Global Security: Afghanistan and Pakistan - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

Letter to the Chairman of the Committee from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

  In your letter of 2 December, you asked whether a statement by Defence Secretary John Hutton in his letter to the Chairman of the House of Commons Defence Committee, dated 17 November, represents the view of the FCO's legal advisers. John Hutton had written to the Committee with this information in order to follow up on evidence on Iraq and Afghanistan, taken on 28 October. In the passage cited in your letter, John Hutton confirmed that:

    "The UK does not have legal obligations towards the treatment of individuals we have detained once they have been transferred to the custody of another state, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan or thorough the normal judicial extradition process".

      I can confirm that the FCO shares the same view as the Ministry of Defence on this issue, namely that the UK does not have legal obligations towards the treatment of individuals we have detained in Afghanistan and Iraq once they have been transferred to Afghan or Iraqi custody. The Foreign Affairs Committee will appreciate that HMG takes meticulous care that any transfer takes place in accordance with the strategic framework of Memoranda of Understanding and other assurances, so that we can be abundantly certain that it is consistent with any applicable international human rights obligations of the United Kingdom.

      Both the Iraq and Afghanistan arrangements ensure that detainees transferred by the UK are treated in accordance with those States' respective international human rights obligations including prohibiting torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. We no longer hold any detainees in Iraq. In the case of Afghanistan they also commit the Afghan Government to allow access to transferred detainees by the ICRC and UK and other officials and not to transfer to another state without the prior written agreement of the UK. In Afghanistan, the Royal Military Police conduct routine visits to transferred detainees and the UK Government has committed several millions of pounds to train Afghan prison officers, including in human rights, and build secure and humane prison and detention facilities for the Afghan Government.

      Consistent with the statement by John Hutton about which you have asked, we consider that ongoing monitoring of and access to individuals, transferred in the above circumstances and who remain in Iraqi or Afghan detention, does not reflect a continuing legal obligation on the part of the United Kingdom in respect of such individuals. It is nonetheless a vital part of the continuing diplomatic engagement to ensure the effective operation and implementation of the aforementioned strategic framework. This framework is amplified by the work we and coalition partners carry out with the Iraqi and Afghan authorities in the justice and rule of law fields.

    24 January 2009

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