Tag Archives: European Convention on Human Rights

On the Margins of Citizenship: The Refugee Crisis and the Transformation of Identities in Europe

The 15th December 2016 the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) handed down its judgement in the case of Khlaifia and Others v. Italy. The judgement concerns the detention of undocumented immigrants at the Italian borders and their subsequent expulsion from Italy to Tunisia. Whilst the facts of the case took place in the immediate aftermath of the Arab Spring in 2011, the case is evocative of the so-called “refugee crisis” and the predicaments of millions of third-State nationals seeking to cross the European borders.

Transformations in contemporary configurations of sovereignty, citizenship and rights have made many scholars argue that we are closer to a post-national citizenship characterized primarily by the erosion of the national identity as the distinctive form of belonging and the generalization to non-nationals of rights which were initially attributed only to members of the polity (Soysal, 1994). According to this approach, the institutionalization of human rights on the international level and the undermining of national sovereignty are indicative of the shifting of the basis of the entitlement of rights from nationality to universal personhood (Cohen, 1999). While this vision has proven rather pertinent in analysing changes in contemporary membership formations, it fails to capture the shortcomings of the universal human rights regime and the inherent tensions between the status of aliens and nationals-citizens. The fate of the people, referred to indistinctively as “asylum seekers”, “refugees”, “undocumented” or “illegal immigrants” in contemporary’s public discourse, is inextricably linked to the paradox and the perplexities of the contemporary “human rights regime”. Whereas the institutionalization and global expansion of human rights norms in the post-war era and the codification of the right to asylum constitute major advancements regarding the protection of the human person, the contemporary “refugee crisis” demonstrates that the problem of “rightlessness” can be still present in the so-called “age of rights” (Henkin, 1990).

In fact, the problems encountered by different categories of immigrants and refugees can partially be attributed to an implementation deficit, “a discrepancy between formal rights and their praxis” (Soysal, 1994). However, the difficulties of these groups in claiming some basic rights do not only result from external factors, but also reveal the limits of these norms. These groups, as Seyla Benhabib argues: “exist at the limits of all rights regimes and reveal the blind spot in the system of rights, where the rule of law flows into its opposite: the state of exception and the ever-present danger of violence” (Benhabib, 2004).

Drawing on the notion of “the right to have rights”, the phrase initiated by Hannah Arendt in her attempts to reconsider human rights in terms of a right to citizenship and humanity (Arendt, 1973) and the creative reading of Arendt’s critique of human rights by Ayten Gündogdu (Gündogdu, 2015), the present study aims to explore how the European responses to the current “refugee crisis”, based on strong inclusion-exclusion mechanisms which in their turn erode the human rights of refugees and asylum seekers, can be pertinent for capturing and analysing the notion of European citizenship and its future developments.

In the next two sections, it will be argued that the restrictive policies regarding the managing of the refugee crisis by the European Union needs to be directly associated with the shortcomings of the institution of European citizenship and its failure to contribute to the creation of a European demos. In this regard, the current failure of European citizenship to fulfil a universalistic ambition and to provide the foundation for a cosmopolitan political project cannot be considered without taking into account the shortcomings and inherent paradoxes of the human rights regime. In this respect, the failures in the European conception of citizenship are interrelated, though not interdependent, with the failures of the human rights regime, as it stands. In the third section, the paradoxes of the human rights regime and the question of rightlessness will be discussed, in order to show how this regime partakes in and exemplifies this failure. It is argued in the last part of this paper, that in order to reinvent the notion and content of European citizenship, we need to reconsider human rights. Rethinking human rights in terms of political practices is important in order to reinvent the notion of citizenship, as a foundation of a truly cosmopolitan polity, where human rights can be recognized to new subjects.

European Citizenship in a Post-National Context

European citizenship is one of the unaccomplished political projects of the European Union, seeking to give a popular legitimization to its construction and perpetuation. Having the protection of the person and human rights in the heart of its conception, European citizenship is primarily conceived as a legal relationship between the individual European citizen and the membership of the European polity. Without disregarding the connection between an individual and its nation State, which in fact constitutes a presupposition for the acquisition of European citizenship, the institution of the European citizenship aims at superseding both nationality and nationally confined citizenship, as the only forms of belonging in a polity.

The emergence of a “post-national” citizenship, according to some authoritative doctrines, is the result of transformations in the relationship between citizenship and the national State. European citizenship participates in this transformation, as it provides for a space where equal rights are recognized to European citizens irrespective of their nationality. In this context, while European citizenship was at its very beginning associated with internal mobility of labour and the creation of an internal market, progressively, it reflected concerns about the transformation of the single market into a People’s Europe.

