The Dublin system: the ECJ Squares the Circle Between Mutual Trust and Human Rights Protection

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS

By Cecilia Rizcallah, (*)

Introduction

On Thursday February 16th, the ECJ handed down a seminal judgment in the case of C.K. and others, C-578/16 PPU. This ruling was rendered on a reference for a preliminary ruling from the Supreme Court of Slovenia asking, in substance, whether the risk faced by an asylum seeker of being a victim of inhuman and degrading treatment because of his/her individual situation, shall prevent his/her transfer to another Member State to consider his/her asylum claim on the basis of the Dublin system.

The Dublin System: Cooperation between Member States based on Mutual Trust

The Dublin system, initiated by a Convention signed in 1990 in the city whose name it bears, allocates responsibility for examining asylum applications lodged by third country nationals (TCNs) in the EU, in such a manner that, in principle, only one State has the task of examining each asylum request lodged on the European Union’s territory.  Pursuing harmonisation of Member states’ asylum policies, the Treaty of Amsterdam introduced the competence of the European Community (Article 63 EC; now Article 78 TFEU) to adopt additional measures in order to achieve a Common European Asylum System (CEAS). On that basis, the Dublin Convention was replaced by the “Dublin II” Regulation (Regulation n°343/2003) and then the “Dublin III” Regulation (Regulation 604/2013). Also, a number of directives were adopted in order to set up minimum standards on the qualification and status of refugees and persons with subsidiarity protection (Directive 2011/95/UE), on asylum procedures (currently Directive 2013/32/UE) and on reception conditions for asylum-seekers (currently Directive 2013/33/UE).

The Dublin system, which constitutes a fundamental part of the CEAS, has as its main goals to (i) ensure the access of TCNs to the asylum application procedure and to (ii) rationalise the treatment of asylum applications by avoiding forum shopping and the existence of multiple applications. It therefore establishes a set of criteria which determine which Member State is, in a particular situation, responsible for examining the application of an asylum-seeker. The general rule is that (in effect) the State of first entry into the European Union is the responsible Member State, but there are several exceptions. If another Member State is approached, that state can either, on the basis of the Dublin system, automatically transfer the asylum seeker lodging the application to the responsible state, but it can also – and it has a sovereign right to – decide to examine the application itself as it so wish (Article 17, Dublin III Regulation: the “sovereignty-clause”).

It is important to note that the Dublin system is underpinned by the fundamental idea of equivalence of Member States’ asylum systems, presuming, therefore, that asylum-seekers would not benefit from any advantage by having their application examined in a specific country.

Summary of Previous Case Law of the ECJ: Preserving Effectiveness of EU Cooperation, even at the Expense of Fundamental Rights

The automaticity of the transfer of asylum-seekers between Member States, founded on the premise of equivalence, quickly appeared problematic in terms of protection of asylum-seekers’ fundamental rights. Notably due to their geographic situation, some Member States were faced with a high number of arrivals that put their asylum-seekers’ reception infrastructures under pressure, and resulted in degradation of their national asylum systems.

It did not take long before challenges against transfer decisions were being introduced, because of the risks faced by asylum-seekers regarding their fundamental rights in the State which the Dublin system made responsible for examining their applications. One of the first landmark rulings on this issue was handed down by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), in which Belgium was held liable for breaching the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) by having transferred an asylum seeker back to Greece on the basis of the Dublin system, while this country, in its examination of asylum applications, was not fulfilling the obligations under the ECHR. The ECtHR noted, in the case of M.S.S c. Belgium and Greece (application n° 30696/09), that Belgium, being aware of, or having a duty to be aware of the poor detention and reception conditions of asylum-seekers in Greece, should have relied upon the “sovereignty-clause” of the Dublin II Regulation, to refrain from transferring this individual to a country where he faced a real risk of becoming a victim of inhuman and degrading treatment in accordance with Article 3 ECHR.

Less than a year later, the ECJ addressed the same issue with the additional difficulty of having the duty to safeguard the Dublin system’s effet utile. In the famous N.S. case (C-411/10), the Court was indeed asked whether “a State which should transfer the asylum seeker [to the responsible Member State according to the Dublin regulation] is obliged to assess the compliance, by that Member State, with the fundamental rights of the European Union”.  In addressing this challenge, the ECJ relied – for the first time in the field of asylum – upon the principle of mutual trust between Member States, founded on the presumption that “all participating States [to the Dublin system] observe fundamental rights”, to conclude that it was inconceivable that “any infringement of a fundamental right by the Member State responsible” would affect the obligations of other Member States to comply with the Dublin Regulation (§82).

To maintain the effectiveness of the Dublin Regulation despite the existence of flaws in national asylum systems, the ECJ innovated by introducing the “systemic deficiencies test”, entailing that a transfer should be prohibited “if there are substantial grounds for believing that there are systemic flaws in the asylum procedure and reception conditions for asylum applicants in the Member State responsible, resulting in inhuman and degrading treatment, within the meaning of Article 4 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (corresponding to Article 3 ECHR), of asylum-seekers transferred to the territory of that Member State, the transfer would be incompatible with that provision” (§86).

To secure a clear, effective and fast method for determining the Member State responsible for dealing with an asylum application, the ECJ thus opted for a presumption of compliance by Dublin States with fundamental rights which could be rebutted in the presence of a “systemic deficiency in the asylum procedure and in the reception conditions of asylum-seekers” where Member States would be compelled to prevent the transfer (§89). This presumption of fundamental rights’ respect by Member States was subsequently applied by the ECJ in other judgements (C-4/11, Puid and C-394/12, Abdullahi).  In fact, the latter judgment expressly limited both the substantive and procedural grounds on which a Dublin transfer could be challenged.

Heavily criticized, this approach was condemned in Strasbourg with the Tarakhel case (application n°29217/12), in 2014 in which the ECtHR reaffirmed and specified its MSSjudgement by ruling that the Dublin system “does not exempt [national authorities] from carrying out a thorough and individualized examination of the situation of the person concerned and from suspending enforcement of the removal order should the risk of inhuman and degrading treatment be established”.

Stonewalling, one of the ECJ’s arguments against the draft agreement on the accession of the EU to the ECHR (Opinion 2/13) was the ECHR requirement that Member States “check that another Member State has observed fundamental rights, even though EU law imposes an obligation of mutual trust between those Member States” (Opinion 2/13, §194). The Court’s “systemic deficiencies” test was consolidated in the recast of the Dublin Regulation (Regulation 604/2013, Dublin III) whose Article 3(2) states that “where it is impossible to transfer an applicant to the Member State primarily designated as responsible because there are substantial grounds for believing that there are systemic flaws in the asylum procedure and in the reception conditions for applicants in that Member State, resulting in a risk of inhuman and degrading treatment within the meaning of Article 4 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the determining Member State shall continue to examine the criteria set out in Chapter III in order to establish whether another Member State can be designated as responsible”.

A first move from this case law has recently been observed in another field of EU cooperation, namely in EU criminal law. The question asked to the ECJ was whether detention conditions incompatible with art. 4 of the Charter in a Member State issuing a EAW could allow or oblige the executing judicial authority of a requested Member State to refuse the execution of a European Arrest Warrant (EAW). Once again, the ECJ was faced with the dilemma between securing a EU mechanism based on mutual trust or taking human rights considerations seriously. In its landmark ruling in the case Aranyosi and Căldăraru (C-404/15), the ECJ considered that in the event of “systemic or generalised, or which may affect certain groups of people, or which may affect certain places of detention” deficiencies, and only if “there are substantial grounds to believe that, following the surrender of that person to the issuing Member State, he or she will run a real risk of being subject in that Member State to inhuman and degrading treatment, within the meaning of Article 4” (§94), the executing authority will have to postpone the execution of the EAW.

Hence, a two-step analysis has to be carried out by the national judge who must first assess the existence of general or particular deficiencies in the detention system of the requesting state, before examining, in concreto, whether the requested person faces a real risk of being subject to inhuman and degrading treatment. It remained, however, unclear whether the exception to mutual trust provided in Aranyosi and Căldăraru was more or less protective of fundamental rights. Even though a second condition was added, the deficiency requirement seemed softened.

The ruling of the ECJ in C.K. and others: A Welcome Step Towards Reconciliation Between the Dublin system and Human Rights ?

Facts and Question referred to the ECJ

A couple with a newborn child lodged an asylum application in Slovenia whereas Croatia was, according to the Dublin criteria, responsible for examining their application. Noting the absence of systemic flaws in the Croatian asylum system but observing that the mother of the child was in a very bad state of health, the Slovene court asked the ECJ whether the reliance upon the sovereignty clause (Article 17 of Dublin III) could be mandatory for the purpose of ensuring the family an effective protection against risks of inhuman and degrading treatment. In other words, the national judge inquired whether Dublin transfers were only prohibited in case of the existence of systematic deficiencies in the responsible state, subjecting asylum-seekers to risks of violations of Article 4 of the Charter, or whether a transfer also had to be precluded when such a risk was faced due to the specific and individual situation of a particular asylum seeker.

The opinion of the Advocate General

Following the NS and Abdullahi approach, the opinion of Advocate General Tanchev argued that only systemic flaws in the responsible State could require the prevention of a Dublin transfer. Unsurprisingly, he justified his opinion on the principle of mutual trust between Member States and on the need to ensure the effectiveness of the CEAS (§51). He further acknowledged that his position did not meet ECtHR standards but stressed that the EU was not bound by it (§52). He moreover underlined that Article 17 of the Regulation constituted a “discretionary” clause which, by definition, could not be construed as imposing obligations on Member States (§ 67).

The judgment of the Court

The fifth Chamber of the ECJ – quite uncommonly – did not follow the Advocate General’s opinion. To the contrary, the ECJ stated that, besides situations where “systemic deficiencies” exist in the responsible state, any transfer of asylum-seekers shall be excluded where it gives rise to a real risk for the individual concerned to suffer inhuman or degrading treatment, within the meaning of Article 4 of the Charter.  Relying upon Article 52§3 of the Charter, the ECJ recalled that corresponding rights guaranteed both by the Charter and the ECHR should receive the same scope as those laid down by the Convention.

