Background Briefing

Conclusion: A Stark Choice

As a result of the combination of policies outlined above, the UK is in a weaker position than ever before to work on combating torture. It still claims strongly to support the ban on torture. And yet, at the same time, it acts in a way that clearly undermines that ban. The British government can no longer have it both ways.

The UK is losing the credibility that it once enjoyed. The government’s determination to bend the rules on its own account, and its refusal to confront abuses committed by its closest ally, is a moral and political abdication, in defiance of international law.

The UK government, under Tony Blair and his as yet unnamed successor, now faces a stark choice: It can further develop policies—like memoranda of understanding, and its challenge in the Ramzy case—that deliberately and dangerously undermine the international ban on torture. Alternatively, the government can acknowledge that bending and seeking to trample the rules is not the way forward, in a time of real insecurity. Britain can once again play a role at the vanguard of combating torture, as it did in previous years. But to do so requires a fundamental change of direction and an end to recent policies that undermine torture. Failure to change direction will damage us all.

Specifically, the UK government should undertake the following measures as a matter of urgent priority:

  • Refrain from returning any person to a place where he or she faces the risk of torture, whether or not diplomatic assurances against torture have been obtained from the country of return.

  • Cease the practice of seeking diplomatic assurances against torture, whether contained in memoranda of understanding or otherwise, as a means of removing terrorism suspects at risk of torture from the United Kingdom.

  • Withdraw from the intervention in Ramzy v. Netherlands, and reaffirm the absolute nature of the prohibition on returns to risk of torture and prohibited ill-treatment under international law.

  • Investigate allegations of complicity by the British security services in the abduction or extraordinary rendition of terrorism suspects by the United States for the purposes of interrogation and torture.

  • Speak out clearly and unequivocally against torture and ill-treatment across the globe, including where such abuse is carried out by agents of the U.S. government.

  • Where credible evidence exists of criminal activity that threatens national security, prosecute those responsible to the fullest extent of the law, and in accordance with international fair trial standards.