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THE RENAISSANCE OF NON-REFOULEMENT? THE OTHMAN (ABU QATADA) DECISION OF THE EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS

  • Christopher Michaelsen (a1)

Extract

On 17 January 2012 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) handed down its judgment in Othman (Abu Qatada) v United Kingdom.1 Abu Qatada, a radical Muslim cleric once described as ‘Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe’, was convicted in absentia in Jordan for various terrorist offences.2 He alleges, however, that part of the evidence against him had been obtained under torture. In 1994 he was granted refugee status and permitted to remain in the United Kingdom (UK) temporarily. Qatada later applied for indefinite leave to stay. While his application was pending, he was arrested in October 2002 and detained without charge or trial under the now-repealed Part 4 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. In March 2005 he was released from detention and put under a ‘control order’ under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005. A few months later, the UK government sought to deport Qatada to his native Jordan, having first concluded a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Jordanian government that he would not be subjected to torture or ill-treatment contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The deportation order was challenged before English courts, but ultimately upheld by the House of Lords in RB (FC) and Another v Secretary of State for the Home Department and OO v Secretary of State for the Home Department in 2009.3 In contrast, the ECtHR ruled unanimously that the UK could not lawfully deport Qatada to Jordan. The decision was criticized by Home Secretary Theresa May as ‘unacceptable’ and predictably led to several Conservative backbenchers in the House of Commons calling on the government to withdraw from the ECHR.4

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1 Othman (Abu Qatada) v United Kingdom, App No 8139/09, Judgment of 17 January 2012 (‘Qatada’).

2 C Hope, ‘European judges’ ruling on Abu Qatada “a threat to our national security”’ The Telegraph, 7 February 2012, <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/9065621/European-judges-ruling-on-Abu-Qatada--a-threat-to-our-national-security.html>.

3 RB (FC) and Another v Secretary of State for the Home Department and OO v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2009] UKHL 10, [2010] 2 AC 110.

4 ‘“Unacceptable” UK can't deport Abu Qatada – Theresa May’ BBC News (Online), 7 February 2012, <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-16923527>. On the challenges that human rights presents to counter-terrorism policies see eg D McGoldrick, ‘Terrorism and Human Rights Paradigms – The United Kingdom After 9/11’ in A Bianchi and A Keller (eds) Counterterrorism: Democracy's Challenge (Hart 2008) 111–232.

5 OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, ‘Background Paper on Extradition and Human Rights in the Context of Counter-Terrorism’, ODIHR.GAL/22/07, 20 March 2007, <http://www.osce.org/odihr/24392>. See, also, the United Kingdom's third party intervention in Saadi v Italy (App No 37201/06) Judgment of 28 February 2008; K Jones, ‘Deportations with Assurances: Addressing Key Criticisms’ (2008) 57 ICLQ 183–94.

6 See eg Amnesty International, ‘Diplomatic Assurances: No Protection against Torture and Ill-Treatment’, 2005, Al Index: ACT 40/021/2005 (1 December 2005) <http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/ACT40/021/2005>; Human Rights Watch, ‘“Empty Promises”: Diplomatic Assurances No Safeguard Against Torture’, 2004, HRW 16(4) (D) <http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/diplomatic0404.pdf>; Human Rights Watch, ‘Still At Risk: Diplomatic Assurances No Safeguard Against Torture’, 2005, HRW 17(4) (D) <http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/eca0405.pdf>.

7 Human Rights Watch, ‘Not the Way Forward: The UK's Dangerous Reliance on Diplomatic Assurances’ (October 2008) 1, <http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/uk1008web.pdf>.

8 ibid 1, 18.

9 See eg Skoglund, L, ‘Diplomatic Assurances Against Torture: An Effective Strategy?’ (2008) 77 NordicJIL 319–54; Parsad, K C, ‘Illegal Renditions and Improper Treatment: An Obligation to Provide Refugees Remedies Pursuant to the Convention Against Torture’ (2009) 37 DenvJIntlLaw&Pol 681702; Joseph, S, ‘Rendering Terrorists and the Convention Against Torture’ (2005) 5 HRLRev 339–46; 4Bruin, B and Wouters, K, ‘Terrorism and the Non-Derogability of Non-Refoulement’ (2003) 15 IJRL 529.

10 See eg art 33 of the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, art 3 of the Convention against Torture, art 22(8) of the American Convention on Human Rights, art 3 of the ECHR, art 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. On the development of the principle of non-refoulement in international law generally, see eg A Duffy, ‘Expulsion to Face Torture? Non-refoulement in International Law’ (2008) 20(3) IJRL 373–90.

11 Soering v United Kingdom, (1989) 11 EHRR 439.

12 ibid para 88.

13 Chahal v United Kingdom, (1996) 23 EHRR 413.

14 ibid para 80.

15 ibid para 105.

16 ibid (Joint Partly Dissenting Opinion) para 1.

17 See, generally, S Bourgon, ‘The Impact of Terrorism on the “Principle of Non-Refoulement” of Refugees: The Suresh Case before the Supreme Court of Canada’, (2003) 1 JICJ 169–85.

18 Suresh v Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) [2002] 1 SCR 3, [2002] SCC 1, para 60.

19 ibid para 58.

20 ibid.

21 UN Committee Against Torture, Conclusions and Recommendations of the Committee Against Torture: Canada 34th sess, CAT/C/CR/34/CAN (7 July 2005), para 4.

