ECHR: Saadi v Italy judgment
11 March 2008
The Court has sustained the ruling in Chahal. See full-text of judgment dated 28 February 2008 and key passages:
7. The Court notes first of all that States face immense difficulties in modern times in protecting their communities from terrorist violence (see Chahal, cited above, § 79, and Shamayev and Others, cited above, § 335). It cannot therefore underestimate the scale of the danger of terrorism today and the threat it presents to the community. That must not, however, call into question the absolute nature of Article 3.
138. Accordingly, the Court cannot accept the argument of the United Kingdom Government, supported by the respondent Government, that a distinction must be drawn under Article 3 between treatment inflicted directly by a signatory State and treatment that might be inflicted by the authorities of another State, and that protection against this latter form of ill-treatment should be weighed against the interests of the community as a whole (see paragraphs 120 and 122 above). Since protection against the treatment prohibited by Article 3 is absolute, that provision imposes an obligation not to extradite or expel any person who, in the receiving country, would run the real risk of being subjected to such treatment. As the Court has repeatedly held, there can be no derogation from that rule (see the case-law cited in paragraph 130 above). It must therefore reaffirm the principle stated in the Chahal judgment (cited above, § 81) that it is not possible to weigh the risk of ill-treatment against the reasons put forward for the expulsion in order to determine whether the responsibility of a State is engaged under Article 3, even where such treatment is inflicted by another State. In that connection, the conduct of the person concerned, however undesirable or dangerous, cannot be taken into account, with the consequence that the protection afforded by Article 3 is broader than that provided for in Articles 32 and 33 of the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (see Chahal, cited above, § 80 and paragraph 63 above). Moreover, that conclusion is in line with points IV and XII of the guidelines of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on human rights and the fight against terrorism (see paragraph 64 above).
139. The Court considers that the argument based on the balancing of the risk of harm if the person is sent back against the dangerousness he or she represents to the community if not sent back is misconceived. The concepts of “risk” and “dangerousness” in this context do not lend themselves to a balancing test because they are notions that can only be assessed independently of each other. Either the evidence adduced before the Court reveals that there is a substantial risk if the person is sent back or it does not. The prospect that he may pose a serious threat to the community if not returned does not reduce in any way the degree of risk of ill treatment that the person may be subject to on return. For that reason it would be incorrect to require a higher standard of proof, as submitted by the intervener, where the person is considered to represent a serious danger to the community, since assessment of the level of risk is independent of such a test.
140. With regard to the second branch of the United Kingdom Government's arguments, to the effect that where an applicant presents a threat to national security, stronger evidence must be adduced to prove that there is a risk of ill-treatment (see paragraph 122 above), the Court observes that such an approach is not compatible with the absolute nature of the protection afforded by Article 3 either. It amounts to asserting that, in the absence of evidence meeting a higher standard, protection of national security justifies accepting more readily a risk of ill-treatment for the individual. The Court therefore sees no reason to modify the relevant standard of proof, as suggested by the third-party intervener, by requiring in cases like the present that it be proved that subjection to ill-treatment is “more likely than not”. On the contrary, it reaffirms that for a planned forcible expulsion to be in breach of the Convention it is necessary – and sufficient – for substantial grounds to have been shown for believing that there is a real risk that the person concerned will be subjected in the receiving country to treatment prohibited by Article 3 (see paragraphs 125 and 132 above and the case-law cited in those paragraphs).
141. The Court further observes that similar arguments to those put forward by the third-party intervener in the present case have already been rejected in the Chahal judgment cited above. Even if, as the Italian and United Kingdom Governments asserted, the terrorist threat has increased since that time, that circumstance would not call into question the conclusions of the Chahal judgment concerning the consequences of the absolute nature of Article 3.
142. Furthermore, the Court has frequently indicated that it applies rigorous criteria and exercises close scrutiny when assessing the existence of a real risk of ill-treatment (see Jabari, cited above, § 39) in the event of a person being removed from the territory of the respondent State by extradition, expulsion or any other measure pursuing that aim. Although assessment of that risk is to some degree speculative, the Court has always been very cautious, examining carefully the material placed before it in the light of the requisite standard of proof (see paragraphs 128 and 132 above) before indicating an interim measure under Rule 39 or finding that the enforcement of removal from the territory would be contrary to Article 3 of the Convention. As a result, since adopting the Chahal judgment it has only rarely reached such a conclusion.
