Friday, June 27, 2014
“See No Evil, Speak No Evil” Solidarity Vigil to Mark International Day in Support of Victims of Torture
Report by Aisha Maniar
Later this year, the United Nations Convention Against Torture turns 30. Prohibiting the use of torture, as well as facilitation, the return of individuals to states where they are at risk and failing to prevent torture, it became international law on 26 June 1987. Since 1998, 26th June has been UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. “An occasion for the world to speak up against the unspeakable”, since 2010, the London Guantánamo Campaign (LGC) has marked this occasion with a public vigil in solidarity with all victims of torture. Over the past 30 years the use of torture has soared, with almost all states either involved in the practice or facilitation of torture.
The theme of this year’s global action was fighting impunity: “impunity is the failure of the state to fully investigate violations; to bring to justice and punish perpetrators; to provide victims with effective remedies; and to take all necessary steps to prevent a recurrence of the violation.”
Given the relevance of this issue to Britain, the LGC turned its focus on the British government, who in spite of repeat claims that it has does not practice or condone torture, has been involved in the practice of and facilitation of torture on many occasions. Instead of investigating and holding those responsible to account, it has chosen instead to use secret courts, biased investigations and out-of-court settlements to allow impunity for state agents. Its failure to investigate has led to Britain being the only western state to be subject to a preliminary examination by the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague for its alleged war crimes in Iraq, including over 170 claims of torture.
Around 50 people joined the action outside the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square and around 25 activists took part in a “See No Evil, Speak No Evil” action in which activists knelt or stood behind a banner stating “no impunity for torturers”, either blindfolded or gagged, and with their hands behind their backs or holding up other banners. Around 500 leaflets were distributed to passers-by raising awareness of the British government’s involvement in torture. The public response was very encouraging. Many people took an interest in the “See No Evil, Speak No Evil” action and stopped to take photographs, talk to the activists or indeed, join in themselves! While the odd passing American tourist declared that torture is far more useful than a judiciary and the rule of law, the vast majority of people – Londoners and visitors to our cosmopolitan city – largely agreed with the purpose of our action and expressed their agreement with the purpose of the vigil.
The LGC invites other organisations to join us and raise torture issues from around the world each year. This year, we were joined by the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, who campaign for the release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident still held in Guantánamo after more than 12 years without charge or trial; he was cleared for release in 2007. His family lives in London. As a hunger striker against his on-going arbitrary detention, he is still subject to torture through force-feeding at Guantánamo and has been subject to other abuses in the past. Earlier this year, he dropped a criminal complaint against the British intelligence services for being present while he was tortured in Afghanistan before being taken to Guantánamo, fearing that this prosecution, investigated by the police for the past 3 years, could be blocking his return to his family. Pressuring victims into silence is one of the ways in which states ensure impunity for their actions.
We were joined by Hamja Ahsan, whose brother Talha Ahsan, who suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, was extradited to the US in October 2012 on terrorism-related charges. In a plea bargain at the end of last year, Talha Ahsan and his co-defendant Babar Ahmad, also extradited from the UK, pleaded guilty to the charges against them. Fighting the charges would have been a more difficult option under the US legal system. Throughout their imprisonment in the US, both men have been held in solitary confinement at a US “Supermax” maximum security prison. Without access to natural sunlight and meaningful contact with other human beings, at any one time, over 80,000 men, women and children are held in solitary confinement in US prisons. According to the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, prolonged solitary confinement – any period of over 15 days – is tantamount to torture and in any case, it should only be used as a final measure. Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad will be sentenced next month and will almost certainly remain in solitary confinement after that.
We were also joined by the activists from the Kashmir Institute of International Affairs (KIIA) who raised awareness about India’s human rights abuses in Kashmir. India has not ratified the Convention Against Torture and the use of torture is widespread at all levels. However, the use of torture and other war crimes by the Indian military in Kashmir in particular is seriously under-reported and seldom criticised by international organisations, governments and the media. Over one in six Kashmiris is reported to have been tortured by the Indian military or police. Arbitrary detention and arrests often lead to torture including beatings, mutilation, rape, forced nudity, electric shocks, and in thousands of cases has led to death. Kashmir is a disputed territory and the Indian presence in the state is highly militarised. Many of the offences are carried out against civilians, including children.
The LGC thanks everyone who joined us and took the time to stand in solidarity with victims of torture everywhere.