Tag Archives: Grand Chamber

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

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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