UK: Detainee inquiry terms of reference and protocol fall short of human rights standards

The UK government today issued the Terms of Reference and Protocol for the Detainee Inquiry, which was announced by Prime Minister David Cameron exactly one year ago.

Amnesty International is deeply disappointed that the United Kingdom government appears to have squandered the opportunity to address a mounting pile of allegations of involvement of its agents and policy-makers in the torture and ill-treatment of detainees, in a way that ensures public confidence.

Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Programme Director, said:

 “Unfortunately, the UK appears to have let slip this crucial opportunity to ensure genuine accountability.  

“The UK government could have set an example by establishing an impartial, independent, thorough and effective inquiry, but instead has set the stage for an inquiry shrouded in secrecy that cannot possibly promise true accountability.”

The organisation is also deeply disappointed that the government has the final say regarding what previously undisclosed information the Inquiry may disclose to the public and that the protocol does not explicitly provide for judicial review of those decisions.

Nicola Duckworth said:

“Government policy and the involvement of its agents in torture and other serious human rights violations are the primary subjects of the inquiry.

“If the government has complete control over what information the Inquiry can disclose to the public, the public’s perception of the effectiveness and independence of the inquiry will be profoundly compromised.

“The protocol effectively leaves the Inquiry panel and staff with their hands tied.”

Amnesty International is also gravely disappointed that the government continues to take the view that the Inquiry was not established “to comply with or respond to any perceived international obligation”.

Nicola Duckworth said:

“The UK’s obligation to investigate torture and other serious human rights violations is not a question of perception.

“A proper accountability process into allegations of complicity in torture must uphold the UK’s international human rights obligations; what is proposed cannot be a valid substitute for that.”

Amnesty International welcomes the focus on government policy and the need to learn from past mistakes. However the UK must also investigate and hold individuals responsible for their involvement in the torture or ill-treatment of detainees.

Amnesty International notes with regret that the Inquiry’s protocol largely treats the alleged victims the same as other witnesses or members of the public.

Nicola Duckworth said:

“The victims have a special stake in the conclusions of the inquiry and should have standing that reflects this.

“The Inquiry protocol’s failure to provide alleged victims with such standing strips them of full and effective participation in the proceedings.”

Amnesty International is examining carefully the two documents and a number of related letters from the Detainee Inquiry to Amnesty International and other NGOs received today, and will respond in further detail shortly.

Amnesty International made detailed submissions to the Detainee Inquiry along with eight other non-governmental organisations following its announcement and prior to the publication of the Terms of Reference and Protocol. Amnesty International has also raised its concerns in writing about the scope, purpose and conduct of the Detainee Inquiry with the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary.

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