Sweden and the Case of an ‘Eritrean Torture Victim’
Saturday, 02 February 2008
By W. Mikael

HE WAS ORDERED DEPORTED, shattering his hopes for freedom and putting his life in grave danger.

Contrary to Swedish government assertions last week, the 23-year old male Eritrean asylum seeker had met the necessary requirements for refugee protection under Sweden’s asylum rules and international human rights laws.

Still, the authorities are adamant in executing a faulty administrative determination and are said to be renting a private aircraft to send the Asylum Applicant back to Eritrea.

The Swedish Board of Migration, SBM, claims that the “general Eritrean situation” and the Applicant’s “individual circumstances” did not rise to the level of persecution. This finding is simply groundless.

Given Eritrea’s current brutal political reality, the Applicant’s human rights will be violated once he is back in his country. He will be arrested upon arrival at the airport. As has been the case with other torture victims, he may then be taken to a torture facility where he may be given “The Helicopter” torture treatment. His hands and feet will be tied behind his back; then his body will be hanging with a rope tied to a branch of a tree.

If it is a bad, busy day, the security officers may go away on another torture task in another facility forgetting about the victim still hanging, thus letting him die a painful, degrading death. (See sketch above)

Hundreds of Eritrean nationals who have been deported by Libyan and Maltese authorities over the past few years are now rotting in Eritrean prisons without trial. They are held incommunicado, without any hope for freedom. Human rights agencies speak of torture and other cruel punishment inflicted on the deportees.

This Eritrean refugee is fully protected by the 1984 Geneva Torture Convention whose rules Sweden is obligated to uphold. Article 3 of the Convention provides absolute prohibition against deportation if it is established that a refugee would be subjected to torture upon return to his country of citizenship.

The Applicant’s “individual circumstances” as described by the SBM, are of little or no legal consequence. This traumatized refugee may not be the best witness for his case. His testimony may be full of inconsistencies, making his story less credible. Still, he is protected by the Torture Convention rule of non-return as a possible torture victim.

Since “possible torture” is the only required legal element, the Applicant is eligible for refugee status. To decide otherwise would be violating the spirit and letter of the Torture Convention.

Clearly SBM abused its discretion by not applying the appropriate Torture Convention standards of proof. Its action clearly contravenes international human rights rules and procedures.

In ordering to deport the Applicant, the Swedish Board of Migration had erroneously used a legal standard of proof similar to the one used in adjudicating a Sri Lankan case over 15 years ago.

This precedent was established in 1992 when the European Court of Human Rights rejected an asylum claim by a Tamil Sri Lankan national. The Court held that the “personal position of the applicant was not any worse than the generality of other members of the Tamil community or other young Tamils who were returning to their country.” The Court concluded that it found no sufficient evidence to show that the Tamil applicant would be singled out for persecution if he returned to his country.

This standard is inapplicable to the Eritrean situation. Despite a persistent political and ethnic strife, Sri Lanka strives to uphold the principles of democracy, rule of law and freedom. The Eritrean government does not recognize such values as valid. Unlike Sri Lanka, Eritrea uses tactics of torture and slave labor to suppress dissent. Sri Lanka does not detain or imprison citizens without trial and hold them incommunicado for an indefinite period of time, a situation common in Eritrea.

Like tens of thousands of other Eritrean youngsters, the Applicant did not leave his country to evade national military service. He had to get out in protest against tyranny and hopelessness. He faces punishment for alleged draft dodging or desertion.

Critics say the repressive national service is aimed at maintaining absolute control over a disenchanted young generation and prevent any popular uprising. The government says its actions are justified because it is in a state of war with Ethiopia.

But the international principles against torture are absolute principles. Prohibition of torture - mental or physical - belongs to the rules of jus cogens where no exception is possible even in times of war or emergency.

For Sweden to be deporting the Applicant, knowing that he will be tortured by the Eritrean government, amounts to an act incompatible with Sweden’s democratic traditions and her commitment to the principles of liberty and rule of law.

For decades Sweden has generously opened its doors to tens of thousands of African refugees escaping barbaric brutalities under such dictators as Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia, Idi Amin of Uganda, the racist apartheid rulers of South Africa, and now Eritrea’s Isaias Afewerki, in continent very prone to despotism.

The best way to help end the tyranny in Eritrea would be for Sweden and the European Union to end their financial support and impose sanctions on the Eritrean government. Europe should also sever diplomatic relations with the Eritrean regime and bar any of its officials from traveling to that continent until the principles of human rights and rule of law are established.

This Eritrean refugee is not the problem. His story is only a symptom of what is tragically wrong with Eritrea and many other African countries. For Sweden to be attacking the symptom alone won’t help in the fight to build a better future for Africa.

Sources: Amnesty International, Swedish Migration Law and Policy Documents, Law of Asylum in the United States by Deborah Anker