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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.

Link to article: http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/journals/10.1163/15718166-12340005

An earlier version was published in February 2017 at SSRN: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2921109

 

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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.

Paper on migrant ill-treatment in Greek law enforcement and Strasbourg Court case law

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.

 

 

Migrant children detention – France violated Art. 3 ECHR in 5 new cases

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.

Link: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-165268

 

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Rights!

A free, open platform to read, write, share, discuss and act on human rights and democratisation

Human Rights centre blog

University of Essex

Völkerrechtsblog

Der Blog des Arbeitskreises junger Völkerrechtswissenschaftler*innen

blogdroiteuropéen

blogguer différemment sur le droit européen

All for National Archaeological Museum Athens

The official blog of the museum with snapshots from its daily life

East Ethnia

Balkan politics and academics

Inforrm's Blog

The International Forum for Responsible Media Blog

ΣΥΓΧΡΟΝΑ ΘΕΜΑΤΑ

Τριμηνιαία Έκδοση Επιστημονικού Προβληματισμού και Παιδείας

UK Constitutional Law Association

affiliated to the International Association of Constitutional Law

European Western Balkans

The most influential portal on European integration in the Western Balkans

LancsLaw

The official blog of Lancaster University Law School

A Gael in Greece

... news, history and much more ...