30 years ago the UK formalised its obligation to fight torture - now it’s time to step up

30 years ago today the UK ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture(UNCAT). 165 states around the world are party to this powerful international human rights mechanism, which bans torture, requires states to actively prevent torture and forbids states from transporting people to anywhere they are at risk of torture.

Is the UK living up to its obligations under UNCAT? It will be under the spotlight next year when it’s up for review by the UN’s independent Committee Against Torture. We’re collaborating with Redress on a shadow report and will be raising these four issues – from protection of torture survivors in the UK to coming clean on the UK’s role in torture:

  • Survivors of torture in the UK continue to find it almost impossible to prove to the Home Office what they’ve been throughOur research found that many claimants were granted refugee status at a legal appeal, after being turned down by the Home Office. This leaves men and women waiting years, unable to begin to rebuild their lives and in fear of being returned home to torture.
  • Survivors of torture continue to be detained for immigration purposes in the UK, taking them back to the torture they fled. People commonly report depression, self-harm, PTSD and worsening of existing health conditions. This is despite the Home Office’s own rules and recent policy changes, intended to prevent detention of vulnerable people.
  • Our evidence reveals how failed asylum seekers from countries such as Sri Lanka and the Democratic Republic of Congo can be at risk of further torture when forcibly returned by the UK.We’re calling for immediate end to forced returns for at risk individuals and for an urgent review of Home Office asylum policy guidance on Sri Lanka.
  • Finally, we’ll be continuing to join human rights groups in calling for an independent judge-led inquiry into UK complicity in torture after 9/11. The summer’s Intelligence and Security Committee reports revealed the role of the UK’s intelligence agencies in CIA abuse but made clear that further investigation is needed to expose the truth. The government promised a decision on whether it would press ahead with an inquiry by the end of the summer - but it’s missed its own deadline. This year’s apology to one man rendered to torture with help from the UK was a start, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough - 2018 must mark the beginning and not the end to Britain coming clean on its role in torture.

It’s more important than ever for the UK to uphold the absolute torture ban. At a time when the President of the United States openly endorses torture and gives a green light to torturers worldwide, and a time when the UK negotiates its new trade relationships and political identity across the world, the UK must set out clearly and firmly what we stand for. We owe it to survivors to fight torture and uphold our obligations under UNCAT.

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