It then quoted Strasbourg’s recent ruling in Paposhvili v. Belgium (application n° 41738/10, § 175) according to which “illness may be covered by Article 3 [of the ECHR], where it is, or risks being, exacerbated by treatment, whether flowing from conditions of detention, expulsion or other measures, for which the authorities can be held responsible”. Consequently, despite the absence of systemic deficiencies in the Croatian reception conditions of asylum-seekers (§7), Slovenia was required to suspend the transfer due to the fact that it could result, because of the particular medical condition of the immigrant, in a real risk of serious and irremediable deterioration of her health condition (§84). The suspension should, according to the judgement, be maintained as long as that risk exists. On the basis of its ruling in Aranyosi, the Court also stressed that national authorities were required to assess the risk before transferring an individual (§76).

The Court added that if the state of health of the migrant was not expected to improve, the relevant Member State had the possibility to itself examine the asylum application on the basis of the sovereignty clause contained in Article 17§1 of the Regulation (§96). However, this provision does not, according to the ECJ, oblige a Member State to examine any application lodged with it, even when read in the light of Article 4 of the Charter.

The ECJ finally concluded that this holding “fully respected the principle of mutual trust since, far from affecting the presumption of respect of fundamental rights by Member States, it ensures that exceptional situations are duly taken into consideration by Member States” and furthermore, that “if a Member State proceeded to the transfer of an asylum-seeker in such circumstances, the resulting inhuman and degrading treatment would not be attributable, neither directly or indirectly, to the authorities of the responsible Member State, but solely to the first Member State”.

Comments

The ruling of the fifth Chamber seems to introduce a crucial change in the case law of the ECJ regarding the relationship between the principle of mutual trust and the protection of individuals against inhuman and degrading treatment. Instead of putting these two imperatives in competition, the Court seems, for the first time, to obviously acknowledge their necessary interdependence.  By considering that the principle of mutual trust would be enhanced by an effective application of Article 4 of the Charter, the ECJ finally appears to take seriously the fact that this principle is precisely founded on the respect by Member States of EU values including, above all, the principle of human dignity to which the prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment is closely linked (Article 2 TEU).

It is therefore not only in case of systemic or generalised flaws in the asylum system of a responsible Member State that a transfer may be prevented. Specific and individual considerations of asylum-seekers must be taken into account in order to assess whether he or she could suffer treatment incompatible with Article 4 of the Charter because of his/her transfer. The Court moreover endorses this requirement by holding that in case of failure in addressing this risk, the first Member State will shoulder responsibility for breach of the Charter.

It should however be stressed that, while the first judgements prioritising the principle of mutual trust were delivered by the ECJ Grand Chamber, the ruling in the case at hand was handed down by a Chamber of five judges whose authority could be considered as being weaker. Nevertheless, the ruling follows the general evolution of the case law of the ECJ which already underlined several times, following the last recast of the Dublin regulation, the fact that the changes of the system were “intended to make the necessary improvements, in the light of experience, not only to the effectiveness of the Dublin system but also to the protection afforded applicants under that system” (C-63/15, Ghezelbash, §52) The latter judgment (from June 2016) had already overturned the procedural aspects of the Abdullahi judgment; the CK ruling now overturns the substantive aspects.

This valuable step in favour of asylum-seekers’ fundamental rights protection nevertheless raises a number of practical questions. One could ask first – and this question was already put forward by other commentators – whether the risk of the violation of other fundamental rights than the prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment must justify an exception to the Dublin distribution of responsibilities and, thereby, to the principle of mutual trust. We think that, given the emphasis put by the Court on the exceptional character of the situation, not any breach of any fundamental rights would prevent Member States to rely upon the principle of mutual trust in order to transfer an asylum-seeker. To the contrary, only very serious risks of violation of absolute fundamental rights (Chapter I of the Charter) would in our view justify a mandatory suspension of the transfer of asylum-seekers.

Additionally, the ruling raises questions as regards the consequences of a suspension. As pointed out by the Court, a Member State would never be obliged to itself assess, on the basis of the sovereignty clause (Article 17.1 Dublin III), an asylum application which falls within the responsibility of another State. What if, because of the individual situation of the asylum seeker, the transfer should be suspended in the long term? The finding of the ECJ could then result in the existence of “refugees in orbit”, asylum-seekers who lose the certainty of having their application examined by any Member State of the Union – something which the Dublin system especially seeks to prevent and that could, in itself, constitute an inhuman and degrading treatment.

Finally, the question of the applicability of this approach to EU criminal cooperation should also be raised. The Court seemed, until its holding in the Aranyosi case, very reluctant to acknowledge any exception to the principle of mutual trust in the framework of the European Arrest Warrant (see, among others, the cases C-396/11 Radu and C-399/11, Melloni). The ruling in C.K. should however, in our opinion, be seen as applicable also in the field of criminal cooperation if such exceptional circumstances are met since the ruling especially relies upon the judgment in Aranyosi and also due to the absolute character of the prohibition laid down in art. 4 of the Charter Now the two lines of case law have been brought together, but they raise parallel questions about the long-term consequences. Indeed, the Court of Justice has already been asked to elaborate on the Aranyosi ruling, in the pending Aranyosi II case. So its ruling in that case may be equally relevant to Dublin cases.

In any case, the change of position of the ECJ seems much more in compliance both with the ECHR and, also, with the constitutional requirements of certain national legal orders. Indeed, the German Constitutional Court did not hesitate, in its judgment of 15 December 2015, to make an exception to the principle of mutual trust, as implemented by the EAW system, in order to protect the right of human dignity, which, according to this ruling, forms part of German constitutional identity.

One can henceforth wonder whether the C.K. and Aranyosi rulings generally overturn the Opinion 2/13 argument based on the principle of mutual trust opposed, among others, by the ECJ against the EU’s draft accession agreement to the ECHR… Either way, this new setting should, without a doubt, have an important impact on today’s and future’s relationships between the EU legal order, on the one hand, with the ECHR and national legal orders, on the other.

(*)  Research Fellow at the Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research affiliated to the Centre of Interdisciplinary Research in Constitutional Law of Saint-Louis University (USL-B) and the Centre of European Law of the Free University Brussels (ULB). The author wishes to thank the Professors E. Bribosia and S. Van Drooghenbroeck for their valuable advice.

 

The Mejiers Committee on the inter-parliamentary scrutiny of Europol

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON THE MEJIERS COMMITTE (*) PAGE  HERE

  1. Introducton

Article 88 TFEU provides for a unique form of scrutiny on the functioning of Europol. It lays down that the [regulations on Europol] shall also lay down the procedures for scrutiny of Europol’s activities by the European Parliament, together with national Parliaments.

Such a procedure is now laid down in Article 51 of the Europol Regulation (Regulation (EU) 2016/794), which provides for the establishment of a “specialized Joint Parliamentary Scrutiny Group (JPSG)”, which will play the central role in ensuring this scrutiny. The Europol Regulation shall apply from 1st of May 2017.

Article 51 of the Europol Regulation also closely relates to Protocol (1) of the Lisbon Treaty on the role of national parliaments in the EU. Article 9 of that protocol provides: “The European Parliament and national Parliaments shall together determine the organization and promotion of effective and regular inter-parliamentary cooperation within the Union.”

Article 51 (2) does not only lay down the basis for the political monitoring of Europol’s activities (the democratic perspective), but also stipulates that “in fulfilling its mission”, it should pay attention to the impact of the activities of Europol on the fundamental rights and freedoms of natural persons (the perspective of the rule of law).

The Meijers Committee takes the view that improving the inter-parliamentary scrutiny of Europol, with appropriate involvement of both the national and the European levels, will by itself enhance the attention being paid by Europol on the perspectives of democracy and the rule of law, and more in particular the fundamental rights protection. It will raise the alertness of Europol as concerns these perspectives.

Moreover, the scrutiny mechanism could pay specific attention to the fundamental rights protection within Europol. This is particularly important in view of the large amounts of – often sensitive – personal data processed by Europol and exchanged with national police authorities of Member States and also with authorities of third countries.

The implementation of Article 51 into practice is currently debated, e.g. in the inter-parliamentary committee of the European Parliament and national parliaments.1 As specified by Article 51 (1) of the Europol regulation, the organization and the rules of procedure of the JPSG shall be determined.

The Meijers Commitee wishes to engage in this debate and makes, in this note, recommendations on the organization and rules of procedure.

  1. Context

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Terrorisme et droit des réfugiés, des liaisons dangereuses ? Libres propos sur le « Muslim Ban » et la jurisprudence Lounani de la Cour de justice

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED HERE ON 13 FÉVRIER 2017

par  Henri Labayle

Les polémiques entourant l’application de l’Executive Order signé le 25 janvier 2017 par Donald Trump, président des Etats Unis nouvellement élu, interdisant temporairement l’entrée aux Etats-Unis aux ressortissants de sept pays et suspendant le jeu de la protection internationale, ont quitté les colonnes médiatiques pour pénétrer les prétoires. Motivé par le désir de lutter préventivement contre le terrorisme, selon ses auteurs, et par une volonté discriminatoire envers les musulmans, selon ses détracteurs, le texte pose de graves problèmes juridiques.

L’attention qu’on lui porte ne doit pas masquer qu’au même moment, le 31 janvier 2017, la Cour de justice de l’Union prononçait un arrêt important sur les liens qui peuvent être établis entre la nécessité de lutter contre le terrorisme et le dispositif protecteur des réfugiés politiques (CJUE, 31 janvier 2017, Lounani, C-573/16).

Si l’on ajoute à ces épisodes majeurs l’émoi provoqué en Turquie le 26 janvier 2017 par le refus de la Cour suprême grecque d’accepter l’extradition de huit militaires turcs qualifiés eux-aussi de « terroristes », on mesure à quel point les liaisons dangereuses désormais établies au grand jour entre le droit des réfugiés et la lutte contre le terrorisme deviennent monnaie courante et alimentent le débat public, juridique ou pas.