143. In the present case the Court has had regard, firstly, to the reports of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on Tunisia (see paragraphs 65-79 above), which describe a disturbing situation. The conclusions of those reports are corroborated by the report of the US State Department (see paragraphs 82-93 above). In particular, these reports mention numerous and regular cases of torture and ill-treatment meted out to persons accused under the 2003 Prevention of Terrorism Act. The practices reported – said to be often inflicted on persons in police custody with the aim of extorting confessions – include hanging from the ceiling, threats of rape, administration of electric shocks, immersion of the head in water, beatings and cigarette burns, all of these being practices which undoubtedly reach the level of severity required by Article 3. It is reported that allegations of torture and ill-treatment are not investigated by the competent Tunisian authorities, that they refuse to follow up complaints and that they regularly use confessions obtained under duress to secure convictions (see paragraphs 68, 71, 73-75, 84 and 86 above). Bearing in mind the authority and reputation of the authors of these reports, the seriousness of the investigations by means of which they were compiled, the fact that on the points in question their conclusions are consistent with each other and that those conclusions are corroborated in substance by numerous other sources (see paragraph 94 above), the Court does not doubt their reliability. Moreover, the respondent Government have not adduced any evidence or reports capable of rebutting the assertions made in the sources cited by the applicant.
144. The applicant was prosecuted in Italy for participation in international terrorism and the deportation order against him was issued by virtue of Legislative decree no. 144 of 27 July 2005 entitled “urgent measures to combat international terrorism” (see paragraph 32 above). He was also sentenced in Tunisia, in his absence, to twenty years' imprisonment for membership of a terrorist organisation operating abroad in time of peace and for incitement to terrorism. The existence of that sentence was confirmed by Amnesty International's statement of 19 June 2007 (see paragraph 71 above).
145. The Court further notes that the parties do not agree on the question whether the applicant's trial in Tunisia could be reopened. The applicant asserted that it was not possible for him to appeal against his conviction with suspensive effect, and that, even if he could, the Tunisian authorities could imprison him as a precautionary measure (see paragraph 154 below).
146. In these circumstances, the Court considers that in the present case substantial grounds have been shown for believing that there is a real risk that the applicant would be subjected to treatment contrary to Article 3 of the Convention if he were to be deported to Tunisia. That risk cannot be excluded on the basis of other material available to the Court. In particular, although it is true that the International Committee of the Red Cross has been able to visit Tunisian prisons, that humanitarian organisation is required to maintain confidentiality about its fieldwork (see paragraph 80 above) and, in spite of an undertaking given in April 2005, similar visiting rights have been refused to the independent human-rights-protection organisation Human Rights Watch (see paragraphs 76 and 90 above). Moreover, some of the acts of torture reported allegedly took place while the victims were in police custody or pre-trial detention on the premises of the Ministry of the Interior (see paragraphs 86 and 94 above). Consequently, the visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross cannot exclude the risk of subjection to treatment contrary to Article 3 in the present case.
147. The Court further notes that on 29 May 2007, while the present application was pending before it, the Italian Government asked the Tunisian Government, through the Italian embassy in Tunis, for diplomatic assurances that the applicant would not be subjected to treatment contrary to Article 3 of the Convention (see paragraphs 51 and 52 above). However, the Tunisian authorities did not provide such assurances. At first they merely stated that they were prepared to accept the transfer to Tunisia of Tunisians detained abroad (see paragraph 54 above). It was only in a second note verbale, dated 10 July 2007 (that is, the day before the Grand Chamber hearing), that the Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs observed that Tunisian laws guaranteed prisoners' rights and that Tunisia had acceded to “the relevant international treaties and conventions” (see paragraph 55 above). In that connection, the Court observes that the existence of domestic laws and accession to international treaties guaranteeing respect for fundamental rights in principle are not in themselves sufficient to ensure adequate protection against the risk of ill-treatment where, as in the present case, reliable sources have reported practices resorted to or tolerated by the authorities which are manifestly contrary to the principles of the Convention.
148. Furthermore, it should be pointed out that even if, as they did not do in the present case, the Tunisian authorities had given the diplomatic assurances requested by Italy, that would not have absolved the Court from the obligation to examine whether such assurances provided, in their practical application, a sufficient guarantee that the applicant would be protected against the risk of treatment prohibited by the Convention (see Chahal, cited above, § 105). The weight to be given to assurances from the receiving State depends, in each case, on the circumstances obtaining at the material time.
149. Consequently, the decision to deport the applicant to Tunisia would breach Article 3 of the Convention if it were enforced.