The institution of European citizenship is to a considerable degree shaped by the tension between the two opposing dynamics, intergovernmentalism and supranationalism, the two major trends which dominate the policy and discourse on the subject (Kostakopoulou, 2007). The process carries with it fundamental ambiguities, contradictions, and tensions. The weakening of traditional state prerogatives with regard to the entry and residence of economically active or economically self-sufficient community nationals has been, in this respect, accompanied by the reinforcement of the dichotomy between citizens and aliens, be they resident third country nationals, migrants, asylum seekers or refugees. Processes of equalization thus coexist with processes of exclusion, and the relativization of the Member States’ borders is accompanied by the strengthening of the external frontiers of the Union and the relocation of migration controls to third countries (Kostakopoulou, 2007). The gap between “third country nationals with valid permits” and illegal migrants constitutes a direct challenge to the European citizenship’s cosmopolitan ambitions. This gap has to be directly associated with the restrictive asylum policies, which often fail to conform with the standards of the Geneva Conventions, the construction of a “space of Freedom, Security and Justice”, the criminalization of illegal immigration and the current rise of a nationalistic public discourse, as manifested in the rise of far-right political parties in Europe.

The external control of the borders of the European Union and their closure, the refusal to provide safe and legal routes for third country nationals in need of international protection are closely linked to the conditions under which the European identity is shaped and conceived. Consequently, the fight against illegal immigration raises the question of the symbolic borders determining the conditions of participation in a given political order. The fight against illegal immigration, which has been one of the goals of the creation of a “Space of Freedom, Security and Justice”, has fuelled the restrictive policies of the Union as regards the current “refugee crisis”. These policies have to be considered in the context of the broader procedure of the European integration and the shaping of a sense of belonging in the European Union as the foundation of the citizenship for the members of the European polity. In this perspective, the strategies applied by the European States reveal how Europe is constructing the figure of the “Other” and its own identity (Duez, 2008). As Etienne Tassin has rightly pointed out, “far from being a ‘collateral damage’ of European unification, illegal immigration could on the contrary be the heart of the problem” for it is impossible to accept “that this is nothing but a border police matter that would leave unscathed the unique logic according to which political Europe is structured” (Tassin, 2007).

In this regard, it is argued that the response provided by European institutions and States to the current immigration and refugee crisis is indicative of the shortcomings of the European citizenship and the European identity, the limits and contradictions of the human rights regime, the failure of the European demos as it stands and its cosmopolitan ambitions. The failure of the European Union to implement more inclusive policies and to provide a legal status conferring basic rights to undocumented immigrants or asylum seekers is a sign manifesting the disability of the European elites and institutions to conceive the project of European citizenship as a process of eroding identity boundaries and of creating a space where “universal rights” are applied. However, it can also be argued that the current crisis could constitute an opportunity to reconsider the concept of European citizenship and contribute to its transformation. If citizenship can be read as a historical process, European citizenship can also be seen as a laboratory of shaping new policies of belonging, thus extending some basic rights to non-members of the European polity and strengthening the “participation to collective self-government”.

Refugee Crisis and European Responses

Throughout Europe there are many migrants, primarily rejected asylum seekers, who live in a state of protracted legal and social limbo without any long-term prospects. About 60 000 refugees are stranded in Greece, where 26 400 are children, mostly Syrian, according to current estimations. The mass influx of displaced people, refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants has pushed the European foundations to its limits. The Member States have replied with border closings, erection of fences, racist and xenophobic reactions, and have reclaimed their sovereignty (Kapartziani, Papathanasiou, 2016).

Asylum seekers and migrants in Greece and other European countries face multiple human rights violations, including obstacles in accessing adequate protection, and reception conditions that are well below international human rights standards. The situation is particularly dire for people, such as pregnant women, female heads of households, unaccompanied children, people with disabilities, and the elderly.

Despite common, binding EU asylum standards, inadequate implementation and enforcement mean that there are deep disparities among EU member states with respect to procedures, reception conditions, and treatment of asylum seekers. These disparities are at the root of the distortions in the EU asylum system and explain many of the tensions and divisions among EU member states when it comes to addressing migration and asylum challenges (Human Rights Watch, November 2016).

The European policies in this respect reveal the fragility of human rights on which the European construction has been founded and shows that national considerations are central to how the European identity is generally conceived. However, the restrictive policies of the European Union manifest also the shortcomings of the universal human rights regime. Within this regime, the claims of undocumented immigrants, and even asylum seekers or refugees regarding access to basic rights, cannot be accommodated easily. In this respect, it would be pertinent to examine the case law of the European Court of human rights, one of the most prominent institutions in the field of protection of human rights in Europe. Reading the case law in the light of H. Arendt’s considerations on “statelessness” and “rightlessness” can help us understand the inherent paradox of human rights and the uncertainties of its current normative and moral foundations.

The Paradox of Human Rights and the Question of Rightlessness

The multiplication of “waiting zones”, “hot spots” and other similar sites within the context of contemporary immigration controls reveals the challenging problems that various categories of migrants encounter as they claim and exercise human rights. I will try to approach these problems by turning to one of the key arguments in Hanna Arendt’s reflection on statelessness in the first half of the 20th century: “The stateless found themselves in a ‘fundamental situation of rightlessness’”, Arendt claims, “as they lost not only their citizenship rights but also their human rights. In the absence of a political community that could recognize and guarantee their rights, the stateless were deprived of legal personhood as well as a right to action, opinion and speech” (Arendt, 1973).

