The excessive and lengthy use of pre-trial detention continues to be a serious problem throughout the Central Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union (CEE-FSU) region, and the practice of pre-trial detention in most countries of the region seems to be contrary to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. Furthermore, the socioeconomic impact of excessive pre-trial detention is profound, affecting not just the individuals detained, but their families, communities, and even states. There are viable alternatives (house arrest, geographical ban, bail) to pre-trial detention set out in the legislation of most CEE-FSU countries, but statistics show that these are rarely used, with full deprivation of liberty still heavily favored in the region. Thus, there is an increasing need to build support for reforming pre-trial detention laws and practices.
In order to address the problems and needs above, in December 2011 the HHC – with the financial and professional aid of the Open Society Foundations – launched a project aiming at producing advocacy efforts to challenge pre-trial detention in countries from the CEE-FSU region, and to identify common problems and good examples in terms of legislation and practice regarding pre-trial detention and alternatives to detention throughout the region. The project also seeks to raise awareness about the need to apply alternatives to detention and to contribute to the capacity building of NGOs participating in the project.
In the first phase of the project, the HHC conducted extensive research to identify international – mainly European – good practices as well as key experts on pre-trial detention and alternative coercive measures. The HHC also prepared an overview of already existing data. An advisory board with the key international experts of the topic was established to support the work of the project staff. In 2012 the HHC collected information from 17 CEE-FSU countries (including Hungary) on their laws and practices regarding pre-trial detention and alternative coercive measures with the aim of identifying common features and shortcomings. The research was carried out based on a standardized questionnaire, which was filled in by local NGOs. The questionnaire took a holistic approach; it looked at the legislation and practice, statistics and opinions, qualitative and quantitative data, snapshot and flow statistics, and it incorporated desk research with field research. Furthermore, it was designed to point out good practices and any practices that do not live up to applicable international standards.
Based on the questionnaires received from NGOs the HHC compiled a draft study outlining the legislation and practices of countries within the CEE-FSU region, with respect to pre-trial detention and its alternatives. The HHC organized a three-day workshop building on the key findings of the research. The workshop took place in Budapest between 29 November and 1 December 2012. 41 experts participated at the workshop; the participants consisted of representatives of the NGOs that worked on the country research, members of the advisory board, other Open Society Foundations experts and staff members, and HHC staff. The event also brought together a number of international experts from the United Kingdom. The event focused primarily on the results of the study and the research process. It drew extensively on a comparative analysis of the countries form the CEE-FSU region and also highlighted concrete examples from countries.
Beyond discussing the study and its methodology the workshop introduced the study results and analyzed those building on international standards and global practices. Discussions were initiated on the ways the results of the study can be applied. The workshop investigated ongoing debates in relation to pre-trial detention and potential avenues of NGO participation. It explored how strategic litigation and detention monitoring can be applied to promote reform, furthermore, drew on examples of reform and ways of promoting reform in the CEE-FSU region, and globally within the framework of the Global Campaign on pre-trial detention. The workshop also served as a networking event for the participating NGOs.
The research report was finalized on the basis of the experiences of workshop. The report and its executive summary was disseminated to the project partners, and in order to reach a wider audience, the HHC also translated the study into Russian.
Based on the results of the research report, the HHC observed the need for local initiatives to be implemented in order to address some of the key issues revealed by the study. The HHC asked its local partners to suggest concrete proposals which it can support, and together with a team of experts selected the best six proposals. The HHC invited representatives of the selected NGOs to a 2-day workshop, held in Budapest on 6-7 June 2013, and discussed their proposals. The meeting had a number of specialized sessions on effective advocacy strategies and research methodology. The participants also discussed their concrete proposals and shared feedback.