An independent U.N. human rights researcher this morning announced the opening of an investigation into the use of drone attacks and other targeted assassinations by the United States and other governments.
Ben Emmerson, the U.N. special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, told reporters in London this morning that the "exponential" rise in American drones strikes posed a "real challenge to the framework of international law," according to a statement issued by his office. Emmerson said there was a need to develop a legal framework to regulate the use of drones, and ensure "accountability" for their misuse.
"The plain fact is that this technology is here to stay," he said. "It is therefore imperative that appropriate legal and operational structures are urgently put in place to regulate its use in a manner that complies with the requirement of international law.
The decision to open a drone investigation drew praise from critics of America's drone policies. "We welcome this investigation in the hopes that global pressure will bring the U.S. back into line with international law requirements that strictly limit the use of lethal force," said Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project. "To date, there has been an abysmal lack of transparency and no accountability for the U.S. government's ever-expanding targeted killing program."
The Obama administration has defended its use of drones as a more humane alternative to military combat. John Brennan, the White House advisor on counterterrorism and the president's new nominee to lead the CIA, defended the U.S. program as "ethical and just," saying that the targeted nature of the strikes was more humane than traditional military strikes, lessening the prospects that civilians are killed.
Emmerson challenged what he characterized as Brennan's contention that the United States and its allies are engaged in a global war against a stateless enemy which requires the prosecution of war across international borders. Emmerson said that "central objective" of his inquiry is to "look at evidence that drone strikes and other forms of remote targeted killings have caused disproportionate civilian casualties in some instances, and to make recommendations concerning the duty of states to conduct throughout independent and impartial investigations into such allegations, with a view to securing accountability..."
Emmerson said that he has assembled a team of international lawyers and experts, including British lawyer Sir Geoffrey Nice and New York University professor Sarah Knuckey, to help identify cases in which targeted killings may have resulted in civilian casualties. He said they would focus on 25 case studies in Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, to see whether there is a case worthy of prosecution. He said he would present his findings in October.
Emmerson is an independent U.N. rights expert, and his investigation is not sanctioned by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon or the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay. But his association with the United Nations is likely to carry greater political weight than those of independent administration critics.
Emmerson first announced plans to look into the American drone program in October, on the eve of U.S. presidential elections, citing frustration with both candidates' positions on drones."The Obama administration continues to formally adopt the position that it will neither confirm nor deny the existence of the drone program," he said at the time. "In reality, the administration is holding its finger in the dam of public accountability," he said according to a prepared copy of the speech.
Emmerson said today that the investigation emerged as the result of a request last June from China, Pakistan, and Russia, to investigate the use of drones in counterterrorism operations.
"The inquiry that I am launching today is a direct response to the requests made to me by states at the human rights council last June, as well as to the increasing international concern surrounding the issue of remote targeted killing through the use of UAV's [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles]," he said. "The exponential rise in the use of drone technology in a variety of military and non-military contexts represents a real challenge to the framework of established international law."
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As the late Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's forces prepared to crush the Libyan uprising last summer in Benghazi, Britain, France, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, and other allies moved quickly to reinforce the beleaguered rebel forces.
With military supplies, training, advice -- and of course the backing of NATO war planes -- this coalition of governments provided critical support to change the course of the conflict, ultimately leading to Qaddafi's downfall.
The U.N. Security Council's arms embargo was primarily intended to constrain Qaddafi's capacity to use its massive oil wealth to import new stocks of weapons and foreign mercenaries to help put down the rebellion. But it also placed restraints on the supply of weapons to the rebels, prompting the Security Council to later introduce an exemption -- providing significant cover for governments seeking to arm the rebels.
A new report by a U.N. panel of experts responsible for monitoring the arms embargo in Libya sought to itemize a list of military supplies -- everything from sandbags to shouldered propelled rockets -- that flowed into Libya after the U.N. Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Libya in February 2011. The list, however, is incomplete because NATO and some of the insurgents' chief military backers, including Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, have refused to provide a full account of their contributions.
