by Niko Kyriakou
(IPS) UNITED NATIONS -- Sweden violated international law by sending a suspected terrorist to Egypt where he was tortured, the UN's Committee Against Torture has concluded.
When Sweden forcibly returned an asylum seeker and suspected terrorist, Ahmed Agiza, to Egypt in December 2001, it violated the Convention Against Torture, the committee said Friday at the end of twice-yearly sessions in Geneva.
Despite prior assurances by Egyptian diplomats of his safety, Agiza was subsequently tortured in Egypt, the committee said. The convention forbids the transfer of persons to places where there are substantial grounds to believe he or she may be tortured, even in times of war and emergency. The process has come to be known as "rendition."
Rights advocates welcomed the finding.
"Egypt's promise not to torture Agiza was a mere fig leaf for the Swedish authorities," said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The UN committee has set the record straight. Transferring people to countries where they face torture violates international law, regardless of what empty promises a country gives."
Human Rights Watch, in a statement Friday, said that U.S. intelligence operatives at the airport had pressured Swedish authorities to return Agiza to Egypt along with another suspect, Mohammed al-Zari, and that both men were physically abused before being sent to Egypt.
A March report by the Swedish chief parliamentary ombudsman also found that the Swedish security service and airport police "displayed a remarkable subordinance to the American officials" and "lost control of the situation," leading to the ill-treatment before the men were transported to Cairo.
Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups are calling for an independent international inquiry through the UN into the actions of all three governments regarding the cases of Agiza and al-Zari.
Switzerland and Canada also should properly investigate the risk that detainees may be tortured before sending them abroad, the UN committee said.
It called on Canadian courts to review the "merit" and not just the "reasonableness" of expelling individuals to places they might be tortured and urged Canada to immediately inform the committee how many people since 2001 have been sent to countries that provided "diplomatic assurances" that they would not be tortured.
The committee reviews progress towards fulfilling the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
During this month's session, the committee reviewed reports from Finland, Albania, Uganda, Bahrain, Canada, and Switzerland on each country's efforts to end torture as it is defined in the convention, which 139 countries have ratified.
The Committee is scheduled to meet again in November to review reports from Ecuador, Austria, France, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guyana, and possibly the United States.
The committee had positive things to say about a number of countries. Switzerland, for example, has proposed legislation to ban the use of force by police during deportation of detainees, and Canada has made progress in developing culturally sensitive justice mechanisms like "healing lodges" to deal with indigenous offenders. However, Canadian police still use chemical, irritant, incapacitating, and mechanical weapons in crowd control and Switzerland still uses electro-shock weapons on detainees, the committee said.
Bahrain adopted a National Action Charter in 2001 to enhance non-discrimination, due process, prohibition of torture and arbitrary arrest, and created a Constitutional Court in 2002, the committee said.
But despite a new legislative framework to deal with torture, Bahrain still does not have a comprehensive definition of torture in domestic law and has not implemented the convention, the committee said. Allegations of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment prior to 2001 still have not been properly investigated, and impunity of offenders, lack of civil compensation for victims, and lack of access for independent monitors to inspect detention places were problems the country should address, the commission added.
Uganda made positive steps towards implementing the convention by establishing a human rights commission, abolishing corporal punishment, and permitting many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to operate freely in the country. Furthermore, the committee praized Uganda for hosting some 200,000 refugees and respecting their right to non-refoulement, or export to dangerous countries, as described in the convention.
But Uganda still needs to integrate a wide-reaching definition prohibiting torture in its domestic legislation, and to set proper limits on the length of pre-trial detentions, the committee said. It recommended that the Ugandan government immediately provide information about all unauthorized places of detention, also called "safe houses," and give the Uganda Human Rights Commission full access to inspect all places of detention both official and unofficial without prior notice.
The government in Kampala also should do more to prevent child abductions by the Lord's Resistance Army, which recruits them for its rebel army in the north of Uganda, and should fight the widespread impunity of torturers in state security forces and agencies, the committee said.
It praized Albania for adopting a constitution in 1998 that enhanced the protection of human rights and that prohibits torture, and for suspending the death penalty in 1992. Further, Albania recently separated juveniles from adults in its detention facilities and did well to involve national NGOs in preparing its torture report, the committee said.
But torture by Albanian officials continues to be described as an "arbitrary act," the committee said, and is thus deemed less serious than other criminal offenses. It suggested that the government adopt a fuller definition of torture in its criminal code, change the judicial and prison systems, and crack down on police who have gone largely unpunished despite numerous allegations of ill treatment and torture.
The committee asked Albania to make easier the difficult process of filing torture complaints and to better compensate victims. In addition, it criticized authorities for failing to provide legislation to counter the reported prevalence of sexual and domestic violence against women and girls.
It praized Finland for including a torture prohibition in its new constitution, and for taking steps to prohibit organizations that promote and incite racial discrimination as well as the dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred.
Criminal law in Finland still does not include a specific definition of torture, however, and should be brought in line with the convention, the committee said. It voiced concern that the country's Aliens Act did not give applicants for asylum time to have their cases thoroughly considered or to appeal before being deported. The committee finally called on Finland to examine the conditions of Roma people in its prisons and to improve hygienic conditions there.
May 27, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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