Today the Supreme Court of Canada will hear arguments that foreign governments and their officials should not be immune from lawsuits in Canada when they commit torture.
The court is reviewing the case of Zahra Kazemi, the Iranian-Canadian photojournalist who was tortured to death in Teheran in 2003. Visiting Iran with a photography permit, Ms. Kazemi was arrested, severely beaten and sexually abused after taking pictures of protesters near the infamous Evin Prison.
To date no one has been held accountable for her torture and death, and national and international human rights organizations continue regularly to report serious incidents of human rights abuses in Iran.
“The outcome of this case will have very important ramifications in the global effort to eradicate torture in Iran and around the world,” said Matt Eisenbrandt, Legal Director for the Canadian Centre for International Justice, which has intervener status before the Supreme Court.
“Individual officials have been largely stripped of their immunity in criminal cases involving the most serious allegations of international human rights,” he continued. “If civil lawsuits are also permitted, survivors will have more avenues to redress and there will be greater hope of deterring such horrific atrocities in the future.”
Lawyers for Zahra Kazemi’s son, Stephan, as well as Kazemi’s Estate, will argue before the Supreme Court that the Quebec Court of Appeal was wrong in earlier dismissing the case under Canada’s State Immunity Act. The Quebec court ruled that the Act shields Iran and other countries from lawsuits, refusing to read in an exception for torture despite its clear prohibition under international law and the similar exceptions Parliament has already enacted for terrorism, bodily harm committed in Canada and others.
The Canadian Centre for International Justice, one of several organizations intervening to offer expertise on specific legal issues, will say that even if governments were to continue to receive immunity, individual officials should not be shielded from accountability for their personal involvement in torture.
A decision from the Supreme Court on this preliminary matter in the Kazemi case could take anywhere from a few months to a year.
18 March 2014 (Ottawa)
Contact: Matt Eisenbrandt, Legal Director, Canadian Centre for International Justice: 604-569-1778, firstname.lastname@example.org