22 Agiza v Sweden, Committee Against Torture, Communication No 233/2003, CAT/C/34/D/233/2003 (20 May 2005).

23 On the practice of extraordinary rendition, see eg Grey, S, Ghost Plane: The Inside Story of the CIA's Secret Rendition Programme (C Hurst & Co 2006).

24 Agiza v Sweden, para 2.4.

25 ibid para 13.4.

26 ibid.

27 Alzery v Sweden, Human Rights Committee, Communication No 1416/2005, CCPR/C/88/D/1416/2005 (10 November 2006).

28 ibid para 11.3.

29 ibid.

30 ibid para 11.4.

31 ibid.

32 ibid.

33 ibid para 11.5.

34 ibid.

35 Saadi v Italy, (2009) 49 EHRR 30; for commentary see eg de Londras, F, ‘International Decision: Saadi v Italy’ (2008) 102 AJIL 616–22; de Londras, F, ‘Shannon, Saadi, and Ireland's Reliance on Diplomatic Assurances’ (2009) 2 IrYBIL 7990; Moeckli, D, ‘Saadi v Italy: The Rules of the Game Have Not Changed’ (2008) 8 HRLRev 534–48.

36 Saadi v Italy (n 35) para 117–23.

37 ibid para 139.

38 ibid para 130.

39 ibid para 131.

40 ibid para 129.

41 ibid para 146.

42 ibid para 147.

43 ibid.

44 Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan Regulating the Provision of Undertakings in Respect of Specified Persons Prior to Deportation, <http://www.statewatch.org/news/2005/aug/uk-jordan-MOU.pdf>.

45 ibid para 4.

46 ibid.

47 BB v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2006] UKSIAC 39/2005 (5 December 2006), para 5.

48 Othman v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2008] EWCA Civ 290 (9 April 2008).

49 ibid para 9 (LJ Buxton).

50 ibid.

51 ibid para 114 (Lord Phillips).

52 ibid para 118ff (Lord Phillips), 197 (Lord Hoffman).

53 Othman (Abu Qatada) v United Kingdom (n 1) para 183–4.

54 ibid.

55 ibid para 186.

56 ibid.

57 ibid para 189.

58 ibid.

59 ibid.

60 ibid para 191.

61 ibid para 195–206.

62 ibid para 196.

63 ibid.

64 ibid para 203.

65 Human Rights Committee, CPPR General Comment No. 13: Equality before the courts and the right to a fair and public hearing by an independent court established by law (art 14), 13 April 1984.

66 Alzery v Sweden (n 27) para 4.16.

67 ibid para 5.5.

68 ibid.

69 ibid para 11.9.

70 Soering v United Kingdom (n 11) para 113.

71 See eg Mamatkulov and Askarov v Turkey, (2005) 41 EHRR 25, para 90–1; Al-Sadoon and Mufdhi v United Kingdom, App No 61498/08, Judgment of 2 March 2010, para 149.

72 Othman (Abu Qatada) v United Kingdom (n 1) para 260.

73 Omar Othman (aka Abu Qatada) v Secretary of State for the Home Department, SC/15/2005 (26 February 2007), para 118.

74 ibid.

75 ibid para 370ff, 446.

76 ibid para 422.

77 ibid para 431.

78 ibid para 443.

79 ibid para 445.

80 ibid para 418–20.

81 Othman v Secretary of State for the Home Department (n 48) para 35 (LJ Buxton).

82 ibid para 45, 70.

83 ibid para 48.

84 ibid para 49.

85 ibid para 51.

86 ibid para 52.

87 RB (FC) and Another v Secretary of State for the Home Department and OO v Secretary of State for the Home Department (n 3) para 154 (Lord Phillips).

88 ibid para 153.

89 ibid.

90 ibid para 154 (Lord Phillips), 201 (Lord Hoffmann).

91 Othman (Abu Qatada) v United Kingdom (n 1) para 237.

92 ibid para 238.

93 ibid.

94 ibid para 239.

95 ibid para 241.

96 ibid para 242.

97 ibid.

98 ibid para 260.

99 ibid para 261.

100 ibid para 274.

101 ibid para 261.

102 ibid para 276.

103 ibid.

104 ibid.

105 ibid para 270.

106 ibid.

107 Secretary of State for the Home Department (Respondent) v MB (FC) (Appellant), [2007] UKHL 46 (31 October 2007).

108 A and others v United Kingdom, App No 3455/05, Judgment of 19 February 2009.

109 Gillan and Quinton v United Kingdom, App No 4158/05, Judgment of 12 January 2010.

110 Al-Skeini and Others v United Kingdom, App No 55721/07, Judgment of 7 July 2011; Al-Jedda v United Kingdom, App No 27021/08, Judgment of 7 July 2011.

111 A Tomkins, ‘National Security Case Law: A Continuing Trend’ <http://britgovcon.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/national-security-case-law-a-continuing-trend/#comments>.

112 RB (FC) and Another v Secretary of State for the Home Department and OO v Secretary of State for the Home Department (n 3) para 141 (Lord Phillips).

113 In early March 2012, it was reported that the Home Secretary travelled to Jordan to obtain such assurances; see ‘Abu Qatada case: Jordan talks constructive – Theresa May’ BBC News (Online), 7 March 2012, <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-17292550>.

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