The UK government is facing strong calls to ensure that its inquiry into UK complicity in torture and other human rights violations of those detained abroad since 11 September 2001, is thorough, independent and as transparent as possible.
The inquiry, which the Prime Minister David Cameron announced yesterday, is being seen as an important first step towards achieving genuine accountability for past human rights abuses. But groups such as Reprieve, Justice and Amnesty International are concerned that it is not a pretext for covering up vital information which might have been revealed by the judicial processes it seeks to end.
“We have long called for an inquiry into the credible allegations that UK officials and agents were involved in torture and other human rights abuses, including renditions, arbitrary detention and other ill-treatment, of individuals detained abroad,” said Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty’s Europe and Central Asia Director.
She added: “The right of individuals to know the truth about the human rights abuses they have suffered is fundamental in securing their right to redress, ensuring that justice is achieved and that states cannot commit human rights abuses with impunity”
The inquiry will be led by Sir Peter Gibson, who is currently the statutory Commissioner for the Intelligence Services, and will examine the UK’s involvement with detainees in overseas counter-terrorism operations in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks on the USA; including those policies which governed the conduct of UK secret services in their operations abroad.
The detailed terms of reference for the inquiry are yet to be published, but it is expected to focus in particular on cases involving the detention of UK nationals and residents at the Guantánamo Bay detention centre.
The cases of the former Guantánamo Bay detainees are currently subject to criminal investigations and/or civil litigation proceedings; including a civil lawsuit brought by six former detainees – Bisher al-Rawi, Richard Belmar, Omar Deghayes, Binyam Mohamed, Jamil el-Banna and Martin Mubanga – who are seeking financial compensation from the UK government on the grounds of their claims that British intelligence agencies were complicit in their detention, torture and other mistreatment.
But human rights groups remain significantly concerned over certain aspects of the inquiry as proposed by David Cameron.
“It is not clear that the inquiry will have sufficient authority and independence from the executive to ensure that the full truth about the UK’s involvement in human rights abuses can emerge,” explained Nicola Duckworth.
The degree to which the inquiry’s hearings will be held in secret and the extent to which the evidence will be kept from the public and from the victims of the alleged abuses is a cause for concern, the organisation said.
For example, the Prime Minister has granted himself the power to decide the extent to which the findings of the inquiry can be made public.
“State secrecy should not be invoked as a means of preventing an independent, impartial and thorough investigation into these allegations and cannot be used to prevent the truth about serious human rights violations emerging,” declared Ms Duckworth.
Additionally, Amnesty says that while it agrees that the inquiry should not be open-ended and should be carried out promptly, it is concerned that expediency must not be a substitute or compromise for thoroughness.
Along with others, the human rights NGO is calling on the government to ensure that the inquiry’s proceedings are independent, thorough and as transparent as possible and that the conclusions and recommendations of the inquiry are made public.
Genuine accountability for serious human rights violations requires the truth about those violations to be publicly known, say supporters of those who have been detained and abused.
The government has also released new guidance for the interrogation by UK security services of detainees held overseas by foreign intelligence agencies and announced that a Green Paper would be published reviewing how intelligence is treated in judicial proceedings.
This is likely to be subject to further scrutiny from legal and civil rights groups.