Strasbourg, 17/02/2015 – “Despite advances in legislation and measures to combat intolerance and racism, discrimination and hate speech not only persist in France but are on the rise. There is an urgent need to combat this in a sustained and systematic manner,” Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, said today, publishing the report on his visit to France from 22 to 26 September 2014. In this report, the Commissioner addresses issues of intolerance, racism, and respect for the human rights of migrants, Travellers, Roma and persons with disabilities.
“In recent years, there has been a huge increase in antisemitic, anti-Muslim and homophobic acts. In the first half of 2014 alone, the number of antisemitic acts virtually doubled, while the number of Jews leaving France for Israel tripled compared with 2012, which is a telling indication of their feeling of insecurity. The rising number of anti-Muslim acts, 80% of which are carried out against women, and homophobic acts, which occur once every two days, is also cause for great concern. It is essential to put an end to such acts, including on the Internet, and to punish those responsible.”
The Commissioner welcomes France’s sound legal and institutional framework for combating racism and discrimination and urges the authorities to continue to fight resolutely against these phenomena. “To this end, it would be helpful to give full effect to the criminal law provisions recognising “testing” as evidence of discriminatory conduct and to include the fight against discrimination in a national plan to promote and protect human rights. Ratifying Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights on the general prohibition of discrimination would also help to further strengthen the legal framework.”
The trend towards more stringent and more complex rules in the asylum and immigration field raises serious questions of compatibility with France’s international commitments, particularly with regard to being granted asylum and the reception of asylum seekers. “The serious and chronic inadequacies in the reception of asylum seekers force many of them to live in extremely vulnerable and degrading conditions. Lasting solutions need to be found as a matter of urgency to ensure that everyone has effective access to reception centres and social protection.”
The reception and care of unaccompanied migrant minors highlights a further shortcoming in the French migration system. “There are between 7,000 and 12,000 such children living in France, 3,000 of whom are in Mayotte. Many are left without any social or educational support or medical care and some are even homeless. Their age is often determined following certain highly questionable procedures, especially when these involve bone age tests. It is not uncommon for these children to be deprived of their liberty when they arrive at the border unlawfully. The French authorities must put an end to these practices and provide better reception conditions, including overseas.”
The Commissioner also calls on the French authorities not only to honour their commitment to take in 500 Syrian refugees, but to take in even more and to remove all barriers, such as the obligation to have an airport transit visa, which undermine their chances of being granted asylum. The Commissioner also calls on the authorities to improve the living conditions of migrants in Calais and to afford them greater protection against violent xenophobic attacks.
Commissioner Muižnieks urges France not to adopt or implement legislative or other measures to accelerate asylum procedures still further, until the structural problems in the national asylum authorities have been resolved. He underlines the need to improve the effectiveness of remedies in the asylum and immigration field, by expediting the introduction of suspensive appeals against all decisions taken in these matters, including overseas. In addition, he recommends that the authorities improve the legal aid and procedural guarantees offered to immigrants and asylum seekers and cease the practice of holding hearings by the ‘liberties and detention judges’ in the annexes of regional courts located in the immediate vicinity of administrative detention centres or waiting zones.
High levels of anti-Gypsyism have prevailed in France for a very long time, and the Commissioner calls on the authorities to firmly tackle hostile speech and acts directed at migrant Roma and Travellers, including on the Internet. He recommends that the authorities put an end to the discriminatory system applied to Travellers, provide appropriate camping areas and ensure effective access to education for the children of Travellers by promoting solutions more in keeping with their lifestyle.
Like Travellers, migrant Roma continue to be targeted and stigmatised by hate speech emanating from certain politicians and by sometimes harmful media coverage. They are also the victims of violence perpetrated by individuals and at times even by members of law enforcement agencies, in particular during forced eviction operations. The Commissioner also underlines the urgent need to guarantee Roma access to healthcare, education, housing and employment, and to conduct public awareness-raising activities to combat stereotypes and prejudice against Roma and Travellers.
With regard to the situation of persons with disabilities, the Commissioner notes that despite a well-developed legal framework and the priority given to independence and social inclusion, these are not always guaranteed in practice. “There is an urgent need to rectify a situation which continues, de facto, to perpetuate the social exclusion and marginalisation of persons with disabilities. The serious delays in ensuring that public places are accessible and the shortcomings in the arrangements concerning guidance and support for these persons should be dealt with as a matter of priority.”
