On September 1, 2015, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg found that Italy violated multiple provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights in the state’s treatment of three Tunisian refugees. The three applicants who brought the case against Italy had fled Tunisia in 2011, during the Arab Spring. Italian authorities stopped the applicants at sea and brought them to a reception and first aid center, where they identified the applicants. When a riot and fire started at the center, the applicants were relocated multiple times and eventually held on boats for days before being repatriated to Tunisia.
The Court unanimously found Italy to have violated the Convention’s Articles on deprivation of liberty (Art. 5(1)), the right to be informed promptly of the reasons for their arrest (Art. 5(2)), and the right to a speedy judicial decision on the lawfulness of their detention (Art. 5(4)). A majority found a violation of the Convention’s Articles concerning torture and inhuman treatment (Art. 3), collective expulsion (Art. 4 of Protocol No. 4 to the Convention), and recourse to an “effective” domestic forum to protest the violation of rights (Art.13). Accordingly, the Court granted 10,000 euros to each applicant, in addition to the litigation costs that the applicants jointly incurred.
This judgment comes as Europe faces a crisis with the large influx of migrants from Syria and struggles to formulate adequate responses in an emergency situation similar to what it faced in 2011. In this ruling, the Court recognized the difficulties Italy faced in 2011, including the challenges of saving migrants from dangerous journeys, ensuring their health, and maintaining public order in their territories. However, this appealable decision sets a high bar for states to ensure the proper protection of migrants’ rights even in conditions of emergency, a position that the Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjørn Jagland has expressed.