Ce constat mérite un éclairage et suscite une réflexion d’autant plus nécessaire que ces liaisons sont parfois fondées, malheureusement. Depuis le 11 septembre 2001, la lutte contre le terrorisme met en question ouvertement le jeu des règles du droit des réfugiés, à force d’amalgames (I), au risque de fragiliser la protection qui est due à ces réfugiés (II). D’où l’intérêt d’un contrôle attentif du juge, interne comme européen (III).

1. La stigmatisation croissante du droit des réfugiés

Dès le lendemain des attentats du 11 septembre, la brèche s’est ouverte aux yeux de tous. On se souvient en effet qu’en réaction, lors de sa session extraordinaire du 20 septembre, le Conseil « Justice et affaires intérieures » avait immédiatement invité la Commission à examiner le « rapport entre la sauvegarde de la sécurité intérieure et le respect des obligations et instruments internationaux en matière de protection ». A cette insinuation à peine dissimulée, la Commission avait opposé un rappel du droit positif en la matière (COM (2001) 743).

S’il n’était guère envisageable, à l’époque, de remettre sérieusement en question la protection offerte par les règles de l’asile conventionnel, même au vu des attentats du WTC, en revanche, quinze ans plus tard, le contexte a changé. La montée en charge du terrorisme aveugle éclaire différemment l’attitude politique des Etats, sinon des institutions de l’Union, et la tentation des uns ou des autres est grande d’infléchir le droit.

Un nombre grandissant d’affaires, pas toujours contentieuses, ont ainsi fait la démonstration que les deux questions, terrorisme et protection internationale, n’étaient plus aussi étanches que par le passé. La mise à jour de leurs relations a obligé à une réflexion d’ensemble, entamée sans états d’âme par exemple avec l’élargissement des missions de Frontex aux questions sécuritaires. La connexion des deux grands volets de l’Espace de liberté, sécurité justice de l’Union, ceux de la sécurité et de la migration, s’est désormais opérée sans que l’on en ait mesuré exactement les risques et les implications.

Lointaines peuvent sembler à ce titre ces premières interrogations de la fin des années quatre-vingt, lorsque le Conseil d’Etat français autorisa la livraison vers l’Espagne de terroristes basques malgré leurs prétentions au refuge, tout en exigeant la perte de leur statut protecteur. Tout aussi éloignés paraissent les débats relatifs au fait du prince d’un ancien président de la République, se croyant en droit d’accorder le refuge à un ancien terroriste italien, avant que le Conseil d’Etat ne dénie toute portée juridique à cette prétention. Beaucoup plus douloureuses, en revanche, sont des affaires comme celle de l’inspirateur présumé de l’attentat d’Istanbul, Ahmed Tchataïev, auquel l’Autriche accorda le statut de réfugié politique et dont la CEDH avait interdit la livraison à la Russie en 2010. Bien plus parlantes, enfin et parmi d’autres, sont les affaires Nasr et Ghali c. Italieet Abu Qatada c. Royaume Uni, tranchées par la Cour européenne des droits de l’Homme.

Dans la première, à Rome, la « restitution extraordinaire » d’un membre d’un mouvement islamiste considéré comme terroriste, effectuée par des services secrets américains, va ainsi donner l’occasion de constater que l’intéressé, condamné par la justice italienne pour des faits de terrorisme, n’en bénéficiait pas moins du statut de réfugié politique délivré par l’Italie. Dans l’autre affaire, relative à un prêcheur islamiste radical convaincu de liens avec Al Qaida et chantre du terrorisme favori des tabloïds britanniques, il s’avèrera à l’examen que, là encore, les autorités locales lui avaient accordé le statut de réfugié politique.

Que, le plus souvent, le refuge soit accordé en raison du risque de traitements attentatoires aux droits de l’Homme dans l’Etat où ils sont poursuivis laisse cependant les opinions publiques nationales aussi indifférentes à l’explication juridique qu’incrédules devant ce qu’elles interprètent comme une défaillance de la puissance publique. Pire, elles en attribuent la responsabilité à l’intégration européenne.

D’autant que ces brèches dans l’idée, généralement partagée jusqu’alors, selon laquelle les demandeurs de protection internationale sont avant tout des victimes et non des bourreaux se sont notablement s’élargies à la suite des attentats en France et en Belgique.

Les enquêtes judiciaires démontrent en effet que la crise migratoire de l’été 2015 a été utilisée, ponctuellement mais à plusieurs reprises, par les commandos ayant frappé en France pour circuler en toute impunité. Ce dont atteste le rapport annuel 2016 de Frontex sur l’analyse des risques, constatant que deux des responsables des attentats de Paris en novembre avaient utilisé la couverture du flot de réfugiés pour pénétrer illégalement dans l’Union. Pratique identique à celle de suspects d’un attentat avorté à Dusseldorf en 2016, avant que le dossier de l’auteur de l’attentat du marché de Noel de Berlin ne révèle qu’il avait été auparavant demandeur d’asile. L’effet de ces constats est dévastateur pour l’acceptation du droit des réfugiés et sa légitimité.

Aux yeux de l’opinion publique, l’équation terrorisme/réfugiés ou migration s’ancre ainsi progressivement, irrationnellement, comme le constate en vain Gilles de Kerchove, coordonnateur de la lutte contre le terrorisme. Que le Rapporteur spécial du Conseil des droits de l’homme sur la promotion et la protection des droits de l’homme et des libertés fondamentales dans la lutte antiterroriste de l’ONU, Ben Emmerson, s’efforce de faire la démonstration de cette absence de liens ou même que les Etats Unis d’avant Donald Trump aient ouvertement reconnu que les deux questions n’étaient pas liées n’émeut pas davantage.

Une rhétorique nouvelle au sein de l’Union européenne s’en nourrit et prospère. A l’Est notamment, hostile à la fois à l’accueil et au jeu de la solidarité dans la répartition des demandeurs de protection dans l’Union. Le risque terroriste sera ainsi ouvertement évoqué par les dirigeants de plusieurs Etats lors de la crise migratoire, quand leur propre justice ne qualifiera pas de « terroristes » ceux qui franchissent leurs frontières …

Comment ne pas comprendre que cette dérive ait alors inspiré la mise en application du programme de Donald Trump et que son action ait reçu un écho parfois favorable dans certaines capitales ? Du Premier ministre slovaque, Robert Fico, désireux « d’empêcher la création d’une communauté musulmane dans le pays » aux réticences polonaises et au blocage hongrois, tout va concourir dans une partie de l’Union à la chaude approbation du décret du nouveau président américain par son homologue tchèque : « Trump is protecting his country, he’s concerned with the safety of his citizens… the safety of Czech citizens is a priority. Now we have allies in the US ».

En droit, et ce n’est pas le plus simple à manier aux yeux des citoyens de l’Union, il n’en va pas aussi facilement.

2. L’étendue de la protection offerte par le droit des réfugiés

Sous deux angles très différents, l’Union européenne et les Etats Unis d’Amérique viennent d’être confrontés à cette relation délicate qu’il convient d’établir entre les obligations relatives à la protection internationale d’une part, et, d’autre part l’impératif qu’il y a à prévenir et à lutter contre le terrorisme international. Avec une intelligence certaine, la Cour de justice s’emploie ainsi à démontrer que la protection offerte par le droit des réfugiés, celui de Genève comme celui de l’Union, n’est pas sans limites. Balayant toute nuance, l’exécutif américain a choisi au contraire la brutalité.

Les termes du droit international positif sont clairs, posant des interdits autant que des possibilités d’agir (a). Au nom de la prévention du terrorisme et en des termes très politiques, l’Executive order signé par Donald Trump, le 27 janvier 2017 a pourtant défrayé la chronique internationale par son ampleur (b) . A l’opposé, dans une démarche très juridique, la Cour de justice s’est efforcée de démontrer que le cadre existant ne privait pas les Etats de moyens de répondre au terrorisme, le 31 janvier 2017 dans l’affaire Lounani (a).

a) – Le contenu des obligations pesant sur les Etats

L’article 1er F de la Convention de Genève, au respect desquels les Etats Unis d’Amérique comme les Etats membres de l’Union sont tenus, la déclare non applicable « aux personnes dont on aura des raisons sérieuses de penser :

a)  qu’elles ont commis un crime contre la paix, un crime de guerre ou un crime contre l’humanité, au sens des instruments internationaux élaborés pour prévoir des dispositions relatives à ces crimes; 


b)  qu’elles ont commis un crime grave de droit commun en dehors du pays d’accueil avant d’y être admises comme réfugiées ; 


c)  qu’elles se sont rendues coupables d’agissements contraires aux buts et aux principes des Nations Unies».

A cela, la jurisprudence de la Cour européenne ajoute ses interdits quant à l’impossibilité de renvoyer un individu, quel qu’il soit, vers une destination où il risquerait d’être soumis à un traitement prohibé par les articles 2 et 3 de la CEDH. Ce qui a permis à la protection dite « subsidiaire » de trouver reconnaissance sans que cela signifie un seul instant une quelconque approbation de la cause défendue.

Deux articles clés de la Convention de Genève, ordonnent ensuite le débat autour de cette « pierre angulaire » du régime juridique applicable aux réfugiés, comme la Cour de justice s’en est fait déjà l’écho (CJUE, 9 novembre 2010, B et D (C‐57/09 et C‐101/09, point 77).

Son article 33, d’abord, interdit à la fois l’expulsion et le refoulement dans son §1er : « aucun des Etats Contractants n’expulsera ou ne refoulera, de quelque manière que ce soit, un réfugié sur les frontières des territoires où sa vie ou sa liberté serait menacée en raison de sa race, de sa religion, de sa nationalité, de son appartenance à un certain groupe social ou de ses opinions politiques ». La force de cette interdiction est soulignée par le fait que, en vertu de l’article 42 du texte, aucune réserve étatique n’est admise à ce sujet.

