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

The Grand Chamber’s ruling in Khlaifia and Others v Italy: one step forward, one step back?

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

On 15 December 2016 the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) gave its much awaited ruling in the case Khlaifia and Others v Italy. The judgement follows a 2015 decision of the Second Section of the ECtHR that, in particular, found Italy – for the third time after Hirsi Jamaa and Others v Italy and Sharifi and Others v Italy and Greece – in breach of Article 4 of Protocol 4 to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The Chamber judgement was warmly welcomed by human rights advocators – and, besides, featured also in the Top Three of this blog’s poll for Best ECtHR Judgement for 2015 – as it upheld considerably the protection of migrants’ fundamental rights amidst the so called ‘refugee crisis’ in Europe.

It is questionable, however, whether the subsequent Grand Chamber’s ruling has been able to keep up the expectations raised by the first pronouncement of the Strasbourg Court. Due to the wealth of issues considered, it is not possible to conduct an in-depth examination of the Grand Chamber’s decision. Thus, this blog post is primarily aimed at providing only a concise analysis by focusing on the differences between the approach adopted by Strasbourg Court in the two judgements delivered in the Khalifia case.

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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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Too little, too late? The ECtHR’s pilot judgment on the Belgian internment policy

Guest post by Els Schipaanboord, LL.M. – PhD Researcher at the Institute for International Research on Criminal Policy, Ghent University

On 6 September 2016, the European Court of Human Rights condemned Belgium once more, after 22 previous convictions, for its internment policy. This safety measure, under the Belgian law referred to as ‘internering’, aims to protect the society against ‘dangerous’ mentally ill offenders who cannot be held accountable for the offence they have committed, due to their illness. This time, however, the verdict granted Belgium the questionable honor of a pilot judgement. Applying the ‘pilot procedure’, the Court classifies Belgium’s internment policy as systematically and structurally dysfunctional and imposes an obligation upon it to address these problems within a limited amount of time. The Court gave Belgium a deadline of two years.

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Buzadji v. the Republic of Moldova: a welcome development in pre-trial detention case law

Guest post by Catherine Van de Heyning (Dr. LL.M.), researcher at the University of Antwerp and visiting professor of criminal law at UC Leuven-Limburg.

In the Buzadji v. the Republic of Moldova judgment of 5 July 2016 the ECtHR took the opportunity to clarify its case law on the requirement on a judge to give relevant and sufficient reasons for detention. In its established case law, the Court has already developed criteria for the justification of arrest and detention on remand of suspects pending trial. The Court has found a reasonable suspicion to suffice for the initial detention of a suspect. However, the Court has held that after “a certain lapse of time” reasonable suspicion no longer suffices (a.o. Letellier v. France and Idalov v. Russia). Further detention must be justified in addition on one of the other lawful grounds for detention as enumerated in the ECtHR case law and these grounds must constitute relevant and sufficient reasons. The Court requires “special diligence” from the courts reviewing whether these reasons are provided when deciding on the further detention (a.o. Labita v. Italy and Ilijkov v. Bulgaria).

Due to the lack of a more precise time indication and delineation of relevant and sufficient reasons, the impact of the Strasbourg case law on the domestic practice of pre-trial detention has remained limited. In the Buzadji judgment the Grand Chamber indicated that on two points it felt compelled to further develop its case law. As such, this case is a principled outlining of the Strasbourg case law on pre-trial detention and an important guideline to take into account in practice.

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Silencing the Voices of People with Disabilities: Recent Developments before the European Court of Human Rights

This guest post was written by Constantin Cojocariu, human rights lawyer[1]

Recently, I got involved in a case pending before the European Court of Human Rights – N. v. Romania – on behalf of a man diagnosed with schizophrenia, who claimed that his detention for 14 years in high security psychiatric hospitals has been unlawful. I was surprised to notice that although he claimed breaches of Articles 5§1 and 6, the case had only been communicated under Article 8, and that the Court effectively requested the Romanian Government to place him under guardianship so that he may be represented in proceedings before it. Far from being exceptional, this case is part of a broader trend in disability cases, whereby the Court increasingly focuses on issues of process instead of offering substantive guidance, with the result that entrenched abuse and discrimination remain unchallenged. In this post, I examine critically several cases against Romania, mostly decided already, but also pending, including N. v. Romania, that in my view depart from well-established case law and which establish differential standards of scrutiny for persons with disabilities. Continue reading

Deprivation of liberty in armed conflicts: the Strasbourg Court’s attempt at reconciling human rights law and international humanitarian law in Hassan v. UK

This guest blog post was written by Frederic Bernard, Lecturer at the University of Geneva, Global Studies Institute, and Attorney-at-law admitted to the Geneva Bar.

The fragmentation of international law has been for some time the subject of in-depth academic and expert studies, as exemplified, for instance, by the report dedicated to this topic on 13 April 2006 by the Study Group of the International Law Commission. The relationship between international human rights law and international humanitarian law, in particular, has attracted much attention. In this context, the Hassan case is noteworthy, because, for the first time, the Strasbourg Court’s Grand Chamber had to address this relationship directly, in order to assess whether the applicant’s brother’s rights had been breached due to his detention in Iraq by British forces during the 2003 war:

This is the first case in which a respondent State has requested the Court to disapply its obligations under Article 5 or in some other way to interpret them in the light of powers of detention available to it under international humanitarian law.

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