Category Archives: European Court of Human Rights

EUNAVFOR MED-Six Month Report: No Indication of Refugee Protection Plan for EU Operations within Libyan Territorial Waters and No Reports of Human Trafficking

There is a lot of information in the EUNAVFOR MED Operation SOPHIA Six Month Report   (also here: EEAS-2016-126) that was released last week by WikiLeaks, but there are two subjects not discussed which jumped out at me.

No Discussion of Refugee Protection Plan

First, the Report does not contain information regarding what the EU military force intends to do with migrants who are intercepted or rescued by EU vessels if and when EUNAVFOR MED patrols begin to operate within Libyan territorial waters.

The Report’s ‘Next Steps and Key Challenges’ section [pp 19-21] discusses different EU contingency plans for Phase 2B of the operation and specifically discusses how suspected smugglers arrested by EU forces within Libyan territorial waters would be handled. The Report says suspected smugglers should not be turned over by EU forces to Libyan officials for criminal prosecution unless it can be ensured ‘that they [will be] treated in accordance with human rights standards that are acceptable to the EU and Member States.’ According to the Report, forty-six suspected smugglers have been arrested by EUNAVFOR MED in international waters (between 22 June and 31 December 2015) and all of these individuals have been turned over to Italian authorities for prosecution by Italy’s DNAA – Direzione Nazionale Antimafia ed Antiterrorismo. Italy is so far the only EU Member State prosecuting suspected smugglers.

But unlike the discussion regarding the treatment of suspected smugglers, there is no discussion in the Report about where migrants who are intercepted or rescued in Libyan territorial waters will be taken or how they will be processed. It is certainly possible that intercepted migrants would continue to be taken from Libyan territorial waters to Italy, as is currently the case with operations on the high seas, but I suspect this may not be the plan once EUNAVFOR MED operations are expanded to Libyan territorial waters.

The fact that there is no discussion in the Report of where intercepted migrants will be taken does not mean that EUNAVFOR MED does not have appropriate plans in place, but the omission is troubling because the Report makes clear that once Phase 2B (territorial waters) operations begin, EUNAVFOR MED forces will be interacting and cooperating with the Libyan Navy and Coastguard. (The Report also notes that if requested and if its mandate is amended, EUNAVFOR MED is ready to begin quickly providing capability and capacity building to the Libyan Navy and Coastguard.)

EUNAVFOR MED’s interaction with Libyan forces in territorial waters would, according to the Report, initially include Libyan ‘cooperation in tackling the irregular migration issue’, with the expectation that at a later point in time ‘Libyan authorities could take the lead in patrolling and securing their Territorial Waters, with support being provided by EUNAVFOR Med.’ The Report therefore describes a changing scenario where EU forces would first act alone in Libyan territorial waters, which would lead to some level of cooperation with Libyan authorities (joint patrols? shipriders?), which would finally lead to Libyan authorities taking the lead on enforcement activities, with the EU playing a supporting role of some sort.

The legality of the Phase 2B operations will depend on the details of how intercepted or rescued migrants are processed and where they are taken. EU Member States operating within EUNAVFOR MED would necessarily be exercising effective control over migrants when operating unilaterally or jointly with Libyan forces within Libyan territorial waters and EU Member States would therefore be bound by the non-refoulement obligations in the ECHR, the Refugee Convention, the CAT, and the ICCPR. Any such operations would be subject to the 2012 Hirsi Jamaa v Italy judgment of the ECtHR which rejected Italy’s past push-back practices and close cooperation with the pre-Arab Spring Libya, finding the push-back practices to violate the ECHR’s prohibition on non-refoulement and to constitute collective expulsion.

EUNAVFOR MED’s Phase 2B operation seeks to replicate what Frontex and Spain have done off the coasts of Mauritania, Senegal and Morocco since 2006 pursuant to Joint Operation HERA where Spain and Frontex initially deployed naval patrols in international waters, then negotiated bilateral agreements to move patrols to territorial waters, deployed joint patrols and shipriders within territorial waters, and then continued to provide various forms of support to Mauritania and other West African states to patrol their own territorial waters. Operation HERA succeeded in stopping most boat migration from West Africa, but did so in a manner which did not provide any process to screen intercepted migrants for claims for international protection and subjected intercepted migrants to refoulement.

In order to ensure that non-refoulement obligations are respected and that rights of migrants are otherwise protected, as the EU and EUNAVFOR MED move towards implementation of Phase 2B operations within Libyan territorial waters, more information and transparency is needed to determine and monitor the legality of all aspects of the operations.

No Reports of Human Trafficking

The second perhaps less significant piece of information that jumped out at me as I read the Report was the lack of any suggestion that EUNAVFOR MED patrols have discovered evidence of human trafficking. The Report makes multiple references to trafficking, but always in conjunction with human smuggling, eg, ‘smuggler and traffickers’ business model’, ‘smuggler and trafficker vessels’. The use of the trafficking term seems to be a continuation of the use of imprecise terminology (and possible ongoing confusion over the differences between human trafficking and smuggling as well?). But the Report’s ‘Smugglers’ Business Model’ section [pp 6-8] is clearly only discussing acts of smuggling.

