UK: Government's

Amnesty International today (23 February) released a damning 83-page report exposing the damaging effect of the UK's anti-terrorism policies on human rights.

Irene Khan, Amnesty International's Secretary General emphasised the extent of the organisation's concern: "There is now a dangerous imbalance between draconian actions the UK is taking in the name of security and its obligation to protect human rights. These measures tarnish the UK’s image and its ability to promote human rights abroad."

The new report presents a comprehensive analysis of the impact of the UK's anti-terrorism measures on human rights, and follows meetings with senior government ministers. The report also documents how the UK has tried to circumvent its obligations in relation to human rights abuses committed by UK armed forces in Iraq.

"The UK government has introduced sweeping and ill conceived measures that seriously undermine the rule of law," said Ms Khan.

The report criticises the UK government for its "Kafkaesque" practice of detaining foreign terrorist suspects for years on the basis of secret evidence. After a ruling by the Law Lords deeming their detention discriminatory and incompatible with the right to liberty, instead of releasing them, the government enacted legislation allowing the issue of "control orders" to restrict their liberty, movement and activities, whether they are UK nationals or not.

These people are effectively being persecuted, with devastating consequences for the men and their families. By failing to prosecute these people and instead placing them under "control orders" or seeking to deport them, the UK government is increasing the power of the executive and by-passing the courts.

"Most worrying of all has been the effort of the UK government to weaken the absolute ban on torture," declared Ms Khan.

Amnesty International criticised the UK government for seeking "diplomatic assurances" from governments known to have a record of torture in order to be able to deport foreign terrorist suspects to those countries. Agreements have already been signed with Jordan, Libya and Lebanon and are under negotiation with Algeria and Egypt.

The organisation called on the UK government to desist from such agreements (Memorandums of Understanding) with countries that have a known record of torture, and said it should instead focus its efforts on eradicating torture and ill-treatment by promoting systemic and legislative reform.

"In seeking special assurances, the UK is acknowledging that deportees are at risk of torture, but ignoring that these guarantees are unenforceable and not worth the paper they are written on. This is a shocking abrogation of responsibility and a massive blow to the international prohibition against torture and ill-treatment. The UK is setting an extremely dangerous precedent," said Ms Khan.

"Torture and ill-treatment is the ultimate corruption of humanity - the UK must not do anything to weaken the absolute ban on torture under international law."

The report coincides with growing demands for the closure of the US detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. Amnesty International reiterated its call for the closure of Guantánamo Bay and asked the UK to make its position clear.

"The UK should immediately take up the cases of at least eight UK residents who are still held at Guantánamo Bay. Guantánamo is not just an 'anomaly' as described by the Prime Minister, it is an aberration, and the UK should use its influence with the US to enforce its closure," said Ms Khan.

Amnesty International urged the UK government:

* to either prosecute the terrorist suspects it is holding or release them
* to desist from deporting people to countries where they may be at risk of torture
* to stop negotiating "diplomatic assurances" and instead promote institutional change in these countries, and
* to demand the release of British residents held in Guantánamo Bay and call for its closure.

The organisation warns that the global impact of the UK's counter-terrorism measures and its actions abroad should not be underestimated.

"The UK is undermining its ability to speak out on grave human rights situations that need its attention, such as Nepal and Sudan. Its moral authority is weakened if it does not set its record straight on its domestic counter-terrorism policies," said Ms Khan.

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