As Güdongdu notes, from an Arendtian perspective, personhood, or the artificial mask provided by law, is important, as it allows public appearance without the pervasive fear of arbitrary violence and enables rights’ claims to be articulated (Arendt, 1990). Without this mask, one is relegated to a certain form of civil and social death. However, legal personhood remains an artifact and not an inherent essence. It is therefore necessary to attend how it can be effectively unmade or undermined in certain conditions. Possibilities of qualifying and evading personhood are nowhere more visible than in the cases of asylum and immigration, due to the centrality of the principle of territorial sovereignty to the ordering of the international system. Given these possibilities, “rightlessness” must be reconsidered as a critical concept that can alert us to various practices that undermine the legal personhood of migrants. Rightlessness in this regard is thus conceived not as the absolute loss of rights but instead as a fundamental condition denoting the precarious legal, political, and human standing of migrants (Güdongdu, 2015).

I propose to analyse the limits and exclusions of the existing inscriptions of personhood in human rights law by examining the recent case of the ECtHR referred to in the beginning of this paper. The case is about detention at the Italian borders (including the island of Lampedusa) of aliens, namely undocumented immigrants, and their expulsion from Italy to Tunisia. Whilst the events took place in 2011, in the immediate aftermath of the Arab Spring, the issues raised before the Court by the applicants and the principles outlined by the judgement appear relevant to the current “refugee crisis” and its management by the European Union institutions and member States. The case concerns the arrival of the applicants, three Tunisian migrants, on the island of Lampedusa, their initial placement in a reception centre and subsequent confinement on two ships moored in Palermo harbour, followed by their removal to Tunisia in accordance with a simplified procedure under an agreement between Italy and Tunisia of April 2011. The applicants were complaining about the conditions of their detention, a violation of the right to personal liberty, as well as a violation of the prohibition of collective expulsions.

It is to the credit of the Court that the judgement corroborates its position on the value of personal liberty, by reminding States that legal certainty is a crucial principle when it comes to a deprivation of liberty, and it cannot be set aside “even in the context of a migration crisis” (§106). However, the Court found that the conditions in the Lampedusa reception centre did not amount to inhuman or degrading treatment. In this context, the ECtHR reiterated that an increasing influx of migrants cannot, per se, absolve a State of its obligation under Article 3, but conducted, so to say, a “reality check” of the situation suffered by the applicants vis-à-vis the actual situation in which Italy found itself due to the migratory pressure at the time of the Arab Spring (Venturi, 2017).

The Grand Chamber affirmed, firstly, that “it would certainly be artificial” not to consider that the undeniable hurdles faced by the applicants originated from a situation of extreme difficulty confronting the Italian authorities at the relevant time. Secondly, the Court observed that the applicants were not asylum seekers and therefore, they “did not have the specific vulnerability inherent in that status” (§194). Conversely, the Grand Chamber recalled that the applicants were in a weakened physical and psychological condition when held at the centre, due to the dangerous sea crossing (§194). Nevertheless, according to its view, the applicants did not bear the burden of traumatic experiences that had justified the vulnerability approach adopted in a previous case MSS v. Belgium and Greece. Furthermore, the Grand Chamber also pointed out that the applicants did not belong to any of the categories traditionally regarded as vulnerable, but they were young males without any particular health issue.

These arguments seem to corroborate the ECtHR’s nuanced approach to the notion of vulnerability, which, on the one hand, is inherent in all asylum seekers while, on the other hand, is attached to certain individuals because of specific conditions that put them in a more disadvantaged position. Besides, the Grand Chamber’s reasoning seems to give a hint on what vulnerability is not: being a healthy, young man, albeit with irregular status (Venturi, 2017). In any event, the utility of the notion of “vulnerability” in the Court’s case-law can also be criticized, because the legal status of the refugees and asylum seekers in contemporary international law is already founded, primarily, on their “vulnerable” status. The notion can also be considered responsible for introducing further differentiations of the status of non-nationals, be they refugees, illegal immigrants or asylum seekers.

As to the violation of Article 4 of Protocol 4 to the ECHR, concerning the prohibition of collective expulsion, the Grand Chamber found no violation. In the Court’s view, the “relatively simple and standardized nature” of the refusal of entry orders which were merely based on the applicants’ nationality due to the bilateral agreement in force between Tunisia and Italy, could be explained by the fact that the applicants did not allege any fear of being returned or any other legal impediment. In the ECtHR’s opinion, Article 4 of Protocol 4 does not warrant an unfettered right to an individual interview, but only the effective possibility to submit arguments against deportation. As the applicants had this possibility, but they did not raise any argument to challenge their expulsion, the latter did not qualify as “collective” in nature.

