Redress - Ending Torture, Seeking Justice for Survivors
Reparation News
October 2014
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Dear friends and colleagues,

Welcome to the October 2014 edition of Reparation News. Please find below a summary of recent case updates, news and publications from REDRESS. For the most up-to-date information from REDRESS, you can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook

Warm wishes,

Carla Ferstman, Director


 

Case updates

REDRESS welcomes powerful Court of Appeal ruling in favour of rendition victims

On Thursday 30 October the UK Court of Appeal ruled that Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and his wife, Fatima Boucher, have the right to sue the UK officials allegedly involved in their abduction and illegal transfer to Libya. They allege that they were tortured during their transport and while detained in Libya.

Mr Belhaj was an opposition commander during the Libyan armed conflict of 2011 and is now leader of the Libyan Al-Watan Party. He alleges that in 2004 UK officials conspired with the CIA and Libyan intelligence to abduct him and his wife and transfer them to Gaddafi’s Libya, where he says that he was imprisoned and tortured. 

The case was first brought by Mr Belhaj against UK officials, including former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, in 2011. The UK Government argued that state immunity (a principle of international law by which a state can be protected from being sued in the courts of other states) and the “act of state” doctrine (a claim should not call into question activities of a foreign state) precluded British courts from hearing the case.

The Court of Appeal disagreed, stating that the UK’s argument on state immunity lacks “any foundation in law”, and that state immunity does not prevent claims being brought against UK officials in UK courts simply because their actions are said to be connected to the acts of foreign states.

Importantly, the Court also ruled that the “act of state” doctrine cannot bar the claim, because of the grave violations of human rights alleged by Mr Belhaj and Mrs Bouchar and the universal international condemnation of torture. It was this “act of state” doctrine that had led the UK High Court to originally dismiss the claim back in December 2013.

The Court of Appeal emphasised that the claim concerns the accountability of UK officials and agencies, and unless the English courts exercise jurisdiction, these very grave allegations would escape judicial investigation.

Amnesty International, ICJ, JUSTICE and REDRESS intervened jointly in this case.

Read the press release here

Read more about the case here

Photo of Abdul-Hakim Belhaj courtesy of Reprieve


 

REDRESS pressures Cameroon to fulfil obligations to tortured political activist 

On 15 October REDRESS appealed to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Rapporteur on Reprisals to put pressure on Cameroon to fulfil its obligations to Ebeneezer Akwanga, a well-known human rights defender who was tortured for his peaceful activism on behalf of Southern Cameroonians. In 2011, the UN Human Rights Committee, one of the UN bodies who monitor states’ compliance with their human rights obligations, found unanimously in favour of Akwanga: it urged Cameroon to re-examine his conviction and compensate him, among other measures, but Cameroon has not yet complied with the Committee’s requests.

Akwanga was arrested by police officers in 1997 and for the next six years suffered serious human rights violations, including incommunicado detention and torture, like having melted plastic bags dripped onto his bare thighs. Despite being a civilian, he was tried before a military tribunal and sentenced to 20 years in prison, four of which he spent in jail. In 2003, he escaped to neighbouring Nigeria and five years later REDRESS took his case against Cameroon to the UN Human Rights Committee. He has since re-settled in the USA.

Read more about Ebeneezer's case here


 

Grand Chamber hears case on whether slaps by police amount to ill-treatment

On 8 October the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights heard the case of Saïd Bouyid and Mohamed Bouyid, two brothers who say they were ill-treated while in police custody in Belgium. They both complained that they were slapped in the face by police officers while in detention on two separate occasions - on 8 December 2003 and 23 February 2004. Saïd was only 17 at the time. 

The applicants made the argument that slapping is ill-treatment, because it is degrading treatment, and was therefore a violation of the right not to be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights). They also complained that the investigation into their complaints was ineffective, incomplete and biased.

At first instance, the Court had acknowledged that any recourse to physical force which was not strictly necessary by a detainee's own conduct diminishes human dignity and is in principle a violation of Article 3. But, this physical force must reach a minimum level of severity. Accordingly, some forms of violence, although they may be condemned on moral grounds, would not not constitute a violation of Article 3.

REDRESS intervened in the case which was appealed to the Grand Chamber. We provided a comparative review of national, regional and international legal standards on the use of force in detention contexts, and argued that slapping in the face could constitute ill-treatment if the slap occurred while the victim was in custody, if the perpetrator was in a position of power relative to the victim, and if the use of physical force was not necessary. 

