Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)


16 NOVEMBER 2005

  Q20 Mr Maples: Have you got this written down anywhere you can send to us?

  Ms Allen: We have documentation about those cases.

  Q21 Mr Maples: Could you send it to us?

  Ms Allen: Yes.

  Q22 Mr Maples: Human Rights Watch: what is your view?

  Mr Crawshaw: Echoing what Kate Allen has just said, we have one report which was just called "Techniques used at Guanta«namo". I think it is important to remember that torture is not just applying electrodes to the testicles—you know, the obvious things that we know about, those kinds of brutal things—but that is part of what the US administration has used, but only when it goes to the furthest extreme, though even those ones have been used, to put it this way, a number of the techniques that have been used have led to both self-incriminating evidence which was completely false—in other words the pressures were great enough that they confessed to things which they had not done and provably had not done—you know, having been together with Osama bin Laden at a particular time when demonstrably, and as, indeed, the British authorities later confirmed, they had actually been somewhere else. Those kinds of pressures are banned for the same reasons. Some of the Committee may have seen there was a Channel Four programme called "Guanta«namo Guidebook" which did a kind of reconstruction, which was interesting in the way that it was done, showing that even though what might seem not very strong, only over a period of 48 hours people were actually backing out. People who defined themselves as hard guys who would not give in at all were backing out.

  Q23 Mr Maples: Have you got anything in any report which you could send to us?

  Mr Crawshaw: Absolutely, yes, on the techniques, but broadly also I would urge the Committee to consider the extent of the denial which is going on when we have entirely credible accounts of what has happened. Just to pick up a point you made a little bit earlier, not everybody has been tortured at Guanta«namo. That is not the suggestion. Some people have got off relatively lightly and others have not. I think what we are seeing a pattern of is the belief somehow, which does seem to me a quite extraordinary belief to have reached in the twenty-first century, that at some points the ends justify the means. I would leave with the Committee the phrase that you may well be familiar with, but Cofer Black, who was the senior CIA official after 9/11 said, "After 9/11 the gloves came off." That was said as a colloquial phrase, but actually it is a very vivid phrase. The gloves are about the Queensbury Rules and obeying the rules, and after 9/11 it was felt the rules no longer mattered, and I deeply regret that we have heard from the Prime Minister what may appear to be a similar kind of suggestion, that rules of the game have changed. The gloves should not come off. If we want a safer world, you do not do it by saying, "Let the gloves come off and let them have what is coming to them."

  Q24 Mr Maples: I think it would be very helpful to us if both your organisations could let us have further evidence which you have in writing.

  Mr Crawshaw: We would be happy to do so.

  Q25 Sandra Osborne: Could I ask you about the US practice of extraordinary rendition and the UK's role in that, because media reports recently have suggested that aircraft involved in operations have flown into the UK, at least 210 since 9/11, which is an average of one flight per week. It is suggested there is a 26 strong fleet which has used 19 British airports, the favourites being the two Glasgow airports, Glasgow Prestwick and Glasgow Airport, where flights have flown in and out more than 75 times and 74 times respectively. However, the Foreign Secretary told this Committee that the policy is not to deport or extradite any person to another state where there are substantial grounds to believe that the person would be subject to torture. The British Government is not aware of the use of its territory or airspace for the purposes of extraordinary rendition. The Government's denial of the use of UK airspace therefore appears to fly in the face of media reports and growing evidence that it is not in actual fact the case that UK airspace has been quite extensively used. What role do you think the UK are playing in the process of extraordinary rendition?

  Mr Crawshaw: I think as regards the use of the airspace, as you say, the evidence is there and it is suggestive. I would not feel able confidently to say who was in those planes or what, but I think, if we are going put it bluntly, the public deserves answers. I think Britain deserves answers to explain if not that, what were these flights about, because the evidence is suggestive there. If I may I will also pick up on what you said about the Foreign Secretary saying that people would not be sent back from Britain to a place where they would be at risk of torture. It may be that the Committee wants to address this in a separate section, but certainly that is simply an untrue statement as we have it at the moment. It is simply inaccurate to suggest that the British government is not going in that direction. They have been pressing for these diplomatic assurances. The version that they have constantly asserted is that these diplomatic assurances received from governments where somebody might be deported to are so constructed to ensure that torture will not take place. In reality all the evidence that we will be seeing has shown that these things absolutely do not work, and, indeed, really that they cannot work. I am happy to explain it at great length if you would like, but I think it is a non-starter. You were asking people to talk of an illegal practice which they are already committing and should not be committing but on this particular occasion with this particular person they would not carry out that illegal practice—in other words the torture—and that it will be possible to check on those because you will go into the person's prison cell and say, "Have you been tortured recently?" and expect to get an accurate answer from that person. There will be no interest from either the receiving country's side let alone the sending country's side (in this case the UK) in getting to the bottom of the facts. If you send them to places where torture is widespread, then that is what will happen. We have already had a couple of notorious examples, one from Sweden to Egypt, another one was a Canadian Syrian being sent back, being picked up en route back home to Canada and being the deported to Syria on what John Ashcroft called the "appropriate assurances that had been received", this from the place that had already been described by the US Government as the "axis of evil", but they decided to believe Syria on this occasion on torture. So the idea of, "Oh, we are not doing that. We would not dream of sending someone back to somewhere where they might be tortured", is simply inaccurate. Put differently, I think they feel that the British public perhaps does not mind so much because they assume that those people deserve to have whatever happens to them happening to them, and that is a quite different argument which I would like to hear rather more bluntly put by the British Government. If that is what they are thinking, then they should say that and not pretend that the torture will not in fact take place.

