UN expert to visit US to discuss respect for human rights in war on terrorism

Special Rapporteur Martin Scheinin

16 January 2007 – An independent United Nations expert on safeguarding human rights while fighting terrorism is to visit the United States this spring at the invitation of its Government for wide-ranging discussions to help ensure that US counter-terrorism laws and practices respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Martin Scheinin, welcomed the Government’s decision to invite him following a request he made in October, when he said the US Military Commissions Act (MCA) violated the country’s international obligations under human rights laws in several areas.

These included the right to challenge detention and see exculpatory evidence and he specifically cited the President’s power to declare anyone, including US citizens, without charge an ‘unlawful enemy combatant’ subject to the jurisdiction of a military commission.

He noted that the MCA denies non-US citizens, including legal permanent residents, in US custody the right to challenge the legality of their detention by filing a writ of habeas corpus.

An added concern was that other Governments may view aspects of the legislation as an example to follow in their own national counter-terrorism legislation, as the US has taken a lead role on countering terrorism since the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, he stressed.

Mr. Scheinin said then that he would also like to discuss other rights concerns such as the Patriot Act, immigration laws and policies, secret detention centres, rendition flights to countries where detainees might face torture, breaches of non-refoulement (deportation) and the denial of extra-territorial human rights obligations.

In a statement issued in Geneva today, Mr. Scheinin proposed the second half of May for his visit. “I look forward to having an open and constructive dialogue with the Government, the judiciary, lawyers, security and law enforcement personnel, non-government organizations, civil society and all other relevant actors in order to study and discuss US counter terrorism laws, policies and practices,” he said.

“I intend to examine, in depth, issues regarding the detention, arrest and trial of terrorist suspects and the rights of victims of terrorism or persons negatively impacted by counter terrorism measures.

“I also aim to identify effective measures of preventing and countering terrorism and to formulate pertinent conclusions and concrete recommendations with the objective of helping to ensure respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in the fight against terrorism,” he added.

Special Rapporteurs are unpaid and serve in a personal capacity, reporting to the UN Human Rights Council.

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