Key facts of the case:
A citizen of the Republic of Turkey and resident of the Swiss Confederation, was deprived of liberty while crossing the Croatian border with Serbia as he was found in the security database following an arrest warrant issued by Turkish authorities.
The court of first instance found that all the legal preconditions for the extradition of the applicant to the Republic of Turkey had been fulfilled due to a prosecution of the criminal offense of violating national unity and territorial integrity. The Supreme Court rejected the applicant's appeal and approved the extradition. The applicant appealed to the Constitutional Court against the decisions of the courts of lower instances, requesting the Constitutional Court to ascertain whether the conditions for his extradition to the Republic of Turkey on the basis of the International Criminal Matters Act had been fulfilled. The Constitutional Court upheld the applicant's appeal, set aside the decisions of the County Court in Vukovar and the Supreme Court and moved the case to the County Court for a new proceeding. The complainant's main complaint was that the competent authorities (Vukovar County Court and the Supreme Court) failed to take into account his refugee status.
Key legal question raised by the Court:
In its decision supporting the extradition, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia stated that the fact that the applicant acquired a refugee status in Switzerland was not decisive, as Switzerland is not a member of the European Union. The applicant, however, argued that the obligation to recognize his refugee status derived from international treaties which are superior to national laws.
The applicant argued that, besides the Refugee Convention, Croatia is also bound by EU law, including, among other, Article 19 paragraph 2 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which refers precisely to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees which forms a basis for the asylum system and the system of international protection in Europe.
Hence, the Constitutional Court had to assess whether a refugee status acquired in a non-EU Member State was relevant for granting the non-refoulement protection in this case. The Constitutional Court established that, with respect to the protection of refugees and freedom of movement, Switzerland acquired a status comparable to the one granted to EU Member States due to the fact that Switzerland is party to bilateral treaties with the EU establishing free movement of persons and granting asylum protection (“Schengen and Dublin systems”).
Outcome of the case:
The Constitutional Court set aside the decisions of lower instances and moved the case back to the County Court as it found their reasoning contrary to the provisions of the Croatian Constitution on the right to a fair trial (Article 29), on the extradition of third country nationals (Article 33,p.2) and the application of EU law (Article 141c). The Constitutional Court established that the Supreme Court failed to consider the specific relation between the Confederation of Switzerland and the EU and assess its potential legal effects, and therefore did not find the refugee status approved by the Swiss authorities relevant for granting a non-refoulement protection within the EU territory.
Taking into account the importance of the principle of mutual confidence between the participating countries of the Dublin system, and the fact that the competent Swiss authorities recognized the applicant as a refugee in accordance with the Dublin system settings and principles, including a presumption of respect for the fundamental rights of the applicant by Swiss authorities, the Constitutional Court ruled that the decisions of domestic courts according to which the applicant would be extradited despite such positive assessment constituted a violation of Article 33, paragraph 2 of the Croatian Constitution that regulates extradition of aliens. It also established that they represented a violation of the non-refoulement principle which the Republic of Croatia is obliged to respect not only as a Member State of the European Union, but also by the mere fact that it is a party to the Geneva Convention and its 1967 Protocol.
15.2. The applicant's main complaint relates to the fact that the competent authorities (the Vukovar County Court and the Supreme Court) did not take into account or assess the applicant's refugee status when making the disputed decisions and states as follows:
As already mentioned, the Republic of Croatia is bound by the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, but, unlike Switzerland, it is also bound by Article 19 (2) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, Article 78 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, and Article 21 of the EU Directive 2011/95 / EU, given that the mentioned documents, which are part of the EU acquis communitaire, explicitly refer to the Convention on the Status of Refugees on which the asylum system and international refugees protection system in Europe are based. According to Article 21 of EU Directive 2011/95 / EU, Member States are obliged to respect the principle of prohibition of forced departure or return in accordance with their international obligations. Within the exceptions from the non-refoulement ban provided for in paragraph 2, it is possible to return a 'refugee' regardless of whether his status is officially recognized or not, which, argumento a contrario, means that a Member State has an obligation to, in accordance with the prohibition of expulsion from Article 19 (1) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, comply with the principle of non-refoulement also in that Member State 'whether or not his status is officially recognized.' (...)
In doing so, the Republic of Croatia must take into account that the decision of the Executive Board of the UNHCR has established extraterritorial validity of the refugee status, and it is also in compliance with Article 3 the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the EU acquis communautaire i.e. Article 19 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, Article 78 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, and Article 21 of the Directive 2011/95/EU, as well as with Article 9 paragraph 2 of the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia and Article 12 paragraph 4 of The Act on International Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters, to prohibit the extradition of the applicant to the Republic of Turkey, and therefore the Republic of Croatia should have rejected the request of the Republic of Turkey for international legal assistance.
