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IRIS 2002-1:3/2

European Court of Human Rights

Case Bankovic and Others v. Belgium and Others

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Dirk Voorhoof

Media Law Section of the Communication Sciences Department, Ghent University, Belgium

On 19 December 2001, the European Court of Human Rights announced its decision on admissibility in the case of Bankovic and Others v. Belgium and 16 Other Contracting States. The application was brought by six citizens of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) and concerned the bombing by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) of the building of Radio Televizije Srbije (Radio-Television Serbia, RTS) during the Kosovo crisis in April 1999. The building was destroyed; 16 people were killed and 16 others were seriously injured. The applicants, all family members of the deceased or themselves injured in the bombing, complained that the bombardment of the RTS building violated not only Article 2 (right to life), but also Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (freedom of expression).

The Court, however, unanimously declared the application inadmissible as the impugned act is to be considered as falling outside the jurisdiction of the respondent States. The Court came to the conclusion that there was no jurisdictional link between the persons who were victims of the act complained of and the respondent States. Accordingly, it was not satisfied that the applicants and their deceased relatives were capable of coming withinthe jurisdiction of the respondent States on account of the extra-territorial act in question. As to whether the exclusion of the applicants from the respondent States' jurisdiction would defeat the ordre public mission of the Convention and leave a regrettable vacuum in the Convention system of human rights protection, the Court's obligation was to have regard to the special character of the Convention as a constitutional instrument of European public order for the protection of individual human beings and its role was to ensure the observance of the engagements undertaken by the Contracting States within their legal space. The FRY clearly did not fall within this legal space and the Convention is not considered to be designed for application throughout the world, even in respect of the conduct of the Contracting States.

The Court concluded that the impugned action of the respondent States does not engage their Convention responsibility and that the application could therefore be declared inadmissible.

Decision as to the admissibility of Application no. 52207/99 of 12 December 2001 (Grand Chamber) in the case Bankovic and Others v. Belgium and 16 Other Contracting States EN