Inquire within upon everything

'Inquire Within Upon Everything' was, apparently, a Victorian compendium of advice on every conceivable subject, from alleviating aches and pains to social etiquette. (It was reportedly the initial inspiration for Tim-Berners Lee when he was developing the prototype for the Internet). However when it comes to our own UK government, it seems that there’s something of a reluctance to look within – or certainly to tell anyone else what they see there.

I’m referring (rather obliquely) to consistent and repeated allegations that the UK has been involved in human rights abuses overseas, including torture, rendition and secret detention, since 11 September 2001.

Yesterday Amnesty was one of several human rights organisations who joined forces with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Renditions to call for a full, independent and impartial inquiry into these abuses.The letter set out five key points regarding how such an inquiry should be constituted – you can read it on the APPG’s site here.

Today, we’ve fleshed-out the call for an inquiry yet further, in a new briefing that outlines ten questions Amnesty feels an Inquiry should ask.

The case for an inquiry is made all the more compelling by the government’s complete failure to show any real commitment to transparency. The authorities have seemingly used every means at their disposal to avoid revealing the truth about UK involvement in abuses overseas. Even the Intelligence and Security Committee, an oversight body whose independence has questioned, has been critical of the delays in publishing revised ‘torture guidance’ for security personnel overseas. To date we still haven’t seen these new guidelines, let alone the previous ones that were in place back in 2002.  Then there’s the government’s attempts to have victims’ civil court cases, which again concern credible evidence of serious human rights abuses, heard in secret.

The UK has a duty under domestic and international human rights law to conduct such an inquiry. But more importantly, the public needs to be assured that UK personnel are acting within the law and with respect for basic human rights.

Here are the five guiding principles for an inquiry as set out in the joint letter. The inquiry should:

- be led by a judge or former judge. It should benefit from appropriate legal representation on the inquiry’s panel. This is essential to give the inquiry independence and legitimacy;
- be public, with as much evidence as possible heard in public. The government should disclose all relevant documents to the inquiry, and the head of the inquiry must have the power to then decide what should be made public;
- aim to achieve maximum possible disclosure;
- publish a report, making any necessary recommendations including on changes to law and / or policy;
- Consider any other such matters as it considers appropriate and accept and consider written submissions from interested parties.

And here are the ten questions, as set out in today’s Amnesty briefing, that an inquiry should seek to answer:

1. What have been the UK government’s policies and practices in response to grave
violations of human rights such as torture or other ill-treatment, enforced
disappearances, renditions and unlawful detentions perpetrated by the USA and other states against people, including UK nationals, held overseas since 11 September 2001? Have they changed since then? If so, when, how and why?
2. In relation to seeking to obtain, receiving and using information that may have been extracted under torture or otherwise obtained unlawfully, what was the UK government’s policy and practice prior to 11 September 2001? Have these changed since then? If so, when, how and why?
3. What steps did the UK government take when in 2003 the ICRC first raised concern about grave human rights abuses at the hands of Coalition Forces in Iraq, including in relation to torture practices at Abu Ghraib?
4. What were the terms of the agreement/s the UK signed at the request of the US
administration in the aftermath of 11 September 2001 purportedly under the principle
of collective defence under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty?1
5. Were there further bilateral secret agreements on cooperation in the context of the US-led “war on terror” between the UK and the USA, and if so, what did they entail?
6. What oversight mechanisms were in place to ensure that adequate record-keeping was maintained with respect to counter-terrorism policy and practices? In cases where record-keeping was poor or non-existent, how does the government explain these inadequacies?
7. How many times since 11 September 2001, and precisely in what circumstances, have authorisations under section 7 of the Intelligence Services Act 1994 been issued?
8. What was the guidance regarding the role of the security services in the treatment and interviewing of detainees held overseas prior to 11 September 2001? Has it changed since then? And if so, when, how many times, in what respects and why?
9. What has been the role of military intelligence agencies and agents in all and any of the above?
10. What has been the role of lawyers and civil servants in all and any of the above?

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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