Torture


‘Killer Robots’ and ‘Conversion Therapies’ – The Human Rights Round-up

14 April 2015 by

A scene from the 2003 film Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

This week’s Round-up is brought to you by Alex Wessely.

In the news:
Military chiefs have criticised the influence of Human Rights law in a report published this week, arguing that the “need to arrest and detain enemy combatants in a conflict zone should not be expected to comply with peace-time standards”. This follows a series of cases over the years which found the Ministry of Defence liable for human rights violations abroad, culminating in allegations of unlawful killing in the Al-Sweady Inquiry that were judged “wholly without foundation” in December.

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State immunity does not avail Saudi Prince

9 June 2014 by

curvedsophaHarb v. HRH Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Fahd Abdul Aziz, Rose J, [2014] EWHC 1807 (Ch), 9 June 2014 – read judgment

Rosalind English posted in January 2014 (here) on Jones v. the United Kingdom ((judgment here), in which the Strasbourg Court decided that the inability of four men to bring torture compensation claims against Saudi Arabia in UK courts did not breach Article 6(1) of the Convention (access to court).  The Court held that a grant of state immunity  reflected generally recognised rules of public international law and so there had been no violation.

The current claim involves a Saudi Prince, and his late father, King Fahd, but its subject matter is very different. Mrs Harb, the claimant, says she married King Fahd secretly in 1969: see the photo of them in happier times. The King agreed to provide for her after their separation, Mrs Harb says, and the Prince was involved in agreeing the details of this. Mrs Harb then brought matrimonial proceedings against the King, whilst alive, which were dismissed on grounds of state immunity. On appeal, the CA (judgment here) decided that these proceedings had come to an end by virtue of the King’s intervening death in 2005.

The present proceedings consisted of a claim for breach of contract in respect of the agreement concluded by the Prince on behalf of his father – said to involve £12m and two large Central London properties. The Prince pleaded state immunity, but this plea was dismissed by Rose J in today’s judgement.

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State immunity upheld against human rights challenges in Strasbourg

18 January 2014 by

Saudi_mapJones and Others v. the United Kingdom (application nos. 34356/06 and 40528/06) – read judgement

The Strasbourg Court has ruled that the inability of four men to bring torture compensation claims against Saudi Arabia in UK courts did not breach the Convention.  The Court held that a “grant of immunity to the state officials in the present case reflected generally recognised rules of public international law”  and that there had been no violation of  Article 6 (right of access to court).

The claimants argued that there there was emerging support for a special exception to this immunity in cases concerning civil claims for torture lodged against foreign State officials. But the Court took the view that the bulk of the authority was to the effect that the State’s right to immunity may not be circumvented by suing its servants or agents instead. The fact that conduct was unlawful or objectionable was not, of itself, a ground for refusing immunity.
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When you wish upon a rendition and torture inquiry…

19 December 2013 by

Detainee Inquiry1 Crown Office Row’s Philippa Whipple QC and Matthew Hill were counsel to the Detainee Inquiry. They are not the writers of this post.

On 6 July 2010, in the first innocent days of the Coalition Government, former appeal judge Sir Peter Gibson was asked by the Prime Minister to enquire into “whether Britain was implicated in the improper treatment of detainees, held by other countries, that may have occurred in the aftermath of 9/11.” Almost 3 1/2 years later, the Detainee Inquiry has  produced a  report (it was originally presented to the Government on 27 June 2012 but there have been heavy negotiations about sensitive material in the public version).

The report makes clear at the outset that it “does not, and cannot, make findings as to what happened”. Why so? Because the Inquiry was scrapped before it heard evidence from any witnesses, so it couldn’t test any conclusions reached purely on the basis of documentary evidence. The reason given at the time by Sir Peter  was that “it is not practical for the Inquiry to continue for an indefinite period to wait for the conclusion of the police investigations“. The “investigations” are those into claims of collusion by the intelligence services with torture in Libya (see this Q&A for more).

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South African Supreme Court orders police to investigate Zimbabwe torture allegations

28 November 2013 by

subvertingjusticeNational Commissioner of the South African Police Service v Southern African Human Rights Litigation Centre (485/2012) [2013] ZASCA 168 (27 November 2013) – read judgment.

