United Kingdom: Torture inquiry must be independent and thorough

Press Release
July 7, 2010

United Kingdom: Torture inquiry must be independent and thorough

UK Torture Inquiry Must be Independent and Thorough

July 7, 2010

Amnesty International calls on the United Kingdom government to ensure that its inquiry into U.K. complicity in torture and other human rights violations of those detained abroad since September 11, 2001, is thorough, independent and as transparent as possible.

The organization welcomes the inquiry, which the United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron announced yesterday, as an important first step towards achieving genuine accountability for past human rights abuses.

"We have long called for an inquiry into the credible allegations that U.K. officials and agents were involved in torture and other human rights abuses, including renditions, arbitrary detention and other ill-treatment, of individuals detained abroad," said Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty International's Europe and Central Asia Director.

"The right of individuals to know the truth about the human rights abuses they have suffered is fundamental in securing their right to redress, ensuring that justice is achieved and that states cannot commit human rights abuses with impunity."

The inquiry will be led by Sir Peter Gibson, who is currently the statutory Commissioner for the Intelligence Services, and will examine the United Kingdom's involvement with detainees in overseas counter-terrorism operations in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks on the United States; including those policies that governed the conduct of U.K. secret services in their operations abroad.

The detailed terms of reference for the inquiry are yet to be published, but it is expected to focus in particular on cases involving the detention of U.K. nationals and residents at the Guantánamo Bay detention center.

The cases of the former Guantanamo Bay detainees are currently subject to criminal investigations and/or civil litigation proceedings; including a civil lawsuit brought by six former detainees – Bisher al-Rawi, Richard Belmar, Omar Deghayes, Binyam Mohamed, Jamil el-Banna and Martin Mubanga – who are seeking financial compensation from the United Kingdom government on the grounds of their claims that British intelligence agencies were complicit in their detention, torture and other mistreatment.

Amnesty International remains concerned over certain aspects of the inquiry as proposed by Cameron.

"It is not clear that the inquiry will have sufficient authority and independence from the executive to ensure that the full truth about the United Kingdom's involvement in human rights abuses can emerge," said Duckworth.

The degree to which the inquiry's hearings will be held in secret and the extent to which the evidence will be kept from the public and from the victims of the alleged abuses is a cause for concern, the organization said.

For example, the Prime Minister has granted himself the power to decide the extent to which the findings of the inquiry can be made public.

"State secrecy should not be invoked as a means of preventing an independent, impartial and thorough investigation into these allegations and cannot be used to prevent the truth about serious human rights violations emerging," said Duckworth.

Additionally, while Amnesty International agrees that the inquiry should not be open-ended and should be carried out promptly, expediency must not be a substitute or compromise for the thoroughness of the inquiry.

Amnesty International calls on the government to ensure that the inquiry's proceedings are independent, thorough and as transparent as possible and that the conclusions and recommendations of the inquiry are made public.

Genuine accountability for serious human rights violations requires the truth about those violations to be publically known.

The government has also released new guidelines for the interrogation by U.K. security services of detainees held overseas by foreign intelligence agencies and announced that a Green Paper would be published reviewing how intelligence is treated in judicial proceedings.

Amnesty International is currently examining the guidelines and will communicate any concerns we have to the government.