Reaching the dead-end: M.N. and others and the question of humanitarian visas

By Moritz Baumgärtel

M.N. and others v. Belgium confronted the ECtHR with the question whether Article 3 of the ECHR places an obligation on State Parties to provide short-term humanitarian visas in their foreign embassies and consulates to potential asylum seekers. The Court, assembled in its Grand Chamber, found the case to be outside the jurisdiction of the Convention and thus inadmissible. While many will look at this outcome with disappointment, it is above all expected. This post provides an initial evaluation focusing on the strategic merits of the case, the issue of extra-territorial jurisdiction, and the broader question of legal pathways to asylum. The argument, in short, will be that this decision may offer a chance to come to the overdue realization that the creation of such pathways is a political question, the answer to which cannot currently be found in European human rights law. Continue reading

N.D. and N.T. v. Spain: defining Strasbourg’s position on push backs at land borders?

By Hanaa Hakiki

On 13 February 2020, the Court published its long awaited Grand Chamber judgment in the case of N.D. and N.T. v. Spain, the first case addressing the Spanish policy of immediate expulsions at the Ceuta and Melilla enclaves. In a speech the Court’s president had announced that the judgment would be “instrumental to the issue of push backs” in Europe, the most “burning issue in European politics today” (M.A. v Lithuania; concurring opinion, §1).  Legally, the case of N.D. and N.T. addressed the applicability of the prohibition of collective expulsions to push backs at European land borders. The judgement has already been analysed in detail and widely criticised for its incompatibility with EU law, the principle of non-refoulement and Spain’s obligation to protect unaccompanied minors. Though the judgment brings in an entirely new approach, some have questioned the impact of the judgment on the Court’s approach to push backs more generally. This blogpost considers the application by the Court of its new approach in light of the factual evidence in the case, and whether this allows for any conclusions to be drawn as to  the broader impact of this judgment on the situation at European borders. Thus the blogpost will first assess the new legal test in light of the Court’s jurisprudence on the terms “genuine and effective.” and secondly how the new test was applied in this case. Third, the blogpost will look at how the Grand Chamber assessed evidence in this case. The final section explores the potential significance of this judgement. Continue reading

Push backs of “badly behaving” migrants at Spanish border are not collective expulsions (but might still be illegal refoulements)

By Ruben Wissing (Ghent University)

On 13 February, the Grand Chamber rendered a long awaited judgment, meandering over more than one hundred pages, in the N.D. and N.T case on the push-back practices against migrants at the Moroccan-Spanish border fence surrounding the city of Melilla – the so-called devoluciones en caliente or ‘hot returns’ by the Spanish border police.  The Court did not qualify them as collective expulsions, thus acquitting Spain of having violated Art. 4 of Protocol No. 4. However, the specific circumstances of the case, as well as the absence of an examination of the principle of non-refoulement, have been ultimately decisive for the outcome of this case, thus restricting the extent to which the Court’s findings can be generalised to similar practices at the EU external borders. Continue reading

Prohibiting Collective Expulsion in Melilla: What Should We Expect from the Upcoming Grand Chamber Decision?

Raoul Wieland studies law and social work at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He is undertaking a work placement with Amnesty International’s Strategic Litigation Unit at the International Secretariat in London.

On 3 October 2017, the European Court of Human Rights released its judgment in the important case of N.D. and N.T. v Spain. Considering the upcoming Grand Chamber decision, it is worth re-visiting some of the important legal safeguards at issue in the Chamber judgment and as outlined by the third-party interventions brought by Amnesty International and colleagues and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. Continue reading

Basra v. Belgium: a structural problem struck from the list

By Marjan Claes (NANSEN), Charlotte Coenen (NANSEN), Ellen Desmet (UGent), Sylvie Saroléa (UCL)

On 13 September 2018, the European Court of Human Rights struck the application of Basra v. Belgium out of its list. Mr. Basra argued not having benefited from an effective remedy in the sense of article 13 ECHR, with respect to his arguable claim of being subjected to treatment prohibited by Article 3 ECHR in case of return to Pakistan.

After efforts to reach a friendly settlement had failed, the Belgian Government made a unilateral declaration in order to solve the issue, and invited the Court to struck the case from the list. The Court took up this invitation on the basis of Article 37 (1) (c) ECHR, which allows the Court to strike out an application where, for any reason established by the Court, it is no longer justified to continue its examination.

During this procedure, a third party intervention was submitted to the Court by NANSEN – the Belgian Refugee Council, EDEM (Equipe droits européens et migrations) from the UCLouvain, the Equality Law Clinic of the Université libre de Bruxelles and the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University. Continue reading

JR and Others v Greece: what does the Court (not) say about the EU-Turkey Statement?

