States should admit asylum-seekers who were forced to aid terrorists – UN expert

26 October 2009

Women who have been forced by terrorists to provide shelter, food and sexual services should never be denied asylum on the ground that they gave material support to terrorism, an independent United Nations expert said today.

“Victims of gender-based persecution, including by terrorist groups, should be granted asylum and entry into countries and never fall victims of the notions of material support to terrorism,” Martin Scheinin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, told a news conference after delivering a report to a General Assembly Committee.

The report to the Third Committee, which deals with social, humanitarian and cultural affairs, devotes considerable attention to the gender dimension and specific rights of women and sexual minorities such as gays and lesbians in the war against terrorism, and Mr. Scheinin referred to previous reports he has issued highlighting the problem.

In these he had noted that the security wall Israel says it has built to keep out suicide bombers, some of it on Palestinian land, impeded women from getting to hospital to give birth. Another example he cited was the United States tightening of immigration laws and the rejection as asylum-seekers on account of material support of terrorism.

This “often affects women, including situations where terrorists have forced women to provide shelter, food or sexual; services upon gunpoint,” he said. “Then when they manage to flee and seek refuge in another country, they are suddenly confronted with an accusation of providing material support for terrorists.”

Among other gender-specific issues, he cited the use of sexual humiliation and forced homosexual activity in the interrogation of male suspects.

The report’s recommendation to States, apart from calling for an end to using the material support charge to deny asylum to some applicants, include halting the detention of women and children for the purpose of producing information on the whereabouts of male family members suspected of terrorism and a ban on targeting people’s sexual identity or using homophobia in interrogations.

Asked about the US detention centre in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, holding alleged terrorists, Mr. Scheinin said the prison should be closed along the end-of-year timeline mentioned by President Barack Obama, but acknowledged that such matters take time.

“It should not be closed through trying and sentencing people through the military commissions because my assessment of the military commissions act is very negative and I don’t think small fixes will help,” he said.

Those who are considered too dangerous to release should be tried in US federal courts, even though the methods of their interrogation might make the evidence inadmissible, “and then it should be left in the hands of the judiciary to apply the law,” he stressed.


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