CoE Ministers Discuss the “Mass Deportation Incident” with Georgia

On March 8-10, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe examined how Russia implemented the European Court of Human Right’s judgments, including on the case “Georgia v. s.Russia (I)” (judgment final on 03/07/2014) which concerned the arrest, detention and expulsion of large numbers of Georgian nationals from the Russian Federation from October 2006 until the end of January 2007. The Court established that, from October 2006, a coordinated policy of arresting, detaining and expelling Georgian nationals had been implemented in the Russian Federation, amounting to an administrative practice.

This practice led the Court to find the following violations:

• the expulsion of Georgian nationals without a reasonable and objective examination of the particular case of each individual (Article 4 of Protocol No. 4);

• arbitrary arrests and detentions of the Georgian nationals (Article 5 § 1 and 13);

• the absence of effective and accessible remedies available to Georgian nationals against the arrests, detentions and expulsion orders (Article 5 § 4);

• conditions of detention in police stations and detention centers for foreigners and a lack of effective remedy regarding the same (Articles 3 and 13).

The Court also found that the Russian authorities had failed to comply with their obligation to furnish all necessary facilities to the Court in its task of establishing the facts of the case (violation of Article 38).

Finally, the Court invited the parties to submit observations on the same within 12 months.

The Russian authorities submitted initial information on 22 October 2015 and an action plan on 17 December 2015, while the Georgian authorities submitted an analysis of the judgment on 8 December 2015.

With regard to general measures, the Russian authorities note that the European Court established that the administrative practice in question concluded in January 2007. They consider that there is nothing in the judgment, nor are there any subsequent European Court judgments, to indicate that similar violations have taken place since. Furthermore, they explain that, since January 2007, Russian domestic law and practice have been fundamentally reformed to provide adequate safeguards against administrative practice and the collective expulsion of foreign nationals in the future. They indicate that the available statistics show that, under the new mechanisms in place, Georgian nationals are treated fairly: in 2014, more Georgian nationals entered the Russian Federation than left (32.3 thousand v. 28.2 thousand, respectively). They considered, therefore, that the current Russian law and practice have established adequate legal and institutional safeguards against the use of administrative practices, inter alia, concerning Georgian nationals.

The Committee of the Minister acknowledged that the Russian authorities have submitted a large amount of information related primarily to general migration policy as well as the procedures and safeguards governing administrative detention and administrative expulsion now in place in the Russian Federation. The ministers conceded that a number of developments have taken place since the relevant period, including legislative amendments, changes to domestic court practice and jurisprudence, new governmental resolutions, and new orders and instructions for agencies involved in administrative expulsion and detention.

Notwithstanding the above, the European Court maintains its firm opinion that a coordinated policy involving, inter alia, the police, the Federal Migration Service and the courts had been implemented in the Russian Federation at the relevant time (from October 2006 until January 2007). All the violations found by the European Court were set against the background of this coordinated policy and the large number of Georgian nationals involved. Indeed, the European Court did not doubt that, even at the relevant time, remedies existed before the higher courts in the Russian Federation against arrest and detention and against expulsion orders. However, it considered that, during the period in question, there were real obstacles for the Georgian nationals in using them as a result of the procedures carried out before the Russian courts, as described by Georgian witnesses. These witnesses stated that they had been brought before the courts in groups; some had had an interview with a judge lasting an average of five minutes and with no proper examination of the case; some had not been allowed into the courtroom at all and had waited in corridors or even in the bus that had delivered them to the court; they had been ordered to sign court decisions without having been able to read the contents or obtain a copy; they had had access to neither an interpreter nor a lawyer; and they had been discouraged by both judges and police officers from appealing as they were informed that there was an order to expel Georgian nationals. The Court also noted in that respect the climate of precipitation and intimidation in which the measures were taken.

In conclusion, the Deputies welcomed the detailed information submitted by the Russian authorities regarding, in particular, the developments in the Federal Migration Service, in the supervision carried out by prosecutors and the practice of the domestic courts.

Vazha Tavberidze

21 March 2016 18:12