Article 7 - Respect for private and family life
Article 52 - Scope and interpretation
Key facts of the case:
The applicants were Iraqi nationals of Kurdish origin who arrived in Cyprus with their children in 2018 and filed for asylum. Their asylum interviews were conducted by EASO officers in 2019 who recommended to the Asylum Service the rejection of their asylum claim; the Asylum Service adopted EASO’s suggestion and rejected their claim. During their asylum determination interviews, the applicant had explained that they enjoyed a good economic standard in their country and would not have left if their lives were not in danger; that they married through the custom of ‘a woman for a woman’ which involves a man giving his siter for marriage to another man and receiving the other man’s sister as a wife in exchange; that the applicant had given his sister as a wife to the brother of his wife, but his sister could not have children and the couple divorced, as a result of which the elders of the applicant’s community were putting pressure on the applicant to divorce his wife, in accordance with the community’s code of honour; that there was no way of returning to another region on Iraq without being discovered by his tribe; and that if he refused to divorce his wife he would be subjected to beatings or even murder; that they did not seek help from the authorities because tribes were stronger than the law. The Asylum Service found that the prospect of murder relied on personal estimates and that the responses of the applicant and his wife were vague, unsubstantiated by evidence and inconsistent; it claimed that the applicants had the option of divorcing and re-marrying outside the custom of ‘a woman for a woman’, under the law of their country. The applicant challenged the rejecting decision in Court raising both substantial and procedural reasons regarding the decision-making process; the Court rejected the applicant’s arguments in respect of the procedural problems but added that its mandate was not confined to the procedural aspects of the decision and therefore proceeded to examine the substance of the Asylum Service’s decision.
Key legal question raised by the Court:
The nucleus of the applicants’ claim was that their marriage was performed on the basis of the custom of “a woman for a woman” which foresees consequences for both couples if one couple divorces. The information cited by the Court regarding the situation in the applicants’ country of origin establishes the external credibility of the applicants, confirming that they are being persecuted due to their involvement in the custom of ‘a woman for a woman’, in line with the provisions of the national Refugee Law. The assessment made by the Asylum service of the applicants’ statements during the interview appeared to conflate the risk assessment with the issue of internal credibility.
‘Persecution’ is not defined in the Geneva Convention of 1951, affording discretion to Member States to define it. The Refugee Law defines acts of persecution to include acts sufficiently serious so as to amount to a severe violation of basic human rights and especially the inaliable right under article 15(2) of the ECHR, transposing article 9 of Directive 2011/95. The forced separation of a family would infringe the national Constitution as well as article 7 of the EU Charter; and in accordance with CJEU jurisprudence, the right to family life is fundamental, which means that interference with this right amounts to persecution.
Outcome of the case:
The Court cited the EASO Practical Guide for Recognition which provided that the risk of being subjected to persecution upon return to one’s country of origin should always be an individual risk. The Court evaluated the narrative of the applicant and his wife as consistent, attributing the minor inconsistencies to subjective data and expression of personal knowledge and views. The Asylum Service had failed to investigate whether the law they had invoked as the legal basis for the applicants to divorce and remarry outside the custom of ‘a woman for a woman’ was being implemented in practice in the Kurdish region of Iraq, as required by the national refugee law corresponding to Directive 2011/95. The Court cited UK Home Office research on ‘blood feuds’ which confirmed the applicants’ allegations about the existence of tribes amongst Kurdish communities; it also cited research of the Danish immigration authorities regarding honour codes in the Kurdish regions of Iraq which confirmed the allegations of the applicants’ regarding the exchange marriages, the consequences of divorce and the punishment of persons who infringe tribal laws. These practices were additionally confirmed by the EASO Guide on the countries of origin, published in 2021. The applicants’ allegation that, had they moved to and re-settled in another region, they would still be located by their tribes and punished, is confirmed by research of the Danish Immigration Service for the Kurdish region of Iraq which states that it is hard for honour-related victims to escape their persecutors.
