Head of state Queen Elizabeth II
Head of government Gordon Brown
Death penalty abolitionist for all crimes
Population 61.6 million
Life expectancy 79.3 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f) 6/6 per 1,000
Reports implicating the UK in grave violations of human rights of people held overseas continued to emerge. Calls for independent investigations into the UK's role in these violations went unheeded. The government's attempts to return people to countries known to practise torture on the basis of "diplomatic assurances" (unenforceable promises from the countries where these individuals were to be returned) continued. The European Court of Human Rights found that, by detaining a number of foreign nationals without charge or trial (internment), the UK had violated their human rights. The implementation of measures adopted with the stated aim of countering terrorism led to human rights violations, including unfair judicial proceedings. The executive gained powers to circumvent and undermine the independence of coroners' inquests. Twenty years after Patrick Finucane's death, an inquiry into state collusion in his killing had yet to be established.
Counter-terror and security
Torture and other ill-treatment
Further reports emerged that grave human rights violations had been committed with the knowledge, complicity and, in some cases, in the presence of UK intelligence officers, including in Bangladesh, Egypt, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, and that UK officials had attempted to cover up the UK's involvement. In August, two Parliamentary Committees expressed concern about the UK's involvement in the torture of "terror suspects" held abroad. However, calls for independent investigations into the UK's role in these and other gross violations of human rights perpetrated in the context of the so called war on terror, including into the UK's involvement in the US-led rendition programme (the unlawful transfers of terrorist suspects between countries), went unheeded.
- In February, Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian national formerly residing in the UK, was released from US custody at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where he had been held since 2004, and returned to the UK. He had been detained in Pakistan in April 2002 and then transported under the US-led rendition programme to Morocco, then to Afghanistan, and then on to Guantánamo Bay. The US government did not dispute that his treatment amounted to torture or other illtreatment. UK judges ruled repeatedly during the year that the UK government should disclose what the US Central Intelligence Agency told the UK's Security Service (MI5) and what the UK's Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) knew of the unlawful treatment of Binyam Mohamed. They also made clear that "the relationship of the United Kingdom Government to the United States authorities in connection with [Binyam Mohamed] was far beyond that of a bystander or witness to the alleged wrongdoing." The UK government's appeal against the disclosure rulings was pending at the end of the year. In March it was announced that the police would begin an investigation into the allegations of possible criminal wrongdoing.
- By the end of the year, Shaker Aamer, a Saudi Arabian national, was the only known remaining former UK resident still held in Guantánamo Bay. Following his capture in Afghanistan he had been detained by US military authorities in various locations and ultimately in Guantánamo Bay. In December, the High Court of England and Wales ordered the UK authorities to disclose certain documents to support his case that any confessions he might have made during his detention had been induced by ill-treatment by US and UK officials, thereby discrediting such confessions and improving his prospects of release.
- In February, the government admitted that, contrary to earlier statements, two individuals captured by UK forces in Iraq in 2004 and transferred to US detention had subsequently been moved to a US detention facility in Afghanistan. The US government categorized them as "unlawful enemy combatants". There was concern that efforts to identify them were being hampered by the UK government.
In December, the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition began legal proceedings in the USA, requesting disclosure from various US security agencies about the UK's role in the US-led rendition programme. This included the unlawful transfer of two people through the UK territory of Diego Garcia, and the handover in Iraq by UK special forces to US forces of other individuals who were then flown to Afghanistan.
Attempts continued to deport individuals alleged to pose a threat to "national security" to countries where they would be at risk of grave human rights violations, including torture. The government continued to argue that "diplomatic assurances" were sufficient to reduce the risk they would face.
- In February, two Algerian nationals, referred to in legal proceedings in the UK as "RB" and "U", and Omar Othman (also known as Abu Qatada), a Jordanian national, lost their appeals before the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords (the Law Lords) against deportation to their respective countries on "national security" grounds. In all three cases the government was relying on "diplomatic assurances", given by the Algerian and Jordanian governments respectively, claiming that they would sufficiently reduce the risk that the men would be subjected to grave human rights violations, including torture, on their return.
