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

‘Tell me your story, but hurry up because I have to expel you’ – Asady and Others v. Slovakia: how to (quickly) conduct individual interviews and (not) apply the ND & NT “own culpable conduct” test to collective expulsions

By Francesco Luigi Gatta, Research Fellow, UCLouvain, member of EDEM (Equipe droits européens et migrations)

On 24 March 2020, the ECtHR delivered its judgment in Asady and Others v. Slovakia, which concerned the expulsion to Ukraine of a group of Afghan nationals. With a controversial ruling (passed by a slight majority of 4 votes to 3 and accompanied by dissenting opinions) the Court declared that there had been no violation of the prohibition of collective expulsion under the terms of Article 4 of Protocol 4 ECHR.

The judgment is relevant for two reasons. First, it provides some (worrying) clarifications regarding the individualised examination of an alien prior to the expulsion, focusing on the conditions of the individual interview. Second, coming shortly after the Grand Chamber’s ruling in ND and NT v. Spain, it gave the Court an opportunity to reflect on the applicability of the exception of the “own culpable conduct” developed therein and to measure its impact on a case of collective expulsion at land borders. As it will be explained, however, this “hot potato” was only dealt with in the dissenting opinion and not by the Court, which avoided expressing itself on that point. Thus, it remains still unclear whether and how the new exception relates to the procedural test of the individualised assessment required by Article 4 of Protocol 4.

In general, Asady adds a new chapter to the fast-growing case law concerning this provision. After remaining ‘dormant’ for quite some time, it now represents a “rising star” in the migration-related litigation in Strasbourg, to such an extent that, basically, all the States forming the perimeter of the EU external borders have been involved in potential cases of collective expulsions. While initially the Court dealt with border practices aimed at tackling maritime migratory flows (e.g. Hirsi, Sharifi, Khlaifia), following the refugee crisis, it is now being called to assess the compatibility with the Convention of those conducted at land borders, including the so-called push backs. We will see if Asady will pave the way for similar decisions in cases involving the Eastern European borders which are pending against Croatia, Poland, Hungary, Latvia. Continue reading

Indiscriminate Covid-19 location tracking (Part II): Can pandemic-related derogations be an opportunity to circumvent Strasbourg’s scrutiny?

By Ilia Siatitsa and Ioannis Kouvakas

Yesterday, we argued that blanket mobile phone location tracking measures that aim at containing the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic cannot be regarded as strictly necessary due to their indiscriminate nature and the existence of less intrusive alternatives with potentially similar effectiveness. In this second blog post, we reflect on whether states could derogate from Article 8 in order to impose indiscriminate location tracking.

As of 24 April 2020, ten states, i.e. Albania, Armenia, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Moldova, North Macedonia, Romania, San Marino and Serbia have officially derogated from their obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) citing the public health emergency posed by the pandemic, while a domestic court has also attempted to do so on behalf of the United Kingdom! Six of these states Albania, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, North Macedonia and Romania – have explicitly included Article 8 (or the respective constitutional right) in the list of Articles they have chosen to derogate from. Continue reading

Indiscriminate Covid-19 location tracking (Part I): Necessary in a democratic society?

By Ilia Siatitsa and Ioannis Kouvakas

In his recent interview on The Intercept, Edward Snowden questioned whether the measures implemented by authorities amid the pandemic are necessary to safeguard people, as well as, whether the pandemic is seen by governments as just another opportunity to make us acquiesce to mass surveillance. In a scramble to track, and thereby stem the flow of new cases of Covid-19, governments around the world are rushing to track the locations of their populace. One way to do this is to leverage the metadata, including location data, held by mobile service providers (telecommunications companies) in order to track the movements of a population, as seen in Italy, Germany and Austria, and with the European Commission.

This is the first of two blog posts that will examine whether indiscriminate location tracking could ever be justified under the Convention, in light of the global pandemic. Continue reading

Blog Symposium “Strasbourg Observers turn ten” (6): S.A.S. v. France: an ongoing learning experience

In February, not long before we all went in lockdown, I attended an event with civil society organisations in Brussels concerning litigation and advocacy strategies. One of the organizers approached me as she recognized my name from the Strasbourg Observers blog and she explained how the series we published on the case of S.A.S. v. France helped her to understand the case more deeply. Little did my colleagues and I realize, I thought, how broad our readership would become, when we enthusiastically founded the Strasbourg Observers blog 10 years ago. A readership, which includes scholars, practitioners and civil society organisations. I am very grateful for that and for the work of my colleagues who are keeping the blog going these days.

Not long after that encounter, I was asked by my colleague Claire Poppelwell to write a reflection on the post I co-authored with dr. Lourdes Peroni on the S.A.S. case back in 2014. This commitment took me on a trip down memory lane Continue reading

The end of the Interlaken process: A (yet another) missed opportunity to guarantee the long-term future of the ECtHR?

This post was written by Stefanos Xenofontos, PhD Researcher at Birmingham Law School

The Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH) has recently submitted its contribution to the evaluation of the Interlaken process for the reform and future of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR or ‘the Court’). Building upon its assessment in the 2015 report on the matter, the CDDH’s latest report, signals the end of a decade-long reform process, at least at a technical level. The ECtHR has pledged to reply to the Report in 2020 (See, Foreword by President Sicilianos). Despite its importance, however, the CDDH’s Report did not attract much (academic) attention to date – something that the present post seeks to compensate. In what follows, after presenting the main conclusions reached by the CDDH, I argue that a rather conservative approach regarding the framework of the ongoing reform process remains apparent. In other words, the CDDH’s primary focus is on sustaining the current status quo of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) system while disregarding any other possible alternative reform outside this existing framework. In this regard, I question whether the current reform framework, and measures adopted within it so far, have been sufficient in addressing and/or resolving the underlying challenges facing the ECtHR. The post concludes that in the absence of a clear determination of what the future role of the ECtHR should be, in a way that best reflects its regional, supranational and subsidiary character, the root causes of the Court’s challenges will continue to be overlooked and its viability and long-term effectiveness will be difficult to achieve.

Continue reading

Announcement: Webinar “The State’s positive obligations under IHRL during the coronavirus outbreak” (5 May)

After thought-provoking webinars on “Human Rights in the Times of Coronavirus” and “Council of Europe: The Conscience of Europe in a Time of Crisis” (recorded versions of which are available here and here), next week a third webinar in the series will address the role of positive obligations in the context of Covid-19. The webinar takes place on Tuesday 5 May at 3 pm UK time, 4 pm CET. Here is the announcement:

The State’s positive obligations under IHRL during the coronavirus outbreak

Webinar

5 May 2020

3pm (UK time) Continue reading