Belgium
Head of state
King Albert II
Head of government
Elio Di Rupo (replaced Yves Leterme’s interim government in December)
Death penalty
abolitionist for all crimes
Population
10.8 million
Life expectancy
80.0 years
Under-5 mortality
4.6 per 1,000

The authorities continued to leave many asylum-seekers destitute and homeless. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Belgium had violated the prohibition of removing anyone to a country where they would be exposed to a real risk of torture (non-refoulement), and the right to an effective remedy. The government attempted to rely on diplomatic assurances to remove foreign nationals to countries where they might face torture and other ill-treatment. A law prohibiting and penalizing concealing the face entered into force.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

The “reception crisis” that started in 2008 worsened by the end of 2011. According to NGOs, over 12,000 asylum-seekers, including children, were refused access to the official reception system between October 2009 and the end of 2011. They were left without shelter or medical, social or legal assistance. Over the year, despite some positive government measures, the number of people left out in the streets grew to over 4,000. Legislation adopted in November limited the right to reception for some groups of asylum-seekers and introduced a list of “safe countries of origin”. Asylum-seekers from these “safe countries” would receive a decision within 15 days, and they could be forcibly removed from Belgium before an appeal had been heard.

  • On 21 January, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in the case of M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece that both Belgium and Greece had violated the European Convention on Human Rights (see Greece entry).
  • On 1 July, M.L., a Moroccan national, was granted asylum in Belgium after spending over one year in administrative detention. After serving a six-year prison sentence for terrorism-related offences in Belgium, he applied for asylum on 16 March 2010. The Commissioner for Refugees and Stateless Persons stated in May that M.L. could be deported, if the government obtained diplomatic assurances from the Moroccan authorities that they would not torture and ill-treat M.L. there. The Council for Alien Law Litigation quashed this decision and M.L. was granted asylum. At the end of the year the government’s appeal was pending.
  • On 13 December, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in Kanagaratnam and others v. Belgium that, by detaining three children and their mother in a secure detention centre for four months in 2009, Belgium had violated the prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment in respect of the three children, and the right to liberty of the children and their mother.
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Torture and other ill-treatment

On at least two occasions the authorities attempted to rely on diplomatic assurances to remove foreign nationals to countries where they could be at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.

  • A.A., a Dagestani national in detention since September 2010, faced extradition to the Russian Federation on charges of participating in the activities of illegal armed groups. The charges against him were based on testimony allegedly obtained through torture, which was later retracted by the witness. The Belgian courts rejected A.A.’s appeals against extradition, based in part on diplomatic assurances that he would not be tortured in the Russian Federation. The Minister of Justice’s decision on the extradition was pending at the end of the year.
  • In March, the Minister of Justice decided to allow the extradition of Arbi Zarmaev, an ethnic Chechen, to the Russian Federation, despite the Court of Appeal advising against it. The Court suggested that there was a lack of adequate guarantees that Arbi Zarmaev’s human rights would be respected in Russia. The Minister of Justice’s decision was in part based on diplomatic assurances from the Russian authorities that he would not be tortured. At the end of the year his appeal against that decision was pending before the Council of State.
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Discrimination

Discrimination on the grounds of religion continued. Individuals wearing symbols or dress perceived to be Muslim were particularly affected by discrimination when trying to access employment.

  • On 23 July, a law prohibiting and penalizing the concealing of the face in public entered into force. Although neutrally formulated, the law appeared to target the wearing of full face veils. The legality of the law was challenged before the Constitutional Court and the case was pending at the end of the year.
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Legal, constitutional or institutional developments

Following the UN Universal Periodic Review in May, the authorities agreed to establish a National Human Rights Institution and to ratify both the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

In June, Belgium ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

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