What is an ‘internal armed conflict’ in EU law? This was a question which the Belgian Conseil d’État referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), asking in essence whether this concept is to be understood as defined in international humanitarian law (IHL) or as a term with an independent meaning in the Union legal order.
On 30 January 2014, the CJEU gave its answer in the Diakité judgment, which concerns the granting of ‘subsidiary protection’ to third country nationals as well as stateless persons who seek refuge in the EU from such ‘internal armed conflicts’. By giving an autonomous meaning to the latter term in EU law, the CJEU has spoken up for a lower threshold for receiving such status throughout the 28 Member States. While this is, from a legal point of view, a highly interesting case with regard to the relationship between EU law and international law, it amounts, more practically speaking, to good news for all those in search of shelter from violence-ridden regions on a continent marked by an increasing reluctance to welcome foreigners (note most recently the successful Swiss referendum on limiting mass immigration). Continue reading
The Court of Justice of the European Union (‘the Court’) in the landmark decision of X, Y and Z v Minister voor Immigratie en Asiel, has provided a template based on which the Member States can address the claims of gay asylum seekers. The Court has ensured that the floodgates are not opened to enable gay and lesbian applicants from the 78 countries in the world, to arrive through the portcullis of Fortress Europe, seeking, and being granted sanctuary, solely on the basis of the existence of laws which criminalise consensual same-sex conduct in their countries of origin, even when they are not enforced.
The Fleeing Homophobia report estimated in September 2011 that approximately 10,000 gay or lesbian asylum seekers seek sanctuary in Europe every year. The following year, the Dutch authorities, ironically the first country in the world to recognise in 1981 the protection of gay men as a Particular Social Group under the 1951 Refugee Convention, posed three questions to be addressed by the Court, through the prism of the 2004 Qualification Directive, with respect to the asylum claims of 3 gay men from Senegal, Sierra Leone and Uganda: Continue reading
On 6 June 2013, the Court issued an important ruling in the case of MA & Others v UK (C-648/11) on the position of unaccompanied children subject to the Dublin II Regulation. The case concerned three children who claimed asylum in the UK after having previously lodged asylum claims in the Netherlands and Italy. Due to ambiguity as to its meaning, the UK Court of Appeal submitted a preliminary reference question on Article 6 of the Regulation, the rule applicable to determining the Member State which must examine the asylum application lodged by a child. In essence, the Court was asked to identify which State was responsible for a child’s asylum claim in situations where the child in question has lodged claims in more than one Member State and has no family members present in the territories of Member States.
On March 20, the Judicial Division of the Netherlands Council of State referred three cases concerning asylum seekers who claim to have been persecuted on account of their sexual orientation to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling. Pursuant to Article 10(1)(d) Qualification Directive, groups with a common characteristic of sexual orientation may fall within the ambit of the minimum level of protection afforded by European asylum law. However, during the initial procedure the asylum seekers concerned failed to convince the Dutch immigration service that they were gay and their application was subsequently denied.
On appeal, their lawyers argued that the mere statement that one is gay, lesbian or bisexual is sufficient proof of an asylum seeker’s sexual orientation. Moreover, the lawyers submitted, any further verification of their sexuality is contrary to, inter alia, Articles 3 and 7 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Council of State accepted that some questions pertaining to the way in which the applicant experiences, sexually or otherwise, his sexual orientation or how and when the applicant became aware of his sexual orientation may be contrary to the right to personal integrity (art. 3 (1) Charter) and the right to private life as guaranteed in Articles 3 and 7 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and asked the CJEU for guidance on this point. In this post, I will use queer theory in an attempt to substantiate the argument that verification ought to be considered contrary to human rights standards.
About a month ago, the Court of Justice made a long-awaited judgment in cases Y and Z. The judgment is particularly important for EU asylum law. The applicants in the main proceedings were Pakistani nationals who applied for asylum in Germany on religious grounds. They stated that because they exercised their faith as members of the Ahmadiyyah (a minority community), they would face prosecution and possible detention and therefore should be recognized as refugees. The German Federal Administrative Court (Bundesverwaltungsgericht) decided to refer questions to the Court of Justice, which it asked to set out the circumstances in which an infringement of the freedom of religion may constitute an ‘act of persecution’ sufficient to grant refugee status within the meaning of Directive 2004/83/EC. This Directive seeks to establish minimum standards and common criteria for all Member States regarding the recognition of asylum seekers as refugees within the meaning of Article 1 of the Refugee Convention.
First of all, it should be noted that in international asylum law it is commonly assumed that not all human rights violations amount to acts of persecution in the sense of the Refugee Convention, but only those that are perceived as risks to the life and being of a person (for example when a person risks death or torture because of his or her political opinion). This is the main reason why this is a huge judgment in the field of asylum law: it goes into the concept of persecution, and the role that human rights play in defining the refugee.
In his recent Opinion in Cases C-71/11 and C-99/11 Advocate General Bot held that a serious infringement of the freedom of religion may constitute an ‘act of persecution’ where the asylum seeker, by exercising that freedom or as a result of infringing the restrictions placed on the exercise of that freedom, runs a real risk of being deprived of his most fundamental rights. This is an important case for the application of fundamental rights in asylum context. The AG seems to be aware of this considering the extensive elaboration on the matter. Nevertheless, the Opinion of the AG is not very satisfying, mainly because the interpretation based on the European Court of Human Rights (hereafter: ECHR) case law, does not seem very consistent.
The cases concerned a reference for a preliminary ruling by the German Bundesverwaltungsgericht (Federal Administrative Court). The applicants in the main proceedings were Pakistani nationals who entered Germany and applied for asylum on religious grounds. They stated that because they exercised their faith as members of the Ahmadiyyah (a minority community that adheres to the Ahmadiyyah, long contested by the Sunni Muslim majority in Pakistan), they would be prosecuted and therefore should be recognized as refugees. The lower German Court had decided that the freedom of religion entails amongst others the right to exercise and demonstrate faith in public and that the restrictions on the exercise of faith in Pakistan represent a grave violation of the freedom of religion for a devout Ahmadi. The Bundesverwaltungsgericht decided to refer questions, in which it asked the Court of Justice to set out the circumstances in which an infringement of the freedom of religion, and in particular of the right of an individual to live his faith freely and openly, may constitute an ‘act of persecution’ within the meaning of Directive 2004/83/EC.