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The European Union should resist British government efforts to gain acceptance for the use of diplomatic assurances against torture in national security deportations and extraditions.

The 36-page report, titled "Not the Way Forward: The UK's Dangerous Reliance on Diplomatic Assurances,"
calls on the EU to uphold its own guidelines on torture and to refuse
to legitimate unreliable promises against torture made by abusive
governments.

"The reason there's a global ban on sending people back to
places where they might be tortured is precisely because abusive
governments can't be trusted," said Julia Hall, senior counterterrorism
counsel at Human Rights Watch. "Terrorism suspects at risk of torture
in their home countries should have fair trials in the EU."  

The report details the British government's advocacy in
various EU-related forums in favor of broader acceptance of diplomatic
assurances, which British officials claim are "an effective way
forward" for European countries. The UK is currently leading an effort,
through the G6 (group of interior ministers from France, Germany,
Italy, Poland, Spain, and the UK), for broader EU endorsement of its
"deportation with assurances" policy. At meetings in Venice and Sopot
in 2007, the G6 issued concluding statements urging the further
exploration of possibilities for employing diplomatic assurances and
seeking consensus on their use in the EU.  

The UK also advocated for consideration of national
security expulsions in reliance on diplomatic assurances prior to a
Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting in November 2007. The working
group setting the agenda for that meeting declined to put the issue on
the agenda, signaling an unease among some member states that the use
of such assurances could be enshrined as a matter of EU policy.  

In February 2008, the European Commission's Directorate
General for External Relations issued an opinion expressing strong
concern that the use of such assurances undermines the global ban on
torture and efforts to eradicate such abuse.

"So far, the EU has remained firm and rebuffed the UK's efforts to weaken the ban on torture," said Hall.

In
addition to documenting the UK's efforts to advocate at the EU for
broad acceptance of diplomatic assurances, the Human Rights Watch
report reviews recent European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence in
cases involving diplomatic assurances. These cases include Saadi v.
Italy, in which the UK intervened in an ill-fated attempt to water down
the ban on returns to risk of ill-treatment. The report also explains
how other countries -including EU members Denmark, Italy, and Spain, as
well as Switzerland, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan - are
exploring or already using diplomatic assurances for deportations and
extraditions, further weakening the global ban on transfers to risk of
torture.  

"The British government is setting a bad example at a
time when measures designed to prevent torture are under assault," said
Hall. "It is disturbing that other EU countries with long histories of
promoting and protecting human rights are following the UK's lead. All
EU member states should be holding perpetrators of torture accountable,
not partnering with them."

The new report highlights two appeals before the upper
house of the UK Parliament, the House of Lords, in October 2008. In RB
and U v. Secretary of State for the Home Department, to be heard on
October 22 and 23, 2008, the potential deportees are two Algerians, and
the assurances from the Algerian authorities were negotiated for each
individual. On October 28 and 29, the Lords will hear Secretary of
State for the Home Department v. OO (Othman) involving Omar Othman
(a.k.a. Abu Qatada), a radical Muslim cleric accused of ties to al
Qaeda. The UK is seeking to deport Othman in reliance on assurances
from the Jordanian authorities in a broad "memorandum of understanding"
between the UK and Jordan.  

The British government concedes that, but for the
assurances, the men would be at risk of torture; it is thus the
effectiveness of the assurances that lies at the heart of the appeals.
In hearing these appeals, Britain's highest court will for the first
time grapple with the government's "deportation with assurances"
policy, an important component of its counterterrorism strategy. Human
Rights Watch and Justice, the London-based affiliate of the
International Commission of Jurists, submitted an amicus brief for consideration in both appeals.

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