Sunday, April 20 2014

NGOs Express 'Concern' Over Credibility of Torture Inquiry



 Several NGOs, including the human rights group, Liberty, Amnesty International and Reprieve, have expressed “concern” regarding the credibility of the upcoming inquiry into Britain’s involvement in torture and illegal rendition since 11th September 2001. Their concerns have led them to consider whether they should boycott the inquiry.

From the Guardian:

“An inquiry set up by David Cameron to examine Britain's involvement in torture and rendition since 9/11 is running into trouble even before it has begun hearing evidence, with human rights organisations warning that it will fail to meet the UK's obligations under international and domestic law.

“Such is the level of concern that some NGOs (non-governmental organisations) are considering whether they should boycott the inquiry due to be headed by Sir Peter Gibson, because they fear it will not be sufficiently independent, impartial or open to public scrutiny.”

“...a series of meetings between Gibson, a retired judge, and representatives of nine rights groups including Liberty, Amnesty International  and Reprieve has resulted in the NGOs expressing concern that the credibility of the inquiry risks being undermined by the high level of secrecy it appears will surround the hearings – at the insistence of the very agencies whose activities are being scrutinised.

“Specifically, the NGOs say they are concerned that Gibson's inquiry will fail to meet the UK's obligations under the European convention on human rights, which they say establishes standards that must be met by official investigations into torture.

“They say these standards include the need for a mechanism independent of government to decide what evidence should be made public, and powers to compel evidence. In a joint letter to Gibson the nine groups have warned that a higher level of public scrutiny is needed ‘to prevent any appearance of [the government's] ongoing collusion in or tolerance of unlawful acts’.”


The Gibson inquiry was announced in July last year by PM David Cameron, who said that it was necessary to “restore Britain's moral leadership in the world.”

In his first major speech as Foreign Secretary, William Hague added: “Our foreign policy should always have consistent support for human rights …at its irreducible core and we should always strive to act with moral authority, recognising that once that is damaged it is hard to restore.”

Given the mounting costs and embarrassment Britain has faced from continuing involvement in torture, this inquiry provides the opportunity to draw a line in the sand on the matter and act as the first stop on the road to the restoration of our moral standing in the world. It is precisely this moral authority that has been tarnished time and time again by revelations of UK intelligence agencies’ complicity in torture and the wall of secrecy erected by the last government on the issue. This is the theme taken up by a Guardian editorial today, which warns of the dangers of a closed, secretive inquiry:

“The whole purpose of the current inquiry into UK involvement with modern-day torture was meant to be drawing a final line under the darkest chapter of the Blair years – a once and for all chance, as David Cameron put it to the Commons, ‘to get to the bottom of what happened’. Heaven knows it is a chance to be seized. In a world where people are currently dying in the struggle to achieve the rule of law, Britain's standing depends on it.”

“There are, however, growing doubts about the ability of Sir Peter Gibson's inquiry to establish the truth and reconciliation required.”

“...it seems that his work could be so secretive that the torture victims will declare a stitch-up and walk away, leaving the inquiry with little to do except for listening to the tales of the agencies themselves. Equally worrying is the charge that a hidden and circumscribed investigation will fall short of the standards that the law demands in cases where the absolute right not to be tortured appears to have been compromised. Of course Sir Peter has to balance transparency and the reality that the secret services are necessarily secretive, as he is properly aware. But if he bends too far towards the wishes of the security state, the upshot could be yet another inquiry.”


As we’ve seen with the several inquiries in to Iraq, it might suit those behind these acts to run circles around those who seek to hold them to account, but their short-term reprieve does incredible damage to the long-term standing of the country. Unless this inquiry is credible and open, Britain’s claims that it supports human rights will be nothing more than empty rhetoric.








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