(EP BRIEFING) Revision of the Schengen Information System for law enforcement

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED HERE (PDF FILE)

by Costica Dumbrava (Members’ Research Service)

OVERVIEW

The Schengen Information System (SIS) is a large-scale information database that supports external border control and law enforcement cooperation in the Schengen states. It enables competent authorities, such as police and border guards, to enter and consult alerts on certain categories of wanted or missing persons and lost or stolen property. In December 2016, the European Commission adopted a package of proposals aimed at responding more effectively to new migration and security challenges. One of these proposals is focused on improving and extending the use of the SIS in the field of police cooperation and judicial cooperation in criminal matters. It clarifies procedures, creates new alerts and checks, extends the use of biometrics, and enlarges access for law enforcement authorities. The proposal is part of a legislative package that includes a proposal to revise the rules of the SIS in the field of border checks and a proposal for establishing a new role of the SIS in the return of illegally staying third-country nationals.

Proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the establishment, operation and use of the Schengen Information System (SIS) in the field of police cooperation and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, amending Regulation (EU) No 515/2014 and repealing Regulation (EC) No 1986/2006, Council Decision 2007/533/JHA and Commission Decision 2010/261/EU
Committee responsible: Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) COM(2016) 883 21.12.2016
Rapporteur: To be appointed 2016/0409(COD)
Shadow rapporteurs: Next steps expected: To be appointed

Initial discussions in committee

Ordinary legislative procedure (COD) (Parliament and Council on equal footing – formerly ‘co-decision’)

 

Introduction

The Schengen Information System (SIS) was established by the Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement in 1990, as a primary compensatory measure for the abolition of controls at the internal borders in the Schengen area. SIS II – the current version of the SIS – was established in 2006 and became operational in 2013. Its legal basis is currently defined by Regulation (EC) No 1987/2006 on alerts on persons, Regulation (EC) No 1986/2006 on alerts on vehicles, and Council Decision 2007/533/JHA on alerts on missing and wanted persons and objects.

To respond more effectively to new migration and security challenges in recent years, the European Union (EU) has decided to implement a set of measures aimed at strengthening its external borders, and enhancing cooperation and information exchange between Member States. One such measure was the proposal for a European Border and Coast Guard Agency in 2015 which resulted in the guard being launched in October 2016. Similarly, in December 2015, the European Commission proposed a targeted modification of the Schengen Borders Code to establish mandatory systematic checks for all travellers entering or exiting the EU, and put forward a proposal for a directive on combating terrorism. In January 2016, the European Commission launched a proposal for a directive on the European criminal records information system. In May 2016, the European Commission proposed a revision of the Eurodac Regulation to allow the Eurodac database to be used for identifying illegally staying third-country nationals who do not claim asylum in the EU.

The proposal for a European travel information and authorisation system, put forward in November 2016, is aimed at introducing a mechanism requiring visa-exempt third-country nationals to obtain authorisation to travel to the Schengen area.
In December 2016, the European Commission launched a proposal to establish an EU entry/exit system for recording data on the entry and exit of third-country nationals crossing the EU’s external borders.
The proposal on the revision of the SIS in the field of police cooperation and judicial cooperation is part of a legislative package along with a proposal to revise the SIS in the field of border checks and a proposal to use the SIS for the return of illegally staying third-country nationals.
The first two proposals contain a number of identical provisions and would constitute the new legal basis for the SIS. The Commission announced it will launch a second set of proposals, to further improve the interoperability of the SIS with other information technology (IT) systems, in mid-2017.

 DeathForTerrorism

Figure 1 -Terrorism-related arrests, attacks and deaths

Data source: Europol, 2014; 2015; 2016.

