Austria: Child abduction human rights complaint reaches judgement

A father will hope for the backing of Strasbourg judges next week, when his human rights complaint against Austria, over the abduction of his children, reaches judgement.

The European Court of Human Rights will announce its decision in the case Sévère v. Austria (application no. 53661/15) on Thursday 21 September.

The applicant, Michel Sévère, is a French national who was born in 1967 and lives in Rochefort (France). The case concerns the abduction of his sons by their mother from France to Austria.

Sévère had twin sons with C.B., a French and Austrian national, in 2006. They lived together in Rochefort, France. Following a dispute in December 2008, C.B. left France for Vienna, taking their sons with her.

A number of proceedings ensued in both France and Austria. In France there were custody proceedings (in which it was decided that the parents were to have joint custody, with the children’s main residence being with their father); and criminal proceedings against C.B. for child abduction (in which she was convicted and sentenced to one year’s imprisonment).

In Austria two criminal investigations were discontinued in 2009 and 2011: the first against Sévère for sexual abuse of minors; and the second against C.B. for child abduction. Sévère also brought proceedings in Austria for the return of his sons under the Hague Convention (on the Civil Aspects of International child Abduction).

In those proceedings the Austrian courts carefully examined C.B.’s allegations of sexual abuse, but dismissed them as implausible and issued an order for the return of the children, which became final in October 2009. A few months later, in December, the authorities attempted to enforce this order, without success as neither C.B. nor the children were at their known addresses.

Over the following five and a half years involving numerous actions lodged by both parties, intensive exchange with the French authorities, oral hearings and many decisions, the Austrian authorities tended more and more towards a reassessment of the children’s return.

They eventually decided in April 2015 against enforcement of the return order. They considered that, if returned to France, the children would very likely be further traumatised due to the separation from their mother (who was facing a prison sentence in the country), and that they had meanwhile adapted well to living in Austria.

Relying on Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life), Sévère complains that the
Austrian authorities had not taken all the necessary measures to ensure his sons’ swift return to France.

In particular, he argues that they had not made sufficient attempts to locate the children and their mother and had not tried any other coercive measures.

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