one small window…

on the world: a view on human rights

No Torture Porn in Court Please, We’re British


Today is an anniversary that will not be marked with parades or any celebrations whatsoever, if at all. A sombre anniversary, it is the twenty fifth anniversary of the United Nations Convention Against Torture (UNCAT) becoming international law on 26 June 1987. The United Kingdom signed in 1988, but is also bound to the prohibition on torture by other international instruments, such as the European Convention on Human Rights, and domestic laws that date back almost eight centuries to the Magna Carta.

Laws, unto themselves, do not modify the behaviour of individuals or states. Following World War II, the world said “never, never again” when signing up to the UN Charter, but “never” turned out to be a very short space of time. Where nations once came together to prohibit the use of torture, they now work together in its collusion in the twenty-first century hybrid of torture outsourcing, also known as “extraordinary rendition”.

Britain’s involvement in this extralegal programme run by its close ally, the US, is extensive and has far wider implications than we know of. From the refuelling of torture flights in UK airspace, knowledge that British nationals and residents had been rendered to Guantánamo Bay, renditions through the British-administered territory of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to more active participation in the rendition of Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his family to Libya in 2005 and the rendition of Pakistani national Yunus Rahmatullah to the US army in Iraq in 2004, Britain has played a close and constant role. In spite of official denial and outright lies, the truth has developed a bad habit of leaking out in drips and drabs over the years in various ways.

According to London Green MEP Jean Lambert, “The claims that British intelligence services have not been complicit in torture or rendition are continuing to crumble. Indeed, the recent scrapping of the Gibson Inquiry is further proof that successive UK governments are attempting to sweep the ugly matter under the carpet in the vain hope that it will magically disappear.”

Indeed, the government is now seeking to ensure that evidence of its collusion in torture never sees the light of day, through the use of secret trials proposed in the Justice and Security Bill, published in May. The rationale for the some of the proposals, as stated in the Bill and when the green paper was first proposed in parliament two years, is to prevent cases such as those brought by former Guantánamo prisoners and rendition victim Binyam Mohamed against the government for its collusion in torture and rendition ever being brought to court again. The aim is to prevent these claimants and the wider public knowing the truth about the government’s involvement in torture. Some claims relate to the current government.

The culture of impunity lives on. One need not go too far to see the distance the British government will go to keep its torture collusion a secret; Northern Ireland is far enough. The techniques and practices which have emerged internationally over the past decade have some rather domestic roots. The hooding and stress positions used at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere were part of the so-called “five techniques” used against Republican prisoners in the North of Ireland in the 1960s. Clara Reilly, from Relatives for Justice, who campaigned and collected the evidence to persuade the Irish government to take the United Kingdom to the European Court of Human Rights for torturing prisoners, said that she is “angered but not surprised” by Britain’s “hypocritical” stance on torture in other states when “they themselves were responsible for introducing torture and ill-treatment during the conflict in the North of Ireland”. Indeed, one of the questions raised in the recent inquiry into the murder of Iraqi Baha Mousa is how these methods have survived, in spite of having been banned decades ago.

More recently, just last week, a former Republican prisoner had his 1973 murder conviction quashed after it emerged he had been subject to forms of torture, including waterboarding, by the British army.

The government can introduce further secrecy into the legal system and deny victims the right to their day in court but justice is not so easily extinguished, as shown in some North of Ireland cases, and pending Kenyan torture cases going back to the 1950s. It can be a long road to walk. In other cases, an unexpected revolution, as in Libya, can throw open a trove of “sensitive materials” governments would not like disclosed, leading to a criminal investigation into the Belhaj rendition and the collapse of the flawed Gibson Inquiry. 

In politics, as in commerce, governments need an incentive to play by the rules and honour the obligations they have signed up to. International relations and diplomatic embarrassments are a poor excuse not to. The secrecy surrounding national security and elaborate legal arguments and terminology surrounding these issues and procedures make them difficult for the general public to engage with in any way, but torture, rendition and injustice are not that remote. It is the British taxpayers’ contributions that both finance these illegal practices and then fund the costly legal battles to keep them secret.

Since 1998, 26 June is also International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, which in the words of former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan is “a day on which we pay our respects to those who have endured the unimaginable. This is an occasion for the world to speak up against the unspeakable”. Governments will not, so the onus thus falls on ordinary people to speak up, speak out and ensure that impunity and torture collusion are not allowed to prevail.

 © Aisha Maniar

One comment on “No Torture Porn in Court Please, We’re British

  1. Pingback: …And justice for all: Stealing a Nation – Chagos Islands « turcanin. cu ţ.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 154 other followers

%d bloggers like this: