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HUMAN RIGHTS IN PRACTICE provides legal representation and support in human rights cases before international, regional or national courts, and advises on international law more broadly. It offers experience of working in the African, European and Inter-American systems, as well as expertise in international law and practice. The following is a selection of HRP's case work.
In 2002, Abu Zubaydah was detained by the CIA in Pakistan and disappeared into secret detention at a series of CIA 'black sites', including on European soil, before being transferred to Guantanamo Bay, where he remains in detention to this day. Official documents publicly acknowledge that as one of the first 'High Value Detainees' he was the 'guinea pig' for the CIA's 'enhanced interrogation techniques' (such as waterboarding, to which documents show he was subject 83 times in just one month). Although the allegations originally leveled against him publicly have been dropped, Abu Zubaydah continues to be held at Guantanamo Bay, without having had the lawfulness of his detention reviewed by a court, without charge and without any prospect of release. The US Senate Report revealed that assurances were given, prior to his torture, to detain him incommunicado 'for the remainder of his life'. Accordingly the US administration asserts the right to hold him indefinitely without charge or reason, other than a broad assertion of 'law of war' authority. Abu Zubaydah is subject to a court order that bans any communication with the outside world.
With no prospect of accountability in the US, Abu Zubaydah challenged his rendition and torture at various European black sites before domestic courts and the European Court of Human Rights. Helen Duffy is one of Abu Zubaydah's counsel before the European Court, in partnership with US attorneys.
Abu Zubaydah v Lithuania
The Government has asked the court to keep information provided to it confidential. The Court has agreed in principle, but it has been urged to assess the need for any document to be withheld from the public on genuine grounds of national security on a document by document basis.
Abu Zubaydah v Poland
On 24 July 2014 a landmark ECtHR judgment found Poland responsible for violations of his rights to freedom from torture, liberty, fair trial and private life. The judgment describes and summarises at some length the 'abundant and coherent' evidence available from official US documents, independent reports and other sources, supplemented by the evidence given to the Court itself, on secret detention and Polish complicity. The Court found that the evidence conclusively established that Poland is responsible for the torture and illegal detention of Abu Zubaydah and for allowing his transfer on to on-going rights violations in Guantanamo. The Court also strongly rebuked Poland for its abject and continuing failure to conduct a meaningful investigation and its persistent, but ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to cover-up the truth. This violated the right of victims, and of the general public to know the truth. It is clear from the judgment that Poland must now comply with its obligations to carry out a genuine investigation that leads to true accountability. The judgment is relevant to the many other states that were involved in varying ways in the web of criminality that has been so robustly condemned by the European Court today. The judgment, which became final on 16 February 2015, is available here.
Implementation of the judgment is currently before the Committee of Ministers. On 11 and 12 March, in its first review of the Abu Zubaydah v Poland and al Nashiri v Poland cases since the judgments became final, the Committee of Ministers expressed its 'deep concern' about the 'flagrant denial of justice' facing both men at Guantanamo Bay. Abu Zubaydah remains in arbitrary detention without trial and al Nashiri is subject to trial by military commission. The Committee called on Poland to seek assurances from the US and to report back. The text appears below:
On 28 May 2015, submissions were filed with the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on the implementation of Abu Zubaydah v Poland. It now falls to the Commmittee to oversee its implementation by Poland. At its first session in March 2015, the Committee urged Poland to seek assurances to avoid the 'flagrant denial of justice' currently facing Abu Zubaydah in Guantanamo Bay. Poland filed a cursory update on the (as yet inadequate) steps it has taken to implement the judgment, though its fuller action plan was submitted in August 2015. See HRP’s submissions here.
On 24 September 2015, the Committee sought to increase pressure on the United States in light of its compete refusal to respond to or cooperate with Poland (or with other European States). The Committee took the perhaps unprecedented step of expressing serious concern directly in relation to the US and transmitted its decision to US authorities. The Polish plan of action and its implementation will be re-examined at the Committee’s 1243rd meeting (December 2015).
US Senate Intelligence Report and Abu Zubaydah
Following the partial release of a redacted summary of the Senate report in December 2014, the following article appeared in the Guardian on the relevance of the summary report's findings to our client's case. The report chronicles his abuse and exposes the gross manipulation of information about him by US authorities, underscoring the gross injustice of his continued arbitrary detention.
Al Asad v Djibouti, African Commission on
Human and Peoples' Rights
Baltasar Garzón v Spain
On 2 February 2016, Human Rights in Practice filed an individual petition before the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) in the case of Baltasar Garzón v Spain. Judge Garzón was a renowned Spanish judge, whose long and distinguished career in the Spanish Audiencia Nacional was truncated when he was investigated and prosecuted for ‘prevaricación’ (or criminal malfeasance) in respect of his decision to allow investigative steps to be taken in several crucially important but politically contentious cases.
