Written evidence submitted by Human Rights
Human Rights Watch thanks the Foreign Affairs
Committee for the opportunity to comment on the Foreign and Commonwealth
Office's Human Rights Report. We look forward to answering further
questions from the committee at the oral session at 2.30 pm on
Wednesday 16 November.
As we have noted before, this report can play
an important role in highlighting concerns around the world, and
we welcome its publication. We strongly endorse the view of the
Foreign Secretary, in his introduction to the report, that human
rights and values "are the only lasting foundation for wider
security, justice and development". We would wish for that
point to be more widely applied in practice, including by close
allies of the United Kingdom, and even by the UK itself.
These comments do not seek to be a line by line
commentary on the report, but focus only on those areas where
our differences with the government are significant.
These include areas where we believe:
(1) important points have been omitted; and
(2) where the analysis of this report is
at odds with the Government's words, actions or failure to act
in a broader context; or where one part of the analysis is contradicted
by passages elsewhere in the report.
To take some of our concerns in the order in
which they appear in the report:
The UK correctly identifies a number of the
areas of greatest concern, including a main concern of Human Rights
Watch throughout the past three years, regarding the continued
power of abusive Afghan warlords, and (a subject which Human Rights
Watch has repeatedly documented, and which the UK mentions in
this year's report for the first time), violent abuse by US forces
of detainees. (See, for example, "Enduring Freedom: Abuses
by US Forces in Afghanistan" (http://hrw.org/reports/2004/afghanistan0304/).
It is critical that the UK take a leadership role in addressing
past abuses and make it clear to President Karzai that he should
choose justice over continued good relations with abusive warlords.
The report accurately highlights a number of
important problems in China, including the absence of fundamental
freedoms. The human rights situation does indeed "remain
critical". The report rightly emphasises the jamming of BBC
broadcasts and the BBC websitebut surprisingly fails to
make any other mention of the freedom of speech and of information.
The restrictions on use of the internet are severe. China has
invested huge sums in erecting the "Great Firewall,"
which blocks Chinese from access to critical sites like Human
Rights Watch, Amnesty International and, from time to time, BBC
and other news organisations. The terms democracy and human rights
often lead a browser to a blank screen. Major Western companies
such as Microsoft and Google are complicit in these restrictions.
Yahoo recently handed over the name of one of its users to Chinese
authorities. He was given a long jail sentence for sending a critical
email to a US-based organisation.
The concerns that are rightly highlighted in
this six-page section of the report stand in sharp contrast to
the apparent reluctance of senior government ministers publicly
to confront human rights abuses, in many important contexts. At
a press conference on 7 November, a day before President Hu Jintao
arrived on a state visit to the UK, the Prime Minister failed
even to mention human rights when answering a Chinese journalist's
question about what he would be discussing with President Hu.
The Prime Minister suggests that change is inevitable.
In reality, achieving progress in human rights is a long, hard
fight, one that will take longer if world leaders do not speak
clearly in public on the subject.
46-49), (PP 150-151)
The report does not satisfactorily address the
question of impunity for high-ranking military officials involved
in abuses. The report states (p 48) that "President Uribe
has publicly stated on many occasions that he will not tolerate
such collusion [between the security forces and the paramilitaries]
and will act decisively against those who are proved to have such
In reality, there is still a serious problem
of impunity for military collusion with paramilitaries. Human
Rights Watch continues to receive reports of the existence of
such links, not just between members of the military and paramilitaries,
but also between entire units of the armed forces and paramilitaries.
The UK Government does not do Colombian society any favours by
papering over the extent of the problem. The report does not satisfactorily
address the question of impunity for high-ranking military officials
involved in abuses.
The report rightly notes that the Government
"has continued to violate many basic human rights."
The report accurately characterises a situation where political
opponents are regularly harassed and jailed. One subject not mentioned
is the forced separation of families, dealt with in a recent Human
Rights Watch report, "Families Torn Apart" (http://hrw.org/reports/2005/cuba1005).