The report identified numerous attempts by the Qaddafi regime "to secure arms deals and use mercenaries from neighboring countries," citing reports in the Globe and Mail about a July 2011 visit to Beijing by Libyan officials seeking to purchase military supplies from three Chinese arms manufacturers. (China denied that the talks led to any deals.) The panel also cited reports that much of Libya's military capacity had been reconstituted after 2004, following years of Western and U.N. sanctions, with the aid of Western European countries and ex-Soviet states (The panel also noted that is conducting an ongoing investigation into Qaddafi's use of mercenaries, adding that so far it had found "no conclusive evidence.")
But the 78-page report provides insights into how the international community combined diplomatic pressure, military airpower, and clandestine arms deliveries, to topple a regime. It would not be surprising if some of those countries considering backing the Syrian campaign to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad in Syria are drawing from the same playbook.
The United States
Though U.S. airpower proved decisive in crippling Qaddafi's defenses, the United States maintains that it provided only non-lethal military support to the rebels. The report notes that on February 6, the United States provided the panel with a list of its contributions, including 8,000 uniforms, 8,000 boots, 5,825 load-bearing vests, 2,850 bullet proof vests, 1,975 military helmets, and "items for defensive positions (sandbags, Hescos...)."
The Italian government notified the panel on February 14 that it supplied 10 military trainers, 10,000 uniforms, 5,400 helmets and 2,800 leather boots.
On February 9, the United Kingdom informed the panel that it supplies the rebels with 6,000 sets of body armor and no more than 20 military personnel. The British action, according to the report, was intended to "provide a military assistance team to the Libyan authorities for the purpose of providing operational assistance, training and mentoring on security issues, including reform of the armed services, counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency."
In April 2011, the French government notified the United Nations that it had sent a small team of military advisors to Libya to provide the National Transitional Council with "support and advice on ways to organize its internal structure, manage its resources and improve its communications." In June, it went further, notifying the UN that it had "airdropped self-defence weapons for the civilian populations that had been victims of attacks by Libyan armed forces." The panel's report contains no detailed list of these contributions as the French asked it to keep the details confidential.
The panel said that it has obtained information that several flights operating from Tirana, Albania, transported military materiel to Benghazi over a three day period in September, 2011. The case remains under investigation.
One of the more tantalizing revelations in the panel report is the suggestion that Darfuri rebel groups, including members of the Zaghawa tribe and fighters from the Justice and Equality Movement, may have backed Qaddafi's counterinsurgency campaign. The panel said that while it was not able to "definitely corroborate" numerous reports of the military role in the conflict, ‘the accumulative strength of intelligence gives substantial credibility to these findings." No to be outdone, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, extended overflight rights over Sudanese territory to NATO, according to senior U.N. diplomats, and allegedly supplied arms to the insurgents, according to the panel. The panel cited claims by the Benghazi rebel defense ministry that Sudan provided "small arms and light weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades," and transported other supplies to Bengazhi on two Ilyushin-76 aircraft. "According to media reports, on 26 October, the President of the Sudan, Omar Al-Bashir, gave a speech in Kasala in which he acknowledged weapons deliveries from the Sudan to Libya and that the weapons had reached revolutionaries in Misratah, Al-Jabal Al-Gharabi and Zawiya." The Sudanese government did not reply to the panel's request for information.
In March 2011, Qatar notified the United Nations that it would participate in NATO enforcement of the U.N.-authorized no-fly zone over Libya, contributing "a number of military aircraft, military transport aircraft and helicopters." Qatar categorically denied media reports that "it had supplied the revolutionaries with arms and ammunition," saying only that it had "sent a limited number of military personnel to provide military consultations to the revolutionaries, defend Libyan civilians and protect aid convoys." The only weapons and ammunition it had furnished was for the use of Qatari military advisors in self-defense.
