United Kingdom must not deport people to countries with risk of torture – UN rights expert

23 August 2005

A United Nations human rights expert today called on the United Kingdom not to deport anybody under its new anti-terrorism law to a country where there is a risk of torture or ill-treatment, warning that the proposed assurances it would seek were not an adequate guarantee and circumvented its treaty obligations.

“The fact that such assurances are sought shows in itself that the sending country perceives a serious risk of the deportee being subjected to torture or ill-treatment upon arrival in the receiving country,” the UN Commission on Human Rights’s special rapporteur on questions relevant to torture, Manfred Nowak, declared in a statement.

He called on governments to refrain from seeking diplomatic assurances and the conclusion of memoranda of understanding to circumvent their international obligation not to deport anybody if there is a serious risk of torture or ill-treatment.

“Diplomatic assurances are not an appropriate tool to eradicate this risk,” he added, citing British Prime Minister Tony Blair's statement of 5 August indicating that the UK would deport persons to their home countries even in cases where these countries have been found to violate the absolute prohibition of torture.

While strongly condemning last month’s terrorist bombings in London, Mr. Nowak disputed Mr. Blair’s contention that such understandings with receiving countries that deportees would not be tortured or ill-treated constituted a sufficient guarantee to avoid violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“The Special Rapporteur fears that the plan of the United Kingdom to request diplomatic assurances for the purpose of expelling persons in spite of a risk of torture reflects a tendency in Europe to circumvent the international obligation not to deport anybody if there is a serious risk that he or she might be subjected to torture,” he said.

Most of the states with which memoranda might presumably be concluded are parties to the UN Convention against Torture and/or to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and therefore already obliged vis-à-vis other States parties, including the United Kingdom, not to resort to torture or ill-treatment under any circumstances, he noted.

“Such memoranda of understanding therefore do not provide any additional protection to the deportees,” Mr. Nowak said. “The Special Rapporteur calls on governments to observe the principle of non-refoulement scrupulously and to not expel any person to frontiers or territories where they run a serious risk of torture and ill-treatment,” he concluded.


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