Belgium: Obligation to give proper weight to the impacts of psychological harm; victims of forced marriage in Guinea constitute a particular social group

Friday, February 10, 2017

In a judgment of 10 February 2017, the Belgian Council of State reversed the decision of the Office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons (CGRS) and granted refugee status to a Guinean woman who feared persecution from her family after having escaped a second forced marriage. The CGRS had denied the applicant’s request for asylum three times, despite having received substantial material on the practice of forced marriages in Guinea and medical certificates indicating the existence of both physical and psychological harm. The CGRS had substantiated its decision on alleged inconsistencies on the applicant’s statements and on the fact that the applicant had not disclosed all details of past incidents of torture at the first opportunity.

The Council of the State ruled that the CGRS had not given proper weight to the impact of the applicant’s psychological harm on her capacity to invoke her past with the utmost precision, in spite of being aware that the applicant suffered from post-traumatic stress as attested by a psychological report presented to the CGRS. The Council referred to R.C. v. Sweden, where the ECtHR ruled that medical certificates indicating previous injury caused by torture or treatment contrary to Article 3 ECHR constitute a strong presumption of previous injury and thus it is for the national authorities to dispel any doubts related to the cause of such injury. The Council also concluded that the assessment of credibility cannot overshadow the existence of fear of being persecuted itself. Finally, it granted the applicant refugee status based on her fear of persecution for being part of a particular social group, that of Guinean women victims of forced marriage.

Based on an unofficial translation by the ELENA Weekly Legal Update. 

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Gender Based Persecution
Medical Reports/Medico-legal Reports
Persecution (acts of)
Persecution Grounds/Reasons
Previous persecution