Tag Archives: Italy

ECtHR: Italy’s Use of Summary Procedures to Return Tunisian Migrants Constituted Unlawful Collective Expulsion

The ECtHR, Second Section, issued a judgment on 1 September in Khlaifia et autres c. Italie (Requête no 16483/12) (official judgment in French) finding that the summary procedures used by Italy in 2011 to quickly return thousands of Tunisians who were reaching Italy by sea during the height of the Arab Spring violated the prohibition of collective expulsion of aliens contained in Art. 4 of Protocol 4 of the ECHR. (Judges SAJÓ and VUĊINIĊ did not find that collective expulsion had occurred and filed a dissenting opinion.) The Court also found violations of Art. 3, Art. 5, §§ 1, 2, 5, and Art. 13 (inhuman or degrading treatment, failure to promptly explain basis for detention, inability to challenge detention, lack of an effective remedy).

This is the fifth time that the ECtHR has found a violation of the collective expulsion prohibition. (See Čonka v. Belgium, no. 51564/99, § 62-63, ECHR 2002‑I; Georgia v. Russia (I) [GC], no. 13255/07, § 175, ECHR 2014;  Hirsi Jamaa and Others v. Italy [GC], no. 27765/09, § 185, ECHR 2012; Sharifi and Others v. Italy and Greece, no. 16643/09, 21 October 2014.)

The Court acknowledged that unlike the applicants in Hirsi Jamaa, the Tunisian applicants in Khlaifia had been subjected to individualized identification and processing by Italian authorities, but under the circumstances the Court did not consider an identification procedure standing alone to be sufficient:

“156. [T]he Court is of the opinion that the mere implementation of an identification procedure is not sufficient to exclude the existence of collective expulsion. … [T]he expulsion orders did not contain any reference to the personal circumstances of the affected persons; the Government did not produce any document that could prove that individual interviews regarding the specific situation of each applicant would have occurred before the adoption of these [expulsion] orders; many people of the same origin experienced, at the time of the incriminating facts, the same fate as the applicants; [Italy’s] bilateral agreements with Tunisia … have not been made public and provided for the repatriation of irregular Tunisian migrants through simplified procedures, based on the simple identification of the person concerned by Tunisian consular authorities.”

The procedures at issue occurred during the 2011 Arab Spring when North Africa and the EU experienced significant movements of migrants and refugees. The Court took note of these exceptional circumstances but made clear that such circumstances do not excuse a state from complying with its obligations under the ECHR.  (See paras 127-128.)

The Court’s judgment should serve as a caution to the European Commission, EASO, Frontex, and EU member states as they consider new streamlined procedures to process the refugees and migrants reaching Europe; procedures must provide for meaningful individualized processing and individuals must be afforded a meaningful opportunity to challenge an expulsion order, among other requirements. The dissenting opinion of Judges SAJÓ AND VUĊINIĊ (in English), concluding that there had not been a collective expulsion, is well reasoned and reviews the history of the collective expulsion prohibition.

This is an excerpt from the Court’s judgment. The official version is only available in French, the English translation is mine:

“2. Appréciation de la Cour
2. Findings of the Court

153. La Cour observe qu’en l’espèce les requérants ont fait l’objet de décrets de refoulement individuels. Ces derniers étaient cependant rédigés dans des termes identiques, les seules différences étant les données personnelles des destinataires.

153. The Court observes that in this case the applicants were the subject of individual expulsion orders. They were, however, drafted in identical terms, the only differences being the personal information of the recipients.

154. La Cour a déjà précisé que le fait que plusieurs étrangers fassent l’objet de décisions semblables ne permet pas en soi de conclure à l’existence d’une expulsion collective lorsque chaque intéressé a pu individuellement exposer devant les autorités compétentes les arguments qui s’opposaient à son expulsion. La Cour a également jugé qu’il n’y a pas violation de l’article 4 du Protocole no 4 si l’absence de décision individuelle d’éloignement est la conséquence du comportement fautif des personnes intéressées (Hirsi Jamaa et autres, précité, § 184).

154. The Court has already held that the fact that multiple foreigners are subject to similar decisions does not in itself lead to the conclusion that there was collective expulsion when each person was individually able to present arguments against expulsion to competent authorities. The Court has also held that there is no violation of Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 if the absence of individual expulsion decisions is due to the wrongful conduct of the affected persons (Hirsi Jamaa and Others, cited above, § 184).

155. La Cour relève de surcroît qu’à la différence de l’affaire Hirsi Jamaa et autres (précité, § 185), en l’espèce, à l’instar des autres migrants débarqués sur l’île de Lampedusa en septembre 2011, les requérants ont fait l’objet d’une procédure d’identification. Le Gouvernement le souligne à juste titre (paragraphe 152 ci-dessus). Les requérants reconnaissent par ailleurs qu’immédiatement après leur débarquement à Lampedusa, les autorités de frontière italiennes ont enregistré leur identité et relevé leurs empreintes (paragraphe 149 ci dessus).

