M.A. c. France, arrêt du 1er février 2018
Le requérant soutient que son renvoi en Algérie l’exposait à un risque sérieux de traitements contraires à l’article 3 (interdiction de la torture et des traitements inhumains et dégradants), le gouvernement algérien étant informé de sa condamnation en France pour des faits liés au terrorisme. Il soutient avoir subi de tels traitements depuis son arrivée en Algérie et rester exposé à des risques futurs. Il allègue qu’en le remettant aux autorités algériennes, en violation de la mesure provisoire indiquée par la Cour, le gouvernement français a manqué à ses obligations au titre de l’article 34 (droit de requête individuelle). Enfin, le requérant invoque également l’article 8 (droit au
respect de la vie privée et familiale), ainsi que l’article 3 au titre de son épouse et de ses enfants.
La Cour réaffirme qu’il est légitime que les États contractants fassent preuve d’une grande fermeté à l’égard de ceux qui contribuent à des actes de terrorisme. Elle observe, en l’espèce, que des rapports du Comité des Nations Unies contre la torture et de plusieurs ONG décrivent une situation préoccupante en Algérie. Ces rapports, qui datent de l’année au cours de laquelle le requérant a été renvoyé en Algérie, signalent de nombreux cas d’interpellation par le Département du renseignement et de la sécurité (DRS), particulièrement de personnes soupçonnées d’être impliquées dans le terrorisme international. Ces personnes seraient alors placées en détention sans contrôle judiciaire ou communication avec l’extérieur et pourraient être soumises à de mauvais traitements, y compris à la torture.
La Cour note que le requérant a fait l’objet en France d’une condamnation motivée et détaillée, don’t le texte est public. À son arrivée en Algérie, il a effectivement été arrêté par le DRS et emprisonné.
Au vu du profil du requérant, dont la condamnation pour des faits graves de terrorisme était connue des autorités algériennes, la Cour considère qu’au moment de son renvoi en Algérie, il existait un risque réel et sérieux qu’il soit exposé à des traitements contraires à l’article 3 de la Convention.
Les autorités françaises ont donc violé l’article 3 de la Convention.
La Cour constate, comme le reconnait le Gouvernement, que la mesure provisoire n’a pas été respectée. Pleinement consciente qu’il peut être nécessaire pour les autorités de mettre en oeuvre une mesure d’expulsion avec rapidité et efficacité, elle rappelle que les conditions d’exécution d’une telle mesure ne doivent pas avoir pour objet de priver la personne reconduite du droit de solliciter de la Cour l’indication d’une mesure provisoire. La Cour observe que la décision de refus de demande d’asile du 17 février n’a été notifiée au requérant que le 20 février, alors que les modalités
de son transport avaient déjà été retenues et qu’un laisser-passer avait été délivré par les autorités algériennes à son insu. La Cour en conclut que les autorités françaises ont créé des conditions dans lesquelles le requérant ne pouvait que très difficilement saisir la Cour d’une seconde demande de mesure provisoire. Elles ont, délibérément et de manière irréversible, amoindri le niveau de protection des droits énoncés par la Convention. L’expulsion a retiré toute efficacité à l’éventuel constat de violation.
La Cour conclut que les autorités françaises ont manqué à leurs obligations découlant de l’article 34.
Voir communiqué de presse:http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng-press?i=003-5992943-7672730
One of the legal provisions of the Greek Constitution that struck me most as a young law student was Article 120, paragraph 4. I still remember its impact on my thinking during my first year at the Law School of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. This provision, whose origins can be found in the post-1821 years of the Greek Revolution and early constitutions of the country, says that ‘Greeks’ patriotism’ is entrusted with the observance of the constitution. It adds that Greeks have the right and the duty to resist by all possible means any attempts to abolish the Constitution by violence.
As far as I know this is a somewhat rare constitutional provision. Moreover, I think it is an example of one of the paradigm principles of democracy, because apart from indicating the rights of citizens, it also recalls that they have duties, both collectively and individually. Indeed, one of the major factors that may make democracies function properly is the effective participation of citizens in the evolution of their polities. As Pericles famously said, a citizen who is not involved in public matters is useless.
One of the fundamental rights and duties of a citizen is to vote for his/her country’s parliamentary elections. In this regard, ever since 1975, Article 51, paragraph 4, of the Greek constitution provides for the enactment of legislation that would enable Greek expatriates to vote in parliamentary elections wherever they happen to reside. However, more than forty years have passed and this law has not been adopted. It is clearly an area of policy which needs further thought and attention.
It was against this background and the government’s decision on 18 August 2007 to carry out early parliamentary elections on 16 September 2007 that Christos Giakoumopoulos, Stephanos Stavros and myself met up in early September 2007 and, after some discussion on the subject, decided to ‘do something’ in order to exercise our voting rights.