Context

In 2015, Frontex recorded 1.8 million detections of irregular crossings of the EU’s external borders (about 1 million irregular migrants). Despite EU efforts to stop the flow of irregular migrants, about 0.5 million detections are estimated to have been made in 2016. The number of terrorist attacks in the EU – foiled, failed and completed attacks – increased from 152 to 211 from 2013 to 2015, while the number of persons arrested on terrorism-related charges has doubled in the same period (see Figure 1). At least 151 persons were killed in terrorist attacks in 2015 and the number of deaths caused by such attacks remained high in 2016. Although the majority of perpetrators were EU citizens, many had links with terrorist organisations from outside the EU, and some entered the EU irregularly by exploiting weaknesses of the EU external borders. According to Europol, the perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris had links to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen, while a number of the suspects involved in the November 2015 Paris attacks had previously travelled to and been trained in Syria. The growing phenomenon of foreign fighters (EU citizens travelling to conflict zones abroad to engage in fighting) reveals another dimension of the complex relationship between migration and cross-border crime. In 2015, about 5 000 EU citizens travelled abroad to engage in terrorist activities. The crackdown against the self-proclaimed ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq and Syria (ISIL/Da’esh) has raised serious concerns about the return to Europe of many of these foreign fighters.

Existing situation

Characteristics of the SIS

The SIS consists of three components: 1) a central system; 2) national systems in each Member State that communicate with the central system; and 3) a communication infrastructure. Member States can enter, update, delete, and search data via their national systems, and exchange information via the supplementary information request at the national entry bureaux (Sirene). Member States are responsible for setting up, operating and maintaining their national systems and national Sirene bureaux. The EU Agency for large-scale IT systems in the area of freedom, security and justice (eu-LISA) is responsible for the operational management of the central system and the communication infrastructure. The Commission is responsible for the general oversight and evaluation of the system and for the adoption of implementing measures. The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) monitors the application of the data protection rules for the central system, while the national data protection authorities supervise the application of the data protection rules in their respective countries.

SIS alerts cover the following categories of persons and objects:

  • refusal of entry or stay to third-country nationals who are not entitled to enter or stay in the Schengen area;
  • persons for whom a European arrest warrant or an extradition request (in the case of associated countries) has been issued;
  • missing persons, in view of placing them under protection, if necessary;
  • persons sought to assist with criminal judicial procedures;
  • persons and objects for discreet or specific checks, in view of prosecuting criminal offences and preventing threats to public or national security;
  • objects for seizure or use as evidence in criminal procedures.

SIS alerts consist of three types of data: identification data for the person or object an alert is about; information about why the person or object is being sought; and instructions for concrete action to be taken by officers on the ground when the person or object is found.

Access to data is given to national authorities responsible for border control, police, customs, visa and vehicle registration and, by extension, to national judicial authorities when this is necessary for the performance of their tasks.

The European Police Office (Europol) and the European Union’s Judicial Cooperation Unit (Eurojust) have limited access rights for performing certain types of queries. SIS checks are mandatory for the processing of short-stay visas, for border checks for third-country nationals and, on a non-systematic basis, for EU citizens and other persons enjoying the right of free movement. Every police check on the territory of a Schengen state should include a check in the SIS. Any person has the right to access SIS data related to them, as provided for by the national law of the Member State concerned. Access may only be refused when this is indispensable for the performance of a lawful task related to an alert, and for protecting the rights and freedoms of other people. Individuals may bring actions before the courts or other authorities competent under the national law to access, correct, delete or retrieve information, or to obtain compensation in connection with an alert relating to them.

Identified shortcomings

According to eu-LISA reports, the total number of alerts inserted in the SIS increased between December 2013 and December 2015 (see Figure 2). These alerts have been distributed unevenly across Member States.

