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(London) – The decision by the European Court of Human Rights on February 7, 2012, to block Bosnia’s deportation of a Syrian terrorism suspect highlights Bosnia’s problematic counterterrorism policy, Human Rights Watch said today. The court blocked the deportation because of the risk that he would be ill-treated in Syria.

“The European Court’s ruling makes clear the injustices in Bosnia’s treatment of foreign terrorism suspects,” said Benjamin Ward, Europe and Central Asia deputy director at Human Rights Watch, “It should immediately halt any further efforts to deport suspects to countries where they risk torture.”

In the case of Al Husin v. Bosnia and Herzegovina,the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Imad Al Husin, a Syrian who came to Bosnia as a fighter during the 1992-1995 war, would be at risk of ill-treatment if returned to Syria because of widespread torture in detention there and the country’s general security situation.

The court also found that his extended immigration detention in Bosnia at a time when the government was not taking active steps to deport him violated his right to liberty.

The court also issued a ruling on February 7 in a linked case, Al Hamdani v. Bosnia and Herzegovina. The court ruled that an Iraqi former fighter stripped of his Bosnian nationality would not be at risk of torture if returned to Iraq, but that his detention in 2009 and 2010 at a time when the Bosnian authorities were not taking steps to remove him violated his right to liberty. He was released from detention in April 2011.

Bosnian law permits the government to detain foreign terrorism suspects indefinitely without charge even when the authorities are not taking active steps to remove them from the country. The court’s ruling should force authorities to rethink that policy, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch intervened in the case, arguing for the importance of effective safeguards in cases involving deportation and detention of terrorism suspects, and reiterating the absolute prohibition on returning people to places where they would be at risk of torture and ill-treatment. The intervention also included information about Syria’s abusive treatment of suspected Islamists.

During the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995, Al Husin served in the al-Mujahidin unit of the Bosnian Army, consisting mostly of foreign volunteers from Muslim countries, and he later acquired Bosnian citizenship through marriage. His wife is a Bosnian citizen, as are their six children.

His naturalization was revoked without a hearing in 2001, based on unspecified “national security” grounds. He was detained in October 2008 by Bosnian authorities in Sarajevo and held in the Lukavica immigration detention center, pending possible deportation to Syria. He has not been charged with a crime or formally accused of terrorist activity.

In June 2011, the Bosnian authorities deported Ahmed el-Farahat, an Egyptian national, to Egypt citing national security grounds. El-Farahat had been detained without charge at Lukavica since October 2010 under national security legislation.

Three other foreign terrorism suspects are being detained without charge at Lukavica.

Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe commissioner of human rights, criticized Bosnia in March 2011 for its failure to improve safeguards for national security suspects, including providing a judicial remedy for long-term detainees at Lukavica and suspending deportations for those at risk of torture or ill-treatment in the countries of return.

“The fact that Bosnia’s counterterrorism policy breaches human rights standards should come as no surprise to the Bosnian authorities,” Ward said. “The new government in Sarajevo should now address the problems identified by the court and by the Council of Europe human rights commissioner.”

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