Thursday, August 04, 2011

Human Rights NGOs, victims and their solicitors withdraw from the Detainee Inquiry

Following the publication of the terms of reference and protocol for the handling of information in the forthcoming Detainee (Gibson) Inquiry, on 4 August, letters were sent by 10 human rights NGOs and lawyers representing victims whose cases it will consider, stating that they are withdrawing from the inquiry and that they will henceforth not cooperate with it.

A letter was sent by 10 human rights NGOs stating that they would not be able to cooperate with the inquiry due to its lack of transparency and credibility.
In particular, they cited the use of secrecy and ineffective means for victims to question the security services and the failure to question foreign intelligence agents as a disappointment:
“Plainly an Inquiry conducted in the way that you describe and in accordance with the Protocol would not comply with Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. We are particularly disappointed that the issue of what material may be disclosed to the public will not be determined independently of Government and, further, that there will be no meaningful participation of the former and current detainees and other interested third parties.”
These groups have previously criticised the scope and proposed proceedings of the Inquiry.

Lawyers, including leading human rights solicitors Louise Christian, Gareth Peirce, Irène Nembhard and Tayab Ali, who represent some of the victims, also wrote to the Inquiry:
We consider it impossible to advise those whom we represent that the structure and protocols now confirmed for the Gibson inquiry can achieve what are essential ingredients for a public inquiry into grave state crimes. What is proposed is a 'Detainee Inquiry' in which there will be no constructive participation by the detainees. The detainees will not be able to ask questions or see or hear the key evidence which is to be considered only in secret session. They will not even know if the individuals being questioned are the right ones." (Source: BBC)

The Detainee (Gibson) Inquiry is intended to look into over a dozen cases of the involvement of British intelligence services (MI5 and MI6) in the torture and abuse of British and foreign nationals abroad since 2001. These include allegations related to abuse in Guantánamo Bay, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. Torture is banned absolutely under international law; there can be no exceptions. In spite of various allegations to the contrary, that the British government and its agents do not collude in torture, such evidence and claims have come to the surface time and again over the past few years, and have been proved in some cases, such as that of Binyam Mohamed. The allegations are of gross human rights violations and cannot be treated lightly. Both the alleged misconduct of the security services and the inquiry will be at the expense of the British taxpayer. However, the involvement of a British government, which claims to have human rights “as an indivisible part of our foreign policy”, in such extra-legal and illegal activity, and the extent to which it will go to conceal such involvement has far wider repercussions with the mission creep of secrecy into the domestic legal system. This was clearly shown in the Supreme Court ruling against the security services using closed hearings and secret evidence in a civil claim brought by former Guantánamo prisoners against MI5 and MI6: Criticised from the outset for its lack of transparency, effectiveness, limit scope, use of closed hearings and other matters, the fact that the government has chosen the Intelligence Services Commissioner, Sir Peter Gibson, whose job it is to oversee the work of British intelligence, to chair an inquiry into the intelligence and security services also undermines the transparency of this inquiry.

The Inquiry has responded to these criticisms on its website:
It states that the inquiry will go ahead nonetheless.

Press releases from NGOs on this news:
Amnesty UK:

Media reports on this news: