UN torture expert says open torture inquiry vital to 'root out cancer of torture'
Juan Mendez’s comments made ahead of UK book launch
The United Nations expert on torture has said the planned inquiry into allegations of the UK’s involvement in torture during the “war on terror” will need to be open if it is to successfully “root out” the “cancer of torture”.
Juan Méndez, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture who is in the UK ahead of the launch of a new book on human rights, made his comments against a backdrop of mounting concern that the arrangements for the “Detainee Inquiry” under Sir Peter Gibson may fall short of international standards.
The inquiry, ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron in July 2010, has not yet started its work but has already attracted significant criticism on the grounds that it will be highly secretive and that all new disclosures will require the government's approval. The present arrangements for the inquiry also mean it will not be seeking evidence from overseas (despite the international nature of the alleged abuses), and will have no powers to demand the release of documents or compel witnesses to give evidence.
Additionally, even the individuals who allege that the UK was involved in their torture or in other human rights violations have no status in the proceedings beyond that of other witnesses or ordinary members of the public. Neither they nor their lawyers will be able to see secret material or testimony relating to what happened to them.
Meanwhile, Amnesty has launched a new online campaign to have the inquiry considerably strengthened (www.amnesty.org.uk/detaineeinquiry ).
Juan Mendez said:
“The UK government is doing absolutely the right thing in having an inquiry into these gravely serious allegations.
“I visited London last February and was very encouraged by the decision to launch a commission of inquiry. Since then, however, I have heard of limitations that may frustrate the very object of such an exercise. During my current visit I hope to learn more about the parameters that have been set for it.
“I’ve seen from my work around the world that the way to deal with the cancer of torture is to fully root it out with a wide-ranging, independent and fully public inquiry.
“States also have to institute several other preventive measures as well as to prosecute officials who are identified as possible perpetrators of torture. A less than open and transparent inquiry would only serve to cover up abuses and encourage recurrence.”
Amnesty - which has campaigned for several years for an inquiry into allegations of the UK’s involvement in torture and other human rights violations during the “war on terror” - announced in August that it would not be able to support the Detainee Inquiry as it lacked “the credibility or transparency” to ensure “the truth about allegations that UK authorities were involved in the mistreatment of detainees held abroad” is brought to light. Nine other human rights organisations have also said they no longer believe the Detainee Inquiry is credible.
Juan Mendez, an Argentinian national, is himself a survivor of torture during Argentina’s “dirty war”. He is the first UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to have been tortured himself.
On Monday 14 November Juan Mendez will launch his new book, Taking A Stand: the evolution of human rights (Palgrave Macmillan), at a special event at the headquarters of Amnesty International UK (17-25 New Inn Yard, London EC2A 3EA - 6.30 for 7pm).
Mr Mendez will be in conversation with Philippe Sands QC, professor of law at University College London and director of the Project on International Courts and Tribunals.