But the Qatari contention had one big hole in it. In July, 2011, a Swiss television station discovered spent Swiss ammunition used by the Libyan revolutionaries. The Swiss ammo had been exported to the Qatar armed forces in 2009 by a Swiss arms company, FGS Frex, and made its way to Libya. Confronted by Swiss authorities, who noted that Qatar was prohibited from re-exporting the ammunition, the Qatari ambassador appeared to have confirmed its role in the supply of ammunition. "The ambassador of Qatar explained to the Swiss representatives that the ‘transfer of the aforementioned ammunition to the Libyan opposition was a misadventure in the course of his country's support of the NATO operation in Libya.' He reassured the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs that ‘Qatar took the appropriate measures to prevent similar errors in the future.'"
The United Arab Emirates
The panel provided few details about alleged arms transfers by the United Arab Emirates, partly because it is conducting an ongoing investigation into the matter, and partly because the Gulf state refused to provide the panel with a list of its contributions. On March 25, "the United Arab Emirates notified the [UN] Secretary General that it would participate, within the framework of the international coalition, by providing military aircraft. No notification was given regarding transfers of weapons or ammunition or provision of military personnel." The panel visited the UAE to inquire about its role in arming and advising the Libyan insurgents. The government insisted that it had acted in conformity with UN resolutions and under the umbrella of the NATO operation" to protect civilians. "They did not provide more precise information and said that NATO would be in a better position to answer those questions."
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's role in Libya was decisive in crippling Qaddafi's military defenses and providing support for insurgent offensive operations. While its air campaign is not the subject of the panel's inquiry, the report notes that it wrote to NATO "asking it to provide a detailed list of military materiel, including weapons and ammunition, sent by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates or any other country that participated in the NATO operation and information regarding the number and roles of military personnel sent by those countries to Libya since the imposition of the embargo. While NATO acknowledged the receipt of the panel's request for information on 25 January 2012, no answer has been provided to date."
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The Sudanese government on Saturday, Dec. 3, blocked the U.N's relief coordinator, Valerie Amos, from visiting Khartoum, where she planned to press Sudanese officials to grant greater access to U.N. relief workers in conflict zones in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.
The visit, which was planned well advance, was cancelled after Sudanese authorities said that the top official responsible for addressing humanitarian issues was not available to meet with her because the cabinet had been dissolved.
The cancellation comes amid concern that Sudan is heading towards a worsening civil war, with hardliners pressing for a military crackdown on resistance elements in the country, and a coalition of rebel groups forming an alliance to try to overthrow the government of President Omar al-Bashir.
"Civil war is spreading in Sudan," the International Crisis Group warned in a recent report on Sudan. "With hundreds of thousands of people displaced...the growing war on multiple fronts poses serious dangers for the country, for its future relationship with the Republic of South Sudan and for the stability of the region as a whole."
The region has been in a state of turmoil since neighboring South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan. After relinquishing control over the south last summer, Khartoum's forces moved quickly to restore control over the disputed region of Abyei that straddles the north and south, and launched offensives against the restive South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions.
The United Nations, which was required to leave the region after the referendum, has not been allowed to monitor what's happening in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Amos's visit was part of an ongoing effort to ensure that relief can be delivered to those displaced by rising violence.
A spokeswoman for Amos, Amanda Pitt, told Turtle Bay that Amos is "extremely concerned" about the plight of displaced civilians in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and planned to press the government to ensure relief agencies could "reach the people" affected by the violence.
Pitt said that Amos was at the international airport in Istanbul, Turkey, en route to Sudan when she was informed that there was no appropriate official available to meet her and that she should not come. "I know that she definitely wants to go and is working" with the Sudanese government and the U.N. team in Sudan to "sort out another date," said Pitt.
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After months of discrete campaigning, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki moon will formally announce Monday that he will seek a second five-year term at the head of the world premier diplomatic organization, according to U.N. diplomats familiar with the plan.
Ban will outline his plans in a breakfast Monday with representatives of the Asia Group, a bloc of Asian and Middle East countries, before holding a press conference to publicly announce his intention to serve out another term when his mandate expires on December 31. Ban's team is hoping to secure support for his bid from the 15-nation U.N. Security Council and the U.N. General Assembly by June 21.
