Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Peace talks turn torturous

Man wants answers from Qatar after mistreatment

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A woman sick with malaria rests on a bed in North Darfur.


A woman sick with malaria rests on a bed in North Darfur.

He took part in peace talks and was tortured.

Locked up in a mental ward and forcibly given injections. Transferred to a hotel and held in room 911, where his personal belongings, including his Canadian passport, were taken.

It sounds like a bad dream, but for Winnipegger Yousif Ibrahim Ismaeil, the nightmare was reality.

The 40-year-old was a negotiator with the Liberation and Justice Movement trying to bring peace to Darfur when he attended talks hosted by Qatar in January 2010. He was a lawyer in Sudan before fleeing to Canada in the 1990s and is one of the founders of the United Revolutionary Forces Front. He became a Canadian citizen in 2007 and was invited to 2010 peace talks by the Qatar government. He left his home in Canada hoping to help.

Qatar, a Gulf emirate, is widely seen as backing Sunni Muslim causes throughout the Middle East and has been friendly with Sudan's authorities and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and also allowed Afghanistan's Taliban insurgents to establish a representation on its territory.

'I was very afraid' -- Winnipegger Yousif Ibrahim Ismaeil

In the capital Doha, Ismaeil said, it became apparent that Qatar, with close ties to Sudan's government blamed for attacks in Darfur on the non-Arab, non-Muslim population, was taking over the peace process. When Ismaeil and others complained, they were pressured by Qatar's security forces to support Qatar's position, he said.

"We all refused," said Ismaeil. He was taken against his will to Sheikh Hamad Hospital and locked up in a ward with mentally-ill patients. He was held there incommunicado for three days and forcibly given injections -- of what, he doesn't know. Ismaeil says he's still suffering from the medical mistreatment and has asked the hospital for copies of his medical records to no avail.

His passport and personal papers were taken from him. He was moved back to the Moevenpick Hotel in Doha, where he stayed for two months -- in room 911 -- waiting for a new passport.

"I was very afraid," said Ismaeil. "They'd say 'Now you have no status -- you will never go back to Canada.' " He contacted the UN and the nearest Canadian embassy in Kuwait about his passport and was assured that as a Canadian he was in no danger. "They said: 'Stay calm.' "

The married father of two young children wants to know what the hospital staff injected him with and is trying to get answers from the Qatar government through its embassy in Ottawa.

His lawyer, David Matas, wrote to Qatar's ambassador in May demanding an investigation of Ismaeil's case, his hospital records, an apology, compensation and prosecution of those who victimized him.

The embassy has not responded to a request for comment.

Ismaeil said he wants the Canadian government to pressure Qatar to respond to his allegations. Matas said that's unlikely to happen.

"Historically, when Canadians are abroad and in trouble, there's some onus on the Canadian government to help them," said Matas. "Once they come back, historically, the Canadian government has not done that much to help them" get justice, reparations, an acknowledgement or an apology.

Going to a Canadian court to sue the government that tortured them hasn't been an option, either, said Matas. "They'll say, 'We're a state -- we're immune.' "

That may change in the near future.

A case now before the Supreme Court of Canada could hold torturing governments to account. It involves a civil lawsuit filed by the family and estate of Zahra Kazemi, the Montreal photojournalist who was tortured and died in an Iranian prison in 2003.

In 2006, Kazemi's son filed a suit in Montreal against the government of Iran and three Iranian officials. The government of Iran argued that the case should be dismissed because it is immune from suit under Canada's State Immunity Act. That law provides immunity to foreign governments from civil lawsuits except in certain circumstances.

In March, lawyers for Kazemi's family, human rights groups and the Canadian Bar Association challenged the immunity of governments when accused of violating international treaties by torturing people.

The Supreme Court of Canada decision is pending.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 26, 2014 0

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