“UK must not be a safe haven for torture”

Today, the trial of Mr Faryadi Sarwar Zardad, an Afghan national, opens at the Old Bailey in London where he will be charged with conspiracy to torture and conspiracy to take hostages. The conspiracy to torture indictment reads: Between 31st December 1991 and 30th September 1996 in Afghanistan [he] agreed with others that a course of conduct would be pursued which if the agreement was carried out in accordance with those intentions would necessarily amount to or involve the commission of the offence of torture.

As part of it international obligations under the UN Torture Convention, in 1988 the UK made torture a statutory crime in the UK, regardless of where the torture was perpetrated and of the nationality of the torturer, giving UK courts jurisdiction to hear such cases.

The Legal Director of REDRESS, Carla Ferstman says:

We believe that this case is the first of its kind to proceed to trial since section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act was brought into force 16 years ago. This is a step in the right direction.

REDRESS calls on the UK authorities to ensure that the authorities effectively investigate and where there is evidence, prosecute alleged perpetrators of torture found to be residing in the UK in compliance with its obligations under the UN Torture Convention. In this way the UK cannot become a safe haven for those accused of this heinous crime.

Background on Section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act: s. 134 was enacted in order to implement the UK’s obligations under the United Nations Convention against Torture which it ratified in 1988. On the basis that the crime of torture is so heinous that it offends international sensibilities and therefore that every State has an interest and a duty to ensure that this crime does not go unpunished, Section 134 allows UK authorities to investigate, and where sufficient evidence exists, to prosecute persons accused of torture no matter where they are from and irrespective of where the torture took place.

Background on Mr Zardad: Mr Zardad is reported to have come to the UK in 1998 and has been living in South London until his arrest in July 2003 on charges of torture and hostage-taking.1 He has been accused of torturing civilians and kidnapping aid-workers.2


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