Switzerland violated its commitment to protect people from torture by denying a former Tamil fighter asylum and instead sending him, and his family, back to Sri Lanka in 2013, according to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
The verdict, delivered on Thursday, condemned the Swiss authorities for failing to properly consider the man’s asylum application lodged in 2009. After an unsuccessful appeal to the Federal Administrative Court he was returned to Sri Lanka along with his wife and two children.
On arrival in Colombo, the family was detained and subjected to 13 hours of questioning, the Strasbourg court heard. The man was then arrested and imprisoned, but was able to return to Switzerland two years later.
Switzerland’s actions violated article three of the European Convention on Human Rightsexternal link, ruled the ECHR. It was ordered to pay the man €30,000 (CHF32,119).
The Swiss-based NGO Society for Endangered Peoplesexternal link welcomed the court's decision and demanded that the notes of the man's original asylum application be released by the Swiss migration office.
The organisation added that it believed torture is still in use in Sri Lanka and said it knew of several other people who have been forced into hiding after being repatriated by Switzerland.
The ECHR complainant was one of two Sri Lankans known to have been tortured after being sent back home by Switzerland in 2013. As a result, Switzerland suspended a readmission accord with Sri Lanka and tightened up on repatriations.
Last October, Switzerland signed a new accord with Sri Lanka dealing with repatriations. This followed an announcement in the summer that Swiss asylum criteria would get stricter towards Tamils as the government believed the human rights situation had improved in Sri Lanka.
At the time, some 1,316 asylum applications from Sri Lankan nationals were still pending. By the middle of 2016, more than 5,000 Sri Lankans had been taken in by Switzerland, of which 3,674 had been given refugee status. A total of 1,613 had been admitted provisionally and potentially faced the threat of expulsion.
Around 50,000 people from Sri Lanka live in Switzerland, mostly Tamils, who fled the island’s 30-year civil war that ended in 2009. Sri Lanka has repeatedly called on them to return, but NGOs maintain that some could still face torture if they did so.