Authorization of deprivation of liberty by judicial authorities in the recast Reception conditions Directive proposal (ICJ OBSERVATIONS)

 

April 2017

The Commision proposal of the Reception Conditions Directive (recast) COM(2016) 465 final has been published by the European Commission on 13.7.2016. On 23 February 2017, the amendments[1] have been tabled in the European Parliament on the draft report by Sophia in ‘t Veld from 18 January 2017, the Rapporteur of the recast Directive.

The ICJ supports the amendments especially when it comes to its proposals on detention. In particular in the sense that detention or other restrictions of movement that may cumulatively amount to deprivation of liberty should always and only be ordered by judicial authorities (the proposed amendments 10, 30-33, 93-95, and 243-246 regarding Recital 20, Article 8.1, 9.2 and 9.3 of the proposal in particular).

The right to liberty and security of the person is protected under international human rights law (Article 9 ICCPR, Art 5 ECHR), and means that, as a general rule, asylum seekers should not be detained, except where detention can be justified as a necessary and proportionate measure for a legitimate purpose in the specific circumstances of the case. Asylum seekers may have already suffered imprisonment and torture in the country from which they have fled and therefore, the consequences of detention may be particularly serious, causing severe emotional and psychological stress and may amount to inhuman and degrading treatment.

Under international human rights law, it is established that asylum seekers should only be detained, as a last resort, in exceptional cases and where non-custodial measures have been proven on individual grounds not to achieve the stated, lawful and legitimate purpose. Detention must not be imposed arbitrarily, it must be lawful, necessary, and applied without discrimination. Judicial authorization, as well as judicial review, of detention provides an important safeguard against arbitrariness.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has clearly stated in its Resolution 1707 (2010) on Detention of asylum seekers and irregular migrants in Europe, para 9.1.3, that “detention shall be carried out by a procedure prescribed by law, authorised by a judicial authority and subject to periodic judicial review.

It has been also established in international law that there is a right to judicial review of any form of detention, and that such review must always be of a judicial nature[2] UNHCR guidelines also require both automatic review of detention and regular automatic periodic reviews thereafter, and a right to challenge detention.[3]

 Taking account of the complexity of the assessment of whether a deprivation of liberty is justifiable as necessary and proportionate in the individual case of an asylum seeker and of the seriousness of the impact on human rights of deprivation of liberty, the ICJ considers that authorization by a judicial authority would always be preferential in cases of detention or other serious restrictions of movement.

 NOTES

[1] See Amendments 1-51:; Amendments 52-295:; Amendments 296-543:

[2] see European Court of Human Rights in Öcalan v. Turkey, para 70; Human Rights Committee in C. v. Australia, para 8.2-8.3; HRC General Comment No. 35, Article 9 (Liberty and security of person), UN Doc. CCPR/C/GC/35 (2014), para 18).

[3] Guideline 7: “(iii) to be brought promptly before a judicial or other independent authority to have the detention decision reviewed. This review should ideally be automatic, and take place in the first instance within 24–48 hours of the initial decision to hold the asylum-seeker. The reviewing body must be independent of the initial detaining authority, and possess the power to order release or to vary any conditions of release. (iv) following the initial review of detention, regular periodic reviews of the necessity for the continuation of detention before a court or an independent body must be in place, which the asylum-seeker and his/her representative would have the right to attend. Good practice indicates that following an initial judicial confirmation of the right to detain, review would take place every seven days until the one month mark and thereafter every month until the maximum period set by law is reached. (v) irrespective of the reviews in (iii) and (iv), either personally or through a representative, the right to challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court of law at any time needs to be respected. The burden of proof to establish the lawfulness of the detention rests on the authorities in question. As highlighted in Guideline 4, the authorities need to establish that there is a legal basis for the detention in question, that the detention is justified according to the principles of necessity, reasonableness and proportionality, and that other, less intrusive means of achieving the same objectives have been considered in the individual case.”

Common Asylum Procedure Regulation: ICJ comments on the current proposal of the Regulation

THE ORIGINAL DOCUMENT OF THE INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION OF JURISTS  IS PUBLISHED HERE  (April 2017)

Introduction

On 13 July 2016, the European Commission published a proposal (Common Asylum Procedure Regulation)1 to repealing the current Common Asylum Procedures Directive (2013/32/EU).2 In this briefing paper, the ICJ presents its comments on several key procedural aspects of the proposed Regulation in view of the possible impact on the rights of asylum seekers in Europe.3

The areas most impacted include access to legal information; legal assistance, representation and legal aid; accelerated and border procedures; and access to an effective remedy.

The proposed Regulation is one of the instruments of the Common European Asylum System4 of the EU. It is intended to replace the current Asylum Procedures Directive with a Regulation and thereby aims to reduce the scope of discretion enjoyed by Member States in the implementation of matters covered under its provisions.5

The proposal of 13 July 2016 was developed in reaction to the increased arrivals of refugees in 2015 which was identified by the European Commission as a “refugee crisis for the EU.”6 In 2015, over one million people – refugees, displaced persons and other migrants – made their way to EU countries. The International Organization for Migration has estimated that some 3,771 of these persons died on their journey7 and a high number of people were stranded in the border countries, mainly Italy and Greece. The European Commission reacted with a number of legislative and policy proposals, among them a proposal for intra-EU relocation schemes,8 and the new Common European Asylum System directives and regulations.

  1. Scope of the proposal

(a)  Regulation proposal

Recital 7 and Article 2.1 would limit the scope of the Regulation to territory, border, territorial waters and transit zones. Recital 7 states that  : “This Regulation should apply to all applications for international protection made in the territory of the Member States, including those made at the external border, on the territorial sea or in the transit zones of Member States, and the withdrawal of international protection. Persons seeking international protection who are present on the territorial sea of a Member State should be disembarked on land and have their applications examined in accordance with this Regulation.”