U.N. diplomats say that it's all but certain that Ban, who faces no competition for the job, will easily be approved for a second term. During the past several months, he has traveled to key capitals, including Beijing, Moscow and Washington, to shore up backing.
Throughout much of his first term Ban has faced intense criticism from political observers, top aides, and human rights advocates, who see him as too timid to confront the world's worst rights abusers, and too willing to accommodate the world's major powers.
Last summer, Foreign Policy's columnist, James Traub, counseled that "States that care about the United Nations - and above all, the United States - should prevent him from doing further harm to the institution by ensuring that he does not serve a second term."
But Ban has successfully secured support from the countries that count, the permanent five members of the council - the United States, Russia, France, China and Britain - that possess the power to block any UN chief. And Ban has received some praise in recent months for his outspoken support for pro-democracy demonstrators in the Arab world, including in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Yemen.
After his announcement, Ban plans to write to member states to inform them of his intention and seek their support. He will also make his case to other U.N regional groups. Ban has long hinted that he would seek the U.N. top office for a second term, telling the Agence France Press just last month that "I am willing to make myself available."And he has scheduled much of his travel over the past six months to ensure visits to the capitals of key members.
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There are "reasonable grounds" to charge Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's security forces with having committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during a bloody, two-and-a-half- month long crackdown on Libyan protesters, according to the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The prosecutor, Argentine lawyer Luis Moreno-Ocampo, claimed in a report to the U.N. Security Council that his investigators have established preliminary but "credible" estimates that at least 500 to 700 civilians have been shot to death by government forces. He said he intends "in the next weeks" to submit his first application for arrest warrants against officials "most responsible for crimes against humanity" in Libya since Feb. 15, 2001. The abuses, he noted, are ongoing.
The prosecutor's office "will select for prosecution those who bear the highest responsibility, including those who ordered, incited, financed, or otherwise planned the commission of alleged crimes," the report states. The report also raises concerns that anti-government mobs or armed opposition forces may have engaged in "the unlawful arrest mistreatment and killings of sub-Saharan Africans perceived to be mercenaries. Reportedly angry mobs of protesters assaulted Sub-Saharan African in Benghazi and other cities and killed dozens of them."
The Security Council voted unanimously on Feb. 26 to authorize the international court to conduct an investigation into alleged excesses by Qaddafi's forces since Feb. 15, when they launched a brutal crackdown on Libyan demonstrators demanding democratic reforms. It is the second time since the court's inception that the 15-nation council has voted to trigger an ICC probe. In March, 2005, the council also backed an investigation into war crimes by the Sudanese government in Darfur. The court has since issued an arrest warrant against Sudan's leader, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, for allegedly committing genocide.
Under the terms of the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC, Libya should be given the first chance to investigate allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity. But the report states that government initiatives, including the establishment of a national commission by Qaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi, to investigate reports of abuses, have been inadequate.
The report raises the prospect that Colonel Qaddafi and members of his family and inner circle may yet be charged committing war crimes. If so, it would be the second time the court has charged a sitting head of state with such crimes.
"The shooting at peaceful protestors was systematic, following the same modus operandi in multiple locations and executed through Security Forces," the report states. "The persecution appears to be also systematic and implemented in different cities. War crimes are apparently committed as a matter of policy."
The death toll has been hard to determine in Libya because of widely divergent estimates on both sides of the country's conflict. As of March 15, Qaddafi estimated that only 150 to 200 people had died during the conflict, half of them members of the government security forces. The Libyan Interim National Council claims that up to 10,000 have died, and that more than 50,000 have been injured, according to the report.
The prosecutor's report states that it has been difficult to determine the precise number of victims because bodies have been removed from the streets and doctors have been prohibited from documenting "the number of dead and injured in the hospitals after the violent clashes began."
