Strasbourg shamelessly gives green light to pushbacks at Europe's borders

The ECtHR’s Grand Chamber dismisses case against Spain’s “hot returns”


Strasbourg/Madrid/Berlin, February 13, 2020 – No rights at the border, too many hurdles in court. ND* and NT* were handcuffed and immediately expelled through Melilla’s fence structure from Spain to Morocco. No one asked who they were or why they were there. They were given no due process, nor the opportunity to challenge their expulsion. The same happened to at least 70 other individuals on August 13, 2014. These summary, violent and unlawful push-backs are documented in several videos, photos and testimonies. Yet, in today’s judgment, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg dismissed ND and NT v. Spain.

The judgment regards February 2015 applications against Spain by ND from Mali and NT from Cote d’Ivoire, supported by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR). It was the first land push-back case heard by the ECtHR.

“Instead of condemning Spain for failing its human rights obligations, the court is ignoring evidence from all human rights institutions. The ECtHR is denying all rights to refugees and migrants. The decision completely ignores the reality at European borders, and particularly the situation of Sub-Saharan Africans at the Spanish-Moroccan frontier. Moreover, it will be perceived as a carte blanche for violent pushbacks everywhere in Europe,” said Wolfgang Kaleck, general secretary of ECCHR. “ND and NT’s case is not isolated. Pushbacks at the border to Morocco are a longstanding Spanish practice, which has become a model for other states along the European Union’s external land borders.”

In October 2017, a chamber of seven judges condemned Spain’s practice of “hot returns.” The court did not condemn Spain’s failure to provide an individualized procedure, as required under Article 4 of Protocol 4 (prohibition of collective expulsions) and Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The two applicants were represented by Carsten Gericke (Hamburg) and Gonzalo Boye (Madrid), partner lawyers of ECCHR. Boye added, “The ECtHR not only accepts Spain’s concept of a lawless border zone, but created a new doctrine that could be applied to any case: whoever places themselves in an unlawful situation is not protected by the rights recognized in the convention.”

* Full names withheld for the applicants’ protection.

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