Belgium Must Follow Rule of Law in Case of Kazakh Refugee

The mutual legal assistance that Belgian authorities recently granted to Kazakhstan in the context of an investigation concerning a Kazakh refugee woman in Belgium raises questions on the conditions under which such collaboration can operate.

Belgium should tread with caution in dealings with Kazakhstan

When a state grants refugee status to an individual it does so in the belief that the person has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, committed by the state, in this case, Kazakhstan, of which he or she is a national.

With this in mind, it is clear that any request for mutual legal assistance made by the country concerned and regarding a refugee on Belgian territory must be processed with the utmost caution and must be examined in detail. Under no circumstances should Belgium authorise the representatives of the state concerned to directly take action on Belgian territory.

The Belgian League of Human Rights (LDH) considers it totally inadequate to refer to a theoretical “legal basis” without any further review, which is likely to misrepresent the refugee status of the woman in this case. LDH has also pointed out that in the absence of a bilateral treaty between Belgium and Kazakhstan, the legal basis must rely on the Law of 9 December 2004 on the mutual legal assistance in criminal matters. Article 4, § 2 , 3° of this law provides that a request for mutual legal assistance is to be refused if such a request is motivated by reasons specifically linked to political or other opinion.

Legal background supports LDH view

Similarly, Article 2 of the Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters of the Council of Europe (Strasbourg 20.4.1959) provides that legal assistance in criminal matters can be rejected if “the request concerns an offence which the requested Party considers a political offence”, or “an offence connected with a political offence”.

At first glance, it is reasonable to conclude that a request issued by foreign authorities regarding one of its nationals who was granted political refugee status fall within the scope of Article 2 of the Convention.

LDH recalls that in many countries, Human Rights defenders are in danger and that the refugee status in Belgium, a state that respects the rule of law, must provide them with effective humanitarian protection, in order to protect their physical integrity, if not their life.

Therefore, LDH urges the Belgian authorities, which received mutual legal assistance request from a state that commits human rights violations in order to persecute its political opponents who have been granted refugee status in Belgium, to refuse such request, and at the very least, to handle this matter with considerable caution. LDH also calls on the Belgian authorities to ensure that this mutual legal assistance request does not constitute a new persecution of this Kazakh refugee in Belgium.