UN torture expert warns over Assange extradition to US

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen as he leaves a police station in London, Britain April 11, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 12 April 2019

UN torture expert warns over Assange extradition to US

EVILARD, Switzerland: Julian Assange is not guaranteed a fair trial in the United States, a UN rights expert told AFP Friday, questioning the US justice system’s credibility in national security cases.
The United Nations special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, Nils Melzer, also said that the manner in which Ecuador terminated Assange’s diplomatic protection broke international norms.
But Melzer made clear that his greatest concerns for the WikiLeaks founder — arrested by British police on Thursday after spending almost seven years in Ecuador’s London embassy — stem from Assange’s possible extradition to the US.
“I’m worried about fair trial,” said Melzer, one of several UN rapporteurs active on the Assange case.
“I’m worried that he might be exposed to (the) detention practices of the United States, which in part are very problematic,” he added.
“The United States in the last decade unfortunately has not proven to be a safe state with regard to the provision of torture in cases that involve national security,” Melzer added.
Melzer has previously raised alarm about alleged torture in the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, as well as over the use of waterboarding, which President Donald Trump has labelled an effective interrogation technique.
The US request to extradite Assange is set to be heard in British court on May 2.
US officials have unsealed an indictment against him for computer hacking as part of his WikiLeaks whistleblowing activities.
But Melzer echoed concerns that the US charge sheet could be expanded, especially if the Justice Department gets Assange on US soil.
The UN expert argued that regardless of one’s personal view of Assange, “from a human rights perspective, he was basically doing the same thing that investigative journalists do all over the world,” by publishing information that states try to conceal.
The national security implications of the charges, combined with the fact that the US practices the death penalty, is “obviously a very serious concern,” the UN expert further said.
Turning to the arrest, Melzer conceded that “theoretically” Ecuador had the right to terminate Assange’s protection and strip his citizenship.
“But in a state that is governed by the rule of law, these types of steps are to be taken in a procedure that is subject to legal remedies and appeals,” added Melzer, a Swiss national who also teaches international law at the University of Glasgow.
The “shortcuts” taken in the run up to the arrest are “very, very problematic,” he said.
“The rule of law is not being respected.”
Melzer, like all UN special rapporteurs, is an independent expert appointed by the Human Rights Council who does not speak for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
Guterres’s top human rights official, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, has not condemned the arrest.
Bachelet’s spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasani, told reporters in Geneva on Friday that the high commissioner expects “all relevant authorities to ensure that Mr. Assange’s right to a fair trial is upheld.”


Taliban aim to sign deal with US by end of month

Updated 18 January 2020

Taliban aim to sign deal with US by end of month

  • Washington has for weeks been calling on the militants to reduce violence
  • The Taliban and the US had been negotiating the deal for a year

KABUL: The Taliban are aiming to reach a withdrawal agreement with the US by the end of January and are prepared to “scale down” military operations ahead of signing the deal, according to their chief spokesman.
The statement by Suhail Shaheen to Pakistani daily Dawn comes as the group and the US held discussions in Doha this week, after insurgent sources told AFP they had offered to initiate a brief cease-fire.
“We have agreed to scale down military operations in days leading up to the signing of the peace agreement with the United States,” Shaheen told Dawn in a report published Saturday.
He added that the Taliban were “optimistic” a deal with Washington could be signed before the end of the month and that the reduction in fighting across the country would also include the targeting of Afghan forces.
“It’s now a matter of days,” said the spokesman.
Washington has for weeks been calling on the militants to reduce violence, posing it as a condition for resuming formal negotiations on an agreement that would see US troops begin to leave the country in return for security guarantees, after a near two-decade fight.
The Taliban and the US had been negotiating the deal for a year and were on the brink of an announcement in September 2019 when President Donald Trump abruptly declared the process “dead,” citing Taliban violence.
Talks were later restarted between the two sides in December in Qatar, but were paused again following an attack near the Bagram military base in Afghanistan, which is run by the US.
Any agreement with the Taliban is expected to have two main pillars — an American withdrawal from Afghanistan, and a commitment by the insurgents not to offer sanctuary to militants — and would ultimately have to be given final approval by Trump.
The Taliban’s relationship with Al-Qaeda was the main reason cited for the US invasion more than 18 years ago.
A deal would hopefully pave the way for intra-Afghan talks.
Many observers agree that the war can no longer be won militarily, and that the only route to a lasting peace in Afghanistan is for an agreement between the Taliban and the US-backed government in Kabul.
The Taliban have until now refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, which they consider an illegitimate regime, raising fears that fighting will continue regardless of any deal ironed out with the Americans.

Related