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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Standing Up Against Russia for Human Rights in Czech Republic

The Prague Post analyzes the question of extradition to neo-Soviet Russia, via the Czech Helsinki Committee:

Czech officials took Russian citizen Ilja Staševskij into custody in March to comply with an international warrant for his arrest. Staševskij was arrested in the Czech Republic on suspicion of stealing state funds in Russia. But from other information available, authorities thought the arrest warrant might be politically motivated. After all, during the same time period, Russian authorities were trying to track down several political opponents of President Vladimir Putin. Staševskij previously spent a year in custody in a Russian jail in the 1990s, where he was tortured, according to some accounts. He has published two books on his experiences having to do with criminal procedure and conditions in Russian jails. Many in Russia and around the world compare him to prominent dissidents in the former Soviet Union such as Vladimir Konstantinovich Bukovsky and Aleksander Solženicin. Staševskij spent 40 days in Czech custody this spring, even though he had been seeking political asylum in the country since 1999. He was not extradited to Russia, however, because that government ended up not sending a formal request for his return.

In another recent Czech extradition case, two Uzbek citizens were taken into custody earlier this month on suspicion of terrorism, illegal arms and a murder during the Andijan uprising in May 2005. During the uprising, Uzbek security forces killed 300 to 500 unarmed protesters. In follow-up accounts, organizers and participants have had no guarantees to fair trials, according to international human rights organizations. Some people involved in the uprising have already been arrested, tortured and sentenced up to 20 years in jail, according to reports from rights groups. Both Uzbeks are currently being held in the country under protection of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office. They hold German residence permits.

We at the Czech Helsinki Committee (ČHV) believe they will not be extradited to Uzbekistan.
That’s because UNHCR is watching the case closely and has sharply rebuked other countries that sent Uzbek citizens back to their home country recently. But it’s still worrisome that the two Uzbeks are being held in Czech custody. These two extradition cases show how important it is to consider every extradition request individually. An international warrant for arrest is not always a strong enough reason to extradite someone, especially when there are extenuating political circumstances.

Authorities must pay close attention to every single case, from general political and human rights conditions in a particular state to their own gut feelings. In addition, the ČHV wants to make the extradition process as transparent as possible legally, so that there won’t be any doubt in the future about how cases such as the ones just mentioned play out. The ČHV also tries to help people who have gotten trapped in the extradition process erroneously. Based on these cases, we can see that competent state authorities often behave unpredictably. If an international arrest warrant is issued, public authorities (even competent prosecutors) seem to act in surprising and precipitative ways, especially when the home country is known for interfering with human rights, or has an authoritarian in charge or there are significant doubts about the political background of a case.Official statistics on extradition proceedings in the Czech Republic are not available. But, according to information from the interior and justice ministries, it appears approximately 100 people are extradited to their home countries every year, while another 30 are held in custody for some period of time.

More important, however, are the potential human rights threats (including the right to personal integrity) to people being extradited. It seems local residents perceive extradition of every “criminal” being prosecuted in other countries as something necessary and automatically beneficial. In addition, it appears the country’s officially “friendly” attitude toward extraditing people to possibly abusive regimes is influenced by the so-far unsuccessful efforts to get controversial financiers such as Radovan Krejčíř back here to be tried in court. We agree this country should not be a place where criminals find refuge. Rather, it should fulfill its international obligations and should do so in a way that provides fair punishment to offenders. Such an attitude, however, cannot and must not be generalized. When it comes to extradition, protecting human rights can be more important than international obligations. Legally, domestic legislation corresponds with international standards, including the European Convention on Extradition. Decision-making on extradition is based on the so-called mixed model. In this model, the court assesses the permissibility of extradition while the right to review a decision is being preserved. The justice minister then signs the extradition order. Formally, this is an adequate model. However, it doesn’t require those making the decision to consider the actual crime, how the person being extradited may be punished by his or her home country, if the person is an asylum-status holder and if the country calling for extradition allows the death penalty. To protect human rights, our justice minister should make sure any country requesting extradition of someone has a process for a fair trial and protects against torture and other means of maltreatment.

According to the Constitutional Court jurisprudence (e.g. in ÚS 752/02), in accordance with the jurisprudence of the European Court for Human Rights, when evaluating the permissibility of extradition it is necessary to do a “substantial grounds test.” That means checking to see if there are reasons to suspect an individual could face torture if he/she is extradited. Finally, there is currently no legal possibility to appeal the justice minister’s decision on such cases without making a constitutional complaint. The ČHV would like to see a broader decision-making process that includes recommendations from outside groups about human rights to the justice minister’s office. Only with outside input and review like that from the ČHV can the process become more transparent.

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