Amnesty International has expressed considerable alarm over the onslaught on basic rights announced by Prime Minister Blair on Friday 5th August to deal with the ‘terrorist threat’.
It notes that while ‘there are currently no detailed legislative proposals, the Prime Minister indicated that such proposals as “necessary” were being “urgently examined” and would be forthcoming.
‘He also stated that administrative measures which do not necessitate primary legislation would be put in place “with immediate effect”.’
The human rights group notes: ‘Throughout the last three decades Amnesty International has been greatly concerned that various “emergency anti-terrorist” legislative enactments and other measures taken in the context of conflict in Northern Ireland have resulted in human rights violations.
‘More recently the organisation has likewise been greatly concerned about the serious human rights deficit of policies and legislative measures that have been pursued in the UK in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks in the USA.’
Amnesty urges ‘the Prime Minister and his government to commit the UK to upholding the rule of law and human rights for all, and to ensuring that any measure taken in the aftermath of the London bombings in July 2005 be fully consistent with international human rights law’.
It adds: ‘Taken as a whole the Prime Minister’s official statement and the answers he provided subsequently to the media amounted to a serious attack on human rights.
‘In particular, Amnesty International is deeply concerned that some of the measures proposed by the Prime Minister are inconsistent with the independence of the judiciary, and undermine the rule of law and fundamental human rights, including:
• the absolute prohibition of torture or other ill-treatment, and the principle inherent to such prohibition according to which a person should never be sent anywhere where she or he risks being subjected to torture or other ill-treatment – the principle known as non-refoulement;
• the right to seek and enjoy asylum, including the right of all persons who seek international protection to have their asylum claim individually and fully considered in fair and satisfactory procedures consistent with international human rights and refugee law and standards. . .
• the rights to freedom of expression and association;
• the principle of legality and legal certainty;
• the right of any person to be notified at once of the reasons for arrest or detention;
• the right of any person reasonably suspected of a recognisably criminal offence to be promptly charged and brought to trial within reasonable time in proceedings which fully meet internationally-recognised fair trial standards; and
l the right to a fair trial and due process.’
Amnesty stressed that ‘the right not to be subjected to torture or other ill-treatment, which includes the right not to be removed to a country or territory where one would be at risk of such treatment applies to all individuals, irrespective of whatever offence they may have committed or are suspected of having committed’.
This is ‘a rule of customary international law binding on all states’ and is contained in the UK Human Rights Act 1998.
The rights group takes umbrage at Blair’s threat to ‘deal with’ people who engage in ‘extremism’ – a concept for which he offered no definition – and, in particular, with ‘those who incite it or proselytise for it’.
Amnesty says Blair’s ‘proposed solution, in his own words was “in my view anyone who is a foreign national who is inciting or engaged in extremism in this country should be out”.
‘With respect to this, Amnesty International considers that if the UK authorities reasonably suspect people of having committed certain criminal offences, their immediate duty should be to bring charges against them and promptly try them in proceedings which fully meet internationally-recognised fair trial standards.
‘In this context, Amnesty International is also deeply disturbed by the Prime Minister’s remarks about entirely warranted decisions of the domestic courts to strike down deportation orders in cases of individuals whom the UK authorities intended to deport to countries where they would have been at risk of torture or other ill-treatment.
‘Amnesty International considers that, rather than attacking the decisions of the judiciary and the rule of law in this way, the Prime Minister should commit his government to compliance in this regard with the UK’s obligations under international law.’
Amnesty is ‘also gravely concerned about the “new approach” signalled by the Prime Minister in his statement with respect to deportation orders’.
When the government wishes to ‘expel a person to a country where there is substantial risk that she or he would be tortured or otherwise ill-treated, the UK authorities would obtain so-called “diplomatic assurances” from the authorities of the country to which the person concerned is to be sent – or would negotiate memoranda of understanding with the authorities of that country – to the effect that the individual would not be tortured or otherwise ill-treated after return to that country’.
Amnesty says not only do such ‘assurances’ and memoranda ‘amount to a circumvention of the principle of non-refoulement which is part and parcel of the absolute prohibition of torture or other ill-treatment’ they are ‘not worth the paper they are written on’.
‘Accordingly, Amnesty International does not accept that diplomatic assurances or memoranda of understanding can ever relieve the sending state from its obligation not to forcibly return a person to a country or territory where they would be at risk of torture or other ill-treatment.’
In addition, Amnesty ‘deplores any possible future attempt to amend the Human Rights Act 1998 in the way foreshadowed by the Prime Minister as a way of purportedly obviating the obstacles which the courts have put in the way of the Prime Minister and his government with respect to deportations’.
It stresses: ‘The right to be free from torture or other ill-treatment, and the principle of non-refoulement inherent to such right – is inalienable, inviolable and non-derogable.’
It warns: ‘Any attempts by the UK authorities to circumvent the jurisdiction of the courts domestically and prevent them from upholding such a fundamental right would also clearly fall foul of the UK’s obligations under international law.’
The organisation is also ‘extremely concerned’ at Blair’s announcement that ‘anyone who has participated in terrorism, or has anything to do with it anywhere will be automatically refused asylum in the country’.
It says that in light of its ‘long-standing concern about the vagueness and breadth of the purported definition of “terrorism” enshrined in the Terrorism Act 2000’ it is ‘concerned that the Prime Minister’s announcement amounts to circumventing international refugee law’.
It says: ‘Amnesty International is concerned that persons may be excluded, who have been involved in acts of armed political groups or any other political activities which are not of such nature and severity that they currently should be excluded from refugee status under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention) and its 1967 Protocol.’
Amnesty International is also ‘concerned at proposals to extend the current 14-day limit on the period for which the police can hold people under the Terrorism Act 2000 without charge or trial’.
Blair in his statement said ‘we will examine whether the necessary procedure can be brought about to give us a way of meeting the police and security service request that detention, pre-charge of terrorist suspects, be significantly extended’.
With respect to this, Amnesty International is ‘concerned that prolonged periods of pre-charge and pre-trial detention can provide a context for abusive practices and lead to detainees making involuntary statements, including confessions, both of which undermine the right to fair trial and the principle of due process’.
It insists: ‘The detained person must be brought before a judge within four days of the onset of detention and any extension of his or her detention should be judicially authorised.
‘In addition, detention must not used without the intention and serious prospect of bringing charges, in a way which would otherwise amount, effectively, to internment.
‘People are entitled to be charged and tried promptly in proceedings which fully comply with internationally-recognised fair trial standards.’
Finally, Amnesty reiterates: ‘Security and human rights are not alternatives; they go hand in hand.
‘Respect for human rights is the route to security, not the obstacle to it. The route to security is respect for human rights, not violations.’