Slovakia Deports Mustapha Labsi to Algeria in Violation of International Law

30.4.10

On April 19, Mustapha Labsi, an Algerian terror suspect shuttled around prisons in Europe since his arrest in the UK in February 2001, lost his struggle to resist being forcibly repatriated. Labsi was returned to Algeria from Slovakia, even though, as Amnesty International explained, this was “in clear violation of Slovakia’s international obligations.” Pointing out that, at the time of his expulsion, Labsi “was legally protected against return to Algeria by two very influential judicial bodies,” Amnesty added that it was concerned about “the Slovak’s government disregard for international law.”

The first of these “two very influential judicial bodies” is the European Court of Human Rights, which, as Amnesty explained, “issued an order for interim measures on 13 August 2008 requiring that the Slovak authorities refrain from extraditing Mustapha Labsi until the appeals on his new asylum claim had been completed.”

Labsi’s wife is Slovakian, and he had sought asylum in Slovakia after his earlier imprisonment in the UK and France. He was held in the UK until 2006, when he was extradited to France. There he was tried and sentenced to six years in prison after being linked to an attempted attack on an international summit in Lille in 1996. However, he was deemed to have served out his sentence whilst awaiting extradition in the UK and was again released from custody, but after making his way to Slovakia, in the hope of being reunited with his wife and his young son (even though his long detention had led to the breakdown of his marriage and the collapse of his wife’s mental health), he was imprisoned again, in May 2007, following an extradition request by the Algerian government. Despite this, he lodged a claim for asylum in Slovakia, but this was rejected in October 2008 and again in October 2009 on appeal to the regional court in Bratislava. He then fled from a refugee camp to Austria in December 2009 and was returned to Slovakia on March 11, 2010.

The second influential body that weighed in to prevent Labsi’s expulsion is the Constitutional Court of Slovakia, which, in June 2008, concluded that a previous Supreme Court decision allowing his extradition “would violate his human rights.” The Constitutional Court, as Amnesty explained, “reaffirmed the absolute duty of the Slovak authorities not to return people to countries where they face a real risk of torture or other ill-treatment.”

As a result, the Supreme Court reconsidered Labsi’s case and accepted the Constitutional Court’s verdict in August 2008, noting that Labsi faced the risk of torture and other ill-treatment, despite “diplomatic assurances,” arranged between the Slovakian and Algerian authorities, which purported to guarantee his humane treatment. I have covered the dangers of “diplomatic assurances,” in the context of the UK’s attempts to circumvent the UN Convention Against Torture, in a number of articles (see, for example, “Abu Qatada: Law Lords and Government Endorse Torture,” examining Britain’s “Memorandum of Understanding” with Jordan and its even less binding unwritten agreement with Algeria), and am pleased to recommend Amnesty International’s report, issued earlier this month, entitled, “Dangerous Deals: Europe’s Reliance on ‘Diplomatic Assurances’ Against Torture” (PDF), which features a section on Mustapha Labsi’s case.

Despite these rulings, however, when the Slovakian Supreme Court rejected Labsi’s final appeal regarding his asylum claim on March 30, the government stepped in to deport him, even though his lawyer was preparing to file a claim with the Constitutional Court seeking clarification of his status, and even though, on April 16, the European Court of Human Rights notified his legal representative, Maria Kolikova, that its August 2008 order “would remain in effect until Mustapha Labsi had the opportunity to file a claim with the Constitutional Court and that claim was ruled upon.”

Describing the circumstances of his return to Algeria, Amnesty also explained:

His lawyers and family members were not notified of the expulsion and Mustapha Labsi had no opportunity to challenge the decision of the Ministry of Interior to return him to Algeria. The Slovak Minister of Interior was reported to have justified the breach of the European Court’s order by invoking national security and claiming that the penalty for such a violation was only a “couple of thousand euros”.

In response, Maria Kolikova stated, “This justification amounts to incitement to a violation of a court decision”, and as Amnesty also noted, “In further defiance of the authority of the European Court, the Slovak authorities failed to inform the European Court of Mustapha Labsi’s expulsion, never mind its intention to do so.” The Court was only notified of Labsi’s expulsion by his legal representatives.

