B. and C. v Switzerland: between concealment of sexual orientation and risk assessment in Article 3 cases

Blog post by Riccardo Viviani, LL.M., and Denise Venturi, Ph.D. Candidate in Law, KU Leuven, Research Unit Public Law*

On 17 November 2020, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) delivered its judgment in B. and C. v Switzerland. The case concerned the risk of deportation and ill-treatment upon return to the Gambia of a homosexual applicant**, whose request for family reunification with his partner, a Swiss national, had been rejected. The Court unanimously found a violation of Article 3 of the Convention, following the inadequate evaluation of the risk of inhuman and degrading treatment and of relevant availability of State protection in the Gambia.

For the first time, in a non-refoulement case concerning a risk of ill-treatment for reasons of sexual orientation, the Court clarified that the lack of an adequate risk assessment by domestic authorities would breach Article 3. So far, similar cases have been either struck out or have been declared inadmissible by Strasbourg judges.

This contribution will offer a brief analysis of the present judgment and will situate it in the wider context of the existing European case-law, namely the jurisprudence of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) and other precedents in which the ECtHR has dealt with Article 3 claims based on sexual orientation.

Continue reading

M.A. v. Belgium: the (in)voluntary return of a Sudanese migrant and the dangers of informal migration cooperation with third countries

By Eleonora Frasca, PhD Researcher in EU Migration Law at UCLouvain, Member of EDEM (Equipe droit européen et migrations)

On 27 October 2020, the Court delivered its ruling in the case of M.A. v. Belgium (press release available in English). The case concerns the deportation of a Sudanese national, who was apprehended without documents by the Belgian police and detained pending removal, despite  an order to suspend the measure. The Court found a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment) of the Convention due to the State’s failure to assess the applicant’s protection needs and risk of exposure to treatment contrary to Article 3 in the event of his return to Sudan. The Court also found a violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) in conjunction with Article 3 because the remedy he used was rendered ineffective due to his removal despite him having successfully sought to prevent it.

This judgement is important for three reasons. Firstly, it provides clarification on the real and effective access to asylum procedures, particularly in cases where applicants are held in pre-removal detention and thus in a situation of increased vulnerability. Secondly, the judgment sheds lights on the procedural guarantees surrounding the organisation of meetings between an applicant and the authorities of their country of origin with a view to positively identify and issue documents for their return, before the applicant’s protection needs have been assessed. Thirdly, the Court rejected the State’s arguments regarding the voluntary character of the applicant’s return to Sudan and provided guidelines to clearly distinguish voluntary departure from forcible return.

Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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.

Continue reading

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