Abu Qatada case shows how principles of human rights and freedom from torture extend to all – even the despised
The 51-year-old preacher has been excused of providing religious backing to terrorism, including the September 11 attacks on the U.S.; others allege he has been closely connected with the Al Qaeda terror network.
He has lived in the UK since 1993, when he entered on a fraudulent passport. And many seem to want him out.
As such, for the last 10 years, the British government has been trying to deport Qatada to Jordan, where he stands accused in military trials of assisting in terrorism attacks.
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Qatada cannot be deported to Jordan because of the risk he may be tortured and that evidence from torture may be used in his trial there.
And while many British newspapers have focused on the issue of torture – and many more on the millions of pounds it has cost the UK to monitor, detain, and process Qatada – the principles of ‘non-refoulement’ at the basis of the Courts decision remain hazy amidst the outcry.
Non-refoulement is proscribed in the UN Convention against Torture – which both the UK and Jordan have ratified. Basically, it means that a country may not deport a person to a country: where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.
While the Prince of Jordan has made public assertions that it is “illogical” to believe Qatada would be tortured if deported to Jordan, the European Court is not of the same opinion.
Atlas of Torture, a project of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights in Vienna, provides profiles of countries human rights and torture records based on reports from UN Special Rapporteurs, the UN Committee against Torture, and the Sub-committee for the Prevention of Torture. Of Jordan, they state that: “It was alleged that torture was commonly practised to extract confessions or to obtain intelligence between the time of arrest and transfer to pre-trial detention… The Special Rapporteur thus concluded that the practice of torture was widespread in Jordan and that torture was routinely used…”
To circumvent its obligations as regards non-refoulment, the UK Home Office has sought assurances from Jordan that Qatada will not be tortured, a naïve undertaking at best. Some members of parliament have gone so far as to suggest that the UK should simply temporarily withdraw from the human rights treaty to thus continue with the deportation.
These are all outrageous suggestions. The UK has deported Tamils and Congolese to their home countries when there was evidence they would be tortured, when nearly at the same moment, during the announcement of the Detainee Inquiry, Prime Minister David Cameron stated, “Our reputation as a country that believes in human rights, fairness and the rule of law – indeed for much of what the services exist to protect – risks being tarnished.”
The rule of law, the UN Convention against Torture, is not something one can simply ignore – or withdraw from – temporarily.