Article 2.1 states that: “This Regulation applies to all applications for international protection made in the territory of the Member States, including at the external border, in the territorial sea or in the transit zones of the Member States, and to the withdrawal of international protection.”

(b)  Analysis of International and EU law

The limitation of the scope of the Regulation to territory, border, territorial waters and transit zones does not cover all situations, which fall under the protective jurisdiction of a State under international human rights law. Consequently, there are situations where the right of asylum (Article 18 EU Charter), the prohibition of non-refoulement, and other human rights cannot be guaranteed or risk being undermined, such as in the case of interception or rescue in international waters.

Under international human rights law, jurisdiction is generally broader than that contemplated under Recital 7 and Article 2.1. While the exact scope of a State’s protective jurisdiction will be dependent on the primary treaty or other source of law providing the basis for the protection, a common minimum standard under international human rights law is that, “jurisdiction” applies to all persons who fall under the authority or the effective control of the State’s authorities or of other people acting on its behalf, and to all extraterritorial zones, whether of a foreign State or not, where the State exercises effective control of the territory on which the person is situated.

Particularly under the European Convention of Human Rights, the leading case Al-Skeini and others v. UK, where the European Court of Human Rights (Grand Chamber) also provided a clarification as to the extraterritorial reach of the European Convention and its jurisprudence on jurisdiction.10 Among the various means in which the jurisdiction of Convention extended extraterritorially, was that of control and authority of individuals, irrespective of territory on which control and authority are exercised: “It is clear that, whenever the State through its agents exercises control and authority over an individual, and thus jurisdiction, the State is under an obligation under Article 1 to secure to that individual the rights and freedoms under Section 1 of the Convention that are relevant to the situation of that individual.11 Similarly, under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which all EU States are Party, States “must respect and ensure the rights laid down in the Covenant to anyone within the power of effective control of that State Party, even if not situated within the territory of the State Party.12” In respect of some of other human rights treaties, obligations extend with no territorial limitations whatsoever. For instance, the International Court of Justice has said that “there is no restriction of a general nature in the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination”, to which all EU member States are a party, and therefore it applies to all State actions within or outside its territory.13

A State may have obligations to respect and protect the rights of persons who have not entered the territory, but who have otherwise entered areas under the authority and control of the State, or who have been subject to extra-territorial action (such as detention) by a State agent who has placed them under the control of that State. Of particular relevance for migrants is the fact that the State’s jurisdiction may extend in certain situations to international waters. The European Court of Human Rights has clearly affirmed that measures of interception of boats, including on the high seas, attract the jurisdiction of the State implementing the interception. From the moment of effective control of the boat, all the persons on it fall within the jurisdiction of the intercepting State, which must secure and protect their human rights.14 The same principles apply in the context of operations of rescue at sea.

(c) Conclusions and recommendations

The ICJ recommends extending the scope of the Regulation so as to apply to all situations where the Member State has effective authority or control over the asylum seeker, including in international waters.

  1. Access to legal information

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EU-Afghanistan “Joint Way Forward on migration issues”: another “surrealist” EU legal text ?

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by Luigi LIMONE (*)

It may be a coincidence but this year we are not only celebrating the 50th anniversary of Rene’ MAGRITTE painter’s death but also witnessing his surrealist approach spreading also in the EU Institutions and Member States legal practice.

We already know already that the core of 90% of legislative interinstitutional negotiations takes place in a confidential “informal” framework (the so called “trilogues” procedure) which run against the Treaties grounded obligation of legislative debates to be held in public.

Thanks to the Court of Justice (Cases T-192/16, T-193/16 and T-257/16) we have also recently discovered that the EU-Turkey “deal” on migration which was trumpeted as an EU achievement by the European Council President was not in fact an EU agreement because “neither the European Council nor any other institution of the EU decided to conclude an agreement with the Turkish Government on the subject of the migration crisis.”  According to the CJEU press release “In the absence of any act of an institution of the EU, the legality of which it could review under Article 263 TFEU, the Court has declared that it lacked jurisdiction to hear and determine the actions brought by the three asylum seekers. For the sake of completeness, with regard to the reference in the ‘EU-Turkey statement’ to the fact that ‘the EU and [the Republic of] Turkey agreed on … additional action points’, the Court has considered that, even supposing that an international agreement could have been informally concluded during the meeting of 18 March 2016, something which has been denied by the European Council,  the Council  of  the European Union  and the  European Commission in the  present  cases, that agreement would have been an agreement concluded by the Heads of State or Government of the Member States of the EU and the Turkish Prime Minister. In an action brought under Article 263 TFEU, however, the Court does not have jurisdiction to rule on the lawfulness of an international agreement concluded by the Member States.”

 

Now a third example of legal surrealist approach is offered to us by the Joint Way Forward (JWF) declaration on migration issues with Afghanistan and the EU. It was signed during the Afghanistan donor conference which took place in Brussels on 4 and 5 October 2016 and brought together representatives from 75 countries and 26 international organizations, with the ultimate aim of finding new funding solutions to end violence and introduce a political process towards lasting peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.

Unlike for the EU-Turkey “deal” this time the EU Institutions recognize to be responsible of this text.  Intervening before the European Parliament competent committee (LIBE)  Simon Mordue, Deputy Director-General for Migration, DG Migration and Asylum (DG HOME), this declaration aims to facilitate the return process of irregular Afghans and to support their sustainable reintegration in the Afghan society, while fighting the criminal network of smugglers and traffickers at the same time. The objective, as stated in the document, is “to establish a rapid, effective and manageable process for a smooth, dignified and orderly return of Afghan nationals who do not fulfill the conditions in force for entry to, presence in, or residence on the territory of the EU, and to facilitate their reintegration in Afghanistan in a spirit of cooperation”. The document also clarifies that “in their cooperation under this declaration, the EU and Afghanistan remain committed to all their international obligations, in particular: a) respecting the provisions of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 New York Protocol; b) upholding the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights and the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights; c) respecting the safety, dignity and human rights of irregular migrants subject to a return and readmission procedure”.

