27 May, 2010

The state of the world's human rights

Amnesty International has published its report for 2009 - see State of the World's Human Rights.  It is a critical examination of the situation including the United Kingdom.  Further comment may be see at UK Human Rights blog.

The UK is criticised in several areas notably: violation of the human rights of people held overseas; the use of unenforceable diplomatic assurances in deportation cases; control orders;  the ability (under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009) for the executive to replace an inquest with an inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005; the disproportionate use of force in the Policing of the G20 conference etc.

22 May, 2010

Chilcot's Iraq Inquiry - still on going

Up to the end of March 2010, the Chilcot Inquiry has cost £2,237,700 - see the Inquiry's website.  The Inquiry members have recently visited France and the USA.  The Inquiry sittings so far have not administered a "killer blow" to anyone but have revealed a lot of interesting information.  The inquiry has been criticised in some quarters for not employing experienced barristers to examine witnesses but, had it done so, all those attending might well have demanded legal representation with a consequential huge rise in costs.  It is an inquiry made up of Privy Councillors and is a fact-finding exercise.  It is not a judicial inquiry and is certainly not intended to be like a court apportioning blame.

A useful website on this topic is Iraq Inquiry Digest

The proposed Inquiry relating to alleged U.K. complicity in torture

The United Kingdom is a signatory to the "Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" - (The Torture Convention).  The U.K. signed the Convention on 15th March 1985.  Article 2 requires signatories to take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.  The offence of torture is to be found in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 s.134.  A prosecution requires the consent of the Attorney-General.

The last few years have seen a growing sense of unease about the possibility of U.K. officials being complicit in acts of torture.  There has also been concern about British involvement in the use of "Extraordinary Rendition" by the U.S.A.  Further concerns were raised by the Binyam Mohamed litigation.

Both Liberty and Amnesty International have welcomed the announcement that there will be an Inquiry. 

Liberty has set out a "timeline" of torture allegations.

Amnesty has listed some questions which, in their view, ought to be answered.

One such question relates to the use of Intelligence Services Act 1994 section 7. "If, apart from this section, a person would be liable in the United Kingdom for any act done outside the British islands, he shall not be so liable if the act is one which is authorised to be done by virtue of an authorisation given by the Secretary of State under this section".

Amnesty are asking for greater information about the use of this section the extent of which is unclear.  Just what has been "authorised" which would otherwise have fallen within the criminal law in the U.K.?

Details of the Inquiry have yet to be announced - e.g. will it be held under the Inquiries Act 2005; who will chair it; what will be the exact terms of reference; what powers will it have to order production of witnesses and documents; will it sit in public or private or a mixture of both etc.

The new Foreign Secretary's announcement that there will be an Inquiry into these matters will (hopefully) serve to clear up these matters which, without an adequate answer, will stain the reputation of the U.K. and of the previous Labour government.

20 May, 2010

Foreign Affairs and the new government: will they be all that much different? No. 2

The Coalition government has published its full Coalition Agreement and the Policy statements for Foreign Affairs may be seen at paragraph 15.  Interestingly, reform of the United Nations Security Council is referred to and an intention to support Japan, India, Germany, Brazil having permanent seats on the Council as well as "African representation".

The new Foreign Secretary has announced that there will be an inquiry into allegations of British complicity in  torture - The Guardian 21st May.   Hague stated - "It is vital to remember that torture does not help us defeat terrorists; it helps them to try to justify their hostility to us".  The precise form and details of the Inquiry remain to be announced.  The Guardian reports that "government lawyers" are expected to offer out of court settlements to certain claimants following the case of Al Rawi and others v Security Service and others [2010] EWCA Civ 482.  In that case, the Court of Appeal refused the use of "Special Advocates" in civil proceedings.  "Special Advocates" have been used in some areas (e.g. at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission) so that the evidence against a person is not disclosed other than to the judge(s) and the special advocate(s).  It is not disclosed to the affected individual or to his own lawyer.

See also The Guardian 20th May - "Torture and Rendition:   Inquiry expected to expose officials who colluded".

16 May, 2010

Foreign Affairs and the new government: will they be all that much different?

A new British government has been formed under Prime Minister David Cameron. It is a coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.  However, so far, there is very little solid evidence that foreign policy will change very much from that of the predecessor Labour government.

A meeting between the new Foreign Secretary (William Hague) and the United States Secretary of State (Hillary Clinton) has reaffirmed the so-called "special relationship" between the UK and the US.  See Foreign Office.  In recent years, many people have viewed this "special relationship" as placing the UK in a subservient position to the US and would wish to see a much more "equal" and critical partnership.  It now appears that Cameron and Hague might be trying to - (at least) - create an impression of independence from Washington - "a solid but not slavish relationship" - see Express 16th May.  There are also serious concerns which have not been adequately addressed regarding possible involvement of UK personnel in matters such as extraordinary rendition and torture - see, for example, APPG on Extraordinary Rendition

It is also noticeable that the PM met with President Karzai of Afghanistan.  See Downing Street.  Very little detail has been released about their discussions though some reports suggest that Hague has stated that Karzai must "meet his commitments".  The UK's involvement in Afghanistan is a matter of huge public concern.  It is also a commitment with massive financial costs which weighs heavily at a time of serious financial crisis with the new UK government being faced with an unprecedented deficit.  Hague has indicated that Britain's military would stay involved in Afghanistan until "their job is done" but clear definition of what is required for it to "be done" is lacking.  To the general public in the UK the exact role remains unclear and the timescale endless.

A further worry is the stance being taken via-a-vis Iran.  There is no doubt that even the possibility of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons is a major concern but it has been announced that the US and UK will be seeking a stronger Security Council Resolution against Iran and one which will threaten "serious consequences".  Maybe there ought to be a very serious consideration about just what the UK, with its present fragile economy, can offer in terms of enforcement of any such resolution.

A further question is - just what will the UK try to do to secure better regard for Human Rights in Iran and in many other countries?  A necessary pre-condition to achieving anything must be that the UK's own stance on human rights both at home and abroad.

Another development is the designation of the waters around the Chagos Islands as a Marine Reserve. This was announced in early April - just prior to the UK General election being called - see BBC News.  The removal of the Chagossians from their homeland is now seen as an appalling foreign policy decision by the Labour government of Harold Wilson though little has been done since to resolve the issue.  The airbase of Diego Garcia is of strategic military importance.  Although the British government has indicated that the territory might be ceded to Mauritius, this is unlikely until such time as the base is not required.  The cynic might say that amounts to "never".  See also Chagos Conservation Trust

In the recent meeting between Hague and Clinton, it is thought that Hague raised the question of the Falkland Islands.   It is rather unlikely that the new British government will adopt a markedly different stance to its predecessor and there are domestic political difficulties in the way of them doing so.  Previously, Clinton had suggested that she might act as a "go between" in seeking to resolve the dispute between London and Buenos Aires.  Perhaps some re-appraisal is called for though falling short of a transfer of sovereignty.  After all, the dispute is not going to miraculously disappear.

It will be essential that a careful watch is maintained as to just how the new government takes foreign policy forwards.  So far, in foreign affairs, the outcome of a change of government has been "more of the same" or just a continuation of the Labour government policy in a number of areas of crucial importance for the UK.