By: Benjamin Kaufman
Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor
MOSCOW, Russian Federation – On November 21, 2019, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (“ECHR”) affirmed a decision by the Chamber from 2017 declaring that the Russian Federation’s confinement of four individuals who sought asylum was a violation of their rights under Article 5 § 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 3 of the European Convention’s prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.
The four applicants in this case were an Iraqi national, an individual holding a passport issued by the Palestinian Authority, a Somalian national, and a Syrian national. The four travelled independently and under different circumstances to Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow seeking asylum to the Russian Federation. Upon arrival, each of the four were stopped from leaving the “transit zone” within the airport while their asylum applications were submitted and processed. The transit zone of the airport was a constantly lit area in which they were required to sleep on mattresses placed within the constantly lit boarding area of the airport, without access to running water for a shower, and with only food rations provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR”).
The individuals were unable to appeal or expedite the processing of their evaluation for asylum and were prevented from exiting the airport. In sum, three of individuals spent between five and eight months between 2015 and 2016 in the airport, while the fourth was in the zone for one year and eleven months between April 9, 2015 and March 9, 2017. By the time of the EHCR’s decision, the Iraqi and Syrian applicants were resettled by the UNHCR in Denmark and Sweden respectively while the other applicants took flights to Egypt and Mogadishu.
Three of the individuals filed their applications to the ECHR on December 12, 2015 while the fourth was lodged on January 14, 2016. The applications argued that their confinement had violated their Article 5 right to liberty and security under the European Convention on Human Rights and additionally that the conditions of the confinement were so abhorrent as to constitute inhuman and degrading treatment per Article 3 of the European Convention.
The Grand Chamber affirmed the earlier decision, finding that Article 5 applied to and was violated in the case of each of the four applicants. Further, the court found Russia’s confinement of the applicants to indeed be a violation of Article 3. The ECHR took particular care to dismiss the government’s contention that none of the applicants were on Russian territory while kept in the transit zone and that Russian laws therefore did not apply to them. The court was quick to assert that in fact the applicants were within Russian territory during the periods of their confinement and that their confinement was thus subject to the Russian statutory procedures for seeking asylum.
With respect to these claims, the EHCR noted that its decision in this case would be relevant to other states challenged by the influx of refugees and migrants. However, the Grand Chamber of the EHCR specifically stated that the burdens on states due to asylum-seekers, migrants, and refugees could not be used to justify degrading and inhumane treatment of the same in violation of the human rights enshrined within the European Convention.
For further information, please see: