Category Archives: Judicial

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

Asylum Claims Made by Witnesses at ICC

Not pertinent to Migrants At Sea, but of possible interest to many, Prof. William A. Schabas’ blog (PhD Studies in Human Rights) describes a developing situation at the ICC where witnesses have made asylum claims to the ICC: “Three Congolese witnesses, brought to The Hague at the request of the defence in the Katanga case, have presented the judges of the Trial Chamber with a claim for protection. The matter was considered in a Status Conference on Thursday, for which the transcript is available. There is also an account of this on the Hirondelle News Service….”

Click here for the blog post.

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ICJ Publishes New Practitioners Guide –“Migration and International Human Rights Law”

The International Commission of Jurists has just published its sixth Practitioners Guide entitled Migration and International Human Rights Law: Practitioners Guide No. 6.  The Guide was researched and written by Massimo Frigo and edited by Róisín Pillay.

“The Practitioners Guide on Migration and International Human Rights Law analyses the protection afforded to migrants by international law and the means to implement it at national and international levels. The Guide synthesises and clarifies international standards on key issues, in particular: the rights and procedures connected to the way migrants enter a country and their status in the country of destination; human rights and refugee law constraints on expulsion; the human rights and refugee law rights linked to expulsion procedures; the rights and guarantees for administrative detention of migrants; rights connected to work and labour; and rights to education, to the highest attainable standard of health, to adequate housing, to water, to food, and to social security.”

The 300 page Guide includes Chapters or Annexes on Human Rights Impediments to Expulsion, Detention, ESC Rights in Migration, and International Legal Remedies, among other subjects.

Click here or on this link  PGNo6-ElectronicDistribution for the Practitioners Guide.

(Thanks to Massimo Frigo for bringing this to my attention.)

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ECJ Rules Italy May Not Criminally Punish Illegally Staying Migrants Who Fail to Depart

The First Chamber of the European Court of Justice issued a decision on 28 April ruling that the Italian law which punishes migrants who remain in Italy after being ordered to depart is precluded by EU Directive 2008/115 which established the procedure by which Member States may return illegally staying third country nationals.  The ruling was made in the case of Hassen El Dridi alias Soufi Karim, Case C‑61/11 PPU, 28 April 2011.

The Italian law in question was enacted in 2009 as part of a “security package” (“pacchetto sicurezza”) of immigration laws and punishes the act of illegally staying in Italy after being ordered to depart with 1 to 4 years imprisonment.  Italy has never transposed Directive 2008/115.  The deadline for doing so was 24 December 2010.

The Court’s ruling was as follows:

“Directive 2008/115/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008 on common standards and procedures in Member States for returning illegally staying third-country nationals, in particular Articles 15 and 16 thereof, must be interpreted as precluding a Member State’s legislation, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, which provides for a sentence of imprisonment to be imposed on an illegally staying third-country national on the sole ground that he remains, without valid grounds, on the territory of that State, contrary to an order to leave that territory within a given period.”

The Court suggested that penalties might be imposed by a Member State after the procedures required by the Directive had been exhausted: “[This] does not preclude the possibility for the Member States to adopt, with respect for the principles and objective of Directive 2008/115, provisions regulating the situation in which coercive measures have not resulted in the removal of a third-country national staying illegally on their territory.” Para. 60.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni criticised the decision saying that it risks making expulsions difficult or impossible.  UNHCR spokeswoman Laura Boldrini said that the ECJ decision was consistent and in harmony with what has already been expressed by the Italian courts, specifically the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court, and expressed the hope that the EU Directive would soon be implemented.

Click here for ECJ Decision.

Click here for ECJ Press Release.

Click here (EN), here (EN), here (IT), and here (IT) for articles.

The ECJ Press Release provides a summary of the ruling; here are some excerpts from the ruling:

[Facts and Procedural Background]

“[***]

18      Mr El Dridi is a third-country national who entered Italy illegally and does not hold a residence permit. A deportation decree was issued against him by the Prefect of Turin on 8 May 2004.

19      An order requiring his removal from the national territory, issued on 21 May 2010 by the Questore di Udine pursuant to that deportation decree, was notified to him on the same day….

20      A check carried out on 29 September 2010 revealed that Mr El Dridi had not complied with that removal order.

21      Mr El Dridi was sentenced at the conclusion of an expedited procedure by a single judge of the Tribunale di Trento (District Court, Trento) to one year’s imprisonment for the offence set out in Article 14(5b) of Legislative Decree No 286/1998.

22      He appealed against that decision before the Corte d’appello di Trento (Appeal Court, Trento).

[Referral of Questions to Court of Justice]

23      That [appeal] court is in doubt as to whether a criminal penalty may be imposed during administrative procedures concerning the return of a foreign national to his country of origin due to non-compliance with the stages of those procedures, since such a penalty seems contrary to the principle of sincere cooperation, to the need for attainment of the objectives of Directive 2008/115 and for ensuring the effectiveness thereof, and also to the principle that the penalty must be proportionate, appropriate and reasonable.

[***]

25      In those circumstances, the Corte d’appello di Trento … refer[ed] the following question to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling:

‘In the light of the principle of sincere cooperation, the purpose of which is to ensure the attainment of the objectives of the directive, and the principle that the penalty must be proportionate, appropriate and reasonable, do Articles 15 and 16 of Directive 2008/115… preclude:

—      the possibility that criminal penalties may be imposed in respect of a breach of an intermediate stage in the administrative return procedure, before that procedure is completed, by having recourse to the most severe administrative measure of constraint which remains available?

—      the possibility of a sentence of up to four years’ imprisonment being imposed in respect of a simple failure to cooperate in the deportation procedure on the part of the person concerned, in particular where the first removal order issued by the administrative authorities has not been complied with?’

[***]

[ECJ’s Rationale]

58      … the Member States may not, in order to remedy the failure of coercive measures adopted in order to carry out forced removal pursuant to Article 8(4) of [Directive 2008/115], provide for a custodial sentence, such as that provided for by Article 14(5b) of Legislative Decree No 286/1998, on the sole ground that a third-country national continues to stay illegally on the territory of a Member State after an order to leave the national territory was notified to him and the period granted in that order has expired; rather, they must pursue their efforts to enforce the return decision, which continues to produce its effects.

59      Such a penalty, due inter alia to its conditions and methods of application, risks jeopardising the attainment of the objective pursued by that directive, namely, the establishment of an effective policy of removal and repatriation of illegally staying third-country nationals. In particular, as observed by the Advocate General in point 42 of his View, national legislation such as that at issue in the main proceedings is liable to frustrate the application of the measures referred to in Article 8(1) of Directive 2008/115 and delay the enforcement of the return decision.

60      That does not preclude the possibility for the Member States to adopt, with respect for the principles and objective of Directive 2008/115, provisions regulating the situation in which coercive measures have not resulted in the removal of a third-country national staying illegally on their territory.

61      In the light of the foregoing, it will be for the national court, which is called upon, within the exercise of its jurisdiction, to apply and give full effect to provisions of European Union law, to refuse to apply any provision of Legislative Decree No 286/1998 which is contrary to the result of Directive 2008/115, including Article 14(5b) of that legislative decree (see, to that effect, Case 106/77 Simmenthal [1978] ECR 629, paragraph 24; Case C-462/99 Connect Austria [2003] ECR I-5197, paragraphs 38 and 40; and Joined Cases C‑188/10 and C‑189/10 Melki and Abdeli [2010] ECR I-0000, paragraph 43). In so doing, the referring court will have to take due account of the principle of the retroactive application of the more lenient penalty, which forms part of the constitutional traditions common to the Member States (Joined Cases C‑387/02, C‑391/02 and C‑403/02 Berlusconi and Others [2005] ECR I‑3565, paragraphs 67 to 69, and Case C‑420/06 Jager [2008] ECR I‑1315, paragraph 59).

62      Consequently, the answer to the question referred is that Directive 2008/115, in particular Articles 15 and 16 thereof, must be interpreted as precluding a Member State’s legislation, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, which provides for a sentence of imprisonment to be imposed on an illegally staying third-country national on the sole ground that he remains, without valid grounds, on the territory of that State, contrary to an order to leave that territory within a given period.

