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“Diplomatic assurances” are promises not to torture. They are sought when transferring a detainee from the custody of one government to another. Not surprisingly, they are sought from governments that typically torture.

This report surveys the law and practice of assurances in the US and, comparatively, in Canada and Europe. It is the culmination of a long-term engagement by Columbia’s Human Rights Clinic and its faculty to research and support advocacy on diplomatic assurances. That process has involved advocacy with Swedish NGOs, support for research by Human Rights Watch, FOIA requests with the ACLU and collaborative efforts with UN mechanisms.

Over the past decade, human rights groups, in particular, have produced impressive documentation. But no single source presents the evolving evidence and jurisprudence of diplomatic assurances. This report seeks to fill that gap. We do not take a position on whether assurances can work. Rather, we seek to identify elements that are necessary in order to make assurances plausible. We focus on what is known about preventing torture and how that can be incorporated into the process.