Saadia Ali, a dual French/Tunisian citizen, was attempting to obtain an official document from the court of first instance in Tunis when she was taken into custody, stripped of her clothing, and beaten by a prison guard in front of fifty male prisoners for verbally criticizing a Tunisian public official. Upon regaining consciousness, Ali was given a summary trial without due process and a suspended sentence of three months imprisonment for attacking a public official. Ali’s lawyer initiated a complaint with the office of the State prosecutor, which rejected the complaint without further explanation. In her complaint to the Committee Against Torture, Ali alleged violations of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment (CAT), and cited violations of internationally recognized standards on the administration of justice and articles 25 and 26 of Tunisia’s Code of Criminal Procedure. The Committee held that Tunisia’s actions towards Ali were tantamount to torture and violated articles 1, 12, 13, 14, and 16 of the Convention. The deliberate infliction of severe pain and suffering upon Ali by Tunisian public officials constituted torture under article 1 and cruel, unusual, or degrading treatment within the meaning of article 16. The Committee also held that the State’s dismissal of the complaint and delay in investigating Ali’s case established a violation of articles 12 and 13, under which a State has the obligation to promptly investigate allegations of torture. The State’s failure to act on the complaint and immediately launch an investigation equated to a breach of the State’s obligations under article 14 to provide redress to victims of torture in the form of restitution, compensation, and rehabilitation.
Women and Justice: Jurisdiction
C. T., a Hutu citizen of Rwanda and a member of the PDR-Ubuyanja party, was arrested for her political affiliations and incarcerated in a Kigali prison. While incarcerated, she was repeatedly raped, under the threat of execution if she did not comply, and become pregnant. C. T. escaped to Sweden and requested asylum for herself and her son; her request was denied by the Migration Board for lack of credibility. She filed a complaint with the Committee Against Torture, arguing that her forced return to Rwanda would subject her to further human rights violations and possibly result in her death. The Committee Against Torture held that C. T.’s removal to Rwanda would constitute a violation of article 3 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), which obligates state parties not to expel or return a person to another state where there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she would be in danger of being subjected to torture. Addressing the issue of C. T.’s credibility, the Committee invoked its prior holding that victims of torture cannot be held to a standard of complete accuracy when recalling the facts of their experience, and held that domestic authorities erred in ignoring medical reports appended to the complaint which substantiated C. T.’s claims of rape and torture. The Committee concluded that given the continued state of ethnic tension in Rwanda and C. T.’s past victimization, return to Rwanda presented a foreseeable, real, and personal risk of danger for C. T. and her son.
A.S.’s husband was mysteriously killed during training with the Iranian Air Force, and the Iranian government subsequently declared him to be a martyr. As the widow of a martyr, A.S. was required to submit to the rigid rules of the Bonyad-e Shahid Islamic society, a foundation which supported and supervised the families of martyrs. In accordance with the aims of Bonyad-e Shahid, a high-ranking leader forced A.S. to be his wife in a sigheh marriage, a temporary marital arrangement that requires no registration or witnesses and is used as a measure to prevent women from being sexually active outside of marriage. A.S. was forced to live with her sigheh husband and perform sexual services for him at his command. A.S. later fell in love with a Christian man, and when the two were discovered together by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, A.S. was taken into custody at the Ozghol police station in Tehran. A.S. was severely beaten by her sigheh husband for five to six hours. A.S. managed to obtain a visa to visit her sister in Sweden, and upon her arrival she applied for asylum; her application was rejected by both the Swedish Immigration Board and the Aliens Appeal Board. Since her departure from Iran, A.S. had been sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. In her complaint to the Committee, A.S. alleged that her forced return to Iran would constitute a violation of Sweden’s article 3 obligation not to expel or return a person to another state where there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she would be in danger of being subjected to torture. The Committee referred to the report of the Special Representative of the Commission on Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Iran which confirmed that Iran had recently sentenced several married women to death by stoning for adultery. Considering that A.S.’s account of events was consistent with the Committee’s knowledge about present human rights violations in Iran, the Committee held that in accordance with article 3 of the Convention, Sweden should refrain from forcing A.S. to return to Iran.
