Worth reading : the final report by the EU High Level Expert Group on Information Systems and Interoperability (HLEG),

NB: The full version (PDF)  of the Report is accessible HERE

On May 8th the (EU) High Level Expert Group on Information Systems and Interoperability (HLEG) which was set up in June 2016 following the Commission Communication on “Stronger and Smarter Information Systems for Borders and Security ” has published its long awaited 56 long pages Report on Information Systems and Interoperability.

Members of the HLEG were the EU Members States (+ Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein), the EU Agencies (Fundamental Rights Agency, FRONTEX, European Asylum Support Office, Europol and the EU-LISA “Large Information Support Agency”) as well as the representatives of the Commission and the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) and the Anti-Terrorism Coordinator (an High Council General Secretariat Official designated by the European Council).

Three Statements, respectively of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, of the European Data Protection Supervisor and of the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator (CTC),  are attached. The first two can be considered as a sort of partially dissenting Opinions while the CTC  statement is quite obviously in full support of the recommendations set out by the report as it embodies for the first time at EU level the “Availability Principle” which was set up already in 2004 by the European Council. According to that principle if a Member State (or the EU) has a security related information which can be useful to another Member State it has to make it available to the authority of another Member State. It looks as a common sense principle which goes hand in hand with the principle of sincere cooperation between EU Member States and between them and the EU Institutions.

The little detail is that when information is collected for security purposes national and European legislation set very strict criteria to avoid the possible abuses by public EU and National Law enforcement authorities. This is the core of Data Protection legislation and of the art. 6, 7 and 8 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights which prevent the EU and its Member States from becoming a sort of Big Brother “State of surveillance”. Moreover, at least until now these principles have guided the post-Lisbon European Court of Justice jurisprudence in this domain and it is quite appalling that no reference is made in this report to the Luxembourg Court Rulings notably dealing with “profiling” and “data retention”(“Digital Rights”, “Schrems”, “TELE 2-Watson”…).

Needless to say to implement all the HLWG recommendations several legislative measures will be needed as well as the definition of a legally EU Security Strategy which should be adopted under the responsibility of the EU co-legislators. Without a strong legally founded EU security strategy not only the European Parliament will continue to be out of the game but also the control of the Court of Justice on the necessity and  proportionality of the existing and planned EU legislative measures will be weakened.  Overall this HLWG report is mainly focused on security related objectives and the references to fundamental rights and data protection are given more as “excusatio non petita” than as a clearly explained reasoning (see the Fundamental Rights Agency Statement). On the Content of the  perceived “threats” to be countered with this new approach it has to be seen if some of them (such as the mixing irregular migration with terrorism)  are not imaginary and, by the countrary, real ones are not taken in account.

At least this report is now public. It will be naive to consider it as purely “technical” : it is highly political and will justify several EU legislative measures. It will be worthless for the European Parliament to wake up when the formal legislative proposals will be submitted. If it has an alternative vision it has to show it NOW and not waiting when the Report will be quite likely “endorsed” by the Council and the European Council.

Emilio De Capitani

TEXT OF THE REPORT (NB  Figures have not been currently imported, sorry.)

——- Continue reading

Legislative Tracker : the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS)

by Beatrice FRAGASSO (Free-Group Trainee)

The European Commission, on 16 November 2016, has put forward a proposal (COM(2016) 731, 16.11.2016, 2016/0357(COD)) establishing a European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) and amending Regulation (EU) (EU) 2016/399 (the ‘Schengen Borders Code’), (EU) 2016/794 and (EU) 2016/1624.

This proposal is being negotiated as part of the Smart Border Package and aims to ensure a high level of internal security and free movement of persons in the Schengen area. The Commission didn’t conduct an impact assessment but published a feasibility study on ETIAS, conducted between June and October 2016.

The system designed by the proposal would require also visa-exempt travellers to undergo a risk assessment with respect to security, irregular migration and public health risks prior to their arrival at the Schengen borders. This assessment would be carried out by means of cross- checking applicant’s data submitted through ETIAS system against other EU information systems, a dedicated ETIAS watch list and screening rules. This process will result in granting or denying an automated authorization for entering the EU.