In 2015, three countries had more than half of the total number   of   alerts:   Italy   (18 million), Germany     (9.5 million)     and     France (6.5 million). Despite an increase in the total number of SIS alerts between 2013 and 2015, the number of alerts on persons  has slightly decreased. The number of searches   in   the   SIS   increased   from 1.2 billion to 2.9 billion between April 2013 and December 2015. Member States do not use the SIS equally: in 2015, three Member States conducted about half of the searches: France (555 million), Spain (398 million) and Germany (393 million).
Currently, identity checks in the SIS are based on alphanumeric searches (name and date of birth).
Fingerprints can be used only in order to verify and confirm the identity of a person who has already been identified by name. The SIS legal framework allows the use of facial images and fingerprints in order to verify identity, provided that the necessary technology is available.
In 2016, the European Commission asked eu-LISA to start working on implementing the fingerprint functionality in the SIS. In its March 2016 report, the European Counter-terrorism Coordinator (ECTC) pointed to problems related to the absence of common standards for inserting alerts, interpreting and reporting information in SIS.
With regard to using SIS to combat terrorism, the ECTC noted that Member States continue to apply different standards and did not enter systematically in SIS identified foreign terrorist fighters.
The European Commission has made several legal and technical improvements to the SIS to enable real-time communication from the ground to relevant services in other Member States, and to improve information exchange on terrorist suspects.
In 2015, the Commission revised the Schengen handbook and finalised a set of common risk indicators to be used during border checks in order to detect foreign terrorist fighters. The proposal for a directive on combating terrorism obliges Member States to enter systematically in the SIS alerts on suspected or convicted terrorist offenders.
Currently, there is little interoperability and interconnection between different information systems. The ECTC reported a discrepancy between the numbers of SIS alerts on national security grounds and the number of entries on foreign terrorist fighters in the Europol’s European information system (EIS). All SIS alerts related to terrorism should, by default, also be recorded in the EIS. The Commission announced that it would start working towards introducing a single search interface to allow simultaneous searches to be performed in all relevant systems without changing existing access rights.

Parliament’s starting position

The European Parliament has consistently advocated more effective cooperation between Member States’ law enforcement authorities, provided that appropriate safeguards on data protection and privacy are maintained.
In its resolution of 17 December 2014 on renewing the EU internal security strategy, the Parliament called on the Member States to make better use of valuable existing instruments, including through ‘more expeditious and efficient sharing of relevant data and information’.
In its resolution of 11 February 2015 on anti-terrorism measures, the Parliament restated its call on the Member States to make optimal use of existing databases, and reiterated that ‘all data collection and sharing, including by EU agencies such as Europol, should be compliant with EU and national law and based on a coherent data protection framework offering legally binding personal data protection standards at an EU level’.
In its resolution of 6 July 2016 on the strategic priorities for the Commission work programme 2017, the Parliament called on the Commission to present proposals to improve and develop existing information systems, address information gaps and move towards interoperability.

Council and European Council starting positions

The European Council has repeatedly called to reinforce the management of the EU’s external borders in order to cope with migration pressure and security challenges.
The European Council’s strategic guidelines for justice and home affairs of June 2014 identified the need to improve the link between the EU’s internal and external policies, and called for the intensification of operational cooperation among Member States, ‘while using the potential of information and communication technologies’ innovations’.
In its conclusions of 15 October 2015, the European Council called for devising ‘technical solutions to reinforce the control of the EU’s external borders to meet both migration and security objectives, without hampering the fluidity of movement’. In its conclusions of 17- 18 December 2015, the European Council urged to address the shortcomings at the external borders, notably by ensuring systematic security checks with relevant databases.
On 16 September 2016, the 27 Heads of State or Government attending the Bratislava Summit adopted the Bratislava declaration and roadmap, in which they called for the intensification of cooperation and information exchange, and urged the ‘adoption of the necessary measures to ensure that all persons, including nationals from EU Member States, crossing the Union’s external borders will be checked against the relevant databases, that must be interconnected’.
The Council also called for ‘reinforc[ing] border security through systematic and coordinated checks against the relevant databases based on risk assessment’, and for ‘improving information exchange and accessibility, especially by ensuring the interoperability of different information systems’ in its conclusions of 10 June 2015 on the renewed European Union internal security strategy 2015-2020.
On 6 June 2016, the Council Presidency put forward a roadmap to enhance information exchange and information management including interoperability solutions in the area of justice and home affairs. In a note on IT measures related to border management, presented on 3 October 2016, the Council Presidency maintained that well-functioning information architecture constituted a prerequisite for effective border management.