[***]

On those grounds, the Court (First Chamber) hereby rules:

Directive 2008/115/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008 on common standards and procedures in Member States for returning illegally staying third-country nationals, in particular Articles 15 and 16 thereof, must be interpreted as precluding a Member State’s legislation, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, which provides for a sentence of imprisonment to be imposed on an illegally staying third-country national on the sole ground that he remains, without valid grounds, on the territory of that State, contrary to an order to leave that territory within a given period.

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Filed under Algeria, European Union, Italy, Judicial, News, UNHCR

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

Italian Prosecutor to Open Criminal Investigations Against 6000 Tunisians for Illegal Immigration

The chief criminal prosecutor of Agrigento, Sicily, Renato Di Natale, has opened criminal cases on charges of illegal immigration against the Tunisians who arrived in Lampedusa over the past several weeks.  Cases have been opened against hundreds of Tunisians and additional cases will be opened as the migrants are identified.  The chief prosecutor described the opening of the criminal cases as routine procedure which would occur in any case involving the arrival of a suspected illegal immigrant.  The prosecutor said additional charges of providing false information could be added if it is discovered that a migrant provided a false name.  If an individual migrant were to be given status as a political refugee, the criminal case would be dropped.

Bringing criminal charges against traffickers or smugglers would seem reasonable, but it strikes me as a poor use of limited state resources to open criminal investigations against the overwhelming majority of the Tunisians who have arrived in Italy in recent weeks.  Even if the cases do not proceed, one would think that Italian authorities could respond to this situation differently.

Click here, here, here, and here for articles. (IT)

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Hirsi and Others v. Italy – Relinquishment of jurisdiction to the ECtHR Grand Chamber

There is a notice on the European Court of Human Rights web page dated 1 March 2011 stating the following:

“The Chamber dealing with the case of Hirsi and Others v. Italy has relinquished jurisdiction in favour of the Grand Chamber. The applicants, 11 Somali nationals and 13 Eritrean nationals, were part of a group of illegal migrants who left Libya by boat heading for the Italian coast. The application concerns the interception of their boats on the high seas and their immediate return to Libya on board Italian naval vessels.”

Previous history of the case:

On 17 November the Second Section of the European Court of Human Rights communicated the case of Hirsi and others v Italy, Requête no 27765/09.  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.

Click here for previous post on the case.

More details on this development later.

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Filed under European Court of Human Rights, European Union, Italy, Judicial, Libya, Mediterranean

ASIL Insight article about M.S.S. v. Belgium & Greece

ASIL has just published an Insight article about M.S.S. v. Belgium & Greece written by Tom Syring, Co-chair of the ASIL International Refugee Law Interest Group, who currently serves at the Norwegian Immigration Appeals Board.

Excerpt from the conclusion:  “Apart from criticizing Greece for the current conditions of detention and subsistence awaiting asylum seekers, and Belgium for ‘intentional blindness’ for failing to properly scrutinize the adequacy of protection against refoulement in Greece, despite the fact that circumstances had called for application of the sovereignty clause, the Grand Chamber’s judgment exposes flaws in the current European asylum regime.

The judgment acknowledges … challenges [posed by CEAS and the Dublin regulation], yet underlines that neither uneven burden-distribution (Greece) nor a state’s minimalist reading of the Dublin Regulation (Belgium) absolves Member States of their responsibilities vis-à-vis the Convention or other applicable international treaties, including the 1951 Refugee Convention. As long as the EU and CEAS are comprised of individual Member States, as opposed to a ‘United States of Europe,’ individual states will be held responsible for independently assessing each case for the risk of direct or indirect refoulement.   While the Grand Chamber judgment uncovered a number of deficiencies in the current European asylum system, solutions to CEAS may have to be found outside the ‘Dublin world.’”

Click here for full article.

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Decision from Grand Chamber of ECtHR: Returning Asylum Seekers to Greece Violates European Conv. on Human Rights

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights issued a decision today in the CASE OF M.S.S. v. BELGIUM AND GREECE (Application no. 30696/09) (also FR) and concluded that Belgium should not have returned an Afghan asylum seeker to Greece under the Dublin II regulation which mandates that asylum claims are to be considered in the state where the asylum seeker first entered Europe.

