Rights groups to guard against abuse

Whitehall says deal allows for independent watchdogs to monitor treatment of deportees but critics not impressed with paper pledges

Alan Travis, home affairs editor, The Guardian, Friday August 12, 2005

The "no torture, no ill-treatment" deal on deportation signed this week with Jordan and expected with Algeria soon will be monitored by independent human rights groups, Whitehall sources said yesterday.

The Liberal Democrats' spokesman, Mark Oaten, said his party supported the deportation of the 10 from Algeria and Jordan on the grounds they are threat to national security, but said the "memorandum of understanding" with foreign countries would only work if they are subject to thorough independent assessment.

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"A piece of paper alone is no guarantee unless it is backed up with a way of testing any country's commitment," he said suggesting that the UN should be asked to undertake the task.

Hazel Blears, the counter-terrorism minister, said the memorandum was "a framework in which we can obtain specific assurances for specific individuals".

There are few precedents for testing such diplomatic assurances. Liberty, the human rights organisation, pointed yesterday to the case of Maher Arar, a dual Canadian-Syrian national deported by the United States to Syria via Jordan in September 2002, following assurances on torture from Damascus.

Mr Arar claimed that as well as being severely tortured throughout his detention in Syria, he was repeatedly beaten by the Jordanian authorities.

Algeria

Political violence has claimed an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 lives since 1992. Human Rights Watch says the government has staged mass arbitrary detentions, summary executions, torture under interrogation and "disappearances" to tackle the violent Islamist insurgency.

But the 2004 Home Office country bulletin for Algeria says although a state of emergency exists the security situation has improved since the 1990s and earlier curfews have been lifted: "Disappearances, torture and maltreatment and extra-judicial executions still occur, although to a much lesser extent than in the 90s."

It adds that the judicial system is not independent and that corruption is widespread. The official assessment also says "any methods" are used to "achieve the desired result" against suspected terrorists by the police and military.

"It is not possible to rule that torture may occur at police stations, for example during the period of detention. Nor is police violence said to be unusual, but according to the information, is not supposed to be systematic."

But the Home Office Report says that in the last couple of years there have been no known cases of rejected asylum-seekers deported from Europe who had been tortured or maltreated. There is a "large hearted amnesty" for those members of armed Islamist groups who surrender themselves.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees in December last year emphasised "the need to exercise the utmost caution when considering the forced return of rejected asylum-seekers to Algeria".

The agency said the national reconciliation process remains fragile and there were continuing reports of human rights abuses.

The UN warned that those rejected asylum seekers who are sent back "may face hostile treatment due to the Algerian government's perception that such persons may have been involved in international terrorism".

Jordan

The US state department acknowledges that there are persistent claims of torture in Jordan in its latest country report, including "beating, sleep deprivation, extended solitary confinement, and physical suspension".

Amnesty International's 2004 report confirms the majority of torture allegations came from individuals being held by the GID (the general intelligence department) in connection with terrorism charges.
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How safe is Algeria?

A look at official reports by the Home Office, Amnesty and other bodies into the safety, torture and human rights records of Algeria, where Britain plans to deport up to nine foreign nationals
Friday August 12, 2005

Home Office Report 2004

The risk of torture and maltreatment is greatest for those people who are suspected of participation in or support to armed Islamist groups.

The armed Islamist Movements are responsible for the largest number of cases of maltreatment and torture. The paramilitary civilian militias, outside of the supervision of the security forces, beat citizens themselves or treat them hard-heartedly.

Torture and maltreatment by officers of the security forces are banned in accordance with the law, but they still take place, albeit not as systematically and certainly not to the same extent as in the nineties.

The methods of torture reported by individuals to the special UN rapporteur in his report in 2001 are electric shocks, cigarette burns, beating, placing a cloth over the mouth drenched in soiled water which causes suffocation, hitting the soles of the feet, hanging by the neck until loss of consciousness, lighting newspapers that are placed on the abdomen and genitals, forced to look on while others are being tortured, sexual abuse and threat of rape.

Amnesty International 2005 Report

Torture remained a concern as the "war on terror" was used to justify arbitrary detentions and unfair trials. The authorities did generally not investigate allegations of torture.

Hundreds were detained on suspicion of "terrorist" acts or links to armed opposition groups. There were concerns that secret detentions, which continued in violation of national and international law, facilitated torture.

Many human rights defenders were also detained and brought before courts that failed to meet international standards for a fair trial.

Many victims do not find a willing ear for their complaints about maltreatment or torture that they underwent when appearing before a judge, not even if they have visible traces of it on their body. Amnesty International was denied access to Algeria in 2004.

In November, President Bouteflika announced plans for a general amnesty aimed at granting exemption from prosecution to security forces, state-armed militias and armed groups who surrendered regardless of whether they had committed violent crimes.

In its report of April 2002, Amnesty International mentioned that there were still reports of widespread torture and maltreatment.

Human Rights Watch Report 2005

The state has carried out a range of repressive practices since 1992, including mass arbitrary detentions without charge, summary executions, torture of detainees under interrogation, and "disappearances".

Civilians have born the brunt of the violence, from journalists, intellectuals, cultural and political figures, to thousands of ordinary villagers who were victims of indiscriminate massacres. In addition, many women were kidnapped and raped by members of armed groups.

Authorship of these attacks was rarely established and authorities rarely conducted investigations or brought the suspected perpetrators to justice.

The security forces have killed unarmed persons in disputed circumstances, but reports of summary executions are no longer commonplace. The number of new "disappearances" has dropped to almost zero during the last five years.

The human rights picture has improved overall since those worst years of violence. There are fewer security-related arrests and with it fewer reports of torture, although those who are arrested continue to be at risk of torture or ill-treatment.

HRW was granted access to Algeria in 2005.

CIA World Fact Book 2005

Intense fighting between 1992-98 resulted in over 100,000 deaths - many attributed to indiscriminate massacres of villagers by extremists.

The government gained the upper hand by the late-1990s and Islamic Salvation Front's (FIS) armed wing, the Islamic Salvation Army, disbanded in January 2000.

However, small numbers of armed militants persist in confronting government forces and conducting ambushes and occasional attacks on villages.

The army placed Abdelaziz Bouteflika in the presidency in 1999 in a fraudulent election but claimed neutrality in his 2004 landslide re-election victory.

Longstanding problems continue to face Bouteflika in his second term, including the ethnic minority Berbers' ongoing autonomy campaign, large-scale unemployment, a shortage of housing, unreliable electrical and water supplies, government inefficiencies and corruption, and the continuing - although significantly degraded - activities of extremist militants.

Algeria assumed a two-year seat on the UN Security Council in January 2004.

 
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