Preparation of the proposal

In April 2016, the European Commission adopted a communication on stronger and smarter information systems for borders and security, in which it identified a number of key shortcomings in the existing information systems and explored options on how existing and future information systems could enhance external border management and internal security.
With regard to the SIS, the communication outlined several possible developments: the creation of SIS alerts on irregular migrants subject to return decisions; the use of facial images for biometric identification; the automatised transmission of information on a hit following a check; and the creation of a new alert category on ‘wanted unknown persons’.
In June 2016, the high-level expert group on information systems and interoperability (HLEG) was established to work on a joint strategy to make data management in the EU more effective and efficient. The HLEG is composed of high-level representatives of the Commission, Member States, associated members of the Schengen area (Iceland, Norway and Switzerland), EU agencies (eu-LISA, Frontex, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and Europol) and the Counter-terrorism Coordinator.
The Council Secretariat and representatives of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) participate as observers.
The HLEG’s interim report, presented in December 2016, emphasised the need to raise the standards of data quality and data usage, and identified priority options to be considered in promoting information systems interoperability.
The comprehensive evaluation of the SIS II, finalised by the Commission in December 2016, found that, despite the ‘obvious success’ of the system, changes were needed in order to provide a better response to ongoing security and migration challenges.
The report emphasised the need to reinforce the use of the SIS for counter-terrorism purposes, to clarify the situation of children who are under threat of parental abduction, to extend the use of biometric identifiers and to enhance security standards, data quality and the transparency of SIS.
In the preparation of the proposal, the Commission took into account the results of consultations with relevant stakeholders, such as the SISVIS committee, the SIS II supervision coordination group, and the Member States’ national data protection authorities. The Commission did not carry out an impact assessment but relied on the findings of three independent studies.

The changes the proposal would bring

New alerts and checks

The proposal would introduce a new alert category of ‘unknown wanted persons’ who are connected to a crime, for example persons whose fingerprints are found on a weapon used in a crime.
The scope of the existing alert on missing persons would be extended to allow national authorities to issue preventive alerts for children who are at high risk of parental abduction. The proposal would establish an obligation on the Member States to create SIS alerts for cases related to terrorist offences.
A new ‘inquiry check’ would allow authorities to question a person more thoroughly than in the case of a discreet check, in order to gather more information about the person and to decide on whether further action should be taken. This new type of check is intended to support measures to counter terrorism and serious crime. The proposal would further expand the list of objects for which alerts can be issued, to cover, for example, blank official documents, issued identity papers, vehicles, falsified documents and falsified banknotes.

Extended use of biometrics

The proposal would provide for more effective use of existing biometrics, such as facial imaging and fingerprints and introduce new elements of biometric identifiers, such as palm prints and DNA profiles. It would be mandatory to carry out a fingerprint search if the identity of the person cannot be ascertained in any other way. The system would allow for the storage of fingerprints of ‘unknown wanted persons’. DNA profiles could be used in the case of missing persons who need to be placed under protection when fingerprint or palm prints are not available.

Wider access for law enforcement authorities

The proposal would grant access to SIS to national authorities responsible for examining conditions, and taking decisions, relating to entry, stay, and return of third-country nationals on the territory of Member States.
The extension of access to various immigration authorities would enable the consultation of SIS in relation to irregular migrants who have not been checked at a regular border control. Registration authorities for boats and aircraft would receive limited access to SIS to carry out their tasks, provided that they are governmental services. Europol would receive full access rights to SIS, including to alerts on missing persons. The European border and coast guard agency and its teams would be allowed to access SIS when carrying out operations in support of Member States.