The following day, the European Court of Human Rights issued interim measures indicating to the government that Omar Othman should not be deported to Jordan. At the end of the year, his case was pending.
- In April, 10 Pakistani students in the UK were arrested and detained under suspicion of involvement in terrorism. They were later released without charge but immediately rearrested and detained again, pending deportation on "national security" grounds. They were held in high security prisons. By December, eight of them had abandoned their appeals against deportation and had returned to Pakistan.
In December, the High Court of England and Wales ruled against the government and the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC). It held that, even in the context of bail proceedings before the SIAC, a fair hearing required sufficient disclosure, and that exclusive reliance on secret material would breach fair trial standards.
In February, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights unanimously ruled that, by interning nine foreign nationals on suspicion of terrorism, the UK had violated their right to liberty. Detaining them without charge or trial had discriminated unjustifiably between them and UK nationals. The Court also found that four of the nine had not been able to effectively challenge the allegations against them because the open material on which the government had relied consisted purely of general assertions and the national court's decision to maintain their detention was based solely or to a decisive degree on secret material to which neither they nor their lawyers of choice had had access. The Court also held that each of the nine had been denied the right to compensation for the above violations.
As of 10 December there were 12 "control orders" in force under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005. The Act gives a government minister unprecedented powers to issue "control orders" to restrict the liberty, movement and activities of people purportedly suspected of involvement in terrorism, on the basis of secret intelligence.
- In June, the Law Lords applied the judgement of the European Court of Human Rights (see above) and allowed the appeals of three individuals, referred to as "AF", "AN" and "AE", against the imposition of "control orders", finding that it had breached their right to a fair hearing. The Law Lords ruled unanimously that sufficient disclosure must be given to "AF", "AN" and "AE". The judgement ruled that people subjected to "control orders" had to be given sufficient information about the allegations against them to enable them to mount an effective defence, and that, where the case against the "controlee" was based solely or to a decisive degree on closed materials, fair trial standards would not be met.
- In August, Mahmoud Abu Rideh, a stateless Palestinian who was originally interned in December 2001 under powers enacted in the aftermath of the September 2001 attacks in the USA and then made subject to a "control order" since March 2005, said that he could no longer stay in the UK and wished to leave. Following the threat of legal proceedings, the government agreed to provide him with a certificate of travel that permitted him to leave and re-enter the UK for up to five years. Nonetheless, almost as soon as Mahmoud Abu Rideh had left the country, the government cancelled his certificate of travel, and ordered his permanent exclusion from the UK.
Armed forces in Iraq
In June, the European Court of Human Rights declared partly admissible the application lodged against the UK on behalf of Faisal Attiyah Nassar Al-Saadoon and Khalaf Hussain Mufdhi, two Iraqi nationals. They were arrested and detained in 2003 in Iraq in UK-run detention facilities. In December 2008, they were transferred to Iraqi custody despite substantial grounds for believing that they were at risk of being subjected to an unfair trial before the Iraq High Tribunal followed by execution, and in spite of the European Court of Human Rights' interim measures indicating that the UK government should not transfer them to the Iraqi authorities until further notice.
In May, ruling against the government, the Court of Appeal of England and Wales confirmed that UK soldiers on military service in Iraq were entitled to benefit from the rights guaranteed by the Human Rights Act 1998.
- At the end of the year, a public inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 into the circumstances surrounding the death of BahaMousa was ongoing.He died at a UK-run detention facility in Iraq in September 2003, having been tortured by UK troops over a period of 36 hours.
In November, the government announced a public inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 into the case of Khuder al-Sweady and five other Iraqi men. Among other things, the case concerns complaints that Khuder al-Sweady was murdered and five other Iraqis were tortured or otherwise ill-treated by UK soldiers while being detained in Iraq in 2004.
In November, parliament passed the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. It gave the executive powers to order the suspension of a coroner's inquest and institute instead an inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005, maintaining that the latter would be adequate to investigate the cause of death.
Police and security forces
In April, the policing of demonstrations at the G-20 Summit in London gave rise to concern. There were reports of disproportionate use of force; the use of weapons such as batons and shields during charges against demonstrators; and the intentional removal of police identification numbers.