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Filed under Analysis, European Court of Human Rights, European Union, Frontex, Italy, Libya, Mediterranean, Refugees, Reports, UN Security Council, UNHCR

European Commission’s Second Biannual Report on Schengen Area

The European Commission released its “Second biannual report on the functioning of the Schengen area” covering the period 1 May 2012-31 October 2012.  (COM(2012) 686 final, 23.11.2012)  The first reporton the Schengen area was released in May of this year.  (COM(2012) 230 final, 16.5.2012)

Here are a few excerpts from the 8 page document:

The Commission intends to present a legislative proposal in early 2013 to replace the Frontex sea border operations rule (Council Decision 2010/252/EU) that was annulled by the Court of Justice on 5 September 2012;

Subsequent to the issuance of a letter of formal notice to Greece in October 2009 in response to “allegations of serious difficulties faced by migrants in applying for asylum and ill-treatment of asylum-seekers, including the turning back of persons who may face serious harm or persecution”, the Commission is continuing to analyse the situation “in the light of constant developments, such as the progress made in the implementation of the Greek National Action Plan.”;

Subsequent to a Commission request to Italy in July 2009 “to provide information on the measures to avoid the risk of refoulement” and the February 2012 European Court of Human Rights decision in the Case of Hirsi v. Italy, “[a]gainst this background, the Commission is now analysing the implications of this ruling on border surveillance operations at sea and on the asylum acquis.

Click  here or here for Second Report.

Click here for First Report.

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Filed under Aegean Sea, European Court of Human Rights, European Union, Frontex, Greece, Italy, Judicial, Libya, Mediterranean, Reports

Article: M Tondini, “The legality of intercepting boat people under search and rescue and border control operations with reference to recent Italian interventions in the Mediterranean Sea and the ECtHR decision in the Hirsi case”

A new article by Matteo Tondini, Ph.D., “The legality of intercepting boat people under search and rescue and border control operations with reference to recent Italian interventions in the Mediterranean Sea and the ECtHR decision in the Hirsi case”, has been published in Vol. 18 of the Journal of International Maritime Law (subscription required).

Here is the abstract: “This article briefly addresses the legal grounds for the interception of boat people on the high seas by military vessels, taking into account the Italian Navy’s [experience] on the matter. If interceptions are conducted within the framework of an `extraterritorial’ border control operation, their legality is hardly sustainable. Conversely, when interventions are implemented as search and rescue (SAR) operations, their legal basis is much wider, provided that intervening states’ obligations under the SAR legal regime are coupled with those stemming from the prohibition of refoulement under international refugee law. As a result, rescued migrants can only be disembarked to `safe third countries’, namely countries in which they do not run the real risk of being persecuted or returned to other countries `at risk’. According to some very recent international and national jurisprudence, including the European Court of Human Rights’ decision in the Hirsi, before disembarking migrants, intervening states should in principle carry out a positive assessment on the functionality of the recipient country’s asylum system. In order to assess clearly the legality per se of interceptions, this article supports the necessity of applying a prevalence criterion, according to which if the SAR character prevails over the objective of preventing irregular migration, the intervention in question should be considered an authentic and lawful salvage operation.”

Also of note by the same author is his October 2010 paper, “Fishers of Men? The Interception of Migrants in the Mediterranean Sea and Their Forced Return to Libya.”

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Filed under Analysis, European Court of Human Rights, Italy, Libya, Mediterranean, Tunisia

Hirsi v. Italy: Prohibition of Collective Expulsion Extends to Extra-Territorial Actions

Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 of the ECHR reads in its entirety as follows:  “Collective expulsion of aliens is prohibited.”

The provision was first defined by the European Commission of Human Rights in 1975 in Henning Becker v. Denmark (no. 7011/75, decision of 3 October 1975).  The Commission defined the “‘collective expulsion of aliens’ as being ‘any measure of the competent authority compelling aliens as a group to leave the country, except where such a measure is taken after and on the basis of a reasonable and objective examination of the particular cases of each individual alien of the group’.” [para. 166]

The Court has only once previously found a violation of the collective expulsion prohibition and that was in Čonka v. Belgium (no. 51564/99, ECHR 2002-I). [para. 183]

The majority of collective expulsion cases previously considered by the Commission and the Court have “involved persons who were on the territory at issue.”  [para. 167]  One extra-territorial exception involved the case of Xhavara and Others v. Italy and Albania ((dec), no. 39473/98, 11 January 2001) involving “Albanian nationals who had attempted to enter Italy illegally on board an Albanian vessel and who had been intercepted by an Italian warship approximately 35 nautical miles off the Italian coast. The Italian ship had attempted to prevent the parties concerned from disembarking on national territory, leading to the death of fifty-eight people….”  The Court however “rejected the complaint on the ground of incompatibility ratione personae, as [the applicants challenged an Italian law which] had not been applied to their case, and [the Court therefore] did not rule on the [extra-territorial] applicability of Article 4 of Protocol No. 4…”  [para. 168]

In Hirsi the Court “for the first time” considered the question of whether the prohibition of collective expulsion “applies to a case involving the removal of aliens to a third State carried out outside national territory.”  [para. 169]

Italy argued that the prohibition “came into play only in the event of the expulsion of persons [already] on the territory of a State or who had crossed the national border illegally” and therefore did not apply to the Hirsi applicants who had not entered on to Italian territory. According to Italy, “the measure at issue was a refusal to authorise entry into national territory rather than ‘expulsion’.” [para. 160]

The Court rejected Italy’s interpretation:

“173.  The Court does not share the Government’s opinion on this point. It notes firstly that while the cases thus far examined have concerned individuals who were already, in various forms, on the territory of the country concerned, the wording of Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 does not in itself pose an obstacle to its extra-territorial application. It must be noted that Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 contains no reference to the notion of ‘territory’, whereas the wording of Article 3 of the same Protocol, on the contrary, specifically refers to the territorial scope of the prohibition on the expulsion of nationals. Likewise, Article 1 of Protocol No. 7 explicitly refers to the notion of territory regarding procedural safeguards relating to the expulsion of aliens lawfully resident in the territory of a State. In the Court’s view, that wording cannot be ignored.

