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UN torture rapporteur wades into ‘Carlos’ case

Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. © Keystone / Salvatore Di Nolfi

Nils Melzer, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, has written to the Swiss government to complain about the treatment of the violent repeat offender known as “Carlos”. 

This content was published on June 14, 2021 - 15:40
Keystone-SDA/dos

Humanitarian law specialist Melzer, who is Swiss, wrote to the foreign ministry to ask that Carlos’ conditions be eased. The prisoner is currently in solitary confinement at a high-security centre in canton Zurich. 

Under UN norms, solitary confinement should only be used in exceptional cases, and not for longer than 15 days. Speaking to Swiss public radio SRF on Monday, Melzer said that it was now “almost three years” that Carlos had been held under such conditions. 

Canton Zurich justice authorities said in response that Melzer had made the accusations “without having met the accused [Carlos]”, which was “prejudicial and against the law”. 

They also said Melzer’s comments were not accurate: Carlos can in fact receive visits from his family each week, contrary to accusations. He can also speak regularly with family and his lawyers, the justice department said. 

They also confirmed that the Swiss National Commission for the Prevention of Torture would be visiting the detention centre in question for an inspection on July 2. 

Carlos, whose real name is Brian, was first arrested at the age of 10. Since then, he has served various sentences, including for stabbing another teenager in 2011. 

He became the centre of media attention when it emerged in 2013 that he was the subject of an individual rehabilitation programme that cost almost CHF30,000 per month. 

He goes on trial again on Wednesday, accused of attempted grievous bodily harm on warders and other inmates during a 2017 prison fight. He is accused of almost 30 separate incidents involving threats and violence. The Zurich public prosecutor’s office has also initiated new proceedings for an additional 30 assaults against prison warders and police officers.  

The Zurich Supreme Court will decide if he should be kept behind bars, undergo therapy in prison or be released. His lawyers, who say his current conditions amount to torture, want his immediate release.

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