Berlin/Brussels, 5 September 2019 – For the second time, an international human rights body has refused to examine the torture suffered by a Belgian citizen formerly detained at the Guantánamo Bay US military base. On 2 August 2019, the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) issued the frustrating decision to not look further into Belgium’s role in the torture and ill-treatment of Mosa Zemmouri, who was detained in Guantánamo from 2002 to 2005. The Committee thereby missed a vital opportunity to adequately address the US torture program and European states’ complicity in the so-called war on terror.
More than two years after the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and its partner lawyers Walter van Steenbrugge and Christophe Marchand filed a complaint on behalf of Zemmouri against the Kingdom of Belgium, the CAT refused it as “inadmissible.” In its decision, the Committee stated that the case had already been examined by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), and cannot be considered, according to article 22(5)(a) of the Convention against Torture. In 2016, the complainant filed an application to the ECtHR, which was dismissed after only two months without further reasoning.
“ECtHR’s insufficient treatment of the case cannot be considered a thorough examination. Therefore, the Committee Against Torture should have declared the communication admissible and proceed with an examination of the merits,” said Andreas Schüller, head of ECCHR’s International Crimes and Accountability program.
This is supported in the dissenting opinion of Committee member Abdelwahab Hani: “It is therefore not possible for the Committee to know to what extent the Court has examined the applicant’s claim and in particular whether it has carried out a thorough analysis of the merits of the case, which is essential to determine if ‘the same question’ has been ‘examined’.”
Hani finds that Belgium violated articles 2 and 14 of the Convention against Torture: The Belgian authorities did not take effective measures to prevent the ill-treatment of its citizen Mosa Zemmouri at Guantánamo, and failed to provide any form of redress.
“I took up this legal fight not only for me, but to make sure that what was done to me will not be done to others. It is devastating that the Committee today failed to end the ongoing injustice,” said applicant Mosa Zemmouri after the decision. During his detention, Zemmouri suffered brutal beatings and sensory deprivation. He was exposed to extreme temperatures and other severe forms of physical and psychological abuse. The complaint before the CAT argued that Belgian officials were complicit in the abuse and knew about the torture, but failed to prevent and further investigate it.
“This decision weakens the absolute prohibition of torture, missing a chance to scrutinize European complicity in the US torture program. The Committee Against Torture failed to take a critical step towards justice for the numerous victims,” added Andreas Schüller.
Notwithstanding the outcome of the decision, every country that has tolerated and made this system possible is obliged to prevent torture and provide justice for survivors. The complaint against Belgium is part of ECCHR’s broader efforts, together with former Guantánamo detainees and partners in the US and Europe, to uphold the absolute prohibition of torture.