April 2011 – Strasbourg
International law expert Helen Keller, professor of law at Zurich University, has been named judge of the European Court of Human Rights for a term of nine years, beginning October 2011. She will serve in respect of Switzerland, replacing Judge Giorgio Malinverni. Since 2008 Professor Keller has been a member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee; in 2009 she was a Visiting Researcher at the Court in Strasbourg. A native Swiss, she speaks English, French, German, Italian, and Polish. In an interview with swissinfo.ch, Professor Keller pointed to “the possibility of passing verdicts which break new ground in human rights law” as a key fascination in taking up the position at the Court.
Among her interests in how Court decisions affect human rights are rulings involving gender equality, equal rights for homosexual couples, and detention rules (prisoner rights). Noting that Court verdicts in such areas have been “not only groundbreaking for Switzerland but also have eminent importance for the whole of Europe.” In response to a question from the Swiss Info interview about the controversy in Switzerland over whether nationwide ballots reflecting the will of the people can stand above law, Professor Keller noted that “from the vantage point of human rights and also of Swiss constitutional law there is a clear answer. No, the people are not always right. All state institutions, including the sovereign electorate and the cantons have to respect basic rights. That’s enshrined in our constitution. A decision even by a majority of voters must not contravene basic human rights.”