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Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned that governments are increasingly relying on diplomatic assurances as a device to circumvent the obligation not to return any person to a place where he or she would be at risk of torture or ill-treatment. The concern derives from the many examples in this paper, indicating a trend that seriously undermines the absolute prohibition against torture and ill-treatment. The use of diplomatic assurances threatens to erode the decades-long work of governmentsin close alliance with civil societyto eradicate torture. It would be tragic indeed if the actions of terrorists resurrected torture as a legitimate means of interrogation and control.
Human Rights Watch calls on all governments to:
- Reaffirm the absolute nature of the obligation not to return any person to a country where there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she may be in danger of being subjected to torture or prohibited ill-treatment, in full conformity with international law;
- Prohibit reliance upon diplomatic assurances under any circumstances to circumvent the absolute obligation not to return any person to a country where there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she may be in danger of being subjected to torture or prohibited ill-treatment;
- Declare reliance upon diplomatic assurances per definition unacceptable in circumstances where there is substantial and credible evidence that torture and prohibited ill-treatment in the country of return are systematic, widespread, endemic, or a recalcitrant or persistent problem; where governmental authorities do not have effective control over the forces in their country that perpetrate acts of torture and ill-treatment; or where the government consistently targets members of a particular racial, ethnic, religious, political or other identifiable group for torture or ill-treatment and the person subject to return is associated with that group;
- Ensure that any person subject to return has the effective opportunity, in conformity with internationally recognized procedural guarantees, to challenge the legality of the returnincluding the reliability of any diplomatic assurances provided and the adequacy of any proposed post-return monitoring arrangementsprior to return before an independent tribunal and with the right of appeal.
Human Rights Watch calls on the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture to:
- Undertake an in-depth inquiry focusing exclusively on the practice of states reliance on diplomatic assurances, elaborating clear criteria and standards for their use with the purpose of reaffirming the absolute nature of the prohibition against returning any person to a country where there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she may be in danger of being subjected to torture or prohibited ill-treatment, and with the goal of ensuring full respect by U.N. member states for that legal obligation.