New rules for detainee inquiry will impede access to truth statement
Exactly one year ago, United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron announced the creation of an Inquiry into whether the UK Government and its intelligence agencies were implicated in the improper treatment of detainees abroad that may have occurred in the aftermath of 11 September 2001.
This followed revelations that UK nationals and former UK residents detained at Guantanamo Bay and in other locations such as Pakistan, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Syria, Egypt and Kenya alleged that security services were complicit in their rendering and/or their subsequent torture and/or illtreatment, and the rendering of individuals through the UK territory of Diego Garcia.
REDRESS and other organisations, concerned by the growing allegations of United Kingdom complicity in acts amounting to torture and other prohibited forms of ill-treatment, welcomed this announcement as a sign that the then new Coalition Government was prepared to tackle head-on the allegations and make good on its commitment to the eradication of torture in all its forms.
Yet, one year on, optimism has faded. Today, the Government announced the terms of reference and rules for the Inquiry, which has not yet begun its work. These rules make clear that the purpose of the Inquiry is more about fixing the tarnished reputation of the security services than providing any sort of justice or truth for the victims of any abuses.
The Inquiry is also unlikely to provide any clarity for the public about what actually happened and why, nor will it clarify what measures will be put in place to ensure that such acts do not recur. Below we highlight two areas of specific concern:
Public access: In its rules on public disclosure, it has been made clear that the Inquiry will respect any understandings or commitments made or given by the Government, including through its intelligence and security agencies concerning the confidentiality, security and protection against public disclosure of information.
It has also been made clear that when the government decides that material should not be disclosed, it will not be disclosed.
REDRESS’ position is that an inquiry which is shielded from public scrutiny is not an inquiry, and does not comply with the UK’s human rights obligations to carry out a full, effective and impartial investigation into acts which may amount to torture or other prohibited ill-treatment.
The rules on public disclosure issued today refer to the need to keep information confidential to ensure the proper protection of the public interest. Yet, there is no mention of the distinct public interest in disclosure and scrutiny of the activities of government, which should be considered alongside any other factors.
No government should itself be the sole arbiter of what is, or is not, a matter that can be shielded from the public because of national security or any other considerations. Rather, determining the weight to be given to a claim of national security secrecy is a matter for an impartial and objective tribunal, not for a government, particularly a government whose actions are the ones under review.
The need to investigate all allegations of torture and related ill-treatment: In the materials released today, it has been made clear that ‘the Inquiry does not consider it practicable or necessary to investigate each and every allegation of UK involvement in improper treatment of detainees held by other countries.
But the Inquiry will be particularly interested in those allegations made by UK nationals and residents, especially those who have been held at Guantanamo Bay.’ REDRESS’ concern is that the Inquiry has only been given a year to carry out its work, which is insufficient in light of the number of allegations and their complexity.
But, surely the Inquiry should investigate all instances in which it is alleged that the UK was involved in acts of torture and prohibited treatment, regardless of the nationality or residency of the detainee, and provided with the necessary means and time to do so effectively.
Anything less would violate the UK’s obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture and the European Convention on Human Rights. The UK should not be complicit in torture in any circumstance, regardless of the nationality or residency of the victim – this is a fundamental principle which is central to the Inquiry’s remit.
REDRESS was founded by a British torture survivor in 1992. Since then, it has consistently fought for the rights of torture survivors and their families in the UK and abroad. It takes legal challenges on behalf of survivors, works to ensure that torturers are punished and that survivors and their families obtain remedies for their suffering.
REDRESS cooperates with civil society groups around the world to eradicate the practice of torture once and for all and to ensure that survivors can move forward with their lives in dignity. It has intervened in a range of leading torture cases. More information on our work is available on our website:
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