The little detail is that even if the wording of the text looks like an international agreement  the Commission has clearly stated also before the EP plenary that the text is not.. binding even if, its wording, objective and content, is the same of a formal readmission agreement like the ones that the European Union has so far concluded with 17 non-EU countries an which have approved by the European Parliament following art. 79 par 3 of the TFEU. (SEE NOTE BELOW)

According to the Commission the Joint Way Forward  should instead be considered a simple “joint statement”,  not legally enforceable wich simply “paves the way for a structural dialogue and cooperation on migration issues, based on a commitment to identify effective ways to address the needs of both sides”.  However, as noted by Tony Bunyan, director of Statewatch, also the readmission agreement with Turkey of 18 March 2016 originated in the form of two letters and of an informal declaration and the European Union. Now the EU has adopted the same approach with Afghanistan.

Is the joint declaration with Afghanistan, in fact, representing  another attempt to conclude a readmission agreement, while bypassing the rules (art.79 p 3 and 218 of the TFEU)   laid down in the EU Treaties for the conclusion of international readmission agreements and notably the approbation by the the European Parliament?

 

The Joint Way Forward (JWF) declaration is in line with the recent political shift in EU foreign policy, which now primarily focuses on curbing migration and making deterrence and expulsion the main objectives of its relationships with third countries. The shift towards the externalization of migration management and control is exemplified by the new Partnership Framework, which was proposed by the European Commission in June 2016 under the European Agenda on Migration. The ultimate aim of the Partnership Framework is “a coherent and tailored engagement where the Union and its Member States act in a coordinated manner putting together instruments, tools and leverage to reach comprehensive partnerships (“compacts”) with third countries to better manage migration in full respect of our humanitarian and human rights obligations”.

In practice, the Partnership Framework has introduced an alternative approach with regards to readmission agreements, which are now concluded in the form of informal agreements by means of “informal” swift procedures.

This is done  , under pressure from some Member States, in particular Germany. It was already the case for the “non-EU” agreement with Turkey on March 2016, and also now Germany has hardly fought for a rapid adoption of an “informal” agreement with Afghanistan. Faced with the rise in arrivals form Afghanistan, in October 2015 the German Ministry of Interior Thomas de Maizières had already announced that Germany wanted to return to Afghanistan all the Afghan nationals who were not eligible for asylum, including those who had lived in Iran or Pakistan and, consequently, had no link to Afghanistan itself, and that to do so he would have urged the European Union to negotiate an agreement with the government of Kabul.  By invoking the need urgently facing the migration crisis, the political priorities of the Member States are now “deterrence” and “expulsion” and this has also gained the support of  EU Commission which is increasingly moving towards packaging these priorities in a format which  bypass the European Parliament and the lengthy formal procedures with a high risk of  human rights violations.  In fact, this new fast-track approach not only prevents any form of democratic scrutiny but also ignores the concerns of the civil society about the situation in Afghanistan and about the major risks of rights violations, such as the principle of non-refoulement, exposure to inhuman and degrading treatment, protection against collective expulsions and the right to asylum.

Afghans constitute the second-largest group of asylum seekers in Europe, with 196,170 applying in 2015. The country is experiencing ongoing and escalated conflict, despite the efforts of the EU to present it as a country that is safe for returnees and able to reintegrate them successfully. The conflict has left more than 1.2 million people without permanent homes and has resulted in three million refugees fleeing to Pakistan and Iran. Since January 2015, around 242,000 Afghans have fled to the EU. Furthermore, the country is already facing a large number of returnees from the region. In 2015, more than 190,000 Afghan documented refugees have returned from neighbouring countries. People are exposed to a deeply deteriorating security situation, as provinces such as Helmand and Kunduz fall in to the hands of armed groups yet again.

Despite this situation, the Joint Way Forward declaration gives clear signals that the European Union will once again engage in a conduct that puts into question its obligation to protect those fleeing conflicts or persecution and to safeguard the human rights of all persons as required by the EU Charter. The declaration provides for measures to facilitate the return and readmission of Afghan nationals, such as the use of non-scheduled flights to Kabul, joint flights from several EU Member States organized and coordinated by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), including the possibility to build a dedicated terminal for return in Kabul airport. The Joint Way Forward declaration also opens up the return of women and unaccompanied children and no mention is made to the best interest of the child. The document, in fact, states that “special measures will ensure that such vulnerable groups receive adequate protection, assistance and care throughout the whole process”.

It has to be acknowledged that some Members of the European Parliament have already raised several concerns on the legitimacy of the Joint Way Forward declaration as well as on its content. They have criticized the approach of the European Commission with regard to the adoption of informal readmission agreements as well as the conditionality imposed to third countries. In fact, the format introduced by the Partnership Framework implies a kind of connection between development aid and the third country’s willingness to cooperate for the management of migration flows. It is clear that countries like Afghanistan which are strongly dependent on foreign aid for their revenues might have no other choice but to forcibly accept to cooperate in order to receive development and financial support in exchange.

The European Union must comply with the provisions of the Treaties as well as with its democratic principles and protection of human rights, in order to avoid the replication of the EU-Turkey “statement” and the EU-Afghanistan Joint Way Forward “declaration” with other third countries, in primis Libya and Sudan which have already been identified as “interesting partners” by Italy.

 

ANNEX EU-Legal Framework on readmission agreements

EU Readmission Agreements (EURAs) are based on reciprocal obligations and are concluded between the European Union and non-EU countries to facilitate the return of people residing irregularly in a country to their country of origin or to a country of transit. The EU has stated that readmission agreements with third countries of both origin and transit constitute a cornerstone for effective migration management and for the efficient return of third country nationals irregularly present in the EU. The objective of these agreements for the EU Member States is to facilitate the expulsion of third country nationals either to their country of origin or to a country through which they transited on route to the EU. As such, they are crucial to the EU return policy, as defined in the Return Directive (Directive 2008/115/EC).

