Strategic litigation for upholding migrant rights The case of ‘pullbacks’ in the Mediterranean before the European Court of Human Rights

vendredi 3 mai 2019

The seminar ‘Strategic Litigation for Upholding Migrant Rights’ took place Wednesday 24th April at the Institute for European Studies of the ULB. The event was organised by LLM students Chiara Bertozzi and Silvia Carta, in the framework of the advanced Master in EU Law, in collaboration with the Centre de droit européen and the Odysseus Academic Network.

The project was coordinated by Prof. Emmanuelle Bribosia, who also moderated the debate.

The seminar was an occasion to explore the role of strategic litigation before European supranational Courts and its potential to improve the effectiveness of Europe’s human rights system, in particular as regards the protection of the rights of migrants and refugees.

The seminar started with a video intervention by Dr. Violeta Moreno Lax (Queen Mary University of London), who presented a case which has been recently filed before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) against Italy over its coordination of Libyan Coast Guard pull-backs resulting in migrant deaths and abuse. The application was filed by the Global Legal Action Network and the Italian Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration, and Yale Law School’s Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic. Their submission made use of  evidence compiled by Forensic Oceanography, part of the Forensic Architecture agency based at Goldsmiths, University of London, who have produced a detailed reconstruction of the incident and the policies that have contributed to it.


Dr. Moritz Baumgaertel (University of Utrecht) explored the role of strategic litigation as a tool to impact policy-making and to make States accountable for circumventing and violating their human rights obligations, in light of his recent research on the role of European supranational courts in protecting the rights of vulnerable migrants. Through the example of the ECtHR landmark case Hirsi Jamaa v Italy, Dr. Baumgaertel explained how the impact and the effectiveness of a judgment can be evaluated. He particularly highlighted the importance of three elements: the impact of the case from a legal perspective, the practical impact on the two parties to the case, and what it has been the wider impact of the judgment.


Fabiane Baxewanos (UNHCR) presented the role of UNHCR in supporting strategic litigation and the methods that can be used to achieve effective impact. At the European level, UNHCR engages not only with supranational but also with national courts, both through third-party interventions and public statements. Ms. Baxewanos explained that UNHCR engages in supporting litigation according to a series of strategic priorities and when it is determined that its intervention can add value to litigation.

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