Women and Justice: Keywords

International Case Law

W.H. v. Sweden European Court of Human Rights (2014)

Gender discrimination

A woman seeking asylum in Sweden was denied asylum by the Swedish Migration Board, the Migration Court, and denied an appeal of the previous decisions by the Migration Court of Appeals. The migration courts found that although the applicant belonged to a minority (Mandaean) in Iraq, the one threat she had received several years ago was not based on her minority beliefs but on her marital status (as she was divorced) and therefore her return to Iraq could not be deemed unsafe. The courts also found that the situation in Iraq did not constitute grounds for asylum nor that she was still being searched for in Iraq. Swedish law (the Aliens Act (Utlänningslagen, 2005:716)) states that “an alien who is considered to be a refugee or otherwise in need of protection is, with certain exceptions, entitled to a residence permit in Sweden.” Moreover, the Aliens Act continues, “if a residence permit cannot be granted on the above grounds, such a permit may be issued to an alien if, after an overall assessment of his or her situation, there are such particularly distressing circumstances (synnerligen ömmande omständigheter) to allow him or her to remain in Sweden (Chapter 5, section 6).” The applicant brought this suit complaining that her return to Iraq would constitute a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”) The applicant lost this suit as well, as the court held that her circumstances would not prevent her from settling safely and reasonably in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq once deported from Sweden. The evidence did not show that the applicant would face a risk of treatment prohibited by Article 3 in the Kurdistan Region. The Court looked at precedent holding that the general situation in Iraq was not so serious as to cause, by itself, a violation of Article 3 of the Convention in the event of a person’s return to that country (F.H. v. Sweden (no. 32621/06, § 93, 20 January 2009)). Taking into account the international and national reports available at the time of the decision, the Court saw no reason to alter the position taken four years before. The Court gave deference to the Swedish Migration Court’s decision and found no violation of Article 3. According to the Court, “Contracting States have the right, as a matter of well-established international law and subject to their treaty obligations, including the Convention, to control the entry, residence and expulsion of aliens.”