By Annick Pijnenburg, PhD researcher at Tilburg University

25 January 2018 is a date to remember for European refugee lawyers. In Luxembourg, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled in Case C-473/16 that an asylum seeker may not be subjected to a psychological test in order to determine his sexual orientation. At the same time, in Strasbourg, the European Court of Human Rights issued its judgment in the case of J.R. and Others v Greece (application 22696/16), the first one in which it deals with the implementation of the so-called EU-Turkey Statement. The Court’s judgment in J.R. and Others sparked the concern of NGOs, who argue that it ‘gives legitimacy to conditions in hotspot and detention’ under the EU-Turkey Statement. This blog post examines whether J.R. and Others indeed legitimises it and, more generally, what (if any) the implications are for the EU-Turkey Statement. Continue reading

Judgement ND and NT v Spain: on the legality of police “push-backs” at the borders and, again, on the prohibition of collective expulsions.

By Prof. Dr. David Moya, Constitutional Law Department of the University of Barcelona, Migration Research and Studies Centre CERM, Public Law Observatory IDP

Last week, the 3rd Section of the European Court of Human Rights published its Judgement ND and NT v. Spain, in a case brought before the Court by two foreigners from Mali and the Ivory Coast (Mr. ND and Mr. NT) who alleged to have been “pushed back” by the Spanish gendarmerie Guardia Civil in charge of the surveillance and protection of the Spanish border between the Spanish Autonomous City of Melilla and the Kingdom of Morocco. The applicants alleged that the push-back violated their right to an effective remedy (Art. 13 ECHR) and the prohibitionof collective expulsions (Art. 4 Protocol 4 ECHR). Continue reading

One-way ticket to Sudan: standard-setting, yet disconnection between reasoning and outcome in N.A. v. Switzerland?

By Ellen Desmet, assistant professor of migration law at Ghent University

On 30 May 2017, the European Court of Human Rights decided two cases regarding the expulsion of rejected asylum seekers by Switzerland to Sudan. In A.I. v. Switzerland, the Court held unanimously that there would be a violation of Articles 2 and 3 ECHR in case of implementation of the deportation order, whereas in N.A. v. Switzerland the Court, also unanimously, did not find a conditional violation of these provisions.

The judgments (only in French) deserve a blogpost for at least two reasons. First, the Court explicitly sets out criteria in order to assess the risk of ill-treatment of political opponents when returned to Sudan. Second, the legal reasoning in N.A. v. Switzerland seems to hold potential for improvement. This post does not aim to question the outcome in N.A.: even though many aspects of A.I. and N.A. run parallel, there are important factual differences that may justify finding a violation in one case but not in the other. It does take issue with the way this outcome is arrived at in N.A. v. Switzerland. Continue reading

Systematic detention of asylum seekers at the border: on the need for an individualised necessity test

By Ruben Wissing, lawyer at UNHCR and academic assistant migration law at Ghent University

In the Thimothawes judgement of 4 April 2017, the European Court of Human Rights acquits the Belgian State of the charge of having breached the right to liberty under article 5 §1 of the ECHR by systematically detaining asylum seekers at its external border at the national airport, as long as a (prima facia) vulnerability assessment has been undertaken, the duration of the detention remains reasonable and detention conditions are adequate.  Two dissenting judges however do not consider this sufficient to ensure that the detention is not arbitrary. Continue reading

X and X v. Belgium: a missed opportunity for the CJEU to rule on the state’s obligations to issue humanitarian visa for those in need of protection

By Helena De Vylder, lawyer at the Flemish Integration Agency (Agentschap voor Integratie en Inburgering)

On 7 March 2017, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) gave a preliminary ruling in the case PPU X and X v. Belgium. Against the recommendations of the Advocate General, the CJEU left the responsibility for granting humanitarian visas with the Member States. It argued that, although the request for a visa was formally submitted on the basis of Article 25 Visa Code, the situation at stake fell outside the scope of the Visa Code. The applicants submitted the request with the intention to apply for asylum as soon as possible upon their arrival in Belgium and to stay there as refugees, while the Visa Code only covers short-term visa. Continue reading

V.M. and others v. Belgium: The tragic story of yet another “disappeared case”

Guest post by Moritz Baumgärtel, lecturer and researcher at the Department of European and International Public Law at Tilburg University. Moritz recently defended his PhD at the Université libre de Bruxelles. His project was a part of the IAP research network “The Global Challenge of Human Rights Integration: Towards a Users’ Perspective”.

