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*Law of Aliens

Published on October 23rd, 2018 | by Georgia Kleanthi

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SUMMARY: European Court of Human Rights Nos 21884/15 of March 30, 2015 Chowdury and Others v. Greece

Keywords: :Effective access to procedures, Trafficking in human beings, Prohibition of slavery and forced labour, Positive obligations, Forced labour, Admissibility criteria, Exhaustion of domestic remedies, Just satisfaction.

Court:European Court of Human Rights

Claimants: Chowdury and Others v. Greece

Legal Framework:

-ARTICLE 4 Prohibition of slavery and forced labour

1. No one shall be held in slavery or servitude.

2. No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.

3. For the purpose of this Article the term “forced or compulsory labour” shall not include: (a) any work required to be done in the ordinary course of detention imposed according to the provisions of Article5 of this Convention or during conditional release from such detention; (b) any service of a military character or, in case of conscientious objectors in countries where they are recognised, service exacted instead of compulsory military service; (c) any service exacted in case of an emergency or calamity threatening the life or well-being of the community; (d) any work or service which forms part of normal civic obligations.

-ARTICLE 34 Individual applications

The Court may receive applications from any person, nongovernmental organisation or group of individuals claiming to be the victim of a violation by one of the High Contracting Parties of the rights set forth in the Convention or the Protocols thereto. The High Contracting Parties undertake not to hinder in any way the effective exercise of this right.

-ARTICLE 35 Admissibility criteria

1. The Court may only deal with the matter after all domestic remedies have been exhausted, according to the generally recognised rules of international law, and within a period of six months from the date on which the final decision was taken

2. The Court shall not deal with any application submitted under Article 34 that (a) is anonymous; or (b) is substantially the same as a matter that has already been examined by the Court or has already been submitted to another procedure of international investigation or settlement and contains no relevant new information.

3. The Court shall declare inadmissible any individual application submitted under Article 34 if it considers that: (a) the application is incompatible with the provisions of the Convention or the Protocols thereto, manifestly ill-founded, or an abuse of the right of individual application; or (b) the applicant has not suffered a significant disadvantage, unless respect for human rights as defined in the Convention and the Protocols thereto requires an examination of the application on the merits and provided that no case may be rejected on this ground which has not been duly considered by a domestic tribunal.

4. The Court shall reject any application which it considers inadmissible under this Article. It may do so at any stage of the proceedings.

Case Facts:

The applicants are 42 Bangladeshi nationals who lived in Greece. They did not have work permits when they were recruited to pick strawberries on a farm in Manolada under the supervision of armed guards. Their employers had warned them that they would only receive their wages if they continued to work. The applicants lived in makeshift shacks without toilets or running water. In February 2013, March 2013 and April 2013 the workers went on strike demanding payment of their unpaid wages, but without success. On 17 April 2013 the employers recruited other Bangladeshi migrants. Fearing that they would not be paid, they demanded their wages. One of the armed guards then opened fire, seriously injuring 30 workers, including 21 of the applicants. The two employers, together with the guard who had opened fire and an armed overseer, were arrested and tried for attempted murder – subsequently reclassified as grievous bodily harm – and also for trafficking of human beings. After the hospitalisation of many of the workers and a subsequent investigation by the Amaliada prosecutor, the Patras Criminal Court acquitted the four defendants of trafficking in human beings (Article 323A Greek Penal Code) on the ground that the objective element of the crime had not been established in the case.

Claims:

Relying on Article 4 § 2 (prohibition of forced labour), the applicants alleged that they had been subjected to forced or compulsory labour; they further submitted that the State was under an obligation to prevent their being subjected to human trafficking, to adopt preventive measures for that purpose and to punish the employers. They also noted that Greece has failed to fulfil its positive obligation to protect them against these abuses, to conduct an effective investigation, and to prosecute the perpetrators.

Decision:

The Court reiterated that human trafficking fell within the scope of Article 4 and that, according to Article 4 (a), exploitation through labour was one aspect of human trafficking. The Court noted that the domestic courts had interpreted and applied the concept of trafficking in human beings in a very restrictive manner, by more or less identifying it with servitude. Especially in the present case the Court found that the workers were in a situation of vulnerability given their undocumented status and the risk of being arrested, detained and expelled.

Notwithstanding that the applicants had received death threats from their employers if they stopped working for them, the Court found that their treatment did not fall under the definition of slavery under Article 4 of the Convention since their situation was not stagnant or unchanging, there was an expiry date (they were hired just for the season).

The Court then went on to examine Greece’s positive obligations under Article 4. The Court examined three types of positive obligations. The first one was the obligation to put in place an appropriate legal and regulatory framework. Since Greece had criminalised human trafficking at national level and had incorporated the relevant EU law in this area, the Court found that Greece had conformed to this requirement. The second was Greece’s operational measures. The court stated that the authorities were aware of the situation of the migrant workers in the Manolada region and the abuses to which they were exposed, and then highlighted that little was done to remedy their situation. Thus, the operational measures were not sufficient to prevent human trafficking and protect the applicants from the treatment they endured. Last but not least the court examined the Effectiveness of the investigation and judicial procedure. The court found that the national authorities, by omitting to verify testimonies of the applicants, had failed to abide by their investigative obligations under the Concention.

In conclusion, the Court held that there had been a violation of Article 4 § 2 of the Convention on account of the State’s failure to fulfil its positive obligations under that provision, namely to prevent the human trafficking situation complained of, to protect the victims, to conduct an effective investigation into the offences and to punish those responsible for the trafficking and held that Greece was to pay each of the applicants who had participated in the proceedings before the assize court 16,000 euros (EUR), and each of the other applicants EUR 12,000 in respect of all the damage sustained, plus EUR 4,363.64 to the applicants jointly in respect of costs and expenses.

For the full text of the decision here

(Only available in French)





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