Enhanced data protection and security

The proposal would allow to enter more detailed information in alerts, such as whether a person is involved in terrorism-related activities (as defined by Articles 1-4 of Council Framework decision 2002/475/JHA on combating terrorism), details of a person’s identity or travel documents, and other person-related remarks.
It would expand the list of personal data to be entered and processed in SIS for the purpose of dealing with misused identities. It would provide for the recording of the details of data subjects’ personal identification documents and make it possible to categorise missing children according to the circumstances of their disappearance.
The proposal would introduce additional safeguards to ensure that the collection and processing of, and access to, data is limited to what is strictly necessary, in full respect of EU legislation and fundamental rights. It would provide for specific alert-deletion rules and reduce the retention period for object alerts.
According to the proposal, Member States would be prohibited from copying data entered by another Member State into other national data files.
The proposal would establish a uniform set of rules and obligations for end-users (officers on the ground) on how to access and process SIS data in a secure way. In order to ensure proper monitoring of SIS, eu-LISA would be charged with providing daily, monthly and annual statistics on how the system is used.

Budgetary implications

The estimated costs related to the proposal amount to €64.3 million for the 2018-2020 period and would serve to cover, among other things, implementing the changes provided for in the proposed revision of SIS in the field of police cooperation and judicial cooperation in criminal matters. Each Member State would receive a lump sum of €1.2 million to upgrade its national system. The budget would be secured through a re-programming of the smart borders envelope of the Internal Security Fund.

Advisory committees
The advisory committees are not mandatorily consulted on this proposal.

National parliaments
To date, none of the national parliaments has submitted a reasoned opinion on the compatibility of the proposal with the principle of subsidiarity.

Stakeholders’ views
This section aims to provide a flavour of the debate and is not intended to be an exhaustive account of all different views on the proposal. Additional information can be found in related publications listed under EP supporting analysis.
No major stakeholder has issued a position on the Commission’s proposal so far.

Legislative process
The legislative proposal (COM(2016) 883), adopted on 21 December 2016, falls under the ordinary legislative procedure (2016/0409(COD)) and, within the European Parliament, has been assigned to the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE). Work in the committee is still at an early stage. In the Council, the working party for Schengen matters is likewise still at an early stage in its examination of the proposal.

EP supporting analysis
– Bakowski, P., Puccio, L., Foreign fighters – Member State responses and EU action, EPRS, March 2016.
– van Ballegooij, W., The cost of non-Schengen: Civil liberties, justice and home affairs aspects, EPRS, September 2016.
– Gatto, A., Carmona, J., European Border and Coast Guard System, EPRS, October 2016.
– Gatto, A., Goudin, P., Niemenen, R., Schengen area: Update and state of play, EPRS, March 2016.
– Malmersjo, G., Remáč, M., Schengen and the management of the EU’s external borders, Implementation appraisal, EPRS, April 2016.
– Voronova, S., Combating terrorism, EPRS, July 2016.

Other sources
Schengen Information System (SIS) in the field of police cooperation and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, European Parliament, Legislative Observatory (OEIL).

Disclaimer and Copyright
The content of this document is the sole responsibility of the author and any opinions expressed therein do not necessarily represent the official position of the European Parliament. It is addressed to the Members and staff of the EP for their parliamentary work. Reproduction and translation for non-commercial purposes are authorised, provided the source is acknowledged and the European Parliament is given prior notice and sent a copy.
© European Union, 2017.

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First edition. The EU Legislation in Progress briefings are updated at key stages throughout the legislative procedure.

TERROR AND EXCLUSION IN EU ASYLUM LAW CASE – C-573/14 LOUNANI (GRAND CHAMBER, 31 JANUARY 2017)

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EUROPEAN LAW BLOG  ON  MARCH 3, 2017 (NB: EMPHASIS ARE ADDED)

By Stephen Coutts

The on-going conflict in the Middle East has profound implications for the global legal order in two areas of law in particular: asylum law and anti-terrorist law.

