Spain - Supreme Court, decision no. 8948/2007 (appeal no. 10530/2007)

The case concerns a Saharawi woman who was not recognised as a stateless person by the Ministry of Interior, in a decision which was later upheld by the High Court. The Supreme Court overturned both the lower decisions.

Case name (in original language)
Sentencia del Tribunal Supremo nº. 8948/2007
Case status
Decided
Case number
8948/2007
Citation
STS 8948/2007 (appeal no. 10530/2007)
Date of decision
State
Court / UN Treaty Body
Supreme Court (Tribunal Supremo)
Language(s) the decision is available in
Spanish
Applicant's country of residence
Algeria
Relevant Legislative Provisions

Ley Orgánica 4/2000, de 11 de enero, sobre derechos y libertades de los extranjeros en España y su integración social (Aliens Act). 

Real Decreto 865/2001, de 20 de julio, por el que se aprueba el Reglamento de reconocimiento del estatuto de apátrida (Status Determination Procedure Regulation). 

Standard of proof: article 34.1 -Aliens Act- and article 1.1 -Statelessness Determination Procedure Regulation-. 

Burden of proof: article 8 -Statelessness Determination Procedure Regulation-

Facts

The case concerns a Saharawi woman who was not recognised as a stateless person by the Ministry of Interior, in a decision which was later upheld by the High Court. The applicant was born in 1968 in the then Spanish Sahara, who lived in the Saharawi refugee camps in Tindouf (Algeria) since 1976, and who travelled to Spain for medical reasons in 2000 with an Algerian travel document. 

The Supreme Court overturned both the lower decisions. It found that the standard of proof could not be as high as the one implied by the High Court, since it is enough that the applicant manifests its lack of nationality (Aliens Act and SDP Regulation). Also, the burden of proof is shared, in the sense that there is an “obvious obligation of cooperation on the part of the Administration” as the law mandates that the competent body shall, ex officio, collect any evidence and reports it deems necessary (SDP Regulation).   

The Court defines nationality as a legal bond between a person and a state which comprises political, social, economic rights, and responsibilities on their part, within a framework of mutual acceptance and voluntariness. With that in mind, the Court noted that Saharawi people were allowed to apply for Spanish nationality for a short period following the Spanish decolonization process; therefore, they no longer have that possibility. Morocco became the successor state, and Saharawi people could acquire Moroccan citizenship. However, they did and do not want to do so. The Court stated that having the opportunity to access a nationality does not imply that the person is not stateless anymore if they do not want to apply for it. Then, the sentence refers to the fact that Algeria only issues travel documents on humanitarian grounds which are never meant to imply that the authorities recognise Saharawi refugees as its citizens.  

Decision & Reasoning

“The statelessness condition cannot be denied, as the Ministry of the Interior does, on the ground that it is possible for Saharawi people to opt for Moroccan nationality, since this is the citizenship of a country which occupied the territory previously occupied by the Saharawi people, who implicitly but in a clear manner rejected that option when they abandoned it and became refugees in the neighbouring country of Algeria” (Legal reasoning no. 8). 

“Nationality is the legal bond between a person and a state, according to its law, which comprises political, social, economic rights, and responsibilities on their part, within a framework of mutual acceptance and voluntariness” (Legal reasoning no. 8).

Outcome

The appeal was upheld and the decision under appeal that refused to recognise the applicant as stateless was annulled. The Supreme Court granted stateless status to the applicant.

Caselaw cited

Sentencia del Tribunal Supremo, de 18 de julio de 2008 (appeal no. 555/2005)

Sentencia del Tribunal Supremo, de 19 de diciembre de 2008 (appeal no. 7337/2005)

Sentencia del Tribunal Supremo, de 30 de octubre de 2009 (appeal no. 2805/2006)

Sentencia del Tribunal Supremo, de 20 de junio de 2011 (appeal no. 5767/2007)

Sentencia del Tribunal Supremo, de 22 de junio de 2011 (appeal no. 4979/2009), among others.