Judgment of the ECHR in Ilias and Ahmed v. Hungary

In the case of Ilias and Ahmed v. Hungary (21.11.2019), a Grand Chamber of the ECHR inter alia found that Hungary had failed to discharge its procedural obligation under Article 3 of the Convention to assess the risks of treatment contrary to that provision before removing the applicants, two asylum seekers from Bangladesh, from Hungary to Serbia. As the case had given rise to the application of EU law at national level, the Court made the following clarifications regarding the interplay between the Convention and EU law in this field.

Firstly, in response to the Hungarian Government who argued that the national authorities had acted in accordance with EU law, the Court recalled that even when applying EU law, the Contracting States remain bound by the obligations they freely entered into on acceding to the Convention. However, when two conditions are met – the absence of any margin of manoeuvre on the part of the domestic authorities and the deployment of the full potential of the supervisory mechanism provided for by European Union law – those obligations must be assessed in the light of the presumption of Convention conformity as established in the Court’s case-law. The State remained fully responsible under the Convention for all acts falling outside its strict international legal obligations. In the present case the relevant EU law consisted of directives which did not impose on Hungary an obligation to act as they did. The Hungarian authorities therefore exercised a discretion granted under EU law, and the impugned measures taken by them did not fall within Hungary’s strict international legal obligations. Accordingly, the presumption of equivalent protection by the legal system of the EU did not apply in this case and Hungary was fully responsible under the Convention for the impugned acts (§§ 96-97).

Secondly, on the concept of “safe third country” as relied on by the respondent Government, the Court noted that Articles 33, 38 and 43 of the EU Asylum procedures directive provided for a possibility to enact national legislation that allows, under certain conditions, to forego an examination of requests for international protection on the merits and to undertake instead an examination of admissibility, in the sense of the above-mentioned EU directive (in particular, on whether it canreasonably be assumed that another country would conduct the examination on the merits or provide protection). In that case, however, the expelling State had to make sure that the intermediary country’s asylum procedure afforded sufficient guarantees to avoid an asylum-seeker being removed, directly or indirectly, to his country of origin without a proper evaluation of the risks he faced from the standpoint of Article 3 of the Convention (§§ 132-133). Any presumption that a particular country is “safe”, if it has been relied upon in decisions concerning an individual asylum seeker, must be sufficiently supported at the outset by an analysis of the relevant conditions in that country and, in particular, of its asylum system (§ 152). This had not been done in the present case.