REDRESS comments as intervener before the ECtHR, 18 July 2014

Initial European Court ruling in the case, 21 November 2013 


 

Zahra Kazemi's family cannot sue Iran over her torture and death

On 10 October the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that Zahra Kazemi's son could not sue the Iranian officials allegedly responsible for his mother's torture and death because both Iran and its officials are protected by state immunity. 

Ms Kazemi was a Canadian-Iranian photojournalist who was arrested during a visit to Iran in June 2003 while taking photographs of a protest outside Evin prison. While in detention, she was interrogated, beaten and sexually assaulted. Following the torture, Ms Kazemi was taken to hospital as she was suffering intestinal bleeding and a brain injury, but Iranian officials delayed contacting her family in order to prevent them from discovering the full extent of her injuries. Iran prevented her from being transferred to a Canadian hospital and denied her family access to visit her. Ms Kazemi was later declared brain-dead with no possibility of recovery, and was buried in Iran, despite many requests of her family to repatriate her body to Canada.

In 2006 Ms Kazemi’s son, Stephan Hashemi, brought a civil claim in the Québec courts against Iran and three officials he alleges were responsible for his mother’s torture and death, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader. Iran argued that it and its officials were immune from suit and that the claims should be dismissed under the Canadian State Immunity Act. The Canadian Supreme Court found that the State Immunity Act did apply to Iran and the individual Iranian officials, effectively ending the case in Canada. The decision was not unanimous, with a strong dissent coming from Justice Abella, who stated that torture should not be considered among the forms of official state conduct that attract individual immunity, and that international law should not be interpreted so as to block victims’ access to a civil remedy for international crimes.

Judgement of the Supreme Court, 10 October 2014

Read about the case here

Publications

New report on access to justice for victims of international crimes

On 29 October, REDRESS, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Track Impunity Always (TRIAL) launched a new report, "Driving Forward Justice: Victims of Serious International Crimes in the European Union", in the margins of the 17th EU Genocide Network meeting in The Hague.

The report examines the hurdles faced by victims of serious international crimes in the EU that prevent them from exercising their rights in proceedings, including the right to be protected from reprisals and the right to receive information about the progress of cases that concern them.

Proceedings in EU countries underscore the important role played by victims of international crimes. Victims are key to identifying suspects, lodging complaints, opening investigations and contributing substantially to the cases. Yet few victims have been able to play an active role in criminal proceedings, particularly when they take place abroad; even fewer have succeeded in obtaining compensation or other forms of reparation. Overall, victims of serious international crimes have been largely excluded from the frameworks and mechanisms developed for victims of domestic offences.

Our report highlights how the EU Directive on minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime, which all EU countries must incorporate into national law, applies to victims of serious international crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and enforced disappearance. Most EU countries have a long way to go to put in place the necessary safeguards for victims required by the Directive. 

Our report argues that encouraging and assisting victims to come forward and participate in criminal proceedings would improve the prospects for successful investigations and prosecutions as well as ultimately enhance victims’ ability to access justice.

The report was presented at a conference in The Hague (see Events & Conferences, below). 

Read the report

Read our press release

Photo by Diego Araya, 'Justicia Ardiente', Creative Commons license

Advocacy work

Submission to UN Committee Against Torture on USA's treatment of High Value Detainees

On 12-13 November the USA will appear before the UN Committee Against Torture to face questioning about the extent to which they have complied with their obligations under the Convention Against Torture, which the USA ratified in 1994.  

In anticipation of this, on 17 October REDRESS, along with the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), made a submission to the UN Committee Against Torture relating to the United States’ treatment of so-called “High Value Detainees” (HVDs), those terrorist suspects considered to have high intelligence value by the USA. These individuals were forcibly disappeared by US authorities – for a number of years – until their detention was acknowledged in September 2006. They are now held in a separate facility within Guantanamo Bay, and are almost completely cut off from the outside world. Six of the individuals held as HVDs are currently facing trial before a Military Commission, and the Prosecution is seeking the death penalty in each case.    

REDRESS’ submission focuses on the silencing of these individuals - who are victims of torture and other ill-treatment - through detention, isolation and classification of information as a result of United States counter-terrorism policies as part of the “War on Terror”. These policies represent a deliberate system to ensure that no information about torture and other ill-treatment committed against HVDs will be released, to secure impunity for perpetrators of torture, and to ensure that no redress for the victims is achieved.

More specifically, the submission argues that the system of isolation of individuals and classification of information leads to multiple grave, ongoing, violations of the UN Convention against Torture.