The complaint alleges that prosecuting a judge for reasoned interpretations of the law represents a violation of multiple rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and an attack on the fundamental principles of judicial independence.
The complaint concerns a series of arbitrary investigations and criminal prosecutions against Judge Garzón. In the first of the cases, his alleged crime was the decision to open a criminal investigation into crimes against humanity during the Spanish civil war and the ensuing Franco regime. His decision to authorise preliminary investigative steps responded to a request from victims and family members who asserted their rights to truth and justice in respect of thousands of alleged deaths, disappearances and other criminal acts during the Franco dictatorship. These crimes had never been, and indeed still have never been, investigated in Spain.
In October 2008 Judge Garzón determined that the Spanish Courts had jurisdiction in the case, on the basis that Spanish amnesty laws, and statutes of limitation, did not apply to cases of this nature. As a joint expert opinion annexed to the case makes clear, Judge Garzón’s judgments were in line with international law, including the jurisprudence of the UNHRC, on the obligation to investigate crimes under international law. His approach followed that of numerous other judges, in Spain and internationally, who have found that national law can be interpreted by reference to international law, and that laws guaranteeing impunity cannot apply to crimes against humanity and other serious crimes under international law. His decisions were subject to appeal and review, and they were ultimately overturned.
Despite this, Judge Garzón was subject to a lengthy criminal investigation, public trial and suspension from judicial office. This trial, which provoked international outrage and rebuke, was delayed before trial, allowing for a second case to be brought forward, again alleging criminal conduct in respect of the discharge of his judicial functions. This second case – which was allowed to leapfrog the Franco case - concerned the decision to take certain preliminary investigative steps in one of the largest corruption investigations in Spain to date (the so-called Gürtel case), affecting the governing ‘Partido Popular’ and other powerful factions of Spanish society. On 9 February 2012, a conviction, and suspension from office for 11 years, was handed down in relation to this case. Only once the conviction was entered, some 18 days later, an acquittal was handed down in the Franco case.
Along the way, information surfaced publicly of a further supposed ‘investigation’ underway in January 2010, based on spurious claims concerning the Judge’s participation in a case concerning the Bank Santander while he had organized courses at NYU partly funded by Santander. There were never any indication of accusations or evidence, and the investigation was dropped almost immediately after the conviction was rendered in the Gürtel case.
Within a very short time after having reached the contentious decisions in the crimes against humanity and corruption cases, Judge Garzón was therefore subject to several criminal investigations before the Spanish Supreme Court, based on a distorted and unprecedented use of the law of ‘prevaricación’. The Ministerio Público (Public Prosecutor’s office) opposed the cases against Garzón’s as inappropriate use of criminal law, based on ‘who he was’ rather than what he had done, but to no avail. The circumstances of the cases against Garzón, presented as one to the UNHRC, make clear the inappropriate and arbitrary use of criminal law to neutralise a judge, with a chilling effect on many others.
Judge Garzón, represented by Helen Duffy/Human Rights in Practice, submitted a petition to the United Nations Human Rights Committee on 2 February 2016. The Committee is requested to find violations of numerous rights protected under the ICCPR (specifically Articles 2(3), 14, 15, 17, 19 and 26) and to urge the state to take measures to guarantee judicial independence and access to justice by victims of serious crimes, including those committed during the Franco era. The complaint is supported by the following three expert opinions submitted by persons of high international standing:
The first expert opinion focuses on international legal standards regarding judicial independence, presented by:
The second expert opinion focuses on international legal standards on the duty to investigate, and the impermissibility of amnesty and prescription in relation to crimes against humanity, submitted by:
The third expert opinion focuses on the law of ‘prevaricación’ and it was submitted by:
THE RULE OF LAW AND
INTERIGHTS and EIPR (on behalf of Sabah and Others) v
Egypt , African Commission on Human and Peoples'
Maskhadovy v Russia, European Court of
Rios Montt trial and Amnesty challenge before the Guatemalan
In another case brought against Rios Montt in respect of crimes
against humanity and genocide, a Guatemalan criminal court convicted
Rios Montt and his Director of Military Intelligence, José Mauricio
Rodríguez Sánchez, of genocide. The conviction was overturned however
and the prospect of a retrial is on hold. Meanwhile, other charges
continue to be pursued. To follow progress, see here. For Helen Duffy's personal comment on
the importance of the trial, see here.