Skip to main content

The Joint Committee on Human Rights, chaired by Andrew Dismore MP, consists of twelve members appointed from both the British House of Commons and the House of Lords. The Committee is charged with considering human rights issues in the UK but cannot take up individual cases.

The Committee undertakes thematic inquiries on human rights issues and reports its findings and recommendations to Parliament. It scrutinizes all Government Bills and picks out those with significant human rights implications for further examination. The Committee also looks at government action to deal with judgments of the UK courts and the European Court of Human Rights where violations of human rights have been found.

On February 3, 2009, Brad Adams, Asia Director, and Ali Dayan Hasan, Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch along with Ian Cobain, Senior Reporter at The Guardian, testified in support of a written submission to the committee with reference to allegations of abuse and mistreatment involving UK intelligence agents in Pakistan.

Andrew Dismore MP

Chair, Joint Committee on Human Rights

House of Commons

7 Millbank

London SW1P 3JA

Re: 3 February meeting on allegations of abuse and mistreatment involving UK agents in Pakistan

Dear Mr. Dismore,

For many years Human Rights Watch has extensively investigated the human rights situation in Pakistan and, in particular, the treatment of individuals in detention.

Pakistan has a long and well-documented history of arbitrary arrests and detention, enforced disappearance, and torture and other mistreatment by government security forces. These practices are systematic and routine, whether in ordinary criminal matters or in more sensitive intelligence and counter-terrorism cases. Human Rights Watch has documented extensive accounts and evidence demonstrating a policy of torture employed by Pakistani intelligence agencies and law enforcement personnel.

Torture is routinely used in Pakistan, both to obtain confessions in criminal cases and against political and ideological opponents. Most acts of torture are aimed at producing a confession during the course of a criminal investigation. However, acts of torture by military and intelligence agencies often are intended for punishment. Torture often follows illegal abductions or "disappearances" by Pakistan's notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency or military. Torture is often used to frighten the detainee into compliance. If the detainee is released, it is usually on the understanding that if he fails to do what is demanded or expected of him, a further abduction and torture will follow. In this manner, the victim of custodial abuse can be kept in a state of fear often for several years. Most often, the threat of torture is enough to ensure compliance to the demands of the intelligence agencies.

Neither high social standing nor public profile deters the ISI or other state agencies from perpetrating torture if they deem it in the interest of "national security"-the relative anonymity of a victim only simplifies matters for the torturers.

The impunity with which the Pakistan army and intelligence agencies operate in Pakistan is well known. Consequently even a phone call from an intelligence operative can achieve the required result of the intelligence services.

Pakistani and international nongovernmental organizations have documented severe mistreatment of detainees over the course of many years. Even President George W. Bush's State Department criticized the use of torture in its annual human rights reports (though, like the UK, it did not stop the US from working hand in hand with the ISI). For instance, the 2007 State Department human rights country report on Pakistan states that:

The law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; however, there were persistent reports that security forces, including intelligence services, tortured and abused persons. Under provisions of the Anti-Terrorist Act, coerced confessions are admissible in Anti-Terrorism courts. Allegations that security personnel used abuse and torture of persons in custody throughout the country continued. Human rights organizations reported that methods included beating, burning with cigarettes, whipping soles of the feet, prolonged isolation, electric shock, denial of food or sleep, hanging upside down, and forced spreading of the legs with bar fetters. Security force personnel reportedly raped women during interrogations. The government rarely took action against those responsible, held prisoners incommunicado and refused to provide information on their whereabouts, particularly in terrorism and national security cases. Security force personnel continued to torture persons in custody throughout the country. Officials from the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) estimated 5,000 cases of police torture annually ... Prison conditions were extremely poor, except those for wealthy or influential prisoners ... Shackling of prisoners was routine. The shackles used were tight, heavy, and painful, and reportedly led to gangrene and amputation in several cases.

