UN Committee against Torture refuses to examine Belgium’s role in torture of former Guantánamo detainee

USA – Guantánamo – Belgium

The UN Committee Against Torture in Geneva refuses to examine the torture suffered by Belgian citizen and former Guantánamo detainee Mosa Zemmouri. The complaint (individual communication) against Belgium had been submitted by ECCHR and its partner lawyers in Belgium, Walter van Steenbrugge and Christophe Marchand, in January 2017. In August 2019, the CAT refused the complaint as inadmissible.


Mosa Zemmouri was detained at the US military base in Guantánamo Bay from 2002 to 2005, where he was subjected to brutal beatings as well as sensory deprivation, exposure to extreme temperatures and other severe forms of physical and psychological abuse.

In their submission to the UN committee, Zemmouri, the lawyers and ECCHR argue that Belgian officials were complicit in the abuse, that Belgium knew about the torture but failed to prevent it, and that Belgian authorities subsequently failed to carry out adequate investigations into the crimes. The committee refused the complaint as inadmissible stating the case had already been sufficiently examined by the European Court of Human Rights.


The complaint was filed on the 15th anniversary of the arrival of the first detainees to Guantánamo Bay in the early days of the US administration’s “war on terror,” the beginning of a global system of US military and CIA torture carried out with the complicity of several states in Europe and around the world. The complaint against Belgium is part of broader efforts to uphold the ban on torture by bringing criminal proceedings against perpetrators.


documents (2)

glossary (2)


Individual complaints

An individual complaint mechanism allows individuals, groups and in some cases NGOs to seek enforcement of their rights. Various individual complaint mechanisms exist for the enforcement of rights guaranteed under international law. Individual complaints can be brought before certain regional courts, such as the European Court of Human Rights, when all domestic remedies have been exhausted.

Topics (3)



The law is clear: torture is prohibited under any circumstances. Whoever commits, orders or approves acts of torture should be prosecuted. This is set out in the UN Convention against Torture which has been ratified by 146 states.

Failure to punish and acknowledge torture adds to the trauma of survivors and their families; individual as well as collective traumas persist. The cycle of torture, impunity and further injustice cannot be broken without addressing these crimes, including through the law. This is why – where torture is used as part of a policy – it is important to hold not only low-ranking perpetrators of torture accountable but also their superiors as well as political and military decision makers – including those from politically and economically powerful states.  

In the fight against torture, ECCHR works with survivors and partner organizations to pursue a variety of legal avenues. In some cases, it might be appropriate to bring a case to the International Criminal Court, as with the torture and mistreatment of detainees by British forces in Iraq. ECCHR also takes cases based on the principle of universal jurisdiction in third states like Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Sweden, filing complaints against those responsible for the US torture program in the so-called "war on terror," against the Bahraini Attorney General, and against senior officials within the Syrian intelligence services.


Discover our Living Open Archive