The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that Finland violated Articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights in the case of an Iraqi citizen who was returned to his country in November 2017, where he was killed a month later.
The victim, named Ali and a former officer in Saddam Hussein's army, had arrived in Finland in September 2015 with his family in search of refuge after suffering harassment and two assassination attempts in his home country, in the context of the intestinal wars between the Shia and Sunni communities.
According to the assessment of the Strasbourg Court, Ali had applied for a residence permit in Finland based on international protection, which was denied by the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri). The authorities rejected his asylum request in December 2016 "accepting his account of the facts but deciding that Sunni Arabs did not per se face persecution in Iraq," the European Court says.
Two assassination attempts
The Court considers proved that between 2007 and 2015 Ali worked for the Iraqi Office of the Inspector General, part of the Interior Ministry, where he was an investigator and then a leading officer on human rights crimes and corruption cases. For this reason, he often had to investigate intelligence service officers or officers in militia groups. His work became more dangerous when Shia militia gained prominence.
In 2015, while he was investigating a case, a disagreement with a colleague who allegedly belonged to a leading Shia militia group, the Badr Organisation, led to an aggression by his co-worker. In February 2015 someone tried to shot him and in April the same year a bomb exploded in the family car. Later, in May, his daughter was the victim of an attempted kidnapping.
Despite this background, Finland denied him a residence permit twice. First it was Migri and then the Helsinki Administrative Court rejected his appeal. He was refused leave to appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court at the end of November 2017.
Without another option, and under the threat of being deported by force, he returned to Iraq in November 2017 under assisted voluntary return. A month later he was killed by unidentified gunmen. According to the documentation provided by his daughter Noor, who has taken the case to the Strasbourg Human Rights court, Ali was shot three times in a street in Baghdad.
Return had not been voluntary
The Strasbourg Court validates the applicant's version, which argues that her father's return to Iraq was not voluntary, "but had rather been forced on him by the Finnish domestic authorities' decissions." According to her argument, her father had not wanted to attract the attention of the Iraqi authorities by being forcibly returned and had not wanted to have a two-year Schengen area visa ban.
The Court concluded that "the applicant's father would not have returned to Iraq if an enforceable expulsion decision had not been issued against him and so his decision had not been voluntary in the sense of being a free choice".
The ECHR also estates that Finnish Immigration authorities did not evaluate properly the general security situation and the real risks in Iraq. Even more importantly, it says they did not give enough consideration to the violent attempts on the victim before. The court does not see "any plausible explanation" for why Finland did not take those two incidents more seriously.
Authorities failed to comply their obligations
For the reasons above mentioned, the Court ruled that the Finnish authorities failed to comply with their obligations under article 2 (says everyone's right to live shall be protected) or Article 3 (prohibition of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment) when dealing with Ali's asylum application. Therefore, it says "there had been a violation of both of those provisions".
The Court held that Finland has to pay the victim's daughter Noor -who lives in Finland- 20,000 euros in respect of non-pecuniary damage and other 4,500 euros in respect of costs and expenses.
A "serious matter" for the Finnish Government
After knowing the judgement of the ECHR, the Finnish Government issued a press release in which the Minister of the Interior Maria Ohisalo expressed her concern about the facts around Ali's death.
"The judgment of the Court is extremely weighty and significant. It is a very serious matter that our country that is governed by the rule of law has failed, in this case, to protect the most important right of all, the safeguarding of life. I immediately raised this matter at the Ministry, and we will look carefully at how we can ensure that this will not happen again," Ohisalo says.
This is the first time that Finland has been discovered to violate the European Convention on Human Rights.