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 ?

Continue reading

The time has come to complain about the EU Terrorism Directive

By Maryant Fernández Pérez

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

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

What’s good?

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

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

What’s wrong?

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

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

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

What can you do?

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

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

Prison systems and conditions in the EU

by Luigi LIMONE (*)

Introduction

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

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

EU legal framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EUROPEAN LAW BLOG  HERE

By Margarite Zoeteweij-Turhan and Sarah Progin-Theuerkauf 

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opinion of AG Mengozzi

The main issue at stake

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

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

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

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

Applicability of Article 25(1) of the Visa Code

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

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

The scope of the Charter of Fundamental Rights

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

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

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

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

Practical implications for the application of X and X

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

Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

by Luigi LIMONE (*)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(*) FREE Group Trainee

Sources:

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

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

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

 

As Bad as it Gets: the White Paper on Brexit

Original from EU LAW ANALYSIS 

Professor Steve Peers

Yesterday (February 2,2017)  the UK government released its White Paper on Brexit. This tome was reluctantly extracted from the government after months of prompting, but is in the end enormously disappointing: the political equivalent of a cat coughing up a hairball.

As many had expected, the white paper is basically content-free. It’s essentially Theresa May’s recent speech (which I analysed here), in some cases word-for-word, with a few statistics and graphs added. But even this information refers back to the status quo, and in some cases is inaccurate (a graph suggested British workers get 14 weeks’ paid holiday a year, before it was corrected), out-of-date (the 2011 statistics on UK citizens resident in the EU), or only partial (the migration statistics omit Irish people in the UK, and vice versa).

There’s no proper analysis of different options relating to the UK’s post-Brexit future, with assessments of their relative pros and cons. But then there couldn’t be: the White Paper says little of substance about the very existence of those options. David Allen Green has pointed out that the initial version of the document was time-stamped at about 4am, giving the strong impression it was written overnight by an intern working to a deadline in a student-like coffee-fuelled flurry.

Detailed comments on the White Paper

The paper begins with a collection of sentence fragments from the Prime Minister, centring on the bizarre claim that 65 million people are “willing” Brexit, simply ignoring the 48% who voted against it. By and large, it goes downhill from there.

Having said that, there is a little bit of detail on plans for the ‘Great Repeal Bill’ (previously discussed here and here), which will convert existing EU law into UK law. This White Paper confirms that there will be a further White Paper on that Bill. The latter Bill will retain EU Regulations in UK law, not just EU Directives, which are referred to implicitly (as “all laws which have been made in the UK, in order to implement our obligations as a member of the EU”).

This is an important legal point because by their nature as defined by EU law, Directives have anyway been implemented as part of UK law already. Regulations usually have not, and so would vanish unless some steps were taken to retain them. (Regulations are more commonly used in areas which EU law has more fully harmonised, whereas Directives usually apply in areas where there is less harmonisation).

Interestingly, the White Paper says that the ex-EU law should be interpreted post-Brexit “in the same way as it is at the moment”. This suggests that the case-law of the EU courts will continue to be relevant, even though those courts are loathed by many Brexiteers. It remains to be seen exactly how this approach to interpretation will be secured outside the EU; the most obvious route is to insert language to this effect in the Great Repeal Act. There’s a weasel word which isn’t further explained (“Generally”), and two obvious questions aren’t answered: what about post-Brexit EU case law, and what about EU legislation which is amended after Brexit?

After Brexit, it will be up to the UK to amend ex-EU law. But who will have the power to do this? There’s a little bit of detail about this key question. Any “significant policy change” will be the subject of an Act of Parliament, which means that the House of Commons and the House of Lords will have a full debate and every chance to table amendments or block the government’s plans. There will be Bills on customs and immigration, “for example”.

But there is also a commitment to a “programme of secondary legislation”. This refers to various methods of the government making laws, with limited power of Parliament – usually only one chance to examine the draft law briefly, with no chance to amend it. The White Paper refers to this as “oversight”, but it’s not very substantial. By process of elimination this is how the government will make changes to other areas of ex-EU law, besides customs and immigration – environment and employment law, for example. The White Paper says it wants to remove “deficiencies” in the ex-EU laws; but one woman’s “deficiencies” are another woman’s clean beaches.

Next, the section on “taking control” of UK laws starts with the remarkable statement: “Whilst Parliament has remained sovereign throughout our membership of the EU, it has not always felt like that.” The Supreme Court’s Miller judgment indeed recently confirmed that Parliamentary sovereignty did not vanish while the UK was an EU member, since the effect of EU law in the UK was dependent on Parliament’s decision to keep the European Communities Act in force, Parliament could have insisted on blocking the domestic effect of any EU law by expressly deciding to keep Acts of Parliament conflicting with that EU law in force.

But let’s step back from the legal details. This is an astonishing statement. One of the best-known slogans of the ‘Leave’ side in the referendum was ‘take back control’. Yet it’s conceded here that we already had control. The problem is the feeling that we didn’t have it.

So…what prompted that feeling? Could it be the consistent lie that EU law is adopted by ‘unelected bureaucrats’, which is a simple falsehood about the nature of EU law-making? (As discussed here, EU laws are jointly adopted by national ministers and the elected European Parliament; the UK votes in favour of proposed laws over 90% of the time). Needless to say, the White Paper doesn’t refer to that fact. Rather it overstates the impact of EU law in the UK, by means of a dodgy statistic which includes ‘soft law’ (non-binding measures like Recommendations, Communications, Reports and Opinions) in the total number of EU documents sent to Parliament.

Next, the White Paper points out correctly that there is no need for the EU courts to have jurisdiction over agreements between the UK and the EU. Indeed, the EU rarely asks for this with other countries (although the EU courts do rule on how such treaties should be interpreted by the EU). I’ve always suspected this focus on the EU courts is a red herring – so that the UK government can declare a ‘victory’ by resisting something that the EU might not even ask for.

Moving on to devolution, the White Paper details various means of talking to the devolved administrations – ignoring the simple fact that the government has already ruled out following any of a number of options (discussed here) which the Scottish government presented in December.

There’s a special section on Northern Ireland, listing facts but not giving any idea of how reinstating border checks between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland can be avoided. I’ve referred before to Brexiteers’ apparent belief in a ‘Brexit Fairy’ who will magically solve all problems which Brexit might create. The Irish border issue seems to be a task for her culturally-appropriating cousin: the Brexit Leprechaun.

In passing, this section refers to the common belief that the status of Irish citizens in the UK is guaranteed by the Ireland Act 1949. As far as immigration status is concerned, this is questionable, as detailed here by Professor Bernard Ryan.

Next, the White Paper deals with immigration, referring to “public concern about pressure on public services, like schools and our infrastructure, especially housing, as well as placing downward pressure on wages for people on the lowest incomes.” There’s a mysterious absence of statistics to back up these claims, perhaps because they are shaky: see this recent summary of economic literature on migration, by Professor Jonathan Portes. But who needs evidence, when we can just poke a finger down Nigel Farage’s throat? And if public services are so badly affected by EU migration, why no mention of the famous £350 million/week which would be supposedly made available for the NHS?

It’s striking that this section refers to possible ‘phased implementation’ of new rules on immigration of EU citizens. This seems to be the euphemism for an interim agreement with the EU – which would presumably entail retaining a limited version of free movement of people for a time. The issue is likely to be a key bargaining point in negotiations.

The next section deals with existing UK/EU migrants. The government repeats its mantra that it wants to secure their status, but there are no specifics on what “securing status” means. The banality of political waffle could not be waived to suggest anything more concrete for millions of people worried about their future. (For detailed suggestions on this issue, see the recent British Future report, discussed here).

Moving on to employment rights, the White Paper repeats a government promise to retain EU employment protection. But as I noted above, there’s no mention of safeguarding those rights by means of needing an Act of Parliament to amend them. As others have pointed out, there are weasel words here: “strengthening rights when it is the right choice for UK workers” and “maintain the protections and standards that benefit workers” (emphases added). There’s a definite “fox in charge of the henhouse” vibe here – quite literally so, if we remind ourselves of cabinet minister Liam Fox’s attitude to EU employment regulation.

This section includes the usual assertions about UK employment law being better than the EU version. This is true in some ways, and there are some issues that EU law has nothing to do with (for instance, the minimum wage, which the White Paper rambles on about). Yet, as I discuss in detail here, there are a number of areas where EU case law extended workers’ rights in the UK: holiday pay for UK workers with fixed term contracts, who are on commission or have extra allowances, to take just one example.

