Amnesty International on UK’s Mounting Problem Over Torture

John appeared on BBC Scotland’s ‘Good Morning Scotland’ programme (, at 2 hours 10 minutes) to discuss his request, since agreed to, that the Lord Advocate undertake a criminal inquiry into recent academic research indicating Scotland’s airports, including Inverness and Wick, were used by CIA operatives.

Here’s recent comment from Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK Director, on “The UK’s mounting problem over torture”;

Last week, with very little fanfare, the UN Committee against Torture published its concluding observationsfrom its review of the UK’s record on preventing, punishing and remedying torture and other ill-treatment. It was a quietly devastating report and will make forsobering reading among UK politicians and officials.

It’s a tale of things half done, put off entirely, or in some cases made worse by what was done.

One of the UN committee’s central themes is the UK’s failure to ensure that where there have been allegedhuman rights abuses, these are fully investigated, people are held to account, the truth made known and the victims or their families compensated. Indeed, this has been a systemic failure. Be it in the context of allegations arising from armed forces’ operations in Iraq; allegations of complicity in torture in the context of counter-terrorism operations overseas; cases of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland; or past abuses and violations perpetrated by all sides in the conflict in Northern Ireland; the message from the committee is clear – that the UK must do considerably better.

To take the allegations of UK complicity in torture abroad in the context of counter-terrorism operations.The committee says this gives rise to deep concern. It’s an issue that’s been festering for a long time. In 2010 David Cameron, then recently elected as prime minister, acknowledged that allegations that UK officials had“colluded” in the rendition, secret detentions and torture of detainees in places like Pakistan or Afghanistan risked tarnishing the UK’s reputation “as a country that believes in human rights, justice, fairness and the rule of law”. It needed to be addressed, he said, in order to “restore Britain’s moral leadership in the world.” Three years have passed – more than half a term in political office – and the stain remains, if anythingdeepening over time.

The UN has urged the UK to get on and establish a successor inquiry to replace the deeply-flawed Detainee Inquiry previously set up under Sir Peter Gibson. UK officials should ensure that alleged victims and NGOs are consulted over the conduct of the future inquiry to help avoid another inadequate outcome. Meanwhile, though troubled from the start and finally shelved, Gibson’s original inquiry nevertheless produced an “interim” report, but this – bafflingly – has itself been left unpublished for nearly a year. Quite rightly, the UN is also urging that this is published without further delay.

Likewise in relation to Iraq, the committee calls for a single, independent public inquiry to investigate allegations of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, one that can ensure full accountability is secured. The UN also sends a strong warning to the UK over so-called “diplomatic assurances”, stating that they are “unreliable and ineffective”, urging the UK to refrain from relying on them to justify the deportation of people suspected of terrorism to countries where they would be in danger of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Meanwhile, the government’s Justice and Security Act – recently enacted despite a storm of controversy and opposition – also worries the UN committee. Just as campaigners like Amnesty had said, the extension of secret evidence to the civil justice system is seen as a possible obstacle to establishing state responsibility for human rights violations and ensuring accountability. The UN has called on the UK to listen to the concerns of “Special Advocates” (the practitioner lawyers who have to work within the new system) and ensure that the right to a fair trial is fully respected. Importantly, the Committee also reminds the UK that secret procedures cannot be used to permit evidence of human rights violations – including torture – to be concealed.

The moral of this story is that the UK seems to be letting problems pile up rather than deal with them. With over 40 recommendations from the UN Committee against Torture, the backlog is becoming acute. Mr Cameron was right about the UK’s reputation being tarnished over torture. It’s time to do something about it. 


Committee report –

NI abuse –

Collusion –

Detainee Inquiry – 

Diplomatic assurances –

Secret justice –

Special Advocates –