One HVD facing capital charges before the US Military Commission at Guantanamo Bay is Mustafa al-Hawsawi, which REDRESS has been assisting to seek investigations in several European countries where we believe he was held in secret detention and ill-treated, then illegally rendered to Guantanamo Bay. In 2013 REDRESS intervened in the proceedings, explaining how the classification regime has operated to block complaints to third countries and to hinder its investigations in relation to his case. 

See our submission to the UN Committee Against torture here

Read more about the case of Mustafa al-Hawsawi

Photo: Wikipedia


 

REDRESS calls on South Sudan's President to veto abusive security bill 

REDRESS has called on President Salva Kiir of South Sudan to veto a bill giving South Sudan’s National Security Service (NSS) virtually unfettered authority to arrest and detain suspects, monitor communications, conduct searches, and seize property. On 15 October REDRESS issued a joint press release condemning the proposed security bill, which passed its third reading in South Sudan’s National Legislative Assembly on 8 October. No further changes are expected before the bill is sent to President Kiir to be signed into law.

The bill is concerning because it would give security services policing powers. In the past, when security services have been given such powers there has been a high risk of torture and ill-treatment. One such example is in Sudan itself, where reports of torture by the security service, who have extensive powers, have been commonplace.

In addition, there are limited safeguards contained in the bill to ensure that the South Sudanese security service would not abuse its power. For example, the bill does not specify where the security service could detain people. That omission would open the door to secret detention in unknown locations inaccessible to lawyers and family members, and without the possibility of supervision by independent bodies.

In an op-ed published in the Sudan Tribune this month REDRESS Counsel Lutz Oette suggested that the bill bears an unfortunate resemblance to Sudan’s 2010 National Security Act, which affords few rights to those arrested and detained, while giving immunity to members of the security services that can only be lifted by the minister or head of security. While immunity has been removed from the revised bill, many concerns remain in the pending bill highlighted above.

Read our press release

Read Lutz Oette's article


 

REDRESS welcomes defeat of government plans to restrict judicial review

On Monday 27 October the House of Lords voted against government plans to curtail access to judicial review. REDRESS had been advocating for this result, and earlier this month we were joined by several other NGOs in publishing a briefing into how the proposed Criminal Justice and Courts Bill would significantly restrict the procedure for judicial review.

Judicial review is a legal process by which individuals can challenge decisions made by public authorities on the basis that they are unlawful, irrational, unfair or disproportionate. It is a directly accessible check on abuse of power, a means of holding the executive to account, increasing transparency, and of providing redress when public agencies and central Government act unlawfully.

There were serious concerns about the constitutional implications of making it harder for those without means to challenge public decision making. Parliament’s own Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) had said that there was no evidence to support the case for reform. Significantly, the JCHR also criticised the Lord Chancellor’s “energetic pursuit” of reforms to insulate the executive from challenge as unavoidably problematic for the rule of law.

The briefing also argued that the effect of the proposals would have been to suppress legitimate challenge, limit judges’ discretion to act in the public interest, and shield public agencies from effective oversight.

Read the briefing here 


 

Submission to High Commissioner of Human Rights about torture in Sri Lanka

On 31 October REDRESS submitted a report to the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) about the prevalence of torture in Sri Lanka, to aid the Office's Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL). In particular, the submission addressed developments relating to torture in the period 2002-2011, with a focus on state responsibility.

The submission highlighted cases of torture that REDRESS and others brought before the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee, including Sri Lanka’s failure to engage with the Committee in response to individual complaints, and to implement the Committee’s views. It argues that the lack of response to complaints at the international level forms part of the broader problem of the systemic nature of torture and impunity in Sri Lanka. This includes the failure of Sri Lanka to undertake the legislative and institutional reforms needed to bring relevant law and practice in line with its international obligations.

Read the submission

Bahraini human rights defender Maryam Al-Khawaja visits REDRESS

In October human rights defender Maryam Al-Khawaja visited REDRESS to discuss the situation of defenders of human rights in Bahrain, including her father, whose detention was labelled as "arbitrary" by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention back in July 2012. He is serving a life sentence for taking part in peaceful demonstrations. 

Maryam herself was arrested in late August after travelling to Bahrain to visit her father, but was released on 18 September after international pressure. REDRESS strongly condemned her arrest in a press statement, and called for the Bahraini government to put an end to her detention. REDRESS also urged diplomatic representatives in the country to lobby for her release. Danish consular officials specifically were asked to request access to Maryam, who has Danish citizenship, to assess her welfare. REDRESS also appealed to EU states and to the UN main expert on the situation of human rights defenders to intervene on her behalf. 

