by Jonathan Horowitz
Source: Just Security Website
Date: June 13, 2017
After September 11, the United States and other countries heavily relied on diplomatic assurances as counterterrorism tools to legally justify transferring people to other states where they were likely to be tortured. These assurances were based on the state receiving a detainee promising that it would treat the transferred person in accordance with certain human rights standards. Sometimes, but not often, a receiving state would also commit to allowing the sending state to check-in on the detainee every now and again. This was often referred to as “post-transfer detainee monitoring.”
Today, this issue has taken a back seat to Trump’s embrace of direct torture. But it’s important to keep a close eye on if, when, and how the Trump administration uses diplomatic assurances. This is especially true because unlike U.S. torture practices, diplomatic assurances haven’t come anywhere close to receiving the same degree of scrutiny and disapproval.
In April, a pitched battled emerged among states, U.N. agencies and human rights groups during a public discussion hosted by the U.N. Committee against Torture on whether governments should be allowed to ever use diplomatic assurances and, if so, under what conditions. Prior to the event, Canada, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and the United States submitted a joint statement supporting the use of diplomatic assurances, pointing out that states have used assurances to promote respect for the prohibition against torture. They emphatically disagreed with an assertion that the Committee had made that diplomatic assurances were inherently “contrary” to the principle of non-refoulement, which is the legal term that bars a state from transferring someone to the control of another state where there are substantial grounds for believing there’s a real risk the person will be tortured. At the Committee’s public session numerous other states chimed in to add support to this position.
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