Wednesday, June 29 2016

Govt Questioned Over Continuing Torture Claims

 Fresh allegations of UK complicity in torture have emerged in the Guardian today. The paper reports that Omar Awadh Omar, a Kenyan businessman, “said he has been interrogated by British intelligence officers after being severely mistreated at a notorious prison in Uganda, in what appears to be the first major challenge to the coalition government’s renunciation of the use of torture.”

On the details of Awadh’s case, the Guardian states:

“Omar Awadh Omar, a Kenyan businessman, has been charged with involvement in the planning of suicide bomb attacks in Kampala last July in which 76 people died and more than 70 were injured.”

“Awadh was abducted in Nairobi two months after the attacks and illegally rendered to Uganda to be interrogated and charged. Since then, according to his lawyers and relatives, he has been repeatedly beaten, threatened with a firearm and with further rendition to Guantánamo by Ugandan officials, before being questioned by American officials. They say that on at least one occasion he was also questioned by men who identified themselves as MI5 officers.”

“Supporters of Awadh, 38, a used-car salesman, say he is a human rights activist. The Ugandan government has accused him of involvement with both al-Qaida and al-Shabab, the Islamist group fighting to overthrow the government of Somalia which claimed responsibility for the Kampala bomb attacks.”

“He is one of 17 people charged over the attacks. Eight are Kenyan, seven of them rendered in operations condemned by the Kenyan ministry of justice and the British high commission in Nairobi.

“The eighth is a prominent Kenyan human rights activist, Al-Amin Kimathi, who has campaigned against rendition, and whose arrest led Human Rights Watch to question whether the Ugandan authorities were attempting to silence ‘a well-known critic of government abuses in the fight against terrorism in east Africa’.”

Clara Gutteridge of the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), who have taken up Awadh’s case, told the Guardian:

“The facts of this case suggest a worrying new trend in US-UK overseas detention policy, and raise urgent questions as to the legality of the new consolidated guidance for UK security and intelligence personnel operating overseas. UK government condemnations of torture are wearing increasingly thin.

“Omar Awadh's case raises very serious concerns that the British are now involved in what is essentially a sort of decentralised, outsourced Guantánamo Bay.”

Last September, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) advised the government that its new guidance on torture may violate UK and international law. The guidance sets out the steps which must be taken by intelligence officers “before they interview detainees held by authorities overseas, seek intelligence from detainees in the custody of foreign countries or solicit the detention of a person by a foreign country.”

According to the EHRC, the guidance provides a loophole for British intelligence officers to continue with the interrogation of detainees provided that any risk of the detainee having been tortured is mitigated through “caveats or assurances or if Ministers have been consulted.”

The last government had been tainted with revelations of their role in the torture of individuals, including British citizens and, Ms. Gutteridge argues in a comment piece for the Guardian, Mr. Awadh’s case “raises the spectre of ministerial authorisation for interrogations that involve complicity in torture.”

The Guardian report states that when “asked whether Theresa May, the home secretary, or any of her ministers had been consulted about any questioning of Awadh in Uganda, the Home Office said: ‘The security service operates within legal guidelines, which include the consolidated guidelines. The guidelines would have been followed, if they needed to have been.’”

Last July, the Prime Minister announced that an inquiry will be held into claims that British security services were complicit in the torture of terror suspects. It is to be chaired by Sir Peter Gibson. The credibility of the inquiry was questioned by human rights groups who expressed concern about the “high level of secrecy it appears will surround the hearings – at the insistence of the very agencies whose activities are being scrutinised.”

These fresh allegations of UK complicity in torture, alongside previous cases, will lead some to question the assertion made today by Foreign Secretary William Hague at the launch of the Foreign Office’s ‘2010 Human Rights and Democracy Report’, that “the belief in political and economic freedom, in human rights and in the rule of law, are part of our national DNA.”

No doubt some will also question the statement contained within the report that “the Government and its armed forces and intelligence agencies do not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment for any purpose.”

Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 April 2011 12:35

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