Certes, en vertu du §2 du même article 33, le bénéfice de cette disposition ne peut être invoqué par un réfugié qu’il y aura des raisons sérieuses de considérer comme un danger pour la sécurité du pays où il se trouve ou qui, ayant été l’objet d’une condamnation définitive pour un crime ou délit particulièrement grave, « constitue une menace pour la communauté dudit pays ».

D’où la confrontation de ces interdits avec les pratiques américaines ou européennes, qu’il s’agisse de prévenir le terrorisme ou de lui répondre.

b) – Droit des réfugiés et prévention du terrorisme

Telle est la motivation avancée par le texte de l’Executive order du 27 janvier 2017. Il ne fait aucun mystère des liens qu’il établit a priori entre terrorisme et immigration irrégulière et son intitulé est sans ambiguïté aucune à l’instant d’expliciter son objectif : « Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States ».

Aussi, indépendamment des questions portant sur la suspension des visas des ressortissants d’un certain nombre de pays tiers, dont sept Etats ciblés au Proche Orient (Irak, Iran, Libye, Somalie, Soudan, Syrie, Yémen), la volonté présidentielle vise-t-elle spécifiquement les étrangers à la recherche d’une protection. Ce que la section 5 du texte exprime en affichant un « Realignment of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for Fiscal Year 2017 ». Celui-ci comporte des mesures clairement contraires aux obligations internationales pesant sur les Etats Unis.

Il procède, en premier lieu, à la suspension du programme d’admission des États -Unis pour les réfugiés (USRAP) pendant 120 jours. Ces quatre mois permettront au Secrétaire d’Etat d’examiner l’état du droit existant, pourtant déjà réputé comme restrictif, et de déterminer les modifications éventuelles des procédures garantissant que l’admission des réfugiés ne constitue pas une menace à la sécurité et le bien-être des Etats-Unis.

Cette suspension est assortie d’une précision chiffrée quant à la capacité d’accueil des USA : leur président « proclaim that the entry of more than 50,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017 would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I determine that additional admissions would be in the national interest » (Section 5, d)).

Il y ajoute ensuite des instructions particulièrement problématiques visant à distinguer les « bons » des « mauvais » demandeurs d’asile et à leur donner priorité, notamment à partir de critères religieux : invitation est ainsi faite au Secrétaire d’Etat, en consultation avec son homologue à la Sécurité intérieure, de modifier les pratiques existantes, « to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious- based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality » (Section 5, b)).

Enfin, pour ce qui est des ressortissants syriens qui sont aujourd’hui l’objet d’une préoccupation majeure de la Communauté internationale du point de vue des besoins de protection, le couperet tombe : leur entrée en tant que réfugiés est jugée comme « contraire aux intérêts des Etats Unis » et donc interdite par principe jusqu’à réexamen : « I hereby proclaim that the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the United States and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I have determined that sufficient changes have been made to the USRAP to ensure that admission of Syrian refugees is consistent with the national interest ».

Inversant la logique qui structure le droit humanitaire, celle qui voudrait qu’il profite avant tout à la personne, l’Executive order du 27 janvier reconnaît la possibilité de dérogations discrétionnaires mais bornées par un constat sidérant. Ainsi, une admission dérogatoire peut être envisagée, au cas par cas, si elle est « in the national interest » (sic !!!), et pour des motifs liés notamment à l’existence de persécutions religieuses dont on voit bien à quoi elles réfèrent.

Il est donc difficile de ne pas conclure à un mépris délibéré des obligations internationales des Etats Unis. Cela est à la fois potentiellement avéré pour ce qui est de l’obligation de non-refoulement et tout à fait évident pour ce qui est de l’article 3 de la convention de Genève.

Ce dernier affirme que « les Etats Contractants appliqueront les dispositions de cette Convention aux réfugiés sans discrimination quant à la race, la religion ou le pays d’origine ». Rapidement qualifié par la presse et les opinions publiques comme un « Muslim Ban », le texte du président nouvellement élu est clairement discriminatoire, ce dont son auteur ne faisait guère mystère lors des débats électoraux. On comprend alors la volée internationale de bois vert qui l’a accueilli, d’Angela Merkel au Secrétaire général des Nations Unies et de nombre de ses collaborateurs en matière de droits fondamentaux sans que le HCR, vraisemblablement inquiet pour ses modalités de fonctionnement, ne se signale par une virulence particulière.

Il reste qu’en dehors d’une action étatique improbable devant la Cour de justice, rien ne menace en fait l’unilatéralisme américain en l’espèce. ce dernier n’en serait qu’à ses débuts si l’on en croit la promesse d’un nouvel Executive order relatif à la position des Etats Unis dans les négociations des traités relatifs aux droits de l’Homme…

c) – Exclusion du statut de réfugié et participation à des activités terroristes

La question n’est, malheureusement, pas nouvelle. La Cour de justice a déjà eu à en connaître à propos d’individus convaincus de connivences terroristes avant leur arrivée sur le territoire de l’Union, dans un pays tiers, et désireux soit de conserver soit d’obtenir le statut de réfugié (CJUE, 9 novembre 2010, B et D (C‐57/09 et C‐101/09 précité). Le juge avait eu à cette occasion à interpréter les « clauses d’exclusion » de la protection telles que les définit l’article 12 de la directive 2004/83 dite « qualification ». Elle avait eu aussi à se pencher sur les conséquences à en tirer quant à un titre de séjour, comme l’on en a traité déjà vu ici (CJUE, 24 juin 2015, H.T, C-373/13).

Le 31 janvier, le problème posé était sensiblement différent, à plusieurs égards. Le requérant, Mostafa Lounani, s’était vu reconnaître, en appel et en 2010, la qualité de réfugié par le Conseil belge du contentieux des étrangers, au motif de sa crainte de persécution en cas de retour dans son pays d’origine.

Inscrit sur la liste antiterroriste des Nations Unies depuis 2002, ce ressortissant marocain avait été condamné en 2006 en Belgique à une peine de six ans d’emprisonnement pour « participation aux activités d’un groupe terroriste », en l’occurrence un réseau islamique, ceci en tant que membre dirigeant. Il participait en effet à l’activité d’une cellule apportant son soutien logistique à un mouvement terroriste envoyant des « combattants étrangers » en Irak. L’activité terroriste incriminée se situait donc ici sur le territoire de l’Union, à l’inverse de l’affaire B. et D.

Pourtant, le juge national des étrangers estimait que les faits spécifiquement reprochés à M. Lounani ne constituaient pas des infractions terroristes en tant que telles, sa condamnation ayant été prononcée pour son « appartenance » à un groupe terroriste et non pour la commission précise et individualisée d’un acte terroriste. Selon le juge interne, aucun des agissements pour lesquels M. Lounani avait été condamné n’atteignait le degré de gravité requis pour être qualifié d’« agissements contraires aux buts et aux principes des Nations unies » au sens de la directive 2004/83, ce pourquoi le juge avait refusé de modifier sa position, malgré une première censure par le Conseil d’Etat.

Plutôt que de poursuivre un bras de fer inutile avec le Conseil du contentieux des étrangers, le Conseil d’Etat belge désirait donc savoir dans quelles conditions un demandeur de protection peut être exclu du statut de réfugié pour des « agissements contraires aux buts et aux principes des Nations unies » lorsqu’il a fait l’objet d’une condamnation pénale pour participation aux activités d’un groupe terroriste, sans avoir lui-même commis un acte de terrorisme. Il avait donc saisi la Cour de justice à titre préjudiciel sur ce point.

Répondre à cette interrogation impliquait de mobiliser à la fois le droit de l’Union applicable aux réfugiés mais aussi celui relatif au terrorisme et, notamment, la décision-cadre 2002/475 dont l’article 1er liste les « infractions terroristes », le tout à la lumière du droit de Genève. Conclure à la coïncidence de l’article 12 §2 de la directive 2004/83 et de l’article 1er F de la Convention de Genève était donc l’enjeu de l’arrêt rendu le 31 janvier. Une lecture commune des « agissements contraires aux buts et principes des Nations Unies » figurant dans les deux textes aurait ainsi établi une passerelle susceptible de stigmatiser les actes terroristes mais aussi la participation aux activités d’un réseau terroriste.

Le juge a donc été en charge d’opérer les rappels nécessaires au droit, au plan interne américain comme au plan européen.

3. La complémentarité des protections juridictionnelles

Paradoxalement et bien qu’ils aient été saisis dans un contexte qui n’est absolument pas comparable, le juge interne américain et européen ont, à quelques jours près, et la coïncidence est remarquable, parlé le même langage : celui de la légitimité de la défense de l’Etat dans un contexte terroriste, couplée à son caractère démocratique.

a) – la protection offerte par le juge interne

Si elle a défrayé bruyamment la chronique en ce qu’elle a tenu en échec un président nouvellement élu auquel elle infligeait un démenti cinglant, l’intervention du juge fédéral américain est, quasiment pour l‘essentiel, située sur le terrain du droit interne. Elle est, à ce titre, largement approuvée par la doctrine américaine et la presse. Elle n’en est pas moins instructive quant à la haute image que le juge se fait de sa fonction.

L’Etat de Washington et celui de Minnesota ayant eu gain de cause dans un premier temps devant un juge fédéral avec la suspension de l’Executive order, le 3 février 2017, l’appel de Donald Trump formé devant la Cour d’appel de San Francisco était particulièrement attendu, par les observateurs comme par les milliers de personnes touchées par la mesure. Ce dernier a conduit à un débat contentieux centré sur des questions de nature constitutionnelle, tranché par un rejet de l’appel prononcé à l’unanimité (State of Washington, State of Minnesota V. Donald J. Trump No. 17-35105).

L’essentiel de l’enjeu, aux yeux de la quinzaine d’Etats, des 130 entreprises et des 300 professeurs de droit s’étant transformés en « amicus curiae », était moins d’ordre conventionnel que constitutionnel : quel contrôle judiciaire effectuer sur une telle décision de l’exécutif, au risque de transgresser la séparation des pouvoirs comme ce dernier le défendait devant la Cour ?

