UK worst in Europe for reliance on 'no torture' deals for deportations - new report

The UK has today been singled out for heavy criticism in a new report from Amnesty International on the practice among European countries of striking “no torture” deals with foreign countries as a means to deport people it labels a threat to national security.

In a 36-page report - Dangerous Deals: Europe’s reliance on ‘diplomatic assurances’ against torture - Amnesty documents how European governments are attempting to send foreigners alleged to be security threats to countries where they’re at risk of torture or other ill-treatment in exchange for unreliable, unenforceable “diplomatic assurances” that they will be treated humanely.

Describing the UK as “the most influential and aggressive” promoter of the policy of seeking “diplomatic assurances”, Amnesty is calling on the UK and 11 other European countries to immediately end the practice.

The call comes as the Special Immigration Appeals Commission is set to deliberate on the case of an Ethiopian national threatened with deportation based on a “memorandum of understanding” between the UK and Ethiopia that purportedly promises that the man will not be tortured on return. However, Amnesty has documented serious human rights abuses in Ethiopia and believes that diplomatic deals with Ethiopia are an extremely unreliable guide to future treatment in that country.

Amnesty International’s expert on counter-terrorism and human rights in Europe Julia Hall said:

“Assurances against torture from governments that routinely practise such abuse simply cannot be trusted. European governments that accept these hollow promises are undermining the absolute prohibition of torture.

“The best way to prevent torture is to refuse to send people to places where they risk being harmed.

“European governments must recommit to the fundamentals of human rights protection. That means safeguarding people from abuse by abiding by their international obligations. Diplomatic assurances do not provide such a safeguard and the practice of relying on them should be abandoned.”

The use of diplomatic assurances on torture has increased considerably since the 11 September attacks on the USA, says Amnesty. Its report lists 12 European countries involved in the controversial practice: Austria, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and Britain. Some countries have even developed specific laws or policies that enshrine the practice.

Amnesty’s report challenges the claim that securing assurances of humane treatment means such transfers are therefore “human rights friendly”. On the contrary, the organisation insists that a reliance on diplomatic assurances threatens the global ban on torture or other ill-treatment.

Dangerous Deals notes that people have indeed been tortured, held in incommunicado detention and otherwise mistreated following removals with assurances. For example, Sami Ben Khemais Essid was deported from Italy to Tunisia in June 2008 after Tunisian officials that he would not be ill-treated in custody there. However, eight months after his return, he alleged that he was tortured during an interrogation at the Tunisian Ministry of the Interior. Similar human rights violations have been experienced by people forcibly returned to other countries, including Egypt and Russia.

Meanwhile, in Germany, a Turkish national is awaiting a decision from the European Court of Human Rights regarding the government’s effort to extradite him to Turkey while relying on assurances from the Turkish authorities that he will be safe in prison there. Similarly, Denmark and Sweden have stated publicly they will not rule out the use of diplomatic assurances in the future.

Download the report (pdf)

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