For Immediate Release
UK: Make Rights a Priority at Home and Abroad
New Government Should Open Inquiry into Allegations of Complicity in Torture
LONDON - The new Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
should re-establish Britain's reputation as a champion of human rights
by opening a judicial inquiry into allegations of complicity in torture
and by affirming support for the Human Rights Act, Human Rights Watch
"The two parties in government have indicated they are in
substantial agreement on civil liberties," said Tom Porteous, London
director at Human Rights Watch. "They should translate that into
practice by making a clean break with the previous government's abusive
approach to counterterrorism and by strengthening the UK's role in
bringing to justice those responsible for international crimes at home
Allegations of complicity by UK intelligence services in the
kidnapping and torture of terrorism suspects, including UK nationals,
have badly damaged the UK's reputation as a nation that respects human
rights, Human Rights Watch said. The Parliamentary Joint Committee on
Human Rights (JCHR) and the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee
have both issued critical reports about this issue. The JCHR, the All
Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition, the Liberal
Democrat Party and several Conservative Members of Parliament have
called for a judicial inquiry.
"An abusive approach to counterterrorism is also a counterproductive
approach," Porteous said. "There's an urgent need to open a thorough
and rapid judicial inquiry into these allegations of torture. Anyone
found responsible for wrongdoing should be held accountable."
In opposition the Conservative and the Liberal Democrat parties both
called for a review of counterterrorism legislation. Human Rights Watch
urged the government make good on its promises of reform by allowing
the 28 days pre-charge detention power to lapse when it comes up for
annual renewal in July, and by committing itself in the first Queen's
speech to the repeal of the discredited system of control orders.
A comprehensive and speedy review of counterterrorism laws and
policies should include a reconsideration of the policy under which
terrorism suspects can be deported to countries where they risk being
tortured, Human Rights Watch said. Research by Human Rights Watch has
shown that the policy, known as "deportations with assurances,"
breaches the UK's human rights obligations.
Human Rights Watch also urged the incoming coalition government to
affirm its support for the Human Rights Act. Since it was introduced by
the Labour government in 1998, the Human Rights Act has delivered
practical benefits and protections against excessive state power.
However, it has come under sustained attack both from the media and
from politicians of the right and left since it was introduced in 1998.
The Liberal Democrat Party has supported the Human Rights Act, but the
Conservative Party pledged in its manifesto to replace it with a Bill
"The attacks on the Human Rights Act are mostly based on myths and
misconceptions," said Porteous. "The Act reflects long-standing
traditions on law in the UK, including the presumption of innocence,
the right to liberty, the right to a fair hearing and the prohibition
of torture. The new ministers should pledge to support the Human Rights
Act and govern according to its principles. Scrapping the Act would
signal that the UK was turning its back on human rights."
One achievement of UK policy under Labour was its support for
international criminal justice, including its support for the creation
of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002. Human Rights Watch
urged the new government to reaffirm its support for the ICC and for
the broader principles of international justice that underpin it,
namely accountability for grave international crimes such as torture
and war crimes. There has been growing evidence during the past year of
torture, deaths and other serious abuses of detainees by British forces
during the occupation of Iraq.
The new government should ensure that British nationals or anyone in
British territory against whom there is evidence of responsibility for
international crimes are investigated and either prosecuted in British
courts or extradited to countries that will prosecute them. Currently
the Attorney General, a government minister, has the power to veto any
prosecution for international crimes.
"The UK needs to ensure that accountability for war crimes is not
just for a few African warlords and dictators," Porteous said. "The new
government should ensure that British police and prosecutors can and
will independently investigate and prosecute those responsible for
torture and other international crimes without interference from
The UK has been considering proposals to curtail the authority of
British courts to issue arrest warrants initiated by private parties
under universal jurisdiction, the legal principle by which certain
crimes, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, can be
prosecuted in any jurisdiction. Human Rights Watch urged the government
to retain the right for private individuals to apply for such warrants,
which are only issued after a senior judge is satisfied that there is
credible evidence of wrongdoing, and which serve as an important
mechanism to allow prompt action when alleged war criminals are present
in the UK.
An important concern of UK voters during the election campaign was
immigration and asylum. But there has been little attention from
politicians or the media to the human rights costs of current UK
immigration and asylum policies. In particular, Human Rights Watch's
research has shown that the "Detained Fast Track" asylum procedure is
dysfunctional and unfit to deal with complex refugee claims that go
through it regularly. Human Rights Watch urged the new government to
reform this part of the asylum system in accordance with the right to a
full and fair examination of asylum claims, and to ensure that any
changes to the asylum system enhance access to protection for those
fleeing persecution overseas.
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Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.