The Cuban and the US governments both make it extraordinarily
difficult for separated families to see each other, an obvious
breach of human rights.
(PP 52-54), (PP
The report rightly highlights the importance
of the arrests of two key Ituri militia leaders, Floribert Ndjabu
and Thomas Lubanga, whose role in atrocities in the region has
been well documented in a series of Human Rights Watch reports,
including "Ituri: Covered in Blood"
As the report notes, "impunity remains a major problem",
and needs to be confronted. While a handful of those responsible
have been arrested and are currently in prison, other warlords
have been promoted to senior positions in the Congolese army.
These promotions have largely been met with silence by the international
community. Confronting impunity requires regular and consistent
pressure, not selective action. The UK Government should be doing
more to push for accountability for human rights crimes in the
DRC, both privately and publicly.
A Human Rights Watch report published earlier
this year, "The Curse of Gold", (http://hrw.org/reports/2005/drc0505),
documented the relationship between a murderous armed group operating
in north-eastern Congo and one of the largest gold companies in
the world, AngloGold Ashanti, whose majority shareholder is AngloAmerican,
based in the UK. The UK Government took steps to discuss concerns
highlighted by this report with the company. Human Rights Watch
believes that The Curse of Gold contains important information
about the wider problem of natural resource exploitation and human
rights abuses taking place throughout the mineral rich areas of
the Congo. Building democratic foundations and respect for the
rule of law in Congo will require greater attention to this often
The UK Government is playing an important role
in highlighting concerns about natural resource exploitation through
its development programme funded in Congo by the Department for
International Development. It will be important to work through
multilateral institutions in the DRC to ensure better use of Congo's
minerals for development and respect for human rights. We believe
our report also contains broader lessons of how and when international
companies should and should not do business in conflict areas
where there are major human rights abuses. The British Government
could play an important role by ensuring the application of appropriate
On page141, the report refers to "evidence
provided by human rights groups" about natural resource exploitation
in the eastern DRC, and notes that the Ugandan Government "denies
allegations" that Uganda has benefited from natural resource
exploitation. This may partly be a reference to the Human Rights
Watch report Curse of Gold, referred to above. We believe
that a reading of reports prepared by the UN panel of experts
on illegal exploitation in the DRC, the UN group of experts on
the arms embargo, UN secretary general reports, Uganda's own judicial
investigation carried out by Justice David Porter, as well as
reports by Human Rights Watch and other international NGOs makes
it clear that senior members of the Ugandan army and Ugandan government
ministers have indeed been involved in natural resource exploitation
in the DRC since 1998. These are not so much allegations as undeniable
facts. As documented by Human Rights Watch, the Ugandan economy
clearly benefits from the trade of illegal gold from Congo to
Switzerland and elsewhere; a trade that is encouraged by the Ugandan
Government. Uganda's persistent denials must be robustly confronted.
In addition to involvement in natural resource
exploitation, Uganda also continues to support armed groups operating
in north-eastern Congo who carry out widespread violations of
human rights including war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Throughout 2005 there were clear indications that Uganda had not
stopped such support. While pressure from the UK and other international
actors did push Uganda to expel some of the Ituri armed group
leaders from Ugandan soil, it has not yet halted support for these
groups. It is important that the UK Government seeks to be much
tougher in its stance on Uganda's continued involvement in the
affairs of the DRC.
The report states that "The UK will make
human rights a priority issue in our relations with Iran"
during the EU presidency in the second half of 2005. There has
been much discussion of the nuclear issue and obvious international
pressures on Iran in this context. On human rights issues, however,
it has sometimes seemed that the criticism has not gone beyond
Human Rights Watch appreciates the emphasis
(p 65) on the importance of the Human Rights Watch report "The
New Iraq: Torture and ill-treatment of detainees in Iraqi custody"
(http://hrw.org/reports/2005/iraq0105/) The UK has played a strong
and valuable role in the follow-up to that report, which continues
to this day.
