EU Governments Directly Undermine Torture Ban
‘Diplomatic Assurances’ Against Torture Provide No Protection From Abuse
NEW YORK - January 23 - The European Parliament report adopted today on the role of EU states in CIA renditions tells only half the story when it comes to European complicity in torture, Human Rights Watch said in a new briefing paper on how some EU governments have also directly undermined the global ban on torture.
The briefing paper shows how EU states have relied upon empty promises of humane treatment, known as “diplomatic assurances,” in efforts to justify the return of terrorism suspects to countries where they risk being tortured. In the report adopted today, the European Parliament’s Temporary Committee on illegal CIA activity in Europe focuses on CIA flights and US-sponsored transfers of terrorism suspects. It also calls on EU member states to oppose the use of “diplomatic assurances” on torture in returning terrorism suspects. Europe pioneered the use of these “no torture” promises in the 1990s, well before the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
“The European Parliament is right to focus on ending European complicity in illegal CIA activity,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “But if Europe is serious about ending its complicity in torture, it also needs to stop homegrown policies that undermine the global ban on torture.”
EU states such as the United Kingdom and Sweden have been among the most vocal proponents of employing diplomatic assurances to deport and extradite terrorism suspects. The UK is currently trying to deport terrorism suspects based on blanket no-torture promises from countries like Jordan and Libya. Austria, the Netherlands and Germany have also employed diplomatic assurances in attempts to extradite alleged terrorists to countries where they face the risk of torture. These EU governments have argued that diplomatic assurances allow them to deport or extradite terrorism suspects safely.
But the Human Rights Watch briefing paper, which includes research conducted over the last three years, indicates that promises from governments that practice torture or target specific groups for such abuse are unreliable, unenforceable and ineffective. The most notorious example involves Sweden, which sent two Egyptian terrorism suspects to Cairo in December 2001 in the hands of the CIA, based on promises of humane treatment. Both were tortured on their return, despite visits from Swedish diplomats. Two UN bodies – the Committee Against Torture and the Human Rights Committee – have since ruled that Sweden’s actions in the case violated the international ban on returning people to a risk of torture.
“Diplomatic assurances simply do not protect against torture,” said Cartner. “European governments have used these empty promises as a fig leaf to justify sending people to places where they risk being tortured.”
Part of what makes diplomatic assurances worthless is the nature of torture itself. Torture is criminal activity, practiced in secret using techniques that often defy detection – such as mock drowning, sexual assault, and the application of electricity on the victim’s body. In some countries, governments employ medical personnel in detention facilities to monitor the abuse to ensure that the torture is not easily detected. Detainees subjected to torture are often afraid to complain to anyone about the abuse for fear of reprisals against them or their family members. Post-return monitoring visits by diplomats or others under such conditions cannot adequately protect a suspect from abuse.
In July, the European Parliament called on member states “to reject altogether reliance on diplomatic assurances against torture.”
“Now that Germany has taken on the EU presidency, Chancellor Merkel’s government should urge all EU states to heed the parliament’s call,” said Cartner. “European governments’ complicity in torture must end.”
The Human Rights Watch briefing paper also includes updated and new cases involving the use of assurances against torture in other countries, including the United States, Canada and Russia. A forthcoming briefing paper by Human Rights Watch will address the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay to Russia and the torture and other abuse they suffered upon return, despite Russian assurances of humane treatment.