This ‘something’ was no less than an application to the European Court of Human Rights claiming that Greece had violated our ‘right to free elections’ as enshrined in Article 3 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). This Article provides for the obligation of states to create conditions that ‘ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature’, an obligation that Greece had not fulfilled at that time, and still has yet to do so. Yes, we were determined to act, and to do so speedily since the early parliamentary elections were due in two weeks’ time.
Nonetheless, we were far from sure that we would have any impact on Greek state practice, let alone win the case in Strasbourg. Actually I remember discussing the lodging of this application in London with a well-known human rights lawyer who told me ‘forget it’. He was sure that we had no chance whatsoever to win. And he was not alone to warn me. Others also told me, in rather derisory tones, that we could surely afford to pay the €500 or so travel expenses in order to get ourselves to Greece in time to vote. But this was not the point. Nor did it concern me alone. The question was much more fundamental: should Greek citizens really have to pay money to exercise their basic human rights?
Although, according to the ECHR, we did not need to exhaust any domestic legal remedies before addressing the Court, we thought it was proper to make a formal contact with the Greek authorities beforehand. So I drafted a joint letter to the Ambassador of Greece to France in Paris and faxed it to his offices on 10 September 2007. By this means, the three of us – Greek citizens, staff members of the Council of Europe, and residents of Strasbourg – were formally submitting a request to the Greek authorities to take urgent and appropriate measures to enable us to vote in France for the forthcoming parliamentary elections.
On 12 September 2007 we received an urgent reply from the Greek ambassador. He noted that the Greek state intended to facilitate the voting by Greek expatriates in their countries of residence but given that no law to that effect had been adopted yet, our voting in France was de facto impossible. It was an important admission. In other words, the Greek authorities not only acknowledged the long-standing existence of a legal obligation, under ECHR and the Greek Constitution, to pass the appropriate legislation, but also admitted the state’s failure to fulfill this obligation which had been pending, unimplemented, since 1975.
Eight days later I crossed the bridge between the Palais de l’Europe and the Palais des Droits de l’Homme and handed a blue folder to the secretary of the Court’s Greek division. It contained the application that I had drafted in co-operation with my other two Greek colleagues, and was formally identified as No: 42202/07, Sitaropoulos et autres c. Grèce. The case was later renamed Sitaropoulos et Giakoumopoulos c. Grèce, given that the third colleague subsequently withdrew his participation.
I will not elaborate on the legal arguments put forward to substantiate a violation of the Convention due to the fact that we could not vote in Greece on 16 September 2007. The essence of our claim was that to travel from Strasbourg to Samos, Corfu and Thessaloniki, where each of us had our respective voting venues, would involve a total of about two days of travel, including multiple flights or very long drives, the distance from Strasbourg to Thessaloniki being around 2 000 kms. We added that we found unreasonable the fact that while expatriates can vote for the elections of the European Parliament in Greek consulates in whatever country they happened to reside , Greece was unable to organize similar arrangements in the case of their parliamentary elections.
On 8 July 2010, the Court’s First Chamber delivered its judgment. It was in our favour, by five against two deciding judges. Although the judgment noted that states are autonomous when it came to regulating their voting procedures, it found that Greece had indeed violated the Convention; it confirmed that there had been no enactment of the law provided for by the Greek constitution enabling expatriates to vote from abroad for more than three decades. The Court took also into account the relevant state practices in Europe which indicated that the vast majority of European states authorized and made it possible for their expatriates to vote from abroad for parliamentary elections.
Particularly heartening to me was the partly dissenting opinion of Judges Spielmann and Jebens. They believed that, given the finding of a violation of a fundamental right, the Court should have awarded us just satisfaction in order to redress the moral harm that we had suffered. This opinion is just one page long but its tone and sensitivity touched me a great deal. It brought to my mind the famous acclamation of the humble miller in Potsdam, ‘There are still judges in Berlin’.
The judgment was a cause for celebration and gave us all much joy. It was an outcome that could benefit not just us as applicants but also around four million Greeks living abroad. With a group of Greek friends I fêted our victory by drinking beer at the terrace of Franchi’s, opposite the Court. Our hope was that there would be no appeal of this judgment by the government, that it would become final and that we would be able to exercise our voting rights from Strasbourg for the next elections.
As was to be expected, the Chamber judgment attracted considerable international and national media attention. It even seemed to trigger or at least accelerate legislative changes in Turkey, which created an overseas voters registry in 2012, allowing Turkish expatriates to vote in the countries of their residence for parliamentary elections. In recent years, Albania too appears to be moving in this direction, another European country whose government has reportedly made clear its aim to grant out-of-country voting rights to expatriates.
