(London) - The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) should immediately clarify statements in its annual human rights report that appear to give a green light to complicity by UK security agencies in the mistreatment of terrorism suspects in other countries, Human Rights Watch said today. The report states that ministers will decide whether British officials should still assist in the detention and interrogation of suspects even in cases where there is a risk of ill-treatment. This clearly leaves the door open to UK complicity in torture.
In a section on counterterrorism, the FCO's report outlines, for the first time in public, a policy that appears to authorize direct participation by UK security agents in interrogations of detained terrorism suspects by foreign intelligence services, even where there is a risk that those detained are being tortured.
"If this is what underlies the still secret guidance to the security services on interrogations overseas, then it's not surprising that there is now such a lot of evidence around that the UK has been complicit in the torture of terrorism suspects overseas," said Tom Porteous, the London Director of Human Rights Watch. "This report suggests it is ministers who can authorize complicity in torture."
The report also makes it clear that the UK security forces are authorized to share information with foreign agencies that might lead to the detention of suspects and to pass information that might be put to detainees, even when there is a risk of mistreatment. The report claims that the government does all it can to minimize "and where possible avoid the risk that the people in question are mistreated by those who are holding them" but acknowledges that the risk cannot always be eliminated.
"The government should immediately clarify the statements on the treatment of detainees in the FCO's report," said Porteous. "The onus is on the FCO to explain clearly how these statements do not amount to a policy of complicity in torture".
A year ago Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in response to credible allegations of UK complicity in the torture of former Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed, promised to make public new guidance for the security services on interrogation overseas. This guidance has not yet been published.
Human Rights Watch, which has documented in detail five cases of alleged UK complicity in torture in Pakistan, has called repeatedly for an independent judicial inquiry. This call has been echoed by senior politicians from across the political spectrum. But so far the government has merely issued blanket denials without addressing any of the specific allegations.
"An inquiry is the best way to find out what has gone wrong, who was responsible and what needs to be done to make sure it doesn't happen again," said Porteous. "But instead of holding an inquiry, the government is making matters worse by issuing policy statements that appear to authorize exactly the abuse we are trying to prevent."
UK policy statements like those in the FCO report create a market for torture intelligence by sending the message to abusive governments that torture is acceptable in the name of fighting terrorism. This runs counter to the absolute prohibition on torture which imposes obligations on states not only to refrain themselves from committing such abuse, but also to working towards the prevention and eradication of torture worldwide.