UN rights expert urges the end of deportation to countries that torture

30 September 2005

Governments fighting the scourge of terrorism should not expel any person to countries where they risk torture and other forms of ill-treatment, a United Nations human rights expert has warned.

In his latest report to the General Assembly on his work, Manfred Nowak, the Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, is also calling for the abolition of corporal punishment without delay.

Presenting a case of terrorist suspects expelled from Sweden to Egypt, where they were then allegedly tortured, Mr. Nowak says that diplomatic assurances from States that returnees will not be tortured are ineffective.

For that reason, he calls on States "to observe the principle of non-refoulement scrupulously," referring to the prohibition against returning asylum seekers to their countries of origin, especially if there is reason to suspect they will be subject to harm there.

In the case of Agiza vs. Sweden, heard by the Committee against Torture in May, he said that the Swedish authorities were given assurances that Ahmed Agiza would not be tortured before he was returned in 2001, and would receive a fair trial on the terrorist charges. Mr. Agiza was subsequently kept tied in a small dark cell, given electric shocks and not allowed to visit a toilet, it was alleged.

In the matter of corporal punishment, the Special Rapporteur reports that since assuming his mandate, he has intervened in a number of cases that include amputation, stoning, strangulation, eye-gouging, flogging and beating.

He says that States often justify such practices in domestic and religious law, such as the Muslim sharia, arguing that "pain and suffering incidental to lawfully sanctioned punishments fall outside the prohibition against torture."

For that reason, he reviews existing international and regional human rights law and concludes that "any form of corporal punishment is contrary to the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

"Moreover," he adds, "States cannot invoke provisions of domestic law to justify the violation of their human rights obligations under international law, including the prohibition of corporal punishment."

Under his general mandate, Mr. Nowak reports that from 1 December 2004 to 31 July this year, he sent 41 letters alleging torture to 30 governments, along with 133 urgent appeals on behalf of persons who might be at risk of torture or other forms of ill-treatment to 47 governments.


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