Vol. 10 - No. 1




Thomas Hammarberg
Commissioner for Human Rights,
Council of Europe

'Investigate Torture Allegations Accurately'


IDN-InDepth NewsViewpoint

STRASBOURG (IDN) - The new government in the United Kingdom has taken an important step to prevent torture: it has authorised a judge-led inquiry into allegations that British officials were complicit in the mistreatment of suspects held by the United States, Pakistan and others.

This is a proper response to a request from twelve former detainees who have all credibly claimed that they became victims of the 'war on terror' and were severely tortured. They have alleged that British security agents cooperated, directly or indirectly, with the United States CIA and other foreign agencies which inflicted the torture on them.

Other European governments should also initiate investigations.

This will be an important investigation. It must be thorough, comprehensive and as open as possible. If well done it could set an example for other countries.

The time has certainly come to break the conspiracy of silence around the complicity of European governments in the human rights violations which have taken place during the counter-terrorism actions since September 2001.

Swedish authorities have still not set up an independent inquiry in the case of the two asylum-seeking Egyptians, Ahmed Agiza and Mohammed al-Zery, who were handed over to CIA for transport to security cells in Cairo and subjected to unlawful interrogation.

The handling of this case has been severely criticised by the UN Committee against Torture. Although the Swedish government has admitted mistakes it has not yet agreed to a full investigation into all circumstances of the case.

Successive governments in "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" have failed to initiate a serious inquiry into the co-operation of their intelligence services with the CIA in the case of Khaled El-Masri. Mr El-Masri was held secretly in incommunicado detention for more than three weeks in a hotel in Skopje before being handed over to the CIA for rendition to Afghanistan, where it was later discovered that the agencies had taken an innocent man and he was dumped in Albania.

The findings in the 2006 and 2007 reports by Senator Dick Marty for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe regarding the roles of Poland and Romania in the CIA's system of secret detentions, transfers and interrogations of terrorist suspects have still not been convincingly clarified.

The efforts to date of the Polish prosecutors, as well as the inquiry carried out by a Committee of the Romanian Senate, leave questions unanswered regarding the use of national territory to host CIA secret prisons, and the participation of national services in maintaining the security and secrecy of CIA operations.

In Lithuania, a parliamentary committee investigated allegations that the CIA had operated a secret prison on national territory. It concluded that Lithuanian security services had indeed co-operated closely with the CIA and that some kind of secret facility had been established on the outskirts of Vilnius, although it was not established whether or not this facility had in fact been used for detaining terrorist suspects.

More and more detailed and shocking information has gradually emerged about systematic torture, secret detentions and other serious human rights violations in the ‘war on terror’ after September 2001. It is crucial that lessons are learned and that requires that allegations are investigated and the real facts exposed.

This is also what the European Convention on Human Right requires. The positive obligation of States to conduct effective investigations into arguable claims of torture and other ill-treatment is firmly established in the case law of Strasbourg Court.

Confidentiality does not excuse silence about human rights violations.

One reason for the reluctance among European governments to allow robust truth-seeking procedures is obviously the fear of damaging relations with the U.S. intelligence services. Exchange of secret information between the security agencies is essential for each of them.

However, the Canadian authorities demonstrated in the case of Maher Arar -- a Canadian citizen who was mistaken for another person, stopped at a U.S. airport, handed over to the Syrian security police and badly tortured -- that a thorough and fair investigation is possible without endangering the intelligence nerve system. On the whole, this Canadian inquiry was a model for how such investigations could be designed.

Effective action is needed to prevent and punish terrorist acts. The tragic mistake after September 11 was not the determination to respond, but the choice of methods: terrorism must not be fought with terrorist means. During the 'war on terror' core principles of human rights have been violated -- also in Europe. It has victimized thousands of individuals, many of them totally innocent. It is urgent that the damage now be repaired and steps be taken to prevent such violations in the future.

[Source: IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters]

Thomas Hammarberg is Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner. This viewpoint appeared first on June 9, 2010 at http://www.coe.int/t/commissioner/default_en.asp


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