Further information from the European Parliament Research Service are available HERE

The current situation
Currently, both visa-obliged and visa-exempt travelers are subject to border controls when entering the Schengen area. According to Regulation (EU) 2016/399, both categories of travelers need to comply with the conditions for short-term stay, which include not being a threat to public order and security, holding valid travel documents, justifying the purpose and conditions of the intended stay, not being the subject of any alert in the SIS for the purpose of refusing entry, and having sufficient means of subsistence.

For visa holders the compliance with this conditions is assessed at the time on the request for a visa  and relevant data are stored in visa information system (VIS) which can be consulted by law enforcement authorities for the purposes of combatting serious crime and terrorism.

However, no such advance information can be currently obtained for visa-exempt nationals arriving at the Schengen external borders. This means that border guards need to decide on allowing or refusing access to the Schengen area without prior knowledge regarding any security, migration or public-health risks associated with visa exempt travelers.

This is particularly true for visa-exempt travelers arriving by land, as the only source of information about them is their travel document presented at the time of crossing the EU external border.

The situation is different for passengers arriving by air as Council Directive 2004/82/EC obliges carriers to communicate all passenger data, known as ‘advance passenger information’ (API), including name, date of birth, passport number and nationality at the time of the check-in for inbound flights to the EU. Another Directive (EU) 2016/681 on the use of passenger name record data (the ‘PNR Directive’) collect 19 types of personal data already at the time of the flight reservation and obliges airlines to hand over to EU MS authorities their passengers’ data linked with the travel reservation (which includes travel dates, travel itinerary, ticket information, frequent flyer data,  contact details, baggage information, credit card and general remarks stored in the Airline files).

For visa-exempt passengers arriving on foot or by car, bus or train, no such comparable advance information is available prior to their arrival.

The changes the proposal would bring

Schengen Border Checks
Prior to arriving in the Schengen area, all carriers will verify if visa-exempt third-country nationals have a valid ETIAS travel authorization, without which boarding will not be authorized. A valid ETIAS travel authorization, should be obtained in advance of arrival at a Schengen border crossing point, and this will be a precondition for entering the Schengen area. However, border guards at the external Schengen borders will still take the final decision to grant or refuse entry according to the Schengen Borders Code.

Online application
As it is currently the case for visa-exempt travelers to Canada “ETA”,  USA “ESTA”  and Australia “ETA” who have to ask for a travel authorization also travelers wanting enter the Schengen area will have to fill in an online application by providing their biographical and passport data, contact details, information on intended travel, and answers to background questions relating to public health risks, criminal records, presence in war zones and previous refusals of entry or an order to leave the territory of a Member State.

At the same time, an application fee of €5, which will go to the EU budget, will be mandatory for all applicants above the age of 18 before their application can be processed.

Processing of applications
The automated processing will be carried out by the central system, which will be in charge of checking data provided by applicants against security databases, such as the VIS, Europol data, the SIS, Eurodac, the  Interpol SLTD database , the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS) and the planned future EU “Entry-Exit” system (currently negotiated between the EP and the Council). Personal Data will also be screened against a ETIAS “watch list” (where people suspected to have committed, or be likely to commit a criminal offence will be listed by the EU MS) and against specific risk indicators (irregular migration, security or public- health risks) which will be defined in consultation with an ETIAS screening board.

In the case of a positive hit after the automatic processing, that personal application will be further assessed manually by operators in the ETIAS central unit and in the national units.
In case no risks has been detected a positive response, in a form of a travel authorisation valid for five years (or until the expiry of the passport) will be delivered. In the case of a refusal, a justification will be given and applicants will have the right to appeal.

Authorisation will be revoked or annulled when the conditions for its issuance are no longer met, particularly when it is believed that it was fraudulently obtained or when a new alert for refusal of entry is created in the SIS.

Etias structure
ETIAS will consist of an information system, a central unit and national units.