Readmission agreements are negotiated in a broader context where partner countries are usually granted visa facilitation, which means simpler procedures for their nationals to obtain shorter stay visas to come to EU Member States, and other incentives such as financial support for implementing the agreement or special trade conditions in exchange for readmitting people residing irregularly in the EU.

The legal basis for the conclusion of readmission agreements with third countries is Article 79(3) TFEU which states that “the Union may conclude agreements with third countries for the readmission to their countries of origin or provenance of third-country nationals who do not or who no longer fulfil the conditions for entry, presence or residence in the territory of one of the Member States”. These agreements are negotiated with the partner country on the basis of a negotiating mandate grated by the Council to the Commission and they are then concluded after the European Parliament has given its consent. According to article 218(6) TFEU the European Parliament must, in fact, give its consent prior to the conclusion of association and similar agreements. Moreover, according to article 210(10) TFEU the European Parliament shall be immediately and fully informed at all stages of the procedure.

 

(*) FREE Group Trainee

Law Enforcement – Are the Strasbourg Court Judgments the Tip of the Iceberg?

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON OMNIA BLOG (on 23 Mar 2017)

Head of Division and Deputy to the Director, Office of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.All views expressed herein are strictly personal.

A number of reports by international human rights organisations, like CPT and Amnesty International, have recorded  numerous cases of ill-treatment, including torture, suffered by migrants while under the control of Greek law enforcement officials. Despite the frequent reporting of such incidents there have not been any major cases brought before the European Court of Human Rights (‘Strasbourg Court’ or ‘the Court’) until recently. In 2003 the first application (Alsayed Allaham), concerning the ill-treatment of a Syrian migrant by police in Athens, was lodged. The 2007 judgment against Greece in Alsayed Allaham was followed by another judgment in 2012 in the Zontul case condemning Greece once more for failing to investigate the rape of a Turkish asylum-seeking detainee by a coast guard officer in Crete. Both cases demonstrated the need for structural changes in Greek law and practice in order to eradicate impunity and ill-treatment in the law enforcement sector.

In both cases the Court found violations of Article 3 (prohibition of torture) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) highlighting faults in judicial and administrative proceedings. In Alsayed Allaham it was noted that the appeal court that acquitted the policeman for ill-treatment relied on testimonies of five eye-witnesses, three of whom were police officers, and gave no credit to medical reports that had verified the applicant’s injuries. In addition, no weight was given to the fact that the Head of the Greek police himself had sanctioned the two policemen involved in the applicant’s ill-treatment.

In Zontul the Strasbourg Court found that the administrative investigation and the subsequent criminal proceedings had been seriously flawed. Among the major shortcomings identified by the Court in the coast guard investigation was the failure to ensure the examination of the victim by a medical doctor despite the victim’s request and the improper recording of the victim’s statement as a ‘slap’ and ‘use of psychological violence’, instead of a rape. The sentence imposed on the officer, a suspended term of six months’ imprisonment for bodily injury and sexual dignity-related offences, was commuted to a fine of €4.40 per day of detention.

These two cases highlighted some key failings of the domestic criminal law system. First, the clemency of the criminal sanction imposed on the coast guard officer was manifestly disproportionate in relation to the gravity of the ill-treatment. It also did not demonstrate a deterrent effect nor did it provide an adequate remedy to the victim.

Second, Zontul shed light on a major flaw in Greek law and practice concerning the definition of torture in the criminal code (see more in author’s blog post). The  Court  stressed that, on the basis of its own and other international courts’ case law, such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, rape with an object constitutes an act of torture and consequently a clear and substantive violation of Article 3 ECHR. However, according to Article 137A§2 of the Greek criminal code, in order for an act to be defined as torture it requires a ‘planned’ (μεθοδευμένη) infliction of severe physical, and other similar forms of pain on a person by a public official. This requirement, which does not exist in the  definition of torture contained in Article 1 of the 1984 Convention against Torture, makes prosecution and sanctioning extremely difficult, if not impossible.

The culture of impunity of ill-treatment is compounded by the enactment in recent years of a number of laws (e.g. Laws 3904/2010, 4093/2012) that aim to decongest Greek prisons by converting custodial sentences into pecuniary penalties and community service. Regrettably these laws have been applied indiscriminately to cases of ill-treatment by the police. This practice raises serious issues of compatibility with international standards, including the Strasbourg Court’s case law (e.g. Gäfgen v. Germany), according to which penalties imposed in this context should be adequate and dissuasive.

Another fault noted by the Court concerns the prescription terms for serious offences, including torture, by state officials. Because these are subject to ordinary prescription provisions, even where the Strasbourg Court finds a violation of Article 3 ECHR for torture that occurred more than 15 years earlier (as in Zontul), the offender cannot be prosecuted and sanctioned. According to the Greek code of criminal procedure, reopening a case may occur only if this could ameliorate the defendant’s position. However, under the Strasbourg Court’s case law (e.g. Yeter v. Turkey,) when a state agent is accused of crimes that violate Article 3 ECHR, the prosecution must not be time-barred and the granting of an amnesty or pardon should not be permissible.

Unfortunately, the Court in its  judgments in Alsayed Allaham and Zontul failed to highlight the potential racial bias by law enforcement officers in the ill-treatment of migrants. According to the CPT visit reports on Greece, since 1997 there has been a clear pattern of migrant ill-treatment among Greek law enforcement occasionally with flagrantly racist overtones. In addition, the yearly incidents of racist violence involving law enforcement officials, which were recorded from 2012 to 2015 by the national Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN) ranged  from 11 to 31 per year, pointing to the prevalence of racist incidents in Greek territory.

Yet, Alsayed Allaham and Zontul reveal the institutionalised ill-treatment against migrants by Greek law enforcement officials. As noted in the 2015 CPT visit report on Greece, in defiance of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the national authorities consistently refuse to consider the violence of the police as a serious, systematic problem. As a consequence, the authorities have not taken adequate measures to combat it and eliminate impunity for serious human rights violations.