Human Rights Watch has a number of concerns
with this tribunal, which are laid out in the briefing paper "The
Former Iraq Government On Trial" (http://hrw.org/backgrounder/mena/iraq1005/)
We welcome the fact that Saddam and his senior collaborators are
being brought to justice for their crimes. But it is wrong to
think that judicial shortcutsincluding, for example, a
lower threshold of guilt than the international normhelp
to create a more stable Iraq.
US ABUSES IN
62-63, P 183)
These sections are seriously misleading. They
appear to be deliberately framed in order to avoid confronting
the reality. The evasion is inexcusable.
The report refers to the "shocking photographs"
from Abu Ghraibechoing the language that was used at the
time by President Bush himself, after the photographs (one of
which was used as a screensaver at Abu Ghraib) were published
in spring 2004. The report talks of "five substantial inquiries",
which "concluded that the incidents of abuse were the result
of the behaviour of a few sadistic individuals and a failure of
oversight by commanders, rather than the result of US policy or
Those conclusions were at odds with the known
facts, as Human Rights Watch and others have repeatedly shown.
Key Human Rights Watch reports on this issue include the report
"Leadership Failure: Firsthand Accounts of Torture of Iraqi
Detainees by the US Army's 82 Airborne Division" (http://hrw.org/reports/2005/us0905/).
A US Army captain, Ian Fishback, finally went public with his
concerns, by taking his evidence of abuse in Iraq to Human Rights
Watch. His superiors had previously been determined not to listen
to what he had to say. The Human Rights Watch revelations made
front-page headlines throughout the United States.
In the wake of that report, Republican Senator
John McCain and others introduced amendments to the Defence Authorisation
Bill that would tighten up military rules on prisoner detention
and interrogation, and prohibit all "cruel, inhuman, or degrading
treatment" of detainees. The measure passed 90-9 in the Senate.
But the White House opposes the amendments, saying they unnecessarily
limit the president's authority as commander-in-chief.
We find it difficult to reconcile the facts
set forth in Human Rights Watch's reports on this subject with
the conclusion in this report that "five substantial inquiries"
were conducted. In reality, the inquiries were not comprehensive,
and were framed in a manner which ensured that senior military
commanders and politicians would not be held responsible.
The report says: "Where there has been
evidence of abuse, the US has instigated investigations of the
individuals responsible" (p 63) and that the US has "investigated
and punished those responsible" (p 183). In reality, there
has been no attempt to trace the pattern of responsibility for
those violations taking placea pattern which has clearly
been documented by Human Rights Watch and others. The US administration
has repeatedly rejected Human Rights Watch's calls for an independent
special prosecutor to look at the issues. Human Rights Watch,
which has its international headquarters in New York, believes
the UK's silence on this issue to be deeply damaging.
The voice of the UK is loudly heard in the United
States. UK silence, in this context, is thus especially eloquent.
In effect, the silence makes the United Kingdom complicit in the
This silence, combined with misleading characterisations
which actively seek to exculpate the US administration in its
trampling of international commitments, should finally come to
The report rightly notes that Israel "must
respect international law" (p 67). But it seems reluctant
to confront the extent of the Israeli failure to do so. The report
talks of "welcome exceptions" to the rule of "limited
accountability" of IDF personnelbut then devotes more
attention to those exceptions than to the dangerous rule. In this
connection, the Human Rights Watch report "Promoting Impunity:
The Israeli Military's Failure to Investigate Wrongdoing"
(http://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/iopt0605/index.htm) may be seen
Notably, even when an investigation is carried
out, the investigations rely above all on in-unit debriefs which
delay a possible criminal investigation, and also sully the evidence.
There is abundant evidence to show that soldiers are inclined
to lie in in-unit debriefs. The "welcome exceptions"
which the report refers to apply above all to foreigners. The
families of Tom Hurndall and James Miller have been tenacious
and courageous in their persistent search for justiceand
have been able to open many doors which would normally remain
locked. Their achievements are as astonishing as they are admirable.
