Amnesty International Report 2015/16 - The State of the World's Human Rights - Belgium

The government introduced several proposals to combat terrorism that raised human rights concerns. The number of asylum-seekers spiked in the second half of the year. Their asylum claims could not be registered promptly by authorities and as a result hundreds of people remained without shelter.

Counter-terror and security

The parliament adopted new measures to counteract terrorism, in particular the criminalization of travelling into or out of Belgium with the purpose of perpetrating a terrorism-related offence, the expansion of the grounds for stripping a person of Belgian nationality or refugee status if convicted for offences related to terrorism, and new measures to combat violent “extremism”. As with previously adopted measures to counteract terrorism, the authorities did not carry out an evaluation of the compliance of the new measures with human rights standards.

In November, in the aftermath of the attacks in Paris, France, the Prime Minister proposed further measures.

In December, the Council of Ministers approved proposals concerning some of the announced measures. They included the extension of pre-charge detention from 24 to 72 hours and the power to carry out searches at any time in investigations of terrorism-related offences. They also included the establishment of a database of Belgian nationals or residents who have attempted to travel or have travelled abroad to fight in armed conflicts or with armed groups labelled as terrorist organizations by the government.

Torture and other ill-treatment

In June, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that extraditing Abdallah Ouabour to Morocco, where he was convicted for supporting a terrorist organization, would violate his right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment. In July, the Court of Cassation ordered the retrial of Abdallah Ouabour, Lahoucine El-Haski and Khalid Bouloudodie. The men were convicted in 2006 and 2007 for terrorism-related offences in Belgium. However, the legal proceedings had relied on evidence that might have been obtained through the use of torture in Morocco.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

The number of asylum-seekers spiked between July and September. Due to the limited capacity of the Immigration Office, hundreds of asylum-seekers were unable to register their claims on the day of their arrival and, as a consequence, were not provided with shelter. About 500 reportedly camped in sub-standard conditions in front of the Immigration Office. In September, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights called on Belgium to speed up the registration procedure and increase reception capacity. On 16 October, the government announced plans to open eight new reception centres with an overall capacity of 1,600 places.

The government agreed to resettle 550 refugees from Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In October, the implementation phase started for the resettlement of the first 300 refugees.

Prison conditions

According to official statistics published in March, the prison population was 113% of the capacity, significantly lower than in previous years. However, in some specific facilities the overcrowding rate was reported to be much higher.

Despite the opening of a specialized forensic psychiatric centre in 2014, the majority of offenders with mental illnesses remained detained in regular prisons, where insufficient care and treatment were provided.

Deaths in custody

In June, seven police officers, a psychiatrist and the director of a medical facility which refused treatment, were convicted for the death of Jonathan Jacob, who died in 2010 after being physically assaulted by police while in custody.

Violence against women and girls

In July, the French community government adopted a new four-year plan aimed at combating violence against women and domestic violence, with a strong focus on sexual violence. On 11 December, federal authorities presented a National Plan to combat gender-based violence.

Discrimination

In June, the European Court of Human Rights communicated the case Belkacemi and Oussar v. Belgium to the government. The plaintiffs alleged that the prohibition on wearing the full-face veil, enforced since 2011 in Belgium, violated their human rights.

Despite the governments commitment to reform the law on legal gender recognition, transgender people continued to be required to comply with inhuman and degrading treatments, including sterilization, as a precondition to obtaining legal recognition of their gender.