22 June, 09.15 CEST, ECtHR Grand Chamber Hearing in Hirsi and Others v. Italy

[Update:  A web cast of the hearing is available here (I was able to view this with IE but not with Firefox.)]

The case of Hirsi and others v Italy, Requête no 27765/09, will be heard by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights today, 22 June, 09.15 am CEST.

Given the events in Libya and the resulting halt to the Italian push-back practice, there may have been a moment some weeks ago when the question of mootness of the case might have been considered, but given the recently executed Memorandum of Understanding between Italy and the Libyan National Transitional Council and the public promises made by the leadership of the NTC to respect and implement the migration and other agreements made by the Gaddafi government, it would appear Italy hopes to revive the push-back practice at some point in the future.

From the Registrar’s Press Release:

“The case concerns a group of Somalian and Eritrean migrants travelling from Libya who were intercepted at sea by the Italian authorities and sent back to Libya. The applicants are eleven Somalian and thirteen Eritrean nationals. They were part of a group of about 200 people who left Libya in 2009 on board three boats bound for Italy. Among them were women who were pregnant at the time and children. On 6 May 2009, when the boats were 35 miles south of Lampedusa (Agrigento), in waters under Maltese jurisdiction for search and rescue purposes, they were intercepted by Italian Customs and Coastguard vessels. The passengers were transferred to the Italian military vessels and taken to Tripoli. The applicants say that during the journey the Italian authorities did not tell them where they were being taken, or check their identity. Once in Tripoli they were handed over to the Libyan authorities. At a press conference on 7 May 2009 the Italian Minister of the Interior explained that the interception of the vessels on the high seas and the return of the migrants to Libya was in accordance with the bilateral agreements with Libya that entered into force on 4 February 2009, marking a turning point in the fight against illegal immigration. The applicants consider that their case falls within the jurisdiction of Italy. Relying on Article 3 of the Convention (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), they argue that the decision of the Italian authorities to intercept the vessels on the high seas and send the applicants straight back to Libya exposed them to the risk of ill-treatment there, as well as to the serious threat of being sent back to their countries of origin (Somalia and Eritrea), where they might also face ill-treatment. They also complain that they were subjected to collective expulsion prohibited by Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 (prohibition of collective expulsion of aliens). Lastly, relying on Article 13 of the Convention (right to an effective remedy), they complain that they had no effective remedy against the alleged violations of Articles 3 of the Convention and 4 of Protocol No. 4. The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 26 May 2009. The Chamber to which the case was assigned relinquished jurisdiction in favour of the Grand Chamber on 15 February 2011.”

From my previous post of 16 March:

The case of Hirsi and others v Italy, Requête no 27765/09, has been scheduled for a hearing on 22 June 2011, 9.15 am, before the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights.

Proceedings before the Grand Chamber were initiated on 1 March 2011 when the Second Section of the Court relinquished jurisdiction.  On 17 November 2009 the Second Section of the Court communicated the case.  The case was filed on 26 May 2009 by 11 Somalis and 13 Eritreans who were among the first group of about 200 migrants interdicted by Italian authorities and summarily returned to Libya under the terms of the Libya-Italy agreement which took effect on 4 February 2009.  The Applicants were intercepted on 6 May 2009 approximately 35 miles south of Lampedusa.

The Applicants allege violations of numerous provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights:

Protocol 4, Art. 4 Prohibition of collective expulsion of aliens;

Art. 3 Torture;

Art. 1 (1) General undertaking/HPC;

Art. 13 Effective remedy/national authority; and

Art. 3 Inhuman or degrading treatment.

The Statement of facts, complaints and questions (EXPOSÉ DES FAITS et QUESTIONS AUX PARTIES ET DEMANDES D’INFORMATIONS) issued by the Second Section to the parties is available only in French:

GRIEFS

Invoquant l’article 3 de la Convention, lu en conjonction avec l’article 1 de la Convention, les requérants se plaignent de ce que les modalités de leur renvoi en Libye, ainsi que leur séjour dans ce pays ou leur rapatriement dans leurs pays respectifs les soumettrait au risque de subir des tortures ou des traitements inhumains et dégradants.

Invoquant l’article 4 du Protocole no 4, lu en conjonction avec l’article 1 de la Convention, ils affirment avoir fait l’objet d’une expulsion collective atypique et dépourvue de toute base légale.

Invoquant l’article 13, les requérants dénoncent l’impossibilité de contester devant les autorités italiennes leur renvoi en Libye et le risque de rapatriement dans leurs pays d’origine.

QUESTIONS AUX PARTIES ET DEMANDES D’INFORMATIONS

QUESTIONS

1.  Les faits dont les requérants se plaignent en l’espèce relèvent-ils de la juridiction de l’Italie ?

2.  La décision des autorités italiennes d’intercepter en haute mer les embarcations et de renvoyer immédiatement les requérants, compte tenu notamment des informations provenant de sources internationales et concernant les conditions des migrants clandestins en Libye, a-t-elle exposé les requérants au risque d’être soumis à des traitements contraires à l’article 3 de la Convention dans ce pays ?

3.  Compte tenu des allégations des requérants (voir formulaire de requête annexé), y a-t-il des motifs sérieux de craindre que le rapatriement dans leurs pays d’origine, soit la Somalie et l’Érythrée, les exposerait à des traitements contraires à l’article 3 ?

4.  Le renvoi des requérants en Libye de la part des autorités italiennes s’analyse-t-il en une expulsion contraire à l’article 4 du Protocole no 4 ?

5.  Les intéressés ont-ils eu accès à un recours effectif devant une instance nationale garanti par l’article 13 de la Convention pour faire valoir leurs droits garantis par les articles 3 et 4 du Protocole no 4 ?

DEMANDES D’INFORMATIONS

Le gouvernement défendeur est également invité à fournir à la Cour toute information disponible concernant :

– Le nombre de migrants irréguliers arrivés mensuellement sur les côtes italiennes, et en particulier à Lampedusa, au cours des dernières années ;

– L’entité et l’origine du phénomène migratoire en Libye ; la législation en la matière en vigueur dans ce pays ; le traitement réservé par les autorités libyennes aux migrants irréguliers arrivés en Libye directement ou suite au renvoi depuis l’Italie.

Le Gouvernement est également invité à produire à la Cour les textes des accords signés par les gouvernement italien et le gouvernement libyen les 27 décembre 2007 et 4 février 2009.

Il est enfin invité à expliquer à la Cour le rapport existant entre les opérations prévues par les accords bilatéraux avec la Libye et l’activité de l’ « Agence européenne pour la gestion de la coopération opérationnelle aux frontières extérieures des États membres de l’Union européenne (Frontex) ».

Click here (FR) for EXPOSÉ DES FAITS et QUESTIONS AUX PARTIES ET DEMANDES D’INFORMATIONS.

Click here, here, and here for my previous posts on the case.

Also, click here for a post by Costanza Hermanin, an Open Society Justice Initiative consultant.

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Filed under Council of Europe, European Court of Human Rights, Italy, Judicial, Libya, Mediterranean, News

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