Friday

21st Jan 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.

Opinion

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.

Macron promises strong EU borders

Obligatory detentions, more security-screening, and faster deportations - these are the French EU presidency's migration priorities.

MEPs to crackdown on digital 'Wild West'

MEPs will vote on new rules setting out transparency obligations for online players and holding Big Tech giants accountable. But some issues proved to be divisive after EU lawmakers tabled over a hundred amendments on the file.

Macron calls for new security order and talks with Russia

Emmanuel Macron also took hits from French political opponents, including the Green party presidential challenger MEP Yannick Jadot in the European Parliament ahead of the upcoming presidential elections in France in April.

Opinion

Macron's vision will hit EU Council veto buffers

President Emmanuel Macron's address to the European Parliament championed a bold and ambitious pro-European agenda. There is one problem though - the plans rely on a system of governance that has gridlocked the EU for over a decade.

News in Brief

  1. MEPs call for full-scale election observers in Hungary
  2. Nato membership 'very unlikely' on her watch: Finland's PM
  3. Germany investigates Green leaders' Covid-bonuns
  4. Officials surprised by Macron's call for seperate EU-Russia talks
  5. Commission to withhold EU funds from Poland in mine row
  6. 'Patriotic millionaires' call for wealth tax at virtual Davos
  7. Borders must not be moved by force, Scholz warns
  8. MEPs demand public consultation on gas and nuclear

Column

An EU-Africa 'equal partnership' must tackle past and present

Competition is fierce and getting African leaders' attention is no easy task. US president Joe Biden has his own Africa summit, and Turkey, Japan, Russia and - most importantly - China, also have Africa forums up and running.

Opinion

Tomorrow MEPs can end EU animal export horror show

On Thursday, MEPs must press for a ban on all live exports outside the EU, and call for overall journey times within the EU to be limited to four hours for poultry and rabbits, and eight hours for other animals.

Latest News

  1. Macron promises strong EU borders
  2. MEPs to crackdown on digital 'Wild West'
  3. Macron calls for new security order and talks with Russia
  4. Macron's vision will hit EU Council veto buffers
  5. Hydrogen - the 'no-lose bet' for fossil-fuel industry?
  6. Tomorrow MEPs can end EU animal export horror show
  7. An EU-Africa 'equal partnership' must tackle past and present
  8. Metsola becomes youngest EU Parliament president

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us