The Commissioner is also concerned that thousands of persons with disabilities are obliged to leave France to find more appropriate solutions to their situation abroad, particularly in Belgium. He also condemns difficulties in access to employment and the discriminatory conditions applying to workers with disabilities within certain specialised facilities.
Lastly, while welcoming the measures adopted to promote the education of children with disabilities in mainstream schools, the Commissioner notes with concern that no education solution has yet been found for some 20,000 of these children, and particularly for those with autism spectrum disorder. “The authorities should step up their efforts to ensure that all children receive appropriate education. The authorities should also attach priority to setting up local services promoting the social inclusion of people with disabilities, and improve the support provided to those with autism, in particular by making greater use of educational, behavioural and developmental methods in the care they are given.”
Link to press release & docs: http://bit.ly/1FmkGZ9
Detention has been highlighted in recent years by a number of international and non-governmental organisations as an ineffective and inefficient tool of migration control employed by a large number of states. In 2013, the European Court of Human Rights continued to find violations of Article 5(4) of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“ECHR”) by various state parties and even rendered a quasi-pilot judgment in the case of Suso Musa v. Malta.
The grounds of these violations related to the lack of an effective judicial review mechanism, and, in the majority of the cases, to national procedures that did not respect the speediness requirement of Article 5(4) ECHR. The possibility of detention for a maximum period of 18 months in EU member states, established by Article 15 of the ‘Return Directive’ in 2008, has rendered even more evident the need for an effective, speedy judicial review in immigration and asylum cases.
Article 5(4) ECHR entitles a detainee to institute proceedings challenging the procedural and substantive conditions upon which his deprivation of liberty is based. The general principles applied by the Court in this regard are set out in M.A. v. Cyprus, as follows:
- Article 5(4) does not guarantee a right to judicial review of such a scope as to empower the court, on all aspects of the case including questions of pure expediency, to substitute its own discretion for that of the decision-making authority. The review should, however, be wide enough to bear on those conditions which are essential for “lawful” detention.
- The remedies must be made available during a person’s detention with a view to that person obtaining speedy judicial review of the lawfulness of his detention capable of leading, where appropriate, to his release. The accessibility of a remedy implies, inter alia, that the circumstances voluntarily created by the authorities must be such as to afford applicants a realistic possibility of using the remedy.
- The existence of the remedy required by Article 5(4) must be sufficiently certain, not only in theory, but also in practice.
- The requirement of procedural fairness under Article 5(4) does not impose a uniform, unvarying standard to be applied irrespective of the context, facts and circumstances.
- Under Article 5(4), all detainees also have a right, following the institution of such proceedings, to a speedy judicial decision concerning the lawfulness of their detention and to its termination if it proves unlawful. In this context, the Court has laid down strict standards. For example, in the cases of Sarban v. Moldova, Kadem v. Malta and Rehbock v. Slovenia, the Court concluded that time periods of twenty-one, seventeen and twenty-three days, respectively, were excessive.
- Although Article 5(4) does not require the existence of bi-level judicial review, in cases where it exists, both levels should meet the speediness requirement (Djalti v. Bulgaria, para. 64).
Of importance in this context is legal aid. Although the ECHR does not require provision of free legal aid in the context of detention proceedings, if legal representation is required under domestic law, the non-existence of legal aid raises issues of compatibility with Article 5(4) (Suso Musa v. Malta, para. 61).
In the case of Suso Musa, the Strasbourg Court took an exceptional step and adopted a quasi-pilot judgment, indicating to Malta (in the non-operative part of the judgment (para. 119 et seq.)) the necessity of general measures at the national level establishing, inter alia, a judicial- character mechanism providing for speedy and fair judicial review of migrant detention. What actually prompted the Court to act in this manner was its conclusion that the problems detected in the case could give rise to numerous other well-founded applications that would excessively burden the Court’s docket. The Court had already found a similar violation by Malta in 2010, in another case concerning migrant detention, Louled Massoud.
The above guidelines provided by the Strasbourg Court’s case law are significant, especially in a period when deprivation of migrants’, including asylum seekers’, liberty upon arrival or in view of forced return from Europe has been trivialised.