The British Role

The most recent Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) annual human rights report takes a shockingly different approach to the subject of counter-terrorism and torture. Human Rights Watch raised the following concerns with the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) about the 2007 report:

Given the seriousness of the human rights problems in Pakistan Human Rights Watch welcomes the inclusion of Pakistan in the list of countries of concern in this year's report. However some serious shortcomings in the report's coverage of Pakistan should be noted. 

Pakistan is referred to as one of the UK's "most important partners" in counter terrorism efforts which according to the report includes "operational co-operation". The report argues that the UK's training and wider counter terrorism assistance to Pakistan "promote human rights compliance, based on international human rights standards". This is a misrepresentation of the UK's counter terrorism cooperation with Pakistan. The report remains notably silent on the hundreds of disappearances of terrorism suspects in Pakistan. Human Rights Watch's research indicates that the UK has itself been complicit in the illegal detention, forcible transfer to the UK and and torture of some terrorism suspects. These have included Salahuddin Amin and Rangzeib Ahmed in recent years. By failing to criticise Pakistan's well-documented human rights abuses in relation to the arrest and interrogation of terrorism suspects, this report actually fuels the allegations of UK tolerance of and complicity in such acts.

Tom Porteous, the London director of Human Rights Watch, gave evidence to the FAC on April, 30 2008 about the FCO's 2007 annual human rights report. Here is the exchange, which sets out some of our key concerns:

Mr. Hamilton: Pakistan obviously gives some cause for concern.  I know that Human Rights Watch has been very worried, especially, I think, about the way in which the courts and the judges have been undermined by President Musharraf's arrest and sacking of members of the judiciary in Pakistan.  Your Human Rights Watch submission claims that the UK may have been complicit in a number of human rights abuses linked to counter-terrorism in Pakistan.  How confident are you that these are accurate allegations?  What sort of evidence do you have?

Tom Porteous: First, there is obviously a problem here.  Let me give you a little bit of context.  We are trying to pull together the evidence, and obviously it is very difficult to come by, because these are serious allegations.  But it is pretty clear that the US and the UK are relying rather heavily on the well-known abusive Pakistani intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, in their counter-terrorism operations.  We have documented the abuses of the ISI for many years.  It has well-known links with extremist elements in Afghanistan, with the Taliban, in Pakistan and in the Arab world.  In fact, it was behind the Taliban initially, as you will remember.  It is one of the most brutal intelligence agencies in the world and yet the US and the UK have been relying rather heavily on it in their counter-terrorism efforts in that particular region and, as far as the UK is concerned, in its counter-terrorism efforts at home, because obviously there is a large British community of Pakistani origin. 

We also know from this report, among other things, that the UK is grappling with the dilemma of what to do about evidence that is important for combating terrorism but is also suspect because there is a suspicion that it has been extracted under torture.  It is pretty clear, reading between the lines of that section in the Foreign Office's report, that it is referring to Pakistan here.  It is obviously having to deal with this problem.  That is the sort of background. 

When it comes to the detail, you probably read the front page report of The Guardian yesterday which identifies two men, British citizens, Salahuddin Amin and Zeeshan Saddiqui, who were arrested in Pakistan at the request of the British authorities.  They were then allegedly-there is quite good evidence for this, not only their own statements but also medical evidence-quite brutally treated over long periods and tortured and interrogated.  Now it seems that in these cases, and in a couple of other cases that we are also aware of, British Security Service officials were brought in to interrogate them during their period of detention by the Pakistani authorities. 

In these two cases, their detention appears to have been illegal-they were not charged and there was no due process-and the treatment was allegedly very brutal. We were a corroborative source for the Guardian story in both those cases. We are aware of two other cases where the British appear to have been involved in interrogating suspects in Pakistan who, according to their lawyers, were allegedly tortured. One of them is Ramzeh Ahmed and the other Rashid Rauf, who was allegedly an important player in the Heathrow bombing of last year.

As one of the lawyers for these men, Tayab Ali, said in The Guardian, "at the very worst, the British Security Service instigates the illegal detention and torture of British citizens, and at the very best turns a blind eye to torture."  It is incredible that British agents would not be aware of the kind of treatment these men could expect at the hands of the Pakistani intelligence agency. Either way, the circumstances seem to amount to complicity and collusion in the mistreatment of these men.

