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UK to challenge Europe rights court ban on deportation to abusive regimes

[JURIST] UK Attorney General Lord Goldsmith said Saturday that the British government will ask the European Court of Human Rights [official website] to review a long-standing ban against EU countries deporting individuals to countries where they would be at risk of torture or death, a practice known in international law by the French term refoulement [backgrounder]. The ban arises under the court's interpretation of the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF], implemented in the UK under the 1998 Human Rights Act [text], which took effect in 2000.

The deportation issue has come up in the UK several times this year. Last week a High Court ruling [JURIST document] to grant asylum to nine Afghans who had hijacked a plane to a UK airport but who could not be safely returned prompted a public outcry from government leaders, including Prime Minister Tony Blair, who insisted that application of the Act, and the underlying Convention, should be subject to a "public safety" exception. Earlier this month ex-Home Secretary Charles Clarke lost his cabinet post [JURIST report] after revelations that following an administrative error, hundreds of foreign criminals had been released back into the population before deportation review. In the context of the British government's anti-terror efforts [JURIST report] since the July 2005 London bombings, the UK has also been negotiating safe return agreements - so-called Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) [Amnesty International backgrounder] - with countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, and Libya which are said to have engaged in torture, under which they guarantee that no harm will come to returned nationals. An additional agreement with Algeria [HRW backgrounder] is reportedly in process.

In the same interview Saturday, Goldsmith reiterated his belief, first publicly asserted in a speech [JURIST report] 10 days ago, that the American prison for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay had "rightly or wrongly" become a symbol of injustice that was "wrong in principle" and also "wrong in practice," and that the facility should be closed. BBC News has more. Listen to the full interview [recorded audio] with Lord Goldsmith on BBC Radio 4's Today program.

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