Amnesty appalled by major parties' approval of policy that could expose more people to risk of torture

Amnesty International has condemned the recommendation of the UK counter-terrorism review that supports and seeks to extend the use of diplomatic assurances to return people to countries where they risk being tortured. Amnesty expressed concern that this worrying measure was supported by all three of the UK’s major political parties.

The counter-terrorism review rejected submissions from human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, that such “no torture” promises from governments of countries where torture and ill-treatment are systematic or widespread are inherently unreliable and do not sufficiently protect against torture and other ill-treatment.

The UK has been Europe’s most aggressive and influential proponent of these dangerous deals, which are unreliable and unenforceable.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“The counter-terrorism review’s proposal to extend deportations with assurances could expose more people to the risk of torture – yet it passed by almost unnoticed and with no opposition. Maybe it’s a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.

“It’s appalling that all three of the UK’s main political parties are happy to wave through a policy that could lead to people being sent to countries where they risk being tortured.

“The UK is pioneering the use of these unreliable, unenforceable ‘no torture’ deals. In doing so it is undermining the UN Convention Against Torture. Diplomatic assurances should have no place in a country that is genuinely committed to the fight against torture.”

The UK government has sought to deport foreign nationals accused of terrorism-related activity by a variety of means, to a number of states with poor human rights records. To date, the UK has formal ‘memoranda of understanding’ (MoUs) with Lebanon, Jordan, Libya and Ethiopia which contain assurances regarding the treatment of such deportees.

The UK has also negotiated bilateral assurances with the Algerian government on a case by case basis to cover individual deportations. In recent months, the UK government has additionally sought to deport individuals suspected of terrorism-related activity to Pakistan.

The UK Home Office review said that monitoring arrangements with local human rights organisations in countries such as Ethiopia would ensure that any mistreatment would be quickly identified and would enable the UK to raise its concerns about mistreatment to the country in question.

Amnesty International considers that no system of post-return monitoring of individuals will make assurances an acceptable alternative to rigorous respect for the absolute ban on returning people to countries where they may face torture or other ill-treatment. Amnesty believes that the UK government’s position ignores the experience and concerns of international human rights organisations. The Home Office review fails to appreciate the context in which torture occurs in countries where it is systematic or widespread. The climate of secrecy, impunity and deniability in such situations means that assurances cannot reliably mitigate against the risk of torture and ill-treatment.  

As the review itself conceded, where an assurance is breached it is simply left to the governments involved to voluntarily assume responsibility for investigating the breach and hold those responsible to account. Neither government is likely to wish to acknowledge, especially in any public way, that their actions have led to the torture or abuse of a prisoner. Relying only on the good faith of the states implicated also compromises the ability of torture victims to secure their right to reparation and redress. It ignores the fact that, even leaving aside physical consequences, the psychological harm to a person who has been subjected to torture can never fully be repaired.

The use of ‘diplomatic assurances’ by European countries has been criticised by a number of intergovernmental bodies, including United Nations special procedures. Committees of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament have also criticised diplomatic assurances and have expressly called on member states not to use them.

The UK counter-terrorism review also announced the repeal of control orders and their replacement with "Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures", or Tpims. While less drastic than the previous control orders regime, the new system still retains significant restrictions on the rights to liberty, privacy, expression, movement and association.

No details of any changes to the use of secret evidence and the Special Advocates regime were announced. Amnesty believes that if people will still face the consequences of being labelled ‘suspected terrorists’ and subjected to special restrictions on their lives, without a fair trial that includes a chance to know the allegations against them in enough detail to have a real chance of challenging the government’s case, this would not be consistent with respect for human rights.

The Home Office review also examined stop and search powers under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, the length of pre-charge detention, the use of communications data including under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and measures to deal with organisations that promote hatred or violence. Amnesty International is currently assessing the full recommendations of the review in detail.

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