UK CONTINUED TO ERODE HUMAN RIGHTS IN 2005 – says Amnesty International

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In 2005, the UK ‘government continued to erode fundamental human rights, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, including by persisting with attempts to undermine the ban on torture at home and abroad, and by enacting and seeking to enact legislation inconsistent with domestic and international human rights law,’ says Amnesty International.

The British section of Amnesty’s recently-published World Report 2006 continues: ‘Nonetheless, it lost its legal battle to reverse the ban on the admissibility in judicial proceedings of information obtained through torture as evidence.

‘In July, 52 people were killed and hundreds wounded as a result of bomb attacks on the London transport system.

‘Measures purporting to counter terrorism led to serious human rights violations, and concern was widespread about the impact of these measures on Muslims and other minority communities.

‘Public judicial inquiries into cases of alleged state collusion in past killings in Northern Ireland began, but the government continued to fail to establish an inquiry into the killing of Patrick Finucane.

‘Proposed legislation that would impact on past human rights abuses in Northern Ireland gave rise to serious concern.’

On the Blair government’s ‘anti-terrorism’ measures, Amnesty says: ‘Serious human rights violations continued, including the persecution of men labelled by the government as “suspected international terrorists” on the basis of secret intelligence.

‘Proposed and enacted measures involved punishment of people whom the authorities deemed a threat but against whom they said there was insufficient evidence to present to a court.

‘In the aftermath of the December 2004 ruling of the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords (the Law Lords) that indefinite detention was incompatible with the right to liberty and the prohibition of discrimination, the government failed to provide prompt redress to the victims.

‘Instead, it waited until March for the relevant legislative provision to lapse.

‘Simultaneously, the government passed the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (PTA), which was inconsistent with the spirit of the Law Lords’ ruling and allowed for violations of a wide range of human rights.

‘The PTA gave a government minister unprecedented powers to issue “control orders” to restrict the liberty, movement and activities of people purportedly suspected of involvement in terrorism, again on the basis of secret intelligence.

‘The imposition of “control orders” was tantamount to the executive “charging”, “trying” and “sentencing” a person without the fair trial guarantees required in criminal cases.

‘In March the government imposed “control orders” on people interned under the previous legislation, subjecting them to severe restrictions and violating their human rights. “Control orders” were later imposed on other people, including at least one UK national.

‘In June the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) published a report on its March 2004 visit.

‘It found that detention under the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 had caused mental disorders in most of those interned, and that detention had been even more detrimental to their health because of its indefinite character and the lack of knowledge about the evidence against them.

‘The CPT considered that the situation of some of them at the time of the visit amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment.

‘Also in June the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe published a report of his November 2004 visit.

‘This expressed concern about the PTA; the admission, as evidence, of information obtained through torture in judicial proceedings; prison conditions; the treatment of asylum-seekers; the low age of criminal responsibility; discrimination; and the need to set up public inquiries capable of establishing the full circumstances surrounding cases of alleged state collusion in killings in Northern Ireland.

‘In August the Prime Minister proposed new measures to counter terrorism.

‘Most of them were inconsistent with the UK’s obligations under domestic and international human rights law and many targeted non-UK citizens.

‘The government concluded Memorandums of Understanding with Jordan, Libya and Lebanon.

‘It asserted that the “diplomatic assurances” featured in these memorandums could be relied on to relieve the UK of its domestic and international obligation not to send anyone to a country where they would be at risk of torture or other ill-treatment.

‘In August, most of the former internees were rearrested and, together with others newly arrested, were imprisoned under immigration legislation pending deportation on national security grounds.

‘The government maintained it could forcibly remove the men, relying on the Memorandums of Understanding.

‘The detainees were held in prisons far from their families, lawyers and doctors.

‘Some of those detained had recently been acquitted by a UK court of terrorism-related charges.

‘In October, partly as a result of their seriously deteriorating mental and physical health, a number of former internees were granted bail on conditions amounting to house arrest.

‘In October, a new Terrorism Bill was published.

‘It contained sweeping and vague provisions that, if enacted, would undermine the rights to freedom of expression, association, liberty and fair trial.

‘In November the Bill’s proposal to extend the maximum period of police detention without charge from 14 to 90 days was rejected in parliament; a provision of 28 days was agreed. The Bill underwent further parliamentary scrutiny.

‘In December the government faced mounting accusations that it had allowed the USA to use UK territory in the context of secret transfers of individuals without any judicial process (“renditions”) to countries where they were reportedly tortured and to various US detention centres around the world.’

Under ‘Police shootings’, Amnesty adds: ‘In July, after police shot dead Jean Charles de Menezes, an unarmed Brazilian man on his way to work in London, there were crucial delays in initiating an independent investigation into the killing.

‘Evidence emerged giving rise to suspicion of an early attempt at a cover-up by the police.

‘In October the prosecuting authorities declined to bring charges against the police officers involved in shooting dead an unarmed man, Harry Stanley, as he was walking down a street in London in 1999.’

The human rights group welcomed the outlawing of torture ‘evidence’.

Its report says: ‘In December, seven Law Lords unanimously confirmed the inadmissibility as evidence in judicial proceedings of information extracted under torture.

‘They also ruled that there was a duty to investigate whether torture had taken place, and to exclude any evidence if the conclusion was that, on the balance of probabilities, it had been obtained through torture.

‘Amnesty International coordinated a coalition of 14 organisations that jointly intervened in the case.

‘The case had been brought by 10 foreign nationals against being labelled “suspected international terrorists” by the UK authorities. As a result of the judgment, their cases were to be referred back to the court of the first instance for its reconsideration of the “evidence”.’

On Guantanamo Bay, the report notes: ‘In January the last four remaining UK nationals were released from US detention in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

‘However, at least seven UK residents continued to be held there, including Bisher al-Rawi, an Iraqi national legally resident in the UK, and Jamil Al-Banna, a Jordanian national with refugee status in the UK.

‘The UK authorities were implicated in their unlawful transfer to US custody, and continued to refuse to make representations on behalf of the UK residents to the US authorities.

‘In December, a UK court ruled that David Hicks, an Australian national detained in Guantanamo Bay, was entitled to be registered as a UK citizen and therefore to receive assistance by UK authorities.’

The report condemns the activities of the UK armed forces in Iraq.

It says that in 2005: ‘The UK breached international and domestic human rights law through its role in the internment without charge of at least 10,000 people in Iraq.

‘UK officials sat, along with US and Iraqi officials, on the Joint Detention Review Board, which reviewed the cases of all those interned by members of the Multinational Force in Iraq (in most cases, by US troops).

‘At the end of October, the UK was itself holding 33 “security internees” in Iraq without charge or trial.

‘Hilal Abdul-Razzaq Ali Al-Jedda, a dual Iraqi-UK national who was arrested in October 2004, continued to be detained without charge in Iraq by UK forces.

‘In December the Court of Appeal of England and Wales ruled in the case of Al-Skeini that the Human Rights Act 1998 in principle had extra-territorial effect, and that the system for investigating deaths at the hands of UK armed forces personnel was seriously deficient, including in its lack of independence from the commanding officer.’