We publish below the founding statement of the Oury Jalloh International Independent Commission, a body of human rights lawyers set up in December 2010 to monitor the re-trial of a police officer involved in the death in custody of Oury Jalloh, which is set to last several months.
Berlin, 10 January 2011
1. We are among people in Germany, Europe and the United States of America who are increasingly alarmed at the news in Germany regarding deaths of refugees and people of colour. Since the 1996 fire that killed ten people in a Lübeck residence, the international community has been concerned year after year with news of the tragic deaths of other refugees and people of colour in Germany. We acknowledge that, often, these deaths are followed up with very little legal scrutiny, which indicates that mechanisms to ensure accountability and for systematically analysing the circumstances of deaths in custody are ineffective. We were disturbed to hear in 2005, less than a decade after the Lübeck fire, of the case of Oury Jalloh, who burned alive while chained by his wrists and ankles to a bed in a holding cell.
2. The latest news that reached us in our respective countries was the announcement by the German Federal Court that the judgment of the Dessau trial court on Jalloh’s death would be reversed and remanded to the trial court in Magdeburg. While this is a welcome decision by the Federal Court, we are concerned that the original trial failed to ask questions crucial to a truthful rendering of the events that led to Jalloh’s death. This sentiment was echoed by Judge Steinhoff in his address to those present at the courthouse following the announcement of judgment in Dessau, where he said the court ‘did not have the chance to carry out what one could call a trial with due process’. He also remarked that due to the false and incomplete testimony of certain officers and the police investigative authorities, the court has not touched the issue of what actually happened in the police precinct on 7 January 2005. Echoing Judge Steinhoff’s vital concerns, we are committed to asking questions that have been ignored, trivialised and speculated upon with insufficient substantiation since Jalloh’s death in 2005.
3. For these reasons, we have formed an international independent commission to: (1) attempt to understand and articulate the totality of events surrounding Oury Jalloh’s death, promoting truth and reconciliation, and (2) articulate what we determine to be the main structural problems in legal oversight and investigation into these types of deaths in custody. To this end, and with an eye toward structural reform, we determine that we will create a report that examines and contextualises Jalloh’s death, considers institutional dynamics and gives voice to those questions left unanswered.
4. We will observe the remanded trial in Magdeburg and communicate closely with trial observers and, when possible, legal actors. We aim to interview parties willing to speak with us. On behalf of Oury Jalloh, other asylum applicants, people of colour, and everyone living in the Federal Republic of Germany, we call for truth so that the blind spots of the legal process do not forever obscure the last day of Jalloh’s life and subsequently deny the people of Germany the foresight to prevent this type of tragedy in the future.
Members of the Oury Jalloh International Independent Commission:
- Mario Angelelli (Italy) is a human rights lawyer based in Italy who brings decades of experience doing human rights work in Europe. He is president of Progetto Diritti, or Rights Project, based in Rome. He has served on the Executive Committee of the national association Antigone in Rome, dealing with prisoner rights and conditions. He co-founded the Mohinder Singh Committee, which advocates for foreign family members of victims of fatal crime in Italy. Mario served on the 1996 Lübeck International Independent Commission, which examined the circumstances surrounding a fire set in an asylum residence.
- Eddie Bruce-Jones (United Kingdom/Germany) is a lecturer in law at the Birkbeck College School of Law, University of London, where he teaches EU law. He is a visiting lecturer at King’s College London and a research affiliate of the Institute for European Ethnology at Humboldt University in Berlin. He is on the Board of Directors of the Organisation for Refuge, Asylum and Migration (ORAM) and a group coordinator for the Southern Refugee Legal Aid Network. He has worked closely with the Black German community for the past decade.
- Margaret Burnham (United States of America) is a professor of law at Northeastern University, and founder of the schools Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project, which handles legal matters relating to the US Civil Rights Movement. She has served as counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. In 1977, she became the first African American woman to serve in the Massachusetts judiciary, joining the Boston Municipal Court bench as an associate justice. She was later a partner in a Boston civil rights firm with an international human rights practice. She was appointed by Nelson Mandela to investigate allegations of human rights violations within the African National Congress in South Africa, which was a precursor to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
- Philip Dayle (United Kingdom) is a human rights lawyer based in London. He is research fellow at the Runnymede Trust and a freelance writer, regularly contributing to the Guardian. He has worked at the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) in Geneva, Switzerland and at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington DC. He is on the Board of Directors of the Organisation for Refuge, Asylum and Migration (ORAM).
- Aida Worku (Germany/United States of America) is based in New York at UNWOMEN, the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. She is from Cologne, where she studied law before taking an LLM at King’s College, London.