And so, thirteen years after his capture, eight years after the US Government cleared him for release, and seven years after President Obama’s spectacularly broken promise to shut down Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer has left the prison, as innocent as the day he went in.
How far are the courts willing to go to intervene in matters of foreign affairs in order to protect human rights? Spoiler: they’re not. Continue reading
This week’s Round-up is brought to you by Alex Wessely.
In the news:
Military chiefs have criticised the influence of Human Rights law in a report published this week, arguing that the “need to arrest and detain enemy combatants in a conflict zone should not be expected to comply with peace-time standards”. This follows a series of cases over the years which found the Ministry of Defence liable for human rights violations abroad, culminating in allegations of unlawful killing in the Al-Sweady Inquiry that were judged “wholly without foundation” in December.
The Strasbourg Court has ruled that the inability of four men to bring torture compensation claims against Saudi Arabia in UK courts did not breach the Convention. The Court held that a “grant of immunity to the state officials in the present case reflected generally recognised rules of public international law” and that there had been no violation of Article 6 (right of access to court).
The claimants argued that there there was emerging support for a special exception to this immunity in cases concerning civil claims for torture lodged against foreign State officials. But the Court took the view that the bulk of the authority was to the effect that the State’s right to immunity may not be circumvented by suing its servants or agents instead. The fact that conduct was unlawful or objectionable was not, of itself, a ground for refusing immunity. Continue reading
National Commissioner of the South African Police Service v Southern African Human Rights Litigation Centre (485/2012)  ZASCA 168 (27 November 2013) – read judgment.
In what appears to be the first case where the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) has had to consider the investigation of crimes committed extraterritorially, the Court has made it clear that the perpetrators of systematic torture – as was alleged in this case – can be held accountable in South Africa regardless of where the offending acts took place.
It had been alleged that Zimbabwean officials had on a widespread scale tortured opponents of the ruling party. The Gauteng high court had ordered the SAPS to initiate an investigation under the Implementation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Act 27 of 2002 (the ICC Act) into the alleged offences (see my previous post on that ruling). Continue reading
South African Litigation Centre and Zimbabwe Exiles Forum v. National Director of Public Prosecutions and other governmental units – read judgment
South Africa’s North Gauteng High Court has just ruled that South African prosecutors and police illegally refused to proceed with an investigation of systematic torture in Zimbabwe.
South Africa, like many countries, has adopted the international crime prosecution Treaty (“the Rome Statute”). This means that under ordinary domestic law (the ICC Act) the South African investigative authorities have the power to prosecute anyone who has committed torture, or a crime against humanity anywhere in the world, if the perpetrator is in the country (at any time when investigation is contemplated). Jurisdiction is also vested irrespective of the perpetrator’s whereabouts if the victim is a South African citizen.
Of course this burden of responsibility teems with diplomatic difficulties, but generally it has been discharged with the convenient prosecutions of has-beens like Charles Taylor and Slobodan Milošević.
As Naomi Roht-Arriaza points out in her fascinating post on the subject, this particular case of South Africa v Zimbabwe illustrates the strain put on governments by the principle of complementarity under the 1998 Rome Statute, which puts pressure on implicated states to investigate these major crimes on their threshold, too close to home. It should come as no surprise that South African prosecutors are reluctant to investigate allegations of torture committed in Zimbabwe –
One of the critiques of transnational prosecutions based on universal jurisdiction is that they are a new brand of neo-colonialism, with former colonial powers seeking to bring into court disgraced leaders of their former colonies.
Now the tables are turning, and this universal jurisdiction is not being universally welcomed.
R (on the application of AM) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 521 – Read judgment
Whether expert evidence relied upon by an asylum seeker amounted to “independent evidence” of torture was the key issue before the Court of Appeal in this case . The issue arose in the context of AM’s claim against the Home Office for wrongful imprisonment contrary to the UK Border Agency’s Enforcement Instructions and Guidance. The Guidance, which contains the policy of the Agency on detentions (amongst other things), says that where there is “independent evidence” that a person has been tortured, that person is suitable for detention only in “very exceptional circumstances”.
AM, an Angolan national, was detained pending removal following an unsuccessful appeal from the refusal of her asylum claim, the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal having found her to have “no credibility whatsoever” and rejected her evidence that she had been raped and tortured. She later launched a fresh asylum claim on the basis of new evidence, in the form of an expert report by a wound and scar specialist, Ms Kralj, which linked the various scars on her body to torture. The claim was refused again but AM won her appeal. The Tribunal this time found that she had been raped and tortured as she had claimed, causing the scars on her body.