The European Union and EU law have not been immune from this development and in many respects are closely affected by these geopolitical developments and their legal impact. After a fitful start, the EU has become a major actor in the area of criminal law, and in particular anti-terrorist law, on the one hand and in asylum law on the other.[1]

The two fields meet in Article 12(2)(c) of the Qualification Directive, itself reflecting Article 1F of the Geneva convention,[2] providing that an individual shall be excluded from eligibility for refugee status for acts contrary to the principles and purposes of the United Nations, acts which have been held to include acts of terrorism.

Furthermore, Article 12(3) of the Qualification Directive extends that exclusion to ‘persons who instigate or otherwise participate in the commission of the crimes or acts’ mentioned in Article 12(2). The status of terrorist and refugee are legally incompatible and mutually exclusive; one simply cannot be a terrorist and also a refugee. What, however, constitutes a terrorist for the purposes of Article 12 of the Qualification Directive? That essentially is the question at stake in Lounani.

Facts and Background Context

Mr Lounani, a Moroccan national, arrived in Europe in 1991 and initially applied for asylum in Germany where his application was rejected. He moved to Belgium in 1997 and lived there illegally. In 2010 he was convicted of membership of the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (MICG), an organisation that has been listed by the United Nations Security Council as a terrorist organisation. It appears he occupied a leading role in the MICG over many years and participated in various aspects of its organisation including fund-raising, forging of documents and arranging the travel of individuals to Iraq.

Crucially, however, he was never convicted of direct terrorist acts and there appears to be some dispute as to whether the MICG and/or individuals Mr Lounani aided in travelling to Iraq themselves participated directly in terrorist acts.

Mr Lounani subsequently claimed asylum in Belgium on the grounds that, following his conviction for terrorist related offences, he would be persecuted upon return to Morocco. An initial decision excluding him from refugee status on the basis of Article 12(2)(c) of the Qualification directive was overturned on review. That decision was in turn appealed to the Conseil d’Etat which stayed the case and referred a number of questions to the Court of Justice asking essentially if the exclusion clause operated only in relation to terrorist acts as defined in Article 1 of the Framework Decision on Combatting Terrorism (FDCT)[4] or if ancillary acts of participation in terrorist organisation and facilitating the commission of terrorist acts could be considered contrary to the principles and values of the UN as referred to in Articles 12(2)(c) and 12(3)[5] of the Qualification Directive.

Finally, if so, the Conseil d’Etat queried if a criminal conviction would automatically lead to the application of the exclusion clause.

Opinion of AG Sharpston[6]  Continue reading

The  European Union’s  Policies  on  Counter-Terrorism. Relevance,  Coherence and Effectiveness

FULL TEXT (226 pages) ACCESSIBLE HERE 

(*)This research paper was requested by the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs and was commissioned, overseen and published by the Policy Department for  Citizens’ Rights and  Constitutional  Affairs. (January 2017)

AUTHORS :
(PwC) : Wim  WENSINK, Bas WARMENHOVEN, Roos HAASNOOT, Rob  WESSELINK, Dr  Bibi   VAN  GINKEL,
 International  Centre for  Counter-Terrorism (ICCT)  – The  Hague:  Stef WITTENDORP,  Dr  Christophe  PAULUSSEN, Dr  Wybe  DOUMA, Dr  Bérénice  BOUTIN,  Onur  GÜVEN, Thomas  RIJKEN, With   research   assistance   from:   Olivier  VAN   GEEL,   Max   GEELEN,   Geneviève   GIRARD,   Stefan HARRIGAN, Lenneke  HUISMAN,  Sheila  JACOBS  and  Caroline TOUSSAINT.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY (emphasis are added)

