Written evidence from Sir Emyr Jones Parry,
Chairman of the Board of Trustees, REDRESS|
Thank you for inviting me to submit comments to the
Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) for its annual inquiry into the
FCO's human right work. I am delighted to do so in my capacity
as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of REDRESS.
I shall focus on some aspects of the recently published
Human Rights and Democracy: The 2010 Foreign and Commonwealth
Office Report ("the Report"). It is heartening to
read that the Coalition Government, in the words of the Foreign
Secretary in his Forward to the Report, "is determined
to strengthen the human rights work of the Foreign and Commonwealth
Office, as part of our commitment to a foreign policy that has
the practical promotion of human rights as part of its irreducible
During the last few years it has repeatedly been
brought home to me that while torture is something we all instinctively
abhor, and which is absolutely prohibited at all times and in
all places, it continues to be widely practiced. It is right,
therefore, for the scourge of torture to inform important sections
of the Report, including an examination of twenty-six states "where
we have the most serious wide-ranging human rights concerns."
Saudi Arabia is rightly
highlighted as one of those states, and here I believe it is important
for the FCO to take a more robust and consistent approach when
drawing attention to torture abroad, including when it concerns
our allies. While the Report covers the period January-December
2010, when applicable the problem of torture should be considered
in the context of it being a long-standing problem in some states,
as it is in Saudi Arabia. Thus in the case of Zimbabwe this aspect
is clearly recognised, it being stated "The use of torture
remains endemic across Zimbabwe..."
[emphasis added]. The section on torture in Saudi Arabia, on the
other hand, is muted and not contextualised: "There were
a number of cases of individuals alleging mistreatment at the
hands of Saudi authorities."
Regrettably, many torture related issues in Saudi Arabia are of
serious and long-standing concern as emerges, for example, from
the Committee Against Torture's July 2009 "List of issues"
for that country.
For several years REDRESS has had a specific interest
in Saudi Arabia as there are a number of British citizens who
have suffered torture there, including Ron Jones, Les Walker,
Sandy Mitchell and Bill Sampson; we have intervened in their case
pending before the European Court of Human Rights.
The failure of Saudi Arabia to acknowledge having tortured these
(and other) UK nationals, or to offer reparations to survivors,
or to bring the officials responsible to justice, illustrates
how important it is for the FCO to continue to put pressure on
Saudi Arabia to come to grips with this issue. REDRESS' founder,
Keith Carmichael, who was tortured in Saudi Arabia in the early
1980s, has never been compensated.
I also note that Bahrain is not one of the
states singled out. While the Report makes clear that the list
is not exhaustive, the fact of its omission is unfortunate, given
the history of torture there and the close links between Bahrain
and the UK. Even before the current uprising which commenced earlier
this year, torture was once more revealed as a serious problem
in August 2010 when 24 persons were detained and then put on trial
in October for political reasons, almost all of whom showed symptoms
of torture, including a dual UK-Bahraini national Jaffar Al-Hasabi,
another long-standing client of REDRESS.
These two states, only examples, do create the unfortunate
impression that less vigorous criticism is made of torture when
committed by our allies. Formulating British policy towards such
states is not easy, and of course there are complex factors to
be taken into account. But if we are to be consistent on our support
for human rights and our opposition to torture, then we should
not dilute the principle for pragmatic reasons. Egypt has
demonstrated how the West failed to be sufficiently robust on
values and rights, and tolerated policies and practices which
it has taken the courage of the people of Egypt to bring us closer
to ending them. Silence, defended by discrete diplomatic pressure
to make clear British opposition to torture, fails to put us publicly
on the right side of the argument and has demonstrably not produced
improvements within the countries concerned. (Incidentally, Egypt
is another state which is not specifically listed, although torture
has been a serious problem there for decades).
Turning to some thematic aspects of the Report, the
UK is rightly proud of the leading role it is playing in strengthening
the Optional Protocol (OPCAT) to the UN Convention against Torture
and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
(UNCAT). In this way the UK is making an important contribution
to Torture Prevention:
here we are a good example to other states.
Nevertheless, more could be done, and were the UK
to accept the individual petitions procedure under article 22
of UNCAT itself, this would send an important further message
in the international campaign against torture. The UK should therefore
be a good example here too, and by accepting the right of individual
petition help to strengthen the Committee Against Torture as the
institution created to develop international standards. Such a
step could positively impact on domestic jurisprudence abroad
and provide much needed acknowledgment of the harm suffered by
Deportations with Assurances
has arisen in the context of counter-terrorism when for evidential
reasons it has been decided that terrorist suspects present or
resident in the UK could not be brought to trial here. Dealing
with threats to our national security is essential but difficult,
and there are no easy solutions. However, enhancing the collection
of admissible evidence for prosecutions in terrorist-suspect cases,
for example through statutory changes relating to the use of intercept
evidence and/or post-charge questioning, could be viable alternatives
to "deportations with assurances." The Report does not
deal with such arguments.
REDRESS believes that there are fundamental problems
with deporting persons on the basis of assurances. Post-deportation
monitoring is not an adequate safeguard where torture is known
to be authorised, and raises the question whether detainees should
be returned to such regimes at all. Another related aspect of
concern is that the use of special advocates in closed deportation
proceedings also increases the difficulties in challenging evidence
that may have been obtained by torture.
