Immunities as a bar to civil redress

Immunities and amnesties which have the effect of blocking investigations, prosecutions and civil reparations, are inconsistent with the right of victims to access justice and the obligation to prosecute international crimes. The recently revised Updated Set of Principles for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights through Action to Combat Impunity calls on States to "adopt and enforce safeguards against any abuse of rules such as those pertaining to prescription, amnesty, … refusal to extradite, … due obedience, official immunities … that fosters or contributes to impunity."

REDRESS' work in this area

REDRESS has looked closely into the question of immunities (both for individual officials and the State) in civil claims for reparation, as part of its work to promote justice for torture survivors. In December 2005, it published a year long study on state immunity entitled: IMMUNITY v. ACCOUNTABILITY: Considering the Relationship between State Immunity and Accountability for Torture and Other Serious International Crimes, and it is a third party intervener in the case of Jones, Mitchell and others v. the United Kingdom, currently before the European Court of Human Rights, in which the right of British nationals to bring a claim in English courts against the individual Saudi officials and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, whom the claimants allege are responsible for their torture.  It has also intervened in the case of Nait-Liman v Switzerland before the European Court, which raises issues of jurisdiction and immunity, and on foreign official immunity before the Canadian courts in the case of Kazemi v Iran.

REDRESS has also commented extensively on the inapplicability of amnesties to serious crimes under international law, such as torture. It submitted an amicus brief and made further written and oral submissions to the Special Court of Sierra Leone, which was considering the impact of national amnesties on its international or quasi-international jurisdiction. In a landmark decision, the Court determined that amnesties could not bar the prosecution of international crimes. REDRESS has also commented on the amnesties in Bahrain and Chile, and has argued before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights that Chile's amnesty legislation prevented torture survivors from accessing an adequate, effective and prompt remedy.

Torture Damages Bill

The Torture Damages Bill is a Private Members Bill initiated by the late Lord Archer of Sandwell QC had it's first reading in the House of Lords on 5 March 2007. The Bill seeks to create an exception to the State Immunity Act 1978 in order to prevent alleged torturers from successfully claiming immunity in British courts. In 2008, the Bill was passed by the House of Lords but stalled in the Commons in 2008, 2009 and 2010. 

For more information on the Bill please click here


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