In Wake of French Immunity to Rumsfeld, Rights Groups Ask - Will France Become a Safe Haven for Torturers?


Jen Nessel, [email protected]

Paris, New York, December 7, 2007 – Human rights groups issued an open letter [attached below] yesterday to French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner detailing dangerous repercussions of a decision to dismiss a complaint filed on October, 25, 2007 against Donald Rumsfeld for acts of torture.  The groups include the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and the French League for Human Rights (LDH).

The letter is directed at Kouchner because the Paris prosecutor cited a Foreign Ministry opinion that Rumsfeld was immune from prosecution despite specific language to the contrary in international laws and treaties, particularly the 1984 Convention Against Torture, to which France is a signatory. It also points out contradictions in the Ministry’s support for the prosecutions of former heads of state for serious crimes and questions the motives and the independence of the decision.  

The letter states, “Your Department's interpretation amounts to giving de facto impunity for all former high-level officials responsible for international crimes and turns the French territory into a haven for torturers. Its only objective is to give priority to the diplomatic and political relationships between states over justice and the rule of law.”

“The Foreign Minister’s interpretation is a giant step backward from the movement toward accountability for heinous crimes which has characterized the development of international law since Nuremberg,”
said CCR President Michael Ratner.

According to attorneys in the case, former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, on a private visit to France, cannot be granted criminal immunity under conventional or customary international law. On the contrary it has been well established that, after leaving office, immunity from criminal jurisdiction cannot be applied to acts of such gravity, defined as crimes under international law, as illustrated by the statute of the International Criminal Court which does not uphold any immunity. According to rights experts, acts of torture cannot seriously be considered part of anyone’s official functions.

The same principle has been applied to former heads of state, as demonstrated in the case of General Augusto Pinochet, against whom no immunity was found following an order issued by a Belgian investigating judge, as well as in a decision of the United Kingdom’s House of Lords.

This international jurisprudence should be very well known to the Paris Prosecutor in charge of the Rumsfeld case, who signed an order himself calling for General Pinochet to appear before the Paris Court of Appeals.


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Last modified 

December 7, 2007