Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Wrap-up: Bush's canceled trip to Switzerland

A few days ago, Human Rights USA was part of a loud chorus of international anti-torture advocates urging Swiss government officials to take swift action if former President Bush went through with announced plans to visit Switzerland. We are gratified that the calls for Switzerland to uphold its international obligations seem to have prompted President Bush to call off the trip. (Anyone who says international human rights law doesn't have any teeth hasn't been forced to cancel their travel plans for fear of indictment.)

The law is clear: no one, not even former heads of state, enjoys immunity from prosecution for torture. The Pinochet Precedent took that principle from theory to practice. As quoted in an article in The Guardian:
"Nobody – from those who administered the practices to those at the top of the chain of command – is under a shield of absolute immunity for the practices of secret detention, extraordinary rendition and torture," said Martin Scheinin, UN special rapporteur on human rights and professor of public international law at the European University Institute. "Legally this case is quite clear. Bush does not enjoy immunity as a former head of state, and he has command responsibility for the decisions that were taken."
How did we get to the point that a former U.S. president is not free to travel the world for fear of prosecution and protests? More importantly, how do we prevent this from happening again? Here at Human Rights USA, we believe that fully implementing the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment is a good place to start. The Convention requires governments to fully investigate allegations of torture, hold perpetrators accountable, and provide redress to victims. When the U.S. government fails to uphold its obligations, other countries, like Switzerland, are obliged to step in.

The Center for Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International, and the World Organization Against Torture all issued statements reiterating the need to investigate and prosecute those responsible for torture -- even former presidents -- even former presidents of the United States of America. Today, Human Rights Watch called on U.S. officials to prosecute, saying, "The U.S. record on accountability for detainee abuse has been abysmal. The official authorization of torture by a head of state should never go unpunished."

For more news coverage, here are links to stories in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CNN.

Friday, February 4, 2011

OAS Human Rights Body Tells U.S. to Suspend Deportations to Haiti

Today the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued precautionary measures to protect persons in the United States whose lives would be put and risk and their human rights violated if deported to Haiti. Human Rights USA calls on the United States Government to comply with its human rights obligations under the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man and restore the moratorium on deportations to Haiti until circumstances there improve.

The IACHR's press release is below:


Washington, D.C., February 4, 2011; The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urges the United States to suspend deportations to Haiti of persons of Haitian origin who are seriously ill or who have family members in the United States.

Following the earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, the U.S. government suspended the deportation of Haitians with criminal convictions or charges. According to information the Commission has received, the government announced on December 9, 2010, that it would lift the moratorium on deportations, and the media reported that deportations of Haitians with criminal records resumed on January 20, 2011.

The deportation of seriously ill persons to Haiti could jeopardize their lives, considering the humanitarian crisis that persists in the country, especially the detention conditions in jails and prisons. According to the information received by the Commission, detention centers in Haiti are overcrowded, and the lack of drinking water and adequate sanitation or toilets could facilitate the transmission of cholera, tuberculosis, and other diseases. The IACHR is also concerned that once they arrive in Haiti, seriously ill persons could remain in detention without access to food, drinking water, and adequate medical treatment. Along these lines, U.S. immigrant advocacy organizations informed the Commission that a person of Haitian origin deported on January 20, 2011, has died in a Haitian prison for reasons that have not yet been officially established, after showing symptoms of cholera. In addition, the Inter-American Commission has received troubling information regarding persons being processed for deportation who have immediate family members, even children, in the United States and who in some cases do not have any family members in Haiti.

In light of these circumstances, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights urges the United States to suspend the deportation of Haitians who are seriously ill or who have family ties in the United States. This moratorium should be maintained until such time as Haiti is able to guarantee that detention conditions and access to medical care comply with applicable minimum standards and until the procedures in place to determine and review deportations can adequately take into account the right to family life of those subject to the deportation process, as well as their family ties in the United States.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in a personal capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Human Rights USA's Executive Director Discusses Effects of Egypt's Changing Country Conditions on Egyptian Asylees

What the turmoil in Egypt could mean for former Human Rights USA client Sameh Khouzam, as reported in York, Pennsylvania's York County Record. Read the article here.

Switzerland Must Not Make Exceptions for the United States

The Swiss media is reporting that former President George W. Bush plans to visit Geneva on February 12, 2011. In response, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) - the principle coalition of anti-torture organizations – issued a statement calling on the Swiss authorities to uphold its legal obligations under domestic law and the UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT) regarding a visit of former President George W Bush to Geneva. As a member of OMCT, Human Rights USA joins this urgent request.

For Eric Sottas, Secretary General of the OMCT ‘there is not the slightest doubt that Switzerland is obliged under both international law and its domestic law to initiate an investigation for acts of torture against any individual present on its territory that has committed, authorized, participated in or was otherwise complicit in acts of torture. There are no laws that provide an exception for former head of states’.

OMCT's letter to the Swiss government points to the compelling body of evidence about the US policies of torture and ill-treatment under the Bush administration. These policies are well documented and to a large extent publicly acknowledged, including by the former President’s own admissions of having authorized interrogations practices that constitute torture.

‘This is not about targeting a former US President. It is about the respect for the rule of law’, added Eric Sottas. In February 2001 the OMCT had mandated Mr Francois Membrez to bring a criminal complaint for torture against the former Interior Minister of Tunisia Abdallah Kallel on behalf of a victim. The General Prosecutor of Geneva swiftly initiated - on the basis of the same principles as those at stake today – an arrest warrant which could only not be executed because the Minister had left the country in record speed. Ten years later he was prevented from leaving Tunisia in order to be brought to justice, a development seen by Tunisian and European commentators to be influenced by the case opened at the time in Geneva.

Torture is a crime under international law wherever and by whoever it is committed and for the OMCT it is central that the law must not distinguish on the basis of the status or origin of the offender. The OMCT also recalls that the United States has so far not taken any steps to assume its responsibility to undertake comprehensive independent investigations with the aim of bringing those responsible to justice for torture, enforced disappearances and other crimes under international law. Nor have they provided any remedies or reparations for the victims of such practices even in the case of well documented abuse.

Governments should not believe that the question of legal accountability will just go away. To the contrary it needs to be addressed now and states, and especially the political allies of the United States, should start exercising their influence to bring the impunity for orture, secret detention and extraordinary renditions to an end.