A number of NGO’s including CAGE, Amnesty International, Reprieve, Freedom from Torture, Justice, REDRESS, The Aire Centre, Rights Watch UK and Liberty have written this joint letter to the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC). Following the previous letter which was addressed to William Hague, the NGO’s raise their legitimate concerns as to the legality of the ISC taking lead on the detainee inquiry, set up to investigate whether British intelligence agencies were actively involved in the secret rendition and torture of UK citizens and residents, when both governments previously promised that it would be independent and judge led.
- We wrote to the then Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and the Cabinet Secretary on 25 March 2014 to raise our concerns about the role of the ISC in the investigation of the treatment of detainees and the UK involvement in rendition (we copied this letter to the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee (“ISC”)) (copy annexed). This letter sets out in detail our joint concerns as to whether the decision to ask the ISC to conduct its current investigation into detainee treatment and rendition was lawful or appropriate. The concerns we raised remain unaltered and have not been allayed by the Foreign Secretary’s response. Consequently, we as a collective of domestic and international nongovernmental organizations do not propose to play a substantive role in the conduct of this inquiry.i
- The Government had previously assured the public and the international community that an independent judicial inquiry would be established into the matters on which the ISC is now calling for evidence.ii By way of contrast, the Prime Minister had expressly ruled out the possibility of the ISC carrying out the investigation, recognising that an inquiry led by a judge who is “fully independent of Parliament, party and Government” was required “to get to the bottom of the case”.iii We are therefore deeply disappointed that, having pledged to hold a judge-led inquiry shortly after taking office, both parties of Government have now u-turned on that promise.
- We remain unpersuaded that the decision to cut short the work of the flawed Gibson inquiry and to pass the baton on to the ISC is an adequate substitute for the establishment of an independent judicial inquiry.
- An inquiry compliant with international and domestic human rights standards is required to get to the truth about these allegations, fulfil the UK’s obligations under international law and comply with the Human Rights Act 1998. Our earlier correspondence with the Government and the Detainee Inquiry (annexed) addressed the minimum requirements of that framework and the need for transparency, openness and effective engagement with the detainees and their families.
- We have consistently offered support and expertise on how the Government could ensure a fully rights-compliant process for accountability. As a group, our concerns are founded on the international commitment to the absolute prohibition on torture and other protections, including effective redress, afforded detainees by international human rights standards. The participation and engagement with the detainees in this process must be paramount. Without such participation, it is difficult to see how any inquiry could learn lessons from the past and work toward providing redress and reparation for victims of abuse. It is a matter of significant regret that the Government has to date refused to establish such an inquiry.
- We have not yet received a satisfactory response explaining how the limitations inherent in the ISC’s mandate and powers can be reconciled with the obligation under domestic and international law that the Government conduct an independent, effective, thorough and impartial investigation into the serious human rights violations which are currently before the Committee.
- The ISC is not and cannot be, by its very design, adequate to the task of carrying out an independent investigation of these violations. Despite the minor changes to the Committee made by the recent Justice and Security Act, it remains the case that the Prime Minister holds an absolute veto over its membership, the evidence which it is allowed to examine, and the information which it is allowed to publish. We are therefore of the view that the Committee has neither the powers nor the independence necessary to get to the truth of Britain’s involvement in the rendition and torture of detainees abroad. Any investigation conducted by the ISC will be inherently flawed.
- We understand that you have already received evidence from the intelligence agencies on the 27 points raised by the Detainee Inquiry report. We urge the ISC and the Government to make these submissions available to the public to the fullest extent possible.
- We have no objection to this letter being published by the ISC. We intend to make the document publicly available through our respective organizations’ websites.
- The principal point of contact for further information about concerns raised in this letter is Kartik Raj, Researcher, EU Team, Amnesty International (Peter Benenson House, 1 Easton Street, London WC1X 0DW, email: UK-SHR@amnesty.org, fax: 020 7956 1157); Amnesty International will in turn forward any correspondence to all the signatory organizations.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)