Moving on, the section on trade and economic cooperation re-iterates the intention to sign a free trade deal without considering the relative advantages of staying part of the single market. There are wildly empty statements about future EU/UK cooperation. The government wants “civil judicial cooperation” to continue with EU. But in which areas? (There are general EU rules on civil and commercial judgments, but also specific rules on insolvency, recognition of divorce and child access rulings, and maintenance payments).

Similarly, the White Paper lists many EU economic laws, but which would the government like to remain part of: competition law? The EU trademark? The unitary patent? EU data protection law? (On the latter issue, where there is a particular risk of disruption to trade flows if the UK does not retain laws nearly identical to the EU’s, see my discussion here).

The discussion of Euratom, the atomic energy treaty linked to the EU, implicitly suggests that the UK energy industry would benefit from a cooperation agreement with Euratom post-Brexit (see further discussion here). But the government is unwilling to say so, due its general paranoia about revealing its intentions. Yet even Homer Simpson – the world’s most famous employee of the nuclear industry, but also the dumbest – could guess the UK’s negotiating plans here.

Equally, the White Paper supplies interesting statistics on the usefulness of EUcriminal and policing laws, and asserts the government’s continued interest in playing a role in EU foreign and defence policy. Yet again, there’s no detail on what the UK would like to participate in. (Some further comments on the criminal law and policing issues here).

Overall, the White Paper is largely devoid of content because the UK government’s concern about negotiating secrecy. While of course some of the government’s position needs to remain confidential, I have to point out that treaties aren’t negotiated with actual playing cards. They are negotiating by tabling draft texts – and so the EU is bound to see what the UK is asking for, once talks start.

The government may in fact be concerned about a different issue: being embarrassed in front of the British public, by asking for things it doesn’t get. But here, it’s being a little naïve. In my experience, officials from the EU and its Member States love to talk. And little birds leak a regular flow of EU documents to the Statewatch website. Even if UK officials keep as quiet as mice, the EU side will sing like canaries.

Finally, the “we can’t show our cards” argument reminds me of a rather relevant anecdote. Years ago, in the dying days of the Soviet Union, I went on a trip to Moscow as a member of the university debating club. After several days there, our stomachs were rumbling from the effect of central economic planning upon the supply of edible food. So some of us took refuge for the evening in the Canadian embassy, where there was decent grub and beer. (We’d drunk…enough vodka by that point).

Following a frenzied supper, we started to play cards. We’d never played cards with each other before, so didn’t know what to expect. One of my friends kept on asking the dumbest, most basic, questions about the rules of the game. At one point he even showed one of the cards in his hand to all of us, asking “So what should I do with this? Is it a good card?” Everyone laughed, and no one took him seriously as an opponent. At the end of the game, lo and behold, he had the best hand by far, and won easily. It turned out he knew the rules perfectly well, and his pretence of complete ignorance had been a perfect bluff.

Well…everyone in Britain had better hope that this is exactly the government’s real Brexit strategy. The horrifying alternative is that the government really is as dumb as it looks.

 

Foreign fighters’ helpers excluded from refugee status: the ECJ clarifies the law

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS

by Steve Peers

What if a person claiming to be a refugee is an alleged terrorist, or at least giving assistance to alleged terrorists? Can they still claim to be a refugee – and if not, how should we define ‘terrorism’ for the purposes of rejecting their claim to be one? Today’s judgment of the EU Court of Justice in the Lounani case usefully clarifies some aspects of this controversial and legally complex issue, but inevitably leaves some difficult questions open.

Legal framework

The starting point for this issue is the wording of the UN Refugee Convention, known by the EU as the ‘Geneva Convention’, which contains an ‘exclusion’ clause in Article 1.F:

  1. The provisions of this Convention shall not apply to any person with respect to whom there are serious reasons for considering that:

(a) he has committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity, as defined in the international instruments drawn up to make provision in respect of such crimes;

(b) he has committed a serious non-political crime outside the country of refuge prior to his admission to that country as a refugee;

(c) he has been guilty of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

The UN rules (which all EU Member States have signed up to) have been transposed, but with variations, in the EU’s Qualification Directive, which applies to every Member State except Denmark. (Technically the UK and Ireland are bound only by the first version of this Directive, but the rules on exclusion haven’t changed).  Article 12(3) of that Directive reads as follows:

  1. A third-country national or a stateless person is excluded from being a refugee where there are serious reasons for considering that:

(a) he or she has committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity, as defined in the international instruments drawn up to make provision in respect of such crimes;

(b) he or she has committed a serious non-political crime outside the country of refuge prior to his or her admission as a refugee, which means the time of issuing a residence permit based on the granting of refugee status; particularly cruel actions, even if committed with an allegedly political objective, may be classified as serious non-political crimes;

(c) he or she has been guilty of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations as set out in the Preamble and Articles 1 and 2 of the Charter of the United Nations.

