Britain accused of violating human rights in the name of the "war on terror"
Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC)
Monday 6 February 2006 for immediate release
As the row over British complicity in US "torture flights" continues to grow, new evidence has been made public highlighting the human rights abuses suffered by foreign nationals suspected of "terrorism-related activities" by the British government. The latest allegations of abuse are contained in evidence submitted by campaigning group Scotland Against Criminalising Communities to the inquiry into counter-terrorism policy and human rights being conducted by Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights. Testimony submitted to the inquiry by the the multi-faith group Peace & Justice in East London is expected to tell a similar story.
*** The material that follows is based upon the SACC submission to the JCHR and is subject to the condition noted at the end of this press release ***
SACC's submission is based on the first hand knowledge of Ann Alexander, a representative of SACC who has been vetted to visit four men held under house arrest in the south of England. These men were subject to Britain's notorious Control Orders (introduced last March as an anti-terrorism measure) until 11 August 2005 when they were rearrested by the Department of Immigration with the intention of deporting them to Algeria, where we believe they would be at risk of torture. Some of the men have now been released under bail conditions amounting to house arrest and one of them is still held in Broadmoor Hospital. None of them have charged with any criminal offence.
The submission documents the rule of fear under which the men must live. The monitoring company can visit their homes at any time of the day or night. Often this occurs as a result of a malfunction in the tagging equipment. These visits are traumatic not just for the men, but for their families. Their wives sleep fully clothed in fear of their doors being broken down in the middle of the night. Their children live in trepidation. The men are severely depressed, but cannot visit their GP without first obtaining permission from the Home Office.
The men are terribly isolated. If they have a phone, it has to be examined by the Home Office. In one case, a disabled man living alone had to wait over 4 months to have his phone returned to him.
A man who has no arms below his elbows lived for 5 months with little furniture and his belongings unpacked around him as no one could enter his home to assemble his flat packed wardrobes. Recently a man from the Peace and Justice Organisation passed the vetting and assembled the furniture.
The men's movements are strictly monitored and when they inform the monitoring company staff that they are going out, they are asked where they are going and, on their return, asked where they have been. Even under these conditions, they are allowed out only for a very limited period and within a restricted areas. The area does not include a mosque, although the men are Muslims.
Astonishing restrictions are placed on the men's family life. For example, one of the men has a four year old child so children under five could enter the house, but no child over the age of four.
We believe that the conditions imposed on the men violate their right to family life, privacy and home, and their right to religious freedom. But what frightens the men most is the prospect of being deported to Algeria. In her testimony, Ann Alexander writes:
"What struck me most was their profound dismay that Britain, once renowned world wide for its human rights, would consider an agreement with their country which is renowned for its total disregard for human rights"
*** The material based upon the SACC submission to the JCHR ends here ***
The government is seeking to deport the men on the strength of a "memorandum of understanding" from the Algerian government promising that they won't be tortured. It will be up to the courts to decide how much weight to give to such a memo. We hope that the courts will remember that Algeria is known to practice torture despite already being a party to solemn international treaties banning it. A court might also ask itself whether Algeria is likely to suppose the British government to be serious about a no-torture agreement, given the mounting evidence of secret British collusion in torture administered through the US extraordinary rendition programme. We think that any fair-minded court would conclude that the "memorandum of understanding" isn't worth the paper it's written on. The Home Office should be ashamed to place such evidence before a British court. When Algeria can demonstrate a long-term record of respect for human rights it will be time to re-consider our position, and not before.
A vigil against British complicity in torture and "extraordinary rendition" was held at Edinburgh airport yesterday, Sunday 5 February. Campaigners were joined in the cold by Robin Harper MSP(Green), Alyn Smith MEP (SNP) and John McAllion (SSP) and got an encouraging response from passengers who passed the vigil. Robin Harper told campaigners:
"International law has been flouted on our territory, innocent people have been transported to face prolonged periods of deprivation and torture - we must have guarantees that it will never happen again, and the agencies responsible for this outrage will be held accountable."
Alyn Smith insisted:
"The Scottish people, and the people of Edinburgh do not want these flights to continue in their name or on their soil...The government must make it clear now, that any activity involving kidnap or torture is just not acceptable."
Notes for editors
- The testimony referred to here - whether quoted or not - was prepared for Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights, and is the Committee's property. The Committee allows people submitting material to publish and publicise their submissions on condition that an indication that it was prepared for the Committee is given. SACC grants permission to re-publish, quote from, or otherwise make use of material from the submission included in this press release and from the document cited in (2) below only if the requirement of the Committee is met.
- The full text of SACC's submission to the JCHR is now (15 February) published in the Committee's report:
JCHR Report February 2006 (pdf document)
- The identities of the men under house arrest are protected by court order
- The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 gives the Home Secretary the power to impose control orders on anyone suspected of widely-defined "terrorism-related activities". Control orders can be imposed on British citizens as well as on foreign nationals, and do not require any proof of involvement in criminal activity
- SACC believes that 18 Control Orders were served last year, and that nine of them were still in place at the end of the year. In a number of cases control orders were replaced by bail conditions that are at least as oppressive.
- The men referred to here were previously detained without charge or trial under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. Their detention was ruled unlawful by the Law Lords in December 2004. In giving his judgement, Lord Hoffman said "The real threat to the life of the nation comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these... It calls into question the very existence of an ancient liberty of which this country has, until now, been very proud - freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention." The men were released from detention early in 2005 then immediately placed under the new control orders.