155. The Court further notes that, unlike the case of Hirsi Jamaa and Others (cited above, § 185), in this case, like the other migrants who landed on Lampedusa in September 2011, the applicants were the subject of an identification procedure. The Government rightly points this out (paragraph 152 above). The applicants also recognize that immediately after landing in Lampedusa, the Italian border authorities registered their identity and took their fingerprints (paragraph 149 above).

156. La Cour est cependant d’avis que la simple mise en place d’une procédure d’identification ne suffit pas à exclure l’existence d’une expulsion collective. Elle estime de surcroît que plusieurs éléments amènent à estimer qu’en l’espèce l’expulsion critiquée avait bien un caractère collectif. En particulier, les décrets de refoulement ne contiennent aucune référence à la situation personnelle des intéressés ; le Gouvernement n’a produit aucun document susceptible de prouver que des entretiens individuels portant sur la situation spécifique de chaque requérant auraient eu lieu avant l’adoption de ces décrets ; un grand nombre de personnes de même origine a connu, à l’époque des faits incriminés, le même sort des requérants ; les accords bilatéraux avec la Tunisie (paragraphes 28-30 ci dessus) n’ont pas été rendus publics et prévoyaient le rapatriement des migrants irréguliers tunisiens par le biais de procédures simplifiées, sur la base de la simple identification de la personne concernée de la part des autorités consulaires tunisiennes.

156. However, the Court is of the opinion that the mere implementation of an identification procedure is not sufficient to exclude the existence of collective expulsion. It considers moreover that several factors lead to the consideration in this case that the expulsion at issue was indeed of a collective nature. In particular, the expulsion orders did not contain any reference to the personal circumstances of the affected persons; the Government did not produce any document that could prove that individual interviews regarding the specific situation of each applicant would have occurred before the adoption of these orders; many people of the same origin experienced, at the time of the incriminating facts, the same fate as the applicants; the bilateral agreements with Tunisia (see paragraphs 28-30 above) have not been made public and provided for the repatriation of irregular Tunisian migrants through simplified procedures, based on the simple identification of the person concerned by Tunisian consular authorities.

157. Cela suffit à la Cour pour exclure l’existence de garanties suffisantes d’une prise en compte réelle et différenciée de la situation individuelle de chacune des personnes concernées (voir, mutatis mutandis, Čonka, précité, §§ 61-63).

157. This is sufficient for the Court to rule out the existence of sufficient guarantees of a genuine and differentiated consideration of the individual circumstances of the persons involved (see, mutatis mutandis, Čonka, cited above, §§ 61-63).

158. Au vu de ce qui précède, la Cour conclut que l’éloignement des requérants a revêtu un caractère collectif contraire à l’article 4 du Protocole no 4. Partant, il y a eu violation de cette disposition.

158. In view of the foregoing, the Court concludes that the expulsion of the applicants took on a collective character contrary to Article 4 of Protocol No. 4. Accordingly, there has been a violation of this provision.
[***]”

 

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Efforts to Secure Security Council Resolution on EU Migrant Plan “Paused”

From ANSA: “Preparation of a draft UN Security Council resolution to authorize a European mission against migrant traffickers in the Mediterranean ‘has been suspended until the issue of the consent of the Libyan authorities has been resolved,’ a diplomat of the UN Security Council told ANSA on Wednesday. … However, the same source said that ‘regarding implementation, cooperation is necessary from all parties in the country’; and the Libyan government [in Tobruk] can not give authorization because it does not control the whole territory.”

From Reuters: “A senior U.N. diplomat said drafting of the resolution had been ‘paused’ until it was ‘clear there will be Libyan consent’. … [A] senior U.N. diplomat said that legally a letter from a representative of the internationally-recognised Libyan government was needed to authorise the EU mission, but that to ensure successful implementation of the operation ‘cooperation with a wide variety of authorities’ would also be required.”

From Libya Herald: “[Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Dairi (Tobruk)] went on the record today [in Brussels] saying that while Libya was interested ‘in cooperation with Europe in order to address the growing terrorism inside the country as well as in order to address the problem of illegal immigration’, it would not approve any military operation.”

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Libyan UN Ambassador to Oppose Security Council Resolution on EU Migrant Plan

AFP reports that Libyan UN Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi (representing the internationally recognised Tobruk government) will refuse to consent to a UNSC Resolution authorizing the EU to use military force against smugglers in Libya “as long as European governments were discussing the plan with Libyan militias that control coastal territory.” Dabbashi said that “[t]he position of Libya is clear: as long as the European Union and some other countries are not dealing with the legitimate government as the sole representative of the Libyan people, they will not get any consent on our part.” According to the AFP report, “Security Council diplomats privately said the European effort to present a resolution on the migrant crisis had hit a wall over Libya’s refusal to give its approval. European governments had instructed their diplomats mostly based in Tunis to reach out to various Libyan factions to try to get them onboard the plan before formally presenting the draft resolution at the Security Council.” According to the Security Council Report, “[f]or at least one permanent [Security Council] member the consent of the Tobruk/al-Bayda-based government seems to be indispensable for the adoption of the resolution.”

