CIVIL rights group Liberty yesterday warned that Prime Minister Blair is seeking to cross a ‘fundamental line in the sand’ by sending people to countries where they face torture by the authorities.
Speaking in China, Blair said the government would try to push through changes in the law, if necessary, in order to deport people it wants out of the country – even if that meant sending them to countries condemned by human rights organisations for torturing people and for other inhumane treatment.
‘We may have to amend the law to get it done,’ Blair said.
‘You can serve the orders for deportation swiftly, but the legal process then takes some time to determine.
‘There’s a major question, which is whether we are going to be able, on the basis of understandings with the countries to which we’re returning these people – whether we will be able, according to the law of the courts . . . to return those people properly.
‘And that’s the issue which I explained and that’s why this will take some time through the courts, through the Parliament, because we may have to amend the law in order to get it done.’
A spokesman for Liberty told News Line: ‘The prohibition on torture in UK law and all international conventions is absolute.
‘There can be no derogation from this. It is a fundamental line in the sand.’
The spokesman insisted: ‘No moves can be taken, or should be taken, to weaken this in British law and we believe that this should be accepted by the British government and they should concentrate on taking measures to make us safer, rather than crossing one of the fundamental lines in human rights legislation.’
The government has already drawn up ‘memorandums of understanding’ with countries it wants to deport people to, despite their association with torture and despite the fact that those on the list for deportation have not actually been convicted of any crime.
It is one of a number of measures that the government says it intends to rush through following the London bombings on July 7, under which people will be targeted for what they say.
A spokesman for human rights organisation Amnesty International said: ‘Our feeling is that diplomatic assurances in agreements from these countries, such as Jordan – to say people won’t be tortured – aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.
‘It beggars belief that a piece of paper from countries should be sufficient to stop people being tortured in those countries, which we know have tortured people in the past and then sought to deny the fact.
‘We are very concerned by these comments. If any of these people are a threat to this country they should be dealt with through the courts in this country.
‘It is against international law to return people to countries where they are at risk of torture.
‘Diplomatic assurances are basically a way of trying to get round that law, but what they risk doing is undermining the international ban on torture.’