Il Tribunale europeo di primo grado nega giustizia sui respingimenti di Frontex in Egeo. Gli avvocati di Front-LEX denunciano la richiesta di prove impossibili e fanno appello alla Corte di Giustizia UE.

di Redazione

Riceviamo da Front-LEX e volentieri pubblichiamo:

Front-LEX presenta un ricorso in appello alla Corte di Giustizia UE nel caso Hamoudi contro Frontex che rivela il livello di prova erroneo e irraggiungibile del Tribunale di primo grado.

BREAKING: #CGUE – Alaa Hamoudi, un rifugiato siriano, è arrivato sul territorio dell’UE per chiedere asilo. Invece di permettergli di presentare domanda, gli agenti europei lo hanno rapito, trasferito con la forza e abbandonato in pericolo in mare per 17 ore, dopo di che è stato catturato e detenuto in Türchia. Front-LEX ha citato in giudizio l’Agenzia europea per le frontiere Frontex, chiedendo 500.000 euro a titolo di risarcimento per i danni subiti da Hamoudi. In tribunale, Frontex ha sostenuto che il naso di Hamoudi nelle prove visive fornite è diverso da come appare sul suo passaporto e si è rifiutata di consegnare alla Corte il rapporto dell’Agenzia antifrode dell’UE (OLAF) che conferma le accuse di Hamoudi in relazione all’incidente . Il Tribunale di primo grado ha adottato la posizione di Frontex, ritenendo che i video, le foto e altre prove forensi presentate per dimostrare la presenza di Hamoudi in questo incidente di “respingimento” non fossero sufficienti per dimostrare che fosse una delle vittime. Nonostante le numerose prove digitali, il Tribunale non è stato in qualche modo in grado di determinare le “sue” caratteristiche. Ora Front-LEX presenta appello contro questa sentenza davanti alla Corte di Giustizia dell’UE: i rifugiati dovrebbero avere la loro giornata in tribunale e godere dello standard di prova di cui godono tutti gli altri. Il “sistema completo di rimedi” dell’UE dovrebbe fornire protezione giuridica e rimedi effettivi, non in teoria ma in pratica! *

30.03.2024 – Front-LEX ha presentato ricorso contro la decisione della CGUE di respingere un’azione di risarcimento danni proposta dal rifugiato siriano Alaa Hamoudi. Il signor Hamoudi è stato illegalmente “respinto” dalla Grecia in Turchia nell’aprile 2020, nel contesto delle operazioni congiunte di Frontex nella regione del Mar Egeo. Dopo essere sbarcati sull’isola greca di Samos con un gruppo di altri 21 richiedenti asilo, le autorità greche hanno rapito, detenuto, trasferito con la forza e abbandonato il gruppo su una “zattera della morte” senza giubbotti di salvataggio, acqua, cibo, mezzi di navigazione o comunicazione. Sono rimasti alla deriva per 17 ore. A grave rischio per le loro vite, una nave greca ha ripetutamente respinto il gommone in territorio turco mentre un aereo Frontex sorvegliava dall’alto. Il 10 marzo 2022, con un’azione legale innovativa, Front-LEX ha intentato una causa contro Frontex contestando questa operazione di “respingimento” durata 17 ore nella regione del Mar Egeo. Nonostante la difficoltà intrinseca di documentare questi “respingimenti” sistematici, illegali e nascosti, Front-LEX ha prodotto eccezionali prove digitali da un’indagine forense congiunta che includeva giornalisti investigativi di Lighthouse Reports e Bellingcat. Le prove presentate includevano registrazioni video e fotografie che documentavano l’incidente di “respingimento”. Le sue prove sono state confermate dall’OLAF, l’agenzia antifrode dell’UE, che ha indagato sull’incidente e ha confermato il coinvolgimento di Frontex in questa politica criminale. Tuttavia, nella sentenza del 13 dicembre 2023, la Corte ha ritenuto tali prove insufficienti per stabilire che il “respingimento” in questione abbia avuto luogo. Applicando uno standard di prova irraggiungibile ed errato, la CGUE ha respinto il ricorso. Sebbene la Corte non abbia preso in considerazione il trauma subito dal signor Hamoudi e la sua vulnerabilità come richiedente asilo nel valutare la sua testimonianza, ha esentato Frontex, un’agenzia di frontiera coercitiva, da qualsiasi obbligo legale di fornirle rapporti in suo esclusivo possesso. Ora, Front-LEX, a nome del signor Hamoudi, sta impugnando la decisione del Tribunale di primo grado, che da un lato ha applicato uno standard di prova irraggiungibile per le operazioni di sparizione forzata e i casi di asilo, e ha completamente ignorato le prove disponibili e detenute da Frontex che confermano quanto denuncia il signor Hamoudi. Questa sentenza, ora in fase di appello, fa parte di una serie preoccupante di casi in cui la Corte di giustizia dell’Unione Europea ha semplicemente evitato di valutare la responsabilità congiunta di Frontex in operazioni di “respingimento” ben documentate. Considerata l’enorme quantità di prove prodotte in questo caso, la sentenza del Tribunale europeo lascia aperta l’inquietante questione di come i richiedenti asilo potranno mai provare e chiedere riparazione per le violazioni dei diritti fondamentali commesse da Frontex in mare. A nome di Hamoudi, l’appello di Front-LEX continuerà a sondare la completezza del sistema di rimedi giuridici dell’UE. Metterà alla prova la capacità (e la volontà) della Corte di giustizia dell’Unione europea di essere all’altezza del suo mandato e di fornire accesso alla giustizia per i richiedenti asilo i cui diritti fondamentali sono sistematicamente violati alle frontiere esterne dell’UE.