The Court found that the Asylum Service had not adequately assessed the objective situation in the applicant’s country of origin and had wrongly assessed the applicants as non-credible. The rejection of the applicants’ asylum applications had not taken into account the fact that if they were to return to their country of origin, there was a serious risk that their right to private and family life would be infringed, in violation of Charter article 7.
The appeal was successful; the rejection of the asylum application was set aside and the applicants were recognised by the Court as refugees.
The acts alleged by the Applicant consist in the forced separation from his wife and consequently in the dissolution of his family, which also consists of minor children. In particular as regards the concept of persecution, I note that the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees does not contain a definition of this, leaving the relevant field to the assessment of the Member States. Nevertheless, the Refugee Law defines, inter alia in Article 3C (1) (a), persecutions as acts "serious enough by their nature or recurrence to constitute a serious violation of basic human rights, from which there is no derogation, based on Article 15 (2), of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms ", transposing to the national legal order the corresponding article 9 of Directive 2011/95. In this case, the forcible separation of the Applicant's wife from her family would constitute an interference with the Applicant's right to privacy and family life, as provided for in Article 15 of the Constitution and Article 7 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (“the Charter”). To the extent that Article 7 of the Charter corresponds to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (hereinafter the ECHR), as defined in Article 52 (3) of the Charter (see the relevant CJEU ruling in Minister voor Immigratie en Asiel v. X, Y, Z C-199/12 to C-201/12, ECLI: EU: C: 2013: 720, paragraph 54), the relevant case law of the European Court of Human Rights (“the ECtHR”) must be taken into account. I note that Article 8 applies, inter alia, to the existence of a de iure family relationship based on marriage (ECtHR, PARADISO AND CAMPANELLI Vitaly, Application No 25358/12, paragraph 140), which is characterized by authenticity (ECtHR, ibid., Paragraph 141). The applicant's cohabitation with his wife and the existence of children (See mutatis mutandis ECtHR, X, Y AND Z v. THE UNITED KINGDOM, Application No 21830/93) are indications of the existence of such a bond, resulting in children born in such a union are ipso jure by virtue of their birth part of the family within the scope of the above article. (ECtHR, BERREHAB V. THE NETHERLANDS, Application No. 10730/84). Within the protective scope of the article, according to the case law of the ECtHR, the possibility arises for a couple to live together and enjoy family life within the framework of family unity (ECtHR, HODE AND ABDI V. THE UNITED KINGDOM, Application No. 22341/09) According to CJEU case law, the right to respect for private and family life has been identified as a fundamental right, although not one of the absolute rights from which no derogation is possible (CJEU, MINISTER VOOR IMMIGRATIE EN ASIEL V. X, Y, Z, C 199/12 to C 201/12, ECLI: EU: C: 2013: 720, paragraph 54).
Οι πράξεις που προβάλλονται από τον Αιτητή συνίστανται στον εξαναγκαστικό χωρισμό από τη σύζυγό του και κατ' επέκταση στη διάλυση της οικογένειάς του, η οποία αποτελείται και από ανήλικα τέκνα. Ιδίως ως προς την έννοια της δίωξης, παρατηρώ ότι η Σύμβαση της Γενεύης του 1951 σχετικά με το Καθεστώς των Προσφύγων δεν περιέχει ορισμό αυτής, με το σχετικό πεδίο εκτίμησης να επαφίεται στα κράτη μέλη. Εντούτοις, ο περί Προσφύγων Νόμος ορίζει, μεταξύ άλλων, στο άρθρο 3Γ(1) (α) τις πράξεις δίωξης ως πράξεις « [.] αρκούντως σοβαρές λόγω της φύσης ή της επανάληψης τους ώστε να συνιστούν σοβαρή παραβίαση βασικών ανθρωπίνων δικαιωμάτων, ειδικά των δικαιωμάτων από τα οποία δεν χωρεί παρέκκλιση, βάσει του άρθρου 15 παράγραφος 2, της Ευρωπαϊκής Σύμβασης για την Προάσπιση των Ανθρωπίνων Δικαιωμάτων και των Θεμελιωδών Ελευθεριών», μεταφέροντας στην εθνική έννομη τάξη το αντίστοιχο άρθρο 9 της Οδηγίας 2011/95. Εν προκειμένω, ο βίαιος αποχωρισμός της συζύγου του Αιτητή από την οικογένειά της, θα συνιστούσε επέμβαση στο δικαίωμα ιδιωτικής και οικογενειακής ζωής του Αιτητή, όπως αυτό προβλέπεται στο Άρθρο 15 του Συντάγματος και στο Άρθρο 7 του Χάρτη Θεμελιωδών Δικαιωμάτων της Ευρωπαϊκής Ένωσης (στο εξής: ΧΘΔΕΕ). Στο μέτρο που το άρθρο 7 ΧΘΔΕΕ αντιστοιχεί στο άρθρο 8 της Ευρωπαϊκής Σύμβασης για τα Δικαιώματα του Ανθρώπου (εφεξής ΕΣΔΑ), όπως το άρθρο 52 παρ. 3 ΧΘΔΕΕ ορίζει (βλ. σχετικά απόφαση του ΔΕΕ στην υπόθεσης, Minister voor Immigratie en Asiel v. X, Y, Z C-199/12 έως C-201/12, ECLI:EU:C:2013:720, σκέψη 54), οφείλει να ληφθεί υπόψιν η σχετική νομολογία του Ευρωπαϊκού Δικαστηρίου Δικαιωμάτων του Ανθρώπου (στο εξής: ΕΔΔΑ). Παρατηρώ ότι το άρθρο 8 τυγχάνει εφαρμογής, μεταξύ άλλων, σε περίπτωση ύπαρξης de iure οικογενειακού δεσμού βασισμένου στο γάμο (ΕΔΔΑ, PARADISO AND CAMPANELLI v.ITALY (Αίτηση υπ' αριθ. 25358/12), σκέψη 140), ο οποίος χαρακτηρίζεται από αυθεντικότητα (ΕΔΔΑ, ό.π., σκέψη 141). Η συμβίωση του Αιτητή με τη σύζυγό του καθώς και η ύπαρξη τέκνων (Βλ. mutatis mutandis ΕΔΔΑ, X, Y AND Z v. THE UNITED KINGDOM (Αίτηση υπ' αριθ. 21830/93) συνιστούν ενδείξεις ύπαρξης ενός τέτοιου δεσμού, με αποτέλεσμα να εμπίπτει στο πεδίο εφαρμογής των υπό αναφορά διατάξεων. Τα τέκνα εξάλλου τα γεννηθέντα εντός ενός τέτοιου δεσμού συνιστούν ipso iure και με μόνο το γεγονός της γέννησής τους μέρος της οικογένειας στο πλαίσιο τους ως άνω άρθρου. (ΕΔΔΑ, BERREHAB V. THE NETHERLANDS (Αίτηση υπ' αριθ. 10730/84) Εντός του προστατευτικού πεδίου του άρθρου, σύμφωνα με τη νομολογία του ΕΔΔΑ, εμπίπτει η δυνατότητα ενός ζεύγους να διαβιώνει μαζί και να απολαμβάνουν την οικογενειακή ζωή εντός του πλαισίου της οικογενειακής ενότητας. (EΔΔΑ, HODE AND ABDI V. THE UNITED KINGDOM (αίτηση υπ' αριθ. 22341/09). Σύμφωνα με τη νομολογία του ΔΕΕ, το δικαίωμα σεβασμού της ιδιωτικής και οικογενειακής ζωής έχει χαρακτηριστεί ως βασικό δικαίωμα, αν και όχι ένα από τα περιλαμβανόμενα στα απόλυτα δικαιώματα εκ των οποίων δε χωρεί παρέκκλιση. (ΔΕΕ, MINISTER VOOR IMMIGRATIE EN ASIEL V. X,Y,Z (C 199/12 έως C 201/12), ECLI:EU:C:2013:720, σκέψη 54).