The information system will be designed for processing applications and will be interoperable with other security databases that ETIAS will be connected. The new system will be managed by the European Agency for the operational management of large-scale information systems in the area of freedom, security and justice (eu-LISA).

The central unit will be part of Frontex (the European Border and Coast Guard Agency) and will ensure that the data stored in the application files and the data recorded in ETIAS are correct and up to date. Where necessary, it will also verify travel authorisation applications whenever there are doubts regarding the identity of an applicant in cases where the latter’s data produced a match (a ‘hit’) against the stored data during automated processing.
The national units will be responsible for making the risk assessment and deciding on travel authorisation for applications rejected by the automated application process. They will also issue opinions when consulted by other national units, and act as a national access point for requests for access to the ETIAS data for law enforcement purposes related to terrorist and other serious criminal offences.

The role of Europol
Europol will be involved in ETIAS in several ways.
Firstly, Europol’s data related to criminal offences, convictions or potential threats will be compared to those provided by applicants for an ETIAS authorization.
Secondly, Europol will help define ETIAS screening rules by participating in the ETIAS screening board and managing the ETIAS watch list.
Thirdly, Europol will be consulted by the ETIAS national units in case of a match with Europol data during the ETIAS automated processing.
And finally, Europol will be able to consult personal data in the ETIAS central system for the prevention, detection or investigation of terrorist offences or other serious criminal offences (as provided by its mandate).

The Council’s position
In a  document om March 17, 2017 authored  by the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the EU and covering also the other legislative pending measures connected to ETIAS, a number of compromises are suggested: The Presidency identified other key issues that needed to be clarified and decided upon before revised text proposals could be submitted to delegations. The Presidency therefore prepared a discussion paper on which delegations were invited to comment. The issues outlined by the Presidency related to the division of competences between Frontex and the Member States, the definition of ‘responsible Member State’ as regards the decision to grant a travel authorisation, and the duration of a travel authorization […] With respect to the definition of the ‘responsible Member State’, delegations were divided into two groups, one in favour of the Member State of first entry, as proposed by the Commission, while the other stressed the key role played by the Member State at the origin of an alert triggering a “hit”. The following issues are the “object of extensive debates”:

“– the scope of the regulation;
– the ETIAS watchlist and the screening rules;
– the access to the ETIAS data;
– the interoperability of ETIAS with other systems and databases.”

More recently the Council Presidency has also submitted some possible compromise proposals to the other delegations (docs 8579/17 and 8584/17) and it is more than likely that the EP will be under pressure to launch the negotiations for a first reading agreement on this subject.

The European Parliament position (Libe Committee Debate)
On the EP side works are still at an initial phase (SEE OEIL DOSSIER HERE). The LIBE Committee has been informed for the first time by a Commission representative (Belinda Pyke) on 22 March 2017. It has been stressed that the purpose of the proposal is to improve internal security and border management and that policy visa liberalization is essential in the system. This proposal will contribute to the security of the Schengen area because as any risks will be identified prior to departure. Due to the political pressure of the European Council and the  very tight deadlines the Commission did not have the time to conduct an impact assessment although it would have been desirable; however, the Commission published a detailed study on the subject. The Commission representative made reference to the comparable systems in  Australia, Canada and USA and declared that the ETIAS system will take stock of the experience of these countries by overcoming their weaknesses and mirroring the strengths of these systems.
Firstly, request authorization will be easy and cheap. Applicants will receive rapidly (within 12 hours) a positive feedback and those without authorization will save travel costs. The ETIAS system provides an automatic control: such control will allow to verify that the criminal record is clean. These checks will take place on the basis of SIS, Interpol, ECRIS, Eurodac.
The ETIAS central unit will compare the data in the database and the identity of the applicant and the rest of the operations will be managed by the national units.
The decision of the unit will be delivered within 72 hours, unless it will be necessary to gather special information (in this case it will be possible an extension to a two-week maximum).
ETIAS will be financially self-sustaining, thanks to the tax that will be paid by applicants. It is estimated that the costs for developing it will amount to €212.1 million, while the average annual operations costs, to be covered by the revenue from fees, will be €85 million.
The data will be protected from abuse and the information may be given to law enforcement only in the case of very serious crimes (this possibility also exist for Eurodac).

