Amnesty International today (3 February) responded to comments in Lord Carlile’s annual report on UK counter-terrorism legislation, in which he voiced strong support for the use of ‘diplomatic assurances’ to deport people to countries where they risk being tortured.
Amnesty maintains that these “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:
“It’s outrageous to suggest that the UK has become a safe haven for terrorists. We have some of the harshest counter-terrorism legislation in Europe.
“Lord Carlile should remember that if someone is planning a terrorist atrocity in the UK, they can be tried and sent to prison for a long time.
“That is the best way to deal with people who want to murder and maim innocent people – not trying to ship them off, without a trial, to countries where they face a real risk of torture.
“The global ban on deporting people to countries where they’re at risk of torture exists for a very good reason – to protect us all from the threat of being tortured.
“It’s an obligation under the UN Convention Against Torture and the European Convention of Human Rights. This is something that almost every country in the world has signed up to, not just the UK.
“Signing unenforceable ‘diplomatic assurances’ with countries known to use torture already undermines the international ban on this abhorrent practice. The UK should be supporting global efforts to eradicate torture, not trying to get round international law.”
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’s recent 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. In countries where it is systematic or widespread, torture takes place in a context of secrecy, impunity and deniability; in these situations assurances cannot reliably protect people from the risk of torture and ill-treatment.
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.
In his own report on the UK government’s recent Counter-Terrorism Review, former Director of Public Prosecutions Lord MacDonald of River Glaven QC said: “No civilised country should countenance the deportation of individuals to face torture or worse abroad”.