On 5 May 2020, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights published its decision declaring the case of M.N and Others v Belgium (Application No. 3599/18) to be inadmissible.

The applicants, a family of four, are Syrian nationals from Aleppo. In 2016, they requested visas on humanitarian grounds from the Belgian Consulate in Beirut, Lebanon. The Belgian Aliens Office rejected their requests and the applicants requested the suspension of execution of the decision by the Council for Alien Law Litigation (CALL). The Aliens Office again rejected the applicants’ requests and the CALL suspended them once more and subsequent applications for judicial review were dismissed. The applicants lodged an application before the European Court of Human Rights alleging a violation of Article 3 and Article 13, on account of Belgium’s refusal to issue visas on humanitarian grounds, as well as a violation of Article 6 on the state’s failure to execute the judgments.

The Grand Chamber reiterated that Article 1 ECHR is limited to persons within the jurisdiction of State Parties to the Convention. It therefore assessed, inter alia, whether exceptional circumstances existed which could lead to a conclusion that Belgium had exercised extraterritorial jurisdiction in respect of the applicants.

The Grand Chamber noted, inter alia, that the case differed from previous rulings as the administrative proceedings were brought at the initiative of private individuals who had no connection to the State except for the proceedings which they had themselves freely initiated. It added, that to find the application admissible would enshrine a near-universal application of the ECHR on the basis of unilateral choices of individuals and impose near unlimited obligations on States to allow entry to an individual who might be at risk of ill-treatment contrary to the Convention outside their jurisdiction. The Court added that, in the present case, the action of the applicant would create a jurisdictional link through their application and give rise to an Article 3 ECHR obligation which would otherwise not exist.  The Court concluded that the applicants were not within Belgium’s jurisdiction as regards the circumstances in respect of which they complain under Articles 3 and 13 of the Convention. Article 6 is also inapplicable.

Despite this, the Grand Chamber observed, referring specifically to the findings in N.D. and N.T. v Spain, that the reasoning for the inadmissibility decision in this case does not prejudice the attempts made by State parties facilitating access to asylum procedures through embassies or consular representatives.


Photo: (CC) Lux Tonnerre, August 2015

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