This is the first decision from the ECtHR addressing the application of the Dublin II regulation.  According to European Voice, the “Court [currently] has around 960 cases pending that relate to the Dublin regulation, against the Netherlands, Finland, Belgium, the United Kingdom and France, most of them concerning expulsions to Greece.”

I have not had a chance to read the decision closely yet, but here is some basic information about today’s decision (more to follow in a subsequent post):

Excerpts from the Court’s Press Release (click here for FR):

“In today’s Grand Chamber judgment in the case M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece (application no. 30696/09), which is final, the European Court of Human Rights held, by a majority, that there had been:

A violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) of the European Convention on Human Rights by Greece both because of the applicant’s detention conditions and because of his living conditions in Greece;

A violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) taken together with Article 3 by Greece because of the deficiencies in the asylum procedure followed in the applicant’s case;

A violation of Article 3 by Belgium both because of having exposed the applicant to risks linked to the deficiencies in the asylum procedure in Greece and because of having exposed him to detention and living conditions in Greece that were in breach of Article 3;

A violation of Article 13 taken together with Article 3 by Belgium because of the lack of an effective remedy against the applicant’s expulsion order.”

ECRE released a statement describing the decision as a “major blow to the Dublin system.”  Excerpts from the ECRE statement:

“Bjarte Vandvik, ECRE Secretary General, stated: ‘This judgment is a major blow to the Dublin system. The assumption that all EU Member States respect fundamental rights and that it is therefore safe to automatically transfer asylum seekers between EU countries no longer stands. Europe must seriously rethink the Dublin system and replace it with a regime that ensures the rights of asylum seekers are respected’.

This judgment will affect many asylum seekers in Europe. In 2010 alone, EU countries requested Greece to examine the applications of almost 7,000 asylum seekers who had entered the EU through Greece. Their situation will now need to be re-examined in light of this ruling.

Bjarte Vandvik [also] stated: ‘European countries must comply with the Court’s ruling, stop sending asylum seekers back to Greece, and examine asylum applications themselves until a fair asylum system is in place in Greece’.

The Dublin system fails refugees and Member States and needs to be changed.  This ruling reflects the serious shortcomings in the asylum procedure in Greece and in Belgium and it also highlights the flaws in the Dublin system itself. ECRE has long stressed that Dublin shifts responsibility for asylum seekers to states at Europe’s frontiers. Also, it allows refugees to be sent back to European countries where their fundamental rights are not respected.

As a first step in the right direction, ECRE supports the Commission proposal to review the Dublin Regulation, as it introduces significant humanitarian reforms and important procedural safeguards. For example, the proposal makes it easier for asylum seekers to join family members living in Europe, protects the rights of children who have arrived alone and ensures the continuity of care for vulnerable persons.

However, these are only temporary measures that do not solve the sometimes devastating impact of the Dublin system on asylum seeker’s human rights. Ultimately the Dublin Regulation should be abolished and replaced by a more humane and equitable system that considers the connections between individual asylum seekers and particular Member States.”

Click here for full ECRE Statement on the decision.

Click here (ECHR Blog) and here (Free Movement Blog) for some initial additional thoughts about the decision.

Click here, here, and here for articles.

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Filed under Belgium, Commissioner for Human Rights, European Court of Human Rights, European Union, Frontex, Greece, Judicial, News

Australian High Court Decision Calls Into Question “Pacific Strategy”

The High Court of Australia issued a decision on 11 November concluding that asylum seekers initially detained on Christmas Island, a so-called “excised offshore place”, are entitled to access to courts and to the same legal protections and procedural fairness as asylum seekers on the mainland.

The unanimous seven judge decision in Plaintiff M61/2010E v Commonwealth of Australia; Plaintiff M69 of 2010 v Commonwealth of Australia [2010] HCA 41 (11 Nov 2010) determined that the process pursuant to which two Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers were found not to be persons to whom protection obligations were owed was unlawful because it was a “non-legal” or “non-statutory” process which “did not treat the provisions of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) and the decisions of Australian courts as binding, and further, failed to observe the requirements of procedural fairness.”  The two stage “non-legal” asylum process at issue has been in effect since 2008.