This was not, however, the case with Greece. Our hopes proved to be only wishful thinking. On 7 October 2010 the Greek government requested that the Chamber’s judgment be referred to the Grand Chamber. One of the government’s main arguments was that the judgment distanced itself from the Court’s established case law that grants national authorities a large margin of appreciation in matters relating to voting rights.
On 22 November 2010 the Court accepted the government’s request and the case was referred to the Grand Chamber which delivered its judgment on 15 March 2012. This followed a hearing on 4 May 2011 in which I participated along with the Greek lawyer, Yannis Ktistakis, who had taken over the case. Although I was familiar with the Court, having worked in its building for more than three years, it was quite stressful to be sitting there for almost three hours, alone with my lawyer and his assistant, having the entire mechanism of the Greek state, represented by two lawyers, ranged before me. A couple of questions which were posed by the judges at the end of the hearing made me realize that at least some members of the Grand Chamber were not entirely certain that Greece was under an obligation, under ECHR, to give effect to our voting rights abroad.
Regrettably, my fear proved to be true. The Grand Chamber overturned the 2010 judgment by a unanimous vote. All 17 judges concluded that there was no violation of the Convention given that the very essence of our voting rights had not actually been impaired. Some of the major arguments on which this conclusion was based were that under international law, states had no obligation to enable expatriates to exercise their right to vote. The Court, therefore, could not instruct Greece on how and when and in what manner it should give effect to Article 51, paragraph 4, of its Constitution. The judgment also noted that the government had actually made an unsuccessful attempt to pass relevant legislation in 2009. In addition, it determined that the disruption to our financial, family and professional lives caused by our travel to vote in Greece in 2007, would not have been disproportionate.
Like most Grand Chamber judgments, this too became a cause célèbre and gave rise to a number of academic publications and press releases in Greece and elsewhere in Europe. Notably, Lina Papadopoulou, a Constitutional Law Professor, clearly pointed out in an article she published a day after the Grand Chamber judgment, that although Greece might be absolved from an international duty to regulate expatriates’ voting rights, it remained under its own constitutional obligation to do so.
Sitaropoulos and Giakoumopoulos also became a textbook case taught in constitutional and European human rights law courses from that time. In the major ECHR reference book by Harris, O’Boyle and Warbrick (OUP 2014) the Grand Chamber judgment is cited with disappointment noting that ‘the unanimous ruling did not acknowledge – as the Chamber judgment did- the crippling impact on voting rights that the lack of absent voting facilities may have on expatriates unable to afford to travel to Greece to vote’.
So perhaps our efforts were not in vain. Apart from the above-mentioned electoral policy changes in certain states following these judgments, experts have noted that there is now a clear trend in favour of out-of-country voting in Europe. In this context, Sitaropoulos and Giakoumopoulos is mentioned as a landmark case and has definitely contributed to this evolution. More recent case law of the Strasbourg Court has also indicated that globalization and modern technology changes should be considered as factors favouring out-of-country voting nowadays.
As regards Greece in particular, the efforts to give Greek expatriates their voting rights have not ceased. As of April 2016, a law proposal to this effect, tabled by seventy-five Greek MPs, has been pending in the Greek parliament, while earlier this year the government announced its intention to launch a public debate on this issue, expressly acknowledging the existence in Europe of a trend that favours out-of-country voting.
Application No. 42202/07 was an enriching adventure for me. Although its end was not an entirely happy one, the journey towards it gave me great satisfaction because I felt that it contributed to the evolution of law and policy concerning a fundamental political right for every human being: that of voting for one’s national parliament. In addition, it was the fulfillment of a civic obligation I believe I had towards my country’s democratic institutions and values that, as a first year law school student, I had discovered that I had the constitutional right and duty to defend. In addition, it fulfilled a moral obligation I felt I had as a staff member of the Council of Europe, an international organization which enshrined the highest standards of democracy and human rights whose protection, I also believe, should start at home.
Migrant Ill-treatment in Greek Law Enforcement—Are the Strasbourg Court Judgments the Tip of the Iceberg? – article in European J’l of Migration & Law
Numerous instances of migrant ill-treatment, including torture, in Greek law enforcement have been recorded over a long period of time by international human rights monitoring organisations. The frequent reporting of such incidents though was not accompanied by any major judgments by the Strasbourg Court until Alsayed Allaham and Zontul in 2007 and 2012 respectively. The article provides an analysis of these first major judgments which usefully shed light on the underlying, long-standing systemic failures of the Greek law, as well as of the law enforcement and judicial authorities’ practice. It is argued that the above judgments are in fact only the tip of the iceberg. For this, the author looks into the process of supervision of these judgments’ execution by Greece, which is pending before the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, as well as into alarming reports issued notably by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and the Greek Ombudsman. The article also highlights the question of racial violence that has not been tackled in the aforementioned judgments. However, the national Racist Violence Recording Network and the Greek Ombudsman have recorded numerous cases of racist violence by law enforcement officials targeting migrants and the ineffective response by the administrative and judicial authorities. The article concludes with certain recommendations in order to enhance Greek law and practice and eradicate impunity.
