Human Rights Brief

Spanish Authorities Extradite Moroccan Man Despite Risk of Torture

Protest in front of the Spanish Embassy in Brussels against the extradition of Ali Aarrass to Morocco.

On November 19, 2010 the Spanish Council of Ministers approved the extradition of Ali Aarrass to Morocco, ignoring concerns that Aarrass may face torture upon his return. The extradition was ordered against United Nations recommendations to refrain from removing Aarrass until the Committee on Human Rights reviewed his case. As there are substantial grounds for believing that Aarrass would be in danger of being subjected to torture, the extradition violates Article 3(1) of the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Spain is a party to and has ratified many international treaties that expressly prohibit the return of anyone to a country where they would be at risk of torture, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the European Convention on Human Rights (Convention), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Article 5 of the UDHR, Article 3 of the Convention, and Article 7 of the ICCPR prohibit anyone from being subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Aarrass was held on terrorism-related charges and is suspected of being involved in the May 2003 suicide bomb attacks in Casablanca, Morocco. He holds dual Belgian-Moroccan citizenship and has been under investigation by the Spanish National Criminal Court since May 2006. He was arrested in the Spanish city of Melilla on April 1, 2008 on international warrants issued by Morocco one month earlier. Moroccan authorities accuse Aarrass of belonging to a terrorist network headed by Abdelkader Belliraj. The Spanish National Criminal Court (Audiencia Nacional) reviewed Aarrass’s case, but on March 16, 2009, official investigations were provisionally closed by Judge Baltasar Garzon for lack of evidence. However, Judge Garzon did not oppose the Aarrass’s extradition to Morocco on the basis of the same charges that Judge Garzon had just dismissed.

On November 21, 2008, the Spanish National Criminal Court authorized Aarrass’s extradition to Morocco. The court overruled Aarrass’s appeal and affirmed his extradition based on Morocco’s pledge that Aarrass would not face the death penalty or a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Additionally, the court rejected Aarrass’s argument that his joint Belgian-Moroccan citizenship should bar his extradition to Morocco. A 1997 treaty between Belgium and Morocco allows for dual Belgian-Moroccan nationals who have committed a crime which carries a sentence of two or more years to be extradited to Morocco from anywhere in the European Union. Although Aarrass lived in Belgium for the majority of his life, the Moroccan government only allows citizens to denounce their nationality under exceptional circumstances, thereby allowing the Moroccan government to have jurisdiction over dual nationals. According to Amnesty International, Aarrass appealed to the Constitutional Court of Spain claiming his extradition would constitute a violation of the principle of double jeopardy. As Spain had found insufficient evidence upon which to charge Aarrass in Spain, his extradition would amount to receiving two separate judgments for the same offense.

Aarrass’s appeal does not suspend the extradition process. On November 26, 2010, the UN Human Rights Committee, concerned with Aarrass’s case, issued a provisional measure calling on Spain to refrain from enforcing the extradition until the Committee had time to decide the case. Despite the UN’s provisional measure, the Spanish Council of Ministers approved Aarrass’s extradition and he was removed from Spain to Morocco on December 15, 2010.

The international outcry over Aarrass’s extradition arises from increased violations against terrorist suspects in Moroccan prisons. Several international organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Arab Commission of Human Rights have recognized human rights violations committed by Moroccan security officials against suspects arrested under the country’s counterterrorism law. Pursuant to this law, which was adopted after the 2003 suicide bombings in Casablanca, Moroccan suspects are often detained without explanation and are subjected to torture. Human Rights Watch reports indicate that Moroccan detainees are often beaten, suspended in contorted positions, threatened with the sexual abuse of the detainee’s female relatives, sleep deprived, or subjected to cigarette burns.

Spain’s decision to return Aarrass violates multiple international treaties to which the state is a party. The ruling of Spain’s National Criminal Court to continue with the extradition despite the known risks, warnings by the UN, and violations of international human rights treaties could lead to claims against Spain before the European Court of Human Rights and the Human Rights Council.