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Security Council Negotiations Regarding EU Call for Use of Force Against Smugglers Ongoing; Russia Warns Against Repeating “Abuse” of 2011 UNSC Resolution

The Security Council Report reports that “[t]he negotiations on the EU draft aimed at tackling the smuggling of migrants on the Mediterranean were still ongoing at press time between some Council members and the Libyan authorities. (For at least one permanent member the consent of the Tobruk/al-Bayda-based government seems to be indispensable for the adoption of the resolution.) In the past, it has been difficult to get agreement on resolutions authorising the interception of vessels, whether in the context of the implementation of sanctions or counter-piracy measures. Some Council members feel strongly about not contravening the principle of freedom of navigation codified in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. As such, they have tended to focus their discussions in the past on such issues as the procedures to authorise interdiction, whether the consent of the flag state is required and the maritime zones where the interdiction is authorised to happen. In the informal interactive dialogue with Mogherini, some Council members inquired about the potential impact that requesting consent from Libya could have on the political process. The UK is the penholder on Libya.”

Reuters and Interfax reported that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said any resolution would have to describe “in the most minute detail the mandate of [an EU military] mission under [UN Charter] Chapter 7.” “‘The mandate of such an operation will have to be spelled out to the last detail because we do not want the ambiguity, which became a source of flagrant violations of the known resolution on Libya adopted in 2011, to repeat itself.’ … Lavrov said discussions in the Security Council on the new resolution against human traffickers were on hold as the EU was in talks with the internationally-recognized Libyan authorities sitting in Tobruk to work out necessary details. ‘As we have been told, European Union representatives are holding consultations with the lawful Libyan authorities recognized by the UN, these are the authorities seated in Tobruk, where the Chamber of Deputies and the government are operating’.”

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Statewatch Analysis: The EU’s Planned War on Smugglers

Statewatch has issued an Analysis, “The EU’s Planned War on Smugglers,” written by Steve Peers, Professor of EU Law, University of Essex:

“The EU’s Foreign Affairs Council is meeting today to discuss the possibility of a military operation in the Mediterranean to take actions against smuggling of migrants. Officially, at least, the purpose of the operation (as defined by EU leaders last month) is to destroy smugglers’ boats. The EU’s High Representative has stated that there will be ‘no boots on the ground’; and as she arrived at the Council meeting today, she referred to authorising an ‘EU operation at sea’. However, it is clear from the documents discussed in the EU’s Political and Security Committee last week that (unless plans have changed radically in the meantime) the High Representative is being “economical with the truth”. The EU action clearly contemplates action by ground forces. Moreover, it anticipates the possible loss of life not only of smugglers but also of Member States’ forces and refugees. In effect, the EU is planning to declare war on migrant smugglers – without thinking through the consequences. [***]”

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EU Foreign Affairs Council Meets 18 May – Will Discuss Destruction of Smuggler Boats

From the European Council web site: “In a joint session, foreign and defence ministers will take stock of action to tackle migration issues. They will also discuss efforts to capture and destroy the vessels of human traffickers before they are used. In addition, ministers will debate the strategic review, an ongoing analysis of the EU’s security environment, and discuss security challenges in the EU’s neighbourhood. They will also prepare the security and defence part of the June European Council.”

Foreign Affairs Council background Brief here.
Politico EU article here.

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German Naval Ships Participating in Mediterranean Rescue Operation Destroy Empty Migrant Boats

Two German naval ships, the Hessen and the Berlin, have been participating in Mediterranean rescue operations since 5 May and have reportedly destroyed five migrant boats (four inflatable and one wooden) after rescue operations were completed and migrants removed from the boats. The boats are destroyed because they might pose a navigational hazard to other vessels and might also be mistaken for a boat in distress. (Wir müssen die Boote zerstören, weil sie auf dem offenen Meer ein Schifffahrtshindernis für andere Boote darstellen. Zum anderen könnte es sein, dass wir ein leeres Boot aus der Luft irrtümlich als ein in Seenot befindliches Boot wahrnehmen und hinfahren, um es zu retten. Das kann wertvolle Zeit kosten, die uns bei der Rettung von besetzten Booten dann verloren geht.)

As I have noted before, there are situations such as these where the destruction of a migrant boat may be perfectly legal and appropriate. Assuming reasonable measures can be taken to avoid or minimize environmental damage, the destruction in international waters of an unflagged and unseaworthy vessel would seem to be legal.

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