Joint Committee On Human Rights Eighteenth Report

7. Submission from the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture

The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture (the "Medical Foundation") is a human rights organisation that works exclusively with survivors of torture and organised violence, both adults and children. It has received more than 38,000 referrals since it began in 1985. The Foundation offers its patients medical and psychological treatment and documentation of the signs and symptoms of torture—providing some 1,000 forensic medical reports each year—as well as a range of therapeutic services.

1. The Medical Foundation is concerned by the decision of SIAC in the case of Jamal Ben Miloud Amar Ajouaou v. Secretary of State for the Home Department, 29th October 2003, and in particular, by the Commission's seeming willingness to accept and consider in its deliberations evidence which had been obtained through the use of torture. The UN Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984) (the "UN Convention"), to which the UK is a signatory, provides at Article 15 that "Each State Party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings." The decision of SIAC in this case is therefore in clear contravention of international law.

Furthermore, Article 55 of the United Nations Charter obliges all States party to promote universal respect for, and to observe, human rights and fundamental freedoms. The acceptance and use of evidence obtained through torture is inconsistent with this obligation, since rather than condemn the practice, the effect may be one of implicit endorsement.

Finally on this point, evidence obtained by torture is notoriously unreliable. This was demonstrated most recently in the case of the British and Canadian expatriates Sandy Mitchell and William Sampson, who were wrongly accused of the murder of a second Britain in a bomb attack in Saudi Arabia. The two were convicted and sentenced to death solely on the basis of false confession evidence extracted under torture, and were held in prison for nearly three years before their convictions were quashed. A further four Britains and a Belgian national were arrested and convicted at the same time, again solely on the basis of false confession evidence extracted under torture, following separate bombing incidents in Riyadh. All of the convictions have now been quashed and the accused released. It is clear from this that evidence obtained by torture is both legally and ethically unsound, and its use must be prohibited in all circumstances.

2. In addition, the Medical Foundation is concerned about the negative mental health consequences of indefinite detention without trial, as has already been, in part, illustrated by the case of "G". The Medical Foundation believes that the nature of detention under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 is particularly likely to cause psychological problems:

i.  Indefinite detention with limited communication about the progression of the case is more difficult to endure. A report by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission of Australia has suggested that both indeterminacy and lack of control over the legal case can act as risk factors for mental distress.[219]

ii.  Detention without proper trial can increase feelings of injustice, frustration and despair, thereby impacting on mental health.

iii.  Prolonged periods of detention (over months) increase the risk of adverse and disabling psychological consequences.

iv.  Detention under anti-terrorism legislation is subjecting individuals to being labelled a "terrorist" without first establishing that conviction. Such a label can in itself do harm.

3. Recommendations:

i.  The UK Government should legislate to prohibit the use in any UK court of any information obtained under torture, whether confessions or intelligence information.

ii.  The UK Government should ensure that no prisoners held under UK jurisdiction, in the UK or abroad, are kept in secret locations or are not notified to the appropriate independent inspectorate, whether HM Chief Inspector of Prisons in the UK or, with reference to prisoners held by British armed forces abroad, the International Committee of the Red Cross.

iii.  Prisoners held under anti-terrorism legislation who are subject to indefinite detention without trial should have access to psychiatric assessment and treatment from an independent psychiatrist or psychologist of their own choosing.

iv.  All prisoners held under anti-terrorism legislation should have their detention subject to meaningful, substantive and regular review by the courts. Such review should include consideration of information provided on the mental health and well being of the detainee.

v.  Mechanisms should be put in place to identify those detainees who have previously been subject to torture in other countries. This group is at increased risk of mental ill health, and as such should be monitored and measures taken to protect their health. This would include access to appropriate treatments.

28 June 2004

2 219  19 Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission 1998, Canberra HREOC 1998: 167, 153, 154, 218. Back

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