Evidence of the ill-treatment of migrants can also be found in the Greek Ombudsman’s reports. In 2007, for example, the annual report referred to cases of serious ill-treatment of migrants by coast guard officers. In a special report on racist violence in Greece issued in 2013 the Ombudsman noted that in 2012 their office received 17 complaints (involving migrants and a national of migrant origin) concerning inappropriate attitudes of police officers which were probably racially biased. The Ombudsman’s 2015 annual report referred to two more cases concerning the ill-treatment of five migrants following their arrest by police officers in Athens.

Three things need to change. First, Greece needs to establish an effective administrative mechanism to eradicate impunity and to provide adequate redress to all victims of ill-treatment. The latest complaint mechanism established by Law 4443/2016 is certainly a positive step. Yet it falls short of fulfilling the condition of effectiveness given the national complaint mechanisms is chaired by the Ombudsman, who is only empowered to issue non-binding reports.

Secondly, there is a need for a holistic overhaul of criminal law and practice concerning torture and other forms of ill-treatment, as well as of the relevant sentencing policy. The definition of torture contained in the Greek criminal code is in breach of international and European standards. This is one of the major reasons for the long-standing state of impunity for serious human rights violations in the country. At the same time, the criminal law provisions on prescription, conversion of custodial sentences and reopening of cases after Strasbourg Court’s judgments need to be reviewed and amended to ensure victim’s full redress.

Last but not least, particular attention needs to be given by the authorities to migrants who are easily subject to abusive behaviour, including ill-treatment, by law enforcement officials and very often remain voiceless victims. To this end, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has usefully recommended that states place law enforcement agencies under a statutory obligation to promote equality and prevent racial discrimination, including racist violence, in carrying out their functions. Enshrining this obligation in law would oblige these agencies to design and implement specific programmes, such as systematic training and awareness-raising of all staff.

In view of the above, ill-treatment of migrants in Greek law enforcement cannot but be considered as a long-standing systemic problem that calls for sustained and determined action by the state. In a rule-of-law based democracy, law enforcement officers are and should act as professional upholders of the law and providers of services to the public. A precondition for achieving this is the development of policies and practices that oblige all state agents to respect human dignity, irrespective of one’s origin and status.

(This post was first published on the blog of Border Criminologies, Oxford University. It is based on the author’s paper ‘Migrant ill-treatment in Greek law enforcement – Are the Strasbourg Court judgments the tip of the iceberg?’, available at SSRN and in the  SSRN Criminal Justice, Borders & Citizenship Research Papers Series).

Humanitarian Visas: CJEU CASE C-638/16 PPU, X AND X – DASHED HOPES FOR A LEGAL PATHWAY TO EUROPE

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EUROPEAN LAW BLOG  ON MARCH 10, 2017

(NB: emphasis are added)

By Margarite Zoeteweij-Turhan and Sarah Progin-Theuerkauf 

On 7 March 2017, the CJEU announced its judgement in case C-638/16 PPU (X and X / Belgium) and dashed all hopes for an extensive interpretation of the EU Visa Code in the light of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

To summarize the facts of the case, X and X and their three small children are an Orthodox Christian family living in rebel-held Aleppo. In October 2016 X leaves Aleppo to apply for a visa with limited territorial validity ex Article 25(1) of the EU Visa Code at the Belgian embassy in Beirut (Lebanon). The application states that the aim of entry into Belgium is to apply for asylum. X returns to his family in Aleppo immediately after lodging the application. Less than a week later, they are served with a negative decision from the Belgian authorities, against which they appeal. The court of appeal refers the case to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling on the interpretation of Article 25 of the Visa Code. In its rather short judgment the CJEU determines, contrary to what AG Mengozzi (see detailed analyses of this Opinion here and also here) argued with regard to this case, that the applications of X and X fall outside the scope of the EU Visa Code, even if they were formally submitted on its basis.

The Court first reiterates that Regulation 810/2009 establishing a Community Code on Visas (Visa Code) was adopted on the basis of Art. 62 EC Treaty, pursuant to which the Council had the competence to adopt measures on visas for intended stays of no more than three months. The visa applications in question, however, were for visas with limited territorial validity with a view to a future application for asylum in Belgium. Hence, the applicants’ intended stay was not limited to 90 days – and their visa-application should not be considered under the Visa Code, but under national law. As the application thus falls outside the scope of EU law, according to the Court, the Charter of Fundamental Rights is not applicable either.

In the last sentences of its judgment, the Court also adds that allowing third country nationals to lodge applications for visas in order to apply for international protection in the Member State of their choice would undermine the Dublin system. With this remark, inserted as if it were an afterthought, the Court seems to reveal the true motivation behind the ruling in X and X: to save an already failing system…

Humanitarian visa vis-a-vis Dublin system

The CJEU’s judgement in X and X was awaited with impatience by many active in the field of refugee protection. Heartened by AG Mengozzi’s Opinion, some saw this as an opportunity for the Court to confirm the EU’s dedication to the promotion and protection of human rights within the EU and beyond, and to decide that the Charter of Fundamental Rights is applicable to visa applications made by potential applicants for international protection. Member States and the Commission had vehemently argued on the other hand that such a ruling would endanger the operation of the painstakingly constructed (though clearly malfunctioning) Dublin system, and that it would open the floodgates to thousands of applicants for international protection, that would otherwise not have reached the EU. 

The Dublin system, based on Regulation 604/2003, provides the criteria and mechanisms for determining the Member State responsible for the assessment of an asylum application made by a third-country national or a stateless person in one of the Member States of the EU. These criteria do not take the wish of the applicant into account, but are instead based on events like through which Member State the applicant entered the EU, or in which Member State of the EU the applicant was previous to the application a legal resident.

