Saturday, July 28, 2007

'UN investigator speaks out against torture, abuse'

That's the headline, but that doesn't exactly cover the whole story:

VIENNA, Austria (AP) - Soldiers from countries whose armies are suspected of engaging in torture or other abuse should not be considered for peacekeeping duty, the UN's chief anti-torture investigator says.

UN special rapporteur Manfred Nowak said in an interview for Monday's editions of the Austrian news magazine Profil that the world body's standards for selecting peacekeepers are too low, and suggested it should reconsider forming its own professional standing army.

Concerns about the quality, training and ethics of soldiers are growing as developing countries with questionable human rights records increasingly are tapped for troops for international peacekeeping operations, Nowak said.

"The criteria are not very high," he told Profil, which released excerpts of the interview on Saturday. "The UN must impose stricter standards in recruiting soldiers."

Nowak did not mention past abuses by soldiers from the U.S., Britain and other Western countries who have formed the bulk of many peacekeeping operations worldwide.

George Bush tried to fool the public when he issued his recent executive order supposedly banning torture but that's not what it actually does. As long as Bush permits so-called "alternative", classified interrogation techniques there is no guarantee that torture will not continue.

And today, The Independent reports:

The British Army is facing new allegations that it was involved in "forced disappearances", hostage-taking and torture of Iraqi civilians after the fall of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

One of the claims is made by the former chairman of the Red Crescent in Basra, who alleges he was beaten unconscious by British soldiers after they accused him of being a senior official in Saddam's Baath party.

The family of another Iraqi civilian claims he was arrested and kidnapped by the British in order to secure the surrender of his brother, who was also accused of being a high-ranking member of the party. He was later found shot dead, still handcuffed and wearing a UK prisoner name tag.

Both cases are being prepared for hearings in the High Court in which the Government will be accused of war crimes while carrying out the arrest and detention of alleged senior members of the Baath party.

So, why is the UN's "chief anti-torture investigator" refusing to acknowledge reality especially when he said this during an interview this past January?

Kanishk Tharoor: In what ways has the Bush administration directly or indirectly allowed for torture?

Manfred Nowak: The Bush administration has done quite a lot to undermine the absolute prohibition of torture, for instance by interpreting torture in a very restrictive manner and claiming they are not really torturing. To them, torture is only really something after which you suffer long-term mental disorder or organ failure. Everything else is called "humanely-degrading treatment" which needs to be balanced against the threat of terrorism - it's a trade-off between security and human rights.

One can employ these harsher interrogation methods against suspected terrorists because the United States feels itself to be in a war on terror. It's breaking a taboo and since the US was always a champion of human rights and democracy, and one of the oldest countries to have a bill of rights in their constitution, this negative example has many negative consequences for the US and many other states. If even the US considers these means of detention, these flights lawful then, other countries feel that they can do the same.

Kanishk Tharoor: With US actions, new sources of torture have come into place, most specifically the outsourcing of torture to countries like Syria, Egypt and Jordan. Is there any precedent for this? How has the Bush administration been engaged in it in recent years?

Manfred Nowak: I do not know any precedent for what they call "extraordinary rendition". There is a precedent for "ordinary rendition", of suspected terrorists abducted by the CIA, Israeli or other intelligence services in another country to be tried domestically. This has also been illegal but was at least done for the legitimate purpose of bringing someone to justice.

Extraordinary abduction is the opposite - depriving individuals of liberty without any legal remedies in order to send them to countries that are known for torture. This violates the absolute prohibition of refoulement: countries are not only not allowed to torture, but also not allowed to send suspects to countries that will torture them.

This was a systematic practice, and I'm afraid, an ongoing practice.

Kanishk Tharoor: What kind of incentives were governments given to allow rendition and to conduct the torture? Should equal pressure be brought to bear on the US as well as the cooperating governments, be they in Cairo, Damascus or Amman?

Manfred Nowak: Of course, this is also the responsibility of countries like Egypt or Syria who are well known for systematic practice of torture. They are the first ones violating international human rights law, even though they have ratified the United Nations convention against torture. They are thus obligated to criminalise torture. But also every state which sends suspects to torturing countries violates the convention.

Countries like the United Kingdom have tried to circumvent this problem by getting "diplomatic assurances" in which they ask those countries to be kind enough not to torture - These diplomatic assurances are a clear attempt to circumvent the absolute prevention of refoulement.
...the prohibition of torture is an "absolute right", which means that there is no proportionality to be applied. A little bit of torture doesn't make us safer, it's the opposite. As soon as you undermine the prohibition of torture, and you start in the "ticking bomb scenario" to apply torture, it very quickly spreads and creates new terrorism. We now have more terrorists since we are fighting terrorism by violating our own standards and the international rule of law.

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