National elections were held on 10 June, but no new government had been formed by the end of the year. On 23 December parliament approved an interim government headed by Guy Verhofstadt.
Migration, refugees and asylum-seekers
New asylum legislation further limiting the rights of asylum-seekers came into full effect in June. The new procedures rely on written appeals which must be submitted within 15 days of the original decision. As a result, asylum-seekers may have greater need of specialist legal representation which, particularly in the case of those held in detention centres, can be difficult to obtain. The new law also increased the grounds on which asylum-seekers can be held in detention.
Evidence emerged that people with mental health difficulties were routinely held in closed migration detention centres, where they may have inadequate access to appropriate psychiatric facilities and treatment.
- In June, a family of failed asylum-seekers was allegedly subjected to ill-treatment by police officers during an attempt to forcibly expel them to Albania. The expulsion was abandoned when other passengers on the flight protested at the actions of the police officers. The family was subsequently granted refugee status in Belgium. A complaint regarding the ill-treatment was submitted to the Permanent Commission for Control of Police Services (Comité P).
- An Iraqi couple was finally granted asylum in Belgium in September, after repeated detention in and expulsion from both Belgium and Greece. The couple first arrived in Greece in December 2004, but their asylum claim was rejected and they were ordered to leave the country without being able to appeal. They travelled to Belgium to join their son who has legal residence in the country, but were detained upon arrival and sent back to Greece on the grounds that Greece was responsible for their asylum claim under the European Union’s so-called Dublin II Regulation. In Greece they were detained again, before being ordered to leave the country. The couple returned to Belgium in February 2007 where they were detained once again before finally receiving refugee status.
- On 11 October Hans Van Themsche was convicted of the racially motivated double murder of a pregnant black woman and the white child in her care and of the attempted murder of a woman of Turkish origin in May 2006 in Antwerp. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. The Centre for Equal Opportunities and the League for Human Rights were a civil party to the proceedings. It was the first time a court had qualified a murder as racially motivated.
‘War on terror’
- On 19 April the Supreme Court quashed the convictions in the case of Bahar Kimyongür, Kaya Saz, Musa Asoglu, Sükriye Akar, Fehriye Erdal, Zerin Sari, and Dursun Karatas, on the grounds that the designation of a particular trial judge had given rise to an appearance of partiality in the proceedings. The defendants had all been convicted in February 2006 of belonging to or supporting a terrorist organization as a result of their support for the Turkish opposition group, the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (Devrimci Halk Kurtuluş Partisi-Cephesi, DHKP-C). A retrial was ordered, which began on 8 November at the Court of Appeal in Antwerp. Judgment was pending at the end of the year.
- Lawyers for some of the defendants made complaints in relation to the “special detention regime” applied to some of the detainees. Elements of this regime may have constituted a violation of human rights, including excessively frequent strip-searching, the blindfolding of Sükriye Akar during transfer to court, and intrusive night-time cell checks of Kaya Saz, Musa Asoglu and Sükriye Akar.
Following 2006 legislation banning cluster munitions, on 11 May parliament voted unanimously in favour of a bill to ban the use, storage, sale, purchase and transit of weaponry and ammunition containing depleted uranium and all other industrially manufactured uranium. The law will enter into force in June 2009.