An earlier version was published in February 2017 at SSRN: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2921109
SMM v. UK, ECtHR judgment of 22 June 2017
This is an interesting Chamber judgment that highlights the need for prompt state action and review of the lawfulness of detention of particularly vulnerable migrants, such as those suffering from mental illness.
In addition, the judgment sheds some light at the long-standing issue of migrant detention in the UK which remains with no fixed time limits, despite the repeated recommendations made by national and international human rights institutions.
In view of these two major elements, the Court found a violation of Article 5§1 ECHR having considered the fact that the applicant (national of Zimbabwe) had been detained for over two and a half years.
Link to judgment: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-174442
Ill-Treatment of Migrants in Greek Law Enforcement – Are the Strasbourg Court Judgments the Tip of the Iceberg?
Originally posted on the Blog of Border Criminologies, Oxford University.
A number of reports by international human rights organisations, like CPT and Amnesty International, have recorded numerous cases of ill-treatment, including torture, suffered by migrants while under the control of Greek law enforcement officials. Despite the frequent reporting of such incidents there have not been any major cases brought before the European Court of Human Rights (‘Strasbourg Court’ or ‘the Court’) until recently. In 2003 the first application (Alsayed Allaham), concerning the ill-treatment of a Syrian migrant by police in Athens, was lodged. The 2007 judgment against Greece in Alsayed Allaham was followed by another judgment in 2012 in the Zontul case condemning Greece once more for failing to investigate the rape of a Turkish asylum-seeking detainee by a coast guard officer in Crete. Both cases demonstrated the need for structural changes in Greek law and practice in order to eradicate impunity and ill-treatment in the law enforcement sector.
In both cases the Court found violations of Article 3 (prohibition of torture) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) highlighting faults in judicial and administrative proceedings. In Alsayed Allaham it was noted that the appeal court that acquitted the policeman for ill-treatment relied on testimonies of five eye-witnesses, three of whom were police officers, and gave no credit to medical reports that had verified the applicant’s injuries. In addition, no weight was given to the fact that the Head of the Greek police himself had sanctioned the two policemen involved in the applicant’s ill-treatment.
In Zontul the Strasbourg Court found that the administrative investigation and the subsequent criminal proceedings had been seriously flawed. Among the major shortcomings identified by the Court in the coast guard investigation was the failure to ensure the examination of the victim by a medical doctor despite the victim’s request and the improper recording of the victim’s statement as a ‘slap’ and ‘use of psychological violence’, instead of a rape. The sentence imposed on the officer, a suspended term of six months’ imprisonment for bodily injury and sexual dignity-related offences, was commuted to a fine of €4.40 per day of detention.
These two cases highlighted some key failings of the domestic criminal law system. First, the clemency of the criminal sanction imposed on the coast guard officer was manifestly disproportionate in relation to the gravity of the ill-treatment. It also did not demonstrate a deterrent effect nor did it provide an adequate remedy to the victim.
Second, Zontul shed light on a major flaw in Greek law and practice concerning the definition of torture in the criminal code (see more in author’s blog post). The Court stressed that, on the basis of its own and other international courts’ case law, such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, rape with an object constitutes an act of torture and consequently a clear and substantive violation of Article 3 ECHR. However, according to Article 137A§2 of the Greek criminal code, in order for an act to be defined as torture it requires a ‘planned’ (μεθοδευμένη) infliction of severe physical, and other similar forms of pain on a person by a public official. This requirement, which does not exist in the definition of torture contained in Article 1 of the 1984 Convention against Torture, makes prosecution and sanctioning extremely difficult, if not impossible.
The culture of impunity of ill-treatment is compounded by the enactment in recent years of a number of laws (e.g. Laws 3904/2010, 4093/2012) that aim to decongest Greek prisons by converting custodial sentences into pecuniary penalties and community service. Regrettably these laws have been applied indiscriminately to cases of ill-treatment by the police. This practice raises serious issues of compatibility with international standards, including the Strasbourg Court’s case law (e.g. Gäfgen v. Germany), according to which penalties imposed in this context should be adequate and dissuasive.