La réponse unanime de la Cour d’appel est sans détours. Elle renvoie solennellement aux composantes d’un Etat de droit : « there is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy ».

A cet égard, elle devrait calmer les ardeurs des partisans de la poursuite de la querelle devant la Cour suprême : « although our jurisprudence has long counseled deference to the political branches on matters of immigration and national security, neither the Supreme Court nor our court has ever held that courts lack the authority to review executive action in those arenas for compliance with the Constitution. To the contrary, the Supreme Court has repeatedly and explicitly rejected the notion that the political branches have unreviewable authority over immigration or are not subject to the Constitution when policymaking in that context ». En d’autres termes, « it is beyond question that the federal judiciary retains the authority to adjudicate constitutional challenges to executive action ».

La question centrale pour notre propos, celle de la situation contentieuse des demandeurs de protection et de la violation évidente du principe de non-discrimination, a donc été largement évitée, même si elle était lourdement mise en avant par les Etats fédérés et diverses associations.

Néanmoins, conscient de la gravité des enjeux et des conséquences individuelles du texte, le juge d’appel est visiblement préoccupé par la facilité avec laquelle le terrorisme fournit un alibi facile aux gouvernants pour porter atteinte aux principes fondamentaux. S’il se borne à quelques remarques qui font mouche, au point de laisser douter de l’utilité d’un recours au juge constitutionnel, il n’en démonte pas moins ouvertement la crédibilité des arguments avancés pour adopter le « Muslim Ban », multipliant les allusions directes à l’absence de démonstration probante d’une menace terroriste par ses auteurs.

Quant à la discrimination religieuse que niait l’exécutif malgré de nombreux propos publics tenus lors de la campagne électorale, la Cour note l’importance des griefs soulevés par les Etats sur ce terrain constitutionnel : « in light of the sensitive interests involved, the pace of the current emergency proceedings, and our conclusion that the Government has not met its burden of showing likelihood of success on appeal on its arguments with respect to the due process claim, we reserve consideration of these claims until the merits of this appeal have been fully briefed ».

Quant au sérieux de la motivation de l’Executive order, enfin, le juge fédéral est cruel pour son auteur : « the Government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the Order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States. Rather than present evidence to explain the need for the Executive Order, the Government has taken the position that we must not review its decision at all. We disagree, as explained above ».

De façon plus générale, à l’instant de mettre en balance intérêt général et intérêts individuels, « the Government has not shown that a stay is necessary to avoid irreparable injury …. Although we agree that “the Government’s interest in combating terrorism is an urgent objective of the highest order …, the Government has done little more than reiterate that fact. Despite the district court’s and our own repeated invitations to explain the urgent need for the Executive Order to be placed immediately into effect, the Government submitted no evidence to rebut the States’ argument that the district court’s order merely returned the nation temporarily to the position it has occupied for many previous years ».

La coupe est alors pleine : « finally, in evaluating the need for a stay, we must consider the public interest generally… Aspects of the public interest favor both sides, as evidenced by the massive attention this case has garnered at even the most preliminary stages. On the one hand, the public has a powerful interest in national security and in the ability of an elected president to enact policies. And on the other, the public also has an interest in free flow of travel, in avoiding separation of families, and in freedom from discrimination. We need not characterize the public interest more definitely than this; when considered alongside the hardships discussed above, these competing public interests do not justify a stay ».

b) – l’interprétation extensive du juge de l’Union

Incapable de se plier à ses propres décisions de relocalisation des réfugiés, l’Union est encore bien loin de tels débats… Une toute autre logique anime donc la Cour de justice dans l’affaire Lounani où il lui revenait de délimiter le champ d’application de la protection offerte par le statut de réfugié, en cas de lien de son bénéficiaire avec le terrorisme et ceci dans le silence de l’article 1er F de la convention de Genève à propos de la nature de ces liens. Interpréter les dispositions de ce droit de manière à ne pas entraver la lutte nécessaire des Etats contre le terrorisme, tel était le défi à relever et le message à leur adresser.

Lire les clauses d’exclusion du statut de réfugié de la directive 2004/83 de façon étroite, en les calquant sur les infractions terroristes énumérées dans l’article 1er §1 de la décision-cadre 2002/475/JAI était une option. Elle ne permettait pas de saisir la « participation » pour laquelle M. Lounani avait été condamné en Belgique. Au contraire, faire le choix d’interpréter ces clauses d’exclusion à la lumière de la Convention de Genève permettait d’élargir leur champ.

La Cour de justice va retenir cette démarche, le 31 janvier 2017, dans la droite ligne de sa jurisprudence antérieure (CJUE, 9 novembre 2010, B et D, C‐57/09 et C‐101/09, préc.  pt 78 ; CJUE 2 décembre 2014, A e.a., C-148/13 à C‐150/13, point 46). Parce que la directive 2004/83 se réfère expressément dans sa motivation et son article 12 §2 relatif à « l’exclusion » aux « agissements contraires aux buts et aux principes des Nations unies tels qu’ils figurent dans le préambule et aux articles 1er et 2 de la charte des Nations unies », il lui est facile de répondre. Cet article « correspond en substance à l’article 1er, section F, sous c), de la convention de Genève, lequel prévoit que les dispositions de cette convention ne seront pas applicables aux personnes dont on aura des raisons sérieuses de penser qu’elles se sont rendues coupables d’agissements contraires aux buts et aux principes des Nations unies (pt 43).

Le considérant 22 de la même directive renvoyant aux résolutions pertinentes des Nations Unies, il lui est également aisé de déduire de la résolution 1624 (2005) du Conseil de sécurité que les « agissements contraires aux buts et aux principes des Nations unies » ne se limitent pas aux « actes, méthodes et pratiques terroristes ». En effet, le Conseil de sécurité y invite les États, pour lutter contre le terrorisme, conformément aux obligations qui leur incombent en vertu du droit international, à priver d’asile et traduire en justice « quiconque prête appui au financement, à l’organisation, à la préparation ou à la commission d’actes de terrorisme, y concourt, y participe ou tente d’y participer, ou donne refuge à leurs auteurs » (pt 47). Postérieure à la décision-cadre 2002/475, la directive 2004/83 n’a donc pas entendu s’y référer et limiter son champ d’application à sa lumière.

Il restait alors à conclure sur le fait de savoir si des actes de « participation aux activités d’un groupe terroriste », tels que ceux ayant motivé la condamnation de M. Lounani, pouvaient relever de la cause d’exclusion alors même qu’il n’avait ni commis ni tenté ou menacé de commettre un acte de terrorisme. Ici, la Cour ne se laisse en rien brider par les débats en cours au Parlement européen relatifs à l’adoption de la directive remplaçant la décision-cadre 2002/475 et démontre, quasi-explicitement que le terrorisme ne saurait se réclamer de la protection du droit de l’Union.

Pour la Cour, il est acquis que la clause d’exclusion « ne saurait être limitée aux auteurs effectifs d’actes de terrorisme mais qu’elle peut également s’étendre aux individus qui se livrent à des activités de recrutement, d’organisation, de transport ou d’équipement bénéficiant à des personnes qui se rendent dans un Etat autre que leur Etat de résidence ou de nationalité dans le dessein, notamment, de commettre, d’organiser ou de préparer des actes de terrorisme » (pt 69). Elle estime que « la participation aux activités d’un groupe terroriste peut couvrir un large éventail de comportements d’un degré de gravité variable » (pt 71).

Evaluer l’impact de la condamnation pénale nationale s’avérait alors essentiel ici, d’aucuns estimant qu’elle valait automatiquement exclusion ou, a minima, « présomption réfragable » comme le gouvernement français l’avançait. La Cour a déjà rejeté cette conception dans sa jurisprudence précitée B. et D, relative au seul fait d’appartenance à une organisation terroriste, car les conditions d’exclusion présupposent un examen complet de toutes les circonstances propres à chaque cas individuel. Elle avait ainsi précisé que « l’autorité compétente doit notamment examiner le rôle qu’a effectivement joué la personne concernée dans la perpétration des actes en question, sa position au sein de l’organisation, le degré de connaissance qu’elle avait ou était censée avoir des activités de celle-ci, les éventuelles pressions auxquelles elle aurait été soumise ou d’autres facteurs susceptibles d’influencer son comportement » (pts 87 et 94).

La Cour de justice réitère ici ce point de vue en indiquant que l’exclusion ne peut avoir lieu qu’après « avoir procédé, pour chaque cas individuel, à une évaluation des faits précis dont elle a connaissance en vue de déterminer s’il existe des raisons sérieuses de penser que les actes commis par l’intéressé, qui remplit par ailleurs les critères pour obtenir le statut de réfugié, relèvent de ce cas d’exclusion » (pt 72).

Elle reprend à son compte implicitement à propos du cas Lounani la précision procédurale proposée par son avocat général, à savoir vérifier dans un premier temps si l’organisation en cause est une organisation terroriste avant d’évaluer les faits spécifiques imputés à la personne concernée (appréciation de la structure de l’organisation, de la position de la personne en son sein, de sa capacité à influencer les activités du groupe, de son implication dans la planification, la prise de décision ou la direction d’autres personnes en vue de commettre des actes de terrorisme…). En bref, il s’agit dans son esprit d’éviter la hâte avec laquelle, parfois, la lutte anti-terroriste s’affranchit des garanties procédurales individuelles.

Sur cette base, en l’espèce, sa conclusion est sans appel : « la circonstance, à la supposer établie, que le groupe dont M. Lounani était un membre dirigeant n’aurait pas perpétré d’acte de terrorisme ou que les volontaires souhaitant se rendre en Irak aidés par ce groupe n’auraient finalement pas commis de tels actes n’est, en tout état de cause, pas de nature à exclure que les agissements de M. Lounani puissent être considérés comme contraires aux buts et aux principes des Nations unies » (pt 77). Il n’est donc pas exigé qu’il ait été l’instigateur ou l’acteur de l’infraction pour procéder à son exclusion.