The judgement of the Court seems to grant States a large margin of action when dealing with irregular migrants. The judgement gives rise to many conclusions. As some scholars have argued, human rights are ambivalent, they have both “jurisgenerative” and “jurispathic” dimensions (Cover, 1984). We become aware of the “jurisgenerative” dimension of law when existing rights are “reposited, resignified, and reappropriated by new and excluded groups”, as Seyla Benhabib notes (Benahbib, 2006). But it is equally important to look at how human rights law gives rise to “jurispathic” processes when its norms are invoked to affirm the sovereign right to detain or deport rejected asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants. The Khlaifia case shows that the Court recognizes some rights to undocumented migrants, thus extending personhood to migrants, but also upholds the principle of territorial sovereignty that enables a state to expel these migrants, a practice amounting to the unmaking of that personhood.

The judgement also demonstrates that the body has become a crucial site for claiming rights, giving rise to what Didier Fassin aptly calls “biolegitimacy” (Fassin, 2005). It is in the suffering body of the migrant, refugee or asylum seeker that States, courts and refugee advocates will look for some irrefutable truths. The status of the vulnerability as a bodily narrative becomes central also in the reasoning of the Court. The attempt to adjudicate rights claims based on suffering bodies, risks eroding the personhood of migrants who, like the ones in the Khlaifia case, cannot prove any particular suffering (Gündogdu, 2015).

The notion of “vulnerability” closely connected to the suffering body of the migrant points to another arbitrary rule faced by migrants. This new rule is directly related to the compassionate humanitarianism, which can be described as the fact that States, courts and rights advocates turn to compassion to make decisions about suffering. This “new moral economy” risks unmaking the equal personhood of migrants, rendering the rights dependent on a capricious moral sentiment (Gündogdu, 2015). As a result, we are not too far away from Arendt’s argument that the stateless find themselves in a fundamental condition of rightlessness because of their dependence on goodwill or generosity of others (Arendt, 1973). The Court in Khlaifia case reproduces the humanitarian tendency to depict refugees as a vulnerable category, and draw as a consequence a distinction with other categories of migrants who are placed outside the realm of vulnerability. But that move places the dichotomies at the intersection between a moral economy centred on compassion and an administrative rationality directed at the management of vulnerable populations. Thus, from an Arendtian perspective the Court ends up subjecting the rights of migrants to arbitrary decisions about the conditions under which a human body can be considered as suffering and worth of protection (Gündogdu, 2015).

The judgement of the European Court is indicative of the tensions inherent to the contemporary human rights regime and its connection to the notion of State sovereignty. The case also underlines the dangers of “subjecting” the implementation of human rights on moral considerations that can prove to be highly relative or arbitrary. In the next chapter, it is argued that the current “refugee crisis” points primarily to a crisis of human rights within Europe and beyond, implying a need for a reconfiguration of citizenship beyond the nation-state framework and the notion of sovereignty. In this regard, we need to rethink of human rights in the light of a “reinvented” citizenship. The European citizenship, as the first historical precedent with cosmopolitan aspirations, could provide a space for experimentation of this new form of belonging to a truly universalistic human rights regime.

Forming a European Citizenship: The Failure of a Cosmopolitan Ambition or a Chance for the Future of Europe?

How can we overcome the inherent tensions and paradoxes of the human rights regimes and reflect accordingly on the future of citizenship in Europe? Has the notion of European citizenship the potential of reinventing the European polity where equal rights are offered to all? Is the concept of EU citizenship still appropriate today? How can European Citizenship respond adequately to the current challenges and fulfil the cosmopolitan dimension it has?

It is here argued that in the current refugee crisis, the institution of European citizenship could have provided a basis for a unique experience, consisting in stretching social and political bonds beyond national boundaries and permitting the creation of a new, more inclusive political community. However, EU citizenship in its current form needs to be superseded.

Dora Kostakopoulou develops a “constructive approach” to citizenship, as a promise held by the European Union citizenship (Kostakopoulou, 2007). One crucial feature of “constructive citizenship” is that it postulates a vision of inclusion and equal democratic participation in a community where difference is valued and appreciated and not simply tolerated. Such a conception of citizenship embodies a novel and more flexible conception of demos: it separates demos from ethnic and cultural commonalities and reconfigures it as a political process of participatory enactment. According to this vision, European citizenship should carry with it an ethical responsibility: the responsibility to be nourished by institutions, practices, rules and ideas embodying a commitment to social transformation, democratic reform and respect for the Other.

Etienne Balibar proposes to create new modalities and new perspectives of accession to citizenship, which can even transform its definition. He cites for example the generalization of the jus soli in the whole European Union.  According to this scholar, it is urgent for the European Union to act in order to respond to the humanitarian crisis at its borders. An ideological change is in this regard necessary. As Balibar notes: “We can say that Europe will either be realized by revolutionizing its vision of the world and its societal choices or it will be destroyed by denying realities and by holding onto the fetishes of the past” (Balibar, 2015).

In this regard, it has also been stressed that it would be more in keeping with the nature of the European entity to relaunch the movement for the “denationalization of rights”. This would benefit European citizens, but also those who do not belong to the “inner” nations and it would progressively transform Europe into the place where a “universality of rights” is achieved, founded in a fractional loosening of the bond woven between nationality and citizenship (Lacroix, 2010). In this sense, granting equal rights to illegal immigrants and asylum seekers, mainly by attributing to them the right to belong to the EU political community is essential for reimagining the symbolic and ideological boundaries of the “European polity” and its “cosmopolitan dimension”.