EUobserver

Intervista di NIKOLAJ NIELSEN

BRUXELLES, 28 MARZO, 18:22

L’avvocato che fa causa a Frontex attacca i giudici “antagonisti”.

I giudici del Tribunale europeo chiedono livelli assurdi di prove per i richiedenti asilo che vogliono giustizia su presunti abusi, afferma un avvocato che fa causa all’agenzia di frontiera dell’UE Frontex.

“Ciò dimostra quanto siano realmente antagonisti nei confronti dei rarissimi casi portati avanti dalle vittime di violazione dei diritti umani alle frontiere esterne dell’UE”, afferma Iftach Cohen, avvocato di Front-lex, una organizzazione della società civile con sede in Olanda.



EUobserver

By NIKOLAJ NIELSEN BRUSSELS, 28. MAR, 18:22

Lawyer suing Frontex takes aim at ‘antagonistic’ judges

Judges at the European General Court are demanding absurd levels of evidence for asylum seekers wanting justice over alleged abuses, says a lawyer suing the EU’s border agency Frontex.

“It shows you how antagonistic they are really to the very rare cases being brought by victims of human rights violation at the EU’s external border,” says Iftach Cohen, a lawyer at Front-lex, a Dutch-based civil society organisation.


Front.LEX

Front-LEX Files Appeal in Hamoudi v. Frontex Revealing the General Court’s Incorrect & Unattainable Standard of Proof

BREAKING: #CJEU – Alaa Hamoudi, a Syrian refugee, arrived on EU territory to seek asylum. Instead of permitting him to make an application, European agents kidnapped, forcibly transferred, and abandoned him in distress at sea for 17 hours, after which he was captured and detained in Türkiye. front-LEX sued the EU Border Agency Frontex, seeking € 500 000 EUR in compensation for the damages Hamoudi incurred. In Court, Frontex argued that Hamoudi’s nose in the visual evidence he provided is dissimilar to how his nose appears in his passport and refused to hand over to the Court the EU’s own AntiFraud Agency (OLAF) report which confirms Hamoudi’s allegations in connection with the incident. The Court of First Instance adopted Frontex’s position, finding the videos, photos, and other forensic evidence submitted to substantiate Hamoudi’s presence in this ‘pushback’ incident to be insufficient to prove he was one of its victims. Despite extensive digital evidence, the General Court was somehow unable to determine ‘his or her’ features. Now front-LEX appeals this ruling before the EU Court of Justice – refugees should have their day in court and enjoy the standard of proof everyone else enjoys. The EU’s “complete system of remedies” should provide legal protection and effective remedy, not in theory but in practice! *

30.03.2024 – front-LEX has filed an appeal of the CJEU’s decision to dismiss an action for damages brought by Syrian refugee, Alaa Hamoudi. Mr. Hamoudi was illegally ‘pushed back’ from Greece to Türkiye in April 2020, in the context of Frontex’s Joint Operations in the Aegean Sea Region. After landing on the Greek island of Samos with a group of 21 other asylum seekers, Greek authorities abducted, detained, forcibly transferred and abandoned the group on a ‘death raft’ with no life vests, water, food, means of navigation or communication. They were left adrift for 17 hours. At grave risk for their lives, a Greek vessel repeatedly pushed the dinghy back into Turkish territory while a Frontex plane surveilled from above. On March 10, 2022, in a ground-breaking legal action, front-LEX filed a case against Frontex challenging this 17-hour long ‘pushback’ operation in the Aegean Sea Region. Despite the inherent difficulty of documenting these systematic, illegal, and covert ‘pushbacks’, front-LEX produced exceptional digital evidence from a joined forensic investigation including Lighthouse Reports and Bellingcat investigative journalists. The submitted evidence included video recordings and photographs documenting the ‘pushback’ incident. This evidence was corroborated by the EU’s own Anti-Fraud Agency, OLAF, which investigated the incident and confirmed Frontex’s involvement in this criminal policy. However, in its judgement on December 13, 2023, the Court deemed this evidence insufficient to establish that the ‘pushback’ in question took place. Applying an unattainable and incorrect standard of proof, the CJEU dismissed the Action. While the Court failed to take into consideration the trauma endured by Mr. Hamoudi and his vulnerability as an asylum seeker in assessing his testimony, it exempted Frontex, a coercive border agency, from any legal obligation to provide it with reports in its exclusive possession. Now, front-LEX, on behalf of Mr. Hamoudi, is appealing the Court’s decision, which applied an unattainable standard of proof for enforced disappearance operations and asylum cases on the one hand, and completely ignored evidence available and held by Frontex which substantiates Mr. Hamoudi’s claims on the other. This judgement, now under appeal, forms part of a concerning string of cases in which the CJEU has simply avoided assessing the joint responsibility of Frontex in well-documented ‘pushback’ operations. Given the vast amount of evidence produced in this case, the Court’s judgement leaves open the disturbing question of how asylum seekers can ever prove and seek redress for the fundamental rights violations committed by Frontex at sea. On behalf of Mr. Hamoudi, front-LEX’s appeal going forward will continue to probe the completeness of the EU’s system of legal remedies. It will test the Court of Justice’s ability (and willingness) to live up to its mandate and provide access to justice for asylum seekers whose fundamental rights are systematically broken at the EU’s external borders.

• Al Jazeera. (17.03.2022): Syrian asylum seeker sues EU border agency.


Verfassungsblog on Matters Constitutional

Joyce De Coninck

30 January 2024

Shielding Frontex 2.0

The One with the Impossible Proof

When WS and others v Frontex came out in September of 2023, many of us working around questions of legal responsibility of Frontex for complicity in unlawful human rights conduct, were surprised by the brevity with which the General Court (GC) dismissed the action (see hereherehereherehere and here). The GC left open the question of if, when, and how independent or joint human rights responsibility would arise when Frontex is engaged in shared operational conduct with the Member States. The prevailing sentiment at the time appeared to be that the GC would have another opportunity to clarify these pressing questions in Hamoudi v FrontexBut again, the action is dismissed. This time not on the basis of an obscure re-interpretation of the Applicant’s claim, but instead, on the basis of an unattainably high and unrealistic burden, standard and method of proof. In doing so, the General Court again eschews from clarifying the nature, conditions and consequences of both independent and joint human rights responsibility of Frontex. Taken together, these cases raise the question whether there are any viable forms of judicial recourse for fundamental rights violations committed or contributed to by the EU’s Border and Coastguard Agency.

Facts and Ruling

In April 2020 Alaa Hamoudi arrived irregularly by boat from Türkiye on Greek territory in pursuit of asylum. Shortly after disembarkation, he claims to have been intercepted by the Greek authorities, who confiscated his cell phone and sent him back out to sea with 21 others, where he claims to have seen a Frontex-operated airplane on two different occasions tracking the movements of the boat he was on, described as “a life raft without any means of propulsion”. On the night of 28 and 29 April, Hamoudi and others were subsequently intercepted by the Turkish coast guard and taken into detention, where his passport was confiscated.

