Das Abschiebungsverbot aus Art. 3 EMRK gilt absolut und wird nicht durch eine Gefährdung relativiert, die von dem Ausländer ausgeht; Gefahr der menschenrechtswidrigen Behandlung i.S.v. Art. 3 EMRK in Tunesien nach Verurteilung in Abwesenheit wegen Mitgliedschaft in einer terroristischen Organisation.
i. Responsibility of Contracting States in the event of expulsion
124. It is the Court?s settled case-law that as a matter of well-established international law, and subject to their treaty obligations, including those arising from the Convention, Contracting States have the right to control the entry, residence and removal of aliens (see, among many other authorities, Abdulaziz, Cabales and Balkandali v. the United Kingdom, judgment of 28 May 1985, Series A no. 94, § 67, and Boujlifa v. France, judgment of 21 October 1997, Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1997-VI, § 42). In addition, neither the Convention nor its Protocols confer the right to political asylum (see Vilvarajah and Others v. the United Kingdom, judgment of 30 October 1991, Series A no. 215, § 102, and Ahmed v. Austria, judgment of 17 December 1996, Reports 1996-VI, § 38).
125. However, expulsion by a Contracting State may give rise to an issue under Article 3, and hence engage the responsibility of that State under the Convention, where substantial grounds have been shown for believing that the person concerned, if deported, faces a real risk of being subjected to treatment contrary to Article 3. In such a case Article 3 implies an obligation not to deport the person in question to that country (see Soering v. the United Kingdom, judgment of 7 July 1989, Series A no. 161, §§ 90-91; Vilvarajah and Others, cited above, § 103; Ahmed, cited above, § 39; H.L.R. v. France, judgment of 29 April 1997, Reports 1997-III, § 34; Jabari v. Turkey, no. 40035/98, § 38, ECHR 2000-VIII; and Salah Sheekh v. the Netherlands, no. 1948/04, § 135, 11 January 2007).
126. In this type of case the Court is therefore called upon to assess the situation in the receiving country in the light of the requirements of Article 3. Nonetheless, there is no question of adjudicating on or establishing the responsibility of the receiving country, whether under general international law, under the Convention or otherwise. In so far as any liability under the Convention is or may be incurred, it is liability incurred by the Contracting State, by reason of its having taken action which has as a direct consequence the exposure of an individual to the risk of proscribed ill-treatment (see Mamatkulov and Askarov v. Turkey [GC], nos. 46827/99 and 46951/99, § 67, ECHR 2005-I).
127. Article 3, which prohibits in absolute terms torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, enshrines one of the fundamental values of democratic societies. Unlike most of the substantive clauses of the Convention and of Protocols Nos. 1 and 4, Article 3 makes no provision for exceptions and no derogation from it is permissible under Article 15, even in the event of a public emergency threatening the life of the nation (see Ireland v. the United Kingdom, judgment of 8 January 1978, Series A no. 25, § 163; Chahal, cited above, § 79; Selmouni v. France [GC], no. 25803/94, § 95, ECHR 1999-V; Al-Adsani v. the United Kingdom [GC], no. 35763/97, § 59, ECHR 2001-XI; and Shamayev and Others v. Georgia and Russia, no. 36378/02, § 335, ECHR 2005-III). As the prohibition of torture and of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is absolute, irrespective of the victim?s conduct (see Chahal, cited above, § 79), the nature of the offence allegedly committed by the applicant is therefore irrelevant for the purposes of Article 3 (see Indelicato v. Italy, no. 1143/96,
§ 30, 18 October 2001, and Ramirez Sanchez v. France [GC], no. 59450/00, §§ 115-116, 4 July 2006).
ii. Material used to assess the risk of exposure to treatment contrary to Article 3 of the Convention
128. In determining whether substantial grounds have been shown for believing that there is a real risk of treatment incompatible with Article 3, the Court will take as its basis all the material placed before it or, if necessary, material obtained proprio motu (see H.L.R. v. France, cited above, § 37, and Hilal v. the United Kingdom, no. 45276/99, § 60, ECHR 2001-II). In cases such as the present the Court?s examination of the existence of a real risk must necessarily be a rigorous one (see Chahal, cited above, § 96).
