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European Court of Human Rights on the protection against torture

On 28 February 2008 the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg handed down its judgment in the Case of Saadi v Italy (No 37201/06). Although I haven’t had the time yet to read the entire decision (a press release can be found here; the entire decision here), it without doubt seems to be interesting, not at least from a political perspective.

In the case, the ECtHR had to deal with the issue of a resident of a member State of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) who, due to suspicion of – among other things – international terrorism, risked to be deported to Tunisia, where he allegedly would be exposed to the risk of being subjected to torture or inhuman and degrading treatment contrary to Article 3 ECHR. This provision reads as follows:

Article 3 – Prohibition of torture
No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

While the ECtHR “observed that it could not underestimate the danger of terrorism” it nevertheless underlined the importance of “not call[ing] into question the absolute nature of Article 3.” In the view of the ECtHR the “prospect that [the person] might pose a serious threat to the community did not diminish in any way the risk that he might suffer harm if deported.” In fact, even if Tunisian authorities had provided diplomatic assurances, which they didn’t, “that would not have absolved the Court from the obligation to examine whether such assurances provided a sufficient guarantee that the applicant would be protected against the risk of treatment.” In consequence, the ECtHR found, unanimously, that the decision to deport Mr Saadi to Tunisia would breach Article 3 if it were enforced. With this strong stand on the protection against torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the ECtHR certainly demands European governments to rethink when it comes to protecting themselves against foreign terrorists by simply deporting them. I guess this is a price liberal democracies have to pay in order to uphold their high human rights standards.

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