The Dublin system, branded as the ‘cornerstone of the Common European Asylum System’, is put in place to prevent asylum seekers to engage in ‘asylum shopping’ by applying for international protection in the country that is most attractive to them for various reasons – which can be the level of reception conditions and/or the spectrum and content of the rights pertaining to an international protection status – or to apply for asylum in multiple Member States. However, even data published by the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) show that the costly system does not quite lead to the desired results, and that numerous asylum seekers prefer to abscond and disappear into illegality, rather than to be transferred to a Member State in which they do not want to live. Nevertheless, the Member States are not really open to discuss an alternative system, and their efforts are directed at saving the system – apparently at all costs. The Court chose to indulge these concerns and take the politically easy way out by ruling that EU law (including the Charter) is not applicable to visa applications that would lead to a stay of more than 90 days – instead of ruling for the application of the Visa Code and thus also the Charter of Fundamental Rights, as it would then have been confronted with the impossible task of having to interpret the Charter in a way that would not have a negative effect on the functioning of the Dublin system.

This restrictive interpretation of the scope of the Charter is a disappointing decision of the CJEU for those active in the field of human rights and refugee protection. It is difficult to understand why the Court shies away from ruling for the applicability of the Charter, for extending the protection of the Charter to those so obviously in need of protection, especially in a time that the EU’s asylum policy and actions have raised so many doubts about the EU’s self-professed dedication to human rights. But next to being disappointing, the judgment also fails to convince on a number of instances.  These will be discussed below, in the order followed in the judgment.

Competence of the court

When considering the Court’s deliberations in its decision on jurisdiction, the ruling on the substance of the case becomes even more puzzling.  The defending Belgian government asserted at the hearing that the CJEU would not have jurisdiction to answer the question referred to it, as in its view the applicant’s visa application should be considered as an application for a visa sanctioning a stay of more than 90 days, so that the application does not have any connection with EU law. The Commission did not contest the jurisdiction of the Court, but subscribed to the defendant’s main idea.

The Court disagreed with the defendant and, invoking its earlier rulings in cases like Wojciechowski and the case-law cited therein, decided that it indeed has jurisdiction to answer the referring court’s request. In the invoked cases, the Court has previously decided to decline jurisdiction where it was obvious from the circumstances of the case that EU law was not applicable. The Court continues its decision in X and X by ruling that, since the visa-application in question was submitted on the basis of humanitarian grounds as per Article 25 of the Visa Code, the Wojciechowski case law does not apply and the Court indeed has jurisdiction.

In other words, the Court does not agree with the Belgian government, which argues that it is obvious that visa-applications submitted under the Visa Code should not be dealt with under EU law if the applicants’ aim is to prolong their legal stay beyond 90 days on arrival in the Member State they applied to through an application for international protection.

Applicability of the Visa Code

The Court then turns to the substantive questions referred to it, and answers these questions in merely 14 paragraphs – or even fewer, once the introductory paragraphs are deducted. Considering the implications of the judgment, and the polemic surrounding this specific case and the EU asylum system as a whole, it would have been beneficial to have a deeper insight in the arguments and reasoning of the Court.

The Court’s decision starts with a reference to Article 62 (2)(a) and (b)(ii) of the EC Treaty on which the Visa Code was based, which (unlike Article 79 (2) (a) TFEU) limits the competence of the Council to adopting measures regarding the issuance of visas for intended stays of no more than three months. This is followed by a reference to Article 1 of the Visa Code, which states that the objective of the Code is to establish the procedures and conditions for issuing visas for intended stays on the territory of the Member States not exceeding 90 days in any 180 day period, and to Article 2(2)(a) and (b) of the Visa Code defining the concept of ‘visa’ as ‘an authorization issued by a Member State’ with a view to ‘stay on the territory of the Member States for a duration of no more than 90 days in any 180‑day period’.

The Court concludes that, since the objective of the applicants in the main proceedings is to apply for international protection upon arrival in that Member State with the visa they applied for and therefore ultimately to stay in Belgium for more than 90 days, their visa application falls outside the scope of the Visa Code described above.

The Court thus did not consider the fact that, although in principle the scope of the Visa Code is limited to the establishment of the procedure and the conditions for issuing visas for intended stays on the territory of the Member States not exceeding 90 days in any 180 day period, the Visa Code also allows for exceptions to this principle in Article 25 (1)(b). With regard to visas with limited territorial validity, this Article provides that in exceptional circumstances (‘for reasons deemed justified by the consulate’) a Member State’s authorities may allow applicants that have already stayed within the territory of that Member State for three months in a given period of six months to stay on the territory of that Member States for another three months. Thus, Article 25 (1)(b) stretches the scope of ‘visa’ under the Visa Code as defined in the Code’s Article 2 (2)(a) beyond the ‘authorization for an intended stay of a duration of no more than three months in any six-month period’. This is exactly the definition on which the Court relies when it concludes that the answer to the question of the applicability of the Visa Code to the visa application of X and X should be negative (see the last sentence of paragraph 51 of the judgment). The Court could, based on the Visa Code, just as well have decided that, in exceptional circumstances, the Code foresees the issuance of visas that will allow the applicant to stay for more than 90 days in any six-month period and that, therefore, the definition of ‘visa’ should – especially under Article 25 of the Visa Code – not be interpreted restrictively. To be clear: This would not automatically lead to X and X, and applicants in like circumstances, being granted a visa, it would merely ensure that their application would be decided according to the provisions of the Visa Code. This in turn would guarantee the application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights according to standing case law of the Court in cases like Fransson.

That the Court is keen to avoid such a conclusion is clear from the argument brought forth in the statement of the Court in paragraphs 46 and 47 of the judgment, where the Court finds that its decision to rule for the non-applicability of the Visa Code does not run contrary to the distinct requirement of the Visa Code to refuse a visa in case there are doubts with regard to the applicant’s intention to leave the territory of the Member State after the expiry of the visa – a refusal that would be taken as a result of the application of the Visa Code, not as a result of its non-applicability.

