Welcomes Landmark Decision by Strasbourg Court in Expulsion Case
The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) welcomes the February 5, 2002
decision by the European Court of Human Rights, finding that Belgium
violated key provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights when
it collectively expelled, in October 1999, 74 Roma from Slovakia who
were seeking asylum in Belgium. In connection with the case, the Court
Tuesday awarded 10,000 euros in damages to a Romani family called Conka,
who had filed a complaint to the Court in relation to the case.
The ruling is not only the first ever by the Court in a case involving
the collective expulsion of Roma, it is actually the first time the
Court has ever found a violation of Article 4 of Protocol 4 to the
European Convention, which bans the collective expulsion of aliens. It
is, in addition, the first time the Court has ever found a Western
European country in violation of the Convention where Roma rights are
involved. The decision also appears to break new ground in terms of
burden of proof issues. Commenting on the ruling, ERRC Executive
Director Dimitrina Petrova said, "This is a very important decision for
the Romani family concerned, and it also has implications for future
cases in the context of post-September 11 Fortress Europe policies."
On October 5, 1999, Belgium expelled 74 Slovak Romani asylum seekers
after attempts to detain approximately one hundred and fifty Slovak Roma
in two Belgian cities. On September 30 and October 1, 1999, local
authorities in the city of Ghent ordered a number of Romani asylum
seekers to appear before the police. Some came to the police station
after receiving written summons, while others were reportedly detained
by police during house searches. Many Roma were reportedly lured to the
police office under the false pretext that they had to complete
additional forms as a part of their asylum application. Once at the
police station, the Roma were immediately detained and transferred to a
closed detention centre called "127bis Steenokkerzeel" on the outskirts
of Brussels. They remained in the centre for four days under heavy
police guard until their deportation on October 5. The Belgian
government's decision to proceed with the deportation came in the face
of a decision earlier the same day by the European Court of Human Rights
in Strasbourg expressly requesting that the Belgian government stay
deportation for eight days to permit consideration of whether such
deportation would violate the European Convention of Human Rights.
Detailed information on the case is available on the Internet
at: http://errc.org/publications/indices/belgium.shtml, as well as by
contacting the offices of the ERRC.
In connection with the case, Mr Jan Conka, his wife Maria Conkova, and
their children Nad'a Conkova and Nikola Conkova, with the assistance of
local counsel in Belgium, filed an application to the European Court of
Human Rights, asserting that their fundamental rights had been violated.
The ERRC assisted in preparing documentation for the submission.
In its February 5 statement, the European Court announced that it had
found violations of the following articles of the European Convention on
Human Rights (excerpts from the reasoning of the Court in the Conka case
follow each Article violated by Belgian authorities):
Article 5(1), guaranteeing the right to liberty and security of person:
"[...] a conscious decision by the authorities to facilitate or improve
the effectiveness of a planned operation for the expulsion of aliens by
misleading them about the purpose of a notice so as to make it easier to
deprive them of their liberty was not compatible with Article 5."
Article 5(4), guaranteeing the right to take proceedings by which
lawfulness of detention shall be decided: "[...] The Court identified a
number of factors which undoubtedly had made an appeal to the committals
division less accessible. [...] the authorities had not offered any form
of legal assistance at either the police station or the centre. [...]
Furthermore and this factor was decisive in the eyes of the Court
the applicants' lawyer had only been informed of the events in issue and
of his clients' situation at 10.30 p.m. on Friday 1 October 1999, such
that any appeal to the committals division would have been pointless
because, had he lodged an appeal with the division on 4 October, the
case could not have been heard until 6 October, a day after the
applicants' expulsion on 5 October. Thus, the applicants' lawyer had
been unable to lodge an appeal with the committals division."
Article 4 of Protocol 4, prohibiting the collective expulsion of aliens:
"[...] at no stage in the period between the service of the notice on
the aliens to attend the police station and their expulsion had the
procedure afforded sufficient guarantees demonstrating that the personal
circumstances of each of those concerned had been genuinely and
individually taken into account." The Court's finding of a violation of
Article 4 of Protocol 4 was its first ever. The wording of the Court's
decision on the Article 4 of Protocol 4 violation suggests that the
Court reached its decision as a result of being unable "to eliminate all
doubt that the expulsion might have been collective." The Court appears
to have adopted the reasoning that a prima facie case under Article 4 of
Protocol 4 may shift the burden to the government to prove that a
violation has not taken place.
Article 13 (guaranteeing the right to an effective remedy) taken
together with Article 4 of Protocol 4: "Ultimately, the alien had no
guarantee [...] that the Conseil d'État would deliver its decision, or
even hear the case, before his expulsion, or that the authorities would
allow a minimum reasonable period of grace. [...] In conclusion, the
applicants had not had a remedy available that satisfied the requirements of
Article 13 to air their complaint under Article 4 of Protocol No. 4."
The Court awarded the Conka family 10,000 euros for non-pecuniary damage
and 9,000 euros for legal costs and expenses. The full text of the
decision is available on the Internet website of the European Court of
Human Rights: http://www.echr.coe.int.
ERRC concerns related to the protection of Romani refugees are available
on the Internet at: http://errc.org/publications/position/refugee.shtml.
A position paper on other ERRC concerns related to Fortress Europe
policies and Roma is available by contacting the offices of the ERRC.
The European Roma Rights Center is an international public interest law
organisation which monitors the rights of Roma and provides legal defence
in cases of human rights abuse. For more information about the European
Roma Rights Center, visit the ERRC on the web at http://www.errc.org.
European Roma Rights Center
1386 Budapest 62
P.O. Box 906/93
Phone: +36 1 4132200
Fax: +36 1 4132201
SUPPORT THE ERRC!
The European Roma Rights Center is dependent upon the generosity of
individual donors for its continued existence. If you believe the ERRC
performs a service valuable to the public, please join in enabling its
future with a contribution. Gifts of all sizes are welcome; bank transfers
are preferred. Please send your contribution to:
European Roma Rights Center
Budapest Bank Rt.
Bathory utca 1
For correspondence, to subscribe and unsubscribe from this list, please use