Commissioner for Human Rights, Council
Torture Allegations Accurately'
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
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
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
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
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
| Analysis That Matters]
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