  Ms Allen: On the use of airspace, I have nothing to add to that except to thank the Committee for asking those questions of the Foreign Secretary and pursuing these issues. I do not know whether, Chairman, it would be appropriate to comment on diplomatic assurances at this stage.

  Q26 Chairman: You can do that now, yes.

  Ms Allen: I think that in any previous year that we have been in front of the Committee we would have been congratulating the UK Government on its programme of work to eradicate torture around the world, and, unfortunately, and quite shockingly, we cannot be in that position this year because of the practice of diplomatic assurances. Those assurances have already been signed with Jordan and Libya and we understand they are to be pursued next with Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. As Steve Crawshaw has said, we consider these assurances not to be worth the paper that they are written on. Just to let you know in terms of our concerns about Libya, we are dealing at the moment with the case of Mahmoud Mohamed Boushima, who left this country to return to Libya. He had been here since 1981 following his opposition to the Libyan regime. On 10 July he went back to Libya with assurances from the Libyan Government that he would be safe. He has been detained by agents of the Internal Security Agency. He has been held incommunicado. His family do not know where he is and have had no contact with him. He has no access to lawyers. He has been in that situation for four months. That is the Libyan Government that our government is signing diplomatic assurances with and intending to return people to. In Jordan we have evidence of torture, ill-treatment, incommunicado detention, especially of political offenders, and I think that anybody who would be returned from this country would certainly fall into those categories. We find the approach of the UK Government to diplomatic assurances on the issue of torture to be an absolute coach and horses through any attempt to eradicate torture and in fact to give succour to those regimes that do practice torture; so we are deeply shocked by this turn of events in terms of the foreign policy of this country.

  Q27 Chairman: It has been reported that the UN Commission on Human Rights is inquiring into the   British Government's role in extraordinary rendition. Do you have any evidence that that is happening?

  Mr Hancock: I believe it is the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Terrorism which was created by the Commission on Human Rights, and, yes, I do understand that they are doing a general inquiry into counter-terrorist measures and how they comply with human rights and that as part of that he is looking into extraordinary rendition and indeed the UK.

  Q28 Chairman: Do you have any indication of when they are going to produce a report?

  Mr Hancock: No, I would think there will need to be a report back to the Commission next year, but I do not have any more information on timing.

  Mr Crawshaw: As the Committee will perhaps be aware, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Novak, has been absolutely clear-cut. The man, if you like, with the international authority on the issue of torture has been very, very clear-cut on how unacceptable the diplomatic assurances are, and it was dismaying, and it was the first time I have seen a British government minister being so publicly contemptuous of a senior UN official. We have sadly seen in other countries that one has had that response, but it was a determination not to hear what Manfred Novak was saying on this which was very, very clear-cut. I would be very pleased to be able to say something on the torture issue about the UK silence on US abuses, but you may be coming to it. If not, can I say my two seconds worth?

  Q29 Chairman: Yes, say it now.

  Mr Crawshaw: I have written it, but I think it is so important. I never expected to be so shocked by what I read in this Human Rights Report, which has so much to be welcomed within it, as the inaccurate characterisation of the US inquiries into the abuses and torture, not just at Abu Graib but also elsewhere, suggesting that these have been "substantial inquiries" which have "prosecuted and punished those responsible" is utterly inaccurate, and we have now seen recently that the US, with the latest wave of revelations, which Human Rights Watch partly helped to bring to the public arena after the person who tried privately to do so was knocked back by his superiors—the UK Government not only fails to comment, which was the problem we had with Guanta«namo, but actually characterises the problem as though it has been addressed, and it simply has not. I find it extraordinary.

  Chairman: Thank you; that is a useful introduction to Richard Younger-Ross who is going to ask some question about Iraq.