[***]

175.  It remains to be seen, however, whether [an extra-territorial] application [of the prohibition] is justified. To reply to that question, account must be taken of the purpose and meaning of the provision at issue, which must themselves be analysed in the light of the principle, firmly rooted in the Court’s case-law, that the Convention is a living instrument which must be interpreted in the light of present-day conditions. [***] Furthermore, it is essential that the Convention is interpreted and applied in a manner which renders the guarantees practical and effective and not theoretical and illusory (see Marckx v. Belgium, 13 June 1979, § 41, Series A no. 31; [***]).

176.  A long time has passed since Protocol No. 4 was drafted. Since that time, migratory flows in Europe have continued to intensify, with increasing use being made of the sea, although the interception of migrants on the high seas and their removal to countries of transit or origin are now a means of migratory control, in so far as they constitute tools for States to combat irregular immigration.

The economic crisis and recent social and political changes have had a particular impact on certain regions of Africa and the Middle East, throwing up new challenges for European States in terms of immigration control.

177.  The Court has already found that, according to the established case-law of the Commission and of the Court, the purpose of Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 is to prevent States being able to remove certain aliens without examining their personal circumstances and, consequently, without enabling them to put forward their arguments against the measure taken by the relevant authority. If, therefore, Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 were to apply only to collective expulsions from the national territory of the States Parties to the Convention, a significant component of contemporary migratory patterns would not fall within the ambit of that provision, notwithstanding the fact that the conduct it is intended to prohibit can occur outside national territory and in particular, as in the instant case, on the high seas. Article 4 would thus be ineffective in practice with regard to such situations, which, however, are on the increase. The consequence of that would be that migrants having taken to the sea, often risking their lives, and not having managed to reach the borders of a State, would not be entitled to an examination of their personal circumstances before being expelled, unlike those travelling by land.

178.  It is therefore clear that, while the notion of ‘jurisdiction’ is principally territorial and is presumed to be exercised on the national territory of States (see paragraph 71 above), the notion of expulsion is also principally territorial, in the sense that expulsions are most often conducted from national territory. Where, however, as in the instant case, the Court has found that a Contracting State has, exceptionally, exercised its jurisdiction outside its national territory, it does not see any obstacle to accepting that the exercise of extraterritorial jurisdiction by that State took the form of collective expulsion. To conclude otherwise, and to afford that last notion a strictly territorial scope, would result in a discrepancy between the scope of application of the Convention as such and that of Article 4 of Protocol No. 4, which would go against the principle that the Convention must be interpreted as a whole. Furthermore, as regards the exercise by a State of its jurisdiction on the high seas, the Court has already stated that the special nature of the maritime environment cannot justify an area outside the law where individuals are covered by no legal system capable of affording them enjoyment of the rights and guarantees protected by the Convention which the States have undertaken to secure to everyone within their jurisdiction (see Medvedyev and Others, cited above, § 81).

[***]

180.  Having regard to the foregoing, the Court considers that the removal of aliens carried out in the context of interceptions on the high seas by the authorities of a State in the exercise of their sovereign authority, the effect of which is to prevent migrants from reaching the borders of the State or even to push them back to another State, constitutes an exercise of jurisdiction within the meaning of Article 1 of the Convention which engages the responsibility of the State in question under Article 4 of Protocol No. 4.

[***]

185.  In the instant case, the Court can only find that the transfer of the applicants to Libya was carried out without any form of examination of each applicant’s individual situation. It has not been disputed that the applicants were not subjected to any identification procedure by the Italian authorities, which restricted themselves to embarking all the intercepted migrants onto military ships and disembarking them on Libyan soil. Moreover, the Court notes that the personnel aboard the military ships were not trained to conduct individual interviews and were not assisted by interpreters or legal advisers.

That is sufficient for the Court to rule out the existence of sufficient guarantees ensuring that the individual circumstances of each of those concerned were actually the subject of a detailed examination.

186.  Having regard to the above, the Court concludes that the removal of the applicants was of a collective nature, in breach of Article 4 of Protocol No. 4. Accordingly, there has been a violation of that Article.”

Click here (EN) and here (FR) for the Grand Chamber’s Judgment.

Click here (EJIL: Talk!), here (ECHR Blog), here (UK Human Rights Blog), and here (Open Society Blog)  for more analysis of the Judgment.

Click here for my previous post “Hirsi v. Italy: The Issue of Jurisdiction Under ECHR Article 1.”

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

Hirsi v. Italy: The Issue of Jurisdiction Under ECHR Article 1

The Court found that ECHR Article 1 jurisdiction existed because “the applicants were under the continuous and exclusive de jure and de facto control of the Italian authorities” from the point in time when the applicants’ boats were intercepted and the applicants were transferred to the Italian ships up until the point when the applicants were turned over to Libyan authorities in Tripoli. [para. 81]

The Court noted that the jurisdiction of a State is essentially territorial and therefore “the Court has accepted only in exceptional cases that acts of the Contracting States performed, or producing effects, outside their territories can constitute an exercise of jurisdiction by them within the meaning of Article 1 of the Convention (see Drozd and Janousek v. France and Spain, 26 June 1992, § 91, Series A no. 240; Bankoviç, decision cited above, § 67; and Ilaşcu and Others, cited above, § 314).” [para. 72].

“73.  [***] In each case, the question whether exceptional circumstances exist which require and justify a finding by the Court that the State was exercising jurisdiction extra-territorially must be determined with reference to the particular facts, for example full and exclusive control over a prison or a ship (see Al-Skeini and Others v. the United Kingdom [GC], no. 55721/07, § 132 and 136, 7 July 201; Medvedyev and Others, cited above, § 67).

74.  Whenever the State through its agents operating outside its territory exercises control and authority over an individual, and thus jurisdiction, the State is under an obligation under Article 1 to secure to that individual the rights and freedoms under Section 1 of the Convention that are relevant to the situation of that individual. In this sense, therefore, the Court has now accepted that Convention rights can be ‘divided and tailored’ (see Al-Skeini, cited above, § 136 and 137; compare Banković, cited above, § 75).”