On 17 November 2016, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights decided to strike off its list of cases the application in V.M. and others v. Belgium. The case concerned the reception conditions and the exposure to a risk of inhumane and degrading treatment of a Roma family in the context of a “Dublin transfer” from Belgium to France. The matter was referred to the Grand Chamber following a judgment of the Second Section on 7 July 2015, which had found violations of articles 3 and 13 of the ECHR. In striking out the application because the lawyer failed to maintain contact with the clients, the Grand Chamber added yet another chapter to the already lengthy volume on “disappeared cases”. The Court’s decision raises serious questions regarding the effectiveness of its remedies and the problems it poses for strategically minded lawyers in the migration domain.

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On a positive note: B.A.C. v. Greece

By Ellen Desmet, assistant professor of migration law at Ghent University.

On 13 October 2016, the European Court of Human Rights unanimously found in B.A.C. v. Greece that the Greek state’s omission to decide on an asylum application during more than twelve years violated Article 8 as well as Article 13 in conjunction with Article 8. The Court also considered that there would be a violation of Article 3 in conjunction with Article 13, if the applicant would be returned to Turkey without an assessment ex nunc by the Greek authorities of his personal situation.

This is the first time that the Court finds that an asylum seeker’s prolonged precarious and uncertain situation, due to an unjustified lack of action by the government as regards his asylum request, constitutes a violation of the right to respect for private life as guaranteed by Article 8 ECHR.

The judgment (only in French) has been discussed by Markos Karavias on EJIL: Talk!, and was mentioned by Benoit Dhondt on this blog in a comparative perspective, namely as a promising decision standing in contrast to the striking out of Khan v. Germany by the Grand Chamber. This post provides a complementary analysis of the Court’s considerations under Article 8 ECHR.

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Khan v. Germany, Episode II: The Empire strikes out

Guest post by Benoit Dhondt, Belgian lawyer specialized in migration and refugee law. As a teaching assistant, he is also connected to the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University, more specifically its Human Rights and Migration Law Clinic.

Several practitioners were disappointed with the road the ECtHR traveled in Khan v. Germany last year. With the Grand Chamber referral, hope rose for a more sensible approach and greater protection standards for mentally ill migrants on the verge of expulsion. Alas, the Grand Chamber has struck out the case, leaving us with more questions than answers. In what follows I will give a brief description of the case after which I will delve a little bit deeper into some of the issues the decision to strike out has left untouched.

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The potential of a vulnerability-based approach: some additional reflections following O.M. v Hungary

Guest post by Denise Venturi, PhD Student in International Law, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (Italy) and KU Leuven (Belgium)

As has recently been noted in this blog, the case of O.M. v Hungary adds another tile to the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECtHR) mosaic on vulnerability. The present blog post seeks to start from these premises and dig further into the Court’s reasoning, to reflect on the extent to which vulnerability can be operationalised and meaningfully used in the legal reasoning and when, instead, it risks to remain confined only to a synonym for specific situations deserving attention.

As the readers of this blog may know, O.M. v Hungary concerned the detention to which a gay asylum seeker from Iran was subject while his asylum request was processed and before being granted refugee status. The detention was ordered because, allegedly, Mr. O.M. had not been able to clarify his identity and nationality; had entered irregularly; had not had any resources to live on in Hungary and there was a risk he could frustrate the procedure if left at large. The applicant claimed before the ECtHR that his detention had been unjustified with respect to Article 5(1)(b) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and that no individual assessment had been carried out. Notably, the applicant’s sexual orientation had not been taken into consideration, although Mr. O.M. reported to fear harassment in detention because of this circumstance.

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G.J. v. Spain and Access to Justice for Victims of Human Trafficking

Guest post by Ruth M. Mestre i Mestre, Human Rights Institute, University of Valencia.

The G.J. v. Spain Decision (App. no. 59172/12) shows many of the problems victims of human trafficking encounter to access justice. It is, sadly, one of those cases where formalities swallow justice, since the outcome could have been totally different had the Court considered that the circumstances of the case required examination, in spite of, or precisely because of the failure to comply with the “written authority” requirement of submission (Rule 36.1 and 47(5)(1)(c) of the Rules of Court).

The challenges posed to the Court were interesting from the perspective of analysing the gender aspects of human trafficking and specially for determining whether the procedures for the identification of victims of trafficking that subordinate their protection to cooperation in criminal procedures against traffickers are compatible with the positive obligations arising from article 4 ECHR. The inadmissibility of the application leaves these questions unanswered. My comments will briefly engage with two sets of issues, the missed opportunity with regards to trafficking, and its connection to the substantive inadmissibility decision of the Court.

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F.G. v Sweden: fine-tuning the risk assessment in asylum claims

By Salvo Nicolosi

In the Grand Chamber’s ruling of last 23 March 2016, the Strasbourg judges came back on appeal to the controversial case of F.G. v. Sweden, which on 16 January 2014 had divided the Chamber’s judges as to the assessment of the risk of persecution for an Iranian national who had applied for asylum in Sweden.