With this action, Hamoudi sought compensation for the damage incurred during and after the push-back operation in the Aegean sea. He attributes this damage to Frontex’s alleged failure to comply with its fundamental rights obligations under the 2019 Frontex Regulation and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, relating inter alia to the non-refoulement principle and the prohibition of collective expulsion. Applying the ‘the but-for’ test of causality (see here), and mindful of the two Frontex operations underway in the region at the time, the Applicant identifies Frontex as the “true author” of the push-back and claims that Frontex should additionally be held responsible for its “aiding and assisting in the commission of the unlawful collective expulsion”. The case thus presented the GC with an explicit opportunity to clarify the nature, conditions, and consequences of both independent and joint human rights responsibility of Frontex.

The GC clarified that in an action for damages there is no specific chronological order to follow when examining the cumulative conditions of unlawful conduct (1), actual damage suffered (2), and the causal link between the damage and the unlawful conduct (3), and subsequently embarks on its investigation of the ‘actual damage’.

Unfettered Production of Evidence

The GC first recalls its settled case law whereby damages will only be awarded insofar as the Applicant can adduce conclusive evidence of actual and certain damage, which cannot be assessed in the abstract, but instead “in relation to the specific facts characterizing each case in point”. This immediately raises an under-scrutinized but critical question in cases of alleged push-backs at sea: how to obtain evidence of what would be an illegal and covert operation? I can’t help but wonder whether my own first instinct would be to meticulously document an ongoing push-back in the middle of the night, without the tools to do so, on a raft lacking propulsion capacity and without any certainty of survival.

Having provided a written declaration, a Bellingcat article concerning the events, and four photographs taken as screenshots from two YouTube videos recorded by third parties as evidence, the General Court rejected it as being manifestly insufficient, noting that the witness statement lacked credibility and reliability, and that the Applicant is not identifiable in the photographic material. Specifically, the Court held that the witness statement is insufficiently specific as the Applicant could not recall the exact date during which the push-back transpired, that the Bellingcat article “does not feature the applicant’s name”, that in the videos of which screenshots were taken, the Applicant “is not looking directly at the camera”, and finally that “it is not possible to establish the date or the location of the events concerned by the screenshots”.

But how can this evidentiary burden ever be met? It is hardly plausible that the Greek Coast Guard or Frontex would voluntarily corroborate their complicity in a seemingly clear-cut violation of (customary) international law, that the 22 individuals onboard the vessel (including the Applicant) would all be sufficiently acquainted with each other beyond the confines of their shared experience, so as to corroborate each other’s experience years after the facts, and that the Applicant – not knowing that he was being filmed given the origins of the video material – would adequately pose for a video so as to be identifiable for future litigation should he survive the pushback.

The ongoing Frontex operations in the same geographical zone suggest a significant imbalance in the evidentiary burden borne by the Applicant when compared to that of Frontex. Essentially, the GC appears to be asking of the Applicant an ‘impossible proof’ (‘probatio diabolica’), whereby what is demanded of the Applicant both in terms of individual experience and Frontex’s role therein, is simply impossible to prove given the material circumstances of the case. Conversely, Frontex – with two active operations in the region – was not called upon to prove or disprove the Applicant’s claims.

When facing specific evidentiary difficulties, or in situations where the defending State has access to information capable of corroborating or refuting the Applicant’s allegations, the ECtHR’s approach typically involves either sharing or reversing the burden of proof (see herehere, and here). In casu, the GC not only maintains the exclusive burden but articulates an unsustainably high standard and method of proof, not on par with the Applicant’s (vulnerable) status as an asylum seekerGiven the Charter-based allegations at stake – which correspond to provisions in the ECHR – it is striking that there is no engagement with the ECtHR’s case law and how the respective evidentiary rules have developed in analogous cases, in line with Article 52(3) CFR.

Unfettered Assessment of Evidence

Next, the GC elaborates on the principle of unfettered ‘assessment’ of evidence, following which the probative value of evidence is an exclusive prerogative of the Court. Accordingly, the document’s evidentiary value depends on its origin, creation circumstances, recipient, content, and overall reliability.

The document relied upon in casu, concerns the Applicant’s own statement. Here too, the GC dismisses the evidence as unreliable, on the basis of lacking specificity concerning the other individuals onboard with the Applicant, the fact that the Applicant didn’t remember the exact date of the push-back and that the Applicant’s statement was drafted only once the Applicant was being assisted by a non-governmental organization more than a year after the facts.