- Publicly available video footage appeared to show that on 1 April a police officer wearing a helmet and balaclava struck Ian Tomlinson, a 47-year-old newspaper seller, with a baton on the back of his leg, and pushed him over. At the time of contact, Ian Tomlinson had his back to a line of riot police, his hands in his pockets, and was walking away from them. Ian Tomlinson collapsed and died shortly afterwards. The police only admitted that contact had occurred following publication of the footage. By the end of the year, one police officer was being investigated on suspicion of manslaughter.
- In February, the Crown Prosecution Service of England and Wales announced that there was insufficient evidence that any offence had been committed by any individual police officers in relation to the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian national shot dead by police officers in London in 2005. The decision appeared to sanction impunity for the killing. In November, the Metropolitan police agreed to pay compensation to Jean Charles de Menezes' family.
- In March, the Chief Commissioner of London police agreed to pay Babar Ahmad compensation and exemplary damages after admitting that in December 2003 police officers had subjected him to a violent, sustained and unprovoked assault, including by twice placing him in a life-threatening neck-hold.
Dissident republican groups claimed responsibility for the killings in March of two soldiers, Mark Quinsey and Patrick Azimkar, and of police constable Stephen Paul Carroll.
In June, journalist Suzanne Breen won her fight against the application by the Police Service of Northern Ireland for her to hand over materials relating to the killings of the two soldiers. The Recorder of Belfast ruled that to give the material to the police would endanger her life and acknowledged that the protection of the confidentiality of sources for journalists was part of the right to freedom of expression.
Collusion and political killings
In January, the Consultative Group on the Past set up by the government in 2007 recommended establishing an independent commission to deal with the legacy of the past by combining processes of reconciliation, justice and information recovery.
- Twenty years after the killing of prominent human rights lawyer Patrick Finucane, the government continued to renege on its commitment to establish an independent inquiry into state collusion in his death.
Three public inquiries into allegations of state collusion in the killings of Robert Hamill, Rosemary Nelson, a human rights lawyer, and Billy Wright finished taking evidence. Final reports were expected in 2010. The exclusion from a number of sessions of each inquiry of family members and their lawyers gave rise to concern.
Discrimination - Roma
Following an increase in the preceding months in verbal and physical attacks, in June over 100 Roma fled their homes in Belfast.
Refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants
In October, contrary to the advice of UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, the government attempted to forcibly return 44 Iraqis to Baghdad. On arrival the Iraqi authorities accepted only 10 and the other 34 Iraqis were flown back to the UK and detained on arrival.
In November, the government conceded that all non-Arab Darfuris, regardless of their political or other affiliations, were at risk of persecution in Darfur and that internal relocation elsewhere in Sudan was not currently available.
In December, the Royal Colleges of Paediatrics and Child Health, General Practitioners and Psychiatrists issued a joint statement calling for an immediate end to the administrative detention of children under Immigration Act powers on the basis that it was "shameful", "damaging", and "permanently harmful to children's health".
In July, the Chief Inspector of Prisons of England and Wales found that conditions at a privately run immigration detention centre, Tinsley House, near London, were "wholly unacceptable" for women and children and that conditions had worsened since the last inspection to an "encroaching ‘prison culture'". Concern was expressed about the detention of families for over 72 hours, and some for many weeks.
Violence against women and girls
In November, the government launched a strategy to address violence against women in line with commitments made under the 1995 United Nations Beijing Platform for Action.
In November, the government announced a three month pilot project to address the human rights crisis facing women at risk of violence and who have insecure immigration status.
Amnesty International visits/reports
Amnesty International delegates observed court proceedings in England throughout the year, including challenges to "control orders", appeals against deportations with assurances, and legal actions brought against the government by former Guantánamo detainees.
United Kingdom: The case of Binyam Mohamed - "championing the rule of law"? (10 February 2009)
UK/Northern Ireland: Patrick Finucane - twenty years on, still no inquiry (11 February 2009)
Independent investigation into alleged UK involvement in torture long overdue (10 August 2009)