10:50, June 14 243 0 theguardian.com

2018-06-14 10:50:17
Rights groups write to PM demanding public inquiry into abuses

Six leading human rights groups have written to Theresa May to demand a public inquiry into the UK’s involvement in human rights abuses in the years following 9/11.

The move follows the prime minister’s decision to issue a public apology to the Libyan rendition victims Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his wife, Fatima Boudchar, who were kidnapped and flown to Tripoli with the help of MI6.

This week an all-party group of MPs and peers led by the former home secretary Ken Clarke wrote to May demanding a judge-led inquiry into the Belhaj case and others in which the UK became involved in the rendition and torture of detainees.

The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), a group of MPs and peers that provides oversight of the UK’s intelligence agencies, has produced two reports after a five-year investigation into the abuses.

Publication of the two reports – Detainee Mistreatment and Rendition: 2001-2010, and Detainee Mistreatment and Rendition: Current Issues – is thought to be imminent.

On Wednesday Amnesty International UK, Reprieve, Redress, Liberty, Rights Watch (UK) and Freedom from Torture wrote a joint letter to May warning against allowing the reports to be heavily redacted before publication.

They also said an ISC investigation would be no substitute for a public inquiry, no matter how thorough. “We believe that if the UK is to prevent future cases arising, and speak with credibility against torture overseas, the government must provide for a full public inquiry into the UK’s own involvement in these practices,” they wrote.

The organisations expressed concerns about the way in which the government can veto membership of the ISC and the way in which Downing Street decides which sections of its reports are withheld from parliament and the public.

“The restrictions placed on the committee’s scope and operation mean the ISC could never examine these issues in a way that is comprehensive and fully independent, and will at best have exposed the tip of the iceberg,” they wrote.

The rights groups are particularly concerned that the UK should express its resolve not to again become embroiled in human rights abuses after the election of Donald Trump and the appointment of Gina Haspel as director of the CIA.

“At a time when the leader of the UK’s foremost security partner has endorsed the use of waterboarding and ‘a hell of a lot worse’, and appointed someone deeply implicated in torture to run the CIA, it has never been more important that the UK maintain a strong and public stand against torture,” they wrote.

The first step towards this was the apology to Belhaj and Boudchar, they stated, adding: “The next step is a full public inquiry into UK involvement in torture and rendition, building on the work of the ISC to fulfil its mandate.”