The EP rapporteur Kinga Gal (PPE – Hungary) was not present at the debate, but a colleague read her statement. The rapporteur argues that the text is of great importance and it will cover three categories of passengers
1) European Citizens or persons enjoying the right of free movement under Union law
2) Third-country nationals under visa obligation
3) Third-country nationals without visa obligation
From now until 2020 the countries without visa obligation will increase. For third-country nationals without visa obligation it’s difficult to gather information; it’s therefore necessary to create an information system well established in legal terms, so as not to put excessive burdens for Member States.

The debate that followed, however, showed controversial elements in the proposal, criticized by MEPs.
Firstly, almost all the MEPs who spoke remarked the necessity of an impact assessment, finding it unacceptable yet another lack of it. An issue of such importance can not be studied without taking into account an impact assessment: the urgency can not justify such a lack.

Birgit Sippel (S&D – Germany), for instance, affirmed that she’s tired to listen to the Commission affirming that it’s necessary to adopt better legislation and that impact assessments are not conducted anymore because of urgency. EU needs to regulate well, not in a hurry: this rush to legislate, then, does not make sense if the execution by the Member States is so slow. She also remarked that one of the problems in this proposal is that the form requires a bit of everything and there is the risk that if an applicant forgets a small offense did at 15 years old he cannot enter.

The shadow rapporteur Gérard Deprez (ALDE – Belgium) wondered what professional criteria will be provided for ETIAS units and how it will be possible to apply Article 7 of the Schengen Code, because compulsory systematic checks for everybody (as provided in that Article) would have a significant impact on traffic at the border. Deprez considered that the term of 72 hours is reasonable whereas he considers excessive the term of validity of five years, because in the course of five years many things can change in a person’s life. Also foreign experiences in fact suggest different solutions: in US visa is valid for one year and in Australia for two years. Also with regard to rates, Deprez is at odds with the proposal: 5 euro is a low price if compared to the prices of US (14 euro) and Australia (20 euro). According to Deprez, then, in the request the applicant should indicate the member state where he would like to go. The proposal, in addiction, should define a better balancing of criminal convictions. For example, prison sentences of less than one year should not be an obstacle to the granting of authorization.

It may also emerge a serious problem for air traffic. It is estimated that for a plane carrying 300 people controls may last from four hours and a half to seven hours and a half. The controls are certainly a necessary corollary for visa liberalization, but the parliament should find more efficient solutions.

On behalf of DG HOME of the European Commission Mrs Belinda Pike replied that the validity of five years would be reasonable. Of course it is noted that in the case in which the person commits an offense such information is immediately acquired in the system. Contrary to what Deprez stated, then, the cost is not too low, but it’s instead sufficient to ensure the smart management of borders. It is a fee that will cover the costs and ensures a small gain. In the US half of the fee (therefore, 7 euros) is invested in the tourism sector. Do not pay anything on the other hand would be a huge burden on the EU budget.

Belinda Pike finally stressed that the screening does not immediately lead to the rejection of the request, but simply involves manual handling of the request.

Marie – Christine Vergiat (GUE/NGL – France) and Bodil Valero (Greens/EFA – Sweden) highlighted that visas are returned, albeit with a different name (authorization). According to Marie – Christine Vergiat, then, this proposal does not promote cooperation between member states, it is repressive and attacks the fundamental rights, like others in this area of “smart” borders. Security and immigration are matters to be addressed in different texts, because adhere to different problems. The fact that some people should be identified through a profiling system also raises an ethical problem.