The prosecutor said his investigation will begin with an examination of a brutal February clampdown in Benghazi, where civilian demonstrators protested the arrest of two locals, Fatih Terbil and Farag Sharany, who were demanding justice for victims of the governments' bloody 1996 massacre of inmates at the Abu Salim prison.
"On 17 February, 2001, thousands of demonstrators congregated in the square around the high court of Benghazi, protesting such arrests and calling for political and economic freedom," according to the report. "Security forces entered the square and reportedly fired live ammunition into the crowd, killing numerous demonstrators. This was the beginning of a series of similar incidents in different cities across Libya which appears to demonstrate a consistent pattern of Security Forces firing live ammunition at civilians."
The prosecutor's report also cited allegations that government forces committed war crimes, including through the blocking of humanitarian supplies and through the use of "imprecise weaponry such as cluster munitions, multiple rocket launchers and mortars, and other forms of heavy weaponry, in crowded urban areas."
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Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi was a foe of the International Criminal Court long before its prosecutor opened an investigation last month into possible crimes against humanity by the Libyan strongman and members of his inner circle.
For years, Col. Qaddafi has championed efforts within the African Union to undermine the Hague-based court, arguing that the tribunal unfairly targets only African countries for prosecution. During Libya's Security Council stint in 2008-2009, Qaddafi's U.N. envoy's struggled to block initiatives backing the court.
All that changed when the small Central American country, Costa Rica, led a quixotic diplomatic effort in 2008 to convince the Security Council opponents of the ICC - China, Russia and Libya - to pressure Sudan to cooperate with the tribunal, which has charged three Sudanese nationals, including Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, with war crimes and genocide.
Rebecca Hamilton, recounts the Costa Rican effort in her new book Fighting For Darfur. According to Hamilton, Costa Rica mounted a campaign to press for the passage of a non-binding U.N. Security Council presidential statement endorsing the ICC's investigation into Sudan's ruthless counterinsurgency campaign in Darfur, which led to the deaths of more than 300,000 Darfuris, and drove more than 2 million people from their homes.
Costa Rica's U.N. mission reasoned that the Security Council had distanced itself from the court in the years following the passage in 2005 of Resolution 1593, which authorized an ICC investigation into crimes in alleged crimes Darfur. In a June, 2008, address to the council, Costa Rica's foreign minister Bruno Ugarte scolded the council for failing to support "what, as time passes, seems to be a policy of appeasement of Khartoum and of indifference to the atrocities that are occurring in Darfur." He lined up support for the statement from 9 of the councils 15 members, enough to secure passage if none of the council's 5 permanent members cast a veto.
But Costa Rica encountered particularly stiff resistance from China, which was preparing for the upcoming Olympic Games, and Libya. Security Council statements are only adopted if each of the council's 15 members support it.
Faced with a stalemate, Costa Rica upped the ante, announcing plans to put a similarly worded, but legally-binding Security Council resolution on the matter to a vote, a maneuver that would have required China to exercise its veto to block. The United States, which had been prepared to support a presidential statement, was reluctant to support a binding resolution supporting a court it has long opposed.
"However, it was the Chinese mission that really panicked," Hamilton wrote. "They begged Costa Rica not to present the resolution, promising to sign a president statement supporting the ICC if Costa Rica agreed not to move forward with the resolution. But, as the Costa Ricans told China, the biggest impediment to a presidential statement going through at this point was Libya. Jorge Ballestero, a diplomat at the Costa Rican mission to the United Nations, told Hamilton that China assured them: We can talk to our friends."
Shortly after, China and Libya dropped their opposition to the presidential statement which urged Sudan "to cooperate fully with the court...in order to put an end to impunity fro the crimes committed in Darfur." Ballestero said that Costa Rica had calculated, correctly, that China could not afford to cast a veto over Darfur at a time when it was seeking to burnish its international reputation in the lead up to the Olympics.
Ironically, a top Libyan official at the time, Ibrahim Dabbashi, last month led a diplomatic revolt against Qaddafi's government, and backed efforts by the U.N. Security Council to approve an ICC investigation against Qaddafi's government.
