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Warwick Professor in UN study on secret detention in the context of countering terrorism

University of Warwick Professor Shaheen Sardar Ali is one of a team of UN experts who have just produced a new Joint study on global practices in relation to secret detention in the context of countering terrorism for the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The study was led by: the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, Martin Scheinin; Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak; the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (represented by its Vice-Chairperson, Professor Shaheen Sardar Ali of The Univetsity of Warwick; and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (represented by its Chairperson, Jeremy Sarkin). They have issued a wide-ranging study on states’ use of secret detention in connection with counter-terrorism activities. All four of these groups are appointed by, and report to, the UN Human Rights Council.

The University of Warwick's Professor Shaheen Sardar Ali said: 

 "This is a groundbreaking global study on places of secret detention and one that we anticipate to have far reaching impact on state policies relating to human rights and counter terrorism. The study is also special in that four special procedures of the United Nations collaborated closely in authoring it. The study states unequivocally that secret detention is illegal under international law and its practice prohibited under any circumstances."

 The 222-page joint study, while stressing that it is “not exhaustive,” lists a total of 66 states. Some are mentioned in the context of a historical analysis of secret detention practices prior to 11 September 2001, but most in connection with secret detention and related activities – including so-called ‘proxy detention’ and ‘rendition’ or ‘extraordinary rendition’ – over the past nine years of the “Global War on Terror.”

A total of 44 states replied to a detailed questionnaire sent out by the report’s authors, who took almost a year to complete the study. The study also included details of interviews with 30 individuals – or their family members or their legal counsel - who were victims of secret detention, and in many cases may also have been subjected to torture.

The UN experts, who will present their study to the Human Rights Council in March, conclude that “secret detention is irreconcilably in violation of international human rights law including during states of emergency and armed conflict. Likewise, it is in violation of international humanitarian law during any form of armed conflict.”

Secret detention, the report says, "effectively takes people outside the legal framework and renders the safeguards contained in international instruments, including habeas corpus, “meaningless.” "

It also notes that “in spite of these unequivocal norms, secret detention continues to be used in the name of countering terrorism around the world.”

The report makes a series of recommendations that cover both law and practice, and are designed to improve transparency and accountability, as well as to provide judicial remedies, reparations and rehabilitation to victims, and in some cases to their families.

Note for editors: The full report can be viewed or downloaded at:

For further information please contact:

 Professor Shaheen Sardar Ali, School of Law
Vice-Chairperson, United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL
Tel: 024 76524954


Peter Dunn, email:
Head of Communications, Communications Office, University House,
UK Tel: 024 76 523708 Mobile 07767 655860 Fax 024 76 528194
International  +44 24 76 523708 Mobile  +44 7767 655860