Croatia Violated Rights of Stateless Person

In the case of F.S. v. CROATIA (application no. 8857/16, 05.12.2023) The European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there has been a violation of Article 1 of Protocol no.7 (procedural safeguards relating to expulsion of aliens). 

The case concerns the applicant’s expulsion from Croatia on national security grounds, without reasons being given. The applicant was born in 1991 in Rome and his current residence is unknown. According to the applicant, he had lived in Croatia since 1998 and had been a citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since his parents had died when he was a child, he had lived with his sister, grandfather and two aunts, who were all Croatian citizens. In 2005 he was granted temporary residence in Croatia, and in 2008 his residence became permanent. In 2011 the applicant applied for Croatian citizenship for the first time. On 19 December 2011 the Ministry of the Interior issued an assurance that the applicant would obtain Croatian citizenship if he had renounced his Bosnian Herzegovinian citizenship or provided evidence of having renounced it within a period of two years. In setting out its reasons, the Ministry explained that the applicant met all the necessary conditions to be granted the assurance and thus Croatian citizenship. It also referred to section 8a of the Croatian Citizenship Act. In March 2013 the applicant renounced his Bosnian Herzegovinian citizenship and became stateless. Afterwards, he again applied for Croatian citizenship, in the context of which he was subject to security screening. According to the applicant, on 16 October 2014 he was summoned to the Zagreb police headquarters, where he was met by B., who said that he was an agent working for the national intelligence agency (hereinafter “the Agency”). B. asked him to cooperate with the Agency by providing information on people he knew from his Muslim community. He alleged that B. had threatened him that if he refused to cooperate, he would be given a negative opinion in relation to his citizenship application, his residence in Croatia would be terminated and he would ultimately be expelled from the country. The applicant initially agreed to the proposal and met with B. outside the police premises the following day. B. then allegedly started asking the applicant about his views on Islam, ISIS and certain individuals, and asked to have a copy of all the contacts from his mobile phone. The applicant then told B. that the cooperation which had been requested from him was contrary to his religious and moral convictions and that he refused to be part of it. On 3 November 2014 the Agency informed the police that there were national security obstacles to the applicant acquiring Croatian citizenship, without providing further reasoning.

The Court notes that in the judicial review of the expulsion decision, the domestic courts did not duly explain either the importance of preserving the confidentiality of the Agency’s document in the particular circumstances of the applicant’s case or the extent of the review they had carried out. In other words, in the applicant’s case the domestic courts seem to have failed to make use of the procedural mechanisms available to them under domestic law which could have given him an effective opportunity to submit reasons against his expulsion. 

The Court conclude that, having regard to the proceedings as a whole and taking account of the margin of appreciation afforded to States in national security matters, the limitation of the applicant’s procedural rights in the proceedings concerning his expulsion were not counterbalanced in the domestic proceedings so as to preserve the very essence of those rights and protect him against arbitrariness.

The court concluded that there has accordingly been a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 7 to the Convention.