Friday, August 10, 2012

New Israeli Regulation Bars Some Non-Citizens from Filing Lawsuits

Child of a migrant worker in Israel, photo via Global Post
 The Jerusalem Post reported Tuesday that the Israeli Justice Minister has signed a new regulation requiring an Israeli ID or a foreign passport number to anyone wishing to file a lawsuit. If true, this law would seem to flagrantly violate many international human rights norms by preventing stateless persons, refugees and asylum seekers from having their day in Court.

Just to refresh your memory, the 1954 Statelessness Convention, to which Israel is a signatory, touches on the topic at article 16. 
Article 16: 1. A stateless person shall have free access to the Courts of Law on the territory
of all Contracting States.
2. A stateless person shall enjoy in the Contracting State in which he has his habitual residence the same treatment as a national in matters pertaining to access to the Courts, including legal assistance and exemption from cautio judicatum solvi.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights also discusses access to Courts in several articles (see, e.g. Art.6-10), and the sentiment of right to legal personhood is echoed continuously throughout the human rights cannon. In other words, Israel could not possibly have failed to notice that a law like this would raise eyebrows, to say the least.

When pressed, the government has responded that,
"amendments were purely technical in nature, and ensured that litigants in possession of an Israeli ID number or foreign passport specified those details on court documents so that court registrars could be certain that they were dealing with the correct individuals.

“The regulation does not alter therefore the current legal situation regarding the basic right to access the courts,” wrote Dr. Peretz Segal, head of the Justice Ministry’s Legal Counsel department. (JPost)
Hmm. So either we have a regulation that would prohibit Palestinians, who de facto do no often possess a government-issued passport, along with a host of other non-citizens, from accessing basic Court procedures, OR we have a meaningless administrative hurdle that does not change the law. If so, why pass it in the first place?

After a few days of back and forth with the government (while Israel steadily garnered increasing attention from the media for this rule, see here, here and here) the Justice Ministry has agreed to review the rule, but is sticking to the story that this does not change anything, really.

Au contraire, says the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, among others.
Attorney Oded Feller of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel warned Neeman the regulations will immediately deprive Palestinian residents of the territories, migrant workers and stateless individuals who have no passports the right to file claims in Israeli courts. ..."Technical matters become fundamental when they specify explicitly who will not be able to file claims in court."
Hopefully the negative attention this rule has attracted in advance of its debut in September will force the Israeli government to reconsider whether this is a step they really want to take. If not, I predict we will see continuing major action on the subject in the Fall. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Greece is at it Again: Mass Deportation Raids Over the Weekend

Via FoxNews
Very depressing news from Greece in the last few days, as the government has rounded up thousands for deportation and shamelessly sought to shift blame for financial issues onto the shoulders of non-citizens.
The minister, Nikos Dendias, defended the mass detentions, saying that a failure to curb a relentless flow of immigrants into Greece would lead the country, which is surviving on foreign loans, to collapse. “Our social fabric is at risk of unraveling,” Mr. Dendias told a private television channel, Skai. “The immigration problem is perhaps even greater than the financial one.”(NYT)
 Oh, if only that were true.

Unfortunately, it is far more likely that this is a cynical move to distract from the country's actual financial problems- reliance on foreign debt, risky lending, artificial inflation- by suggesting that this is an outsider problem, caused by foreigners.

As we have discussed previously in this blog, Greece's asylum system is dangerously backed up, with asylum seekers waiting for years to get a (mandatory) interview or possibly receive refugee status if they are entitled to. With Greece being an entry point into the EU, and with the masses of refugees pouring out of countries effected by the recent tumult in the Middle East, this has meant a compounding of problems- larger numbers of people waiting larger amounts of time to have their status regularized (or, alternatively, to reach a determination that they are not refugees and may legally be deported.) This means some people have been living in Greece for years, waiting to get their status regularized.

It is understandable that the Greek government is anxious to clear up this issue. However, the solution is not to utterly disregard human rights obligations, both under EU and international human rights law, by arbitrarily deporting anyone found during mass "immigration raids" to not possess papers. Not only are some of these individuals likely to be waiting for their appointment with the immigration services, but more to the point, deporting an individual who qualifies as a refugee is refoulement, and is reprehensible and illegal. And you can't tell whether a person is a refugee by a brief glance at their papers, or lack thereof. When 6,000 people are detained over one weekend, it is hard to believe that anyone received a fair shake at a refugee status determination interview.

As history has often demonstrated, in times of economic and social strife it is tempting to rely on xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment as a tool of distraction. But that doesn't mean they should get away with it.

Come on, Greece, you can do better.

Greece: The Pressure is on to Fix an Failing Asylum System
Deja Vu: Greek Immigration Crackdown

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Go Guor! Stateless Marathoner to Compete in Olympics

The Olympics is typically a time when even the most timid of citizens become flag-wavers for their country, counting the medals their home country racks up and paying close attention when their country faces off against historical or modern rivals. But one Olympian is drawing media attention not because of his nationality but because of a lack thereof- stateless marathoner Guor Marial.

Marial was born in South Sudan, where he was one of countless children kidnapped and forced into labor during the Sudanese Civil War. As a refugee in Egypt, and later the United States, he left behind many deceased family members and has not seen his parents in 20 years (the complete story can be found here). Marial wouldn't be the first refugee of the Sudan conflict to compete in the Olympics. However, unlike Lopez Lemong, a Sudanese refugee who was a flag-bearer in the Beijing Olympics, Marial does not possess US Citizenship, and will be competing under the Olympic Flag. Despite being offered to compete for Sudan, Marial declined, “It’s not right for me to do that.  It’s not right for me to represent the country I refuged from.”

Media reports have been presenting the case as an uplifting, if bewildering, human interest story. Time noted that if he wins, Marial will stand on the podium while the Olympic hymn (rather than a national anthem) is played. Die Welt ran their article on him with the headline "No Flag and No Hymn." These Olympic trappings are so common that their lack is as headline-making as the shocking story that put him in this situation.

Other articles refer to him simply as a refugee, portraying him as an unoffficial Sudanese representative despite his strong declarations to the contrary.

With an estimated 12 million stateless and 43 million refugees worldwide, belonging to either group is not so remarkable in and of itself. More remarkable to me is the ability of the Olympics, a bastion of nationalism, to allow for some ambiguity in their ceremonial trappings in a way that represents the true nature of a world that is composed of citizens, stateless people, and everything in between. Its obvious that rather than being a disadvantage, being stateless will only cause Mr. Marial to receive even more support when he competes on August 12th.