The lower part of the faces of three people are shown - drawn in sketch style - with their mouths taped shut by red tape, silencing them.
26 Jun 2023

ENNHRI reaffirms call for strong EU safeguards to counter strategic lawsuits against public participation

Strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) pose a serious threat to the rule of law. Yet the Council of the European Union’s (EU) new common position greatly reduces the extent to which the proposed European anti-SLAPP Draft Directive can counter them. In a new statement, ENNHRI reiterates its call for the EU to adopt a Directive with a broad scope and strong safeguards, as put forward in the European Commission’s original proposal. This is crucial to combat SLAPPs effectively.

As independent state-mandated bodies with a broad mandate to protect and promote human rights, National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) are human rights defenders and may face threats such as SLAPPs. At the same time, NHRIs also work to protect other human rights defenders and journalists subjected to SLAPPs. In doing so, they support pluralistic public debate.

Despite NHRIs’ efforts to combat this EU-wide trend, ENNHRI members report that human rights defenders, civil society organisations and journalists continue to face this (and other forms of) legal harassment. This is exacerbated by either a lack of or insufficient actions and legislative measures from state authorities to combat SLAPPs. In ENNHRI’s opinion, the Council of the EU’s newly adopted common position on the anti-SLAPP Directive introduces amendments to the Commission’s proposal that would lead to limited and insufficient protection of human rights defenders, including NHRIs, against SLAPPs.

Therefore, ENNHRI calls on the European Parliament, including its Committee on Legal Affairs, to firmly support strong safeguards against SLAPPs (as proposed by the European Commission) in its upcoming opinion and in the trilateral negotiations. In particular, this means:

  • ensuring that the Directive applies to matters with cross-border implications, which encompasses the situation where both parties to the proceedings are domiciled in the same Member State, but where an act of public participation concerning a matter of public interest against which court proceedings are initiated is relevant to more than one Member State;
  • restoring the provision on damage compensation for SLAPP victims as well as automatic award of relevant costs borne by the defendant;
  • strengthening the mechanism of early dismissal of SLAPPs and other procedural safeguards so that they apply to all abusive proceedings, not only those manifestly unfounded;
  • advocating for a shorter (two-year) period of transposition of the Directive into national laws by Member States, as set out in the European Commission’s proposal.

ENNHRI stands ready to cooperate with EU institutions on this legislative initiative to support effective protection of civil society actors, human rights defenders (including NHRIs), and journalists against SLAPPs.

Read the full statement. Download ENNHRI’s recent report on the state of the rule of law in the EU. Later this year, ENNHRI will publish its regional report with insights from its members across wider Europe.

Explore ENNHRI’s online resource on human rights defenders and read more on ENNHRI’s work on democracy and rule of law.