Background and aim

The series of recent terrorist attacks, as well as the various foiled and failed terrorist plots on European soil, have more than ever reinforced the popular awareness of the vulnerabilities that go hand-in-hand with the open democracies in the European Union (EU). The fact that these attacks followed each other with short intervals, but mostly due to the fact that they often did not fit the profile and modus operandi of previous attacks, have significantly contributed to the difficulty for security agencies to signal the threats as they are materialising. The modi operandi used showed a diversity of targets chosen, were committed by a variety of actors including foreign fighter returnees, home-grown jihadist extremists, and lone actors, and were executed with a variety of weapons or explosives. Furthermore, another complicating factor is the trend towards the weaponisation of ordinary life  in  which  a truck or  a kitchen  knife already  fulfils the purpose.

Governments, policy-makers, and politicians in most EU Member States feel the pressure of the population who call for adequate responses to these threats. Similarly, the various actors of the EU on their own accord, or the European Council driven by (some) Member States, have stressed the importance of effective responses to these increased threats, and have specifically underlined the importance of sharing of information and good cooperation. Very illustrating in this respect are the conclusions adopted during the European Council meeting of 15 December 2016, in which the European Council stressed the importance of the political agreement on the Counter-Terrorism Directive, emphasised the need to swiftly adopt the proposals on regulation of firearms and anti-money laundering, as well as the implementation of the new passenger name record (PNR) legislation.1 The European Council furthermore welcomed the agreement on the revised Schengen Borders Code, and stressed the importance of finding agreement on the Entry/Exit System and the European Travel   Information  and   Authorisation  System.2

Although the easy way to satisfy the call for action by the national populations seems to be to just take action for the sake of it, the responsibility lies with the relevant actors, in line with the objectives and principles of the EU Treaty and the values the EU represents 3, to actually assess the security situation, and implement, amend or suggest (new) policies that are adequate, legitimate, coherent and effective in the long run. It is with that objective in mind that this study, commissioned by the European Parliament, has made an assessment of the current policy architecture of the EU in combating terrorism, particularly looking into loopholes, gaps or overlap in policies in areas ranging from international and inter-agency cooperation, data exchange, external border security, access to firearms and explosives, limiting the financing of terrorist activities, criminalising terrorist behaviour and prevention of radicalisation. This study furthermore looks into the effectiveness of the implementation of  policies in Member States  and  the  legitimacy and coherence  of  the  policies.

Seven major policy themes were selected and addressed in depth by this study:

  • Measures and tools for operational cooperation and intelligence/law enforcement and judicial information exchange;
  • Data collection and database access and interoperability;
  • Measures to enhance external border security;
  • Measures to combat terrorist financing;
  • Measures to reduce terrorists’ access to weapons and explosives; . Criminal justice measures;
  • Measures to combat radicalisation and recruitment.

The research team has assessed the degree of implementation of EU counter-terrorism measures under these seven themes in a selection of seven Member States: Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Spain. This study sets out policy options for the future direction of EU counter-terrorism policy. The focus of policy options is on future threats and developments, and on developing creative yet feasible policy solutions.

Main findings Continue reading

The Mejiers Committee on the inter-parliamentary scrutiny of Europol

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON THE MEJIERS COMMITTE (*) PAGE  HERE

  1. Introducton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Context

Continue reading

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

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED HERE ON 13 FÉVRIER 2017

par  Henri Labayle

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

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

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

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

1. La stigmatisation croissante du droit des réfugiés

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a) – Le contenu des obligations pesant sur les Etats

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

b) – Droit des réfugiés et prévention du terrorisme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. La complémentarité des protections juridictionnelles

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

a) – la protection offerte par le juge interne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The time has come to complain about the EU Terrorism Directive

By Maryant Fernández Pérez

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

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

What’s good?

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

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

What’s wrong?

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

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

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

What can you do?

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

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

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

by Luigi LIMONE (*)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(*) FREE Group Trainee

Sources:

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

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

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