UK: Zardad conviction major step forward in fight against torture

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“This prosecution is a major step forward in the international fight against torture and the UK authorities should be congratulated for bringing this man to justice.

“This case strengthens the legal principle that torture is an international crime and that there is no hiding place for torturers around the world.

“It sends out the message that torture is a vile crime and there should be no safe havens for torturers.”

A jury at the Old Bailey found Zardad guilty earlier today after hearing evidence of numerous incidents of summary execution and hostage-taking in Afghanistan between 1991-96 when Zardad’s armed group controlled a road between the Afghan capital Kabul and the city of Jalalabad.

Amnesty International has consistently called on all governments to prosecute in cases of suspected torture if prosecutions could not realistically be secured in countries where alleged offences have taken place.

Background

Zardad’s trial was brought under the legal principle of ‘universal jurisdiction’, where international crimes are tried in a country other than where offences took place.

The Zardad case was only the second trial in the UK ever brought in this fashion. The other occurred in 1999, when Anthony (Andrzej) Sawoniuk was convicted under the War Crimes Act 1991 of war crimes during the Second World War and sentenced to life in prison.

Prior to today’s judgment, all efforts to prosecute persons in Britain for crimes under international law have been unsuccessful.

Prior to Sawoniuk’s case, only one of hundreds of suspected Nazi war criminals living in Britain was prosecuted, and that prosecution was ended on medical grounds.

None of the other efforts, such as the five attempts to prosecute former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet when he was detained in London pending a decision on extradition requests from four countries in 1998 and 1999, were successful.

In one case, that of Tharcisse Muvunyi, a Rwandan, the police investigation of his alleged role in killings and torture in Rwanda did not result in a determination whether to charge him or not.

The investigation ended with his transfer to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, where he was convicted of these crimes.

In addition there has been an attempt in the Scottish courts to prosecute a Sudanese doctor for torture in Sudan but the prosecution abandoned that attempt on grounds of “insufficient evidence.”

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