Another fault noted by the Court concerns the prescription terms for serious offences, including torture, by state officials. Because these are subject to ordinary prescription provisions, even where the Strasbourg Court finds a violation of Article 3 ECHR for torture that occurred more than 15 years earlier (as in Zontul), the offender cannot be prosecuted and sanctioned. According to the Greek code of criminal procedure, reopening a case may occur only if this could ameliorate the defendant’s position. However, under the Strasbourg Court’s case law (e.g. Yeter v. Turkey,) when a state agent is accused of crimes that violate Article 3 ECHR, the prosecution must not be time-barred and the granting of an amnesty or pardon should not be permissible.
Unfortunately, the Court in its judgments in Alsayed Allaham and Zontul failed to highlight the the potential racial bias by law enforcement officers in the ill-treatment of migrants. According to the CPT visit reports on Greece, since 1997 there has been a clear pattern of migrant ill-treatment among Greek law enforcement occasionally with flagrantly racist overtones. In addition, the yearly incidents of racist violence involving law enforcement officials, which were recorded from 2012 to 2015 by the national Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN) ranged from 11 to 31 per year, pointing to the prevalence of racist incidents in Greek territory.
Yet, Alsayed Allaham and Zontul reveal the institutionalised ill-treatment against migrants by Greek law enforcement officials. As noted in the 2015 CPT visit report on Greece, in defiance of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the national authorities consistently refuse to consider the violence of the police as a serious, systematic problem. As a consequence, the authorities have not taken adequate measures to combat it and eliminate impunity for serious human rights violations.
Evidence of the ill-treatment of migrants can also be found in the Greek Ombudsman’s reports. In 2007, for example, the annual report referred to cases of serious ill-treatment of migrants by coast guard officers. In a special report on racist violence in Greece issued in 2013 the Ombudsman noted that in 2012 their office received 17 complaints (involving migrants and a national of migrant origin) concerning inappropriate attitudes of police officers which were probably racially biased. The Ombudsman’s 2015 annual report referred to two more cases concerning the ill-treatment of five migrants following their arrest by police officers in Athens.
Three things need to change. First, Greece needs to establish an effective administrative mechanism to eradicate impunity and to provide adequate redress to all victims of ill-treatment. The latest complaint mechanism established by Law 4443/2016 is certainly a positive step. Yet it falls short of fulfilling the condition of effectiveness given the national complaint mechanisms is chaired by the Ombudsman, who is only empowered to issue non-binding reports.
Secondly, there is a need for a holistic overhaul of criminal law and practice concerning torture and other forms of ill-treatment, as well as of the relevant sentencing policy. The definition of torture contained in the Greek criminal code is in breach of international and European standards. This is one of the major reasons for the long-standing state of impunity for serious human rights violations in the country. At the same time, the criminal law provisions on prescription, conversion of custodial sentences and reopening of cases after Strasbourg Court’s judgments need to be reviewed and amended to ensure victim’s full redress.
Last but not least, particular attention needs to be given by the authorities to migrants who are easily subject to abusive behaviour, including ill-treatment, by law enforcement officials and very often remain voiceless victims. To this end, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has usefully recommended that states place law enforcement agencies under a statutory obligation to promote equality and prevent racial discrimination, including racist violence, in carrying out their functions. Enshrining this obligation in law would oblige these agencies to design and implement specific programmes, such as systematic training and awareness-raising of all staff.
In view of the above, the ill-treatment of migrants in Greek law enforcement cannot but be considered as a long-standing systemic problem that calls for sustained and determined action by the state. In a rule-of-law based democracy, law enforcement officers are and should act as professional upholders of the law and providers of services to the public. A precondition for achieving this is the development of policies and practices that oblige all state agents to respect human dignity, irrespective of one’s origin and status.
Sitaropoulos, Nikolaos, Migrant Ill -Treatment in Greek Law Enforcement – Are the Strasbourg Court Judgments the Tip of the Iceberg? (2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2921109
The paper provides an analysis of the first major judgments of the Strasbourg Court which usefully shed light on the underlying, long-standing systemic failures of the Greek rule of law. The author argues that these judgments are in fact only the tip of the iceberg. For this the paper looks into the process of supervision of these judgments’ execution by Greece, which is pending before the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, as well as into alarming reports issued notably by CPT as well as by the Greek Ombudsman. The paper also highlights the question of racial violence that has not been so far the subject of analysis in the Court’s judgments concerning ill-treatment in Greece. However, a number of reports, especially the annual reports of the Greek Racist Violence Recording Network since 2012, record numerous cases of racist violence by law enforcement officials targeting migrants and the ineffective responses by the administrative and judicial authorities. The paper’s concluding observations provide certain recommendations in order to enhance Greek law and practice and eradicate impunity.
