monitoring civil liberties in the European Union
September-October 2000, vol 10 no 5
Front page lead
EU: Europol given the powers to initiate criminal investigations
Justice and Home Affairs Ministers have adopted a Recommendation to allow Europol to request EU member states to undertake criminal investigations. Another Recommendation to allow Europol to "support" joint investigative teams (involving authorities from more than one member state) is set to be adopted in late November. By choosing not to amend the Europol Convention but instead to draw-up non-binding Recommendations, JHA officials have been able to circumvent public debate and parliamentary scrutiny while effectively giving a Europol an operational role.
EU: Council want more secrecy less openness and are taken to court over the "Solana Decision"
The Council's draft common position on the Commission's proposal for a new code on public access to EU documents shows a majority of member states, lead by Germany and France, pushing for more secrecy and less openness. Only Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands and Denmark are seeking to ensure that the new code - which must be agreed by May 2001 - is an improvement on the existing one. In a separate (but not unrelated) development, the European Parliament, the Netherlands and Sweden, are to take the EU Council to the European Court of Justice over the "Solana Decision" of 26 July to amend the existing code of access to accommodate NATO demands for greater secrecy over EU-NATO cooperation (the Decision in fact went much further and will 'contaminate' access to information accross a range of policy areas).
EU: Charter of Fundamental Rights: comic strip mag or tragic mistake?
After ten months of work, the text of the draft EU Charter of Fundamental Rights was agreed at the informal European Council in Biarritz. It is due to be adopted at December's EU summit in Nice. Much of the debate has focused on the agreement that the rights laid down in Charter will not be legally binding - what has been missed is the fact that EC/EU law has largely ignored human rights considerations and is not bound by the ECHR or similar instruments. The charter, which would only cover the member states implementation of Union law (and would not result in any transfer of powers to the EU as some have claimed), thus appears a missed window of opportunity to make necessary changes to the functioning of the EU.
UK/EU: Law enforcement and DNA technology: the irresistible march?
The UK DNA database is to receive extra funding so it can be more rapidly expanded - even though it already holds the profiles from just under a million "criminals". The Home Office has confirmed that at least fifty thousand peoples' DNA is held illegally and the Court of Appeal has affirmed that any investigations arising from such profiles are unlawful. Under a draft EU proposal, member states are to begin exchanging DNA profiles as a prelude to creating a European database. There is concern that no effective data protection guarantees or defence rights will be applied to future exchanges of DNA data.
UK: Terrorism Act 2000
The Terrorism Act 2000 received royal assent on 20 July and the Northern Ireland provisions came into immediate effect. The remainder of the Act will be implemented in early 2001. The feature considers terrorism law's transition from "emergency" powers to a new, permanent Act broader in scope and application than its "temporary" predecessors. The controversial new definition of terrorism has the potential to criminalise dissent and extra-parliamentary politics: its interpretation will be crucial, as will potential challenges to the law under the Human Rights Act.
UK: Re-interpreting stop and search statistics
Home Office research on the use of stop-and-search powers against black people has found that "no general pattern of bias against people from minority ethnic groups" exists. This is in stark contrast to independent and other institutional studies which have found massive levels of discrimination. This article analyses the Home Office methodology and suggests that this attempt at re-interpretation of the statistics will do nothing to avert the "crisis of confidence" surrounding the use of stop-and-search powers.
EU: Justice and Home Affairs Council, 28.9.00
Post-Tampere initiatives; visa requirements and exemptions for third-country nationals; extension of Europol money-laundering mandate; conditions for the reception of asylum-seekers; Eurojust; European refugee Fund; amendment to Schengen Agreement.
EU: Police cooperation to be enhanced and SIS developed?
Germany has called for the development of the EU's SIS (Schengen Information System) intelligence database and for police cooperation between the member states to be enhanced.
Spain/Italy: Protocol on extradition
Spain and Italy have signed a Protocol to resolve the problem of people sentenced in absentia by Italian courts - the Spanish Constitutional Court had previously ruled against their extradition.
Denmark: Youths still detained after Prague IMF/WB demonstration
Two Danish youths are among numerous protesters still detained in Czech prisons following the demonstrations on 26 September. They have been badly beaten and continue to protest their innocence.
Ireland: Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Bill constitutional
Ireland's Supreme Court has ruled the Trafficking Bill constitutional. Immigration authorities will now begin implementing a 'dispersal, detention and deportation' programme for asylum-seekers.