REDRESS has also tried to bring attention to the situation of hundreds of other political prisoners unfairly held in detention in Bahrain. On 5 September, REDRESS together with other NGOs wrote a letter to 47 states to appeal for their intervention. 

Read our press release

Read the joint NGO letter

More information on our work in Bahrain here

Photo: Maryam Al-Khawaja at the REDRESS offices earlier this month

Conferences and workshops

Conference on victims of serious international crimes in the EU

29 October 2014, The Hague, The Netherlands

REDRESS, FIDH, ECCHR and TRIAL hosted a conference in the margins of the 17th EU Genocide Network meeting, titled 'Delivering Justice to Victims of International Crimes'. The conference brought together victims, lawyers, police officers, human rights activists and other practitioners who work directly with victims of international crimes to discuss challenges and share best practices. Panels of experts from across the EU discussed effective victim participation, strengthening protection of victims and witnesses, effective victim support through the course of proceedings and access to reparation, including compensation. REDRESS also launched its report, ‘Driving Forward Justice: Victims of Serious International Crimes in the EU’, which provides information on how the EU Directive on minimum standards for victims, which must be transposed into national law by EU countries, applies to victims of international crimes and how victims can benefit from its implementation. 

Read the report

See the agenda of the meeting

Photo: Luc Walleyn speaking on enforcement of reparation awards in serious international crimes cases


 

17th EU Genocide Network meeting

30 October 2014, The Hague, The Netherlands

REDRESS attended the 17th meeting of the EU Genocide Network to continue our work to encourage investigations and prosecutions of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture in EU states. The meeting brought together police, prosecutors, investigators and other practitioners specialising in the investigation and prosecution of international crimes from EU member states, Switzerland, Norway, the USA and Canada. The meeting considered in particular the challenges associated with financial investigations and asset recovery in serious international crimes cases. The Network contact points also discussed the adoption of the EU Genocide Network strategy on the fight against impunity for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

REDRESS had provided substantial input into the strategy, and co-authored a letter sent to contact points in advance of the meeting, encouraging contact points to adopt and support the Strategy.

Read our letter here


 

Seminar on justice, reparation and accountability for torture survivors

9 October 2014, London, UK

On 9 October REDRESS held a seminar at Matrix Chambers in London to talk about how REDRESS aims to fulfil its mission to obtain justice for survivors of torture, hold accountable the governments and individuals who perpetrate torture, and develop the means of ensuring compliance with international standards and securing remedies for victims. Speakers included Hugh Southey QC (Matrix Chambers), and the REDRESS team of Carla Ferstman (Director), Kevin Laue (Legal Adviser), and Harpreet Paul (Caseworker). The event was attended by solicitors and other lawyers concerned with reparation for torture survivors.

Read more about the event 


 

Workshop on the impact of austerity on legal aid

10 October 2014, London, UK

On 10 October REDRESS ran a day-long workshop at the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation to discuss upcoming changes to legal service provision, the impact of the changes to welfare and support services already in place, the current state of the law on issues that vulnerable individuals often face, and the ways that relevant groups can work better together. Experts from various different law firms and NGOs gave insights into the different challenges facing vulnerable people and those legal professionals working with them, made suggestions for how we might better work together, and discussed the increased funding that would be required to meet increasing demands on the third sector as a result of cuts to public services.  

Read more about the event


 

Seminar on the UK High Court ruling against Bahraini Prince accused of torture

7 October 2014, London, UK

On 7 October REDRESS took part in a seminar at The Garden Court Chambers in London to highlight the significance of the ruling by the UK High Court against Bahraini prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa. The Court ruled that Al Khalifa does not have immunity from prosecution in a case against him involving allegations of torture. 

The event was chaired by Sue Willman of Deighton Pierce Glynn and addressed by, among others, Tom Hickamn (barrister, Blackstone Chambers), Stephen Knafler QC (Garden Court) and REDRESS Legal Advisor Kevin Laue. Mr Laue said that it was important to use every opportunity to test and expose when necessary the UK’s commitment to universal jurisdiction and their ‘no safe haven’ policy, and to question why there had only been one effective prosecution (Zardad) since torture was made a crime in 1988. He also expressed his hope that this case would encourage victims from other states to come forward when a suspect is within the UK’s jurisdiction.  

Spaces available for the London Marathon and British 10K Run

Please remember that there are still available spots for REDRESS runners at some events next year. We are looking for one sponsored runner for the 2015 London Marathon (Sunday 26 April) and five more for the British 10K Run (12 July). If you want to support REDRESS while taking part in a major sporting event, contact Jennifer on jennifer@redress.org

 

Recent media coverage

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