SACC welcomes request for Strasbourg to look again at US prison abuses

Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC)
11am Tuesday 10 July 2012
For immediate release

Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) welcomes the news that lawyers acting for Abu Hamza have asked for his appeal against extradition to the US to be referred to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights. Abu Hamza's request provides an opportunity for the court to look again at an earlier decision that risks giving international legitimacy to the abhorrent US practice of holding prisoners in solitary confinement for years or decades.

The request will block any immediate attempt to extradite Abu Hamza. It is expected that it will also block any attempt to extradite any of the other four men whose cases, though otherwise unrelated to his, have been grouped together by the court because they raise similar human right issues. The other men are Babar Ahmad, Syed Talha Ahsan, Adel Abdul Bary (an Egyptian citizen) and Khaled Al-Fawwaz (a Saudi Arabian citizen). It is thought that some or all of these men will be making their own requests for a referral to the Grand Chamber.

Abu Hamza is a British citizen by marriage. He is facing a variety of charges in the US relating to his alleged support for terrorism in several countries. These charges could as readily be heard in a British court as in a US court, thereby avoiding the difficulties caused by the US's record of unfair treatment of terrorism suspects and by the prevalence of human rights abuses in US prisons.

A panel of 7 judges from the European Court of Human Rights rejected the appeal against extradition by Abu Hamza and the other four men on 10 April. The new move by Abu Hamza's lawyers means that the court will have to decide whether the case will be allowed to come before a Grand Chamber of 17 judges. Under Article 43 of the European Convention on Human Rights, a request for referral to the Grand Chamber must be accepted if it "raises a serious question affecting the interpretation or application of the Convention or the protocols thereto, or a serious issue of general importance."

SACC believes that the case of Babar Ahmad and others v UK (of which Abu Hamza's appeal is a part) raises issues that are central to the interpretation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which says "no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

The court ruled on April 10 that long-term solitary confinement for years in US supermax prisons, and the likelihood of extremely long prison sentences, do not violate Article 3, at least in the context of extradition or deportation. The judges found that Abu Hamza's case was somewhat different from the cases of the other appellants because his physical disabilities mean he would be spared confinement at ADX Florence, where the other appellants would be sent if convicted in the US. They gave no serious consideration to Abu Hamza's fear - well-founded in SACC's view - that he would be at risk of bring held elsewhere in the US prison system with the same degree of solitary confinement as at ADX Florence.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, said last year that there should be a world-wide ban on solitary confinement for any period longer than 15 days. And the Committee on International Human Rights of the New York City Bar Association said that "supermax confinement as practiced in the United States violates well-established international law."

The April ruling by European Court of Human Rights risks overturning these welcome developments in international law and giving global legitimacy to an inhuman system of solitary confinement that is at the moment regarded as unacceptable outside the USA. The stakes are very high. The Grand Chamber of the court needs to look at the decision afresh, and to set aside the political pressure that it has been put under by the British and US governments.