George W. Bush, the former president of the U.S., cancelled a trip to Switzerland for next weekend due to potential protest demonstrations by human rights groups over the treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay as well as the threat of his arrest

It would have been Bush’s first visit to Europe since he admitted in his recent autobiography that he approved of the use of water-boarding on detainees at Guantanamo.

David Sherzer, a spokesman for the former US president, wrote in an email to the Associated Press. We regret that the speech has been cancelled. President Bush was looking forward to speaking about freedom and offering reflections from his time in office.

Bush was planning to deliver a speech in Geneva on behalf of United Israel Appeal (UIA), an U.S.-based organization that helps Jews move to Israel.

The calls to demonstrate were sliding into dangerous terrain, said Robert Equey, the UIA’s lawyer.

The organizers claimed to be able to maintain order, but warned they could not be held responsible for any outbursts.

However, The Centre for Constitutional Rights, the human rights group that is seeking an arrest warrant on Bush, said: Whatever Bush or his hosts say, we have no doubt he cancelled his trip to avoid our case.

Folco Galli, a spokesman for the Swiss justice ministry, told the AP that based on its initial evaluation that Bush would have enjoyed immunity from prosecution for any actions taken in office.

However, Amnesty International insists there is sufficient cause for opening a criminal investigation.

Such an investigation would be mandatory under Switzerland's international obligations if President Bush entered the country, Amnesty said. Anywhere in the world that he travels, President Bush could face investigation and potential prosecution for his responsibility for torture and other crimes in international law, particularly in any of the 147 countries that are party to the UN convention against torture.

It is being described in some quarters as an “extraordinary” decision by the former president and a “victory” by human rights campaigners.

What we have in Switzerland is a Pinochet opportunity, said Gavin Sullivan, lawyer for the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights, referring to the arrest in London in the late 1990s of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Bush enjoys no immunity from prosecution. As head of state he authorized and condoned acts of torture, and the law is clear – where a person has been responsible for torture, all states have an obligation under international law to open an investigation and prosecute. Bush will be pursued wherever he goes as a war criminal and torturer.

Israeli politicians have also cancelled trips overseas (mainly to Europe) in order to avoid arrest warrants.