23 January 2008

Foreign policy in the way of Human Rights

On Friday the 18th, Canada's foreign ministry had placed the United States and Israel on a watch list of nations where prisoners risk being tortured, as part of a training course manual on torture awareness for Canadian diplomats.

This manual also classified some interrogation methods used by the US as torture, including forced nudity, isolation, sleep deprivation and blindfolding prisoners. Other countries on the watch list include Syria, China, Iran, Afghanistan, Mexico and Saudi Arabia.

However, a spokesman of the Canadian Foreign Minister office declared that "the training manual is not a policy document and does not reflect the views or policies of this government".

The government mistakenly provided the document to Amnesty International Canada as part of a court case the rights organization has launched against Ottawa over the treatment of detainees in Afghanistan. Subsequently, it was made available to several media outlets.

Both the US and Israel responded strongly to this list: "The United States does not permit, tolerate, or condone torture under any circumstances", said a spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy in Ottawa; and an Israeli embassy spokesman stated "If Israel is included in the list in question, the ambassador of Israel would expect its removal".

This is despite the numerous records on abuses on prisoners held by the US as confirmed by this statement from Human Rights Watch (HRW) organisation, as part of their "Torture and Abuse" folder:

"Each day brings more information about the appalling abuses inflicted upon men and women held by the United States in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere around the world. U.S. forces have used interrogation techniques including hooding, stripping detainees naked, subjecting them to extremes of heat, cold, noise and light, and depriving them of sleep—in violation of the Geneva Conventions and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment."

On Israel, HRW has published in their World Report 2003, "the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel reported that there appeared to be a gradual reversion to the use of torture" of Palestinian civilians, including children, while in detention, where "reports of ill-treatment were widespread, including kicking, beating, squalid conditions, and deprivation of food and drink."

After the reactions of representatives from these countries, the Canadian Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier said he regretted the embarrassment caused by the public disclosure of the manual: "It contains a list that wrongly includes some of our closest allies. I have directed that the manual be reviewed and rewritten."

Amnesty International Canada, which says it has ample evidence that prisoners are abused both in U.S. and Israeli jails, said it was disappointed by Bernier's announcement: "When it comes to an issue like torture, the government's main concern should not be embarrassing allies."

As a consequence, also Iran used this opportunity to discredit the document. The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini speaking to reporters on Monday said "the recent publication and the subsequent revision of the list under pressure from US and the Zionist regime demonstrates the biased judgement of the Canadian government."

So it seems, that when Human Rights issues interfere with foreign policy concerns the procedure is to "change the facts" according to the diplomatic demands...

Canada puts US and Israel on torture watch list, Reuters
Canada removes US and Israel from torture watch list, Reuters
Iran: Canada torture list is biased, Press TV
US Torture and Abuse of detainees, Human Rights Watch
World Report 2003: Middle East & Northern Africa, Human Rights Watch

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