Feb 09, 2010

Refugees: Extradition to Torture

Press Release drawing attention to severity of returning refugees to the countries in which they face prosecution and torture.

A conference entitled 'Returning Refugees: Extradition to Torture'  took place in the Sala delle Colonne della Camera dei Deputati, Rome last Friday [5th February 2010] drawing international attention to the gravity of returning individuals seeking asylum to states where they face perseuction and torture.

The conference was opened by Senator Marco Perduca who contextualized the issue by citing that 747,000 people worldwide are currently estimated to need resettlement. Chairperson of the first panel, the Hon Matteo Meccacci MP, Human Rights Rapporteur for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly stressed that non-refoulement is not only a form of hospitality, but represents protection of civil liberties and is vital to ensure asylum claims are not based on national interests, while Ms Maysing Yang, UNPO Vice President stressed that obligations are undermined by inconsistency in their application.  

Mr Jurgen Humburg, from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees noted that “everyone has the right to “enjoy” protection – but [international law] does not always state that everyone has the right to “seek” protection” and it is this wording which underpins the complexities of non-refoulement. He went on to discuss ambiguities in the application of the principle of non-refoulement to asylum seekers as opposed to those with refugee status, as well as whether the principle is engaged in territorial waters, affirming UNHCR’s view that the non-reofulement principle is in action anywhere where a state holds jurisdiction.  Dr David Donat-Cattin, Director of Parliamentarians for Global Action called for interrogation of the meaning of words in international law, particularly regarding the concept of ‘responsibility to protect’ and argued that human rights should not be restricted to citizens but should apply to all persons.  Describing it as a ‘black cloud’, he expressed concern for how state security can be used to justify maltreatment of individuals, especially following September 11.

Italian policy with regards to recent changes in refugee controls and the controversial ‘push-back’ policy – largely relating to those refugees arriving from Libya also came under scrutiny.  UNHCR representative Mr Humburg suggested that Libya ‘cannot be considered a safe place’ however offered hope that sentiments of recent relocation of Eritrean and Palestinian asylum seekers will prevail. Meanwhile Senator Marco Perduca suggested that Italy’s asylum process is shifting attention away from individual rights to peoples’ geographical region of origin. The past 8 months has witnessed a notable change in the physiognomy of groups who obtain refugee status.  He stressed that Italy’s laws in contrast with spirit of UN we need to solve these flaws before criticizing other nations, a topic he intends to bring up in Geneva later this week.
The second panel heard the direct experiences from members of UNPO, where representatives of various regions described the consequences of states’ conspicuous abuse of the principle of non-refoulement. It was introduced by General Secretary of UNPO, Mr. Marino Busdachin, who explained that accounts of criminal performance of states who return people to imminent execution or situations where there is real danger of being systematically killed in policy of genocide represent only the tip of the iceburg as there are many cases which we know nothing about or information is only belatedly known. Mr Dolkun Isa, General Secretary of the World Uyghur Congress, explained the seriousness of the situation of those Uyghurs who fled China having been accused of involvement in the Urumchi unrest in July 2009, who upon return to the Chinese regime’s ‘strike hard campaign’ face persecution and significant danger in light of the already 34 death sentences, 9 executions and many more unofficial cases of disappearances. Mr. Thach Thach, President of the Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation described the extremely complex case of the Khmer Krom due to Cambodia's gesture of granting asylum seekers citizenship without granting full citizen rights. Khmer Krom names must be changed or adapted, and places of birth modified leaving them in limbo or stateless and deprived of their identity. Mr Anthony Lee on behalf of the Congress of World Hmong People described how there is grave concern for approximately 4,000 Hmong who Thailand repatriated back to Laos from a recognized refugee camp.

President of the Radical Party, Mr. Sergio Stanzani, recalled when Italy had been conspicuous in their action and offered his support to the speakers.  Finally Hon. Jean-Leonard Touadi, MP concluded that meetings such as this one are of central concern to the Radical Party. He suggested that since many people put hope and trust in Europe,  countries cannot fulfill these expectations if principles such as non-refoulement are not respected or if countries react with coward silence. He recommended that states must abandon the bilateral approach to foreign policy and look beyond national interests.

Participants commented on a draft declaration, later agreed on by members of the UNPO Presidency, to which was added that the Italian government should keep to its promise to broadcast on national television, a weekly programme on human rights as an opportunity to spread public opinion and to make changes in Italian policy. The declaration can be read here .

UNPO believes that it is imperative that asylum of persecuted individuals is not perceived purely as a humanitarian act of charity but also as an obligation under international law. Refoulement of individuals to any country where they may be subject to torture or ill-treatment is illegal as well as morally despicable.