UN refuses to investigate Egyptian torture claims

The Swedish government received yet another setback in the on-going controversy over their deportation of two suspected terrorists to Egypt. The foreign ministry had hoped that the United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, would investigate the case and establish once and for all whether the men were tortured on their return to their home country.

In a letter to foreign minister, Laila Freivalds, Arbour explained that it had already been established that Sweden had contravened the UN’s convention against torture, so any further investigation was pointless.

On 18 December 2001, Ahmed Agiza and Muhammed Al Zery were arrested and summarily deported by the Swedish security police and American intelligence agents. The manner in which the operation was carried out has created a long-running scandal.

Egypt is a country where, according to the UN, terror suspects are in danger of being tortured. It is therefore against the terms of the convention against torture to deport suspects there. Sweden attempted to circumvent that rule by eliciting a guarantee from the Egyptian government that the two men would not be subjected to ill treatment.

The UN’s Committee Against Torture censured Sweden for their actions in the case and said that the Egyptian government’s guarantee was meaningless. Since the deportation, a number of different sources have said that the men were tortured in prison, although the claims have yet to be proved conclusively.

In her letter to Freivalds, Arbour referred to the Committe Against Torture’s report and reiterated that Sweden should never have trusted such a guarantee from Egypt. Sweden, she wrote, were in clear breach of the convention.

The case has brought considerable embarrassment internationally to Sweden, with criticism from Human Rights Watch as well as the UN. It has also been a highly sensitive issue domestically for the government. The Justice Ombudsman has already issued a severe reprimand to the security police and the parliament’s Constitutional Committee is expected to publish a similarly damning report in the Autumn.

Arbour concluded her letter by saying that she was looking forward to reading the Constitutional Committee’s report.