In its judgment, the Grand Chamber carves out an obligation for the competent domestic authorities to asses “of their own motion” the risk to the applicant, regardless of whether or not the applicant chooses to rely on some elements in his asylum application, when the rights guaranteed under Articles 2 and 3 ECHR are at stake.

The case offers an interesting opportunity to reflect on a twofold issue concerning: a) the assessment of the risk to the applicant of persecution; b) the meaning of the specific ground for persecution in order for an applicant to apply for asylum. Both aspects will be analysed after a short summary of the relevant facts of the case.

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Migrants’ avoidance of the European Court of Human Rights concerns us all

By Marie-Bénédicte Dembour, Professor of Law and Anthropology at the Brighton Business School, University of Brighton (*) This post has been re-published on When Humans Become Migrants Blog.

Every year towards the end of January, the President of the European Court of Human Rights holds a press conference that takes stock of the previous year. This year, President Raimondi reported in his speech that the situation of the Court was ‘generally satisfactory’. Can we be so sure?

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V.M. and Others v. Belgium: The asylum law discourse reloaded

By Salvo Nicolosi

Last 7 July 2015, the Second Section of the Strasbourg Court ruled in V.M. and Others v. Belgium, concerning the violation of Articles 3 and 13 ECHR owing to the reception conditions of asylum seekers. The case must be placed within the settled case law on the protection of asylum seekers under Article 3 ECHR which the Court has developed over the years and thus it offers another occasion to reflect on the timely and controversial debate regarding the interpretation of the right to asylum through the lens of the Strasbourg Court (Bossuyt, 2010; Mole/Meredith, 2010).

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A.S. v. Switzerland: missed opportunity to explain different degrees of vulnerability in asylum cases

By Salvo Nicolosi and Ruth Delbaere (Ghent University)

In the recent judgment of last 30 June 2015 in A.S. v. Switzerland, the European Court of Human Rights offers another occasion to reflect on the issue of vulnerability in asylum cases.

The ruling represents another episode of the ongoing saga concerning the Dublin System to determine the State responsible for asylum applications and builds upon the previous case law relating to Article 3 considerations when expelling seriously ill persons, on the one hand, and when deporting asylum seekers to another country, pursuant to Dublin II Regulation 343/2003 (now replaced by Dublin III Regulation 604/2013), on the other hand. Both lines of reasoning will be taken into account in the following analysis.

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S.J. v. Belgium: missed opportunity to fairly protect seriously ill migrants facing expulsion

This guest post was written by Sarah Ganty, Ph.D. student at the Institute for European Studies and at the Faculty of Law (Perelman Centre for Legal Philosophy) of the ULB within the Research project ARC “Sous le signe du mérite et de la conformité culturelle, les nouvelles politiques d’intégration des immigrés en Europe”. See also the post she wrote for the Blog of the Berkeley Journal of International Law.

On March 19, 2015, the Grand Chamber (GC) of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) struck out of its list the sensitive case of S.J. v. Belgium on the basis of the friendly settlement between the Belgian Government and the applicant, S.J, mother of three children, who suffers from an advanced stage of AIDS and faced expulsion. Indeed, the Belgian Government ultimately regularized the residency status of the applicant and that of her three children, justified by the “strong humanitarian considerations” of their situation.

Why then write this note on a case that was not eventually ruled on the merits by the GC of the Court and where the outcome looks like a “happy ending”? Continue reading

Another episode in the Strasbourg saga on the Dublin System to determine the State Responsible for Asylum Applications

This guest post was written by Salvo Nicolosi, Postdoctoral Researcher at Ghent University’s Human Rights Centre.

The recent decision in A.M.E. v. The Netherlands, issued by the European Court of Human Rights last 13 January 2015 and notified in writing on 5 February 2015, offers another occasion to assess through a human rights perspective the working of the Dublin system for determining which State is responsible for deciding an asylum seeker’s application for international protection.

Based on Dublin II Regulation 343/2003 (now replaced by Dublin III Regulation 604/2013) such system has represented the core of a thriving case law of the Strasbourg Court, including the case under discussion. The analysis will be therefore enhanced by discussing the findings in other two key cases to which the Strasbourg made explicit reference in A.M.E. v. The Netherlands, namely the recent Tarakhel v. Switzerland and M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece. Continue reading

Tarakhel v. Switzerland: Another Step in a Quiet (R)evolution?