Bodil Valero remarked the privacy-issue. People will also provide information on education and health and Greens/Efa group would like to receive explanations about what is the reason for these provisions: perhaps the Commission’s intention is to gather information that cannot be collected in other ways. Furthermore, the 5-year period envisaged for data stocking is too long. She underlined that also the EDPS (European Data Protection Supervisor) has taken a fairly critical position on some of the elements of the proposal.
In his opinion, in fact, the EDPS states, among other things, that the establishment of ETIAS would have a significant impact on the right to the protection of personal data, since various kinds of data, collected initially for very different purposes, will become accessible to a broader range of public authorities (i.e. immigration authorities, border guards, law enforcement authorities, etc). For this reason, the EDPS considers that there is a need for conducting an assessment of the impact that the Proposal will entail on the right to privacy and the right to data protection enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, which will take stock of all existing EU-level measures for migration and security objectives.

Last but not least, during a TRAN (transport and tourism) committee on Wednesday 22 March, different speakers representing the tourist sector expressed concerns about the costs generated by the ETIAS in the tourism sector. However, the TRAN Committee decided not to give an opinion to LIBE.

NEXT STEPS

As soon as the two co-legislators will have defined their position a trilogue  could be launched which can bring to an agreement on first reading. As things currently stay an agreement will probably go hand in hand with the other “ENTRY/EXIT” legislative proposal.

 

Immigration detention and the rule of law: the ECJ’s first ruling on detaining asylum-seekers in the Dublin system

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS (May 5,2017)

by Tommaso Poli (LL.M. candidate in Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at the University of Essex, School of Law).

One of the most controversial issues in immigration law is the detention of asylum-seekers. This issue was not initially addressed by the European Common Asylum System (CEAS), but is now addressed in some of the second-phase CEAS measures (the CEAS consists of the Asylum Procedures Directive, the Reception Conditions Directive, the Qualification Directive, the Dublin Regulation and the EURODAC Regulation).

In particular, the second-phase CEAS measures contain detailed rules on detaining asylum-seekers in two cases:  a) general rules in the Reception Conditions Directive, which were the subject of a first ECJ ruling in 2016 (discussed here) and a recent opinion of an Advocate-General; and b) more specific rules in the Dublin III Regulation, applying to asylum-seekers whose application is considered to be the responsibility of another Member State under those rules. Recently, the ECJ ruled for the first time on the interpretation of the latter provisions, in its judgment in the Al Chodor case.

As we will see, the Court took a strong view of the need for the rule of law to apply in detention cases. Moreover, its ruling is potentially relevant not just to Dublin cases, but also detention of asylum-seekers and irregular migrants in other contexts too.

The rules on detaining asylum-seekers in the context of the Dublin process are set out in Article 28 of the Dublin III Regulation. First of all, Article 28(1) states that asylum seekers can’t be detained purely because they are subject to the Dublin process. Then Article 28(2) sets out the sole ground for detention: when there is a ‘significant risk of absconding’. If that is the case ‘Member States may detain the person concerned in order to secure transfer procedures in accordance with’ the Dublin rules, ‘on the basis of an individual assessment and only in so far as detention is proportional and other less coercive alternative measures cannot be applied effectively’.

Next, Article 28(3) sets out detailed rules on time limits for ‘Dublin detention’; these are the subject of the pending Khir Amayry case. Finally, Article 28(4) states that the general rules on guarantees relating to procedural rights and detention conditions set out in the Reception Conditions Directive apply to asylum-seekers detained under the Dublin rules.

Al Chodor concerned the interpretation of the grounds for detention under Article 28(2): what is a ‘serious risk of absconding’?  The Dublin III Regulation offers some limited clarity, defining ‘risk of absconding’ as ‘the existence of reasons in an individual case, which are based on objective criteria defined by law, to believe that an applicant or a third country national or a stateless person who is subject to a transfer procedure may abscond.’ (Article 2(n) of the Regulation).

