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United Kingdom: UN experts on torture and counter-terrorism express concern over proposed official inquiry

GENEVA (24 December 2013) – Two United Nations independent human rights experts today welcomed the publication of parts of Sir Peter Gibson’s interim report, an official investigation into the extent of the United Kingdom’s involvement in torture and other human rights violations concerning people detained overseas in the context of counter terrorism operations.

However, the UN Special Rapporteurs on torture, Juan E. Méndez, and the Special Rapporteur on the protection and promotion of human rights while countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson, expressed concern that a proposed official inquiry is to be entrusted to a parliamentary body, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC).

“The Gibson Inquiry suffered from a number of procedural shortcomings which were identified in my March report (see below) to the Human Rights Council,” Mr. Emmerson said, stressing that “the UK has, until now, indicated a commitment to the establishment of a judge-led inquiry to take forward the work of Sir Peter Gibson.”

“I am concerned that this proposal appears to have been abandoned in favour of a purely parliamentary inquiry which is likely to suffer from many of the same procedural shortcomings,” he warned. “I urge the British authorities to ensure that the fresh inquiry is given the powers it needs to get at the truth.”

Special Rapporteur Méndez also expressed disappointment that the inquiry would now be handed to the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee to examine and complete the investigations, as announced by the Minister without Portfolio Ken Clarke.

“It is particularly discouraging to know that the decision was handed over to the ISC which is known to have previously failed to fully investigate prior allegations of torture, ill-treatment, rendition and surveillance in the context of counter-terrorism and national-security,” the independent expert said, recalling the findings of the ISC 2007 report which concluded, among other things, that “no evidence [was found] that the UK Agencies were complicit in any ‘Extraordinary Rendition’ operations.”

Mr. Méndez reminded the UK Government of its obligation under the UN Convention against Torture*: “Each Government should undertake a prompt and impartial investigation wherever there are reasonable grounds to believe that torture has been committed, and prosecute suspected perpetrators of torture.”

“The British authorities should take persistent, determined and effective measures to have all allegations of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment investigated promptly, effectively and impartially by an independent, competent domestic authority, as well as whenever there is reasonable ground to believe that such an act has been committed,” Mr. Méndez said quoting the Convention.

The expert stressed that UK Government also is obliged to hold responsible, bring to justice and punish all those who encourage, order, tolerate or perpetrate such acts responsible, including the officials in charge of the place of detention where the prohibited act is found to have been committed.

“The British Government should take note, in this respect, of the Principles on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the Updated Set of principles for the protection and promotion of human rights through action to combat impunity as a useful tool in efforts to prevent and combat torture,” he said.

Mr. Emmerson and Mr. Méndez will follow up with the UK Government over the terms of reference and powers of the Intelligence and Security Committee inquiry, with a view to determining whether it is capable of meeting international minimum standards.

(*) The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CAT.aspx

ENDS

Ben Emmerson (United Kingdom) is the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. On 1 August 2011, he took up his functions on the mandate that was created in 2005 by the former United Nations Commission on Human Rights and renewed by the United Nations Human Rights Council for a three year period in September 2010. As Special Rapporteur he is independent from any Government and serves in his individual capacity. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Terrorism/Pages/SRTerrorismIndex.aspx

Check the Special Rapporteur’s report: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session22/A-HRC-22-52_en.pdf

Juan E. Méndez (Argentina) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment on 1 November 2010. He is currently a Professor of Law at the American University – Washington College of Law and Co-Chair of the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association. Mr. Méndez has previously served as the President of the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) until 2009, and was the UN Secretary-General Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide from 2004 to 2007, as well as an advisor on crime prevention to the Prosecutor, International Criminal Court, between 2009 and 2010. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Torture/SRTorture/Pages/SRTortureIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact write to sr-torture@ohchr.org

UN Human Rights, country page – United Kingdom: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/GBIndex.aspx

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