Swiss back extradition with assurances

The Federal Court ruling opens the way to further extraditions Keystone

Switzerland's supreme court has upheld a decision by the authorities to rely on diplomatic guarantees from Russia over the extradition of a Russian businessman.

This content was published on January 22, 2008 - 08:44

But human rights campaigners say foreigners should not be extradited to nations with poor human rights records on the basis of diplomatic assurances that suspects will not be ill treated or tortured.

On Monday the Federal Court rejected an appeal against the extradition of the former head of a London-based shipping company who was arrested in Switzerland in December 2006.

The Russian is accused of fraud and money laundering and of swindling his Russian parent company of $400 million (SFr443 million) between 2000 and 2006.

In 2006 the Swiss justice ministry agreed on the businessman's extradition on condition that Russia guarantee his basic human rights.

While rejecting the defendant's appeal, the court demanded that Russia provide additional specific assurances, such as allowing Swiss representatives to visit him in prison "at any time and unannounced".

Suitable tool?

Switzerland insists that diplomatic assurances are an appropriate instrument in cases of extradition of people accused of serious crimes or acts of terrorism, as the requesting state "has an interest in respecting such assurances", according to the foreign ministry.

But human rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, condemn their use, calling them "insufficient" for guaranteeing the safety of someone sent back to a country which has a reputation for ill treatment.

"Amnesty is very opposed to the use of diplomatic assurances as they undermine safeguards in international agreements," Denise Graf, a human rights lawyer at Amnesty Switzerland, told swissinfo.

"We have seen cases in which Turkey, for example, gave the assurance it wouldn't torture someone and they have been [subsequently] mistreated."

The Federal Court on Monday ruled that the defendant's risk of ill treatment in Russia was "theoretical". It added that several extradition requests had been received from Russia in the past and the Russian authorities had always respected the guarantees it gave.

But human rights campaigners are sceptical.

"In Russia the conditions of detention are very bad. Amnesty is also aware of lots of trials which are not held according to international standards," said Graf.

And according to Human Rights Watch, six former Guantanamo detainees were tortured after being sent back to Russia, despite guarantees given to Washington by the Russian authorities.

Legal wrangling

If Moscow doesn't respect the guarantees given to the world's superpower there is no reason it should keep its word to the Swiss, argued the Russian businessman, who has health problems and is fearful of his reception back home.

In Switzerland the question of assurances is complicated by opposing legal positions between the Federal Court and the Swiss Criminal Court, explained the Amnesty lawyer.

"We have cases where the Swiss Criminal Court has stopped similar cases, as the basis of the extradition file was too light and full of contradictions," she said.

And the official Swiss position is also "strange", said Graf.

"When there was a recent discussion in Salzburg about a European agreement on the use of diplomatic assurances, the Swiss delegation said 'we should in no case accept them to extradite people', but here in Switzerland it's different in practice," she added.

"It's a problem of political pressure."

swissinfo, Simon Bradley in Geneva

In brief

The UN torture treaty, which Switzerland ratified in 1986, states clearly that signatories should not expel, return or extradite a person to another state where they run the risk of torture.

An independent panel of legal experts, which is investigating the global impact of counter-terrorism measures, declared in July 2007 that it was "unacceptable" to deport persons to states that use torture on the basis of diplomatic assurances, saying they were unenforceable.

The Eminent Jurists Panel on Terrorism, Counter-terrorism and Human Rights, which has received funding from Switzerland, includes Swiss judge Stefan Trechsel, a former president of the European Court of Human Rights.

Other members include Mary Robinson, the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Arthur Chaskalson, former chief justice of South Africa.

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