BRUSSELS (12 April 2012) – UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, Ben Emmerson on Thursday expressed profound regret at a US court decision that refused freedom of information requests concerning the involvement of the United Kingdom in the US programme of extraordinary renditions.
At a public hearing of the European Parliament concerning the involvement of EU states in secret detention and rendition, Mr. Emmerson said the decision by the US District Court of Columbia “flies in the face of the principles of best practice for the oversight of intelligence services.”
Mr. Emmerson was referring to the decision by the court on 2 April 2012 to refuse freedom of information requests made by the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition.
“The All-Party Group has rightly been pressing for independent oversight of intelligence services, pressing for real answers from the US Department of Defence, the CIA and other US Government agencies on this important issue,” Mr. Emmerson said.
In 2008 the Group lodged 43 separate requests under the US Freedom of Information Act concerning UK involvement in the US extraordinary renditions programme. The US government refused the requests on the grounds of a statutory exception which allows US intelligence agencies to refuse requests from “foreign government entities”.
“The decision is disappointing because it flies in the face of the principles of best practice for the oversight of intelligence services compiled by the former Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights at the express request of the UN Human Rights Council,” he said.
“It is surprising because it seems to be based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the constitution of the United Kingdom and of the universal separation of powers doctrine. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition is an institution of Parliament not the Government. It is wholly independent of Government and is a model of democratic oversight.“
Mr. Emmerson also stressed the need for transparency and accountability.
“Refusing disclosure of key information about the alleged participation of UK officials in extraordinary rendition runs the risk of promoting impunity for state officials of the UK who may have been party to grave human rights violations,” he said. “Transparency is key not only to bring to justice those officials who may have participated in crimes of this kind but also in dispelling unjustified suspicions. The unjustified maintenance of secrecy, on dubious legal grounds, only delays efforts at establishing the truth.”
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.
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