Vienna, 30. November 2006 - Media reports are suggesting that Austria was attempting to give the impression that the practice of illicit transports of terrorist suspects was legal. This allegation is absurd. It is diametrically opposed to the stance taken by Austria at all levels during its EU Presidency.
The position systematically reiterated by Federal Minister Plassnik as Council President on all occasions was that no one could operate in a legal vacuum. The Presidency also maintained this position in its contacts with the USA at all levels -during Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel's visit to President Bush in December 2005, or the EU-USA Summit in Vienna in June 2006, for example. The closure of Guantánamo has also been repeatedly and emphatically demanded.
The Austrian EU Presidency set itself the clear goal to impress upon the USA both in public statements and confidential contacts that the fight against international terrorism could be conducted only with the strict observance of international human rights and humanitarian standards and that only under such circumstances could it be successful in the long term.
It was with this in mind that Austria initiated a dialogue during its EU Presidency between international law experts from the EU and USA. This transatlantic dialogue was the first of its type since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. Among the items discussed was the issue of renditions. The EU has always been of the opinion that applicable international law and human rights standards should be respected at all costs and that illegal renditions were unacceptable. The application of these legal standards - and certainly not the question of how to bypass them - is also the subject of this dialogue, which is being continued under the Finnish Presidency and has been welcomed by all EU partners.
The allegations in the media appear to have arisen as a result of unclear elements in an unofficial transcript of expert talks involving the EU Troika and the US legal adviser John Bellinger on 3 May this year in Brussels.
This dialogue with the USA is still challenging in many ways but there has already been some marked progress from the US side, which confirms the Austrian approach, such as the Supreme Court decision in the case Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld.
Ministry for Foreign Affairs
Tel.: ++43 (0) 50 1150-3262, 4549, 4550
Fax: ++43 (0) 50 1159-213