10 January 2014
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the deportation from Switzerland of a political opponent of the Sudanese government to Sudan would expose him to a risk of ill-treatment contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). On the basis of recent country reports and case law, the situation even for political opponents without a high profile was deemed by the Court to be ‘very precarious’.
The applicant is a Sudanese national and has been the human rights officer of the anti-government group Sudan Liberation Movement-Unity (SLM-Unity), based in Switzerland, since 2009. He applied for asylum in Switzerland twice, in 2004 and 2009. He claimed to the Swiss refugee authority that he fled his home village in North Darfur, Sudan, when it was attacked by a government-backed militia that operates in Darfur. He alleged that his father and other villagers were killed and he was mistreated, prompting him to flee without papers.
His first asylum application was rejected due to a deemed lack of credibility. His second asylum request was partly based on the new risk created by his political activism in Switzerland. His recent political activities – including an interview with a Swiss local TV channel – were however rejected as a non-genuine attempt to create ‘post-flight grounds’ against removal, and as insufficiently high-profile to attract the attention of the Sudanese government. The applicant appealed, submitting that his political activities, including an argument with the Sudanese president’s brother during an international meeting at the UN building in Geneva, must be known by the Sudanese authorities, but the appeal was dismissed.
The European Court this week agreed with the Swiss authorities that the applicant was not a high-profile political activist. However, the Court ruled that ‘not only leaders and high-profile people, but also those merely suspected of supporting opposition movements are at risk of treatment contrary to Article 3 of the Convention in Sudan’. The applicant’s representation of SLM-Unity at the UN meetings in Geneva meant that he ‘might, at least, be suspected of being affiliated with an opposition movement by the Sudanese government’. The Court therefore found substantial grounds for believing that the applicant would be at risk of detention, interrogation and torture contrary to Article 3 ECHR if returned to Sudan.