Thursday, February 3, 2011

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.

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