In the course of its visits since 1993 and reports on Greece the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) has recorded numerous cases of torture and other forms of ill-treatment. In its 2015 visit report on Greece, CPT noted that infliction of ill-treatment by law enforcement agents, particularly against foreign nationals, including for the purpose of obtaining confessions, continues to be a frequent practice. As noted in an earlier post, ill-treatment in Greece has in fact acquired an institutionalised form. For this, CPT considered essential for the Greek authorities to promote a “culture change where it is regarded as unprofessional to resort to ill-treatment”.
The latest report by CPT made also clear that one of the major reasons for this state of affairs is impunity due to lack of convictions. One of the major reasons for this is the problematic definition of torture in Greek law. This definition was introduced into the criminal code (Article 137A§2) in 1984 by Law 1500, although introduction of statutory legislation was prescribed already by Article 7§2 of the 1975 Greek Constitution. Torture is defined in Article 137A§2 primarily as the “planned” (μεθοδευμένη) infliction by a state official on a person of severe physical, and other similar forms of, pain. Under the established Greek case law and doctrine in order for the infliction of pain to be considered as “planned” it must be repeated and have a certain duration.
Domestic Greek law and practice on torture is clearly at variance with international human rights law standards. This was highlighted by the European Court of Human Rights (“the Strasbourg Court” or “the Court”) in 2012 in Zontul c. Grèce, a case concerning a Turkish asylum seeker who in 2001, while in detention on Crete, was raped with a truncheon by a coast guard officer. The naval tribunals, both in first instance and on appeal, did not qualify the applicant’s rape with a truncheon as torture but as an affront to the victim’s sexual dignity, an offence that, under Article 137A§3 of the criminal code, is sanctioned with imprisonment of at least three years (while torture is a felony and punished with at least five years’ imprisonment). In Zontul the actual penalties that were finally imposed on the main perpetrator and his accomplice were six and five months’ imprisonment, which were suspended and commuted to fines. The Strasbourg Court found a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of torture) ECHR noting, inter alia, that a detainee’s rape by a state agent has been considered as torture in its own case law as well as by other international courts, such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Indeed, the conditioning of torture upon the existence of a “planned” infliction of severe pain raises serious issues of compatibility of the Greek criminal law with international human rights law. Firstly, it finds no ground in ECHR and the Strasbourg Court’s case law. In 2010 in Gäfgen v. Germany, the Grand Chamber of the Court noted that in determining whether ill-treatment can be classified as torture, consideration must be given to the distinction between this notion and that of inhuman or degrading treatment. The Court added that it appears that it was the intention that ECHR should, through this distinction, attach a special stigma to deliberate inhuman treatment causing very serious and cruel suffering. Apart from the severity of the treatment, there is a purposive element to torture. To support this the Court noted, as primary treaty-reference, the 1984 Convention against Torture (CAT), where (Article 1) torture is defined in terms of the intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering with the aim, inter alia, of obtaining information, inflicting punishment or intimidating.
As noted by the Strasbourg Court in Zontul (para. 47) in fact the draft text of CAT provided the model for defining torture in Law 1500/1984 that introduced the definition of torture into the criminal code. In addition, Greece by Law 1782/1988 ratified CAT, without any substantive reservations to the text of that treaty. Actually Law 1782/1988 constitutes a literal transposition into Greek law of CAT, including the definition of torture contained in Article 1 CAT. In view of the above it is hard to understand the deviation of the criminal code definition from international standards that appeared to guide the Greek law makers in 1984. The only logical explanation may be a wrong translation into Greek of the wording of Article 1 CAT.
In addition, the word “planned” is a vague term from a legal point of view that may ignite various interpretations. By its 2012 concluding observations, the UN Committee against Torture called on Greece to amend the torture definition in the criminal code so that it is “in strict conformity with and covers all the elements” provided for by Article 1 CAT and meets “the need for clarity and predictability in criminal law”.
The current wording of the Greek criminal code, and its application by the Greek courts, is clearly at variance with both CAT and ECHR and needs to be amended. Under Article 28§1 of the Greek Constitution, CAT and ECHR upon their ratification became an integral part of domestic law and prevail over any contrary provision of domestic law. As noted by A.A. Fatouros, when debating the above provision in 1975 in parliament, there was an overall agreement among the law makers that the Greek Constitution by Article 28§1 gives enhanced formal validity to both customary and conventional international law so that they prevail over both prior and subsequent statutory legislation. In fact the then Minister of Justice stated that the Greek government accepted the increased validity of treaties par excellence.