The Report raises further counter-terrorism issues
under the rubrics Detainee package/The Detainee Inquiry/ Consolidated
guidance to security personnel.
My comments and concerns here can be summarised as follows:
Detainee (Gibson) Inquiry should explicitly include addressing
systemic problems and achieving truth and justice for victims.
the Inquiry sufficiently independent, open and transparent to
comply with human rights standards and obligations to properly
investigate allegations relating to torture? REDRESS and other
NGOs which have sought to clarify some of these issues are still
waiting for responses from the Inquiry's advisers.
time frame of one year to investigate and report may not be sufficient.
Inquiry's lack of statutory powers to compel the production of
documents and the attendance of witnesses, and the less than transparent
process of drawing up the protocol between the Government and
the Inquiry, are worrying; so too is the lack of clarity on what
will be heard in public and what will not be ie the processes
to deal with challenges by interested parties for disclosure of
documents and/or evidence led in secret.
requirement that UK security services must not proceed where they
"know or believe" that torture will occur (table in
paragraph 11 of the Guidance) is too narrow. It is not consistent
with the UK's obligations under UNCAT to absolutely prohibit torture
and not to be complicit in it; the Guidance should explicitly
prohibit an officer from proceeding where there is a serious or
real risk of torture.
an officer knows or believes that torture will take place, he
or she must report it but may, with authorisation, under the Guidelines
continue to co-operate with the foreign agencies responsible under
the apparent discretionary power given to Ministers (paragraph
14 of the Guidelines), which could lead to complicity in torture
contrary to the UNCAT as already referred to above.
guidance also allow officers to rely on assurance that detainees
will not be tortured (paragraph 17 of the Guidelines), but such
assurances may not be reliable and cannot provide absolute protection
from regimes which are known to authorise torture.
is concern that under s. 7 of the Intelligence Services Act 1994
the Home Secretary is empowered, by issuing authorisation warrants,
to condone what would be unlawful if done in the UK when it is
Green Paper will reportedly recommend that special advocates be
used in all legal proceedings, including civil cases, where
sensitive "national security" evidence is involved;
our concern is that this will further restrict access to relevant
facts and information in cases where torture is alleged, the disclosure
of which could be crucial for survivors seeking to enforce their
human rights in civil cases.
Another important section of the Report refers to
as part of the FCOs central work of promoting and protecting the
human rights of British national overseas. What is needed is an
explicit policy to make clear to all states that the mistreatment
of UK nationals in breach of international law will not be tolerated;
such a policy should include vigorous follow-up on all such allegations
even after the mistreatment ends and/or the victim is released
and/or the person has returned to the UK, including the effective
exercise of diplomatic protection.
Further, the UK's policy and practice of exercising
diplomatic protection in torture cases should be explained and
developed. Where UK nationals have been tortured abroad and have
been unable to obtain reparation through local remedies, diplomatic
protection should be more than a theoretical avenue for justice,
and the FCO should provide annual relevant statistics about allegations
of torture and ill-treatment abroad, the number of cases, action
taken, and outcomes.
I would also like to raise some points regarding
UK continues to consider that the UNCAT does not apply extra-territorially;
this is contradictory in both law and principle, at the very least
to the extent which the UK's highest court found in Al Skeini
that article 3 of the ECHR does have extra-territorial application
to detainees held in custody by UK personnel anywhere abroad.
UK detentions in Iraq ceased on 1 January 2009, issues arising
from many alleged incidents in Iraq prior to that date have yet
to be fully resolved; there are also issues still arising or pending
from the Al Skeini case and other cases, and inquiries
such as the Baha Mousa Public Inquiry.
Afghanistan the refoulement issues raised and decided in
the Evans case concerning the transfer of detainees to
the Afghan authorities should be mentioned, along with details
of post-transfer visits and monitoring.
Finally, I wish to mention Lord Peter Archer's private
member's Bill, the Torture (Damages) Bill passed in the Lords
but not in the Commons. The Joint Committee on Human Rights in
2009 called on the previous Government to support it,
but it did not. The Bill was re-introduced in the Lords in November
2010 where it is awaiting its second reading.
In declining to support the Bill, the previous Government
said "it remains of the opinion that the Torture Damages
Bill would not be of practical assistance ... and would not live
up to its promise of providing victims of torture with redress
I disagree, and REDRESS believes the Coalition Government should
re-assess how this Bill could be a very significant and legitimate
weapon in the arsenal of those such as the UK committed to the
fight against torture on all fronts.
Thank you once more for inviting me to comment.
20 June 2011
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Available at http://tb.ohchr.org/default.aspx?country=sa Back
See http://www.redress.org/Jones%20v%20UK_%20Mitchell_and_Others_v_UK24%20February_2010.pdf Back
Torture prevention is dealt with at pages 20-21 of the Report. Back
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Pages 216 et seq Back
See Closing the Impunity Gap, 11 August 2009, available
The Government's Response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights,
October 2009, at page 12, available at