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24 juli 2014

Advocate General Sharpston: Charter Constrains “Verifying” Asylum Claimants’ Sexual Orientation (artikel over homoseksuele asielzoekers)

 article by Asad Khan

In her recent Opinion in Joined Cases C-148/13, C149/13 and C-150/13, A, B and C, AG Sharpston agreed with the view that “an individual’s sexual orientation is a complex matter, entwined inseparably with his identity, that falls within the private sphere of his life.” She observed that homosexuality is not considered a medical or psychological condition in the European Union (EU) and no medical test exists to determine sexual orientation. She considered the pseudo-medical test of phallometry, focusing on the subject’s physical reaction to pornographic material, to be a “particularly dubious” method to confirm homosexual orientation. She thought that any medical examination to confirm sexual orientation violates article 3 (right to integrity of the person) and article 7 (respect for private and family life) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (CFR) and also falls foul of the proportionality requirement under article 52(1). Therefore, AG Sharpston concluded that establishing a gay asylum claimant’s credibility using a medical test is a terrible idea. The question posed by the referring court, the Raad van State (Netherlands), was abstractly expressed in the following terms:
What limits do the Qualification Directive, and the Charter, in particular articles 3 and 7 thereof, impose on the method of assessing the credibility of a declared sexual orientation, and are those limits different from the limits which apply to assessment of the credibility of the other grounds of persecution and, if so, in what respect?

For AG Sharpston, this broad conceptual question is in turn related to complex and sensitive issues regarding personal identity and fundamental rights vis-à-vis the position of Member States when applying minimum harmonisation measures such as Directive 2004/83/EC (the Qualification Directive) and Directive 2005/85/EC (the Procedures Directive). Moreover, dealing with these issues triggers a series of other questions such as whether Member States must accept an asylum applicant’s averred sexual orientation? Similarly, as a matter of EU law, are Member States’ authorities permitted to medically examine sexual orientation and how should that process be conducted compatibly with fundamental rights? Furthermore, are asylum claims made on sexual orientation distinct from other asylum claims and should special rules be applied to them?
A, B and C are gay men whose asylum applications were refused because of perceived uncertainty about the truthfulness of their sexual orientation. The Dutch authorities did not consider A’s willingness to submit himself to an examination or C’s production of a film depicting himself performing sexual acts with another male as conclusive of their contended homosexuality. Objections regarding B included ambiguity as to his feelings about his sexuality and sexual relationships and the handling of the realisation his own sexuality in a Muslim country.
Shedding much needed light on the issues at stake, AG Sharpston said at paragraph 66:
In my view it is clearly contrary to article 7 of the Charter to require applicants to produce evidence such as films or photographs or to request them to perform sexual acts in order to demonstrate their sexual orientation. I add that, again, the probative value of such evidence is doubtful because it can be fabricated if needed and cannot distinguish the genuine applicant from the bogus.
It is worth remembering that the CJEU has recently held that the mere criminalisation of homosexuality is insufficient to found persecution and the legislation in question must be enforced in a manner that results in a serious violation of fundamental rights. The parties – including the UNHCR, the Netherlands, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany and Greece and the European Commission – in the instant case agreed that sexual orientation cannot be objectively verified but presented different views in relation to whether Member States should verify whether the asylum seeker is homosexual and satisfies the requirement of being a member of a social group.
AG Sharpston said that the absence of express wording in the Qualification Directive regulating Member States’ discretion regarding the practices or methods for assessing an applicant’s credibility does not mean that EU law places no limits on that discretion. She explained that the Member States needed to adhere to the decisive benchmarks contained in the CFR because

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