To conclude, there might appear in the short term to be some advantage in relying so heavily on such abusive tactics in counter-terrorism but, in the longer term, we feel that it will be a disaster, because your are just piling up the grievances and the sense of injustice that fuels radicalisation and acts as a recruiting sergeant for terrorism. Condoning torture, therefore, even if it is only implicit, is a question of national security. The other point is that, if we are going to get to the bottom of what these suspects are supposed to have done, which is a crucial question, and if we are to give them proper trials, the fact that they were tortured will prejudice that process.

Mr. Hamilton: These are very serious allegations. Have you had any response from the British Government or Government Ministers?

Tom Porteous: We have raised some of these concerns with the British Government over the past months and we have met with denials.

Mr. Porteous made these statements after Human Rights Watch had investigated cases involving allegations of British complicity in torture and mistreatment of individuals in Pakistan. Several of these cases present a disturbing picture where both the allegation of torture and that of varying degrees of British intelligence awareness of that mistreatment and torture appear credible. In an appendix accompanying this submission, Human Rights Watch presents short summaries of three such cases. 

We have read the reporting by the Guardian on these issues. We believe this is accurate and credible reporting. It is extremely difficult to gather information on this subject, but the Guardian and Human Rights Watch have been able to gather disturbing accounts of individual cases of torture of British citizens with the apparent complicity of UK officials.

It is important for us to emphasize that we are not only concerned about the treatment of British citizens. What has happened to British citizens is only a small window into what happens routinely to Pakistanis.

For more than six years the British government supported an abusive military government under General Pervez Musharraf, only jumping on the democracy and rule of law bandwagon in the dying days of Musharraf's regime. Officials told us that then-Prime Minister Tony Blair's affection for Musharraf sprang in large part from his close cooperation on counter-terrorism matters after the July 7, 2005 attacks in London. Because Blair believed that Musharraf was sharing valuable intelligence, he not only made no demands on Musharraf on human rights but ignored the real risk that UK collaboration with Pakistan on counter-terrorism would lead directly to serious abuses such as torture and illegal detentions.

What is most disturbing is that the British government knew full well the techniques that the ISI and Pakistani law enforcement use in interrogations, particularly in counter-terrorism investigations.

Asking the Pakistani security services to interrogate a detainee-without being present to ensure the person is not mistreated or demanding an end to these practices as the price of continued good relations-is essentially a request to use torture to obtain information. This has been the basis of counter-terror cooperation between the UK and Pakistan (and the US and Pakistan).

Not only did the British government effectively condone torture by putting questions to detainees in ISI custody and by visiting detainees who had obviously been tortured without halting cooperation in those cases, the conduct of the ISI has interfered with attempts to prosecute these individuals in British courts. For example, Rashid Rauf, the alleged mastermind of plans for a second 9/11 involving planes taking off from Heathrow-and the reason we all now have to throw away our water bottles before passing through airport security-was arrested in Pakistan. But he was tortured so badly that British officials quickly realized he could not be prosecuted in a British court. His guilt or innocence has never been established-and never will, since he was reportedly killed in a US missile strike in Pakistan last November.

Instead of investigating the alleged complicity of the British intelligence services, the Foreign and Home Offices have simply denied any role or obfuscated the issue. Consider this disappointing answer offered by Lord Malloch-Brown when he appeared in front of the FAC and was asked about torture in Pakistan. According to the committee:

We asked him for his assessment on whether the ISI practices torture. His reply was oblique: ‘Let me put it this way, we think that the return of civilian government and hopefully the strengthening of civilian control over the ISI, which we hope will give a lot more transparency to its methods, is an extremely good development in Pakistan.'

