Respect for and protection of fundamental rights are unconditional and essential components of effective integrated border management. Frontex strictly adheres to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the European Convention on Human Rights, and relevant instruments of international and human rights law, including the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.
Fundamental rights are integrated into the Frontex Codes of Conduct, the Common Core Curricula for border guards, and more specialised trainings, such as courses designed specifically for sea or land border surveillance officers or forced-return monitors. These policies and guidelines raise the understanding of fundamental rights and enable officers to identify potential violations.
Prior to deployment, all Frontex staff, as well as border guards and members of other relevant authorities from Member States participating in Frontex operations, receive training on fundamental rights, access to international protection, including the respect for the principle of non-refoulement, and, where appropriate, search and rescue. Fundamental rights are always included in operational briefings for standing corps officers deployed by Frontex. In addition, safeguards and obligations to report potential violations of fundamental rights are integrated into all operational plans.
Following 2011 amendments to the Frontex Regulation, the position of a Fundamental Rights Officer and a Consultative Forum on Fundamental Rights were created and embedded into Frontex’s structure. With the entry into force of the current Regulation (EU) 2019/1896, the mandate and capacities of the agency and of the Fundamental Rights Officer were extended. These new changes were accompanied by legislative and practical efforts to ensure full compliance with fundamental rights in all Frontex activities.
The main components of Frontex’s fundamental rights protection and monitoring system are:
- The Fundamental Rights Officer and fundamental rights monitors assess the fundamental rights compliance of Frontex activities, including return operations, provide advice and assistance in this regard, while contributing to the promotion of fundamental rights as part of European integrated border management. Through their work, they are a prominent element of Frontex’s fundamental rights monitoring system.
- The Fundamental Rights Strategy serves as a guiding framework for aligning the agency’s activities with fundamental rights standards and principles. It outlines the implications of fundamental rights on Frontex’s work on integrated border management and sets out the requirements for the agency to comply with its obligations stemming from EU and international law, including concrete steps to promote and protect the fundamental rights of those who cross the EU’s external borders.
- The strategy has been developed into an Action Plan that includes practical fundamental rights safeguards to ensure respect for, as well as effective protection, fulfilment, and promotion of fundamental rights of those who cross the EU in accordance with national, international and EU law. It provides guidance on fundamental rights-related matters in all areas of Frontex’s work, including risk analysis, vulnerability assessment, operational plans for European Border and Coast Guard operational activities, search and rescue operations, return, responsibilities of participants in Frontex’ activities, training, research and innovation, as well as cooperation with third countries.
- A Serious Incident Report (SIR) procedure stems from the EBCG Regulation and the Frontex Codes of Conduct and obliges every participant in Frontex operational activities to immediately report in the form of a Serious Incident Report any situation of possible violations of fundamental rights. These may include 1) violations of the EU acquis or international law; 2) violations of the provisions of the Frontex Codes of Conduct; 3) situations with serious actual or potential negative implications on the agency’s core tasks. The Fundamental Rights Officer together with the staff of the Fundamental Rights Office handle the Serious Incident Reports of fundamental rights relevance;
- The complaints mechanism allows for the submission of individual complaints from persons who are directly affected by the actions, or failure to act, of staff involved in Frontex activities, and who consider themselves to have been subject to a breach of their fundamental rights due to those actions or failure to act;
- The Consultative Forum on Fundamental Rights, established in 2012, provides independent advice to the agency on the respect for as well as the protection and promotion of fundamental rights in all Frontex activities;
- A supervisory mechanism on the use of force provides a framework for the agency to monitor the application of the provisions on the use of force by its statutory staff and relevant follow-ups, including a reporting obligation for incidents on the use of force that has been extended to all members of the standing corps.