This guest post was written by Nesa Zimmermann, Ph.D. candidate and teaching assistant at the University of Geneva, Switzerland (*)

The Court’s recent ruling in Tarakhel v. Switzerland became famous almost before it was delivered. The case has received strong media attention, and some claimed the judgment signified “the end of the Dublin system”. However, the importance of the Tarakhel judgement should not be overrated. For one thing, it remains yet to be seen to what extent the Court’s ruling can and will be applied to other cases. Besides, even though the case has been called a “principled decision in favour of vulnerable persons”, it consists, from a scholarly point of view, of a series of adjustments: a case contributing to the evolution of existing case law rather than a revolution on its own. Continue reading

The application of the European Convention on Human Rights to the case of Leonarda Dibrani

This guest post was written by Georgios Milios*

On October 9 2013, Leonarda Dibrani, a 15-years old Roma girl, was arrested by the French police in front of her teachers and classmates and deported to Kosovo along with her parents and five siblings. Initially, it was argued that the family had left Kosovo some years ago seeking better opportunities but according to Leonarda’s father, the Kosovo story was a lie and the whole family had been living for many years in Italy where almost all of the children were born but had not managed to acquire the Italian nationality. Furthermore, the father argued that they moved to France in 2008 and sought asylum claiming that they all come from Kosovo. The ‘Kosovo lie’ did not work and the whole family was expelled on the grounds that they were residing illegally in France. Continue reading

Forthcoming Publication on Vulnerable Groups in the Court’s Case Law

This post was written by Alexandra Timmer and Lourdes Peroni

Alexandra and I are happy to announce the forthcoming publication of our joint Article “Vulnerable Groups: The Promise of an Emerging Concept in European Human Rights Convention Law.” The piece will be published in the International Journal of Constitutional Law – I•CON.

In this Article, we critically examine the development and consequences of the concept of “vulnerable groups” in the Strasbourg case law. Our analysis includes a number of high-profile cases, from M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece, to V.C. v. Slovakia, Alajos Kiss v. Hungary, Kiyutin v. Russia and the recent case of Horváth and Kiss v. Hungary.

The Article was an excellent opportunity to reflect and work together on issues of common interest, such as non-discrimination, equality and vulnerability.

Here is the abstract:

The concept of “vulnerable groups” is gaining momentum in the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. The Court has used it in cases concerning Roma, people with mental disabilities, people living with HIV and asylum seekers. Yet the appearance of the vulnerable group concept in the Court’s legal reasoning has so far escaped scholarly attention. Drawing on theoretical debates on vulnerability and equality as well as on the Court’s case law, this Article offers a descriptive and normative assessment of the concept. Reasoning in terms of vulnerable groups opens a number of possibilities, most notably, the opportunity to move closer to a more robust idea of equality. However, the concept also has some inherent difficulties. This Article argues for a reflective use of the concept and points out ways in which the Court can avoid its pitfalls.

Non-nationals, living conditions and disability: Situating S.H.H. v. United Kingdom within Strasbourg’s Article 3 case-law

This guest post was written by Elaine Webster. Elaine holds a PhD from the University of Edinburgh and is currently a lecturer and director of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights Law at the University of Strathclyde. 

In S.H.H. v. United Kingdom a chamber of the ECtHR, by four votes to three, found that a real risk of inhuman or degrading treatment had not been established and found no potential violation of Article 3 ECHR. The applicant in this case sought and was refused asylum in the United Kingdom. It was argued that, as a result of his severe physical disabilities, return to his home country of Afghanistan would give rise to a violation of Article 3. The core question in this case was which line of the Court’s authorities was most appropriately aligned with the facts in S.H.H.  Continue reading

Françoise Tulkens, indefatigable defender of migrants’ human rights

The Strasbourg Observers are delighted to post this tribute to Judge Tulkens by Professor Marie-Bénédicte Dembour, University of Sussex.

Françoise Tulkens arrived at Strasbourg because she wanted to make a contribution to the development of European human rights law. She had no prior judicial experience but brought to her new office fine legal skills and great personal qualities. Amongst these must be mentioned her passion, generosity, energy, sensitivity, charm, wisdom, sense of justice and unfaltering commitment to human rights. This exceptional combination enabled her to become a key player within the European Court of Human Rights. Her successive internal elections – first as Vice-President of Section, then as President of Section and finally as Vice-President of the Court – testify to the respect in which she has been held by her fellow judges.