  Q30 Richard Younger-Ross: In Iraq there are still a number of detainees held by the US and others. My understanding is that the holding of these is illegal under the Geneva Convention, which only applies if detention without charge occurs in the case of international armed conflict or occupation. Can you outline what your view on that is and, in particular, how you believe those who are still being held are being treated? Has the abuse of them occurred earlier? Has that abuse ended?

  Mr Hancock: I would think that the US and, indeed, UK governments would point to the fact that the power to detain security detainees was part of an exchange of letters between the governments of Iraq and the Government of the US and the multinational forces there at the time of the UK resolution that authorised the handover from occupation to the interim governments. At the time Amnesty International had a range of concerns about this, including who has responsibility for treatment of these detainees, who has oversight of them? There is a range of questions there. I will look at how live those concerns still are, whether we have been reassured, and let you have further information on that. We are still concerned about the way in which detainees are being treated. We do not think, as Steve touched on just now, that all the inquiries and all of the learning about Abu Graib has been done, particularly by the US Government, and so in no way would we say we are comfortable with the US in particular continuing to hold detainees.

  Q31 Richard Younger-Ross: You say that you are not comfortable. Do you have any evidence, or any hard evidence, that abuses are still taking place?

   Mr Hancock: It is difficult to come by, because we are unable to get into Iraq; but certainly people who do come out talk about ill-treatment.

  Mr Crawshaw: What we do of course have evidence of, and some of that came out yesterday, is that in Iraqi custody there are some very, very serious abuses going on. More of that came out yesterday. We had done a report on that in January, which both the British authorities and indeed the Iraqis were saying they were taking very seriously, but the problem is still absolutely endemic in Iraq itself.

  Q32 Richard Younger-Ross: They said they were taking it seriously. Do you believe that the British Government is doing enough?

  Mr Crawshaw: On the Iraqi custody problem?

  Q33 Richard Younger-Ross: Yes.

  Mr Crawshaw: On the Iraqi custody, I think that the British Government did play a positive role. There is of course a problem, not specifically now with the British but certainly again with the Americans. The American abuses that they have themselves carried out make it extraordinarily difficult for the Americans then to play a leading role, as they might have been able to do in the past, of saying, "This is not the way a modern civilized society should be behaving", and it has become almost part of the pattern, if you like. But on the narrow point, we were—I have put it in my written submission but I am happy publicly to flag it here again—pleased that the British Government took very seriously the revelations in our report and were seeking to address them. There is no question that not enough has been done.

  Q34 Richard Younger-Ross: Moving on to Saddam's trial, I understand that the trial has now been suspended because of fears over safety which followed the abduction and murder of Saadan Sughaiyer al-Janabi, who was a lawyer representing one of the ousted Iraq president's co-defendants. Do you feel that the trial should have been suspended? How do you think that trial should now progress?

  Ms Allen: We, from Amnesty, had observers at the first day of the trial on 20 October, and were very encouraged by that first day of the trial and the reception amongst the Iraqi population about Saddam being brought to account. The trial was then adjourned so that the defence would have further time with the evidence, and we were very pleased that that had happened. I think that the murder of some of the lawyers involved is deeply to be regretted, and I think that the court needs to consider what protection it needs to be able to restart this process; because it is absolutely important that Saddam Hussein is brought to account. We would also, in terms of that particular trial, very clearly say that we would hope that the UK Government would exert its influence to the utmost to ensure that the death sentence is not delivered to Saddam Hussein.

  Q35 Richard Younger-Ross: A number of human rights organisations and political parties believe that there should be an extraction process for the troops out of Iraq. However, others fear that if there is an extraction process there will be less stability and greater human rights abuses during that process. Have you looked at that, and what is your view in terms of what is likely to happen to human rights in Iraq, if and when the troops start to withdraw?

  Mr Crawshaw: From Human Rights Watch's point of view it is a political question. It is clearly a very important political question. Both the coalition forces and the Iraqis themselves need to understand that one of the bases for any kind of security has to be an observance of the rule of law. We saw an extraordinary US failure on this in the period immediately after the fall of Saddam, and somehow believing that short cuts could be taken there. We see it now with the Iraqi authorities, with the kind of torture and so on that we have seen. I think that it would not be for us to judge when is the right moment for an international force to be there or not to be there; but whoever is there and responsible needs to understand that if you have a situation of enormous insecurity, which clearly is the case in Iraq at the moment, the way past that is not to short-cut and think that you can use violent methods or a lack of due process. To pick up also on your question on Saddam—again it is a pity to flag things afterwards but, frankly, these were things that we were flagging in advance—it does emphasise how important are the issues of security, both for lawyers but also for witnesses. Thank God, we have not yet had problems of the lethal kind with witnesses; but that is something which we flag very strongly: that this matters enormously. It is not just what happens in the courtroom; outside the courtroom becomes just as important for that trial to continue. It does seem to us that beyond welcoming, as Amnesty does, the trial itself, we have had concerns about some of the standards of proof required; but broadly we welcome the fact that a trial is happening. Certainly, if people are going to be killed for giving testimony or for defending some of the defendants, that does not help anybody forward at all.

