Government slammed over torture agreements

A parliamentary committee has today expressed “grave concern” at the government’s use of diplomatic assurances to deport people to countries where they may face torture.

The joint Lords and Commons committee on human rights says the memoranda of understanding (MoU) signed with countries such as Libya, Lebanon and Jordan are not a sufficient guarantee of safety.

It also warns that the assurances have a “deeply corrosive effect” on the universal legal prohibition on torture, upheld by the UN, and could undermine the effectiveness of all international human rights law.

The MoU have been introduced by the government as a way of getting around its obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture (Uncat) not to return anyone to a state where they may face torture.

Similar diplomatic guarantees are used in the US and other countries, and in addition to those already agreed, Britain is currently negotiating them with Algeria, Morocco and Egypt.

However, human rights campaigners insist they are not worth the paper they are written on, saying there is no real way of enforcing them, and questioning whether the word of some states can be trusted.

Today’s report appears to support this view, noting that the MoUs are not legally enforceable and include no remedy or sanction for someone who is tortured or ill-treated.

The committee says it has “grave concerns” that the government’s reliance on diplomatic assurances could place deported individuals at “real risk of torture”.

It also criticises the British government’s intervention in a case before the European court in which the Dutch government is trying to deport someone to Algeria, where it is argued he would face torture.

“We are concerned that the intervention in Ramzy v Netherlands, in arguing for deportations of terrorist suspects despite a real risk of torture on their return, may send a signal that the absolute prohibition on torture may in some circumstances be overruled by national security considerations,” the report says.

“We reiterate our view that the absolute nature of the prohibition on torture precludes any balancing exercise between considerations of national security and the risk of torture.”

However, the minutes of the committee report shows members were divided on its conclusions, with Labour MPs Andrew Dismore and Mary Creagh insisting the wording was too strong.

They proposed an amendment that diplomatic assurances were in principle capable of satisfying a country’s obligation not to return an individual to torture, but this was rejected by a vote of three to two.