Urgent review needed of allegations of torture of Britons held abroad says Commission

Commission calls for independent review into torture allegations

20 February 2010

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has called for an independent review to urgently investigate more than 20 allegations that the Government knew of, and was complicit in, the torture of Britons being held abroad.

The call follows the Court of Appeal’s release of evidence showing that MI5 was briefed in detail at the time about the deliberate ill-treatment of British resident Binyam Mohamed by the US. This included sleep deprivation, threat of rendition and shackled interrogation. The Government had sought to prevent the Court from publicly disclosing this evidence.

In a letter to the Secretary of State, Jack Straw, the Commission outlined its concern that Binyam Mohamed may not be an isolated case now that twenty-four other allegations have come to light. The letter calls for an independent investigation to determine whether senior officials and Ministers turned a blind eye to the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ by the US and the systematic use of torture by the Pakistani Intelligence Services, amongst others.

More than 20 allegations, involving British residents and citizens, have been reported by the United Nations, the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights and international human rights organisations. This includes a UN Human Rights Council report, published last month, which made allegations against the UK of complicity in torture used during interrogations.

Two cases of alleged complicity in torture are being investigated by the police but, as yet, no charges have been brought. The Commission is concerned that, beyond the complainants’ own accounts of their experiences, any corroborative evidence lies in the hands of the Government’s own agencies and, in particular, the security and intelligence services themselves.

The Government has stated unequivocally that the allegations are unsubstantiated and that it does not condone or support torture carried out by foreign agencies. However, the Commission does not believe the Government’s response to these allegations is sufficient and that not enough has been done to reassure the Commission and the public that these allegations are unfounded.

Any independent review needs to be robust, open and thorough and satisfy the Commission that:

  • those carrying out the review are given complete access to all relevant materials;
  • the review team are completely independent of Government and appointed via a transparent and independent process;
  • the review will be as open and transparent as possible, put as much material in the public domain as possible and hold as many evidence sessions in public as possible; and
  • the findings of the review will be published as soon as possible with as little concealed for national security reasons as is practical.

Trevor Phillips, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

'Torture contravenes UK and international law and the values that Britain upholds.

'Ministers and government agencies are facing very serious allegations of knowing that UK citizens were being tortured, failing to take action to stop that torture and supplying questions to be used in the interrogation of men who were subjected to a high level of ill-treatment.

'Given the UK’s role as a world leader on human rights it would be inexplicable for the Government not to urgently put in place an independent review process to assess the truth, or otherwise, of these allegations.

'The Commission is concerned that the Government has already sought, via the courts, to suppress evidence of its agency’s knowledge of the torture of Binyam Mohamed. The Government must take the opportunity of an independent review to be as open and transparent with the public as possible.'


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Notes to editors

The Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission. It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights. The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.