The execution by Greece of Zontul is still subject to supervision, under Article 46 ECHR, by the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers (CM), along with ten more cases (Makaratzis group of cases) against Greece concerning, inter alia, excessive use of force, ill-treatment by law enforcement officials and lack of effective investigations. The CM supervision has so far focused on the need for Greece to establish an effective administrative complaint mechanism for such cases. A mechanism provided for by Law 3938/2011 never became operational. Law 4443/2016, published on 9 December 2016, defined the Greek Ombudsman as the new national complaint mechanism covering all law enforcement and detention facility agents. The Ombudsman was given the competence for collecting, registering and investigating (also ex officio) individual complaints, and was accorded the power of issuing a report with non-binding recommendations addressed to the disciplinary bodies of the law enforcement authorities concerned.
Although this is a positive step, concern about the effectiveness of this new mechanism has been voiced by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights in a letter on the draft law which he addressed to the Greek government in July 2016. The primary reason for this concern is the non-binding force of the Ombudsman’s recommendations. However, even if the new complaint mechanism had been provided with stronger safeguards of effectiveness it would not have been in a position, on its own, to provide redress to victims of torture without an amendment of the criminal code or a change of the established domestic case law.
As stressed by the Strasbourg Court (see e.g. Zontul; Gäfgen) in cases of a person’s ill-treatment while in detention, or wilful ill-treatment contrary to Article 3 ECHR, adequate means of remedy is the one provided by criminal law. In order for an investigation to be effective in practice the state should enact criminal law provisions penalising practices that are contrary to Article 3. The Court in Zontul made it clear that the current Greek criminal code and case law do not fulfil this vital requirement. The best solution and way forward would be an amendment of Article 137A§2 of the criminal code so that it is fully aligned with the standards contained in ECHR and CAT.
In B.A.C. v. Greece, judgment of 13 October 2016, the Strasbourg Court found (potential) violations of ECHR highlighting two major issues: the non-delivery by Greece of a final decision on the Turkish asylum seeker’s application for approx. 12 years; and the substantial risk of ill-treatment by Turkey in case of a forced return.
The case concerned a political activist who had been detained and tortured in Turkey in mid- late 1990s. His extraditions request had been rejected by Greece.
The judgment has potential ramifications for other similar cases of Turkish asylum seekers pending in (or forthcoming) Greece/Strasbourg.
Link to press release: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng-press?i=003-5517200-6939523
In five judgments rendered on 12 July 2016 by the Strasbourg Court France was found to have violated, inter alia, Art. 3 ECHR due to the administrative detention of minor migrants along with their parents subject to deportation in Toulouse and Metz. The cases are: A.B. and Others v. France, R.M. and M.M. v. France, A.M. and Others v. France, R.K. v. France, and R.C. v. France.
The issues had been raised in another widely-cited case, Popov v. France, 2012. The repetitive nature of these judgments is indicative of the structural problems inherent in migrant detention in France and the rest of Europe. It also shows the need for establishing clearly in national law a prohibition of migrant children and a clear framework for applying alternative to detention measures. The “last resort” rule appears to be highly dysfunctional in practice.
Excerpt on violation of Article 3 from: A.B. et autres c France, arrêt du 12 juillet 2016:
1. Principes applicables
107. La Cour rappelle que l’article 3 de la Convention ne ménage aucune exception. Cette prohibition absolue, par la Convention, de la torture et des peines ou traitements inhumains ou dégradants montre que l’article 3 consacre l’une des valeurs fondamentales des sociétés démocratiques qui forment le Conseil de l’Europe (Soering c. Royaume-Uni, 7 juillet 1989, § 88, série A no 161).
108. Pour tomber sous le coup de l’article 3, un mauvais traitement doit atteindre un minimum de gravité. L’appréciation de ce minimum est relative par essence ; elle dépend de l’ensemble des données de la cause, et notamment de la nature et du contexte du traitement, ainsi que de ses modalités d’exécution, de sa durée, de ses effets physiques ou mentaux, ainsi que, parfois, du sexe, de l’âge et de l’état de santé de la victime (voir, entre autres, Raninen c. Finlande, 16 décembre 1997, § 55, Recueil des arrêts et décisions 1997-VIII).
109. La Cour rappelle qu’elle a conclu à plusieurs reprises à la violation de l’article 3 de la Convention en raison du placement en rétention d’étrangers mineurs accompagnés (voir Muskhadzhiyeva et autres c. Belgique, no 41442/07, 19 janvier 2010 ; Kanagaratnam c. Belgique, no 15297/09, 13 décembre 2011 ; Popov, précité) ou non (voir Mubilanzila Mayeka et Kaniki Mitunga c. Belgique, no 13178/03, CEDH 2006‑XI ; Rahimi c. Grèce, no 8687/08, 5 avril 2011). Dans les affaires concernant le placement en rétention d’enfants étrangers mineurs accompagnés, elle a notamment conclu à la violation de l’article 3 de la Convention en raison de la conjonction de trois facteurs : le bas âge des enfants, la durée de leur rétention et le caractère inadapté des locaux concernés à la présence d’enfants.