Germany: Refugee coordinator prosecuted
The co-organiser of an international Refugee Congress is being prosecuted for travelling within Germany. The country is the only EU state to prevent asylum seekers from leaving their designated district. Self-organised refugee groups are campaigning against the law and, if necessary, will seek to have their case heard at the European Court of Human Rights.
Switzerland: Political arrest warrants
Recognised asylum seekers with outstanding international arrest warrants issued by their countries of persecution are in danger when leaving their host countries. Interpol has so far failed to inform them about existing arrest warrants, and in the case of Naci Öztürk, have even facilitated their arrest.
Belgium: Death in detention centre
Xhevet Ferri, from Albania, died after being locked up in an isolation cell in Steenokerzeel Detention Centre 127-bis near Brussels. He had injured himself during an escape attempt and was allegedly dragged to the isolation unit by his feet.
Immigration - in brief
Spain: Arrivals increase; Death in Arrecife police station; GRECO programme; Expulsion of immigrants in the holds of ships.
UK: Fixed penalties for "disorderly behaviour"
A Home Office consultation paper has called for fines of between £50 and £200 for a range of "anti-social disruptive" behaviour offences. These include drinking alcohol in a public place, "using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour" and littering.
Spain: New law on justifying terrorism
Legal reforms to deal with the Basque crisis include a wider definition of terrorism, a lowering of the age of criminal responsibility and a new offence of "justifying" terrorism (apologia de terrorismo).
Italy: War criminal released
Farce surrounds the release of an Argentinean former major who was arrested in Rome in August for the kidnap and murder of a French woman in 1976 during the dictatorship. Documents described by the Italian justice minister as "blatantly false" secured his release.
Military - in brief
WEU: Armaments Cooperation Group to stay; EU: Plans for intervention forces.
McAliskey investigation dropped
In July the CPS admitted that there was no chance of a successful prosecution of Roisin McAliskey for her alleged involvement in the IRA's bombing of a British Army base in Osnabruck, Germany. Her solicitor, Gareth Peirce, commented that: "It is incomprehensible that the CPS apparantly have devoted time and public resources...in ascertaining what was always obvious."
UK: Demand for independent inquiry
The family and friends of Roger Sylvester, who collapsed and died after being restrained by police officers in January 1999, have presented a letter of dissatisfaction to the Home Secretary. They have called for an independent inquiry into Roger's death and the wider issue of black deaths in custody.
UK: Charges to follow inquest?
An inquest into the death of Christopher Alder at Hull police station in 1988 reached a verdict of unlawful killing. In light of the decision the Alder family solicitor has requested that the CPS review the level of charges against five police officers who are facing minor proceedings. They policemen have said that they will challenge the inquest verdict.
Germany: Towards a police state
Civil liberties groups and data protection officers have criticised newly introduced police powers for creating a "police and security state". The new provisions include the use of 'preventative' detention, powers to conduct stop and search operations independent of reasonable suspicion and legalisation of the use of CCTV cameras in public spaces.
Wales: Butetown two officers disciplined
Five south Wales police officers have been disciplined following their treatment of two black youths who were the victims of a racist attack. One of the youths, Marcus Walters, has called for "five dismissals from the force" and lawyers have begun proceedings against the police.
Prisons - in brief
UK: Peoples' Tribunal into deaths in custody launched; Jailed mothers at record high; Asian Women Prisoners' Support Group launched.
Racism and fascism
UK: BNP split threatens litigation
Three executive members of the British National Party have been expelled by new leader, Nick Griffin, in what promises to be the opening shot in a drawn out battle. One of those expelled, deputy leader Sharron Edwards, may take legal action.
Austria: Haider celebrates EU's "humiliation"
The European Union has lifted its sanctions on Austria seven months after they were introduced following the recommendation of a commissioned report. The report praised Austria's treatment of "minorities" and was mildly critical of Haider's FPO, but ignored reports by Amnesty International crticising Austrian "human rights violations".
Racism and fascism - in brief
Italy: March against mosque; UK: Ex-Economic League director in sterling campaign.
Security & Intelligence
UK: Tapping figures stay at record levels
The number of warrants issued in England and Wales for phone-tapping and mail opening in 1999 was 1,734 - the second highest figure since records began.
Sweden: How an inquiry into the security services was undermined
Overview of the report "Truth and consequence" by Professor Christer Jonsson, see Statewatch News Online for details and full report: News Online
Europe: CoE Convention under attack
The Global Internet Liberty Campaign has sent a letter to the Council of Europe, signed by dozens of organisations, calling on it to reconsider its draft Convention on Cybercrime.
* In addition the bulletin carries a round-up of new material and full listing of UK parliamentary debates