129. It is in principle for the applicant to adduce evidence capable of proving that there are substantial grounds for believing that, if the measure complained of were to be implemented, he would be exposed to a real risk of being subjected to treatment contrary to Article 3 (see N. v. Finland, no. 38885/02, § 167, 26 July 2005). Where such evidence is adduced, it is for the Government to dispel any doubts about it.
130. In order to determine whether there is a risk of ill-treatment, the Court must examine the foreseeable consequences of sending the applicant to the receiving country, bearing in mind the general situation there and his personal circumstances (see Vilvarajah and Others, cited above, § 108 in fine).
131. To that end, as regards the general situation in a particular country, the Court has often attached importance to the information contained in recent reports from independent international human-rights-protection associations such as Amnesty International, or governmental sources, including the US State Department (see, for example, Chahal, cited above, §§ 99-100; Müslim v. Turkey, no.o53566/99, § 67, 26 April 2005; Said v. the Netherlands, no. 2345/02, § 54, 5 July 2005; and Al-Moayad v. Germany (dec.), no.o35865/03, §§ 65-66, 20 February 2007). At the same time, it has held that the mere possibility of ill-treatment on account of an unsettled situation in the receiving country does not in itself give rise to a breach of Article 3 (see Vilvarajah and Others, cited above, § 111, and Fatgan Katani and Others v. Germany (dec.), no. 67679/01, 31 May 2001) and that, where the sources available to it describe a general situation, an applicant?s specific allegations in a particular case require corroboration by other evidence (see Mamatkulov and Askarov, cited above, § 73, and Müslim, cited above, § 68).
132. In cases where an applicant alleges that he or she is a member of a group systematically exposed to a practice of ill-treatment, the Court considers that the protection of Article 3 of the Convention enters into play when the applicant establishes, where necessary on the basis of the sources mentioned in the previous paragraph, that there are serious reasons to believe in the existence of the practice in question and his or her membership of the group concerned (see, mutatis mutandis, Salah Sheekh, cited above, §§ 138-149).
133. With regard to the material date, the existence of the risk must be assessed primarily with reference to those facts which were known or ought to have been known to the Contracting State at the time of expulsion. However, if the applicant has not yet been extradited or deported when the Court examines the case, the relevant time will be that of the proceedings before the Court (see Chahal, cited above, §§ 85 and 86, and Venkadajalasarma v. the Netherlands, no. 58510/00, § 63, 17 February 2004). This situation typically arises when, as in the present case, deportation or extradition is delayed as a result of an indication by the Court of an interim measure under Rule 39 of the Rules of Court (see Mamatkulov and Askarov, cited above, § 69). Accordingly, while it is true that historical facts are of interest in so far as they shed light on the current situation and the way it is likely to develop, the present circumstances are decisive.
iii. The concepts of "torture" and "inhuman or degrading treatment"
134. According to the Court?s settled case-law, ill-treatment must attain a minimum level of severity if it is to fall within the scope of Article 3. The assessment of this minimum level of severity is relative; it depends on all the circumstances of the case, such as the duration of the treatment, its physical and mental effects and, in some cases, the sex, age and state of health of the victim (see, among other authorities, Price v. the United Kingdom, no..33394/96, § 24, ECHR 2001-VII; Mouisel v. France, no. 67263/01, § 37, ECHR 2002-IX; and Jalloh v. Germany [GC], no. 54810/00, § 67, 11 July 2006).
135. In order for a punishment or treatment associated with it to be "inhuman" or "degrading", the suffering or humiliation involved must in any event go beyond that inevitable element of suffering or humiliation connected with a given form of legitimate treatment or punishment (see Labita v. Italy [GC], no. 26772/95, § 120, ECHR 2000-IV).
136. In order to determine whether any particular form of ill-treatment should be qualified as torture, regard must be had to the distinction drawn in Article 3 between this notion and that of inhuman or degrading treatment. This distinction would appear to have been embodied in the Convention to allow the special stigma of "torture" to attach only to deliberate inhuman treatment causing very serious and cruel suffering (see Aydin v. Turkey, judgment of 25 September 1997, Reports 1997-VI, § 82, and Selmouni, cited above, § 96).
(b) Application of the above principles to the present case
137. The Court notes first of all that States face immense difficulties in modern times in protecting their communities from terrorist violence (see Chahal, cited above, § 79, and Shamayev and Others, cited above, § 335). It cannot therefore underestimate the scale of the danger of terrorism today and the threat it presents to the community. That must not, however, call into question the absolute nature of Article 3.