2. Application au cas d’espèce
110. La Cour constate qu’en l’espèce, et à l’instar de l’affaire Muskhadzhiyeva et autres, l’enfant des requérants était accompagné de ses parents durant la période de rétention. Elle estime cependant que cet élément n’est pas de nature à exempter les autorités de leur obligation de protéger l’enfant et d’adopter des mesures adéquates au titre des obligations positives découlant de l’article 3 de la Convention (ibid., § 58) et qu’il convient de garder à l’esprit que la situation d’extrême vulnérabilité de l’enfant est déterminante et prédomine sur la qualité d’étranger en séjour illégal (voir Popov, pécité, § 91 ; comparer avec Mubilanzila Mayeka et Kaniki Mitunga, précité, § 55). Elle observe que les directives européennes encadrant la rétention des étrangers considèrent à ce titre que les mineurs, qu’ils soient ou non accompagnés, comptent parmi les populations vulnérables nécessitant l’attention particulière des autorités. En effet, les enfants ont des besoins spécifiques dus notamment à leur âge et leur dépendance.
111. La Cour note que, lors de la rétention en cause, l’enfant des requérants était âgé de quatre ans et qu’il fut retenu avec ses parents pendant dix-huit jours au centre de Toulouse-Cornebarrieu.
112. Concernant les conditions matérielles de rétention, la Cour constate que le centre de Toulouse-Cornebarrieu compte parmi ceux « habilités » à recevoir des familles en vertu du décret du 30 mai 2005 (voir paragraphe 26 ci-dessus). Il ressort des rapports de visite de ce centre (voir les paragraphes 31 à 40 ci-dessus) que les autorités ont pris soin de séparer les familles des autres retenus, de leur fournir des chambres spécialement équipées et de mettre à leur disposition du matériel de puériculture adapté. La Cour relève d’ailleurs que les ONG ont reconnu que, contrairement à ce qui était le cas dans l’affaire Popov précitée, les conditions matérielles ne posaient pas problème dans ce centre.
113. La Cour constate cependant que le centre de rétention de Toulouse‑Cornebarrieu, construit en bordure immédiate des pistes de l’aéroport de Toulouse-Blagnac, est exposé à des nuisances sonores particulièrement importantes qui ont conduit au classement du terrain en « zone inconstructible » (voir paragraphes 33, 37 et 40). La Cour observe que les enfants, pour lesquels des périodes de détente en plein air sont nécessaires, sont ainsi particulièrement soumis à ces bruits d’une intensité excessive. La Cour considère, en outre et sans avoir besoin de se référer au certificat médical produit par les requérants, que les contraintes inhérentes à un lieu privatif de liberté, particulièrement lourdes pour un jeune enfant, ainsi que les conditions d’organisation du centre ont nécessairement eu un effet anxiogène sur l’enfant des requérants. En effet, celui-ci, ne pouvant être laissé seul, a dû assister avec ses parents à tous les entretiens que requérait leur situation, ainsi qu’aux différentes audiences judiciaires et administratives. Lors des déplacements, il a été amené à côtoyer des policiers armés en uniforme. De plus, il a subi en permanence les annonces délivrées par les haut-parleurs du centre. Enfin, il a vécu la souffrance morale et psychique de ses parents dans un lieu d’enfermement ne lui permettant pas de prendre la distance indispensable.
114. La Cour considère que de telles conditions, bien que nécessairement sources importantes de stress et d’angoisse pour un enfant en bas âge, ne sont pas suffisantes, dans le cas d’un enfermement de brève durée et dans les circonstances de l’espèce, pour atteindre le seuil de gravité requis pour tomber sous le coup de l’article 3. Elle est convaincue, en revanche, qu’au-delà d’une brève période, la répétition et l’accumulation de ces agressions psychiques et émotionnelles ont nécessairement des conséquences néfastes sur un enfant en bas âge, dépassant le seuil de gravité précité. Dès lors, l’écoulement du temps revêt à cet égard une importance primordiale au regard de l’application de ce texte. La Cour estime que cette brève période a été dépassée dans la présente espèce, s’agissant de la rétention d’un enfant de quatre ans qui s’est prolongée pendant dix-huit jours dans les conditions exposées ci-dessus.
115. Ainsi, compte tenu de l’âge de l’enfant des requérants, de la durée et des conditions de son enfermement dans le centre de rétention de Toulouse-Cornebarrieu, la Cour estime que les autorités ont soumis cet enfant à un traitement qui a dépassé le seuil de gravité exigé par l’article 3 de la Convention. Partant il y a eu violation de cet article à l’égard de l’enfant des requérants.