On Thursday, the Chairpersons of two Committees of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) expressed their shock and concern at the expulsion, which, as they noted, ignored the European Court’s interim measure, which was binding on the Slovakian government. Christos Pourgourides, the Chair of PACE’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, and John Greenway, the Chair of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population, said, “It is disgraceful to have extradited Mustapha Labsi to Algeria; this is a case in which there exists an imminent risk of irreparable damage to the applicant. Such action directly undermines the authority of the Strasbourg Court at a time when all member states have just reiterated their attachment to the Court. This is an unacceptable disregard of European Convention on Human Rights requirements.”

Amnesty International is concerned about Mustapha Labsi’s fate in Algeria, because he was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment for “membership in a radical Islamist network,” and because the Algerian security service (the Département du renseignement et de la sécurité, or DRS) has a fearsome reputation for torture, which makes the “diplomatic assurances” signed by Slovakia, the UK and other countries — or variations on these “assurances” — absolutely worthless.

As Amnesty explained in its report on “diplomatic assurances”:

Such unreliable promises, made outside the international multilateral treaty regime that was created specifically to bind governments in a global effort to prevent torture, undermine the absolute ban on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, which includes the prohibition against sending persons back to places where they are at risk of such abuse (the non-refoulement obligation) … International and national human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have spoken virtually with one voice against reliance on diplomatic assurances against torture, largely based on reliable field research in many countries where torture is practiced …

[G]overnments are using diplomatic assurances in their own self-interest to rid themselves of foreigners alleged to be involved in acts of terrorism, instead of prosecuting those persons for any crimes of which they are accused. But under international law, the ban on torture and other ill-treatment, including sending a person to a place where he or she is at risk of such abuse, is absolute: the status of the person or crimes he or she might be suspected of committing is simply irrelevant and cannot be taken into consideration in assessing the risk.

It is too late now for Mustapha Labsi, but Amnesty’s analysis is absolutely correct. Whatever Mustapha Labsi and other terror suspects are alleged to have done, the solution is not for European governments to undermine their commitment to the absolute prohibition on torture through worthless agreements with states that routinely use torture, but rather to find ways to “prosecut[e] those persons for any crimes of which they are accused.”

To take action for Mustapha Labsi, please visit this page.

(‘DiggThis’)

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and currently on tour in the UK), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

For other articles dealing with Belmarsh, control orders, deportation bail, deportations and extraditions, see Deals with dictators undermined by British request for return of five Guantánamo detainees (August 2007), Britain’s Guantánamo: the troubling tale of Tunisian Belmarsh detainee Hedi Boudhiba, extradited, cleared and abandoned in Spain (August 2007), Guantánamo as house arrest: Britain’s law lords capitulate on control orders (November 2007), The Guantánamo Britons and Spain’s dubious extradition request (December 2007), Britain’s Guantánamo: control orders renewed, as one suspect is freed (February 2008), Spanish drop “inhuman” extradition request for Guantánamo Britons (March 2008), UK government deports 60 Iraqi Kurds; no one notices (March 2008), Repatriation as Russian Roulette: Will the Two Algerians Freed from Guantánamo Be Treated Fairly? (July 2008), Abu Qatada: Law Lords and Government Endorse Torture (February 2009), Ex-Guantánamo prisoner refused entry into UK, held in deportation centre (February 2009), Home Secretary ignores Court decision, kidnaps bailed men and imprisons them in Belmarsh (February 2009), Britain’s insane secret terror evidence (March 2009), Torture taints all our lives (published in the Guardian’s Comment is free), Britain’s Guantánamo: Calling For An End To Secret Evidence, Five Stories From Britain’s Guantánamo: (1) Detainee Y, Five Stories From Britain’s Guantánamo: (2) Detainee BB, Five Stories From Britain’s Guantánamo: (3) Detainee U, Five Stories From Britain’s Guantánamo: (4) Hussain Al-Samamara, Five Stories From Britain’s Guantánamo: (5) Detainee Z, Britain’s Guantánamo: Fact or Fiction? and URGENT APPEAL on British terror laws: Get your MP to support Diane Abbott’s Early Day Motion on the use of secret evidence (all April 2009), and Taking liberties with our justice system and Death in Libya, betrayal in the West (both for the Guardian), Law Lords Condemn UK’s Use of Secret Evidence And Control Orders (June 2009), Miliband Shows Leadership, Reveals Nothing About Torture To Parliamentary Committee (June 2009), Britain’s Torture Troubles: What Tony Blair Knew (June 2009), Seven years of madness: the harrowing tale of Mahmoud Abu Rideh and Britain’s anti-terror laws, Would you be able to cope?: Letters by the children of control order detainee Mahmoud Abu Rideh, Control order detainee Mahmoud Abu Rideh to be allowed to leave the UK (all June 2009), Testing control orders and Dismantle the secret state (for the Guardian), UK government issues travel document to control order detainee Mahmoud Abu Rideh after horrific suicide attempt (July 2009), Secret evidence in the case of the North West 10 “terror suspects” (August 2009), Letting go of control orders (for the Guardian, September 2009), Another Blow To Britain’s Crumbling Control Order Regime (September 2009), UK Judge Approves Use of Secret Evidence in Guantánamo Case (November 2009), Calling Time On The Use Of Secret Evidence In The UK (December 2009), Compensation for control orders is a distraction (for the Guardian, January 2010), Control Orders Take Another Blow: Libyan Cartoonist Freed (Detainee DD) (January 2010), Control Orders: Solicitors’ Evidence before the Joint Committee on Human Rights, February 3, 2010 and Control Orders: Special Advocates’ Evidence before the Joint Committee on Human Rights, February 3, 2010 (both February 2010), Will Parliament Rid Us of the Cruel and Unjust Control Order Regime? (February 2010), Don’t renew control orders, CAMPACC, JUSTICE and the Joint Committee on Human Rights tell MPs (February 2010), Fahad Hashmi and Terrorist Hysteria in US Courts (April 2010).