138. Accordingly, the Court cannot accept the argument of the United Kingdom Government, supported by the respondent Government, that a distinction must be drawn under Article 3 between treatment inflicted directly by a signatory State and treatment that might be inflicted by the authorities of another State, and that protection against this latter form of illtreatment should be weighed against the interests of the community as a whole (see paragraphs 120 and 122 above). Since protection against the treatment prohibited by Article 3 is absolute, that provision imposes an obligation not to extradite or expel any person who, in the receiving country, would run the real risk of being subjected to such treatment. As the Court has repeatedly held, there can be no derogation from that rule (see the case-law cited in paragraph 130 above). It must therefore reaffirm the principle stated in the Chahal judgment (cited above, § 81) that it is not possible to weigh the risk of ill-treatment against the reasons put forward for the expulsion in order to determine whether the responsibility of a State is engaged under Article 3, even where such treatment is inflicted by another State. In that connection, the conduct of the person concerned, however undesirable or dangerous, cannot be taken into account, with the consequence that the protection afforded by Article 3 is broader than that provided for in Articles 32 and 33 of the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (see Chahal, cited above, § 80 and paragraph 63 above). Moreover, that conclusion is in line with points IV and XII of the guidelines of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on human rights and the fight against terrorism (see paragraph 64 above).
139. The Court considers that the argument based on the balancing of the risk of harm if the person is sent back against the dangerousness he or she represents to the community if not sent back is misconceived. The concepts of "risk" and "dangerousness" in this context do not lend themselves to a balancing test because they are notions that can only be assessed independently of each other. Either the evidence adduced before the Court reveals that there is a substantial risk if the person is sent back or it does not. The prospect that he may pose a serious threat to the community if not returned does not reduce in any way the degree of risk of ill treatment that the person may be subject to on return. For that reason it would be incorrect to require a higher standard of proof, as submitted by the intervener, where the person is considered to represent a serious danger to the community, since assessment of the level of risk is independent of such a test.
140. With regard to the second branch of the United Kingdom Government?s arguments, to the effect that where an applicant presents a threat to national security, stronger evidence must be adduced to prove that there is a risk of ill-treatment (see paragraph 122 above), the Court observes that such an approach is not compatible with the absolute nature of the protection afforded by Article 3 either. It amounts to asserting that, in the absence of evidence meeting a higher standard, protection of national security justifies accepting more readily a risk of ill-treatment for the individual. The Court therefore sees no reason to modify the relevant standard of proof, as suggested by the third-party intervener, by requiring in cases like the present that it be proved that subjection to ill-treatment is "more likely than not". On the contrary, it reaffirms that for a planned forcible expulsion to be in breach of the Convention it is necessary - and sufficient - for substantial grounds to have been shown for believing that there is a real risk that the person concerned will be subjected in the receiving country to treatment prohibited by Article 3 (see paragraphs 125 and 132 above and the case-law cited in those paragraphs).
141. The Court further observes that similar arguments to those put forward by the third-party intervener in the present case have already been rejected in the Chahal judgment cited above. Even if, as the Italian and United Kingdom Governments asserted, the terrorist threat has increased since that time, that circumstance would not call into question the conclusions of the Chahal judgment concerning the consequences of the absolute nature of Article 3.
142. Furthermore, the Court has frequently indicated that it applies rigorous criteria and exercises close scrutiny when assessing the existence of a real risk of ill-treatment (see Jabari, cited above, § 39) in the event of a person being removed from the territory of the respondent State by extradition, expulsion or any other measure pursuing that aim. Although assessment of that risk is to some degree speculative, the Court has always been very cautious, examining carefully the material placed before it in the light of the requisite standard of proof (see paragraphs 128 and 132 above) before indicating an interim measure under Rule 39 or finding that the enforcement of removal from the territory would be contrary to Article 3 of the Convention. As a result, since adopting the Chahal judgment it has only rarely reached such a conclusion.