  Ms Allen: On the FCO report and the entry in terms of Iraq, from Amnesty we would question the broadly positive tone of that entry. We consider, as Human Rights Watch does, that the security situation in the country is dire; there have been no reductions in terrorist attacks, and we have reported recently on the activities of armed groups. Like Human Rights Watch, I think that it is a judgment which it is impossible for us to be making; but what we would want to ensure is that the concerns about the human rights of Iraqi citizens are at the centre of those decisions and the way in which they are made, and that they are demonstrably at the centre of those decisions and the way in which they are made.

  Q36 Richard Younger-Ross: Finally on Saddam's trial, do you feel that other charges should have been brought? Do you have any fears about the charges that have been brought?

  Ms Allen: No, we see some very clear charges being brought of alleged murders, and we are very happy to see those brought before the court. If there are future charges, then those should take their place too.

  Q37 Chairman: Switching focus, the Human Rights Annual Report of the FCO talks about the revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. Do you have any concerns that, although the process of democratic change there has been very welcome, there are outstanding human rights problems? I know Human Rights Watch has commented on this. I would be interested to have a perception from you as to how you see the process going on now.

  Mr Crawshaw: Clearly there are lots of problems but again, as a human rights organisation, one does grasp at the times when you can say that the glass is at least half-full and not pretty much on empty. Broadly, the fact that those changes have taken place is to be welcomed. In other words, Georgia has moved forward from where it was before. There were huge problems there. Ukraine ditto. Kyrgyzstan is in a much more ambiguous position. In effect, we have two governments in Kyrgyzstan at the moment, fighting with each other for the battle of the soul, as it were. Are there problems still? Yes, absolutely. Georgia would be a case in point. We had widespread torture continuing after their peaceful revolution, and so things need to be addressed. One thing that we at Human Rights Watch certainly notice—since we take our victories where we can, as it were—is that the response to our concerns is very, very different in tone from what it was before. That may be different from reacting in deeds, but there is a willingness to engage with the issues: a broad understanding that human rights matter, in a way that some of the other central Asian states, which still have their old Soviet leaders running them—and in some ways more brutal even than during the Soviet era—do not. Those have not yet had change and clearly are a source of instability themselves. The very fact of that repression is a source of instability, undoubtedly.

  Q38 Chairman: I want to switch focus to a number of other countries. Can we ask you about your assessment of human rights in Turkey? Clearly they have improved enough, and quite significantly, for the EU to open accession talks. What would you regard as the priority areas? Do you think that if the EU goes cold on Turkey's membership, under the Austrian presidency or later, this will act as a disincentive to improvements in Turkey?

  Ms Allen: What I would say from Amnesty International is that we have welcomed the Turkish Government's commitment to bring their laws and their practices into line with human rights. We very much welcomed the ending of the death penalty and some real progress that has been made over the last couple of years in Turkey, as that country in particular has sought to meet the Copenhagen principles. What we feel at the moment is that there has perhaps been a slowing of the reform process. What we think the priorities should be are the creation of effective human rights institutions. We would like to see an independent police complaints commission that could investigate torture and ill-treatment, particularly perpetrated by the police forces. We welcome the Turkish penal code but, again, we have seen the very high profile case recently of the writer Orhan Pamuk for "insulting Turkishness". We have also welcomed the Turkish signature to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.

  Chairman: There is a division. We hope that we have only one, but we are not certain about that. We will break for 15 minutes. If there are two divisions, it will be longer.

  The Committee suspended from 3.37 pm to 4.01 pm for a division in the House.

  Q39 Chairman: I think, Ms Allen, you were in the middle of answering on Turkey.

  Ms Allen: Yes. We have very much welcomed some of the progress in Turkey. We are concerned that it might be slowing down. I outlined our particular concerns, and would just add that we are very concerned about the situation of women and ensuring that there is protection for women, particularly from violence in the family. Those are our main issues. You asked whether the accession should proceed and what would happen if it did not. What we are concerned to ensure is that Turkey continues its progress towards meeting the criteria, and certainly that those criteria are not reduced in any way. We very much hope that that progress will enable Turkey to continue its wish to join the EU.

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