However, the Court’s ruling boils down to exactly that; just imagine for a moment that the applicants did not state their motive in applying for a short stay visa to be to apply for international protection on arrival in Belgium; they could claim they would only be visiting Belgium’s beautiful sights, as any potential tourist would also do. Under these circumstances, the competent Belgian authorities would have been certainly justified to doubt the applicants’ intention to leave Belgium and go back to Aleppo after having seen the sights (and who could even expect them to do so?). In such a scenario, the authorities would only be able to refuse the visa-application under Article 32 of the Visa Code – thus forcing them to take into account Article 25 of the Visa Code as well as the whole of the Charter, including its Articles 4 and 18.

The European Agenda on Migration: no time for human rights…

Unfortunately, since the Court decided against the applicability of the Visa Code in the case of X and X, it was not required to look further into the question of whether Member States’ authorities should assess applications made under Article 25 of the Visa Code in the light of Articles 4 and/or 18 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights or any other international obligation by which they are bound. The important question of the extent to which Articles 4 and 18 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights could impose a positive obligation on Member States’ authorities to issue humanitarian visas to persons still present in their own country, an issue which is given a prominent place in AG Mengozzi’s Opinion, is therefore left untouched by the Court.

Unfortunately, again, it seems that similar decisions are taken by the Court on a regular basis these days.

On 28 February 2017, the Court decided in an equally controversial and important case that it had no competence to look into the question of the legality of what has become known as the EU-Turkey deal under Article 263 TFEU. Apparently, the text of the invitations with which the European Council’s administration invited the Members of the European Council to working lunches and working sessions –in their function as Members of the European Council or as Heads of State and Government of the Member States depending on the setting, but never as both at the same time – was reason to make the Court decide that the European Council was not the author of the EU-Turkey statement, notwithstanding the many references in the statement itself to actions the EU would undertake in return for Turkey’s role as gatekeeper for Europe. Even the fact that the EU institutions feel bound by the promises made by the Heads of State and Government of the Member States (not acting together as institution of the EU, according to the Court) does not seem to matter to the Court. With this –procedural- move, the Court has again discharged itself of its task of reviewing in depth the legality of the acts of the EU’s institutions, bodies, offices and agencies intended to produce legal effect vis-à-vis third parties. For a more detailed discussion in German of this decision of the Court, see here.

It seems that the Court agrees with some other institutions of the EU that times of crisis require robust measures – and that at such times the EU’s commitment to human rights can be put on hold. This notion is fortified by the remarks made by the Court, seemingly as an afterthought, in paragraphs 48 and 49 of the judgment in the case of X and X, where the Court notes that a decision to allow third-country nationals to lodging applications for visas on the basis of the Visa Code in order to apply for international protection in the Member State to which they will travel would undermine the general structure of the Dublin system. However, even from data regularly published on the site of the EASO it is quite clear that the Dublin system fails, and that it definitively is not able to guarantee effective access to an assessment of applicants’ protection needs. The Court thus choses to bypass the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU in order to save an already failed system – but one that Member States are unwilling to change.

The future of humanitarian visas after X and X

According to a recent research by the European Parliament’s Policy Department for Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs, currently 16 EU Member States either have or have had some form of scheme governing humanitarian visas. Astonishingly, however, the same study shows that in times of crisis the number of visas with limited territorial validity issued for humanitarian reasons decreases dramatically. The plea of X and X and others that are in a similar situation should animate the Commission to come up with a viable proposal for EU legislation governing the issuance by Member States of long-term visas and residence permits to third-country nationals on humanitarian grounds, which the EU is competent to adopt according to Article 79 (2) of the TFEU.

The fate of X and X and other prospective applicants for international protection

The Court’s ruling that visa-applications of prospective applicants for international protection should be dealt with under national law has the – above discussed – effect that the Charter of Fundamental Rights does not apply to such applications nor the procedure with which they are assessed. However, though national authorities and courts of all Member States of the EU are still bound by the ECHR and other relevant international law when applying national immigration and asylum law, their scope of application may not reach as far as the Charter would have reached, and at present is regarded as applicable to potential applicants for international protection that have not yet entered the territories of the states bound by them.

For the applicants in this concrete case, X and X and their three children, the decision of the Court means more concretely that their visa-application will presently be dealt with under Belgian law. This also means that, even though their application does not come within the ambit of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU according to the CJEU’s ruling in their case, Belgium is still bound by the ECHR in the application of its national laws. However, considering the recent developments in Belgian asylum policy and the country’s record with regard to the assessment of asylum applications, it is doubtful whether this should be considered as a reason to hope for a decision that would allow X and X to enter Belgium. Thus, the Court’s ruling has the disappointing consequence that X and X will most probably remain in Aleppo, facing inhuman treatment and forcing them to consider other, perhaps less legal, pathways into Europe for the sake of their future and that of their children.

Relocation of Asylum seekers in the EU

(EP Study on the implementation of the 2015 Council Decisions establishing provisional measures in the area of international protection for the benefit of Italy and of Greece)

THE FULL VERSION OF THE STUDY IS ACCESSIBLE HERE   

 Abstract : This study, commissioned by the European Parliament’s Policy Department for Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs at the request of the LIBE Committee, examines the EU’s mechanism of relocation of asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to other Member States. It examines the scheme in the context of the Dublin System, the hotspot approach, and the EU-Turkey Statement, recommending that asylum seekers’ interests, and rights be duly taken into account, as it is only through their full engagement that relocation will be successful. Relocation can become a system that provides flexibility for Member States and local host communities, as well as accommodating the agency and dignity of asylum seekers. This requires greater cooperation from receiving States, and a clearer role for a single EU legal and institutional framework to organise preference matching and rationalise efforts and resources overall.