published at: http://ohrh.law.ox.ac.uk/?p=4126
Aden Ahmed v. Malta, 23 July 2013:
“115. The Court notes that the courts exercising constitutional jurisdiction in the Maltese legal system would have been competent to examine the lawfulness of the applicant’s detention in the light of the Convention. The Court notes, however, that it has held on numerous occasions that constitutional proceedings in Malta are rather cumbersome for Article 5 § 4 purposes, and that lodging a constitutional application does not ensure a speedy review of the lawfulness of an applicant’s detention (see Sabeur Ben Ali v. Malta, no. 35892/97, § 40, 29 June 2000; Kadem, cited above, § 53; Stephens v. Malta (no. 2), no. 33740/06, § 90, 21 April 2009; and Louled Massoud, cited above, § 45). Where an individual’s personal liberty is at stake, the Court has very strict standards concerning the State’s compliance with the requirement of a speedy review of the lawfulness of detention (see, for example, Kadem, cited above, §§ 44-45; Rehbock v. Slovenia, no. 29462/95, § 82-86, ECHR 2000 XII, where the Court considered periods of seventeen and twenty-six days excessive for deciding on the lawfulness of the applicant’s detention; and Mamedova v. Russia, no. 7064/05, § 96, 1 June 2006, where the length of appeal proceedings lasting, inter alia, twenty-six days, was found to be in breach of the “speediness” requirement).
116. The Court notes the failure of the Government to submit any caselaw capable of showing that proceedings before the courts exercising constitutional jurisdiction, whether brought together with a request for hearing with urgency or otherwise, could be considered speedy for the purposes of Article 5 § 4. Moreover, the Court cannot ignore the statistics and the examples supplied by the applicant: one of these, which concerned the lawfulness of immigrants’ detention and the conditions of such detention, was still pending six years after it was lodged and a second example regarding the lawfulness of detention had taken more than six months to be decided. Such examples show little respect, if any, for the standards announced in the subsidiary legislation cited by the Government.
117. To sum up, the Government have not submitted any information or case-law capable of casting doubt on the Court’s prior conclusions as to the effectiveness of this remedy. In these circumstances, the Court remains of the view that, in the Maltese system, pursuing a constitutional application would not have provided the applicant with a speedy review of the lawfulness of her detention.
118. The Government can hardly be said to have contested the Court’s findings in respect of other available remedies, as they merely noted that the Court had already found these to be inadequate for the purposes of Article 5 § 4. They did, however, submit that a request for bail was an effective remedy for the purposes of the complaint under Article 5 § 1.
119. In that connection the Court notes that Article 5 § 4 requires a remedy to challenge the lawfulness of detention and providing for release if the detention is not lawful. Thus, even assuming that a request for bail was available in the applicant’s situation and that it could have resulted in temporary release, it would not have provided for a formal assessment of the lawfulness of the detention as required under Article 5 § 4. Moreover, the Government failed to submit evidence that bail proceedings under Article 25 A(6) were heard speedily.
120. In this connection the Court notes that it has already held that proceedings before the IAB under Article 25A of the Act could not be considered to determine requests speedily as required by Article 5 § 4 of the Convention (see Louled Massoud, cited above, § 44). The Government submitted no new examples capable of altering that conclusion. Moreover, the proceedings instituted by the applicant in the present case reaffirm that finding. Indeed in the applicant’s case the IAB failed to deliver a decision for more than six months, after which the proceedings were discontinued as the applicant had been released. The Court reiterates that where a decision is not delivered before the actual release date of the detainee, such a remedy is devoid of any legal or practical effect (ibid., and see, mutatis mutandis, Frasik v. Poland, no. 22933/02, § 66, 5 January 2010). In this connection the Court finds it relevant to note that a former detainee may well have a legal interest in the determination of the lawfulness of his or her detention even after having been released (see S.T.S. v. the Netherlands, no. 277/05, § 61, ECHR 2011).
121. Moreover, it appears that the length of proceedings before the IAB is problematic for the purposes of Article 5 § 4, irrespective of whether they are brought under the Act or under the regulations emanating from LN 81. Indeed the Court considers that proceedings to contest the lawfulness of detention under Regulation 11 (10) of LN 81 which are also lodged before the same board (even assuming they apply to persons in the applicant’s position) also fail to fulfil the speediness requirement, as is evident from the cases cited by the applicant, particularly that of Ibrahim Suzo where it took the IAB more than a year to determine the claim. Moreover, in the other three cases cited by the applicant the individuals were also released before a decision on the matter had been delivered despite the periods in question having ranged from two to nine months.
122. In the light of the above factors, the Court cannot but reiterate that proceedings before the IAB cannot be considered to determine requests speedily as required by Article 5 § 4 of the Convention.
123. The foregoing considerations are sufficient for the Court to conclude that it has not been shown that the applicant had at her disposal an effective and speedy remedy under domestic law by which to challenge the lawfulness of her detention.
124. Article 5 § 4 of the Convention has therefore been violated.”