(Disclosure: Hamilton interviewed me in connection with her book, and we once shared a byline on a story in the Washington Post on the ICC investigation into alleged genocide in Sudan)
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Despite repeated talk about the possible establishment of a U.N.-authorized no fly zone, Britain, France and the United States have yet to table a no-fly resolution in the U.N. Security Council. The caution reflects reservations over the plan in Washington, D.C. and African and Arab capitals and the reluctance of Western powers to intervene in the Libyan crisis without broad regional backing.
On Monday, Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague outlined three requirements for the imposition of a no-fly zone: there must be a clear trigger, possible a bloody crackdown on civilians; there must regional support from African and Arab governments; and there must be a legal basis for pressing ahead. (It was unclear whether today's reports of civilians casualties, including women and children, in Zawiyah would constitute such a trigger.)
Many council members believe a Security Council vote is legally required for the creation of a no-fly-zone. But Britain, France and the United States have previously enforced a no-fly zone over Iraq without Security Council approval, citing the overwhelming humanitarian demands of intervening to protect civilians.
For the time being, Britain and France, who have taken the lead in negotiating the draft resolution establishing a no fly zone, are expected to await the outcome of high-level meetings of the Arab League and the African Union later this week before deciding to introduce their draft to the 15-nation council.
Still, in a closed-door session of the council this morning, Britain and France sought to prod the council into preparing for action, saying that a week old resolution calling for an end to government violence has not succeeded.
Britain's U.N. ambassador Mark Lyall-Grant expressed concern about the "risk of a civil war" in Libya and said the council needs to "consider further steps" to rein in Col. Moammar Qadaffi's government," council sources told Turtle Bay. France's U.N. ambassador Gerard Araud said the council needs to consider "all options, including a no fly zone," according to the sources, who provided a detailed account of the meeting.
Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, meanwhile, took a slightly more cautious approach, saying that while the council may have to consider range of options, including "strengthening sanctions...no one option is the silver bullet." Germany's U.N. ambassador, Peter Wittig, also raised the prospect of tightening sanctions, proposing possible new restrictions on the Libyan financial sector.
The council's other members, including China and Russia, pushed back, saying it is too early to consider stepping up pressure on Qaddafi's regime. Libyans, they argue, should sort out their own problems. Brazil's U.N. ambassador, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti said that it was not the right time to consider further "coercive measures" against Libya.
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The popular overthrow of Tunisia’s former leader, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, has served as an inspiration for protesters in Egypt, Algeria, Yemen, and other Arab countries. But the Tunisian regime also emerged this week as a symbol of the excesses of the U.S.-led war on terrorism. A U.N. report revealed that the Tunisian government was practitioner of the poulet rôti (or rotisserie), the notorious torture technique which involves tying a detainee's wrists together under the knees and passing a pole between the arms and thighs.
Martin Scheinin, the U.N. special rapporteur on the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, released a damning report this week on Tunisia’s use of secret detention centers in order to coerce confessions through torture and mistreatment. The 20-page report -- which is based on a field visit to Tunisia in January 2010 -- provides a chilling, if unsurprising, look at the repressive practices that prevail in the Middle East and played no small part in stoking Tunisia’s public uprising. It also provides further evidence of how Tunisia, like other authoritarian governments in the region, has used the war on terror to pass a set of vague and sweeping anti-terrorism laws that often target nonviolent dissidents and opposition figures.
"[I]t appears that the scope of application of the terrorism provisions in the law has grown too wide and should be reduced," the report states. "Any anti-terrorism law that is not properly confined to the countering of terrorism within the limits of human rights law is problematic … because it may unjustifiably restrict the enjoyment of human rights pertaining to the exercise of peaceful activities, including dissent and political opposition through legitimate associations."