T.A. and her husband are Bangladeshi citizens and members of the Jatiya party. After T.A. was arrested for participating in a political demonstration and released, the police, accompanied by members of an opposing political party, arrested T.A. and her four-year-old daughter. At the police station, T.A. endured torture including repeated rape until she confessed to the crime of illegal arm trading. She was released after she signed a document stating that she would not take part in any further political activity. T.A. fled to Sweden with her daughter where she applied for refugee status. The Migration Board that received her application did not contest her allegations of rape and torture, but concluded that these acts could not be attributed to the State; rather, they were to be regarded as acts of individual policemen. T.A. appealed to the Alien Appeals Board, submitting medical certificates that supported her account of torture and the traumatic experience it had on her daughter. The Alien Appeals Board upheld the Migration Board’s decision and stated that because of a political change in Bangladesh since the incident, T.A. would not be subjected to further torture if she returned. In her complaint to the Committee, T.A. argued that given the medical evidence of the case, a deportation order would in itself constitute a violation of article 16 of the Convention under which State parties are obliged to prevent cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment conducted by the State or its public officials. The Committee considered T.A.’s complaint in regards to a State’s obligation under article 3 not to expel or to return a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she would be in danger of torture. The Committee noted that T.A. belonged to a political party in opposition to the current ruling party in Bangladesh, and that torture of political opponents was frequently practiced by state agents. Taking into account the Bangladeshi police’s ongoing search for T.A. because of her political affiliations, the Committee concluded that T.A. would be exposed to a serious risk of torture if she returned to Bangladesh, and therefore her forced deportation would violate article 3 of the Convention.
Pauline Muzonzo Paku Kisoki was raped in her home in front of her children by security forces after refusing to allow the government party MPR to host a party rally at her restaurant in Kisanto. She was detained and taken to Makal prison in Kinshasa where the guards forced the women prisoners to dance before they beat and raped them. Kisoki stated that she was raped more than ten times while in prison. After she managed to escape when her sister bribed a prison supervisor, Kisoki fled to Sweden where she immediately requested asylum. The Swedish Board of Immigration denied her request, concluding that the political climate in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) had improved, and Kisoki would not suffer persecution or harassment for her past activities. After the Alien Appeals Board confirmed the decision, Kisoki submitted a new request which referred to the report of the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the situation of rights violations in Zaire. Her application was denied again on the ground that Kisoki could not introduce new evidence. Her complaint to the Committee accused Swedish authorities of basing their decision on a false image of Zaire. Kisoki cited the Commission on Human Rights report to demonstrate that female prisoners are often raped, and a background paper from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees the show that the Zairian Security Police expose return asylum seekers to long sessions of interrogation. The Committee held that Kisoki’s history of working with the opposition party and of detention and torture provide substantial grounds to believe she would face further persecution and torture if she returned to Zaire. Thus, expulsion or return would be violation of article 3 which obligates State parties not to expel or return a person to another state where there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she would be in danger of being subjected to torture.
V.L. and her husband left Belarus for Switzerland after V.L.’s husband criticized the president of Belarus in a public newspaper. They first applied for asylum to the Swiss Federal Office for Refugees (BFF), which rejected the application and ordered V.L. and her husband to leave the country. Afterwards, V.L. revealed to her husband that she was the victim of several episodes of sexual abuse conducted by the Miliz, Belarus’ police force, who were seeking information about her husband’s whereabouts. Her husband reacted with violent insults and forbid V.L. from recounting the instances of sexual abuse to the Swiss authorities. When the Swiss Asylum Review Board (ARK) requested further information about V.L.’s reasons for seeking asylum, V.L. stated that she was raped once by three police officers, and again by these same officers after she had reported the incident to the head of the Miliz. When asked why she did not include the sexual abuse in her first application to the BFF, V.L. admitted that it was because of her husband’s psychological pressure not to report the rapes. The ARK considered V.L.’s rape claims implausible because she did not at least mention them in her first application for asylum, expressing suspicion about V.L.’s “sudden ability … to provide details about the alleged rape.” When V.L. submitted supporting medical reports to the ARK, the ARK replied that her case was closed and ordered her to return to Belarus. The Committee took note of several official documents illustrating the high incidence of violence against women in Belarus, including the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, and the Ministry of Interior’s report of a 17% increase in reports of rape from the year prior to V.L.’s complaint. The Committee concluded that V.L.’s delay in reporting the sexual abuse was due to the reasonable fear of her husband’s shaming and rejection that can be common among female rape victims. In light of her past experiences with the Miliz and the Committee’s substantial doubt that the authorities in Belarus would take necessary measures to protect V.L. from further harm should be return, the Committee held that V.L.’s forced return to Belarus would violate Switzerland’s obligations under article 3 not to expel or return a person to another state where there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she would be in danger of being subjected to torture or inhuman treatment.