23. The Constitutional Court emphasizes that the European Court of Justice had stressed the importance of mutual confidence between Member States participating in the Dublin system i.e. the common European asylum system. In the lead decision in this area, the EU Court has (...) found that:
“79. It is precisely because of the principle of mutual confidence that the European Union legislature adopted Regulation No. 343/2003 and the conventions referred to in paragraphs 24 to 26 of the present judgement in order to rationalise the treatment of asylum claims and to avoid blockages in the system as a result of the obligation on State authorities to examine multiple claims by the same applicant, and in order to increase legal certainty with regard to the determination of the State responsible for examining the asylum claim and thus to avoid forum shopping, it being the principal objective of all these measures to speed up the handling of claims in the interests both of asylum seekers and the participating Member States.
80. In those circumstances it must be assumed that the treatment of asylum seekers in all Member States complies with the requirements of the Charter, the Geneva Convention and the ECHR."
15.2. Osnovni prigovor podnositelja odnosi se na činjenicu da nadležna tijela (Županijski sud u Vukovaru i Vrhovni sud) nisu prilikom donošenja osporenih rješenja uzela u obzir niti se očitovala o podnositeljevom statusu izbjeglice, te navodi:
Kao što je već rečeno Republika Hrvatska je vezana Konvencijom o statusu izbjeglica iz 1951.g., ali je za razliku od Švicarske još i vezana i čl. 19. st. 2. Povelje o temeljnim pravima Europske Unije, čl. 78. Ugovora o funkcioniranju Europske unije, te čl. 21. Direktive EU 2011/95/EU s obzirom da se spomenuti dokumenti, a koji su dio pravne stečevine EU izrijekom pozivaju upravo na Konvenciju o pravnom položaju izbjeglica, a na kojoj Konvenciji se posljedično temelji sustav azila odnosno međunarodne zaštite u Europi. Prema članku 21. Direktive EU 2011/95/EU države članice su dužne poštivati načelo zabrane prisilnog udaljenja ili vraćanja u skladu sa svojim međunarodnim obvezama. Pod iznimke od zabrane non-refoulementa koja je propisana stavkom 2. navodi se mogućnost vraćanja 'izbjeglice' bez obzira da li mu je status priznat službeno ili nije, što znači i argumento a contrario da država članica ima obvezu i da, u skladu sa zabranom protjerivanja iz čl. 19. st. 1. Povelje Europske unije o temeljnim pravima, poštuje načelo non-refoulementa i u slučaju kada u toj državi članici isto tako 'bez obzira da li mu je status priznat službeno ili nije.' (…)
Pri tome Republika Hrvatska mora uzeti u obzir da je odlukom izvršnog odbora UNHCR-a utvrđeno eksteritorijalno važenje statusa izbjeglice, a pritom da je u skladu s čl. 3. Konvencije za zaštitu ljudskih prava i temeljnih sloboda, pravnom stečevinom EU odnosno čl. 19. Povelje o temeljnim pravima EU, čl. 78. Ugovora o funkcioniranju EU, te čl. 21. Direktive 2011/95/EU; kao i prema čl. 9. st. 2. Ustava Republike Hrvatske te čl. 12. st. 1. t. 4. Zakona o međunarodnoj pravnoj pomoći u kaznenim stvarima, zabranjeno izručenje Podnositelja Republici Turskoj, te je Republika Hrvatska morala odbiti zamolbu Republike Turske za međunarodnu pravnu pomoć.
23. Ustavni sud naglašava da je Sud Europske unije naglasio važnost međusobnog povjerenja između država članica koje sudjeluju u dublinskom sustavu odnosno zajedničkom europskom sustavu azilantske zaštite. U vodećoj odluci u ovom području Sud EU je (…) našao da:
79. Upravo je zbog načela međusobnog povjerenja Europska unija kroz zakonodavni postupak usvojila Uredbu br. 343/2003 i konvencije navedenih u točkama 24. do 26. ove odluke, kako bi racionalizirala postupanje prema zahtjevima za azilom i izbjegla blokada unutar sustava koje bi slijedile iz obveze državnih vlasti da ispituju višestruke zahtjeve istog podnositelja odnosno kako bi se povećala pravna sigurnost u vezi s utvrđivanjem države odgovorne za ocjenu zahtjeva za azilom, a time i izbjegla 'kupovina nadležnosti', što predstavlja glavni cilj svih tih mjera kako bi se ubrzalo rješavanje zahtjeva kako u interesu tražitelja azila tako i država članica sudionica.
80. U takvim okolnostima treba pretpostaviti da postupanje s tražiteljima azila u svim državama članicama udovoljava zahtjevima Povelje, Ženevske konvencije i Europskoga suda."