Ensuring respect for victims of sexual abuse and abuse of power within the Court of Justice of the European Union

Below is an open letter addressed to Mr Koen Lenaerts, President of the European Court of Justice.

We are a Luxembourg based association of survivors of sexual, gender-based, physical and psychological violence. Through the case of Ms S., a former employee of the European Court of Justice, we are publicly challenging a flagship institution of the European Union on behalf of all victims of abuse whose rights to justice and dignity are being trampled underfoot.

We do not accept that 99% of sexual crimes go unpunished!

The Court of Justice of the European Union should be exemplary in preventing and punishing abuses, but also in protecting victims.

To put an end to impunity for sexual crimes and abuses of power, we are calling for victims to be supported in their procedures, and for them to have access to the information they need to obtain justice and reparation.

            Dear Mr President of the Court of Justice of the European Union Koen Lenaerts,

            In our capacity as the Luxembourg association of survivors of sexual, sexist, physical and psychological Violence, we wish to express our bafflement at the presence of Mr Miro Prek, the former judge of the Court, at the official events of 2 and 3 May 2024 to mark the 20th anniversary of the European Union’s enlargement to include 10 new Member States, including Slovenia.

            We consider that Mr Prek’s attendance at these events, which were livestreamed on the Court’s website, allowing him to be seen in discussion with or close to a number of high-ranking people linked to a case involving him, is not without significance and constitutes a form of institutional violence against Ms S., who is still waiting for justice to be done to her.

            Mr Prek stepped down from his position as judge in September 2019, following an internal investigation. Ms S., of whom he was the hierarchical superior, had blown the whistle in February 2019 regarding, among other things, acts of physical, psychological and sexual violence. These facts had been publicised by Slovenian TV, which had named Mr Prek. The case had then been taken up by other media in various European and other countries.

             The Court of Justice’s Memorandum of 5 July 2019, which you signed and which was the subject of media reports, states that Mr Prek undertook not to apply for any other position as judge and that he was relieved of his obligations to sit as judge from September 2019. He was not sanctioned by your institution since he pursued Ms S. through the Luxembourg courts for defamation and these are ‘criminal proceedings whose outcome it is important not to prejudge’, as is stated in the Memorandum.

             You will be aware that this defamation complaint has still not been judged and that, at the same time, Ms S. lodged a complaint with the Luxembourg courts alleging physical, psychological and sexual violence, which, four years on, is still being investigated. On 15 February 2024, Ms S. brought an action before the Tribunal of the European Union complaining that she was being refused access to the file containing information relating to your internal investigation. This information would enable her to defend herself under the best possible conditions and within a reasonable period of time, in accordance with the requirements laid down by the Istanbul Convention.

             As the ongoing court cases currently stand, while Mr Prek is still presumed innocent with regard to the complaint of acts of violence before the Luxembourg courts, Ms S. is still presumed a victim of such violence and innocent as regards the defamation allegation.

            The facts which she reported began in 2014. Today she is still paying a heavy price for these events. Her career as a Legal Secretary at the Court of Justice of the European Union has been destroyed. The costs she has to cover in order to defend herself and assert her rights in all the administrative and judicial proceedings are putting a heavy strain on her finances. She has been pursued by the European Anti-Fraud Office for making statements to the Slovenian press in 2019 about the things she has undergone. All this adds institutional and economic violence to the physical, psychological and sexual violence she has already suffered.

             As an organisation standing up for victims of sexual violence, we believe that the Court of Justice of the European Union must act as a model in upholding the fundamental rights of human beings in general, and in particular in enforcing the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, which was ratified and entered into force in the European Union in October 2023. The preamble of the Convention recognises ‘that violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men’.

             Moreover, the new EU Directive to combat violence against women and domestic violence stresses that the EU institutions are determined ‘to do everything possible to prevent violence against women, including domestic violence, to protect victims and to punish offenders’.

            This letter is being made available to the institutions concerned and to the general public under the terms of Article 9 of the Istanbul Convention, which states that: ‘Parties shall recognise, encourage and support, at all levels, the work of relevant non‐governmental organisations and of civil society active in combating violence against women and establish effective cooperation with these organisations’.

             In our view, the case of Ms S. is emblematic of a culture of impunity vis-à-vis the violence of which women are the main victims. Different sources in Europe estimate the number of victims who are prepared to lodge a complaint at only 10%. This is hardly surprising when one considers that 10% of complaints actually result in a conviction. 99% of such acts of violence remain unpunished!

            Bringing this impunity to an end is only possible if the dignity of victims is respected and support is shown for those who are prepared to speak out. We ask you, Mr President, to take the necessary steps to ensure that truth is not obstructed and that justice is finally allowed to follow its course in this case, which has already exceeded a reasonable period of time.

            We look forward to your response.

            Yours sincerely,

La Voix des Survivant(e)s Asbl