UK rights commission concerned over new interrogation guidelines

UK rights commission concerned over new interrogation guidelines

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[JURIST] The UK Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) [official website] expressed concern [press release] Monday that the country’s new regulations [materials, PDF] regarding information obtained through torture of foreign detainees may still leave intelligence agents vulnerable to legal action for human rights crimes committed by others. The guidelines provide steps that must be taken by intelligence officers before they interview, interrogate or solicit the detention of terror suspects held by foreign governments. The guidance also prohibits interrogation officials from further action if they “know or believe” the torture of a detainee will take place. The EHRC is concerned that the wording of the guidance will mislead interrogators, who could potentially be held personally liable for the torture of suspects. The EHRC said that it sent a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron [official website] advising the government to amend the wording of the guidance in order to ensure the protection of interrogation officials. The letter suggests prohibiting an interrogation officer from proceeding when there is a “serious risk of torture” and provides factors to be taken into consideration by ministers who are reviewing an interrogation situation. The EHRC’s Legal Group Director, John Wadham, stated the guidelines are “not consistent” with national or international human rights laws:

In these cases, the guidance suggests that the officer can proceed provided the risks can be mitigated through caveats or assurances or if Ministers have been consulted. … The government now has the opportunity to bring its guidance within the law so that the intelligence service itself and its individual officers do not unwittingly leave themselves open to costly and time consuming court action.

A spokesperson for the UK Cabinet Office [official website] denied [Guardian report] the EHRC’s allegations, saying that the UK government “is confident that the guidance is legal and consistent with domestic and international law.” The new guidelines were published in July after several foreign detainees made claims that the British government was complicit in the torture of detainees overseas.

In July, the UK high court announced [JURIST report] that a lawsuit, filed by former Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees and alleging that the UK government was complicit in their torture, could proceed. The lawsuit, filed by 12 ex-detainees, alleges that British agents took part in their mistreatment while they were held in prisons in foreign countries, including Pakistan and Morocco. Also in July, Cameron announced [JURIST report] the creation of a panel to investigate these complicity claims. A similar lawsuit was filed by the human rights group Reprieve [advocacy website], which had been seeking a review of the country’s torture policy. Additional claims of complicity were made against the government in a July report [materials] released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. According to HRW, intelligence services in France, Germany and the UK lack proper oversight of intelligence information that is received from countries that torture.