Her election as Vice-President is the more remarkable since she is a woman (a fact which should be irrelevant but rarely is) and holds views which are far from mainstream within the Court. To put it bluntly: Françoise Tulkens has been, throughout the fourteen years of her tenure, a resolutely progressive judge within an institution which often reveals deeply, and sometimes worryingly, conservative streaks (as in Palomo Sanchez and Others v. Spain or Austin and Others v. the United Kingdom). She swam indefatigably against the predominant current, often carrying colleagues with her. This short tribute proposes to start pinpointing her tremendously positive influence in an area where reflexes of fear and hostility are not always easily transformed into an ethic of respect towards the human being who faces us; namely, the area of migrants’ rights. Continue reading

Thank you, Justice Tulkens: A comment on the dissent in N v UK

According to HUDOC, Judge Tulkens sat on the panel of 1843 ECtHR judgments, amongst which 217 Grand Chamber judgments. The same source lists as her oldest judgment the article 6 case of Van Pelt v. France on 23 May 2000. As HUDOC – however wonderful – has its imperfections, we cannot know  for certain whether this was actually her first judgment. Yet it would be suitable if it were so, as this judgment already has a (partly) dissenting opinion by Françoise Tulkens, written jointly with Sir Nicolas Bratza. Contrary to the majority, they thought that a violation of the reasonable term requirement should have been found.  So for those who were wondering: yes, she has been this formidable judge from the very beginning: never just following the flow of the majority opinion (whether the majority in the Court or that in society), always checking the case at hand against the fundamentals of what human rights protection is supposed to be about: justice, equality, freedom.  That is why many of us – who consider it our jobs to critically scrutinize the Court’s work for sloppiness on those same fundamentals – so often find ourselves agreeing with her separate opinions.

For this blogging tribute, I chose to discuss a case in which the fundamentals of human rights protection are a lot more prominent than in the above-mentioned reasonable term judgment. It is the Grand Chamber case of N v UK of 27 May 2008, in which the 9 page-long reasoning of the majority is followed by a 12 page dissent, co-authored by Judges Tulkens, Bonello and Spielmann.

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Hirsi (part II): Another side to the judgment

This is the second post written by Marie-Bénédicte Dembour* on the case Hirsi Jamaa and Others v. Italy.

As I said yesterday, Hirsi is a fantastic judgment. It is ground-breaking not only for declaring interception-at-sea as currently practiced illegal on a number of grounds but also for potentially lightening the burden of proof which falls on applicants in return cases. But what did the Court say about reparation? Continue reading

Interception-at-sea: Illegal as currently practiced – Hirsi and Others v. Italy

This post is written by Marie-Bénédicte Dembour. She is Professor of Law and Anthropology at the University of Sussex. She is the author of Who Believes in Human Rights? Reflections on the European Convention and currently preparing a monograph provisionally entitled Migrant First, Human When? Testing Human Rights in the European and Inter-American Courts.

Europe does not like the ‘irregular’ migrants who, typically originating from economically struggling and/or war-torn countries, arrive on her shores without any document – and certainly no visa – after long travels. She has devised more and more strategies to keep these people at bay. One of these is to persuade so-called transit countries to take back migrants intercepted at sea. An emblematic example of this strategy is a bilateral cooperation agreement which Italy and Libya signed in December 2007 and its Additional Protocol of February 2009, whereby Libya pledged to support the Italian authorities in their fight against clandestine immigration in exchange for infrastructure, training and money. From the perspective of the authorities, the cooperation was entirely successful. It led the Italian Minister of the Interior to report and boast to the Italian Senate in May 2009, for example, that thanks to the agreement 471 irregular migrants had been intercepted on the high seas and transferred to Libya earlier that month. From a human rights perspective, this kind of strategy is disastrous from many various reasons, not all of which can be detailed in this blog.

Hirsi Jamaa and Others v. Italy is the first case in which the European Court of Human Rights delivers a judgment on interception-at-sea. In the present context the latter term is a short-hand for referring to the enforced return of irregular migrants to the point of departure of their attempted Mediterranean crossing, without any individual processing, let alone examination of asylum claims. Unanimously, the Grand Chamber found a violation of Article 3 ECHR prohibiting inhuman and degrading treatment on a double count (risk of ill-treatment in Libya and risk of repatriation from Libya to countries where ill-treatment is rife), a violation of Article 4 of Protocol no. 4 prohibiting collective expulsion and a violation of Article 13 ECHR guaranteeing a domestic remedy for any arguable complaint of a violation of the Convention. These verdicts, reached by the Grand Chamber unanimously on 23 February 2012, undoubtedly put into question the kind of bilateral and multilateral agreements which have been signed by European states in the last decade or so in order to fight clandestine immigration, not to mention the fact that they indirectly require major aspects of European migration policy to be revised.

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Less stringent measures and migration detention: overruling Saadi v. UK?

The recent cases of Yoh-Ekale Mwanje v. Belgium and Popov v. France illustrate how a ‘less stringent measures test’ is entering the Court’s reasoning under Art. 5 § 1 ECHR in migration detention cases. The Court appears to be slowly moving away from its deferential approach in Saadi v. The United Kingdom. This might result in the overruling of Saadi by the Grand Chamber in the near future.