In her turn, inspired by Arendt, Ayten Güdogdu, proposes an original reading of her “right to have rights”. According to this reading the puzzling formulation of a “right to have rights” can be read as an invitation to rethink human rights in terms of political practices of founding. The author is further drawing on the term introduced by Etienne Balibar “equaliberty” (égaliberté) (Balibar, 2010), which foregrounds the inextricable connection between equality and freedom in modern democracy, affirms a universal access to politics, and animates struggles that contest exclusions from rights and citizenship. This reading highlights that the “right to have rights” marks a new beginning radically interrupting the existing regime of human rights and introducing “a hiatus between the end of the old order and the beginning of the new” (Arendt, 1990).

This approach also underlines that the contemporary institutional mechanisms concerning the protection of human rights cannot always respond to new problems of rightlessness. It also highlights that human rights are not simply normative constrains on an established constitutional order but owe their origins as well as their ongoing preservation to political action (Güdogdu, 2015).

The struggles for the rights of the so-called “illegal immigrants” or the “sans papier” in France, as well as the vague of solidarity raised in Greece and everywhere in Europe in support of the refugees trying to escape from war and suffering reveal that human rights are not simply normative constraints regulating an existing political and legal order but also political inventions that can constitute a new order, bring to view new subjects of rights, and reconfigure existing relations between rights, citizenship and humanity (Güdogdu, 2015). Understood in these terms, human rights have an “insurrectional” dimension, to use Etienne Balibar’s term, because they can turn against the constituted political and normative order for the purposes of founding a new one (Balibar, 2004).

The insurrectional dimension of human rights, configured in the political struggles, changes the boundaries of our political and normative universe, as it introduces us to new subjects who were formerly not recognized as human beings entitled to rights. This point shares similarities with Seyla Benhabib’s proposal to understand human rights in terms of “democratic iterations” that involve practices of contesting and redefining existing prescriptions of rights (Benhabib, 2004). These struggles reveal that human rights understood as a “right to have rights” ultimately depend on a type of citizenship enacted by those who do not have a legitimate standing and yet who thrust themselves into the public spaces from which they are excluded. This paradoxical kind of citizenship involves practices of claiming rights that one is not entitled to according to prevailing legal and normative frameworks (Güdogdu, 2015). The political practices of founding and refounding are important not only for establishing the universal validity of human rights but also for reinventing and reaffirming citizenship, also in the context of the European Union, in the face of global transformations that continue to dilute it.

Inspired by the revolutionary heritage of the 18th century human rights declarations, Arendt’s “right to have rights” emphasizes the ineluctable historicity of human rights. These rights as products of historical contingency are also founded on the universal validity of the principle of “equality and liberty” (Claude Lefort), animating the struggles that have inspired the modern human rights declarations. In order to move beyond the deficiencies of the contemporary human rights regime, we need to reevaluate the revolutionary dimension of human rights, by considering them as an ongoing achievement that can challenge their instituted configurations, as well as those of citizenship. Enacting those rights presupposes thus a form of active political participation and action. Taking into account that illegal immigrants or asylum seekers have not a recognized legal standing within the instituted polity, political action takes necessarily the form of a political struggle contesting the established limits of citizenship and conditions of acceding to basic rights. A form of political solidarity by the members of the polity is also essential in this respect. Such practices of political action can contribute to the transformation of the practices of belonging, so that people, as the undocumented immigrants, who do not enjoy any rights or who have only limited rights in Europe, can aspire to a place in the European demos and to an extended human rights regime.


The responses of the European states to the current refugee crisis, as well as the responses of the institutionalized mechanisms in the field of the protection of human rights, such as the ECtHR, reveal the deficiencies of the system and the fragility of the human rights values on which the idea of the European demos is founded. Rethinking human rights in terms of political practices can help us reinvent the European citizenship, an institution with a cosmopolitan ambition. In an Arendtian framework, the struggles of new subjects challenging current configurations of human rights and citizenship can open the way to a truly cosmopolitan polity.


The author would like to thank the participants of the Winter Session of 24th-26th February 2017 of the Nordic Summer University in Wroclaw for their comments, as well as particularly Mogens Chrom Jacobsen for his insightful remarks and suggestions on an earlier draft.






Khlaifia and others v. Italy, [GC], n° 16483/12, 15 December 2016.

MSS v. Belgium and Greece, [GC], n° 30696/09, 21 January 2011.



Human Rights Watch, EU Policies Put Refugees at Risk, An Agenda to Restore Protection, November 2016.



Arendt, Hannah, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Mariner Books, 1973.

Arendt, Hannah, On Revolution, London and New York, Penguin, [1963], 1990.

Balibar, Etienne, “What is a Politics of the Rights of Man?”, In Masses, Classes, Ideas: Studies on Politics and Philosophy Before and After Marx, New York, Routledge, 1994.

