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EU: Stand Firm Against Diplomatic Assurances

UK Promotion of Assurances Undermines EU Torture Guidelines

(Brussels, October 22, 2008) – The European Union should resist British government efforts to gain acceptance for the use of diplomatic assurances against torture in national security deportations and extraditions, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

" The reason there’s a global ban on sending people back to places where they might be tortured is precisely because abusive governments can’t be trusted. Terrorism suspects at risk of torture in their home countries should have fair trials in the EU. "
Julia Hall, senior counterterrorism counsel, Human Rights Watch

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The 36-page report, titled “Not the Way Forward: The UK’s Dangerous Reliance on Diplomatic Assurances,” calls on the EU to uphold its own guidelines on torture and to refuse to legitimate unreliable promises against torture made by abusive governments.  
“The reason there’s a global ban on sending people back to places where they might be tortured is precisely because abusive governments can’t be trusted,” said Julia Hall, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch. “Terrorism suspects at risk of torture in their home countries should have fair trials in the EU.”  
The report details the British government’s advocacy in various EU-related forums in favor of broader acceptance of diplomatic assurances, which British officials claim are “an effective way forward” for European countries. The UK is currently leading an effort, through the G6 (group of interior ministers from France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, and the UK), for broader EU endorsement of its “deportation with assurances” policy. At meetings in Venice and Sopot in 2007, the G6 issued concluding statements urging the further exploration of possibilities for employing diplomatic assurances and seeking consensus on their use in the EU.  
The UK also advocated for consideration of national security expulsions in reliance on diplomatic assurances prior to a Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting in November 2007. The working group setting the agenda for that meeting declined to put the issue on the agenda, signaling an unease among some member states that the use of such assurances could be enshrined as a matter of EU policy.  
In February 2008, the European Commission’s Directorate General for External Relations issued an opinion expressing strong concern that the use of such assurances undermines the global ban on torture and efforts to eradicate such abuse.  
“So far, the EU has remained firm and rebuffed the UK’s efforts to weaken the ban on torture,” said Hall.  
In addition to documenting the UK’s efforts to advocate at the EU for broad acceptance of diplomatic assurances, the Human Rights Watch report reviews recent European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence in cases involving diplomatic assurances. These cases include Saadi v. Italy, in which the UK intervened in an ill-fated attempt to water down the ban on returns to risk of ill-treatment. The report also explains how other countries –including EU members Denmark, Italy, and Spain, as well as Switzerland, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan – are exploring or already using diplomatic assurances for deportations and extraditions, further weakening the global ban on transfers to risk of torture.  
“The British government is setting a bad example at a time when measures designed to prevent torture are under assault,” said Hall. “It is disturbing that other EU countries with long histories of promoting and protecting human rights are following the UK’s lead. All EU member states should be holding perpetrators of torture accountable, not partnering with them.”  
The new report highlights two appeals before the upper house of the UK Parliament, the House of Lords, in October 2008. In RB and U v. Secretary of State for the Home Department, to be heard on October 22 and 23, 2008, the potential deportees are two Algerians, and the assurances from the Algerian authorities were negotiated for each individual. On October 28 and 29, the Lords will hear Secretary of State for the Home Department v. OO (Othman) involving Omar Othman (a.k.a. Abu Qatada), a radical Muslim cleric accused of ties to al Qaeda. The UK is seeking to deport Othman in reliance on assurances from the Jordanian authorities in a broad “memorandum of understanding” between the UK and Jordan.  
The British government concedes that, but for the assurances, the men would be at risk of torture; it is thus the effectiveness of the assurances that lies at the heart of the appeals. In hearing these appeals, Britain’s highest court will for the first time grapple with the government’s “deportation with assurances” policy, an important component of its counterterrorism strategy. Human Rights Watch and Justice, the London-based affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists, submitted an amicus brief for consideration in both appeals.

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