After undergoing further training as midwives, nurses Ellinor Grimmark and Linda Steen appealed to the ECHR when they were denied employment. They argued that they faced unjust discrimination on the basis of their religious beliefs, which prevented them from participating in abortion. On March 12, the court refused to take up their case, leaving no avenue for appeal.
This case is the latest battle in a growing campaign by pro-abortion activists to eliminate conscientious objection to abortion by health care professionals. This places abortion, which is not an internationally recognized human right, above religious freedom, which is.
Last month, the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) launched a report exposing the links between the judges on the ECHR and various non-governmental organizations that are involved in cases before the court. The analysis identified seven organizations that have former staff members now acting as ECHR judges, and which are active at the court. Of the hundred judges that have served on the ECHR since 2009, 22 were formerly affiliated with one of those organizations.
Even more troubling is the fact that 18 of those 22 judges served on cases that were brought by or supported by the organizations that previously employed them. The ECLJ identified only twelve instances where judges recused themselves from sitting on cases due to their connections with organizations involved; by comparison, the report found 88 cases that were clearly problematic.
“This situation is serious, and calls into question the independence of the Court and the impartiality of the judges,” writes Grégor Puppinck, director general of the ECLJ and lead author of the report. “These conflicts must be remedied immediately.”
The problem of conflicts of interest at the ECHR is particularly pertinent to matters involving religious liberty and contentious social issues such as abortion, like the recent case of the Swedish midwives. The organization with the greatest number of judges as former employees—twelve of the 22 identified by the ECLJ—is the Open Society Foundation. This international organization, founded and funded by Hungarian billionaire George Soros, also funds six organizations linked to ECHR judges in the report.
The Open Society Foundation and many of the other organizations it supports promote the recognition of abortion as a human right, special human rights categories for sexual orientation and gender identity, the decriminalization of drugs and prostitution, and other matters that are the subject of contentious debate in international institutions including the UN and regional bodies such as the European Union.
While the ECLJ report raises red flags about the level of conflict of interest in the highest-level European human rights court, its findings may represent only the tip of the iceberg. According to Puppinck, “This is a low assessment that does not even take into account the close financial links between NGOs.”
The ECLJ is alerted the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and has launched an online petition to gather support from individuals concerned about the conflicts of interest at the ECHR.