 

AUTHOR(S) : Elspeth GUILD, Centre for European Policy Studies, Brussels, (Belgium),  Cathryn COSTELLO, Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford, (UK) Violeta MORENO-LAX, Queen Mary University of London, (UK). With research assistance from: Christina VELENTZA, Democritus University of Thrace, (Greece) Daniela VITIELLO, Roma Tre University, Rome, (Italy) Natascha ZAUN, Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford, (UK)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Background

In September 2015 the Council adopted two Decisions regarding the relocation of asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to other Member States (‘the Relocation Decisions’). In total, the number of asylum seekers to be relocated was 160,000, to take place over 24 months from the adoption of the decisions. By 2 February 2017, 18 months into the relocation period, a total of 11,966 asylum seekers had been relocated from the two countries. The largest number of people relocated from Greece went to France (2,414) and from Italy to Germany (700). By any measure, this failure to make relocation work effectively and swiftly from the outset is striking.

The second Relocation Decision included a distribution key based on the following elements: (a) The size of the population (40%), as it reflects the capacity to absorb a certain number of refugees; (b) total GDP (40%), as it reflects the absolute wealth of a country and is thus indicative for the capacity of an economy to absorb and integrate refugees; (c) average number of spontaneous asylum applications and the number of resettled refugees per 1 million inhabitants over the period 2010-2014 (10%), as it reflects the international protection efforts made by Member States in the recent past; and (d) unemployment rate (10%), as an indicator reflecting the capacity to integrate refugees. Member States allocation under this distribution key was supposed to be mandatory with only the possibility for Member States to refuse an applicant on the basis of national security.

Aims

On this basis, the study pursues the following objectives:

  • To describe the development of the relocation scheme in the context of the Common European Asylum System and the movement of third-country national asylum seekers in 2015;
  • To investigate the operation of the relocation scheme(s) established in September 2015, the successes, failures, and practical modalities;
  • To examine the reasons for resistance from several Member States to the relocation scheme;
  • To understand the practices in the relocation schemes that have contributed to satisfactory outcomes for asylum seekers, States and the EU, and those practices that have resulted in unsatisfactory outcomes for all involved;
  • To review the links between relocation and the ‘hotspots approach’ as well as action under the EU-Turkey Statement of 18 March 2016 and their impact on the ground;
  • To unpack the implications of the incorporation of the relocation scheme in the Dublin IV reform through a permanent mechanism of corrective allocation;
  • To formulate concrete proposals to improve and rationalise the workings of relocation within the EU as a stable element of the Common European Asylum System.

Issues and Recommendations  Continue reading

Parliamentary Tracker: European and national parliaments debates on the (third) Reform of the Common European Asylum System (28-02-17)

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NOTA BENE : THIS IS NOT AN OFFICIAL RECORDING  See the LIBE official page (with background documents – webstreaming) here                   

by Luigi LIMONE (FREE Group trainee)                                                                                                                                                                        

UP TO THE CHALLENGE

Opening remarks by Claude Moraes, Chair of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament :  According to Claude Moraes this meeting was taking place at very crucial moment of the reform which will  be needed to overcome the crisis which erupted at the EU external borders  in 2015 under the mass influx of migrants coming notably from the war zones in Syria and Iraq. Since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty it should be now a common parliamentary endeavor to succeed in reforming these sensitive policies.

FIRST SESSION: Challenges related to the Common European Asylum System – Chaired by Claude Moraes, LIBE Committee Chair

a) Intervention of Hon. Carmelo Abela, Minister for Home Affairs and National Security, Maltese Presidency Council.  According to Hon. Carmelo Abela, when it comes to asylum, the EU is facing significant challenges like the urgent need to define future approaches for the solution of the migration crisis. The current EU legislative framework does not address the problem as it should do. Several amendments have been proposed by the Commission in order to reform the package on asylum legislation. The December 2016 Council conclusions on solidarity within the Dublin system provided that the EU should create a system built on solidarity, equal responsibility and based on political legitimacy. Discussions on the proposals already started and the Maltese presidency has already done some important efforts, but the road is still long.  The Minister confirmed that the reform was a priority for the Maltese Presidency. For him, the EU and the Maltese Presidency itself are facing significant challenges which should be addressed decisively and conclusively. He stated that the Maltese presidency would make every effort to achieve its objectives. However, it is worth noting that the presidency cannot succeed alone, it needs the help of the national Parliaments in order to create a durable and successful system of asylum.

b) Intervention by Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship. Avramopoulos said that the reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) remained a key priority of the EU. For this reform to be successful the EU needs to build a constructive dialogue between the Union and the representatives of the national Parliaments. According to him, purely national measures do not bring positive results, since nationalist approaches simply undermine the common strategy the EU wishes to adopt. A true spirit of solidarity and shared responsibility is required in order to: define a functioning system for asylum seekers; protect the EU external borders; dismantle the trafficking system; regulate irregular migration; manage return and readmission; accelerate the relocation process. The EU should face the challenge of the large amount of unaccompanied minors as well, together with the fight against secondary movement and asylum shopping. The renovated CEAS would help strengthen mutual trust among Member States, which is necessary not only for the efficiency of the system but also to provide asylum applicants with dignified treatment. The reform is therefore necessary to obtain a higher degree of harmonisation and greater convergence of measures, as well as an equal repartition of responsibilities among Member States.  The success of this reform depends on the implementation of solidarity mechanisms. A clear, predictable and efficient Dublin system is fundamental for the realization of a Union without internal borders. In this respect, sanctions for non-compliance with the rules are necessary, especially to fight secondary movement. Furthermore, resettlement and relocation should become compulsory for all Member States, especially with regard to unaccompanied minors. Ultimately, Avramopoulos proposed to have a Union resettlement framework for persons in need of international protection, which would enable to eliminate differences among national practices. Member States have to show their political willingness to work together and the EU needs to achieve a common understanding on how the future CEAS should function. This should happen through the support of the Maltese Presidency. It is the time to move on with this proposal and look at the migration phenomenon in a more strategic, comprehensive and positive manner. The sooner migrants and refugees are integrated in the host societies and in the labor markets, the more the Union can take advantage of their inclusion. In order to accomplish these goals, the EU needs the involvement of all stakeholders and EU citizens.

c) Interventions of National Parliaments representatives and of MEPs. Continue reading