In a letter sent to Attorney General Janet Reno, Human Rights Watch called on the U.S. to stay the deportation order against Hani El Sayegh under the Convention against Torture. El Sayegh is scheduled to be deported to Saudi Arabia on October 6.
A Saudi national, El Sayegh was extradited to the U.S. from Canada in 1997 in connection with the 1996 bombing of a U.S. army base in al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia. When the U.S. lacked the evidence to prosecute El Sayegh in its own courts, it began deportation proceedings, despite its obligation under the Convention against Torture not to return someone "a state where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture."
"The Convention against Torture was designed to prevent exactly this kind of extradition," said Hanny Megally, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division. "The U.S. didn't have the evidence to prosecute him, but in Saudi Arabia he could be convicted on the basis of an uncorroborated confession."
The order to deport El Sayegh came after Attorney General Reno said that the U.S. had received assurances that Saudi Arabia would not torture him. Reno did not make public the nature of the assurances, or say whether there were any mechanisms in place for monitoring. The U.S. admits it is aware of accounts of torture and abuse of detainees in Saudi Arabia, but says that detailed information is difficult to obtain because diplomats and human rights observers are not allowed into Ministry of Interior prisons were political detainees are held.
"The U.S. hasn't been able to prevent the torture of its own citizens in Saudi Arabia," Megally said. "How is it going to safeguard this Saudi national?"
Human Rights Watch called on the U.S. to make the Saudi assurances public, and to stay the deportation unless and until those assurances include full protection from human rights violations. Those violations include torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment or treatment, including flogging, incommunicado detention, and execution by beheading. In addition, these assurances should guarantee fair and open trial with access for international observers, and frequent visits by counsel, family members, and diplomatic personnel.
For additional information contact:
Clarisa Bencomo (New York) 212 216-1232
The text of the letter follows.
October 5, 1999
Attorney General Janet Reno
Department of Justice
Dear Attorney General Reno,
I am writing you with regard to the case of Hani `Abd al-Rahim Hussein El Sayegh (A73 682 069), a Saudi national who was extradited to the United States in June 1997, from Canada, in connection with his alleged involvement in attacks or planned attacks against U.S. military personnel in Saudi Arabia. Your decision to direct Mr. El Sayegh's deportation to Saudi Arabia, based on assurances from that government, raises deep concerns on our part because there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture, grossly unfair trial, and could face execution by beheading if convicted. For this reason we are asking you to make public the nature of the assurances you received from the Saudi Arabian government, and to withhold deportation until those assurances cover the full range violations prohibited by the Convention against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Punishment or Treatment (CAT).
On September 10, 1997 we first wrote to you expressing our concern over Mr. El Sayegh's treatment if he were returned to Saudi Arabia, and asking you to make clear that the U.S. would not consider deporting or extraditing him to Saudi Arabia given that country's appalling and inexcusable human rights record. We cited evidence of torture of detainees, deaths in custody, grossly unfair trials, and the executions of four suspects in a 1995 bomb attack, apparently on the basis of confessions obtained after two months of incommunicado detention. In short, we described precisely the conditions under which the U.S.'s obligation under Article 3 of the CAT prevail: "No State Party shall expel, return ("refouler") or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture."
In reply James S. Reynolds, chief of the Justice Department's Terrorism and Violent Crime Section said that both the Justice and State departments "are cognizant of their responsibilities relating to human rights issues, and such issues will be carefully evaluated in the event the point is reached at which they are pertinent." We were therefore disturbed by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) decision on September 29, 1999 to deport Mr. El Sayegh to Saudi Arabia on or after October 6. The decision was based on your September 29, 1999 memorandum to INS Commissioner Doris Meissner. In that memorandum you state that "The Secretary of State has obtained, and forwarded to me, assurances from the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that Mr. El Sayegh would not be tortured if he were removed there," and that "after consulting with the Secretary of State and taking into account all relevant considerations, including human rights practices in Saudi Arabia, I have determined that these assurance are sufficiently reliable to allow Mr. El Sayegh's removal to Saudi Arabia, and that such removal would be consistent with Article 3."
The human rights record of Saudi Arabia deepens our concern about the sufficiency of the Saudi Arabian assurances. The U.S. Department of State's Saudi Arabia Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1998 admits the U.S. has received "credible reports that the authorities abuse detainees, both citizens and foreigners. Ministry of Interior officials are responsible for most incidents of abuse, including beatings and sleep deprivation. In addition, there were allegations of torture." The report also reports great difficulties in monitoring conditions of detention and torture:
The Government's general refusal to grant members of diplomatic missions access to the Ministry of Interior detention facilities or allow members of international human rights groups into the country hinders efforts to confirm or discount reports of abuses....[T]he Government does not permit human rights monitors to visit prisons or jails. The Government does not allow impartial observers of any type access to specialized Ministry of Interior prisons, where it detains persons accused of political subversion.
The U.S., like other countries, has had difficulty safeguarding its citizens from human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. The obstacles to safeguarding the rights of a Saudi national from the Shi'a minority are necessarily greater, making it even more important the ensure that the assurances the U.S. has received are clear and substantial.
Human Rights Watch is also concerned that the decision to deport Mr. El Sayegh does not appear to have taken into account other types of serious human rights violations he is likely to be subjected to, including incommunicado detention, grossly unfair trial, and punishments of flogging and execution. Again, the State Department Saudi Arabia Country Report details a pattern of serious violations against political detainees, including long term incommunicado detention and detention without trial, and closed trials, and notes that violations against "Shi'a Muslims suspected of fundamentalist tendencies or Iranian sympathies," have increased since the al-Khobar bombing. We are particularly concerned about the increasingly frequent use of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia, in contrast to the worldwide trend toward abolition of the death penalty. This year already eighty-five individuals have been executed by beheading in Saudi Arabia, a three-fold increase from the previous year. Although the U.S. does not take a position against the death penalty, its use Saudi Arabia, in the absence of the most basic fair trial guarantees, is a clear violation of the right to life.
As government assurances are sometimes entered into the public record through court proceedings, we urge you to also make public the full text of the Saudi Arabian assurances in this case. Further, we urge you to stay the deportation order against Mr. El Sayegh unless and until those assurances include protection from the full range of human rights violations he may be subjected to. Those violations include torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment or treatment, including flogging, incommunicado detention, and execution by beheading. In addition, the assurances should guarantee fair and open trial with access for international observers, and frequent visits by counsel, family members, and diplomatic personnel.
Middle East and North Africa Division
cc: Secretary of State Madeline Albright
INS Commissioner Doris Meissner
Assistant Secretary of State Harold Koh