Following further questioning, he said he did not know whether he was ‘prepared' to go further by stating that the ISI was guilty of practicing torture. He said: ‘we are extremely concerned. We have certainly not run frontly into evidence of torture, but we think that the ISI's methods could do with a lot of opening up and a lot of transparency.' Referring to the allegations that have been made, he stated: ‘we absolutely deny the charge that we have in any way outsourced torture to Inter-Services Intelligence as a way of extracting information, either for court use or for use in counter-terrorism.'

The ISI practices torture. No one in Pakistan has any doubts about this. It is a subject commonly discussed, not least by government officials, diplomats and the media in Pakistan. Why is the British government so nervous about admitting it? One possibility is because it knows that such practices continue and discussion of them may complicate its efforts at collaboration with the ISI and other Pakistani agencies. The only way the British government could not have "run frontly" into evidence of torture is because it appears to have been running away from it.

British law may actually encourage-or at the least fail to discourage-complicity in torture by its officials and agents. The Criminal Justice Act of 1988 banned torture in domestic law. The government has a legal obligation to prosecute officials who carry it out. Ministers insist that this ban is "absolute" and that Britain never uses or condones torture. But the Criminal Justice Act has a major loophole:

It shall be a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section in respect of any conduct of his to prove that he had lawful authority, justification or excuse for that conduct [emphasis added].

This provides effective immunity for a person who can show he or she was acting under "lawful authority" to participate in torture.

The Intelligence Services Act 1994 goes further. This Act says that:

If, apart from this section, a person would be liable in the United Kingdom for any act done outside the British Islands, he shall not be so liable if the act is one which is authorised to be done by virtue of an authorisation given by the Secretary of State under this section... ‘liable in the United Kingdom' means liable under the criminal or civil law of any part of the United Kingdom.

This statute sends a mixed signal to the intelligence community by suggesting that state agents who engage in overseas conduct that would be illegal under British law, such as those who may have been complicit in torture in Pakistan, are unlikely to suffer any consequences. This law should be amended to rule out acts of or complicity in grave crimes such as murder, torture, and enforced disappearance.

Questions the Committee Could Address

There are many important questions about British government policy and the actions of government officials and agents that require additional inquiry.

A good place to start is for answers to be given to questions put forward on September 2, 2008, in the Raingzieb Ahmed case in Manchester, by his defense counsel, Michael Topolski, QC. Topolski submitted ten questions to the court that are relevant not only to the Raingzieb case, but to all UK counter-terror activities in Pakistan:

One: was Raingzieb Ahmed unlawfully detained at any time between 20 August 2006 and 7 September 2007?

Two: to what extent, if any, did the United Kingdom authorities have prior knowledge of his arrest and detention and what part, if any, did they play in it?

Three: was Raingzieb Ahmed ill treated whilst in detention?

Four: was he tortured whilst in detention?

Five: did the United Kingdom authorities have any reasonable grounds to suspect that Raingzieb Ahmed would or might be ill treated or tortured?

Six: what was the United Kingdom authorities' state of knowledge and/or reasonable belief regarding the position of similar detainees in Pakistan regarding ill-treatment and/or torture?

Seven: why did the United Kingdom authorities regard it as necessary and appropriate to request of the Pakistan authorities that any conduct of theirs be lawful?

Eight: was it appropriate for the United Kingdom authority's representatives to have access to Raingzieb Ahmed before he had received any consular visit and without the benefit of legal advice and representation?

Nine: what questions were asked of Raingzieb Ahmed [by agents of the United Kingdom] whilst detained and what answers did he give?...

Ten: what part, if any, did the United Kingdom authorities play in the removal of Raingzieb Ahmed by way of deportation as opposed to extradition in September of 2007?

Human Rights Watch believes that these are key questions. Some other outstanding questions include:

  1. What steps as a matter of policy does the UK government (throughout this memo we mean this term to include all intelligence and security agencies) take to ensure that torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is not used in any cases in which it has asked the Pakistani authorities for assistance or cooperation?
  2. What does the UK government do when it learns that such treatment has occurred in a particular case?
  3. What conditions has the UK government put on continuing cooperation and assistance with Pakistan in counter-terror and law enforcement activities?
  4. Has the UK government ever conditioned continuing cooperation or assistance with Pakistan on an end to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment?
  5. Has the UK government ever withdrawn cooperation in a particular case or cases because of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment?