While the decision does not directly affect the Pacific Strategy, offshore detention practises, or the existence of the excised offshore places, the benefit of the strategy sought by past Governments and by the current Coalition Government to minimise the legal process afforded to asylum seekers within the excised offshore places by denying access to courts and judicial review has now apparently been eliminated by the High Court decision.

Click  here for High Court decision.

Click here, here, and here for articles.

Here is a lengthy excerpt from the decision which provides some of the historical background beginning with the 2001 incident involving the MV Tampa:

“Historical context

29.              In 2001, the Parliament enacted six Acts[11], one after the other, which affected the entry into, and remaining in, Australia by aliens. Those six Acts were all assented to, and for the most part came into operation, on the same day. The first of those Acts, the Border Protection (Validation and Enforcement Powers) Act 2001 (Cth) (“the Border Protection Act“), sought to validate certain actions taken between 27 August 2001 and the commencement of the Act. The actions in question were actions taken by the Commonwealth, by any Commonwealth officer, or by any other person acting on behalf of the Commonwealth, in relation to the MV Tampa and certain other vessels, and actions in relation to persons who were on board those vessels during the relevant period. The circumstances that gave rise to those actions are sufficiently described in Ruddock v Vadarlis[12]. In addition, the Border Protection Act, and several of the other five Acts, amended the Migration Act to change the way in which persons who arrived in, or sought to enter, Australian territory without a valid visa were to be dealt with.

30.              Those changes had a number of features of immediate relevance to the present matters. First, certain Australian territory, including the Territory of Christmas Island, was excised from the migration zone[13], thus introducing the category of places called excised offshore places. A person who entered Australia at an excised offshore place, after the excision time, and who became an unlawful non-citizen because of that entry, was identified as an “offshore entry person”. The Migration Act was amended[14], by inserting s 46A, to provide that an application for a visa is not a valid application if it is made by an offshore entry person who is in Australia and is an unlawful non-citizen.

31.              One of the consequential provisions made for dealing with unauthorised arrivals in places excised from the migration zone was to provide, by the insertion of s 198A into the Migration Act[15], that offshore entry persons might be taken from Australia to a country declared under that section. The new s 198A(3) provided that the Minister might declare a country for the purposes of that section by declaring that, in effect, the country in question provides access for persons seeking asylum to effective procedures for assessing their need for protection; provides protection for persons seeking asylum pending determination of their refugee status; provides protection to persons who are given refugee status pending their voluntary repatriation to their country of origin or resettlement in another country; and meets relevant human rights standards in providing that protection. An offshore entry person being dealt with under that provision is taken[16] not to be in immigration detention. The Republic of Nauru and Papua New Guinea were declared countries and persons were removed from Australia to those places in exercise of the power given by s 198A.

32.              The Department referred to the procedure contemplated by s 198A, of removing offshore entry persons from Australia to another country, as the “Pacific Strategy”. Removal of offshore entry persons to those countries began in 2001 but ceased in 2008.

33.              While the so-called Pacific Strategy was operating, claims by offshore entry persons taken to a declared country that they were owed protection obligations were assessed according to procedures specified by the Department. The document that recorded those procedures began by stating Australia’s international obligations in the following terms:

“Australia’s primary obligation under the Refugees Convention is not to refoule (return) a refugee, either directly or indirectly, to a country where they have a well-founded fear of persecution for a Convention ground. Australia’s protection obligations extend to refugees who have entered Australia’s territorial seas. The Pacific strategy in no way detracts from these obligations.” (emphasis added)

Because persons dealt with under these procedures were not in Australia, but were in either Nauru or Papua New Guinea, s 46A of the Migration Act did not apply to prevent their making a valid application for a visa. But being outside Australia, and in a declared country, such persons could apply for only certain classes of visa and, in particular, could not apply for a Protection (Class XA) visa.