The Court rejected Italy’s jurisdictional arguments.  While Italy acknowledged that the events in question took place on board its military ships, Italy asserted that due to the nature of the operation, the military ships and their personnel never exercised “absolute and exclusive control” over the applicants. [para. 64] Italy argued that its actions constituted a “rescue on the high seas of persons in distress” and therefore “could in no circumstances be described as a maritime police operation.” [para. 65] Italy argued that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea obligated it to rescue persons in distress and that carrying out its obligations under the Convention on the Law of the Sea  “did not in itself create a link between the State and the persons concerned establishing the State’s jurisdiction.” [para. 65]

The Court concluded that Italy “[could not] circumvent its ‘jurisdiction’ under the [ECHR] by describing the events at issue as rescue operations on the high seas.”   The Court took note of the events in the case of Medvedyev and Others where French military personnel intercepted a vessel flying the flag of a third State and took control of crew members who remained on board the intercepted vessel. [para. 80]

“81.  The Court observes that in the [Hirsi] case the events took place entirely on board ships of the Italian armed forces, the crews of which were composed exclusively of Italian military personnel. In the Court’s opinion, in the period between boarding the ships of the Italian armed forces and being handed over to the Libyan authorities, the applicants were under the continuous and exclusive de jure and de facto control of the Italian authorities. Speculation as to the nature and purpose of the intervention of the Italian ships on the high seas would not lead the Court to any other conclusion.

82.  Accordingly, the events giving rise to the alleged violations fall within Italy’s ‘jurisdiction’ within the meaning of Article 1 of the Convention.”

In some respects, the Article 1 jurisdictional issue was easier to address because the applicants were removed from their vessels and taken on board the Italian military vessels.  The Court noted that under “relevant provisions of the law of the sea, a vessel sailing on the high seas is subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the State of the flag it is flying” [para. 77] and further that this principle is contained within the Italian Navigation Code. [para. 78]  The Court accordingly found that de jure control had been exercised over the applicants after they were transferred from their boats to the Italian ships.

It seems clear that Italy intends in the future to resume some sort of bi-lateral immigration control measures with Libya.  It remains to be seen whether Italy will try to implement some modified form of the push-back practice that has now been condemned by the Court.  One of the provisions in one of the bi-lateral agreements between Italy and Libya mentioned in the Hirsi judgment provides for the deployment of

“maritime patrols with joint crews, made up of equal numbers of Italian and Libyan personnel having equivalent experience and skills. The patrols shall be conducted in Libyan and international waters under the supervision of Libyan personnel and with participation by Italian crew members, and in Italian and international waters under the supervision of Italian personnel and with participation by the Libyan crew members.”  Additional Protocol of 4 February 2009 [para. 19]

The question arises whether Italy could evade jurisdiction and circumvent its Convention obligations by lessening its control over a new push-back scheme.  How would the Court have viewed the push-back events had they occurred, as the operational protocol above contemplates, “in … international waters under the supervision of Libyan personnel and with participation by Italian crew members”?

Click here (EN) and here (FR) for the Grand Chamber’s judgment.

Click here (EJIL: Talk!), here (ECHR Blog), here (UK Human Rights Blog) and here (Open Society Blog) for more analysis of the Judgment.

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

Oxford Migration Law Discussion Group Seminar: A discussion on Hirsi v Italy (Oxford, 27 Feb)

“The Migration Law Discussion Group at the University of Oxford is holding a meeting Monday, 27 Feb. 2012, to discuss the Grand Chamber judgment delivered by the Strasbourg Court on the case of Hirsi v Italy. The session will start with a presentation by UNHCR (third party intervener in the case) and provide ample opportunity for discussion afterwards.  The details are as follows:  MLDG SEMINAR: ‘How far does non-refoulement go? A discussion on Hirsi v Italy’;  SPEAKER: Madeline Garlick, Head of Unit, Policy and Legal Support, UNHCR Europe;   ABSTRACT:  The European Court of Human Rights, on 23 February 2012, has handed down its judgment in the matter of Hirsi & Ors v Italy. This case, brought to the court by a group of migrants intercepted at sea and returned to Libya by Italy in 2009, raises important questions around the scope and application of the principle of non-refoulement. This includes notably the extent of States’ protection obligations when exercising jurisdiction over individuals outside their territory. The decision is ground-breaking and should lead to a dramatic change in the way border controls are conducted in Europe, affording protection to migrants and refugees in an unprecedented way.  The speaker, who represented UNHCR before the Court in the case, will examine key points of interest in the judgment and convey the perspective of UNHCR as a third party intervener. Participants at the event will be invited to discuss the judgment and its wider implications.

DATE: Monday, 27 February 2012
VENUE: Seminar Room 2, Refugee Studies Centre – Queen Elizabeth House, 3 Mansfield Rd – Oxford OX1 3TB
TIME: 5h30 pm”

(From Migration and Law Network listserve.)

Click here for more information.

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Filed under Colloques / Conferences, European Court of Human Rights, Mediterranean, UNHCR

ECtHR Grand Chamber: Italy’s Maritime Push-Back Practice Amounts to Collective Expulsion and Exposes Migrants to Risks of Torture and Ill-Treatment

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights issued a unanimous judgment earlier today in the case of Hirsi Jamaa and Others v. Italy (application no. 27765/09) holding that “There had been two violations of [ECHR] Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) … because the applicants had been exposed to the risk of ill-treatment in Libya and of repatriation to Somalia or Eritrea; There had been a violation of Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 (prohibition of collective expulsions); There had been a violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) taken in conjunction with Article 3 and with Article 4 of Protocol No.4.”

