Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 August 2014, 14:37 GMT

Amnesty International Annual Report 2011 - Belgium

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 13 May 2011
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Annual Report 2011 - Belgium, 13 May 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4dce157d32.html [accessed 20 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Head of state: King Albert II
Head of government: Yves Leterme (interim government from 26 April 2010)
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
Population: 10.7 million
Life expectancy: 80.3 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 6/5 per 1,000

Reception conditions for asylum-seekers continued to be inadequate. The policy of forcibly returning rejected asylum-seekers to Iraq was maintained. Allegations of excessive use of force by the police persisted. There were concerns that a draft law banning the full-face veil in public would violate freedoms of expression and religion.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

Reception conditions for asylum-seekers were inadequate. According to local NGOs, between October 2009 and December 2010 the federal government agency responsible for the reception of asylum-seekers (Fedasil) failed to provide a total of 7,723 asylum-seekers with accommodation. At the end of the year, 1,203 asylum-seekers were still temporarily housed in hotels, without any medical, social or legal assistance. The government took some measures in the course of the year, including the creation of a number of emergency shelters, but they were insufficient and did not adequately address the deficiencies.

On 19 January, the European Court for Human Rights ruled in Muskhadzhiyeva and others v. Belgium that, by detaining four young children and their mother in a secure detention centre for over a month before sending them back to Poland in January 2007, Belgium had violated the prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment and the right to liberty in respect of the four children. Since October 2009, families with children had been accommodated in so-called "living units" and were no longer held in detention centres.

Belgium maintained its policy on forcible returns to Iraq, despite guidelines from UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, which called on states not to forcibly remove anyone to the provinces of Ninewa (Mosul), Kirkuk, Diyala, Salah al-Din and Baghdad, as well as to other particularly dangerous areas such as parts of Al Anbar province.

  • In October, the authorities finally managed to coerce Saber Mohammed, an Iraqi asylum-seeker, into giving up his fight against removal and returned him to Iraq. This happened in spite of the Belgian Commissioner for Refugees and Stateless Persons confirming in September that, if returned to Iraq, Saber Mohammed would be exposed to a real risk of torture or other ill-treatment. In 2005, he had been convicted of terrorism-related offences in Belgium and imprisoned. Immediately after completing this sentence, he was detained again pending removal to Iraq. Except for a period under a compulsory residence order, he remained in administrative detention until his removal to Iraq. The Belgian authorities' coercive methods included hinting that they would continue to subject him to successive periods of detention. He was detained upon arrival in Iraq on 27 October without access to his family or lawyers until his release on 23 November.

Excessive use of force

Police were alleged to have used excessive force during several demonstrations.

There were allegations from protesters of excessive use of force by the police following two demonstrations in Brussels, in September and October. In October, the Permanent Oversight Committee on the Police Services opened investigations into the allegations.

  • At the end of the year there had still been no investigation into allegations of excessive use of force by law enforcement officials against Ebenizer Sontsa, a rejected asylum-seeker from Cameroon, during their attempt to forcibly return him to Cameroon in April 2008. In May 2008 Ebenizer Sontsa killed himself.

International justice

On 8 December the Brussels Civil Court delivered its first findings in a case brought by nine survivors of the Rwandan genocide against the Belgian state and three Belgian soldiers. The Court found that the Belgian state was responsible for ordering the prompt return of Belgian peacekeepers from Kigali in 1994, leaving behind an estimated 2,000 people in a school building that was under Belgian control when the peacekeepers withdrew. Many of them were killed shortly after the departure of the peacekeepers. The Court also ruled that by obeying those orders the three soldiers had engaged their own responsibility.

Discrimination

On 29 April, the lower house of the Belgian parliament voted in favour of legislation banning the partial or complete covering of the face in public with clothing in a way that makes the wearer no longer identifiable. There were concerns that a general prohibition on wearing full-face veils would violate the rights of those women who choose to wear a full-face veil as an expression of their religious, cultural, political or personal identity or beliefs. At the end of the year the draft law was pending consideration by the Senate.

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