The Court’s rejection of the credibility of the evidence is striking on two counts, relating first to the practice of the ECtHR in analogous expulsion cases, and relating second, to studies on behavioral psychology, traumatology and the credibility of accounts provided by asylum seekers.

The ECtHR has typically held that the Applicant should be given the benefit of the doubt in the face of evidentiary uncertainty (see here). This aligns with the aforementioned approach whereby the ECtHR may reconsider the burden and subsequent standard of proof when an individual encounters difficulties in acquiring evidence and where governmental authorities have access to information not readily available to the Applicant capable of dispelling or corroborating the presented claims. In the Court’s order however, there is no explicit or implicit engagement with these considerations, including those consolidated under EU law, notwithstanding the fact that the case in essence concerns fundamental rights claims that correspond to fundamental rights under the ECHR and thus, in line with Article 52(3) CFR, should be interpreted in line therewith.

Secondly, bearing in mind that “scientific studies in psychology and traumatology suggest that standard credibility criteria, such as behavior or the coherence and plausibility of statements are also deficient” (see here), it is puzzling that such considerations (seemingly) did not factor into the evidentiary assessment by the Court. Studies in traumatology and behavioral psychology highlight that reliance on memory for the purpose of corroborating past events is challenging, including for asylum seekers, particularly as concerns recalling (for example) temporal information, proper names, and peripheral memories (see here). In addition, the impact of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder in migration related cases, complexifies coherent and plausible memory recollection for asylum-seekers (see hereherehere, and here) Bearing this in mind, the broad-strokes approach adopted by the Court in dismissing the credibility of the Applicant statement, appears hard to reconcile with both the ECtHR’s practice on expulsion of asylum seekers, as well as (interdisciplinary) work on asylum law and its interplay with psychology and traumatology (for additional discussions of credibility in asylum cases, see here, and here).

Looking Beyond Hamoudi

Taken on its own, the case merely provides room to ruminate on evidentiary standards, which may appear rather trivial. The case becomes more problematic however, when assessed in tandem with WS and Others on the one hand, and in relation to other (unsuccessful) applications lodged against Frontex on the other hand. Frontex’s human rights record has been subjected to pervasive criticism (see for the most recent examples herehere and here). Yet, attempts to hold Frontex to account in Luxembourg are largely unsuccessful.

In both WS and others v Frontex, as well as Hamoudi v Frontex, the General Court was presented with the opportunity to provide clarification on the cumulative conditions of causation, unlawful conduct, and damage that must be met in an action for damages. Yet, in both cases, the General Court sidestepped any substantive appraisal of Frontex’s involvement in alleged unlawful human rights conduct. In WS and others v Frontex, the Court sidestepped the question of how causation (and attribution) should be determined in operational action concerning both Member States and Frontex, by conflating the conduct of both actors, and concluding that the test of causation connecting unlawful conduct to Frontex cannot be met. Clearer rules on joint liability would arguably prevent the Court from sidestepping substantive appraisals of whether Frontex’s conduct amounted to a violation of its human rights obligations. In Hamoudi v Frontex, the Court sidestepped the question of unlawful conduct and actual damage, focusing instead, on an extremely stringent – impossible – standard and method of proof.

There are a number of – some even understandable – reasons for the Court’s apparent reticence to engage with a substantive appraisal on the matter, but the urgency for interpretation and clarification on the nature, the conditions and the consequences of legal responsibility of Frontex for alleged complicity in human rights abuses, cannot be overstated. There have been transparency cases lodged against Frontex albeit without much success (see here, and pending case here), there have been two unsuccessful actions for failure to act (see here and here), and now after WS and others v Frontex, another unsuccessful action for damages in Hamoudi.

So, what explains these unsuccessful cases: is it truly that the degree of Frontex involvement simply does not meet the thresholds for fundamental rights responsibility? Or are we dealing with reasons of a more systemic nature, shielding Frontex – and EU entities more generally – from findings of human rights responsibility? All eyes are on the Court of Justice in handling the appeals of these cases, mindful of the right to an effective remedy and the EU’s ‘complete system of remedies’. But while we wait, it may be worth considering that there may be something amiss with the EU’s human rights responsibility regime tout court.”