The Human Rights Monitoring Institute has submitted a position to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on the implementation of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of the ancient Baltic religious community “Romuva”. The position is set out in the context of the most recent action plan submitted by the Government.
In the “Romuva” case, the European Court of Human Rights found that there had been a violation of Article 14 and Article 9 of the Convention, which enshrine freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and the prohibition of discrimination. A violation of Article 13 of the Convention, which deals with the right to an effective remedy, was also established. Although the applicant met all the criteria for religious communities seeking state recognition, the Seimas adopted a negative decision without clear arguments and the lack of domestic legal remedies limited the community’s right to challenge the negative decision.
Right to an effective remedy
The position highlights the lack of effective legal remedies. The European Court of Human Rights has clarified that Article 13 of the Convention requires a remedy to be “effective” both in practice and in law. Under the new mechanism, religious communities and societies can apply to the Seimas for state recognition two years after a negative decision. Since the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania has indicated that it does not hear appeals related to the exercise of state power, and the Law on the Constitutional Court does not provide for the possibility of a separate appeal in cases that are not within the competence of other courts and are not subject to other remedies, the newly created mechanism does not fully resolve the lack of an effective domestic remedy for the contested Seimas decision, and therefore the problem remains.
Lack of definition and detail of specific reasons
The position points out that, although the requirement to provide substantial reasons and justifications when making a decision that is unfavourable to a religious community in the case of an unfavourable decision adopted by the Seimas in the amendments to Article 6 of the Law on Religious Communities and Societies can be considered a positive development, there is a lack of specificity in the conditions that must be met by a religious community in order for it to be recognised by the state. The condition in Article 43(1) of the Constitution that other churches and religious organisations must “have the support of the community” is vague and lacks substance. The Constitutional Court found that the above-mentioned condition implies that the support of the church or religious organisation in question in society must be strong and long-lasting, and therefore cannot be limited to a small group of people or a section of society, but it does not specify the number of persons who ensure the support of the religious community in society. There have been cases where state recognition has been granted to communities with fewer members than the applicant, which has made it unclear what the exact conditions for public support are.
Noting the gaps in the legal framework, the position recommends that the Committee of Ministers ask the Lithuanian Government to implement these measures:
- Initiate a legislative process to adopt accessible domestic remedies that are effective both in practice and in law.
- The revised Article 6 defines how the support should manifest itself in society.
The position is presented in accordance with point 9.2 of the Rules of the Committee of Ministers.
Read the full position here.
Photo: Scott Graham I Pexels
The position was prepared in the framework of the project “Sustainable Support for Human Rights through Advocacy and Education” supported by the Active Citizens Foundation.