More to follow once I have had a chance to closely read the 80+ page judgment.

Click here (EN) and here (FR) for the Grand Chamber’s judgment.

Click here (EN) and here (FR) for Press Statements from the Court Registry.

Click here, here, and here for UNHCR press statements.

Click here for Amnesty International statement.

Excerpt from the Registry Press Release:

“Decision of the Court

The question of jurisdiction under Article 1

Only in exceptional cases did the Court accept that acts of the member States performed, or producing effects, outside their territories could constitute an exercise of jurisdiction by them. Whenever the State, through its agents operating outside its territory, exercised control and authority over an individual, and thus its jurisdiction, the State was under an obligation to secure the rights under the Convention to that individual.

Italy did not dispute that the ships onto which the applicants had been embarked had been fully within Italian jurisdiction. The Court reiterated the principle of international law, enshrined in the Italian Navigation Code, that a vessel sailing on the high seas was subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the State of the flag it was flying. The Court could not accept the Government’s description of the operation as a “rescue operation on the high seas” or that Italy had exercised allegedly minimal control over the applicants. The events had taken place entirely on board ships of the Italian armed forces, the crews of which had been composed exclusively of Italian military personnel. In the period between boarding the ships and being handed over to the Libyan authorities, the applicants had been under the continuous and exclusive de jure and de facto control of the Italian authorities. Accordingly, the events giving rise to the alleged violations had fallen within Italy’s jurisdiction within the meaning of Article 1.

Article 3 – Risk of suffering ill-treatment in Libya

The Court was aware of the pressure on States resulting from the increasing influx of migrants, which was a particularly complex phenomenon when occurring by sea, but observed that this could not absolve a State of its obligation not to remove any person who would run the risk of being subjected to treatment prohibited under Article 3 in the receiving country. Noting that the situation in Libya had deteriorated after April 2010, the Court decided to confine its examination of the case to the situation prevailing in Libya at the material time. It noted that the disturbing conclusions of numerous organisations (2)  regarding the treatment of clandestine immigrants were corroborated by the report of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) of 2010 (3).

Irregular migrants and asylum seekers, between whom no distinction was made, had been systematically arrested and detained in conditions described as inhuman by observers (4), who reported cases of torture among others. Clandestine migrants had been at risk of being returned to their countries of origin at any time and, if they managed to regain their freedom, had been subjected to particularly precarious living conditions and exposed to racist acts. The Italian Government had maintained that Libya was a safe destination for migrants and that Libya complied with its international commitments as regards asylum and the protection of refugees. The Court observed that the existence of domestic laws and the ratification of international treaties guaranteeing respect for fundamental rights were not in themselves sufficient to ensure adequate protection against the risk of ill-treatment where reliable sources had reported practices contrary to the principles of the Convention. Furthermore, Italy could not evade its responsibility under the Convention by referring to its subsequent obligations arising out of bilateral agreements with Libya. The Court noted, further, that the Office of the UNHCR in Tripoli had never been recognised by the Libyan Government. That situation had been well-known and easy to verify at the relevant time. The Court therefore considered that when the applicants had been removed, the Italian authorities had known or should have known that they would be exposed to treatment in breach of the Convention. Furthermore, the fact the applicants had not expressly applied for asylum had not exempted Italy from its responsibility. The Court reiterated the obligations on States arising out of international refugee law, including the “non-refoulement principle” also enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The Court attached particular weight in this regard to a letter of 15 May 2009 from Mr Jacques Barrot, Vice-President of the European Commission, in which he reiterated the importance of that principle (5).

The Court, considering that the fact that a large number of irregular immigrants in Libya had found themselves in the same situation as the applicants did not make the risk concerned any less individual, concluded that by transferring the applicants to Libya the Italian authorities had, in full knowledge of the facts, exposed them to treatment proscribed by the Convention. The Court thus concluded that there had been a violation of Article 3.

Risk of suffering ill-treatment in the applicants’ country of origin

The indirect removal of an alien left the State’s responsibility intact, and that State was required to ensure that the intermediary country offered sufficient guarantees against arbitrary refoulement particularly where that State was not a party to the Convention. The Court would determine whether there had been such guarantees in this case. All the information in the Court’s possession showed prima facie that there was widespread insecurity in Somalia – see the Court’s conclusions in the case of Sufi and Elmi v. the United Kingdom (6) – and in Eritrea – individuals faced being tortured and detained in inhuman conditions merely for having left the country irregularly. The applicants could therefore arguably claim that their repatriation would breach Article 3 of the Convention. The Court observed that Libya had not ratified the Geneva Convention and noted the absence of any form of asylum and protection procedure for refugees in the country. The Court could not therefore subscribe to the Government’s argument that the UNHCR’s activities in Tripoli represented a guarantee against arbitrary repatriation. Moreover, Human Rights Watch and the UNHCR had denounced several forced returns of asylum seekers and refugees to highrisk countries. Thus, the fact that some of the applicants had obtained refugee status in Libya, far from being reassuring, might actually have increased their vulnerability.

The Court concluded that when the applicants were transferred to Libya, the Italian authorities had known or should have known that there were insufficient guarantees protecting them from the risk of being arbitrarily returned to their countries of origin. That transfer accordingly violated Article 3.

Article 4 of Protocol No.4 – Admissibility of the complaint

The Court was required, for the first time, to examine whether Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 applied to a case involving the removal of aliens to a third State carried out outside national territory. It had to ascertain whether the transfer of the applicants to Libya constituted a collective expulsion within the meaning of Article 4 of Protocol No. 4. The Court observed that neither the text nor the travaux préparatoires of the Convention precluded the extraterritorial application of that provision. Furthermore, were Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 to apply only to collective expulsions from the national territory of the member States, a significant component of contemporary migratory patterns would not fall within the ambit of that provision and migrants having taken to the sea, often risking their lives, and not having managed to reach the borders of a State, would not be entitled to an examination of their personal circumstances before being expelled, unlike those travelling by land. The notion of expulsion, like the concept of “jurisdiction”, was clearly principally territorial. Where, however, the Court found that a State had, exceptionally, exercised its jurisdiction outside its national territory, it could accept that the exercise of extraterritorial jurisdiction by that State had taken the form of collective expulsion. The Court also reiterated that the special nature of the maritime environment did not make it an area outside the law. It concluded that the complaint was admissible.

Merits of the complaint

The Court observed that, to date, the Čonka v. Belgium (7) case was the only one in which it had found a violation of Article 4 of Protocol No. 4. It reiterated that the fact that a number of aliens were subject to similar decisions did not in itself lead to the conclusion that there was a collective expulsion if the case of each person concerned had been duly examined. In the present case the transfer of the applicants to Libya had been carried out without any examination of each individual situation. No identification procedure had been carried out by the Italian authorities, which had merely embarked the applicants and then disembarked them in Libya. The Court concluded that the removal of the applicants had been of a collective nature, in breach of Article 4 of Protocol No. 4.

Article 13 taken in conjunction with Article 3 and with Article 4 of Protocol No.4

The Italian Government acknowledged it had not been possible to assess the applicants’ personal circumstances on board the military ships. The applicants alleged that they had been given no information by the Italian military personnel, who had led them to believe that they were being taken to Italy and had not informed them as to the procedure to be followed to avoid being returned to Libya. That version of events, though disputed by the Government, was corroborated by a large number of witness statements gathered by the UNHCR, the CPT and Human Rights Watch. The applicants had thus been unable to lodge their complaints under Article 3 of the Convention and Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 with a competent authority and to obtain a thorough and rigorous assessment of their requests before the removal measure was enforced.

Even if a remedy under the criminal law against the military personnel on board the ship were accessible in practice, this did not satisfy the criterion of suspensive effect. The Court reiterated the requirement flowing from Article 13 that execution of a measure be stayed where the measure was contrary to the Convention and had potentially irreversible effects. Having regard to the irreversible consequences if the risk of torture or ill-treatment materialised, the suspensive effect of an appeal should apply where an alien was returned to a State where there were serious grounds for believing that he or she faced a risk of that nature. The Court concluded that there had been a violation of Article 13 taken in conjunction with Article 3 and Article 4 of Protocol No. 4.

Article 41

Under Article 41 (just satisfaction), the Court held that Italy was to pay each applicant 15,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 1,575.74 to the applicants jointly in respect of costs and expenses.

2 International bodies and non-governmental organisations; see paragraphs 37 – 41 of the judgment.

3 Report of 28 April 2010 of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) of the Council of Europe after a visit to Italy.

4 The UNHCR, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

5 Paragraph 34 of the judgment.

6 Judgment of 28.06.2011.

7 Judgment of 05.02.2002.”

Click here (EN) and here (FR) for the Grand Chamber’s judgment.

Click here (EN) and here (FR) for Press Statements from the Court Registry.

Click here, here, and here for UNHCR press statements.

Click here for Amnesty International statement

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ECtHR Grand Chamber to Deliver Judgement in Hirsi v Italy on 23 February

The decision in Hirsi and others v Italy, Requête no 27765/09, is scheduled to be released by the Grand Camber of the European Court of Human Rights next Thursday, 23 February.  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.   On 17 November 2009 the Second Section of the Court communicated the case and then subsequently relinquished jurisdiction in favour of the Grand Chamber.  The argument before the Grand Chamber occurred on 22 June 2011.

Today’s statement from the CoE web site:

“Human rights judges will soon deliver their judgement in a case which involved Italy intercepting Somalian and Eritrean migrants at sea and returning them to Libya.  The European Court of Human Rights’ Grand Chamber final judgment in the case of Hirsi Jamaa and Others v. Italy (application no. 27765/09), is expected at a public hearing scheduled for Thursday 23 February.

Principal facts

The applicants are 11 Somalian and 13 Eritrean nationals. They were part of a group of about 200 people who left Libya in 2009 on board three boats bound for Italy. On 6 May 2009, when the boats were 35 miles south of Lampedusa (Agrigento), within the maritime search and rescue region under the responsibility of Malta, 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.

Complaint

The applicants consider that their case falls within the jurisdiction of Italy. Relying on Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), they argue that the decision of the Italian authorities to send them 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) of the Convention. Lastly, relying on Article 13 (right to an effective remedy), they complain that they had no effective remedy against the alleged violations of Article 3 and Article 4 of Protocol No. 4.

The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 26 May 2009.

On 15 February 2011 the Chamber to which the case had been allocated relinquished jurisdiction in favour of the Grand Chamber. A hearing took place in public in the Human Rights Building, Strasbourg on 22 June 2011.

The following have been authorised to intervene as a third party (under Article 36 § 2 of the Convention):

– the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,

– the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,

– the non-governmental organisations Aire Center, Amnesty International, and International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH),

– the non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch, and

– the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic.”

Click here for CoE Statement.

Click here for Press Statement from ECtHR.

Click here for previous post on the argument before the Grand Chamber.