Dans ce contexte, la prise en considération de la décision de justice nationale est particulièrement pertinente, sans pour autant transformer la directive 2004/83 en instrument d’application de la lutte contre le terrorisme en mécanisant l’appréciation de l’Etat. Cette décision « revêt, dans le cadre de l’évaluation individuelle à laquelle doit procéder l’autorité compétente, une importance particulière » mais elle conserve intact en l’état le pouvoir d’évaluation de la situation à l’instant de se prononcer.

Au total, en ce début d’année et à l’inverse de ce qu’il est souvent avancé, le juge interne comme européen révèle ici la richesse de son office, malgré un contexte de crise sécuritaire particulièrement lourd : garantir les intérêts de la défense de la société, dans le cadre démocratique d’une Communauté et d’un Etat de droit. Faut-il vraiment se féliciter que l’actualité lui ait fourni l’occasion de nous le rappeler ?

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The time has come to complain about the EU Terrorism Directive

By Maryant Fernández Pérez

Nearly a year has passed since we told that you’d be now complaining about the Terrorism Directive. On 16 February, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) will vote on the draft Terrorism Directive. EU policy-makers have meaningfully addressed only very few of the concerns that EDRi and other NGOs have raised since the beginning of the EU legislative process.

We worked hard during the elaboration of the Terrorism Directive at the EU level: we defended digital rights since the very beginning, providing policy-makers with expert input; we joined forces with other digital rights organisations; and raised our voice against key proposals together with NGOs like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW), the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the Open Society Foundations (OSF), the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) and the Fundamental Rights European Experts (FREE) Group (see our joint statements here and here). As a result of the hard work and numerous exchanges with policy-makers, not everything in the Directive is bad for digital rights.

What’s good?

Unfortunately, not as much as we would like. However, there are still some positives. Several provisions that we had advocated for are part of the final text, for example an assurance, in principle, of being able to express radical, polemic or controversial views.

We managed to eliminate mandatory internet “blocking”, and some safeguards were introduced with regard to removing and blocking online content and limiting when the absurdly vague concept of unduly compelling a government can constitute a terrorist offence. We also killed some bad proposals that, for instance, tried to undermine encryption and the use of TOR.

What’s wrong?

From a digital rights perspective, there is a long list of bad elements that the European Commission, EU Member States* and the majority of the MEPs of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties (LIBE) have introduced and/or kept in the draft Terrorism Directive, including the following:

To sum up, it took a year and two months to conclude a legislative instrument that endangers the protection of our rights and freedoms. This compares badly with the time that it took the EU to conclude an instrument to protect fundamental rights, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (five years, and two more years until it enters into force). Obvious, depressing, conclusions can be drawn about the priorities that drove different parts of the EU decision-making process in both cases.

Therefore, we urge the European Parliament to vote against this Directive or at least vote in favour of some of the amendments proposed to improve some of the elements listed above.

What can you do?

You can raise awareness and contact your MEPs prior to the debate on 15 February (starting around 3pm CET) and the vote on the Directive on 16 February (around 12pm CET). After the vote, it will be the turn of your Member State to implement the Directive and give meaning to the ambiguous provisions of the Directive. If the Terrorism Directive is adopted, civil society should look closely how their national parliaments will implement it, so it will not lead to abusive provisions. Ultimately, yet again, we will have to rely on the courts to be the guardians of our civil liberties.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us!

Prison systems and conditions in the EU

by Luigi LIMONE (*)

Introduction

Living conditions in prisons are regulated by a variety laws and guidelines ranging from constitutional provisions to national criminal and penitentiary laws and international law principles. Relevant human rights provisions include, in particular, those protecting the right to personal liberty and clarifying the grounds on which it may be restricted (Article 5, ECHR and Article 6, EU Charter of Fundamental Rights), and those prohibiting torture and other forms of inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment (Article 3, ECHR and Article 4, EU Charter).

These rules, as interpreted by the competent courts, clarify the grounds on which deprivation of liberty may be based and the minimum standards that detention conditions must comply with. Both fundamental rights standards and broadly agreed criminal justice principles point to the conclusion that imprisonment should only be used as a measure of last resort in response to serious crimes, as it entails deprivation of the fundamental right to liberty.

EU legal framework

While prison conditions are mainly a responsibility of Member States, the European Union has already started to deal with them, (see the 1000 pages research on the subject  here) as clarified by the European Commission in its 2011 Green Paper and in the 2010 Stockholm Programme (under the pressure of the European Parliament…) as well as in many European Parliament specific Resolutions.

In order to promote mutual trust, judicial cooperation and the proper functioning of mutual recognition tools in the criminal law area (as foreseen by the EU Charter and by  Article 82, TFEU), it is essential to ensure that adequate detention conditions exist in all Member States.

Several mechanisms have been created in Europe in order to monitor detention conditions in prisons. Such mechanisms are meant as a tool to prevent torture and ill-treatment of detainees, and, more generally, to verify detention conditions at any given time. In particular, the 1987 Council of Europe’s Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) created a monitoring mechanism which is empowered to visit any place within the jurisdiction of the States parties where persons are deprived of their liberty by a public authority.

Such a mechanism is a preventive tool against torture and inhumane treatment which aims to monitor both the active behaviour of law enforcement authorities, collecting allegations of violence and abuses, and the factual conditions of prisons and other detention institutions, verifying whether they comply with the standards which the CPT itself has developed over time. All 28 EU Member States are parties to the Convention and therefore subject to the monitoring mechanism it establishes.

In line with international standards, rules concerning the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty have been developed in the European context.

The European Prison Rules, first adopted in 1987 and then amended in 2006, are a set of recommendations emanating from the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. As such, they are not binding, but they have been endorsed politically by the Council of Europe, as well as in several EU documents. (see a previous FREE Group post here)

The starting point of these recommendations is that no one is to be deprived of liberty except from a measure of last resort and in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law, restrictions placed on prisoners must be limited to those strictly necessary and proportionate and detention is to be managed so as to facilitate prisoners’ reintegration.

The Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) has also developed very detailed standards concerning detention conditions, as well as good practices that are meant to reduce the risk of detainees being subjected to torture or other degrading treatment. In particular, the CPT has defined specific guidelines addressing overcrowding, determining for instance the exact minimum amount of space that each prison inmate must be afforded in a cell. It has also published its general standards with regard to detention conditions and treatment of prisoners.

Last but not least, the European Court of Human Rights has developed its case-law on detention conditions mostly on the basis of Article 3 ECHR which prohibit degrading and inhumane treatment or punishment. According to the Court, violations of Article 3 may arise not only by positive acts of ill-treatment and violence by State authorities over prisoners, but also through the imposition of degrading detention conditions or through lack of action in the face of allegations of ill-treatment between prisoners.

The Court has affirmed that “prisoners in general continue to enjoy all the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed under the Convention, save for the right to liberty”. They therefore continue to enjoy the rights to family life, to marry, to freedom of expression, to practise their religion, to access to a lawyer or court, and to respect for correspondence. As a result, any restrictions on these rights must be justified.

EP Hearing on Prisons’ systems and conditions in the EU Continue reading

AG MENGOZZI’S OPINION ON GRANTING VISAS TO SYRIANS FROM ALEPPO: WISHFUL THINKING?

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EUROPEAN LAW BLOG  HERE

By Margarite Zoeteweij-Turhan and Sarah Progin-Theuerkauf 

Introduction

The opinion of AG Mengozzi in the case of X and X v. Belgium, so far only available in French, has created quite a stir throughout the European Union. In a nutshell, the AG found that, when third country nationals apply for a visa with limited territorial validity (‘LTV’) under Article 25 of the Visa Code with the aim of applying for international protection once they have arrived in a Member State’s territory, the Member State’s immigration authority should take the circumstances of the applicant into account and assess whether a refusal would lead to an infringement of the applicant’s rights as protected by the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Although the AG makes an effort to cover all the arguments brought up by the parties, this blogpost focuses mainly on the issues directly related to the margin of discretion left to the Member States by Article 25(1) of the Visa Code.

Although an AG’s opinion is not binding on the Court, it is widely acknowledged and documented that opinions do indeed influence the Court’s decision in a majority of cases. If the Court were to follow the opinion of AG Mengozzi in this particular case, this could have a serious impact on the legal landscape and context of EU immigration and asylum law. Coming at a time in which migration and asylum are topics often used to manipulate the political opinion of the electorate both in Europe and in the world, the opinion could serve as a wake-up callas it recalibrates the EU’s migration and asylum policy on the fundamental values it is constructed on: respect for human rights and obligations stemming from international treaties.

However, in the light of the ongoing and already difficult negotiations on the future of the Common European Asylum System (‘CEAS’), this time it is more likely that the Court will find it opportune to come to a conclusion that diverges from the AG’s Opinion with regard to some of the legal aspects of the case.

Facts of the case legal framework and questions referred to the Court

On 12 October 2016, a Syrian family of 5 (two parents and three small children) living in Aleppo applied for a visa with limited territorial validity ex Article 25(1) of the EU Visa Code at the Belgian embassy in Beirut (Lebanon). On their application form, they state that the aim of their trip is to apply for asylum once in Belgium, as their situation was untenable as an Orthodox Christian family in a city occupied by ISIS. The family then returned to Aleppo and waited for the decision on their visa application. Shortly after their return, the Syrian border with Lebanon was closed; it remained closed during the procedure as described below.

