UK torture inquiry must encompass participation by survivors of torture
Freedom from Torture has welcomed the news that the foreign secretary, William Hague, has ordered an inquiry into allegations of the complicity of the British intelligence agencies in torture. We join forces with other human rights champions to call on Hague to ensure that the inquiry is transparent, comprehensive and unfettered by political considerations.
If the inquiry is to represent a meaningful step towards restoring justice, it is also vital that the process encompasses full participation by survivors of torture and allows their voices to be publicly heard. In addition to helping Britain repair its damaged reputation in the eyes of the international community, such an inquiry may help survivors of torture to receive the rehabilitation they are entitled to under international law.
We expect the inquiry to ask questions of those who held power in the aftermath of 9/11, to establish whether government policy or the decisions made by ministers and officials, as well as within the intelligence agencies, contributed to any complicity in the torture, enforced disappearance or rendition of terror suspects. It is important that the inquiry is not held under the Inquiries Act of 2005, which allows the government a range of powers to impose restrictions on the proceedings.
The new government must take concrete steps to make their promise never to condone torture a reality and to ensure the full accountability of all UK agents in the future. This should include the publication of robust guidance for the UK's intelligence services on the interrogation of terror suspects overseas.
Freedom from Torture is encouraged to hear William Hague's assertion that "torture does not help defeat terrorists; it helps them to try to justify their hostility". Regardless of circumstances, torture can never be justified. Last year, in opposition, Hague called for an independent judicial inquiry into claims that British officials had colluded in the torture of Binyam Mohamed, the former Guantánamo detainee and a UK resident.
The allegations against the UK amount to serious human rights abuses. To restore trust in government, both here and abroad, the inquiry needs to have unlimited access to government documents, encompass full participation by survivors of torture, and be public.
If this lamentable episode has taught us anything it is the need for stronger scrutiny of the UK's interrogation policies and practices. A judicial inquiry will help the British public to better understand what happened in the past and why but it will obviously be a one-off exercise with a backward-looking focus.
Freedom from Torture believes that, looking forward, it is important to enhance international scrutiny of the UK's torture record by finally permitting individuals to take complaints to the UN Committee against Torture. This would ensure accountability at the international level for any future victims of torture involving UK personnel.
The coalition government needs to make a stand for human rights and ensure the UK can be held up as a model for accountability through a vigorous and transparent inquiry and by allowing the UN's torture committee to hear individual cases. Our national security will be better enhanced through the establishment of justice.