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.
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.
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".
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.
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
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.
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.
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".
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.