EU and US seal extradition pact
29.10.09 @ 12:14
The EU and the US have signed a judicial co-operation agreement allowing European countries to refuse to extradite criminals who may be sentenced to the death penalty.
"We are establishing a joint ambition to continue our co-operation to fight gross international crime. But equally important is that we are agreed on strengthening the protection of the rights of the individual," Swedish justice minister Beatrice Ask, on behalf of the EU presidency, said at a signing ceremony with US attorney general Eric Holder at the Swedish embassy in Washington on Wednesday (28 October).
A long-time critic of the death penalty in the US, the EU began negotiating the extradition agreement after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on US soil.
This is the first agreement on extradition between the United States and the European Union. It will enter into force in February 2010, after EU justice ministers ratified the deal earlier this month.
Under the deal, existing bilateral extradition treaties between the US and each member state will be streamlined and modernised, clarifying for instance the kind of offences that are extraditable, rules surrounding the exchange of information and transmission of documents and transit rules.
The agreement also sets the ground for the creation of joint European-US task forces to address terrorism and serious crimes and enables easier access to bank account information of suspected criminals.
It will allow international witnesses to testify by video conference, making it no longer necessary for a European witness, for example, to cross the Atlantic in order to appear in court.
While the two politicians applauded the agreement, they acknowledged that many important details remain to be ironed out. "The declaration is what we agreed on," Ms Ask said. "It's not possible for us to sort out all the judicial details."
Neither will the agreement have any impact on the transfer prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. Mr Holder said he hoped more countries would take inmates, but expressed scepticism that the official deadline for closing the prison – 22 January 2010 - could be met.
Only a handful of European countries so far have agreed to accept people released from Guantanamo. Spain, which will take over the rotating EU presidency in January, has been asked by the US to persuade the other member states to accept more detainees.
Madrid has already committed to accepting two detainees and is currently reviewing additional files of other inmates, Spanish justice minister Francisco Caamano said after an earlier meeting Mr Holder. The Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has said that Spain will only accept Guantanamo detainees who are not facing charges and have no criminal record in any EU country.