Michael Topolski raised some other important claims in the Raingzeib trial. It is worth considering his submission, made on September 2, 2008:

My Lord, it is our submission that this prosecution amounts to an abuse of the process of the court arising from two things.  First of all, the alleged complicity of the United Kingdom authorities in unlawful detention, ill-treatment, and/or torture between 20 August 2006 and 7 September 2007, and arising from any established involvement of the United Kingdom authorities in the unlawful deportation or return of Raingzieb Ahmed to the United Kingdom.

The question is whether it appears that the authorities have acted illegally or have procured, connived at or facilitated unlawful procedures, or have violated international law or have violated domestic law of a foreign state, or have otherwise abused their powers.

It will be noted and needs to be underlined that it is not our case that United Kingdom agents themselves ill treated or tortured this man.  It is not our case that agents of the United States of America, who also interrogated him in this time, ill treated or tortured this man.  It is our case, clear and unequivocal, that it was agents of the state of Pakistan, specifically [ISI] and perhaps others, who ill treated and/or tortured him.

We make it clear that the abuse of executive power alleged here arises out of his ill-treatment, abuse and torture in Pakistan by Pakistan, amounting to significant and serious breaches of his article 3 rights at the very least, and it is the relationship that existed and exists between United Kingdom State authorities and the authorities of Pakistan, and how they interplayed in this case that forms the backdrop to the grave allegations which we make but from which we do not shrink.  That submission is based on the assertion that we make that United Kingdom authorities knew or believed, or at least seriously suspected that the conduct of Pakistan authorities vis-à-vis Raingzieb Ahmed was or was likely to be incompatible with his ... rights under article 3 and article 5 [of the European Convention on Human Rights].

In that regard it is our case that United Kingdom agencies, as public authorities, acted in breach of section 6 of the Human Rights Act of 1998.  We say this about torture because it is, in our submission, important that the court recognises how significant this is in this application.

Torture and the prohibition against it enjoys the highest normative force recognised by international law. States are required not merely to refrain from authorising or conniving torture, but also to suppress and discourage it and not to condone it.  And here we come to the heart of the matter.

Aware of or at least suspecting the situation in Pakistan to be what it was, State agents, the security services and also the police condoned and connived in his torture by providing his torturers with questions after being refused access to him.

This is indeed a case, we submit, with no enthusiasm, of outsourcing torture.  The court will need to examine whether in reality the prosecution are indeed relying, in the loosest sense of that term, on what happened to Raingzieb Ahmed in Pakistan.  Torture is not discouraged and is not suppressed, but is condoned in circumstances such as these, and it is our submission that the United Kingdom authorities have acted in clear breach of its obligations, both under the Convention and its wider international obligations.


Human Rights Watch recommends:

  1. A public inquiry should be held into all cases in which there are allegations of British government complicity, participation, or knowledge of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees to establish whether British intelligence, security or law enforcement services have been complicit in torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, illegal detentions, or  enforced disappearances, and to establish a code of conduct that is consistent with British and international law and human rights standards.
  2. The government should condition its counter-terror cooperation or assistance in Pakistan and elsewhere on the end of the use of torture, disappearances, arbitrary arrests, and other illegality in such cooperation. This will not only ensure compliance with Britain's domestic and international legal obligations, it will help countless Pakistanis who suffer from torture on a daily basis.
  3. The government should make the end of torture among its highest priorities in its relations with Pakistan. It should press in public and private for an end to torture. It should include a candid and unvarnished description of the problem in its annual human rights report.
  4. Parliament should repeal or amend any legal provisions, such as those in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 or Intelligence Act 1994, that appear to provide legal immunity for serious human rights abuses carried out by British security or intelligence personnel. At the very least, the Intelligence Act should be amended to rule out acts of or complicity in grave crimes such as murder, torture, and disappearances.
  5. Parliament should reconsider legislation that allows the use of "in camera" hearings where allegations of UK complicity in torture cannot be discussed in open court. Such hearings make it almost impossible to get to the truth on cases like these and hold anyone who has transgressed the law accountable.