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Articles: European Journal of Int’l Law and Goettingen Journal of Int’l Law

Fighting Maritime Piracy under the European Convention on Human Rights, European Journal of International Law, Volume 22, Issue 3, by Stefano Piedimonte Bodini, Head of Division at the Programme and Budget Department of the Council of Europe (author’s opinions are strictly personal).  (subscription required)

Abstract: “On the basis of real examples of anti-piracy operations conducted in the Indian Ocean by European navies, the article examines the legal implications of such military actions and their judicial medium- and long-term consequences in the framework of the European Convention on Human Rights. The only existing authority directly addressing maritime piracy, although from the sole perspective of state jurisdiction, is the recent Grand Chamber judgment in Medvedyev and Others v. France. The Court’s approach and conclusions in Medvedyev will be analysed in section 2. Section 3 will explore other important issues likely to be raised under the Convention by anti-piracy operations. Section 4 will consider the question of state responsibility, i.e., jurisdiction and attribution, in the context of anti-piracy operations carried out on the high seas or on the territory of third states.”

Refugees on the High Seas: International Refugee Law Solutions to a Law of the Sea Problem,” Goettingen Journal of International Law, by Killian S. O’Brien. (open access)

Abstract: “Following in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, Europe’s southern marine borders have been the showplace of human tragedies previously unseen on this scale and the issue of refugees on the high seas has assumed a newfound importance. This article examines the flawed system provided by the ‘Constitution of the Oceans’, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea for the protection of the lives of migrants at sea. It submits that international refugee law is well-equipped to assume a greater responsibility in ensuring the protection of those involved. Although the concept of non-refoulement cannot be stretched ad absurdum, it may still be reasonably interpreted as providing a temporary right to disembark for the purpose of processing possible asylum applications. In the long-term, a system of burden-sharing and permanent, yet flexible, reception agreements remain the only sustainable solution.”

Rights at the Frontier: Border Control and Human Rights Protection of Irregular International Migrants,” Goettingen Journal of International Law, by Julian M. Lehmann. (open access)

Abstract: “In light of recent events causing people’s movement into Europe, continued misuse of the term “migrant” in policy making and public discourse, and at the occasion of events celebrating the international regime of refugee protection, the human rights protection of irregular migrants is explored in relation to irregular migrants’ entry/admission and expulsion/deportation. The term “migrant” has, in contrast to the term “refugee”, no bearing on whether or not an international migrant has a need for international protection. While many irregular migrants have no such need, other migrants may be refugees or be in need of international protection “outside” the framework of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. The paper analyses the international human rights law framework applying to individuals with and without need for international protection, when their claims have a socio-economic dimension. The principle of non-refoulement remains the most important source of protection for irregular migrants; it is not concerned with the irregular status of a migrant and also has a bearing on procedural rights in status determination. Socio-economic motivations for flight are not a bar to being a refugee within the meaning of the 1951 Convention, if their underlying cause is persecution, or if motives are mixed. Refugee law can accommodate such claims and overcome a strict dichotomy but is currently only rarely and restrictively applied in this regard. In expulsion cases, virtually only the prohibition of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment is relevant. For individuals that have no need for international protection there are mitigating individual circumstances which a state has to take into account. All pertinent norms of international human rights law apply without distinction and irregular migrants may have, just as refugees may have, humanitarian needs that states should meet.”

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Hirsi v Italy: UNHCR’s Oral Intervention Before ECtHR Grand Chamber

UNHCR released the text of its oral submission as a third party intervener before the ECtHR Grand Chamber in Hirsi and others v Italy, Requête no 27765/09.  The oral submission was made by Madeline Garlick, Head of Policy and Legal Support Unit, Bureau for Europe.

Note UNHCR’s disagreement with the Government of Italy’s position on the extraterritorial applicability of Article 4 of Protocol 4’s prohibition of collective expulsion:  “Although it is of primary importance to this case, UNHCR today will not address Article 4 of Protocol 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights, since the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights covers it comprehensively in its written submission. UNHCR supports and shares the views expressed in that submission, holding that the prohibition of collective expulsion is at stake in this case including in relation to extraterritorial acts.”

Click here for the full text of UNHCR’s oral submission.

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Hirsi v Italy: Summary of Oral Submission made by Govt. of Italy to Grand Chamber ECtHR

I have watched a portion of the web cast of yesterday’s oral submissions before the ECtHR Grand Chamber in Hirsi and others v Italy, Requête no 27765/09.  Here is a summary of the oral submissions made on behalf of the Respondent Government of Italy by Mrs. Silvia Coppari, Co-Agent, and Mr. Giuseppe Albenzio, Adviser.  NB while I think my notes are accurate, do not rely on them for exact quotes of any of the oral remarks.

Oral Submission by Mrs. Silvia Coppari, Co-Agent, Government of Italy

Introductory Remarks Critical of Applicants:

Coppari began her oral submission by saying that the Italian government did not intend to enter into the controversy raised by Applicants in their written submissions where the Italian government and its representatives were insulted and provoked by the Applicants’ statements that the arguments relied upon by the Italian government were purely formal or quite absurd and tendentious.  Coppari described the Applicants’ written submission as a political and ideological manifesto against the government and its policy.

Questioning Why Italy Was Singled Out:

Coppari said that the issues raised by the Applicants related to European public policy in general and therefore all EU Member States should be involved in the case.  Italy’s policies and actions were adopted and carried out in a manner consistent with the guidelines, objectives, and guidance set by the EU to curb illegal migration.

Reminding Court that Case is Limited to the Events of 6 May 2009 and is Not a Challenge to Italy’s Migration Policies:

Coppari emphasised that the Application was lodged only with respect to the events that took place on 6 May 2009 when the push-back operation involving the Applicants occurred and that the Application does not deal with the public policy or practices of the Government.

Admissibility Challenge No. 1:

Coppari recalled that the allegations lacked specific supporting evidence and noted that the Applicants themselves have not testified in any domestic proceedings and have not otherwise personally participated in the case. Coppari expressed misgivings about the validity and authenticity of the authorisations given to the Applicants’ legal representatives.  Coppari said there was no certainty as to the identity of the Applicants and therefore no likelihood of individually assigning a particular alleged offence to them or a possible violation of their rights under Art. 34 of the Convention.

