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The Rule 39 Initiative

Putting a stop to active human rights abuses

Changes in migration flows in Europe, including those due to the crises in Ukraine and Afghanistan more recently, have led to the increased frequency of violations of the human rights of asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants.

In October 2021, the Italian Coalition for Civil Liberties and Rights (CILD) and eight international law firms, including Freshfields, launched the Rule 39 Initiative in response. Since the Rule 39 Initiative launched, it has been steadily securing life-altering support to displaced persons across Europe.

The project derives its name from Rule 39 of the Rules of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), a provision allowing applicants to seek interim relief in case of imminent risk of irreparable damage to human rights. Rule 39 requests are typically used by NGOs to:

  • Stop collective pushbacks of asylum seekers
  • Prevent expulsion or extraditions of vulnerable individuals to countries where their human rights are at risk
  • Ensure the provision of dignified reception conditions
  • Ensure the provision of life-sustaining food and water to refugees and asylum seekers stuck at, or between, borders.

Owing to the urgent relief that can be granted, Rule 39 can be used to stop active human rights abuses. The Rule 39 initiative’s initial focus was on assisting NGOs to use this form of relief more effectively. Faced with a wider need for assistance, however, the project now also supports individual applications under Article 34 of the ECtHR.

The Freshfields team involves lawyers from our offices in Austria, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands and Spain. With their support, the Initiative has collectively helped more than 260 people from 10 countries to lodge life-altering Rule 39 requests with ECtHR, and safeguarded the human rights of more than 48 children, including nine unaccompanied minors. Most recently, the lawyers assisted 167 homeless asylum seekers who were living on the streets of Belgium without shelter or basic provisions, helping to submit 31 successful applications for urgent intervention to ECtHR. 

The team is led by Boris Kasolowsky (Partner, International Arbitration, Frankfurt). He says:

“I didn't think twice when I was asked to support this project. The skills needed for Rule 39 matters are precisely those required for every arbitration or complex litigation matter: fact finding, drafting persuasive submissions, working in large teams, focussing on details ... We are extremely proud to be part of this wonderful initiative.”

Dr Daria Sartori, lawyer and expert in European Court of Human Rights cases who leads the work of the Initiative, says of its impact so far:

“I am proud of our success and of the amazing work conducted by the volunteers of the Initiative. Interim measures adopted by the ECtHR are often the only way to grant asylum seekers and migrants an effective protection of their rights. Hopefully, our work will not only help achieve justice in concrete cases but also promote a wider systemic change, through a coordinated approach to requests for interim measures”.

Read more about the Rule 39 Initiative’s work here.

The project’s achievements were recognized by winning two awards in 2023, the PILnet Global Partnership Award and the Law Works Best International Pro Bono Award.