The overwhelming majority of Palestinians could, for a variety
of reasons, never begin to achieve what the Hurndall and Miller
families have achieved, against all the odds. Impunity remains,
in short, as strong as ever.
The section on terrorist violence is of course
correct to say that terrorists have a "total disregard for
human rights," as Human Rights Watch has repeatedly emphasised.
Human Rights Watch welcomes the statement at
the beginning of the Russia section that "effective counter-terrorism
measures must be taken within a framework that respects human
rights and international humanitarian law.". The report accurately
reflects the findings of Human Rights Watch, when it talks of
disappearances and extrajudicial killings. It is also correct
to state: "Government investigations and trials of the military
for crimes against civilians are infrequent and convictions are
few." The report is right, too, to focus on the problems
faced by NGOs and civil society, the subject of a forthcoming
Human Rights Watch report.
The report says that the UK "pointed out
that effective anti-terrorism policies and respect for human rights
are not mutually exclusive. Proper observance of human rights
can be very effective in combating terrorism." Sadly, there
is a wide gap between the sentiments expressed here and the message
that is sent by senior ministers, in their meetings with Russian
Government leaders and their public statements in that context.
There still seems to be an eagerness not to confront the extent
of the crimes being committed in Chechnya, let alone the fact
that the crimes in Chechnya are now spilling over into greater
instability in the entire region.
We hear little or nothing from the Prime Minister
or the Foreign Secretary about the crimes that continue to go
unpunished in Chechnyacrimes which can be seen as poisoning
all Russian society. A Human Rights Watch briefing paper "Worse
than a War" (http://hrw.org/backgrounder/eca/chechnya0305/),
published in March 2005, determined that the level and pattern
of forced disappearances justified the use of the term "crimes
High-level silence on this issue is shortsighted.
Russia does indeed have a terrorist problemas we have seen
repeatedly in recent years. But the idea that this terror threat
means that one should not criticise a Kremlin policy which tolerates
or encourages civilian murder is wrong. UK failure to speak out
strongly on this issue is wrongheaded and indefensible.
A parliamentary response to Menzies Campbell
MP failed to answer the question as to whether the Prime Minister
raised the subject of disappearances when he met with President
Putin in October 2005. The implication appears to be that the
Prime Minister did not even discuss these crimes.
Those who believe that it is somehow "impolite"
to speak out strongly on these issues do Russian society no favours.
On the contrary, Russian society can never achieve stability unless
basic human rights are observed.
Torture remains widespread. The report rightly
notes that reform is widely discussed. But the pace of change
is much too slow. There have been unconfirmed suggestions that
the UK may be contemplating a possible Memorandum of Understanding
(MOU) with the Saudis, regarding commitments not to torture those
who might be deported to Saudi Arabia, along the lines of MOUs
which have already been agreed with Jordan and Libya. Human Rights
Watch has been sharply critical of the two existing MOUs. An agreement
with Saudi Arabia would shamelessly breach the UK's international
commitments not to send people back to the risk of torture. Saudi
Arabia's torture of British citizens, even while it said that
those citizens were not being tortured, has been well documented.
As Human Rights Watch has shown, commitments by states with records
of endemic abuse of prisoners are wholly unenforceable. These
MOUs can be seen as mere moral figleaves (this subject is further
79-82, PP 143-144)
The international response to the crisis in
Darfur was addressed in last year's Human Rights Watch submission,
as well as a separate submission to the international development
committee (http://www.parliament.uk/parliamentary committees/international_development/international_development_sudan.cfm)
The UK woke up too late to the significance of what was happening,
though it later played a positive role.
