Sunday, June 27, 2010

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Part One)

By Don Pratt

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations in 1948. It represents the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are entitled, and embodies fundamental morals and values of human rights.

This two-part essay shows that many of Dr. Hassan Diab’s rights and freedoms have been trampled in the course of bringing the case against him. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides a convenient lens through which to view these injustices.

Skeptics may claim that a person accused of a serious crime should not enjoy the same rights as an “ordinary citizen”. These skeptics would do well to remember that the uniquely modern idea of an “ordinary citizen” rests on democratic principles that include the belief that all persons are endowed with “certain inalienable rights”. Mere accusation is not sufficient to “alienate” or annul these rights. Courts have repeatedly upheld the principle that even convicted persons retain many basic rights. The rights of suspects—who may never be found guilty—therefore ought to be all the more firmly upheld. If mere accusation were sufficient to abolish rights, then the justice process itself would be no small exercise in injustice. This would be especially relevant when the legal process becomes long and expensive due to missteps by the prosecution, and when charges are based on demonstrably flawed and manifestly unreliable “evidence”.

The foregoing accurately depicts Dr. Diab’s case. Hassan is entitled to the presumption of innocence. At this point, the legal process has already dragged on for 592 days and counting. The prosecution’s case is built on a foundation that is manifestly unreliable. The charges rely crucially on secret, unsourced intelligence which is inadmissible in a Canadian court. Take away the intelligence that cannot even be challenged or tested in court and the authorities are left with nothing but a few flimsy scraps of manifestly unreliable material, including handwriting analysis that is so profoundly flawed that the French have disavowed it. Sadly, none of this has prevented the severe curtailment of Hassan’s basic rights and freedoms.

Let’s now consider how the Universal Declaration of Human Rights illustrates the denial of Hassan’s rights.

Article 1. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Dr. Diab’s rights have been compromised in at least two ways addressed by these two articles.

1. Language: Hassan’s right to legal proceedings conducted in a language he can comprehend (English) were violated at his first bail hearing, in which documents describing the charges against him were not translated. Because Hassan could not respond to charges that he could not understand, he lost the bail hearing and had to endure 139 days in detention. Eventually, the original bail decision was quashed on appeal and Hassan was granted bail after a new hearing. If Hassan’s language rights had been respected at the initial bail hearing, he would not have suffered this unnecessary and unjust deprivation of liberty.

2. National origin: Hassan’s national/ethnic origin has played some role in French and Canadian authorities treating him as presumptively suspicious, “profiling” him as a likely “terrorist”. This would be very unlikely to happen to someone named Bob McKenzie.

Article 3. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person
Detention exposed Hassan to a very hostile and dangerous prison environment for a prolonged period of time. Hassan is an inherently peaceful person more accustomed to the tranquility of academia than the Hobbesian world of prison, where he faced the constant threat of violence from other detainees. Even someone fortunate enough to avoid becoming a direct victim of such violence will likely develop a profound sense of insecurity when forced to live in a dangerous environment round the clock for months. The dehumanizing and potentially traumatic experience of detention under these conditions can have lasting negative psychological impacts.

Article 5. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
This article, which usually applies to situations of custody, states that persons should experience a basic level of decent treatment. This principle is particularly important in the context of pretrial detention, which precedes a determination of guilt or innocence.

According to an article published in the Ottawa Citizen in 2008, conditions at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre where Hassan was held for 139 days are “inhumane”. This fact is openly acknowledged by judges who have been known to award inmates credit of three-to-one for time served in pre-trial custody at the detention centre. More recently, two top-level administrators of the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre were replaced amid criticisms of how the facility is run.

Article 7. All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.
Prior to his arrest, Hassan was not afforded “equal protection of the law”. Instead, he experienced frequent and sometimes blatantly intrusive surveillance by mysterious individuals (later revealed to be members of the RCMP). Hassan’s repeated calls to local police to request protection from this harassment were to no avail. Local law enforcement was unable (or unwilling) to protect Hassan from this harassment.

Article 8. Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.
Hassan, an innocent man, may never obtain redress from harm and injustices he has suffered and continues to suffer. Since November 2007, he has endured the unimaginable ordeal of living under harassing surveillance, followed by arrest, detention under inhumane conditions, and now living under very strict bail conditions, which, it appears, will remain in place for the duration. He has been forced to put his life on hold while the seemingly interminable extradition process drags on. If the oft-postponed extradition hearing finally begins in November 2010, it will commence just eight days short of the two-year anniversary of Hassan’s arrest. In the meantime, Hassan has seen his life savings wiped out, his livelihood taken away, and his reputation permanently damaged. Even if Hassan ultimately prevails, he has virtually no prospect of compensation or even a simple, heartfelt apology from the authorities. The unchallengeable nature of secret “evidence” ensures that he will be unable to completely clear his name. The witch-hunt atmosphere surrounding terrorism charges makes it virtually impossible to ever completely rid oneself of the terrible stigma that the terrorist label carries. The authorities will take refuge in the excuse that they were “just doing their job”.

[End of Part One]