The European Court of Human Rights has re-affirmed the absolute prohibition of torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In the court’s ruling in the case of Saadi v Italy on Thursday, it found “substantial grounds had been shown for believing that there is a real risk” that Nassim Saadi would be subjected to torture or other ill-treatment if he were deported, relying heavily on reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
The Italian authorities sought to deport Mr Saadi to Tunisia under the “Pisanu Law” that was originally adopted in 2005 as “an urgent measure to combat terrorism”. The Italian authorities argued that he posed a security risk to Italy.
The Court deemed the reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to be credible, consistent and corroborated by numerous other sources. Amnesty International’s research indicates that torture and other ill-treatment by the security forces in Tunisia are widespread.
The practices reported, including against people charged with terrorism-related offences, include hanging from the ceiling, threats of rape, administration of electric shocks, immersion of the head in water, beatings and cigarette burns. Allegations of torture and ill-treatment in police custody are not investigated by the relevant Tunisian authorities.
“Confessions” extracted under torture may be used as the principal evidence in trials that result in long prison sentences or the death penalty. Consequently, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that sending Nassim Saadi back to Tunisia would violate the Italian government’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.
“This judgment should serve as a reminder to all states: not only they are not allowed to commit torture themselves, but they are forbidden from sending anyone to countries where they would be at risk of torture or other ill-treatment,” said Ian Seiderman, Amnesty International’s Senior Legal Adviser.
The case took on additional significance when the United Kingdom intervened in an attempt to persuade the European Court to change its long-established case-law in a way that would have significantly weakened the absolute prohibition on torture and other ill-treatment. The Court rejected as “misconceived” the arguments advanced by the UK, with which the Italian government had agreed.
While the Court acknowledged the immense difficulty states face in protecting their communities from terrorist violence, it affirmed that the danger of terrorism “must not however call into question the absolute nature of [the prohibition of torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment].”