and Hard Realities – Significant Milestones, Status Quo and the Future Development of Human Rights in a Globalized World”. In an international group of about 24 students – all very interested to learn more about the topic – we spent five days at the Youth Hostel of Strasbourg. Apart from many controversial discussions, a practical part consisted of visits of experts on Human Rights and institutions of the Council of Europe and the European Union located in Strasbourg.

Human Rights and Hard Realities, Strasbourg, April 2010 – Project Report
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In a relaxing atmosphere we really got into human rights: Most thrilling and interesting was probably the simulation of the European Court of Human Rights, where we, the participants, played the roles of lawyers, judges, prosecutors and jury, deciding whether certain events violated human rights or not. One of the fictional cases was the publishing of the so called “Mohamed –cartoons” in Danish newspapers. And we had to ask ourselves: Do these cartoons hurt the religious feelings of the Muslim-community? Or would not publishing them mean self-censorship and contradict the freedom of speech?

The Court Deals with 30.000 Applications Per Year

Really impressing was the visit of the European Court of Human Rights – an enormous building, looking more like a plant coming from a science-fiction movie, than like what we were used to know as courts. We met one of the lawyers, responsible for preparing the cases then dealt with by the judges. We learnt that the unimaginable number of more than 30.000 applications is sent to the court each year and that the court has a very high workload, dealing with all of them.

The five days in Strasbourg were full of wonderful experiences: Being in the European Parliament and feeling the diversity of the European Union becoming something real by listening to the presented speeches in all 23 languages or arguing with other participants even after the end of the seminar-day during dinner and learning, that the European Convention of Human Rights is applied in a plantlike building. Summing up I must simply say: Great Trip!

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