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The Strasbourg Court and the Arab Spring

International politics are never far away in cases dealing with the extradition of individuals to third countries. In the case of Al Hanchi v. Bosnia and Herzegovina the European Court of Human Rights was confronted with an extradition of a so-called foreign mujahedin to Tunisia. Until now, the Court had a clear stance. The deportation of individuals with such a profile to Tunisia entails a risk of ill-treatment. (see e.g.  Saadi v. Italy)  In the aftermath of the Arab Spring the Court is however reconsidering this position. Continue reading

Rahimi v. Greece and the proceduralization of children’s rights

By Laurens Lavrysen*

In the recent case of Rahimi v. Greece, the European Court of Human Rights had to rule over the detention and the lack of care of a 15 year old Afghan unaccompanied minor. At arrival in Greece, he was placed in detention for two days, after which he was abandoned to live on the streets.

Despite the short duration of the detention, the Court found a violation of Art. 3 ECHR because of the dreadful detention circumstances and because of the applicant’s extremely vulnerable situation. In line with the recent Grand Chamber judgment of M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece, the Court also concluded that the negligence of the Greek authorities to take adequate care of the applicant – the Court particularly emphasized the lack of action to provide him with a guardian – also amounted to a violation of Art. 3 ECHR. Continue reading

M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece: When is a Group Vulnerable?

Any attempt to comment exhaustively on the recent landmark ruling of the Grand Chamber in M.S.S. v Belgium and Greece in one page would be bound to fail. It is an extraordinarily rich judgment. In this post, I therefore limit my comments to one single aspect I find particularly intriguing: the concept of group vulnerability. The Court has referred to several groups as “vulnerable” in its case law. One example is the Roma minority who, “as a result of their history” – the Court has held – “has become a specific type of disadvantaged and vulnerable minority” in need of special protection (Oršuš). Another example concerns persons with mental disabilities. They have been regarded by the Court as a “particularly vulnerable group in society, who has suffered considerable discrimination in the past” (Alajos Kiss).

In M.S.S., the Court speaks, once again, of the applicant as a member of a vulnerable group. The case deals with the expulsion of an Afghan asylum seeker to Greece by Belgium in application of the EU Dublin Regulation. Asylum seekers, the Court holds, are a “particularly underprivileged and vulnerable population group in need of special protection.” What makes this group vulnerable in the eyes of the Court? What are its implications for this particular case? Should asylum seekers as such be deemed vulnerable? Judge Sajó thinks not. In his separate opinion in M.S.S, he contends that asylum seekers cannot be unconditionally considered a particularly vulnerable group in the sense the Court has used this term, that is, as a group “historically subject to prejudice with lasting consequences, resulting in their social exclusion.” But, should all groups fit into the idea of vulnerability that has apparently prevailed in the Court’s case law so far? In what follows, I address Judge Sajó’s criticism. But first, I briefly attempt to understand how the Court weighs up the vulnerable position of the applicant as an asylum seeker in its Article 3 analysis concerning both his detention and living conditions in Greece.  Continue reading

‘Strong women don’t need asylum’ (the European Court on FGM)

Summertime in rainy Belgium! Relaxed after a sunny family holiday abroad, with no lectures or meetings on the agenda, I finally find some time to write a blog entry.  Only to realize that it is August, and that the judges at the European Court of Human Rights are also entitled to their holidays.  This means: no new cases. And among the nearly 200 judgments the Court delivered in July, the other Strasbourg Observers bloggers have already discussed the most interesting ones.

That is why I take the liberty to discuss a 2007 case. I happened to be going through all article 3 cases since 2005, for the update of an ECHR Commentary .

By the way, this is not a an exercise I recommend to anyone. The article 3 case law, especially on prison conditions, is a true cabinet of horrors. It makes one despair of whether there might ever be something like ‘European civilization’. ..

Anyway, I came across the inadmissibility decision in the case of Collins and Akaziebie v. Sweden, which I had never thoroughly read before. Continue reading

Upholding Unsuccessful Asylum Seekers’ Right to Family Life

In two recent judgments against Switzerland, the Court examined whether a five-year separation of unsuccessful asylum-seeker couples, pending their deportation, was contrary to Article 8 of the Convention.

The applicants, two Ethiopian nationals, were denied asylum in Switzerland and ordered to be sent back to their country of origin. They remained however longer in Switzerland since the Ethiopian authorities prevented their return. Over the course of their prolonged stay in Switzerland, they got married. Their husbands, also Ethiopian unsuccessful asylum seekers, were assigned to a different Canton from that of the applicants. The latter alleged they had been prevented from living with their husbands as a result of the refusal to reassign them to the same Canton.