Balibar, Etienne, We the People of Europe? Reflections on Transnational Citizenship, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.

Balibar, Etienne, La proposition de l’égaliberté, Paris, Actuel Marx, Confrontations, Presses universitaires de France, 2010.

Balibar, Etienne, “Borderland Europe and the Challenge of Migration”, www.opendemocracy.net, 8 September 2015.

Benhabib, Seyla, The Rights of Others: Aliens, Residents and Citizens, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Benhabib, Seyla, Another Cosmopolitanism, Robert Prost (ed.), Oxford and New York, Oxford University Press, 2006.

Cohen, Jean L. “Changing Paradigms of Citizenship and the Exclusiveness of Demos”, International Sociology 14, no. 3, September 1999.

Cover, Robert, “Foreword: Nomos and Narrative”, Harvard Law Review, (1983-1984).

Duez, Denis, L’Union européenne et l’immigration clandestine: De la sécurité intérieure à la construction de la communauté politique, éditions de l’Université de Bruxelles, 2008.

Fassin, Didier, “Compassion and Repression: The Moral Economy of Immigration Policies in France”, Cultural Anthropology 20, N° 3, 2005.

Fassin, Didier, Humanitarian Reason: A Moral History of the Present, Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press, 2012.

Gündogdu, Ayten, Rightlessness in an Age of Rights, Hannah Arendt and the Contemporary Struggles of Migrants, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Henkin, Louis, The Age of Rights, New York: Columbia University Press, 1990.

Kapartziani, Chryssoula, Papathanasiou, Katerini, “The Refugee Crisis as a European Democratic Crisis”, Globalism: Journal of Culture, Politics and Innovation, 2016.

Kostakopoulou, Dora, “European Union Citizenship: Writing the Future”, European Law Journal, Vol. 13, No 5, pp. 623-646, September 2007.

Lacroix, Justine, “Is European Citizenship feasible?”, La vie des idées, 2010.

Lefort, Claude, “Human Rights and Welfare State”, Democracy and Political Theory, Cambridge, Uk, Polity Press, 1988.

Soysal, Yasemin Nuhoglu, Limits of Citizenship: Migrants and Postnational Membership in Europe, Chicago: University of Chicago, 1994.

Tassin, Etienne, « L’Europe cosmopolitique et la citoyenneté du monde », Raison publique n° 7, October 2007.

Venturi, Denise, “The Grand Chamber’s Ruling in Khlaifia and Others v. Italy: One Step Forward, One Step Back?”, Strasbourg Observers, January 2017.

Herman Salton, Arctic Host, Icy Visit: China and Falun Gong Face Off in Iceland (Saarbrücken: LAP Lambert Academic Publishing, 2010)

Review by Aníta Einarsdóttir

In June 2002 the President of the People’s Republic of China went to Iceland for an official visit. Consequently, some practitioners of Falun Gong, among many others, booked flights to Iceland at the same time, with the airline Icelandair. Somehow, by means still unknown, since Falun Gong keeps no list of its members itself, the Icelandic government had a blacklist of all these actual and presumed Falun Gong members that they believed to be going to Iceland to protest against the Chinese president and the Chinese government’s alleged human rights violations. The people that were on this blacklist were either denied visas, embarkment onto their booked flight, or arrested at the international airport in Iceland and asked all kinds of questions about the purpose of their visit and their personal beliefs. Many of those eventually admitted into Iceland were then arrested and held in a school near the airport, not knowing what was going on and, like everybody else on the blacklist, wondering how their names got on such a list, which no one ever got to look at, except authorities and flight-personnel. The people that were kept in custody at the school were released after being forced to sign an agreement with the authorities about restricted areas and a peaceful stay in the country.

The people of Iceland do not seem to know very much about these events that in so many ways breach the rights of the people travelling, and if there is anything they know it is the little that the newspapers of Iceland, themselves much influenced by the Icelandic authorities at the time, chose to publish. This year, 2012, will be the tenth anniversary of these events in Iceland and it is therefore about time for the Icelandic people to consider and discuss what has been hidden from them and how such a limited access to public information has been inconsistent with the values of 21st century. The Icelandic government managed so extraordinarily to lower the dignity of Iceland and its international reputation, by bending over for the Chinese government, and the people of the country need to be informed of events of this nature.

The book Arctic Host, Icy Visit is about Falun Gong and various events that happened all over the world after the ban of the movement in China in 1999, but the main idea of the book came from the events in Iceland in June 2002. The book gives precise and detailed information, from the founding of Falun Gong until China’s massive campaigns to try to ban its exercise in the 20th and 21st century, both in China and elsewhere.

