Rights groups back U.S. war resister: Appealing rejection of refugee claim. Amnesty International, Toronto organization are seeking intervener status in his case
(By Colin Perkel, originally published in The Gazette (Montreal), February 6 2006)
Two prominent human rights advocacy groups are seeking to weigh in behind a U.S. war dodger heading to court this week to contest his failed refugee claim.
Amnesty International and the University of Toronto-based International Human Rights Clinic are seeking intervener status in the case of Jeremy Hinzman, who deserted the U.S. military to avoid service in Iraq.
In seeking refugee status in Canada, Hinzman unsuccessfully argued that fighting in Iraq would have amounted to an atrocity because the U.S. invasion of Iraq was illegal.
"That is a valid basis in which to ground a claim of a conscientious objector," said Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada.
"That is a critical human rights principle that needs to be very clearly affirmed."
On Wednesday, the Federal Court will review a decision by Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board last March to deny Hinzman political asylum.
The intervention aims to focus on the 82nd Airborne, the regiment Hinzman fled in January 2004, just days before it was deployed to Iraq.
"There is evidence, at least within the 82nd Airborne, that practices (in Iraq) amounting to torture and maltreatment of prisoners have been systematic," said Toronto lawyer Faisal Bhabha, who is acting for the proposed interveners.
"When the board is interpreting Canada's refugee legislation, it must do so through a lens of international humanitarian law protections."
Hinzman, 27, who lives in Toronto with his wife and young son, faces a court-martial and possible jail time if he is sent home.
Amnesty has warned it will declare him a "prisoner of conscience" if he is jailed.
During Hinzman's hearing, the board refused to hear evidence on the legality of the war - something his lawyer Jeffry House called a mistake.
In its ruling, the board said Hinzman was not a conscientious objector because, although he opposed the war in Iraq, he is not a pacifist.
At any rate, the panel said, the U.S. is a democratic country with a proper court system, and while Hinzman could face prosecution, that didn't amount to persecution.
House said that logic is flawed.
"U.S. law does not allow objection to a particular war," he said. "The UN jurisprudence on this question, which Canada accepts as highly persuasive, does talk about objecting to a specific war, if its character is contrary to fundamental human norms."
While Hinzman is believed to be the first U.S. soldier known to have fled to Canada because of the Iraq war, at least 20 others are trying to gain refugee status north of the border, House said.
As many as 200 may already be in the country.
The politically sensitive case, being watched closely on both sides of the border, is now being played out against a backdrop of politically changing winds in Canada-U.S. relations.
Bhabha said he didn't think the election of the Conservatives under Stephen Harper, who has previously expressed support for U.S. war in Iraq, will make any difference to Hinzman's case.