8 Responses

  1. Maryam Hassan says...

    An updated version of the alert (including a letter template) can be found on SACC’s website –
    http://www.sacc.org.uk/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=842&catid=51

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Maryam.
    Have I told you lately how much I admire your ability to cover about a million things at once?

  3. Mustapha Labsi’s Story, In His Own Words « freedetainees.org says...

    […] a previous article, I wrote about Mustapha Labsi, an Algerian terror suspect, shuttled between various European […]

  4. Slovakia deports Mustapha Labsi to Algeria « The Lift – Legal Issues in the Fight against Terrorism says...

    […] deports Mustapha Labsi to Algeria Posted on 1 May, 2010 by Valentina Spiga Andy Worthington reports from his blog that on April 19, Mustapha Labsi, an Algerian terror suspect was returned to Algeria […]

  5. Eleanor Boyd says...

    Thank you, Andy, for doing this for Mustapha. Your article is excellent.

  6. alan haber says...

    outrageous.

    at the end of the article there was a place that said what to do to protest or take action.

    it led to a face book page but no information.

    what to do?????????

    outrageous!!!!!!!!!

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    That’s strange, Alan. That page contains the names and addresses of Slovak officials, the Algerian government, and representatives of various international bodies that you can write to in protest. Here are a few:

    HE Mr Juraj Zervan
    Embassy of the Slovak Republic
    25 Kensington Palace Gardens
    London W8 4QY
    Email: mail@slovakembassy.co.uk
    See http://slovakia.embassyhomepage.com/index.htm for details of your local embassy

    Abdelaziz Bouteflika
    Président de la République
    Présidence de la République
    El Mouradia
    Alger,
    Algeria
    Fax: +213 21 609618/ 691595
    E-mail: president@el-mouradia.dz

    Tayeb Belaiz
    Ministre de la Justice
    Ministère de la Justice
    8 Place Bir Hakem
    16030 El Bihar
    Alger
    Algeria
    Fax: +213 21 922956/ 921701/ 925557 E-mail:belaiztayeb@mjustice.dz

    Mr. Martin Scheinin, Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights while Countering Terrorism
    Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
    Palais Wilson
    8-14 Avenue de la Paix
    1211 Genève 10
    Email: scronin@ohchr.org
    Fax: +41 22 917 9006

  8. K,C. Dominic says...

    This prison ministry was started in 1994 in Tamilnadu Government undertaking Registered Society. We have FCRA No Tax exemption 80 g. So many prisoners childrens are uneducated. Our future plan is to setup a rehabilitation centre. In tamilnadu state 9 central prisons, 30 districts, 430 taluks, 17267 villages, 8 crore people are there. In Coimbatoe central prison 4000 people are accuste. Please pray for me to work in this kind of place. Thank you for your kind cooperation.

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Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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