Belgium 2017/2018
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Belgium 2017/2018

Prison conditions remained poor; hundreds of offenders with mental health problems or mental disabilities continued to be detained in inadequate prison wards. Several laws on professional secrecy introduced requirements for social workers to share private information regarding potential suspects of terrorism-related offences. Parliament introduced a number of restrictions to asylum and migration laws. A new law on legal gender recognition improved the rights of transgender people.

Counter-terror and security

In July, Parliament adopted a new law establishing a special status and compensation system for victims of terrorism-related offences. However, the law failed to ensure swift and full compensation. Victims could access state compensation only after a burdensome and lengthy process.

In May, Parliament passed a law requiring employees of welfare institutions to report to prosecutors, or provide upon their request, information on people who could be involved in the perpetration of terrorism-related offences. In June a new law passed that allowed the sharing of confidential information previously protected by professional secrecy obligations to prevent the commission of terrorism-related offences.

In October, Parliament amended the Constitution to increase the maximum duration of pre-charge detention from 24 to 48 hours. The provision applies to suspects of any crime, although the initial proposed scope was restricted to suspects of terrorism-related offences.

Authorities failed to effectively monitor the human rights impact of measures against terrorism and radicalization.

Detention

Prisons continued to be overcrowded, facilities dilapidated and there was insufficient access to basic services. Several hundred offenders with mental health problems or mental disabilities remained in detention in regular prisons with insufficient health care and treatment.

In May, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found that the conditions of detention of two detainees in two different prisons amounted to inhuman or degrading treatment.

In July, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture raised concerns regarding the consequences of the repeated strikes by prison officials in recent years which worsened the poor detention conditions.

In September, the ECtHR ruled that Belgium had violated the right to life of Michael Tekin, an offender with a mental health problem who died in custody in a regular section of Jamioulx prison on 8 August 2009. The Court found that the restraining technique used by three prison officers was unnecessary and disproportionate.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

The authorities resumed the transfers of asylum-seekers to Greece under the Dublin III Regulation – EU law that determines the EU member state responsible for examining an application for asylum.

In November, laws were adopted widening the scope for detention of asylum-seekers and curtailing the right to appeal negative asylum decisions.

In September, the government invited a delegation of Sudanese government officials to identify dozens of undocumented Sudanese nationals with the intention of returning them to Sudan. Several judicial proceedings were started challenging forcible returns on the basis of the principle of non-refoulement – the forcible return of individuals to countries where they risk serious human rights violations. Ten Sudanese nationals were reportedly returned in the context of this operation. In December, testimonies surfaced of returnees who stated that upon return they had been detained by Sudanese government agents, interrogated and subjected to ill-treatment or torture. The government announced an investigation into the allegations.

Discrimination

On 14 March, the Court of Justice of the EU failed to uphold Muslim women’s right to non-discrimination by ruling that a private Belgian employer had not breached EU anti-discrimination law in dismissing a woman for wearing a headscarf.

Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people

On 24 May, Parliament adopted a law allowing transgender people to seek legal gender recognition without imposing on them any psychiatric assessment or sterilization requirements.

Arms trade

The Walloon regional government continued to license weapon transfers to parties of the Saudi-Arabia-led coalition in Yemen. In June, the Flemish regional Parliament improved the compliance of its legislation with the Arms Trade Treaty by, among other things, amending the legal definition of transit. However, it failed to address the control of the end-use of parts and components that could be used to produce arms.

Get the Amnesty International Report 2017/18