The report notes that both the Sudanese Government
and the rebel movements committed ceasefire violations in the
reporting period, which is factually correct. However, it omits
an important distinction in the human rights records of the warring
parties. As noted by numerous groups, including Human Rights Watch
and the International Commission of Inquiry, the rebel movements
have committed abuses, including attacks on civilians that may
amount to war crimes. These crimes are serious and require further
investigation and accountability, but do not appear to be the
result of a systematic policy attacking civilians.
By contrast, the Sudanese Government has clearly
pursuedand continues to implementa policy of systematic
attacks on civilians based on their ethnicity that amounts to
crimes against humanity, a conclusion that is unequivocally presented
in the findings of the Commission of Inquiry. This policy is directly
responsible for the crimes in Darfur and the forced displacement
of more than two million people in less than two years.
To date, the Sudanese Government has yet to
implement any real change of policy in Darfur and continues to
ignore demands to disarm the militias, end impunity or take other
essential steps to improve security in the region. Until a sincere
change of policy occurs in Khartoum, it is extremely unlikely
that security will improve or that the "ethnic cleansing"
that has occurred will be reversed.
Regarding the international and UK response
to the conflict in Darfur, Human Rights Watch agrees that it is
vital for the African Union force to be strengthened, both in
numbers and in mandate, and recognises the important support provided
to the African Union force by the UK. However, the action taken
by the UN Security Council is perhaps overstated in the report.
Eight crucial months passed between July 2004, when the UNSC passed
resolution 1556 and March 2005, when the Security Council authorised
sanctions and the ICC referral. Human Rights Watch welcomes the
first step to sanctions, but notes that the framework for sanctions
remains extremely weak: as of November 2005, not a single individual
has yet been sanctioned despite a serious escalation in the violence
over the past two months. Considerable work will be needed at
the Security Council to ensure that sanctions are in fact imposed
and enforced on key individuals
Regarding the Comprehensive Peace Agreement,
clearly this provides hope that the terrible war in southern Sudan
is over. However, to describe the agreement as containing significant
human rights provisions is perhaps overstating the case. One of
the fundamental flaws in the agreement remains the lack of any
accountability mechanism, despite the massive abuses that took
place in the long conflict. In Human Rights Watch's view the failure
to insist on any form of justice or accountability in the CPA
contributed to the Sudanese Government's decision to use much
the same strategy of attacks on civilians in Darfur. This is also
why, among other reasons, the decision to refer Darfur to the
International Criminal Court takes on even greater relevance.
Human Rights Watch applauds the referral of
Darfur to the ICC, which is a key first step towards ending the
lethal cycle of impunity in Darfur, but regrets that the UK support
for the court has not always been as strong as we would have hoped.
Thus, in July 2004, the UK was ready to permit the United States
to force through a resolution which would have allowed Washington
to renew a special immunity from the court. Other governments
resisted the proposal strongly, and the US was eventually forced
to withdraw its dangerous resolution. Britain was, at that time,
supporting rather than confronting Washington's dangerous actions.
Human Rights Watch is, however, pleased that
the UK later played a positive role in ensuring that Washington
did not block the referral to the court, especially in the final
lead-up to the vote in March 2005. Partly as a result of UK diplomacy,
the United States withheld its veto at the key vote at the Security
Council, on resolution 1593.
The referral of Darfur to the International
Criminal Court, on 31 March 2005, was an important moment. It
will be important for the court to live up to the expectations
made of it. A key challenge will be ensuring Sudan's co-operation
with the court, and UK pressure in this regard will be essential.
Human Rights Watch will shortly publish a report naming names
of Sudanese officials who might expect to face prosecution at
the court, on the basis of their documented involvement in serious
The massacre in Andijan, described on page 84,
was a crime against humanity, where many hundreds were slaughtered
in cold blood. Human Rights Watch documented the killings in detail
in a report "Bullets Were Falling like Rain" (http://hrw.org/reports/2005/uzbekistan0605/)
and a subsequent report, "Burying the Truth" (http://hrw.org/reports/2005/uzbekistan0905/).
It will be important to ensure that there is an international
inquiry into those events.
