Interview with Sir Emyr Jones Parry, Chair of REDRESS

‘If we do not adhere to the fundamental principle of the absolute prohibition of torture, then our very morals and values are threatened.’

Sir Emyr Jones Parry, GCMG, PhD, FInstP

REDRESS is delighted to welcome its new Chair, Sir Emyr Jones Parry. As a British diplomat, former British Permanent Representative to the United Nations and former UK Permanent Representative to NATO, Sir Emyr will bring his extensive diplomatic and international experience to guide and support REDRESS’ work. Sir Emyr spoke to REDRESS about his views on Torture, the importance of justice and the rule of law, and why he decided to accept the invitation to be Chair of REDRESS.

You have spent many years as a British Diplomat with the FCO, including positions as UK Representative to the UN and UK Representative on NATO. What motivated your decision to become Chair of REDRESS?

I believe that the nature of REDRESS’ work is important. Throughout my professional career, I have been working to solve problems throughout the world and learnt that respect for the rule of law is crucial. Democracy, human rights and the rule of law are fundamental pillars of the state and society.

They are not an abstract concept. If the world says that torture is acceptable, then we devalue our authority and credibility. REDRESS is a team of very motivated people, doing very serious work which matters. REDRESS was looking for someone with a non-legal background, but with international experience and whilst at the UN I had been working on issues relating to Darfur, Democratic Republic of Congo and Northern Uganda, countries where REDRESS also works to tackle torture and other serious international crimes. I have been privileged to be doing the work that I have done and I would like to now give something back. It made sense to accept the invitation to be Chair of REDRESS.

Why do you think REDRESS’ work is so important? What would you like to see REDRESS achieve?

The absolute prohibition of torture, which should be so universal and so clear is under threat. There are some terrible problems in the world, terrorism being one. Some say that the ends justify the means, that torture can be ‘permissible’ in certain circumstances. This is a slippery slope.

If we do not adhere to the fundamental principle of the absolute prohibition of torture, then our very morals and values are threatened. It is important that REDRESS is there as a haven, to assist survivors, to maintain excellence and stand up for law and decency.

Why is the absolute prohibition of torture so important, particularly in the context of the ‘war on terror’?

We should not stoop to the level of terrorist. I totally abhor terrorism – yet there is never an excuse for torture. There is never an excuse to move away from fundamental rights and the basic standards and principles of the rule of law.

You have worked within the UK Government, the European Union and the UN. What role do you believe REDRESS, as a non-governmental organisation, can have in influencing and informing international institutions such as the UN and the ICC and national governments?

Rather than a case of ‘us’ and ‘them’, it is about working on the same side. When I was at the UN I worked closely with international NGOs. NGOs can put pressure on governments and governments are accountable to the public. The more NGOs consistently apply pressure, the more governments will do the right thing.

The enforcement mechanisms of human rights treaties can be weak. What do you think are the best strategies to ensure that states live up to their obligations to prohibit torture and ensure that survivors are able to access justice and obtain redress?

The rule of law is fundamental to society. It brings justice and order, is applied without favour and gives protection to all of us, wherever we are. It is important that firstly, the law is in place and secondly, that there is access to the law for individuals. Peer group pressure, for example, from the African Union and political pressure from other governments, the EU and the UN Security Council is important.

What did you enjoy most about living and working overseas?

It was the nature of the issue that made the work so interesting and enjoyable. I skipped to work! There was never a day I didn’t enjoy. Everyday, especially whilst I was working at the UN, there was the opportunity to look at what is going on in the world – and to do something about it, to ask questions and press levers for change. I was privileged to work with very talented people and it is the colleagues with whom you work that make a difference. There was a permanent buzz at the UN.

What do you enjoy most about being back in UK?

On my return to the UK, a good friend of mine who was a former Cabinet Minister, sent me an email: ‘Welcome to the world of “Do you know who I used to be?”!’. I don’t want to be talking about what I used to be! Now that I am back, there is another page to work on, a new slate. I seldom look back, but instead focus on what I am doing now. It is time to put something back.