143. In the present case the Court has had regard, firstly, to the reports of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on Tunisia (see paragraphs 65-79 above), which describe a disturbing situation. The conclusions of those reports are corroborated by the report of the US State Department (see paragraphs 82-93 above). In particular, these reports mention numerous and regular cases of torture and ill-treatment meted out to persons accused under the 2003 Prevention of Terrorism Act. The practices reported - said to be often inflicted on persons in police custody with the aim of extorting confessions - include hanging from the ceiling, threats of rape, administration of electric shocks, immersion of the head in water, beatings and cigarette burns, all of these being practices which undoubtedly reach the level of severity required by Article 3. It is reported that allegations of torture and ill-treatment are not investigated by the competent Tunisian authorities, that they refuse to follow up complaints and that they regularly use confessions obtained under duress to secure convictions (see paragraphs 68, 71, 73-75, 84 and 86 above). Bearing in mind the authority and reputation of the authors of these reports, the seriousness of the investigations by means of which they were compiled, the fact that on the points in question their conclusions are consistent with each other and that those conclusions are corroborated in substance by numerous other sources (see paragraph 94 above), the Court does not doubt their reliability. Moreover, the respondent Government have not adduced any evidence or reports capable of rebutting the assertions made in the sources cited by the applicant.
144. The applicant was prosecuted in Italy for participation in international terrorism and the deportation order against him was issued by virtue of Legislative decree no. 144 of 27 July 2005 entitled "urgent measures to combat international terrorism" (see paragraph 32 above). He was also sentenced in Tunisia, in his absence, to twenty years? imprisonment for membership of a terrorist organisation operating abroad in time of peace and for incitement to terrorism. The existence of that sentence was confirmed by Amnesty International?s statement of 19 June 2007 (see paragraph 71 above).
145. The Court further notes that the parties do not agree on the question whether the applicant?s trial in Tunisia could be reopened. The applicant asserted that it was not possible for him to appeal against his conviction with suspensive effect, and that, even if he could, the Tunisian authorities could imprison him as a precautionary measure (see paragraph 154 below).
146. In these circumstances, the Court considers that in the present case substantial grounds have been shown for believing that there is a real risk that the applicant would be subjected to treatment contrary to Article 3 of the Convention if he were to be deported to Tunisia. That risk cannot be excluded on the basis of other material available to the Court. In particular, although it is true that the International Committee of the Red Cross has been able to visit Tunisian prisons, that humanitarian organisation is required to maintain confidentiality about its fieldwork (see paragraph 80 above) and, in spite of an undertaking given in April 2005, similar visiting rights have been refused to the independent human-rights-protection organisation Human Rights Watch (see paragraphs 76 and 90 above). Moreover, some of the acts of torture reported allegedly took place while the victims were in police custody or pre-trial detention on the premises of the Ministry of the Interior (see paragraphs 86 and 94 above). Consequently, the visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross cannot exclude the risk of subjection to treatment contrary to Article 3 in the present case.
147. The Court further notes that on 29 May 2007, while the present application was pending before it, the Italian Government asked the Tunisian Government, through the Italian embassy in Tunis, for diplomatic assurances that the applicant would not be subjected to treatment contrary to Article 3 of the Convention (see paragraphs 51 and 52 above). However, the Tunisian authorities did not provide such assurances. At first they merely stated that they were prepared to accept the transfer to Tunisia of Tunisians detained abroad (see paragraph 54 above). It was only in a second note verbale, dated 10 July 2007 (that is, the day before the Grand Chamber hearing), that the Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs observed that Tunisian laws guaranteed prisoners? rights and that Tunisia had acceded to "the relevant international treaties and conventions" (see paragraph 55 above). In that connection, the Court observes that the existence of domestic laws and accession to international treaties guaranteeing respect for fundamental rights in principle are not in themselves sufficient to ensure adequate protection against the risk of ill-treatment where, as in the present case, reliable sources have reported practices resorted to or tolerated by the authorities which are manifestly contrary to the principles of the Convention.
148. Furthermore, it should be pointed out that even if, as they did not do in the present case, the Tunisian authorities had given the diplomatic assurances requested by Italy, that would not have absolved the Court from the obligation to examine whether such assurances provided, in their practical application, a sufficient guarantee that the applicant would be protected against the risk of treatment prohibited by the Convention (see Chahal, cited above, § 105). The weight to be given to assurances from the receiving State depends, in each case, on the circumstances obtaining at the material time.
149. Consequently, the decision to deport the applicant to Tunisia would breach Article 3 of the Convention if it were enforced.