It is regrettable that there was considerable
delay in the UK following up on the demand, in June 2005, for
Uzbekistan to cooperate with an international enquiryor
face sanctions. Human Rights Watch welcomed the decision to impose
sanctions in October 2005, after several months of apparent reluctance
to confront the issue. The Partnership and Co-operation Agreement
between the EU and Uzbekistan was suspended. It was the first
time that such a step had been taken.
It will be essential to ensure that the pressure
on Uzbekistan is maintained, including via its powerful ally Russia.
Moscow's proclaimed view is that Uzbekistan faces a terrorist
problem and therefore deserves support. Repression does not help
create stability, but only makes things worse.
The report says that there has been "one
area of progress" in combating torture, namely developing
legislation. Given the fact that, as the report itself implicitly
acknowledges these changes have had no practical impact, so that
describing these changes as "progress" is an exaggeration.
We note that Adam Ingram, the armed forces minister,
revealed in a parliamentary answer to the Liberal Democrat defence
spokesman, Michael Moore, that British military advisers trained
Uzbek troops before the massacre in May. Subjects included marksmanship
and "managing defence in a democracy". It would be interesting
to know if the British government still believes that such training
was appropriate, and why; and also to know whether such training
continues. Human Rights Watch believes that the track record of
the Karimov government means that it was and is a singularly inappropriate
recipient of such aid. In the view of Human Rights Watch, no hindsight
is needed, to reach such a conclusion.
The strong intervention by the British government
in November 2004, to head off a military operation by Rwanda inside
the DRC, was welcome, as further armed conflict between the two
countries would have undoubtedly led to abuses against civilians.
Meanwhile, however, it seems as though the government is ignoring
the gravity of the situation in Rwanda itself.
It is generally accepted that the international
community failed shamefully in its response to the genocide of
1994, as described at length in the 800-page Human Rights Watch
report "Leave None to Tell the Story" (http://www.hrw.org/reports/1999/rwanda/)
and elsewhere. This failure is not a reason to play down serious
abuse by the Rwandan authorities today.
The report says that the improvement in the
human rights situation "is not progressing as fast as we
would like". Given the developments in 2004 and 2005, we
believe this to be an inadequate description; in some areas, the
human rights situation has deteriorated. The report also says
that the government is "cautious" about allowing opposition
"believing that this [allowing opposition] would be racist
in nature and would open the door to inter-ethnic strife."
However, the report does not draw the conclusion that the government's
actions constitute an infringement upon basic liberties such as
freedom of expression and association.
For example, during 2004, one of the biggest
human rights organizations and several other local and international
non-governmental organizations were subject to a sharp attack
by parliament, which accused them of fostering "genocide
ideology" and called for the dissolution of the local NGOs.
Government accepted the parliament's report on the issue. While
it did not dissolve the organizations, several NGO leaders were
threatened and had to flee the country.
In 2005, Father Theunis, a Belgian priest known
for his efforts to document human rights abuses and warn about
mounting hate speech prior to the 1994 genocide, was himself accused
of incitement to genocide in a gacaca court. The accusations were
made without any evidence. (As this submission was being completed,
the High Court in Rwanda ruled that Father Theunis can be extradited
The report largely ignores these important issues,
except when it briefly notes "concern that the charges of
`divisionism' and `harbouring genocidal ideology' are being used
against anyone who disagrees with government positions on any
subject" and by acknowledging that "dissenting politicians
and journalists have faced harassment and prosecution."
Human Rights Watch believes it is vital that
the British government acts upon these concerns and uses its influence
with one of its closest allies in Africa to urge an improvement
of its human rights record.
The scale of the problem is well known. In this
connection, it is regrettable that the report praises Uganda for
having "the most open attitude in Africa." Uganda has
played a positive role in past years. Now, however, Uganda, under
the influence of the United States, is discouraging the use of
condoms, favouring abstinence only approaches instead. The subject
is addressed in the Human Rights Watch report "The Less they
Know, the Better" (http://hrw.org/reports/2005/uganda0305/).
This policy threatens to reverse progress in Uganda on HIV.
183) (SEE ALSO
We note the government's statement that, in
its counter-terror policy, "we make sure there is no negative
effect on human rights" (p 21). For the purposes of this
submission, we will leave aside our concerns about the domestic
anti-terror legislation, which are the responsibility of the Home
Office. There are a number of concerns about the negative effect
of the policies introduced by the Foreign Office, in the context
of its anti-terror policy, especially following the criminal bombings
of 7 July.
UK AND TORTURE
(P 190, P
We note the declaration on page 16 that the
government regards torture as one of its three "key human
rights themes". The reality sometimes seems to call that
declaration into question. It is difficult for the UK to argue
that it is playing a leading role in combating torture worldwide,
when it is:
(a) softening its own opposition to torture,
especially in relation to returns to torture, and reliance on
material obtained under torture; and
(b) silent on serious abuses committed by
a close ally.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office can rightly
point to the effort it has made in past years to combat torture,
and to ensure that the Convention against Torture is upheld. The
UK government has in the past indeed "been among the leading
nations advocating strong international machinery and in developing
practical tools to combat torture in all its forms" (p194).
It is thus all the more depressing to find that
Britain is now moving away from that position. In effect, torture
has become a relative matterto be condemned in all circumstances,
except where toleration of torture may appear useful in the war
on terror. There appears to be a creeping belief that human rights
and security should be treated as alternatives. They are not.
Some examples of the UK's "softening"
of its position on torture include:
(1) Use of information obtained under
On page 190 the report declares "We condemn
the use of torture unreservedly and are working hard to eradicate
the practice worldwide." The report then goes on, however,
to describe how the government believes it has the right to receive
intelligence from "our partners" (in the past, this
has included countries like Uzbekistan, where people are regularly
tortured to death). This cannot simply be portrayed, as ministers
are sometimes inclined to do, as a one-off example about when
a government receives a key piece of information about an imminent
attack. The policy cloaks a clear long-term relationship between
the torturing regimes and the recipients of the torturers' information.
The September 2005 witness statement by Eliza Manningham-Buller,
head of MI5, adduced in the torture evidence case before the House
of Lords and made public by Channel Four News (see below), indicated
that in obtaining intelligence material from third countries,
the security services "will generally not press to be told
the source, as to do so would be likely to damage cooperation
and the future flow of intelligence." It is regrettable if
the UK government fails to understand the extent to which such
a relationship gives comfort and encouragement to the torturers.
Such a relationship is hard to square with the
statement on page 195 that "It is vital to expose torturers
and bring them to account through thorough investigation and documentation."
The argument that the government sometimes "does not know"
if evidence has been obtained through torture is hollow. As Eliza
Manningham-Buller's statement makes clear, if the government "does
not know", that is because it chooses not to know.
In addition, as the Committee is aware, the
government asserts a legal right to rely on evidence that has
or may have been obtained under torture in proceedings before
any court in the UK, provided that UK agents were not involved.
That case is under consideration by the Judicial Committee of
the House of Lords. While disavowing the use of torture evidence
for policy reasons, the government's assertion of its legal right
to rely on it runs counter to well-established precepts of international
law, including those contained in binding treaties to which the
UK is party. By doing so, the government weakens Britain's moral
authority in seeking to eradicate torture elsewhere in the world,
and erodes the prohibition against torture.
(2) Sending people to countries where
they are at risk of torture
The report claims that the British government
"will not deport or extradite any person to a country where
we believe that they will be tortured". The government's
much-touted Memorandums of Understanding, which have already been
agreed with Jordan and Libya, and which are understood to be discussed
with a variety of other countries, including perhaps even Egypt
and Saudi Arabia, claim to provide "guarantees" that
deportees will not be tortured on being sent back. Such guarantees
are worthless, as the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred
Nowak has made clear, and as several Human Rights Watch reports
We find it surprising that the report talks
cautiously of "reports" that the US sends terrorist
suspects to countries with poor human rights records for interrogation,
including the use of US aircraft. The UK's reluctance to acknowledge
these well documented examples is perhaps illustrative of the
extent of the problem with the current UK mindset.
Two of the most notorious and well documented
cases involved are:
The Canadian-Syrian Maher Arar, who
was snatched and delivered up to Syria, where he was tortured.
The then US attorney-general, John Ashcroft, said that "appropriate
assurances" had been received from the Syrian authorities
that Arar would not be tortured. The case is the subject of an
ongoing Commission of Inquiry in Canada, and an internal investigation
by the US Department of Homeland Security.
Two Egyptians were forced onto a
US government-leased plane that took them from Stockholm to Cairo,
where there is credible evidence that they were tortured. In May
2005, the UN Committee against Torture, considering a petition
brought by one of the men against his treatment, concluded that
Sweden had violated article 3 of the torture convention by sending
him to Egypt on the basis of promises of humane treatment, despite
a clear risk he would be subject to torture.
Both these examples, and many others, are documented
at length in two Human Rights Watch reports, "Empty Promises"
(http://hrw.org/reports/2004/un0404/) and the more recent "Still
at Risk" (http://hrw.org/reports/2005/eca0405/) as well as
in numerous television documentaries and newspaper accounts. These
are not mere "reports" but well documented facts, as
the UK government must be well aware.
The reasons for the ineffectiveness of diplomatic
assurances as a safeguard against torture are that diplomatic
assurances are worthless on a number of counts, as described for
example in the August 2005 article in The Independent by the author
of this note, "Not worth the paper they're written on"
(http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/08/13/uk11627.htm), a copy of
which is attached to this submission. As Manfred Nowak, UN special
rapporteur on torture, noted in a report published on 9 November:
"Diplomatic assurances are unreliable and ineffective in
the protection against torture and ill-treatment and such assurances
are sought usually from States where the practice of torture is
British attempts to undermine the Convention
against Torture do not help to keep us safe. On the contrary.
(3) UK silence on US torture and abuses
This has been dealt with above. We see no reason
for that silence to continue, and we hope that it will not do
The British government "welcomes the fact
that the US is engaging with the UN. special rapporteurs on their
request for access to Guantanamo". This is a surprisingly
upbeat assessment, which provides only a partial view of the reality.
The US has insisted that the rapporteurs should
not be allowed to conduct private conversations with prisoners
at Guantanamo. This was in obvious breach of the rapporteurs'
mandate, and made it impossible for them to accept the invitation.
Without private conversations with detainees, the visits could
be nothing more than show.
Human Rights Watch still hopes that some genuine
transparency will be introduced into the process, instead of a
mere attempted PR show. So far, there is no sign of such transparency.
It is regrettable if the UK government chooses
to praise the US government even while it remains in blatant defiance
of international law. As far as we are aware, the British government
has not expressed its concerns about the US failure to provide
the conditions in which the rapporteurs can do their work. Instead,
it has publicly "welcomed" the alleged "engagement",
which has so far proved worthless. We hope that Britain will learn
that making sympathetic noises about a policy of such defiance
towards the rest of the world does not keep anybody safenot
America, not the UK, and not the rest of the world. Britain should
find its voice, and has no excuse for not doing so.
As stated at the beginning of this submission,
Britain's policy in a number of areas around the world deserves
praise. Within the 300 pages of the report, there is much to commend.
But the potential impact of the failure to observe
international lawfor example, the prohibition on tortureis
enormous. We have already noted the words of the Foreign Secretary,
that human rights and values "are the only lasting foundation
for wider security, justice and development". A weakening
of human rights principles by any powerful governmentincluding,
for the purposes of this report, the UK and the United Statescreates
a more dangerous world for us all.
We thank the committee for their interest in
these important issues.
Human Rights Watch