Facts

The case relates to an Iraqi man and his two minor children who were traveling from Hungary in the Czech Republic, without any documentation to establish their identity, with the aim of joining family members in Germany. After stopping the Al Chodors, the Czech Foreigners Police Section (FPS) consulted the Eurodac database and found that they had made an asylum application in Hungary. As a consequence, the Al Chodors were subjected to the transfer procedure according to Article 18(1)(b) of the Dublin III Regulation. In addition, the FPS took the view that there was a ‘serious risk of absconding’, given that the Al Chodors had neither a residence permit nor accommodation in the Czech Republic, while they were waiting for their transfer to Hungary.

So, they placed the Al Chodors in detention for 30 days pending their transfer pursuant to Paragraph 129(1) of the national law on the residence of foreign nationals, read in conjunction with Article 28(2) of the Dublin III Regulation. The Al Chodors brought an action against the decision ordering their detention to the regional Court, which annulled that decision, finding that Czech legislation does not lay down objective criteria for the assessment of the risk of absconding within the meaning of Article 2(n) of the Dublin III Regulation. That Court accordingly ruled that the decision was unlawful. Following the annulment of the decision of the FPS, the Al Chodors were released from custody.

The FPS brought an appeal on a point of law before the Supreme Administrative Court against the decision of the Regional Court. According to the FPS, the inapplicability of Article 28(2) of the Dublin III Regulation cannot be justified by the mere absence in Czech legislation of objective criteria defining the risk of absconding. That provision subjects the assessment of the risk of absconding to three conditions, namely an individual assessment taking account of the circumstances of the case, the proportionality of the detention, and the impossibility of employing a less coercive measure. The FPS has submitted that it satisfied those conditions.

The Supreme Administrative Court was uncertain whether the recognition by its settled case-law of objective criteria on the basis of which the detention of persons pursuant to Paragraph 129 of the Law on the residence of foreign nationals may be carried out can meet the requirement of a definition ‘by law’ within the meaning of Article 2(n) of the Dublin III Regulation, in so far as that case-law confirms a consistent administrative practice of the FPS which is characterised by the absence of arbitrary elements, and by predictability and an individual assessment in each case. So the Court decided to refer to the European Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling asking whether Article 2(n) and Article 28(2) of the Dublin III Regulation, read in conjunction, must be interpreted as requiring Member States to establish, in a national law, objective criteria underlying the reasons for believing that an applicant for international protection who is subject to a transfer procedure may abscond, and whether the absence of those criteria in a national law leads to the inapplicability of Article 28(2) of that regulation.

Judgment

The Court of Justice first of all ruled that Article 2(n) of the Dublin III Regulation explicitly requires that objective criteria defining the existence of a risk of absconding be defined by the national law of each Member State (paragraph 27-28). Then, determining whether the word ‘law’ must be understood as including settled case-law, the Court reaffirmed that in interpreting a provision of EU law, it is necessary to consider not only its wording but also the context in which it occurs and the objectives pursued by the rules of which it forms part (judgment of 26 May 2016, Envirotec Denmark, paragraph 27).

So with regard to the general scheme of the rules of which Article 2(n) of Dublin III Regulation forms part, the Court, referring to recital 9 of that regulation, states that the regulation is intended to make necessary improvements, in the light of experience, not only to the effectiveness of the Dublin system but also to the protection of fundamental rights afforded to applicants under that system. This high level of protection is also clear from Articles 28 and 2(n) of that regulation, read in conjunction. As regards the objective pursued by Article 2(n) of the Dublin III Regulation, read in conjunction with Article 28(2) thereof, the Court recalls that, by authorizing the detention of an applicant in order to secure transfer procedures pursuant to that regulation where there is a significant risk of absconding, those provisions provide for a limitation on the exercise of the fundamental right to liberty enshrined in Article 6 of the Charter.

In that regard, it is clear from Article 52(1) of the Charter that any limitation on the exercise of that right must be provided for by law and must respect the essence of that right and be subject to the principle of proportionality. Furthermore, it is worth noting that in this ruling the European Court of Justice explicitly aligns its interpretation to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), reaffirming that any deprivation of liberty must be lawful not only in the sense that it must have a legal basis in national law, but also that lawfulness concerns the quality of the law and implies that a national law authorizing the deprivation of liberty must be sufficiently accessible, precise and foreseeable in its application in order to avoid risk of arbitrariness (judgment of the European Court of Human Rights of 21 October 2013, Del Río Prada v Spain, paragraph 125).