34.              It is not necessary to examine further the operation of the arrangements that were made to effect the Pacific Strategy. What is presently important is that the changes to the Migration Act that were worked by inserting s 46A and, in consequence, inserting s 198A, are to be seen as reflecting a legislative intention to adhere to that understanding of Australia’s obligations under the Refugees Convention and the Refugees Protocol that informed other provisions made by the Act. As the document recording procedures for administration of the so-called Pacific Strategy said:

“The new legislation underpinning the Pacific strategy has two mechanisms that reflect Australia’s obligations under Article 33 of the Refugees Convention and other Conventions. These mechanisms are:

. a framework to enable the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs to decide whether to allow an application for a visa to be made by unauthorised arrivals on excised offshore places (offshore entry persons) (while in Australia), following consideration of protection obligations under the relevant United Nations Conventions; and
. the ability to take unauthorised arrivals who have entered Australia at excised offshore places (such as Ashmore Reef and Christmas Island) to another country provided that the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs has declared under s 198A of the Migration Act 1958 that the country [meets the requirements described earlier].” (emphasis added)

[***]

The Minister’s announcement

37.              On 29 July 2008, the Minister announced that the Government had decided to strengthen and enhance the RSA [Refugee Status Assessment] process. This announcement followed an earlier announcement by the Government “that asylum claims of future unauthorised boat arrivals would be processed on Christmas Island”.

[***]

40.              The adoption of these procedures, and their application in these particular cases, can only be understood as implementing the announcements that have been mentioned: one that the Pacific Strategy would no longer be followed; the other that steps of the kind ultimately recorded in the RSA Manual and the IMR Manual [“Guidelines for the Independent Merits Review of Refugee Status Assessments”] would be undertaken as the means of meeting Australia’s obligations under the Refugees Convention and Refugees Protocol, instead of following the Pacific Strategy. And if the power to remove offshore entry persons from Australia under s 198A was not to be used, the only statutory powers that could be engaged to avoid breaching Australia’s international obligations were the powers under ss 46A and 195A.

The RSA Manual

41.              The purpose of the RSA process was described in the RSA Manual as being “so that the Minister … can be advised whether Australia’s protection obligations under the Refugees Convention are engaged”. It was said that “[c]onsideration of the exercise of the Minister’s power under s 46A to allow a visa application to be made will occur following assessment of protection obligations as outlined in this manual”.

42.              Much emphasis was given in the Manual to the RSA process being “a non-statutory process”. But the source of the power to undertake the process was not identified. Rather, the Manual described what were said to be some consequences of the process being “a non-statutory process”. In particular, it was said that “[t]his means that the Migration Act, the Migration Regulations 1994 … and Australian case law on the interpretations of the definition of a refugee and ‘protection obligations’ do not apply”, though it was said that “officers should be guided by these as a matter of policy”.

43.              The Manual said that the common law rules of natural justice or procedural fairness were to be applied “to safeguard the fairness of the RSA procedures”. The particular procedures laid down in the Manual were described as being “modelled closely on the onshore [p]rotection visa determination procedures”. In that respect, it may be noted that, although the process was repeatedly described as “non-statutory”, the Manual proceeded on a footing that suggested that some provisions of the Migration Act applied to at least some aspects of the process. So, for example, the directions given in the Manual about seeking further information or comment from a claimant proceeded on the footing that what the Migration Act describes as “non-disclosable information”[17] need not be disclosed, regardless of whether procedural fairness would require that to be done.

44.              If, at the end of the RSA process, an offshore entry person was found to be owed protection obligations, the Manual described the consequence as being that a submission would be prepared by the Department for the Minister “advising the Minister that Australia’s protection obligations are engaged and seeking his/her agreement to lift the bar under s 46A of the Act”. By contrast, if the officer making the assessment determined that the person was not a person to whom Australia has protection obligations, no submission would go to the Minister. Instead, an opportunity would be given to seek the review of the decision under the IMR process. If the outcome of the review was negative, an opportunity would be given to the person to provide any new or additional information which he or she wished the Department to take into consideration. A further assessment would be undertaken by the Department of whether any other international treaty obligation was engaged in the particular case. If no other international obligation was engaged, the process for removal of the person from Australia would begin.

