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UN Concerned Over Deportation and Torture of Suspected Terrorists - 2001-10-17

The United Nations special investigator on torture says he is concerned that governments may deport refugees and asylum seekers who are suspected terrorists to countries where they might face torture. The investigator says he fears many countries may rush to judgment in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

The U.N. special investigator on torture, Nigel Rodley, says governments have every right to avoid becoming safe havens for terrorists. But, he says he is afraid that governments, in their zeal to rid their countries of alleged terrorists, may deny refugees and asylum seekers legitimate rights, thereby putting their lives in danger.

"It would be a matter of profound concern to me if there were any moves that would be aimed at legitimating or facilitating returns of suspected terrorists to countries where they face torture," he says. "That would be a clear violation of all states obligations under general international law."

Mr. Rodley says there is no doubt that the attacks in New York and Washington are crimes against humanity.

Nevertheless, he argues human rights laws apply to the suspects in the attacks and says alternatives to outright deportation are available. For instance, he says countries can get guarantees from peoples' home countries that they will not be tortured upon their return. He says a monitoring system can be put in place. Another possibility is for the country of asylum to put the suspect on trial.

Mr. Rodley says countries should avoid becoming a safe haven for the persons they do not deport.

"The last thing I want to see is safe havens for criminals against humanity. On the contrary, they should and must be brought to justice," he says. Mr. Rodley is a law professor at the University of Essex in Britain. He has been the U.N. special investigator on torture since 1993.

He has just offered his resignation to take effect on November 12. He says he is resigning because the workload has become too great. But, Mr. Rodley says his office would be more effective in unearthing torturers were the United Nations to give it more money.