In Abu Qatada v UK, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held that deportation with assurances would not be in violation of Article 3 (prohibition of torture) of the Convention. Rather it found that deportation would breach one of the qualified, derogable rights of the Convention, Article 6 (right to a fair trial), because of the real risk that torture-based evidence would be admitted at the applicant’s retrial in Jordan. After an overview of Abu Qatada’s long-standing legal battle before and after the ECtHR’s decision, this article argues that reliance on diplomatic assurances on the fair treatment of the returnee enhances the risk that human rights are redefined into a political issue where power is delegated to the executive and security sphere. It concludes that the general image of the ECtHR, one year after Abu Qatada, is one of a tightrope walker nimbly (yet not always convincingly) keeping the equilibrium between, on the one hand, the effort to protect human rights, and on the other hand, the exigency to uphold States’ needs to combat terrorism at all costs, even cooperating on deportation with countries that notoriously violate human rights.
This article questions whether Tunisia – a country of departure, transit and destination of migrants and refugees, and a key interlocutor in EU externalization and readmission policies – can be considered a “safe country of origin” for Tunisian nationals and a “safe third country” for foreigners in search of protection. In discussing the rapidly evolving domestic legal and political system and the treatment of minorities, vulnerable groups, and refugees in Tunisia, this article adopts a socio-legal perspective also relying on interviews with key stakeholders.
Finally, it proposes a reflection on the main (conceptual and empirical) elements of continuity between the “safe country of origin” notion and the “safe third country” one, by highlighting their deep relationship, how they may mutually influence each other, and the need to reconnect various perspectives on safety, avoiding reproducing Eurocentric analytic approaches, interpretations, and narratives.