With Bosnia’s aspirations to EU and NATO membership, it is only natural that it sometimes looks to Europe and the US as a model. But when it comes to combating terrorism, the country seems to be learning the wrong lessons – emphasizing national security at the expense of human rights and the rule of law.
Imad Al Husin is a case in point. Al Husin has been in detention in Bosnia since 2008 on suspicion of terrorism. He has never been charged with a crime. The efforts by the Bosnian government to expel him to Syria have been definitively blocked by the European Court of Human Rights. Yet he remains in detention.
The February 7 European Court ruling blocked his deportation on the grounds that he risked ill-treatment if returned to Syria. The judgment stated that Al Husin’s extended detention in Bosnia at a time when the government was not taking active steps to deport him violates the European Convention of Human Rights.
The judgment couldn’t be clearer – either Bosnian authorities find a third country to which it can deport Al Husin, bring criminal charges against him, or release him. As of May 7, when the court’s ruling became final, Bosnian authorities had not found a suitable third country that would accept Al Husin nor had any charges been brought against him. His continued detention is therefore unlawful.
Human Rights Watch has monitored Al Husin’s case closely since 2008, when he was initially detained following the 2007 revocation of his naturalized Bosnian citizenship on “unspecified security grounds.” In March 2011, Human Rights Watch intervened in the case, filing a submission to the court stating that rights to liberty and freedom from arbitrary arrests and detentions apply to all individuals equally, including in the context of immigration and national security.
Al Husin has lived in former Yugoslavia since 1983. He served in the El Mujahid unit of the Bosnian Army during the war. He became a naturalized Bosnian citizen in 1994 and has a Bosnian wife and six children with Bosnian citizenship.
Following the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, Bosnia came under pressure from the US and other governments to clamp down on former foreign fighters with alleged links to terrorism. Al Husin was among the 300 people stripped of Bosnian citizenship by a special commission established in 2005, which was criticized by Human Rights Watch and others for lack of procedural safeguards.
Bosnia took a further step in the wrong direction in 2008 when it passed a law permitting indefinite detention of foreign terrorism suspects without charge even when the authorities are not taking active steps to remove them from the country. Al Husin was one of six suspects detained under the law. He has never seen nor been able to contest the evidence that led the Bosnian authorities to conclude he is a threat to national security.
Dubious counterterrorism policies in Europe have not gone unchecked. The European Court ruled in February 2009 that the United Kingdom's (by then revoked) policy of indefinitely detaining foreign terrorism suspects based on secret evidence violated human rights. The court emphasized that fair-trial rights require the government to inform suspects about the charges against them. This assertion was confirmed by the court in Al-Husin’s case and was argued by Human Rights Watch in its 2011 submission to the court.
Despite the European Court ruling in his favor and precedent from the earlier UK case, Al Husin remains in the immigration detention center in Lukavica, where he has been held since October 2008 with no end in sight. His detention is renewed on a monthly basis but appeals fall on deaf ears. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given their own mixed records in upholding human rights while countering terrorism, Bosnia’s international partners have been silent about this injustice.
If Bosnia is serious about its European aspirations, it should carry out the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, uphold the rule of law, and release Al Husin from detention. The government should also revoke the 2008 law that permits such arbitrary detentions.
Lydia Gall is the Balkans and Central and Eastern Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch.