Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Written evidence submitted by Human Rights Watch

  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" ( 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.

CHINA (PP 40-46)

  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 website—but 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.

COLOMBIA (PP 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 links."

  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.

CUBA (PP 50-52)

  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" ( The Cuban and the US governments both make it extraordinarily difficult for separated families to see each other, an obvious breach of human rights.


  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", (, 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 overlooked issue.

  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 business standards.


  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.

IRAN (PP 58-60)

  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 mere rhetoric.

IRAQ (PP 60-67)

  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" ( 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" ( 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 shortcuts—including, for example, a lower threshold of guilt than the international norm—help to create a more stable Iraq.

US ABUSES IN IRAQ (PP 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 Ghraib—echoing 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 procedures."

  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" ( 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 place—a 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 US crimes.

  This silence, combined with misleading characterisations which actively seek to exculpate the US administration in its trampling of international commitments, should finally come to an end.

ISRAEL (PP 67-70)

  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 personnel—but 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" ( may be seen as relevant.

  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 justice—and 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.

RUSSIA (PP 71-77)

  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 Chechnya—crimes which can be seen as poisoning all Russian society. A Human Rights Watch briefing paper "Worse than a War" (, published in March 2005, determined that the level and pattern of forced disappearances justified the use of the term "crimes against humanity."

  High-level silence on this issue is shortsighted. Russia does indeed have a terrorist problem—as 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 discussed below).

SUDAN (PP 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 (  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 pursued—and continues to implement—a 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 crimes.


  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" ( and a subsequent report, "Burying the Truth" ( 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 enquiry—or 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.

Defence Training

  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.

RWANDA (PP 141-143)

  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" ( 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 to Belgium.)

  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" ( This policy threatens to reverse progress in Uganda on HIV.


  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 194)

  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 matter—to 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 torture

  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 have documented.

  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" ( and the more recent "Still at Risk" ( 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" (, 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 systematic."

  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 so.


  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 safe—not 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 law—for example, the prohibition on torture—is 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 government—including, for the purposes of this report, the UK and the United States—creates a more dangerous world for us all.

  We thank the committee for their interest in these important issues.

Steve Crawshaw

London Director

Human Rights Watch

November 2005

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