It took the author, Herman Salton, eight years to write and publish this book, i.e. from 2002, when he began his inquiries after the events in Iceland, until 2010, when the book was released. This has given him a very long time to gather a lot of sources, some of which very good and reliable. He uses old and recent newspaper articles, books written by Falun Gong members and founders, and judgments made by the Icelandic authorities, for instance the Ombudsman. However, despite all the effort put into the bibliography of the book, it is difficult to verify all sources, since Salton refers to a lot of interviews that he personally conducted with Falun Gong members who, for instance, are talking about what they have been through, either with the Chinese government or other governments and authorities. These sources might be valuable, but it can be hard for the reader to evaluate them, since they are made personally by the author. They also take only the side of Falun Gong members, leaving out any other side of the stories, like that of the Chinese and Icelandic authorities.

Given that Salton indicates in the beginning of the book that he writes it for the people of Iceland – “To The People of Iceland Whose Decency and Sense of Democracy Continue to Be a Source of Inspiration” – for them to be able to be informed about events that nobody has talked about or that have been suppressed by the government, it is written in a way that catches the reader’s attention right away from the first page. The author tells the reader a story, not like a novel but like a documentary. He also writes in an English that should be understandable for most people.

Still, even if the book gives good information written in a clear and understandable way, it is not written in a very critical way. The reader of the book should be aware of this and read it with an open mind and exercise caution regarding the author’s interpretation of the events. As mentioned before, he interviews many Falun Gong practitioners and therefore gets their side of all stories, that is, telling all the good things about the practicing of Falun Gong and insisting upon the “innocence” of their activities. He tries, even though he is struggling with it because of his opinion of the matters, to write somewhat from the governments’ side as well, but it is mostly in an ironic way, letting the reader know that despite excuses from the authorities, their actions are wrong. It might be because it is hard to get in touch with governments on these matters, because they know of their wrongs and are therefore not willing to discuss them. There might also be no excuses from the governments’ side and therefore the only information to give is that coming from the Falun Gong practitioners.

There is one chapter of the book that stands out from all the other good chapters, which is the legal chapter. The book might give a good idea of all the things that are wrong in the governments’ behavior, both the Icelandic government as well as any other government that has done similar things. But for a person that knows the law, especially European and International law, it is rather a confusing chapter. The author erroneously conflates European law and the European Convention on Human Rights throughout and the analysis is superficial, when not simply inaccurate.

This book gives good information but there is always, especially because the author almost only takes Falun Gong‘s side in these matters, more than meets the eye. It is obvious though that the Chinese government has an enormous impact on the whole world, and tries to ban Falun Gong everywhere. At the same time, other governments are aware of the influence that the Chinese government has, and may be aware that their own actions are unjustifiable and therefore try to avoid discussions about these matters. They hide the truth and give no comments on their behavior. Salton´s book takes the reader on a journey all around the world, informing them about the things that not many people seem to know of and digs up sources and information that seem to have been somewhat hidden.



Review by Tiantian Zhang

It was after an eight-year-long delay following the controversial event that the book Arctic Host, Icy Visit: China and Falun Gong Face Off in Iceland by Herman Salton was published. Salton was then an officer at the Icelandic Human Rights Center, among other roles. In this book, the author focuses on a 2002 event where a certain group of people, namely Falun Gong practitioners, were ordered by the Chinese government to be banned to enter Iceland before and during the visit of the Chinese President. In-depth research was made and opinions given by the author, along with a detailed review of the event.

The series of events that was thought to tarnish Iceland’s long and well-respected reputation in human rights history is briefly summarized in the foreword and introduction, and then further described in Chapters 3 and 4. It happened in early June 2002, when the President of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Jiang Zemin, planned to make his visit to Iceland. In the author’s description, what happened before and during the President’s visit was ”unforeseen,”and “bizarre, even burlesque.”. Practitioners of a Chinese “spiritual movement,” namely Falun Gong, were barred from Iceland with various methods. Those methods, including denial or withdrawal of their visas to Iceland, interrogation and refusal of entry at airports before boarding Iceland-bound planes, cancellation of their hotel room reservations and secret monitoring of their activities, are listed and submitted in evidence by the author as major breaches of human rights by the Chinese government and interference with Iceland’s sovereignty. What makes these actions stand out, however, is the fact that they were ordered by the Chinese government, but assisted and partly conducted by Icelandic government.

Being a Chinese citizen who has lived in Iceland for 3 years and majored in law for more than 5 years, I find it quite difficult to offer a conclusive evaluation of the events. In order to be able to give an objective opinion, I realize that a better understanding and in-depth investigation are required before I start judging the events, given my limited knowledge, which is probably colored by my experiences in both countries. After a comprehensive search for information from different media and publications, I would like to say that I have to hold a quite unique view on the Falun Gong movement, the 2002 event and its meaning, and the book as a whole.

By simply looking at the cover and reading the title of the book I sensed immediately a subtle hint of criticism in the main theme. The cover displays a picture of police cars under a gloomy semi-dark sky, giving an impression of heavy and solemn atmosphere along with the title “Arctic Host, Icy Visit.” I indiscreetly came to a conclusion that the book I was going to read could be categorized into a certain stereotype of books and publications, namely those typically critical publications dealing with human rights issues whenever the Chinese government is involved. Mere criticisms of the government’s well-known bad manners ignoring or infringing human rights are not the most outstanding characteristic of such publications. Instead, the criticisms and analysis always lead to the same conclusion, which is a routine of blaming the Chinese government for interference with other states’ sovereignty and abuse of its rising political and economic influence. However, the author manages to give some inspiring information and thoughtful conclusions after a careful examination of the 2002 event.