The IMR Manual

45.              As would be expected, much that was set out in the IMR Manual followed or reflected what was said in the RSA Manual. It is therefore not necessary to do more than mention some particular matters arising from the IMR Manual.

46.              The system of Independent Merits Review was described, in the IMR Manual, as having been introduced as one of the new arrangements announced by the Minister on 29 July 2008. Previously, reviews of departmental assessments of refugee status had been undertaken by a senior officer of the Department.

47.              Much emphasis was given in the IMR Manual (as it was in the RSA Manual) to the RSA process and the IMR process being “non-statutory”. Again, however, the Manual did not seek to identify what power was being exercised. Rather, the consequences said to follow from the process being “non-statutory” were identified. In particular, it was said in the IMR Manual that independent reviewers “may still be guided by the legislated interpretations of the Refugees Convention in sections 36 and 91R-91U of the Act and Australian case law on the interpretation of ‘protection obligations'”, but it was also said to be “important to note that these sources of interpretation are not binding authorities”.

48.              The IMR process was subject to what the Department described as “a quality assurance check before an offshore entry person would be notified of the outcome of the IMR review”. That process, now supervised by the Registrar of the Refugee Review Tribunal (while on secondment to the Department), was said to “primarily [involve] checking IMR recommendations for spelling, grammatical, cut and paste or other obvious errors”. But it was a process that may “result in a suggestion being made to an independent reviewer that he or she may wish to consider an additional matter, consider more up to date country information, or clarify parts of a decision-record or recommendation”.

49.              At the end of the review, the reviewer was to make a recommendation about whether Australia had protection obligations to the claimant. If the reviewer concluded that Australia did have protection obligations to the claimant, a departmental officer would prepare a submission to the Minister for consideration of the exercise of power under either s 46A(2) or s 195A. If the reviewer concluded that Australia did not have protection obligations to the claimant, no submission would be made to the Minister. Steps of the kind described in connection with the RSA process for considering engagement of any other relevant international obligation would be undertaken and, subject to that, processes for removing the claimant would then begin.

[***]”

Click here for High Court decision.

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EU Official Journal Notice re ECJ Challenge to Frontex Sea Border Rule

The European Court of Justice published a routine notice and summary in the Official Journal regarding the EP’s pending challenge to the validity of the Frontex rule regarding the surveillance of the sea external borders (Council Decision 2010/252/EU (“Frontex / Sea borders”)).

I reproduce the Notice here in full:

Action brought on 14 July 2010 — European Parliament v Council of the European Union

(Case C-355/10) (2010/C 246/58)

Language of the case: English

Parties

Applicant: European Parliament (represented by: M. Dean, A. Auersperger Matić, Agents)

Defendant: Council of the European Union

The applicant claims that the Court should:

— Annul Council Decision 2010/252/EU ( 1 ) of 26 April 2010 supplementing the Schengen Borders Code as regards the surveillance of the sea external borders in the context of operational cooperation coordinated by the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union;

— Order that the effects of the Council Decision be maintained until it is replaced;

— order Council of the European Union to pay the costs.

Pleas in law and main arguments

Parliament seeks the annulment of the contested Decision on the grounds that it exceeds the scope of the implementing power in Article 12(5) of the Schengen Borders Code ( 2 ) in that it introduces rules on ‘interception’, ‘search and rescue’ and ‘disembarkation’ which cannot be considered to be within the scope of ‘surveillance’ as defined by Article 12 of the Schengen Borders Code and which cannot be considered to be non-essential elements, and modifies the essential elements of the Schengen Borders Code which are reserved to the legislator. Moreover, the contested Decision modifies the obligations of the EU Member States relating to Frontex operations, which are laid down in the Frontex Regulation ( 3 ).  Should the Court annul the contested Decision, Parliament nonetheless considers it would be desirable that the Court exercise its discretion to maintain the effects of the contested Decision, in accordance with Article 264 (2) TFEU, until such time as it is replaced.

