Physicians for Human Rights – UK
12th October 2004
“High profile democracies such as the UK must set an example by prosecuting both foreigners and their own nationals who may have participated in torture”
The goal of universal jurisdiction came a step closer this month with the prosecution of a pizza maker from south London. Faryadi Sarwar Zardad, a former Afghan war lord, who is accused of torture and hostage taking at a check point east of Kabul in the mid 1990s, has been living in England since 1998. So important does the UK’s Attorney General Lord Goldsmith consider this case to be that he is leading the prosecution himself.
Article 5.2 of the UN Convention against Torture obliges each State Party to "establish its jurisdiction over [acts of torture] in cases where the alleged offender is present in any territory under its jurisdiction and it does not extradite them". The UK incorporated this provision into law under section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.
Universal Jurisdiction is the principal whereby ordinary national courts are able to pursue charges against perpetrators found within their jurisdiction, regardless of their nationality or the location of the crime. It is reserved for those crimes that are considered to be crimes against humankind itself - and includes war crimes, genocide, slavery, crimes against peace and crimes against humanity.
This is not the first time an alleged perpetrator of torture overseas has been arrested in the UK. In 1997, Physicians for Human Rights-UK provided information that led to the arrest of a Sudanese doctor called Mohammed Mahgoub on charges of participation in torture while acting in an official capacity in Sudan, following the military coup in 1989.
"Torturers everywhere must realise they cannot escape justice when they leave the safety of their own countries,” Dr Peter Hall, chair of Physicians for Human Rights-UK commented at the time. Ultimately the Crown Office in Edinburgh decided to drop charges against the doctor, due it is thought, to insufficient evidence because witnesses feared relatives remaining in Sudan might be victimised.
Physicians for Human Rights-UK also advised the UK government over the case of Senator Pinochet, where the House of Lords reaffirmed Britain’s responsibilities under the UN Torture Convention. Spain had requested the former President’s extradition from the UK after Spanish nationals had been tortured in Chile.
Physicians for Human Rights-UK is submitting a report to the UN Committee against Torture which considers the UK’s compliance with the UN Convention in Geneva next month. The report will highlight the organisation’s concerns over allegations of mistreatment of detainees by British forces in Iraq, and of asylum applicants within the UK. “High profile democracies such as the UK must set an example by prosecuting their own nationals who may have participated in torture”, Dr Hall said, adding “We cannot just prosecute foreigners”
Further information from: Dr. Peter Hall, Chair, PHR-UK
Tel: 07770796609 E-mail: doctorsforhumanrights.org [ENDS]