On 18 October 2016, the Belgian Aliens’ Office (the ‘Office’) refused the visa application based on Article 32(1)(b) of the Visa Code. The Office held that the family clearly had the intention to stay on Belgium’s territory after the expiry of the visa they applied for since they had specified that they would apply for asylum once in Belgium. The visa application would therefore fall under Belgian national law, according to the Office. It further held that neither Article 3 ECHR nor Article 33 of the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees provides for an obligation to admit foreigners on the territory of the States party to the Convention, even if these foreigners live in ‘catastrophic circumstances’, but that these articles merely provide for a prohibition of ‘refoulement’. According to the principle of non-refoulement, States party to the Convention may not remove a person to another State if the person concerned faces a real risk of being persecuted or subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment in the country to which he is returned. The Office argued that this principle only applies to persons that are already within the Belgian (territorial) jurisdiction. It also argued that Belgian law does not allow its diplomatic posts to accept applications for international protection from third country nationals, and that granting a visa to the applicants in order for them to apply for international protection once on Belgian soil would circumvent the limitation of the competences of the Belgian diplomatic posts.

The Syrian family appealed to the Belgian Asylum and Immigration Board (the ‘referring Court’), arguing that Article 18 of the Charter (Right to Asylum) obliges the Member States to ensure the right to asylum, and that granting international protection to the applicants is the only way in which the Belgian authorities can avoid the risk of an infringement of Article 3 of the ECHR which corresponds to Article 4 of the Charter. The applicants further argued that the Aliens’ Office had erroneously not taken Article 3 ECHR into account in the assessment of their visa application, and that if it had done so, it should have come to the conclusion that the conditions for a visa with limited territorial validity based on Article 25 of the Visa Code are met.

The referring Court considers that the application of Article 4 of the Charter, according to Article 51 of the Charter, solely depends on the application of EU law by Member States’ authorities, a condition that is fulfilled when they assess a visa application according to the Visa Code.

It is within this framework that the referring court asked for guidance as to the margin of discretion left to the Member States in their decisions based on Article 25(1) of the Visa Code, taking into account the article’s reference to international obligations and in the light of the Charter.

Opinion of AG Mengozzi

The main issue at stake

AG Mengozzi was thus confronted with the task to assist the CJEU in the interpretation of Article 25(1) of the Visa Code, and more specifically in answering the question of whether Member States’ immigration authorities may refuse an application for a visa with limited territorial validity under Article 25(1) of the Visa Code if this application is made in order to apply for asylum on arrival in the Member State.  The Belgian government, supported by the Commission and a number of Member States that joined the hearing on 30 January 2017, argued mainly that the visa application falls under Belgian national law, as the application should be regarded as having been made for a stay for more than three months – thereby excluding the application of the Visa Code. The argument is that the Belgian migration authorities are therefore not bound by the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Other relevant international treaties do not impose an obligation on States to allow foreigners to enter their territory in order to apply for international protection.  For the same reason, the Court is also not competent to look into the questions referred to it. In his Opinion, analyzed in detail below, the AG disagrees with the Belgian government, and concludes that because of the applicability of the Visa Code the applicants fall within the scope of the Charter. The Charter, according to the AG, does not allow Member States’ authorities to refuse an application for a visa with limited territorial validity if such a refusal would lead to the applicants’ running a substantial risk of having their rights, as guaranteed by the Charter, infringed upon in their country of residence.

Applicability of the Visa Code to visa applications that will lead to stays longer than 3 months

In his opinion of 7 February 2017, AG Mengozzi deals with the issues of the competence of the Court and the applicability of the Charter jointly. He first finds that X and X applied for a visa with limited territorial validity for a stay not exceeding three months in accordance with the Visa Code. The AG further points out that  during the whole of the application procedure the Belgian authorities assessed the application under the Visa Code, that the authorities based their decision on Article 32(1)(b) of the Visa Code and that their decision to refuse the application was composed according to their own ‘decision form for short stay visas’.  The AG concludes that it was therefore clear to all that the application was regarded as an application for a short stay visa in accordance with the Visa Code.

Contrary to what several Member States had argued before the Court, the AG highlights that nothing in the Visa Code justifies a conclusion that the applicants’ intention to apply for asylum once on Belgian territory could change either the nature or the subject of their application, or transform the application into an application for a stay longer than three months. For the same reason, the AG disagrees with the Belgian government that it is not possible to apply for a visa with limited territorial application, and he further underpins his position by pointing out that the standard application form annexed to the Code refers to ‘Schengen visa’ without making any distinction between the types of visa that can be applied for. Furthermore, the 21st question of the application form asks the applicant to specify the reasons for the journey. This question in principle allows for the applicant to motivate his application with a wish to apply for asylum in the Member State he intends to travel to. In any case, according to the AG, even if the Visa Code did not allow for an application for a visa with limited territorial application, the fact that the applicants applied for a visa that is regulated in the Visa Code automatically guarantees the application of the Charter.

Applicability of Article 25(1) of the Visa Code

With regard to the applicability of Article 25 of the Visa Code, the Belgian government also argued that this Article only allows Member States to derogate from the imperative reasons to refuse a visa as listed in Article 32(1)(a), and not if there are reasonable doubts as to the intention of the applicant to leave the territory of the Member State before the expiry of the visa applied for as stipulated in Article 32(1)(b). However, AG Mengozzi’s analysis of the wording of Article 25(1) of the Visa Code leads to the exact opposite conclusion, as he points out that this article allows the Member States, among others, to issue a new visa during the same six-month period to an applicant who has already used a visa allowing for a stay of three months during that six-month period. Therefore, Article 25(1) allows Member States’ authorities to issue a LTV, even if they have serious doubts as to whether the applicant will leave the territory after the expiry of the visa or if other reasons to refuse a visa as listed under Article 32 exist. This is also in line with the Commission’s Handbook the AG already referred to. The AG thus concludes that Member States must assess an applicant’s appeal to Article 25 of the Visa Code, even in cases in which they find reasons to refuse an application for a visa according to Article 32.

Furthermore, the applicants’ extended stay in Belgium would not be based on the initial visa that allowed them to enter Belgian territory, but on their status as applicants for international protection in accordance with Article 9(1) of Directive 2013/32. The applicants’ intentions to stay longer than three months could therefore at the very most be regarded as a reason to refuse a visa in accordance with the Visa Code, but it could certainly not be a reason for the non-application of the Code (and as a consequence thereof, the non-applicability of the Charter). The AG continues that this is exactly the question that lies at the heart of this case: Can Member States refuse visas with limited territorial application in cases such as the one at hand considering the reference Article 25 of the Visa Code makes to obligations under international law?

The scope of the Charter of Fundamental Rights

The AG thus turns to answering the questions referred to the Court. According to the AG, the ‘international obligations’ mentioned by Article 25 of the Visa Code do not include obligations stemming from the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. However, due to Article 51 of the Charter Member States’ authorities are bound by the Charter when applying EU law, such as the Visa Code or Regulation 539/2001, which lists the third countries whose nationals must be in possession of visas when crossing the external borders of the EU. Therefore, the Belgian migration authorities were bound by the Charter when deciding on X and X’s application for a visa with limited territorial application under Article 25 of the Visa Code, even if this Article grants a margin of discretion to the said authorities. Here, the AG refers to the Court ruling in the case of N.S. and others, and the Handbook for the processing of visa applications and the modification of issued visas, published by the Commission in 2010.

The AG also is of the opinion, contrary to what the Belgian government argued based on Article 52(3) of the Charter, that the territorial limitation of Article 1 of the ECHR should not be applicable to the Charter, as the aim of Article 52(3) of the Charter is to guarantee a minimum standard of protection by referring to the ECHR, whereas it also clearly states that this minimum standard does not prevent Union law from providing a more extensive protection. Furthermore, the AG repeats that Article 51 of the Charter clearly defines that the provisions of the Charter are addressed to the institutions and bodies of the EU and to the Member States when they are implementing EU law. Finally, the AG also argues that even if the Charter had a limited application in general, Article 4 of the Charter is drafted in such a way as to provide for a universal application. The AG therefore finds it unnecessary to delve further into the content of the ‘international obligations’ referred to by Article 25(1) of the Visa Code, and continues to analyze the discretion of the Member States under that Article in the light of the Charter.

Member States’ margin of discretion under Article 25(1) of the Visa Code

AG Mengozzi then admits that Article 25 of the Visa Code leaves a certain margin of discretion to the Member States in their assessment of the arguments the applicant has brought forward in his appeal to Article 25. To the AG, it is clear that the applicants’ situation is one that justifies the issuance of a visa with limited territorial validity on humanitarian grounds. However, in case the Member State would not agree, the AG specifies that, since the Member States are applying EU law when assessing an appeal to Article 25 of the Visa Code, their discretion is limited by Union Law. Thus, according to the AG, a Member State has to assess whether the refusal to issue a visa under Article 25 of the Visa Code leads to an infringement of its obligations under the Charter. As the referring court has asked for guidance on the interpretation of Article 25 of the Visa Code in the light of Article 4 of the Charter, the AG then analyses the scope and content of Article 4 of the Charter in the light of the case law of the ECtHR on Article 3 ECHR (Mahmut Kaya v. Turkey, El-Masri v. Macedonia and Nasr et Ghali c. Italie). This leads the AG to conclude that the Member States are under a positive obligation to take reasonable measures to prevent the materialization of a risk of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment of which they know or of which they should have known. Therefore, Member States’ authorities must inform themselves with regard to the situation in the country of origin of an applicant before deciding to apply one of the reasons for refusal of a visa as listed under Article 32(1). The AG points in the direction of official EU sources such as the Commissions ECHO factsheet on the crisis in Syria and other countries that are in a dire situation, but also to reports published by NGOs working in the field as sources of information that need to be taken into account by the Member States’ authorities in taking a decision under the Visa Code.

Practical implications for the application of X and X

In this particular case, the AG finds that a refusal to issue a visa with limited territorial validity will expose the applicants to a substantial risk of having their rights as protected by Articles 1 (right to human dignity), 2 (right to life), 3 (right to the integrity of the person), 4 (prohibition of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment), and 24(2) (the child’s best interest) of the Charter. He also points out that the Belgian authorities were aware of the apocalyptical or ‘catastrophic’ situation in Aleppo, according to the file sent in by the referring court. The argument of the Belgian authorities that the applicants could have applied for international protection in Lebanon is parred by the AG by referring to the decision of the Lebanese government to suspend the registration of newly arriving asylum seekers in the autumn of 2015 – a decision that was still in place when the Belgian authorities took their decision. Furthermore, the situation of asylum seekers or refugees living in the neighboring countries of Syria are reported to be disastrous and their standard of life far below the minimum standards foreseen in applicable international human rights law instruments. The AG therefore concludes that the refusal of the Belgian authorities to issue the applicants with a visa of limited territorial validity infringes Article 4 of the Charter.