  1. Paragraph 2 applies to persons who incite or otherwise participate in the commission of the crimes or acts mentioned therein.

It can be seen that the EU rules differ from the UN rules to the extent that: they add some wording on the timing and nature of ‘serious non-political crimes’; they clarify the reference to acts contrary to UN ‘purposes and principles’; and they apply the exclusion to those who ‘incite or otherwise participate’ in all three categories of acts leading to exclusion.

Despite this attempt at clarification, there will always be issues of interpreting these rules. The EU Court has ruled on them once before, in its judgment in B and D, when it stated that first of all that the second and third exclusion clauses can apply to terrorist offences.  However, exclusion must be assessed in each individual case, meaning that membership of a group listed as ‘terrorist’ in EU foreign policy sanctions against terrorists does not automatically trigger the exclusion clause, although it is a ‘factor’ to consider. Participating in a terrorist group, as defined by EU criminal law on terrorism, does not automatically trigger the exclusion clause either. Instead, there must be direct involvement by the person concerned in such offences, as further explained by the Court. Furthermore, there is no additional ‘proportionality’ or ‘present danger’ test for exclusion. Finally, the exclusion clause is mandatory: ie Member States cannot assert a right to apply higher standards and give someone refugee status if they fall within the exclusion criteria.

The judgment

What does today’s judgment add? The person concerned was convicted of participating in a terrorist group, but not of carrying out any terrorist acts as such. So is such a conviction sufficient to trigger the exclusion clause?

The EU court ruled that it was. First of all, the preamble to the EU Directive referred to UN Resolutions on ‘financing, planning and inciting’ terrorism; so the third exclusion clause goes beyond terrorist acts as such. Secondly, the EU legislature had not intended to match the exclusion clause in asylum law with the narrower definition of terrorism in (current) EU criminal law legislation.

Next, the EU court ruled that following a later UN Security Council Resolution, assisting with recruitment, organisation or transport of ‘foreign fighters’ could also fall within the scope of the exclusion clause. So could ‘participation’ in such activities, pursuant to Article 12(3) of the EU Directive. It was relevant that the group in question was listed as terrorist by the UN Security Council, and particularly relevant that the person concerned had been convicted of terrorist offences in Belgium.

Comments

The Court’s judgment asserts a broad scope of the exclusion clause, meaning that a degree of support for ‘foreign fighters’ will also result in exclusion from refugee status. In doing so, it answers the claims of those who believe that many refugees are ‘jihadists’. Simply put, anyone who has been directly involved in terrorist acts (B and D) or in facilitating the activities of ‘foreign fighters’ (today’s judgment) is not entitled to refugee status. Although the judgment does not mention it, this aligns the interpretation of the exclusion clause to some extent with recent developments in criminal law, namely the 2015 Protocol to the Council of Europe Convention on the prevention of terrorism, and the agreed revision of the EU’s anti-terrorism laws.

But the judgment cannot help leaving some difficult questions open. What if the asylum-seeker has not been convicted of terrorist offences anywhere, but there are allegations of such action? Since a conviction is particularly relevant to applying the exclusion clause, would a lack of such conviction conversely be particularly relevant in determining that the clause should not apply? Would that assessment be different if the person had been acquitted, or if an investigation or trial was pending? If the criminal law process was pending, should the asylum determination process be put on hold? What if the authorities had claimed to have information supplied from the security services, and were reluctant to bring criminal proceedings in order to preserve their sources and intelligence capability?

What if there is a criminal conviction for terrorism from another country – particularly in the asylum-seeker’s country of origin, which might define criticism of the government as ‘terrorism’? Similarly what about ‘provocation’ to terrorism, which might include ‘glorification’ of terrorist acts, according to the revised EU criminal law? Here the question is to what extent freedom of expression, not directly connected to violent acts, might justify a refusal of refugee status. Recent acts remind us that as far as criminal law is concerned, terrorist acts – and the climate of hatred that surrounds them – are not confined to Islamist extremists, but stem also from those who fanatically hate minority groups as well.