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.