The Court then concluded by stating that taking account of the purpose of the provisions concerned, and in the light of the high level of protection which follows from their context, only a provision of general application could meet the requirement of clarity, predictability, accessibility and, in particular, protection against arbitrariness. It follows that Article 2(n) and Article 28(2) of the Dublin III Regulation, read in conjunction, must be interpreted as requiring that the objective criteria underlying the reasons for believing that an applicant may abscond must be established in a binding provision of general application. In the absence of such criteria, the detention was unlawful.

Comments

First of all, the Court’s ruling is likely relevant to the interpretation of other EU measures concerning immigration detention. In the Returns Directive, which inter alia concerns the detention of irregular migrants (as distinct from asylum seekers), the ‘risk of absconding’ forms part of the ground for detention (as well as one of the grounds for refusing to allow the irregular migrant a period for voluntary departure); and it is defined exactly the same way as in the Dublin III Regulation. As for asylum seekers who are detained on grounds other than the Dublin process, a ‘risk of absconding’ is an element of one of the grounds for detention under the Reception Conditions Directive, but is not further defined. But a recent Advocate-General’s opinion notes (at para 73) that this clause aims to prevent ‘arbitrary’ detention, which was a key feature of the reasoning in the Al Chodor judgment. This surely points to a consistent interpretation of the two asylum laws. It follows that arguably the Court’s judgment should be relevant not just to Dublin cases but to any immigration detention of non-EU citizens in any Member State bound by the relevant EU legislation.

Secondly, this ruling has reiterated the principle by which although regulations generally have immediate effect in national legal systems without it being necessary for the national authorities to adopt measures of application, some of those provisions may necessitate, for their implementation, the adoption of measures of applicability by the Member States (judgment of 14 April 2011, Vlaamse Dierenartsenvereniging and Janssens, paragraphs 47 and 48).

Most significantly, the Court has reaffirmed the primacy of Human Rights law in EU asylum law implementation, highlighting that the development of the EU asylum law itself depends on its compliance with Human Rights law. In particular, the ECJ’s ruling in this case first of all reflects the ECtHR’s interpretation of the ‘arbitrariness’ of detention, which extends beyond the lack of conformity with national law. Notably, it states that a deprivation of liberty that is lawful under domestic law can still be arbitrary and thus contrary to the general principles, stated explicitly or implied, in the Convention (judgment of the European Court of Human Rights of 9 July 2009, Mooren v. Germany, paragraphs 73-77).

The Court’s ruling also reflects UN human rights norms. The Human Rights Committee’s General Comment No. 31 related to the nature of the general legal obligation imposed on State parties to the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which all EU Member States are State parties to, which reads that ‘in no case may the restrictions be applied or invoked in a manner that would impair the essence of a Covenant right’ (paragraph 4). Furthermore, the Human Rights Committee’s General Comment No. 35 points out that “arbitrariness is not to be equated with ‘against the law’, but must be interpreted more broadly to include elements of inappropriateness, injustice, lack of predictability and due process of law, as well as elements of reasonableness, necessity and proportionality” (paragraph 12, see also HRC, Van Alphen v. Netherlands, paragraph 5.8).

Finally, the Court’s ruling has confirmed the constitutional value of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which assumes a critical value in this historical period, since, as with any constitutional instrument, the more society as a whole is going through difficult times (such as the perceived ‘migration crisis’ in Europe), the more important it is to reaffirm its principles and values.

Likewise Article 52 of the EU Charter states that in no case may restrictions be applied or invoked in a manner that would impair the essence of a Charter right; in the context of detention, a fortiori it can be also affirmed that essential elements of guarantee for that right, as the requirement of lawfulness and non-arbitrariness for the right of liberty, cannot be disregarded in any circumstance. The Al Chodor ruling puts meat on the bones of that fundamental principle.

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).