According to a Frontex press release, “Frontex’s Management Board endorsed the Agency’s Fundamental Rights Strategy during its most recent meeting, on March 31. The approved document sets out the objectives, legal and political context, operational implications and implementation plan for the strategy.” “The new strategy will be elaborated into an Action Plan, which has been requested by the Management Board with a view to adopting it at the next meeting, scheduled for May 24.”
I have done a quick read of the 8 page document and overall had a positive reaction to the strategy. One weakness, and there are probably others, is that in the end “Member States remain primarily responsible for the implementation of the relevant international, EU or national legislation and law enforcement actions undertaken in the context of Frontex coordinated joint operations…” (See Para 13 below.) There is not much that Frontex can do about this, unless Frontex is given authority to act independently from individual MS.
The strategy does contemplate that Frontex can terminate a Joint Operation if respect for fundamental rights can not be guaranteed. (See Para 15 below.) I try to imagine how this strategy would operate within the current Joint Operation Hermes if the influx of Tunisians were to continue and expand and if Italy were to begin unilateral returns of Tunisian nationals (or others) to Tunisia without adequate process. Would Frontex discontinue Operation Hermes? It is hard to imagine that happening given the current situation in North Africa.
Here are some excerpts from the strategy consisting of some of the provisions which jumped out at me – the full document however should be consulted:
Frontex considers that respect and promotion of fundamental rights are unconditional and integral components of effective integrated border management.
The Legal and Political Context
13. Member States remain primarily responsible for the implementation of the relevant international, EU or national legislation and law enforcement actions undertaken in the context of Frontex coordinated joint operations (JOs) and therefore also for the respect of fundamental rights during these activities. This does not relieve Frontex of its responsibilities as the coordinator and it remains fully accountable for all actions and decisions under its mandate. Frontex must particularly focus on creating the conditions for ensuring compliance with fundamental rights obligations in all its activities.
14. [***] One particular objective in [Joint Operations] is ensuring that the right to international protection must not be hampered by the law enforcement action and that persons seeking protection are referred to the competent national authorities to assess their case.
15. [***] Corrective measures should be taken in case of breach or serious risk of breach of fundamental rights. As last resort, Frontex might terminate a JO if the conditions guaranteeing the respect for fundamental rights are no longer met. [***]
17. Frontex will put in place an effective reporting system to ensure that any incidents or serious risks regarding fundamental rights are immediately reported by any participating officer or Frontex staff member and can be acted upon. This reporting should be the basis for effective monitoring of all its operations. The monitoring effectiveness and credibility will rely heavily on the commitment of national border guard services to report but also on the involvement of external stakeholders. The Operational Plan shall set out the modalities for reporting, including how and to who report.
19. Alleged violations of human rights reported either by national or Frontex officers or third parties, when substantiated, will be followed up by Frontex by communicating and clarifying the situation in cooperation with the competent national authorities without prejudice to any resulting administrative or penal procedures. Member States should also inform Frontex on the follow-up measures.
21. In addition to pursuing a regular exchange of information with external partners engaged in fundamental rights protection activities, in particular the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator, Frontex will endeavour to ensure their regular involvement in the relevant operational activities in accordance with the Working Arrangements with these partners. The involvement of these external partners or others should be foreseen in the Operational Plan, which should also define the scope of the cooperation.
22. Frontex will also seek advice from its external partners on the relevant instructions or guidelines for officers taking part in Frontex activities. These instructions or guidelines, which should form an integral part of each Operational Plan, could relate to methods for better identifying people seeking international protection, proper treatment of vulnerable groups including potential victims of trafficking or fundamental rights monitoring of operational activities. The final aim is to promote the highest standards in compliance with fundamental rights by the development and promotion of best practices.
28. Frontex cooperation with Third Countries’ border-guard services is conducted under the EU External Relations Policy and shall therefore be guided by the principle of the respect of human rights. Frontex is committed to adjusting its cooperation arrangements and activities to the EU foreign policy measures adopted as a consequence of the human rights situation in the partner Third Country.
38. In order to increase the transparency and credibility of this process, external third parties, in particular those representing civil society, shall be involved. Their concerns and perspectives must be taken into account for the evaluation and revision of the strategy. Frontex, national border-guard services, external partners and representatives of civil society shall therefore have the possibility to exchange views and suggest means of improvement for the strategy and the Action Plan in a consultative forum, to be convened periodically at Frontex Headquarters.
Click here for the Frontex strategy document.
Click here for Frontex press release.