From what I know about the government by living more than 20 years under its regime, I have not much doubt in the truthfulness about their radical actions in Iceland as told in the book. Nor does it surprise me that the actions and orders were actually operated and carried out by the Icelandic government, whom I suppose to have quite some experience in barring foreigners from the country from my own experience. Information from various sources including newspaper reports, individual interviews of practitioners, witnesses and officials, reports from international human rights organizations, and letters by the Minister of Justice all support the story as reported by Salton. The author provides a considerable amount of information in chapters 3 and 4, covering important particulars and details.

However, one of the major flaws in this book lies in the characterization of Falun Gong. The author has made an attempt to give a concise and in some level accurate portrayal of Falun Gong in Chapter 2, but his view is apparently limited, if not totally biased, by the sources that he could access and lack of direct contact with of the innocently self-profiled organization. Appearing to be a “meditation exercise” in origin, Falun Gong is no longer merely a spiritual or religious group. The author makes a relatively objective introduction but fails in accuracy. It is not to be blamed because Falun Gong’s image is profiled drastically differently in international media compared with the Chinese domestic media as well as with what people have observed, not to mention inconsistency within the Falun Gong group itself.

I agree with the author about the anti-scientific and confrontational character of Falun Gong, which are pointed out in the book, but about their nature and non-violent history I have to hold a different opinion. On 23rd January 2001, some Falun Gong devotees committed self-immolation at the Tian’an Men Square. A similar incident took place once again in Beijing on 16th February of the same year. The incidents were reported by Chinese domestic media and were witnessed by Beijing’s citizens. Even though huge controversy emanated from these incidents and Falun Gong claimed that the tragedy was completely planned and manipulated by the Communist Party (CCP), the truth remains undiscovered. These two events came as a huge shock and had a widespread influence at that time, but were not mentioned at all in the book. It is valuable and important information to consider because it was just a year before the event in Iceland. If the incidents as reported in China were true, then the Chinese government’s concerns and bans would be viewed as more reasonable and understandable, even if of questionable legality.

Besides, as the author also noticed, the anti-government character of Falun Gong is obvious to the public. Radical criticisms and literal attacks towards the Chinese government, especially the CCP, are expressed explicitly in their books, official website, newspapers and flyers. As far as I know, almost every Chinese relative and friend of mine has received propaganda from Falun Gong anti-government movements, most commonly emails, mobile phone messages and home phone calls with recorded tape speeches. It is difficult to conclude that this organization is “peaceful in essence.” However, no matter how the nature of Falun Gong is and what the purpose of their movement is, there is inadequate justification for the Chinese government’s actions according to law. Human rights were breached and no excuses or attempts should be made to excuse their unlawfulness. Still, a crucial error is made when the author tries to analyze the legal challenges and legal assessment concerning this event: he refers to the European Convention on Human Rights as European Union law even though the former is under the auspices of the Council of Europe and is quite distinct from the European Union’s institutions. Further, Iceland has long been a party to the former treaty, but is not (yet) a member of the European Union at all.

When reaching its conclusion, the book approaches a routine of emphasizing freedom of association, speech, assembly and expression, and claims that the Chinese government used its political and economic influence to interfere with Iceland’s sovereignty. Meanwhile it also makes an interesting point that Western States are used to look at China’s human rights issues through colonial eyes, with a paternalistic attitude and teacher-pupil template, and try to use human rights as negotiation tools. But what I would like to add is that it is also important to realize that the fear of the West from the supposed threat from a rising power is usually attributable to lack of communication. China’s blockage of media is worsening the case.

With relatively satisfying accuracy and objectivity, this book gives the 2002 event and its background a through introduction and provides a reasonable conclusion. But throughout the whole book, it shows the typical Western superiority complex of a “peaceful, scarcely populated, proudly independent and highly civilized” state (juxtaposed against China) and the pity of its tainted reputation in human rights by the government and its “obedience” to another political power. But I would take a bold guess that the possibility cannot be ruled out that the Icelandic government was aware of the consequences of potential protests, and was not completely unwilling or even forced, as the book has implied, to carry out and assist the actions reported. Welcoming hundreds of radical protestors to its soil to carry out their activities with unforeseen consequences, the Icelandic government, or any other government that cares about its peace and security, was not very likely to favor this idea. But being forced and having to obey another irresistible power to breach human rights unwillingly seems more forgivable. If that was the case, Iceland should really be concerned to protect its sovereignty and remain “one of the most liberal states” and “proudly independent,” but it must stand firmly on its position and take responsibility for its own decisions and actions.

P.S. The author of this book has provided a reply to the reviewers in issue 8(1) of Nordicum-Mediterraneum: http://nome.unak.is/nm-marzo-2012/vol-8-n-1-2013/51-book-review/351-review-response