11th Aug 2022

EU court backs asylum rights for gay people

  • Uganda is one of three African countries to carry life sentences for homosexuality (Photo: Luis Valtuena)

Gay people can seek asylum in the EU if they risk being jailed in their home countries, the EU's top court ruled on Thursday (7 November).

The Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg said the existence of criminal laws specifically targeting homosexuals means that they could be classified as a "particular social group" which is perceived by surrounding society as different.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The ruling came after the Netherlands queried whether homosexuals could be considered a "particular social group" and whether the threat of incarceration amounts to persecution.

The ECJ noted that laws banning homosexuality are not enough to justify refugee status.

But it added that EU national governments must decide whether the threat of jail might actually be carried out, noting that "a term of imprisonment which accompanies a legislative provision which punishes homosexual acts may constitute an act of persecution per se, provided that it is actually applied."

The case was brought by three gay men from Senegal, Sierra Leone and Uganda.

They sought refugee status in the Netherlands fearing that they would be persecuted in their home countries because of their sexuality.

Homosexuality is illegal in more than 30 African countries, with punishments ranging from death to severe or lighter jail sentences.

Three countries - Nigeria, Mauritania and Sudan - retain the death penalty. Being caught committing homosexual acts in Sierra Leone, Tanzania or Uganda, puts you at risk of lifetime in jail.

For his part, British centre-left MEP Michael Cashman, who chairs a European Parliament group on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, described Thursday's verdict as a "landmark decision, and the right one."

He called on governments to make sure that "our asylum procedures become more accommodating of the terrible realities [which] people flee."

Human rights campaign group Amnesty International complained the ruling does not go far enough, however.

"The court should have found that these laws, even when they have not recently been applied in practice, are capable of giving rise to a well-founded fear of persecution," said Amnesty's Livio Zilli in a statement.

The ruling comes after EU foreign ministers in summer endorsed a 20-page paper committing them to "actively promote and protect" the rights of sexual minorities outside Europe.


No more hiding of homosexuality

The EU court has in a recent judgment stopped countries from telling gay asylum seekers to conceal their sexuality and go back home.


Russia puts EU in nuclear-energy paradox

There's unprecedented international anxiety about the safety of Ukraine's nuclear reactors, but many European countries are also turning to nuclear power to secure energy supplies.

Almost two-thirds of Europe in danger of drought

Data released by the European Drought Observatory show 60 percent of Europe and the United Kingdom is currently in a state of drought, with farming, homes and industry being affected. Drought conditions have also led to an increase in wildfires.

EU hopeful of Iran nuclear deal

A possible deal to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear pact is within reach, says the European Union. Washington backs the final proposals, but Tehran remains cautious.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  3. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  6. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us