U.S. Government’s Dismissal of Torture Allegations in Munoz Case Undermines Human Rights Obligations
New York City – Human Rights First today said that the federal government’s response to its amicus brief filed in a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit case, Jose Luis Munoz Santos v. Linda R. Thomas, fails to address U.S. obligations under the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT) and customary international law. The response, issued Monday by the U.S. Attorney, summarily dismissed amicus concerns regarding the use of evidence obtained through torture based on the arguments being new to the court.
“Refusing to investigate claims of torture undermines the ideals held by the United States as well as its international obligations,” said Human Rights First’s Melissa Hooper. “At a time when the U.S. government is under fire for its own use of torture, it is crucial that the United States honor its treaty obligations under the Convention Against Torture at every stage of domestic proceedings.”
Jose Munoz Santos is a Mexican national who faces extradition based on the statements of two witnesses who allege that their testimonies were obtained through the use of torture by Mexican police. The extradition court that heard the case refused to consider the allegations of torture because they contradict earlier witness statements incriminating Munoz Santos. A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court upheld the extradition court’s ruling.
The U.S. government’s response on Monday followed an amicus brief filed on May 28th of this year by Human Rights First, together with the ACLU, Center for Constitutional Rights, and Human Rights Watch. The brief, which called for the Ninth Circuit to rehear the case en banc, argued that an extradition court must investigate credible allegations that evidence supporting extradition was obtained by torture and exclude any torture-tainted evidence. If an en banc panel does not correct that ruling, Munoz Santos will be extradited without investigation into the torture allegations upon which the case rests. The U.S. government’s brief fails to address these issues, despite the fact that they represent potentially serious violations of U.S. international legal obligations.
“A court ruling that sends Munoz back to Mexico without addressing the allegations of torture would be a big step in exactly the wrong direction,” wrote United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez in a June editorial for the San Franciso Chronicle. “If the United States allows his extradition, it will violate the prohibition on using evidence produced by torture, and this will lead to wider acceptance of violations of the Convention Against Torture around the world.”
Human Rights First notes that Article 15 of the CAT, to which the United States is a signatory, prohibits the use of torture-tainted evidence in any judicial proceeding, including extradition proceedings. International legal authorities, including the UN Committee against Torture, have stated that Article 15 requires a state party to investigate and evaluate any credible claim that evidence used to support extradition was obtained by torture. The organization further notes that the international norm against the use of torture is so strong that the prohibition on torture is considered part of international customary law — binding even on those countries that have not signed a particular treaty.
Human Rights First continues to urge the Ninth Circuit Court to grant Munoz Santos’ petition for rehearing en banc so that the allegations of torture may be fully investigated in accordance with the UN CAT and international law.