The Man From Amnesty, He Says No

The reaction of our campaigns director, when I told him that the Abu Qatada deportation case was back in the news today, was priceless: “Oh God”. He was no doubt recalling one of his first  live TV interviews, a head-to-head with Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman at his rottweiller-like best, on the same issue. “The government says he’s a dangerous preacher of hate who wants to destroy our society,” said Paxman in his intro, “Can The Man From Amnesty convince us that Abu Qatada should stay in the UK?” Talk about a baptism of fire.

Abu Qatada has been called lots of things, including a “dangerous individual” by Home secretary Jacqui Smith today, following the Law Lords’ ruling granting the government’s appeal to deport him to Jordan. However he hasn’t been convicted in a fair trial of a criminal offence.  Here is where The Man From Amnesty comes in.

Under the Convention Against Torture, the UK (and any other signatory) is not allowed to send people to countries – like Jordan – where they face a real risk of torture. It’s a key aspect of the global protection against torture that the convention provides. However, the UK government has agreed ‘diplomatic assurances’ with Jordan and other countries like Algeria, whereby they promise not to torture these individuals if they are deported.

These diplomatic assurances are worthless: they are not enforceable in UK law, Jordanian law, Algerian law nor international law. They are not independently monitored. They are paper promises which simply cannot be relied on to protect people from torture. And by resorting to them, the UK is undermining the global ban on sending people to countries where they face a risk of torture.

It’s a strong and very valid argument – of course the UK government shouldn’t undermine international laws to stop torture. The problem comes from the nature of the allegations against Abu Qatada: many people just don’t care about what happens to him. In radio interviews I’ve repeatedly been asked “why should we respect his rights when he doesn’t respect ours?”

These are the least comfortable interviews to do for Amnesty. We don’t really do ‘fluffy’, but at least when we’re talking about a brave journalist locked up for writing an article about democracy, it’s easy to get the public onside.

But to some extent it’s what makes our intervention all the more important. Firstly these are only allegations against Abu Qatada. If he is suspected of a terrorist offence he should be charged and tried, and jailed if he’s found guilty. He hasn’t been.

Secondly and very importantly, you simply can’t pick and choose who has human rights. If you’re a human, you’ve got ‘em, simple as that. No matter how nasty people say you are, you don’t lose them. Everyone should get a fair trial, no-one should be tortured. It’s very straightforward and it sometimes enrages politicians and the media, who are more inclined to pick and choose their ‘deserving’ cases. In a way it’s the difference between principles and politics.

So if you see The Man From Amnesty looking a bit nervous on Newsnight tonight, please hear him out.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
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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