Thank you for your consideration.

Yours Sincerely,

Brad Adams

Executive Director

Asia Division



Some cases investigated by Human Rights Watch are outlined below. Human Rights Watch adopts no opinion on the guilt or innocence of these individuals concerning the offenses they are either charged with, suspected, of or convicted for. However, it is our view that the allegations of torture and of British complicity in or awareness of the torture are credible.   

Salahuddin Amin

Salahuddin Amin, a British citizen, was convicted in April 2007 in the "Crevice" trial for plotting attacks against several potential targets, including London's Ministry of Sound nightclub. Amin gave himself up voluntarily to Pakistani authorities after learning that British law enforcement officials were seeking his arrest. Assurances were given to his family by Pakistani authorities that he would not be mistreated, yet he was then repeatedly tortured by Pakistan's notorious Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) and forced into a laundry list of false confessions.

While detained illegally by Pakistani authorities, Amin alleges that he was met by British intelligence officials on almost a dozen occasions. He says he would be tortured, then forced to go back to his cell and do "homework," wherein he would provide a written confession at ISI instruction, then meet British interrogators the next day, who would ask questions on the same subject. If the ISI felt his answers to the British agents were unsatisfactory, he would be told that he had embarrassed them "in front of our friends" and be punished with further torture. He says his main torturer was in the room when British officials were present, making it impossible to tell the British agents that he had been tortured. He says that because of their frequent presence, he assumed the British had approved his mistreatment, even if they were not present during it. Amin was released by Pakistani authorities after 10 months, during which he was never produced in court as required by Pakistani law, and then arrested at Heathrow upon his expulsion from Pakistan to the UK in 2005.

Zeeshan Siddiqui

Zeeshan Siddiqui, another British citizen, was detained in Pakistan in 2005 and tortured by the ISI while they interrogated him for his alleged membership of al Qaeda. Siddiqui was released without any charge by the Pakistanis and returned to the UK in January 2006, where he was sectioned under the Mental Health Act and the government placed a control order on him. During his detention in Pakistan, Siddiqui reported being repeatedly beaten, chained, injected with drugs and threatened with further torture and sexual abuse. During this detention and in an allegedly semi-coherent and visibly traumatized state, Siddiqui alleges he was interviewed by British intelligence officials, who must have known that he had been mistreated. Though this interrogation took place in early July 2006, Siddiqui only gained consular access in mid August-well over a month after British authorities were "aware" of his plight and an eternity for someone facing repeated torture. 

Rangzieb Ahmed

Rangzieb Ahmed, a British citizen from Rochdale, Manchester, was arrested on August 25, 2006, en route to Islamabad from Pakistan's North West Frontier Province. He was handed over to the ISI. On August 31, 2007, Ahmed's release was ordered by Pakistan's Supreme Court on the grounds that he had been arrested and held without charge for over a year. Upon "release," Ahmed was speedily repatriated to the UK and arrested. On December 17, 2008, he was convicted at Manchester Crown Court of being a member of al-Qaeda and directing terrorism by instructing a terror cell in the UK.

While in ISI custody, Ahmed says he was beaten with sticks, whipped with electric cables and sleep-deprived. He also alleges that his fingernails were pulled out over a three day period as ISI officials interrogated him. The Guardian has published photos of his injured fingernails. Ahmed told Human Rights Watch that he was interviewed in Pakistani custody by a British official in December 2006. At trial, the government did not deny the defense claim in open court that MI5 and Greater Manchester police sent the ISI questions to be put to Ahmed during interrogation and that MI5 officers questioned Ahmed while he was in ISI custody. British consular officials did not visit Ahmed until the day he was flown back to Britain. However, Ahmed succeeded in making contact with Human Rights Watch while still in Pakistani custody and, through an intermediary, provided an account consistent with his subsequent statements at his trial.

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.

Region / Country