Comment

To sum it up, AG Mengozzi argues that Member States’ immigration authorities’ discretion under Article 25(1) of the Visa Code is limited by the Charter of Fundamental Rights. If the authorities have substantial reasons to believe that the refusal of an LTV will expose an applicant to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, they are obliged to issue an LTV.

AG Mengozzi’s compelling Opinion, which he bases not only on standing case-law (not only of the ECtHR but also of the CJEU in recent cases like Koushkaki, Aranyosi and Căldăraru or Petruhhin), gives hope to those who live in truly untenable circumstances but who are unable to reach an EU Member State’s territory in order to file an application for international protection. At a time in which some of the Member States have a 98% recognition rate for Syrian asylum seekers from Aleppo, denying protection to those who would like to file an application for international protection but who are unable or unwilling to try and reach Europe’s shores by crossing the Mediterranean in a dinghy, any other conclusion would have raised serious doubts with regard to the EU’s commitment to refugee and human rights law.

This is not to say that it is probable that the Court will simply rule that because of the applicability of the Charter to visa applications made in accordance with the Visa Code, Member States are under an obligation to issue LTVs to third country nationals who want to come to any EU Member State to file an application for international protection. Not only would such a ruling in the current political climate be unfeasible, it would also be contrary to applicable EU asylum law, as the AG also mentions in his Opinion.

A decision of this nature would endanger the functioning of the Dublin system, as asylum seekers in desperate situations could simply file a visa application anywhere in the world, which would then have to be accepted if there is a risk of a violation of article 4 of the Charter. As, according to article 12(2) of the Dublin regulation, the possession of a valid visa triggers the respective State’s responsibility to treat the asylum claim, this means that ‘asylum shopping’ (i.e. choosing the country which suits you best) would become possible again. It is unlikely that the Court would expose the Common European Asylum System to the risk of a collapse – especially not at a time in which all of the EU’s efforts are directed at saving the already failing system, instead of trying to find an alternative that would work. Such an interpretation could further instigate EU Member States to close down their consulates and embassies in areas with a high risk of conflicts and persecutions.

However, it should be possible for the Court to strike a balance between the two interests. If it formulated its ruling in such a way as to highlight the exceptionality of the circumstances that would force Member States to apply Article 25(1) of the Visa Code to issue LTVs despite the fact that there might be reasons to refuse a visa according to Article 32 of the Visa Code, the EU would honor its obligations under international and European refugee and human rights law, without endangering the functioning of the CEAS. Such a ruling would boost the image of the EU as an advocate of human rights, an image that has been seriously battered by many of the recent EU actions in this policy field.

No doubt Member States will argue that such a ruling would ‘open the floodgates’ and paralyze the already strained asylum systems of the Member States. However, until the European Union has created effective legal pathways to Europe, as it has obliged itself to do, people in need of international protection will continue trying to use other ways to save themselves and their loved ones – whether the Member States like it or not.

 

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The Ever-expanding National Security State in Europe: the Case of Poland

by Luigi LIMONE (*)

One of the most alarming developments across the European Union is the effort by States to make it easier to invoke and prolong a “state of emergency” as a response to terrorism or the threats to violent attacks. Emergency measures, which are generally supposed to be temporary, have become embedded in ordinary criminal law. Parliaments across the European Union are adopting a number of coercive measures in fast-truck processes, leaving little time for consideration on their impact on human rights and civil liberties.

In compliance with international human rights law, exceptional measures should only be applied in genuinely exceptional circumstances and, as stated by Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), “in time of war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation”.

Nevertheless, phenomena such as the rise of nationalist parties, anti-refugee sentiment, stereotyping and discrimination against Muslims communities, intolerance for speech or other forms of expression, risk that this “emergency measures” will target certain people for reasons which have nothing to do with a genuine threat to national security or from terrorist-related acts.

Up to now, France is the only EU Member State to have formally declared a state of emergency on national security grounds for terrorism-related acts on the last couple of years. However, other Member States have passed laws in fast-track processes and engaged in operations in response to real or perceived security threats. A clear example comes from Austria and Hungary, which have recently invoked the threat of terrorism in the context of the refugee crisis with profoundly negative impact on the right to seek and enjoy asylum in Europe.

One of the countries which is currently attracting the attention of several NGOs working in the field of human rights protection is Poland. Several cases of human rights violations as well as dismantlement of the rule of law have been reported since the Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość) party came to power in October 2015.

In June 2016, Poland enacted a new Counter-terrorism Law following a fast-track legislative process. This law consolidates sweeping powers in the hands of the Internal Security Agency (ISA) and, combined with other recent legislative amendments, it creates conditions for violations of the rights to liberty, privacy, fair trial, expression, peaceful assembly and non-discrimination.

The new Counter-terrorism Law gives a broad and vague definition of terrorism which paves the way for: a) the expansion of indiscriminate mass surveillance powers; b) the targeting of foreign nationals; c) the extension of pre-charge detention.

According to Amnesty International, such an ill-defined and imprecise definition allows for disproportionate interference with human rights as well as arbitrary application and abuse.

The UN Human Rights Committee recommended in October 2016 that a definition be adopted that “does not give the authorities excessive discretion or obstruct the exercise of rights”.

The Counter-terrorism law includes provision for the Director of the Internal Security Agency to order the immediate blocking of specific websites with no prior judicial authorization if he or she considers that a delay could result in “terrorist incident”. Such a provision compromises the right to freedom of expression, including the right to seek, receive and impart information.

Freedom of peaceful assembly is also under threat under the new Counter-terrorism Law.

The Law, in fact, establishes a terror alert system which, if it reaches the level of three or four, allows the authorities to ban assemblies and large-scale events in particular locations.

The lack of transparency in the operation of the alert system, together with the vague definition of terrorism, could result in violations of the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. As a result, the terror alert system could be used by the government as an excuse to ban peaceful public protests against its policy on a wide range of issues, including abortion or Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) rights.

Foreign nationals in Poland are particular targets of the new Counter-terrorism Law. They can be subjected to a range of covert surveillance measures, including wire-tapping, monitoring of electronic communications and surveillance of telecommunication networks and devices without any judicial oversight for the first three months.

Such surveillance is permitted if there is a “fear” that a foreign national may be involved in terrorism-related activities. In addition, the Law does not provide procedural safeguards to ensure that anyone made aware of surveillance can challenge it and have access to an effective remedy against unlawful surveillance. It also impacts Polish citizens who communicate or live with foreigners under investigation.

Poland’s new Counter-terrorism Law also provides for 14 days of detention without charge of people suspected of “terrorist crimes”. Since such detention measures can be adopted on the basis of information obtained through the broad surveillance powers given to the executive, the suspects and their lawyer may be denied access to the evidence upon which the pre-charge detention is based. Given the fact that the new surveillance powers primarily target foreigners, such measures could discriminate against non-nationals and have a disproportionate impact on foreign individuals, their families and communities.

Furthermore, the situation in Poland appears very critical when it comes to criminal law and to protection from discrimination and hate crimes in particular. While the country has made some progress in addressing hate crimes against certain groups, it has left others entirely behind, thus creating a double system and a significant protection gap in law as well as in practice.

Polish criminal law provides for the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes motivated by race, ethnicity, nationality, religion and political affiliation. However, it does not establish that age, disability, gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation and social or economic status are grounds to investigate and prosecute hate crimes.

As stated in a report published by Amnesty International in September 2015, members of ethnic minorities, refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants continue to experience discrimination and violence in practice. In addition, transgender and intersex people are not explicitly protected from discrimination on grounds of gender identity and expression, and protection on the grounds of disability and religion is limited as well.

The situation is particularly crucial with regard to discrimination motivated by gender identity as well as expression and sexual orientation. LGBTI people are not sufficiently protected, as demonstrated by the huge number of homophobic and transphobic hate crimes. As far as women and girls are concerned, they continue to face obstacles in accessing legal and safe abortion and frequent cases of sexual harassment and rape are still being reported.

The current legal framework governing abortion in Poland is one of the most restrictive in Europe with terminations legally permitted only when the life of the foetus is under threat, when there is a grave threat to the health of the mother and in the instance that the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.

A new bill proposing to further restrict sexual and reproductive rights was submitted to Parliament on 5 July 2016. The restrictive measure is intended to ban abortion in all circumstances except for when it is considered to be the only means available to save a woman’s life. It would also criminalize women and girls who are found to have obtained abortion as well as the people encouraging or assisting them to do so.

Following mass protests and women’s strikes, the bill has been eventually rejected but the government, supported by the Polish Catholic church, has announced that it is considering other restrictions, including a total ban of emergency contraception and of the morning after-pill in particular.

In conclusion, significant deterioration in several areas has been observed since the Law and Justice party’s assumption of power in October 2015. A total of 148 new laws and legislative amendments have been enacted since then, which have led to serious violation of several fundamental rights enshrined in international human rights treaties, including the right to life, health and freedom from torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment as well as the right to privacy, information, equality and non-discrimination.

(*) FREE Group Trainee

Sources:

– Dangerously Disproportionate: The Ever-expanding National Security State in Europe, by Amnesty International, 17 January 2017, Index number: EUR 01/5342/2017

– Poland: Submission to the United Nations Human Rights Committee – 118th session, 17 Oct.-04 Nov. 2016, Index number: EUR 37/4849/2016

– Poland: Dismantling Rule of Law?, Amnesty International Submission for the UN Universal Periodic Review – 27th Session of the Upr Working Group, April/May 2017,  EUR: 37/5069/2016