FECL 48 (November 1996):


Belgium and Spain have put an end to their dispute, which began last February, over Belgium’s refusal to extradite a Basque couple suspected by the Spanish authorities of "supporting" the Basque ETA.

A joint statement released during a visit of Belgian Justice Minister Stefaan De clerck to Madrid in late September stresses "the two countries’ common will to place at the centre of their concerns the safety of citizens and the fate of victims of terrorism and sexual violence". Spain’s Interior Minister, Mr Jaime Mayor Orieja, said a bilateral agreement reached between his country and Belgium would affect all Basque activists seeking refuge in Belgium, including those at the centre of the dispute.


Spain seeks extradition of asylum seekers

In February, a ruling by the Belgian Council of State temporarily delayed the extradition sought by Spain of a Basque couple pending a decision on the substance of the case. The two Basques applied for political asylum in Belgium after being accused by the Spanish authorities of having provided "logistical assistance" to ETA. In fact, the couple had accommodated Basque countrymen, whom the Spanish authorities regard as ETA terrorists, at their home in Belgium.


Anticipated implementation of the EU Convention on Extradition

Among other things, the Spanish-Belgian agreement provides for the anticipated implementation of the Convention on Extradition in cases concerning the two countries, according to the principle of "rolling ratification". A clause in the Convention allows any member state which has ratified the Convention to apply the Convention immediately in its relations with other member states having made a similar declaration, without having to await the conclusion of the ratification process in all 15 member states.

Under the Convention, signed on 27 September by the EU Justice and Home Affairs Ministers, extradition must be granted, inter alia, if the crime for which extradition is being requested is a terrorist "conspiracy" according to the national law of the requesting state. The requested state must extradite, even if the alleged "conspiracy" is not punishable under its national law. Moreover, a member state may not refuse extradition to another member state on the grounds that the crime concerned is politically motivated.


Innocent in Belgium, terrorists in Spain

Amnesty International has expressed serious concern that these rules will further undermine the right of asylum. Indeed, the case of the Basque couple illustrates the possible effects of the Convention. The two have not committed any terrorist crime themselves. Their only crime consists in having offered hospitality to the "wrong" countrymen. In Spain, this is sufficient to put them on trial for terrorist conspiracy. In view of repeated evidence of ill-treatment of Basque suspects detained in Spain, the couple’s fear of politically-motivated persecution is not ungrounded and their extradition under the Convention could very well constitute a breach of the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees and the principle of non-refoulement.


Sources: Agence Europe, 25.9.96; Migration News Sheet, No.156/96-03; see also FECL No.42: "Disputes between member states burden Schengen cooperation", No.45: "'Flexible' EU Convention on Extradition" and No.47: "Amnesty International concerned about EU Convention on Extradition".