The report documents alleged crimes committed before the country’s ruler was deposed following several weeks of public demonstrations. It provides another awkward example of a trusted American ally in the war on terror using the global campaign against extremists to justify bad behavior and consolidate power at home. Indeed, the same security apparatus that collaborated with the Central Intelligence Agency, which transported suspected terrorists through Tunis, was also responsible for using intimidation and violence to stifle domestic challenges to Ben Ali's rule, according to the report.
"Human rights abuses were at the heart of the problems faced by the people of Tunisia," Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said Wednesday. She announced that she has ordered a team of human rights investigators to begin an investigation today into Tunisia's legacy of human rights. "Therefore, human rights must be at the forefront of the solutions to those problems."
Scheinin's report claims that Tunisian authorities routinely deny detainees basic due-process rights, interrogate suspect in secret detention centers, routinely postdate arrest records to circumvent rules requiring detainees be presented before a judge in a timely fashion. It also noted that custody records during the month of his visit showed that authorities at one police detention center detained at least one person each day, "support[ing] the conclusion that counter-terrorism legislation does not only apply to a small group of very dangerous individuals."
The team was allowed to visit the Bouchoucha police detention facility and the Mornaguia Prison, where they interviewed several prisoners convicted of terrorist offenses. But Scheinin was not permitted to visit the interrogation facility at the Sub-directorate for Criminal Affairs of the Police Judiciare, where the "overwhelming majority of the allegations of torture or ill-treatment [were] received by the Special Rapporteur." Here's Scheinin's account of abuse in Tunisian detention.
"The evidence brought to the attention of the Special Rapporteur indicated that suspected terrorists are routinely held in secret in a building of the Ministry of Interior in Tunis," the report claimed. "According to consistent allegations, suspects are regularly subjected to severe beatings on different parts of the body, including genitals, with fists, cables and batons, kicking, slapping, often combined with stripping of their clothes and suspensions (including in the so-called poulet rôti ("roast chicken") position), even in ordinary offices of the [Interior] Ministry. Some reports also described electroshocks and mock-drowning taking place in one particular room in the basement, especially in cases, where suspects resisted to making confessions. Other methods used included extended periods of sleep deprivation, burning with cigarettes, threats with rape, threats to family members and anal rape.… The main purpose of the torture was to extract confessions, and sometimes testimonies about third persons. It normally stopped with the signing of papers that most suspects had not been allowed to read."
Tunisia has been spared some of the worst terrorist violence that has hit other Arab countries; it was the site of two major terrorist attacks in April 2002 and December 2006, which killed a total of 35 people, including foreigners. In 1992, Tunisia tried 265 alleged members of the Islamist Ennahda (Renaissance) movement following a couple of violent incidents that were blamed on the group. Human rights organizations, according to the report, "described the 1992 trials as unfair." The Tunisian rebel group, which is allegedly linked to al Qaeda and listed on the U.N. terrorist black list, is "suspected of plotting, but not carrying out, attacks on the embassies of Algeria, Tunisia and the United States of America in Rome in December 2001."
The report says that a number of countries, including Libya, Italy, Pakistan, and Syria, have forcibly returned Tunisian terrorism suspects to Tunisia despite the prospects that they will face torture. "Several of the returnees reported having been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment during that period, but none of their allegations are known to have been investigated by the Tunisian authorities." Scheinin said he has also encountered evidence that Tunisian authorities held an Algerian national for 75 days after he was sent to Tunisia by the Central Intelligence Agency. The detainee was eventually repatriated to Algeria.
Since 2003, Tunisia imposed sweeping anti-terrorism laws that have criminalized many nonviolent activities, but provided no clear definition of what constitutes a terrorist act. For instance, it is a crime -- even for medical personnel, clergy, and defense lawyers -- to fail to immediately notify authorities "of any acts, information or instructions which may have emerged concerning a terrorist offence." Individuals can also face up to 12 years in prison for "to an organization or entity, whichever their form and the number of its members, which has, even if coincidentally or incidentally, used terrorism as a means of action in the realization for its objectives." The measure, according to Scheinin, "does not include any requirement that the person must be aware of the terrorist nature of the group."
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Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.