25 May 2010

ECHR on Human Rights of terminally ill non-citizens

The decision of the 'Grand Chamber' of the European Court of Human Rights in N v. United Kingdom has considered in extensio the fate and limitations on the rights of terminally ill non-citizens seeking asylum in member nations of the European Community on human rights grounds. 

The background facts in Case Number 26565/2005 were that "N, a Ugandan national, had entered the United Kingdom in 1998 under an assumed name and applied for asylum. In the ensuing months she was diagnosed as having two AIDS defining illnesses and a high level of immunosuppression. She was treated with antiretroviral drugs and her condition began to stabilise. In 2001 the Secretary of State refused her asylum claim on credibility grounds and also rejected a claim that her expulsion would constitute inhuman treatment. ... At the date of the Grand Chamber’s judgment, the applicant’s condition was stable, she was fit to travel and was expected to remain fit as long as she continued to receive the basic treatment she needed. The evidence before the national courts indicated, however, that if she were to be deprived of the medication she had been receiving in the United Kingdom her condition would rapidly deteriorate and she would suffer ill-heath, discomfort, pain and death within a few years. According to information collated by the World Health Organisation, antiretroviral medication was available in Uganda, although, through a lack of resources, it was received by only half of those in need. The applicant claimed that she would be unable to afford the treatment and that it would not be available to her in the rural area from which she came."

Stating the law, the Grand Chamber declared that "aliens subject to expulsion could not in principle claim any entitlement to remain in the territory of a Contracting State in order to continue to benefit from medical, social or other forms of assistance and services provided there. The fact that the applicant’s circumstances, including her or his life expectancy, would be significantly reduced if he or she were to be removed was not sufficient in itself to give rise to a breach of Article 3" of the European Convention on Human Rights. Further, the provision "did not place an obligation on Contracting States to alleviate disparities between the levels of treatment available in different countries through the provision of free and unlimited health care to all aliens without a right to stay within their jurisdiction. Finally, these principles had to apply to the expulsion of any person afflicted with any serious, naturally occurring physical or mental illness which might cause suffering, pain and reduced life expectancy and require specialised medical treatment which might not be so readily available in the applicant’s country of origin or which might be available only at substantial cost."

In a split vote (14-3), the Grand Chamber declared against the rights of N the dismissal of whose claims for asylum were confirmed by the Chamber. 

Have a look at the decision and also an interesting critique of the same on the ramifications of this decision in the field of human rights. 

[Please note that the quoted text in the above paragraphs  is as per the summary of the case released in the Information document released by the ECHR.]

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