The Court observed that leading a life as a couple was one of the essential elements of the right to respect for family life and that the refusal to assign the applicants to the same Canton as their husbands amounted to an interference with this right. The interference was prescribed by law (Federal Asylum Act). It furthermore pursued the equitable assignment of asylum seekers among the Cantons which could fall within the “economic well-being of the country.” But, has the Swiss government struck a fair balance between the individual interests and its own? Continue reading

Strasbourg Court shows itself sensitive to the plight of Afghan women

The status of Afghan women has been high up on the agenda of the international human rights community in the past few years. Today the European Court of Human Rights joined the chorus of the concerned. The Court rendered a judgment that recognizes the extremely problematic status of women’s rights in Afghanistan and will hopefully provide firm support to Afghan women seeking asylum from gender persecution.

In N. v. Sweden, the applicant is a forty year old Afghan woman who applied for asylum in Sweden in 2004. She entered Sweden with her husband, but a year later, in 2005, she notified the authorities that she had separated from her husband and that she wanted a divorce. She alleged that she would face a serious risk of ill-treatment, contrary to art. 3 of the Convention, if she were to be returned to Afghanistan, essentially because she had transgressed established gender norms by seeking a divorce from her husband and living with a Swedish man. She claimed that she had no social network left in Afghanistan and no male support, which she needed in order to survive there. The Court finds that the general information regarding women’s rights in Afghanistan is not enough on its own, to find a violation of the Convention if the applicant were returned, but that the applicant’s personal situation is such that “the applicant faces various cumulative risks of reprisals which fall under Article 3 of the Convention from her husband X, his family, her own family and from the Afghan society.” (par. 62)

This judgment is striking because of its extensive documentation of the human rights abuses women face in Afghanistan. Continue reading

President of Belgian Constitutional Court Criticizes European Court of Human Rights

“The European Court of Human Rights is exceedingly transgressing its competence in asylum matters. The Court takes decisions on behalf of the national authorities, it enforces provisional measures despite not having the competence to do so and demands their immediate execution. It has granted property rights on unemployment benefits and has thus realized something that Karl Marx never could. The Court is being buried under new cases, partially caused by the fact that it has sneakily broadened its own competences.” Thus starts an interview with Marc Bossuyt, President of the Constitutional Court of Belgium, published by the Belgian newspaper Gazet van Antwerpen on 11 May 2010. Marc Bossuyt, also a Professor of International Law at the University of Antwerp and former Commissioner-General for Refugees in Belgium, was interviewed in connection with the upcoming release of his book “Strasbourg et les demandeurs d’asile: des juges sur un terrain glissant”. The original interview, in Dutch, can be found here. Below we will present a translation in English of the most important excerpts of a strong critique of the European Court of Human Rights, in asylum cases and beyond. We invite all of you to discuss the arguments raised by Marc Bossuyt!

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ECtHR v. Belgium on detention of children: part II

On 10 January 2010 the European Court of Human Rights released its judgment in the case of Muskhadzhiyeva and others v. Belgium, a case concerning the detention of minor asylum seekers in a closed detention centre. The applicants in Muskhadzhiyeva and others were five Chechnyans: a mother and her four minor children. Following the dismissal of their asylum application, they had been detained in the closed detention centre “127bis”, in wait of their expulsion.

Belgium had already been convicted for the detention of unaccompanied minor asylum seekers in the same detention centre in Mubilanzila Mayeka and Kaniki Mitunga v. Belgium. However, in the case of Muskhadzhiyeva and others the children had been detained along with their mother and not alone. The circumstances of the case were thus different from the earlier one. Continue reading

R.C. v. Sweden: the burden of proof in asylum cases

Sweden is recently convicted by the European Court of Human Rights in the CASE OF R.C v. SWEDEN concerning an Iranian asylum seeker. On 9 march 2010 the Court issued a judgment where it held by six votes to one that the deportation of the applicant to Iran would consist a violation of article 3 ECHR. Judge Fura expressed a dissenting opinion.

R.C. submitted to have participated in a demonstration in 2001 against the Iranian regime following which he had been arrested and tortured and detained for fourteen months. Although he had never been formally tried, he appeared several times before a revolutionary court, where a decision had to be made about the maintenance of his detention. During one of these religious hearings, the applicant managed to escape with the help of a friend. The applicant submitted also that he had been subjected to torture during his detention. He provided a medical certificate of February 2005 carrying the doctor’s conclusion that the injuries found on his body could well originate from torture. When R.C. arrived in Sweden in 2003 he immediately requested asylum near the Swedish Migration Board. This request was refused as the national authorities doubted the credibility of his account of events underlining that revolutionary courts were generally not open to the public, that the applicant had not substantiated his allegations and found that there was no proof that he would be tortured or ill treated if he returned to Iran. The appellate courts also rejected his asylum request.

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