Former President George W. Bush has canceled a trip to Switzerland where he was to address a Jewish charity for fear of action being taken against him for alleged torture, say human rights groups.
Bush was to be the keynote speaker at Keren Hayesod’s annual dinner on February 12 in Geneva. But pressure has been building on the Swiss government to arrest him and open a criminal investigation if he enters the Alpine country.
Criminal complaints against Bush alleging torture have been lodged in Geneva, court officials say.
Human rights groups said they had intended to submit a 2,500-page case against Bush in the Swiss city on Monday for alleged mistreatment of suspected militants at Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. naval base in Cuba where captives from Afghanistan, Iraq and other fronts in the so-called War on Terror were interned.
Because demonstrations have been planned against the visit, the host group says the cancellation is because of security concerns, but human rights groups aren’t buying that explanation.
“He’s avoiding the handcuffs,” Reed Brody, counsel for Human Rights Watch, told Reuters.
The action in Switzerland showed Bush had reason to fear legal complaints against him if he travelled to countries that have ratified an international treaty banning torture, he said.
Swiss judicial officials say Bush would enjoy diplomatic immunity as a former head of state.
“Whatever Bush or his hosts say, we have no doubt he canceled his trip to avoid our case. The message from civil society is clear – If you’re a torturer, be careful in your travel plans. It’s a slow process for accountability, but we keep going,” the Paris-based FIDH [International Federation of Human Rights] and New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights said in a joint statement on Saturday.