UK: Wake-up call to UK government on torture

With recent press reports of alleged deaths in custody after torture and beatings at the US airbase at Bagram, of a Spanish newspaper editor being tortured in Spain and a senior German police officer suggesting that torture should be used in certain cases, Amnesty International believes that hard-won protections against human rights abuse are in imminent danger of being eroded.

Following US press reports in December 2002 that the US Central Intelligence Agency was using 'stress and duress tactics' to interrogate suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners at Afghanistan's Bagram air base, at a US base at Diego Garcia (a British Indian Ocean Territory), and in other secret detention centres in unidentified countries, Amnesty International and other human rights organisations wrote to the US ambassador to the UK raising their urgent concerns.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

'These reports are alarming in the extreme. There are very good reasons why the UN Convention Against Torture states that there are 'no exceptional circumstances whatsoever' in which torture can be used.

'It's simply non-negotiable - a fundamental human right. To condone torture for one or two particular cases is to start on the slippery slope which may well lead to regular use.'

The UK has ratified the UN Convention Against Torture which condemns the use of severe physical or mental pain in order to punish or extract confessions. Around 130 other countries have also ratified the convention, including the United States, Germany and Spain.

Kate Allen said:

'I urge Tony Blair and Jack Straw not to turn a blind eye. Human rights need to be asserted whatever the situation and no matter what political pressures are involved. Of course people should be brought to justice for crimes, but relying on torture is not the way forward.'

Prior to an international campaign to eradicate torture in 2000, Amnesty International's survey of its files on 195 countries covering the period 1997 to mid-2000 revealed that:

  • there had been reports of torture and ill-treatment inflicted by state agents in over 150 countries
  • in more than 70 torture or ill-treatment by state officials was widespread, and in over 80 countries people reportedly died as a result
  • methods of torture included beating with fists, sticks, gun-butts, makeshift whips, iron pipes, baseball bats, and electric flexes
  • rape and sexual abuse of prisoners was widespread
  • torture victims had suffered bruises, internal bleeding, broken bones, lost teeth, ruptured organs and some had died

Further information about our ongoing campaign to stamp out torture is available at www.stoptorture.org .

View latest press releases