( 1 ) Council Decision of 26 April 2010 supplementing the Schengen Borders Code as regards the surveillance of the sea external borders in the context of operational cooperation coordinated by the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union OJ L 111, p. 20

( 2 ) Regulation (EC) No 562/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 March 2006 establishing a Community Code on the rules governing the movement of persons across borders (Schengen Borders Code) OJ L 105, p. 1

( 3 ) Council Regulation (EC) No 2007/2004 of 26 October 2004 establishing a European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union OJ L 349, p. 1

Click here for link to EU OJ.

Click here and here for earlier posts on the case.

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Filed under European Union, Frontex, Judicial, News

Libyan Court Delays Ruling in Mass Trafficking Trial

According to the Libyan newspaper Oya (or Oea), the State Security Court has delayed its ruling in the mass human trafficking trial involving approximately 520 defendants until 17 October.

Click here for article. (AR)

Click here for previous post.

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Libyan State Security Court Expected to Rule Soon in Human Trafficking Trial Involving 500+ Defendants

The Libyan newspaper Oya (or Oea) reported this past week that the State Security Court is expected to issue a ruling on 26 September in a mass human trafficking trial involving approximately 520 defendants.  The trials have been ongoing since at least May 2010.  The defendants reportedly include members of the armed forces, public security, and Navy. They have been charged with offences relating to human trafficking and facilitating illegal immigration from Libya to Italy.

Click here for article. (AR) (Recently I have not been able to get Google Translate to work with Arabic.  I am therefore “reading” Arabic via these two sites: http://www.appliedlanguage.com/web_translation.shtml?s=dd and http://translation.babylon.com/ .)

Click here and here for previous posts on the trial.

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ECJ Invites Council to Submit Statement of Defence re EP Challenge to Frontex Sea Borders Rule

In an Order issued on 28 July, the European Court of Justice invited the European Council to submit a statement of defence in:  Case No. C-355/10, European Parliament v. Council of European Union (Application under Article 263 TFEU for annulment of Council Decision 2010/252/EU).

Here are the relevant portions of the Order (several footnotes omitted):

“1. By application under Article 263 TFEU, notified to the Council on 26 July 2010, the European Parliament asked the Court to annul Council Decision 2010/252/EU of 26 April 2010 supplementing the Schengen Borders Code as regards the surveillance of the sea external borders in the context of operational cooperation coordinated by the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union.

2. In support of its action for annulment, the European Parliament argues that the Council in adopting the contested decision exceeded the implementing powers set out in Article 12(5) of the Schengen Borders Code to adopt additional measures governing border surveillance.

3. The Council is invited to submit a statement of defence, in accordance with Article 40(1) and Article 81(2) of the Rules of Procedure of the Court of Justice.

[***]”

(Thank you to the editor at Blogging Portal.EU for bringing this new development to my attention – and now back to my vacation break.)

Click here for the full document from the ECJ.

Click here for previous post (with links to earlier posts).

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EP Refers Frontex Sea Borders Rule to ECJ

On 23 June the JURI committee (Committee on Legal Affairs) voted in camera to refer the question of the validity of the Frontex rule regarding the surveillance of the sea external borders to the European Court of Justice (Council Decision 2010/252/EU (“Frontex / Sea borders”)).  The referral requests the Court “to preserve the effects of the measure until a new legislative act has been adopted.”

Maltese MEP Simon Busuttil, the EPP Coordinator in the Civil Liberties Committee, was quoted as saying: “we have given notice to the Commission that not all is fine with these Frontex guidelines and it is time for a rethink. We want to ensure that Parliament’s role is defended and that we can have our say. We want these rules to be fair. In their current version they are not.”

Both the LIBE and JURI committees believe that the European Commission exceeded its power when it presented the new Frontex rule under the comitology procedure as opposed to using the ordinary legislative procedure which would have given the Parliament the ability to amend the rule.  Malta has strongly objected to provisions within the rule.  Malta has said that its decision not to host Frontex’s Central Mediterranean enforcement operation this year, Operation Chronos, was due to the disembarkation provisions contained in the new Frontex rule.  Malta believes that the rule would require intercepted migrants to be taken to Malta.

Click here for article.

Click here for statement on MEP Simon Busuttil’s web site.

Click here for EPP Group press release.

Click here and here for earlier posts.

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Filed under European Union, Frontex, Judicial, Malta, Mediterranean, News