Admissibility Challenge No. 2:

Coppari made a second inadmissibility objection due to the failure of the Applicants to lodge an appeal with the Italian courts in line with Art. 13.  The pursuit of such domestic remedies would have given the Italian authorities the opportunity to check whether those who were rescuing illegal migrants on the high seas were possibly liable for any rights violations.  Coppari emphasised that at present there are criminal proceedings underway at the domestic level in cases very similar to the instant case and that these cases will determine whether there was compliance with national and international standards and whether there was effective access to procedures for international protection for unidentified migrants intercepted at high seas and transported to Italian vessels. The existence of these ongoing domestic cases proves that domestic remedies do exist which were not pursued by the Applicants.

The Events of 6 May 2009:

Coppari said that the operations carried out on 6 May 2009 to intercept 3 makeshift migrant vessels were done to protect the migrants from danger and to control the flows of illegal migration towards Europe.  The migrant vessels were in distress on high seas in the Maltese SAR zone.  The migrants were rescued and returned to Libya on board Italian military vessels.  There is no evidence suggesting that requests for international protection were made to Italian authorities.  The migrants were in fact welcomed upon arrival in Libya.  The returns did not breach any basic rights of the Applicants.

Prohibition Against Collective Expulsions Does Not Apply Extraterritorially:

Coppari said that prohibition of collective expulsions provided by Art. 4 of Protocol 4 is not applicable to the case.  Coppari said that the use of the word “expulsion” is an obstacle to its application in the case of extraterritorial exercise of state jurisdiction.  Not only is it an apparent obstacle, it is in fact a logical obstacle which cannot be circumvented because an “expulsion” can only happen to people who are already on national territory or who have illegally crossed the border.  The transfer to a vessel on the high seas cannot be equated with entry upon national territory or permanent residence on national territory.

Giuseppe Albenzio, Adviser, Government of Italy

Introductory Remarks – Italy’s Policies Consistent with EU Principles:

Italy has acted in respect of principles handed down by the EU. The European pact on immigration and asylum provides for limits on migratory flows, the need to control illegal immigration by ensuring that illegal immigrants are returned to the country of origin or to a country of transit, the need to make border controls more effective, and to make partnerships with countries of origin or transit.

At the Time of the Events in Question, Libya Was a Country with an Adequate Protection System in Place:

Italy’s bi-lateral agreements with Libya at the time they were implemented recalled the general principles of international law and of human rights and therefore in face of these principles recognised in the agreements, the misgivings regarding Libya’s non-subscription to the UN Refugee Convention should not exist and are not justified especially since Libya has signed the similar African Union Convention for refugees.  It should also be underlined that at the time of the events in question, the UNHCR and IOM were both active in Tripoli and the operations that were carried out in the months after the bilateral treaty was implemented should be seen in this context.

After the first phase of the implementation of the bi-lateral treaty when Italian authorities took note of the fact that Libyan authorities had ordered the UNHCR office in Tripoli to close, which in turn made it difficult to guarantee the protection of fundamental rights on its territory, Italy’s methods for rescuing migrants on the high seas were modified and people who were on vessels coming from Libya would be accompanied to Italian soil after rescue.

The web cast of the hearing is available here.  (I was able to view this with IE but not with Firefox.)

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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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Moreno-Lax, Int J Refugee Law, “Seeking Asylum in the Mediterranean: Against a Fragmentary Reading of EU Member States’ Obligations Accruing at Sea”

The latest edition of the International Journal of Refugee Law, contains an article by Violeta Moreno-Lax (PhD Candidate at Université catholique de Louvain; Visiting Fellow 2010-11 at Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford) entitled “Seeking Asylum in the Mediterranean: Against a Fragmentary Reading of EU Member States’ Obligations Accruing at Sea.”

Abstract: “Although both international and EU law impose a number of obligations on the EU Member States with regard to persons in distress at sea, their effective implementation is limited by the manner in which they are being interpreted. The fact that the persons concerned are migrants, who may seek asylum upon rescue, has given rise to frequent disputes and to episodes of non-compliance. Frontex missions and the Italian 2009 push-back campaign illustrate the issue. With the objective of clarifying the scope of common obligations and to establish minimum operational arrangements for joint maritime operations, the EU has adopted a set of common guidelines for the surveillance of the external maritime borders. On the basis of the principle of systemic interpretation, this article intends to contribute to the clarification of the main obligations in international and European law binding upon the EU Member States when they operate at sea.”

This is a revised and updated version of the paper presented at the 12th IASFM Conference held in Nicosia, 28 June-2 July 2009.  [The article was written and sent for typesetting before the various uprisings in North Africa – IJRL Editor, 4 March 2011]

Click here for link.  (Subscription or payment required.)

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Maltese Minister Says Malta Will Not Reconsider Its Detention of Migrants

Malta Today reports that Justice and Home Affairs Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici reaffirmed Malta’s detention law and disagrees with the comments made by COE Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg.  From Malta Today: “‘This [the detention policy] is compliant with Malta’s EU and other international obligations. As a matter of fact, the European Convention on Human Rights does not rule out detention,’ Mifsud Bonnici said, citing Article 5 (1)(f) of the Convention. … Mifsud Bonnici however said that the judgement in the [ECtHR’s] Massoud vs Malta case, ‘cannot, in any way be interpreted as constituting a condemnation of Malta’s detention policy. This has been proved and explained time and again.’”

Click here for article.

Click here for Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg’s statement.

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Hirsi and Others v. Italy – ECtHR Grand Chamber Hearing Scheduled for 22 June

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.

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