In what appears to be the first case where the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) has had to consider the investigation of crimes committed extraterritorially, the Court has made it clear that the perpetrators of systematic torture – as was alleged in this case – can be held accountable in South Africa regardless of where the offending acts took place.

It had been alleged that Zimbabwean officials had on a widespread scale tortured opponents of the ruling party. The Gauteng high court had ordered the SAPS to initiate an investigation under the Implementation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Act 27 of 2002 (the ICC Act) into the alleged offences (see my previous post on that ruling).  
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High Court orders disclosure of closed judgment in Afghanistan interrogation case

16 October 2013 by

Justice and SecurityR (on the application of Maya Evans) v Secretary of State for Defence, with Associated Press intervening [2013] EWHC 3068 (Admin) – read judgment

In  “Evans (No. 1)”, a 2010 case concerning the transfer of suspected insurgents for questioning in certain military centres in Afghanistan, the High Court had ruled, partly in an open judgment, partly in closed proceedings, that UK transfers to NDS Kandahar and NDS Lashkar Gah could proceed without risk of ill treatment (which is contrary to UK policy), but that it would be a breach of the policy and therefore unlawful for transfers to be made to NDS Kabul. It was subsequently discovered that there had not been jurisdiction to follow a closed procedure in that case, but what was done could not be undone, so the confidentiality agreements and the closed judgment remained in force.
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Shouting is a lawful interrogation technique, says High Court

11 February 2013 by

10_03-the-smoking-compartment--the-interrogation-room-1Ali Hussein v Secretary of State for Defence [2013] EWHC 95 (Admin) – read judgment

Collins J has dismissed a claim that the MOD’s policy of allowing interrogators to shout at a captured person in order to obtain information is unlawfully oppressive. Not only did the complaint fail but it was denounced as “misconceived” and one which should never have been pursued.

Background

 British armed services have two policies for questioning captured persons (CPERS) who are believed to possess valuable information which may protect the lives of other members of the forces or civilians, for example the location of roadside bombs.
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South African police force should not shrink from investigating Zimbabwe torture allegations

14 May 2012 by

South African Litigation Centre and Zimbabwe Exiles Forum v. National Director of Public Prosecutions and other governmental units – read judgment 

South Africa’s North Gauteng High Court has just ruled that South African prosecutors and police illegally refused to proceed with an investigation of systematic torture in Zimbabwe.

South Africa, like many countries, has adopted the international crime prosecution Treaty (“the Rome Statute”). This means that under ordinary domestic law  (the ICC Act)  the South African investigative authorities have the power to prosecute anyone who has committed torture, or a crime against humanity anywhere in the world, if the perpetrator is in the country (at any time when investigation is contemplated). Jurisdiction is also vested irrespective of the perpetrator’s whereabouts if the victim is a South African citizen.

Of course this burden of responsibility teems with diplomatic difficulties, but generally it has been discharged with the convenient prosecutions of has-beens like Charles Taylor and  Slobodan Milošević.

As Naomi Roht-Arriaza points out in her fascinating post on the subject, this particular case of South Africa v Zimbabwe illustrates the strain put on governments by the principle of  complementarity under the 1998 Rome Statute, which puts pressure on implicated states to investigate these major crimes on their threshold, too close to home. It should come as no surprise that South African prosecutors are reluctant to investigate allegations of torture committed in Zimbabwe –

One of the critiques of transnational prosecutions based on universal jurisdiction is that they are a new brand of neo-colonialism, with former colonial powers seeking to bring into court disgraced leaders of their former colonies.

Now the tables are turning, and this universal jurisdiction is not being universally welcomed.

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Delay in transferring mental health patient for treatment amounted to “inhumane treatment”

3 May 2012 by

M.S. v United Kingdom, 3 May 2012 – read judgment

In a ruling revealing stark differences between the UK courts and the Strasbourg court’s approach to the threshold for Article 3 treatment, Strasbourg has ruled that the detention of a mentally ill man in police custody for more than three days breached his rights under that provision

The Court held in particular that the applicant’s prolonged detention without appropriate psychiatric treatment had diminished his human dignity, although there had been no intentional neglect on the part of the police.

The following details are taken from the Strasbourg Court’s press release:

The applicant was arrested in Birmingham in the early morning of 6 December 2004, after the police had been called to deal with him because, highly agitated, he was sitting in a car sounding its horn continuously. His detention at a police station was authorised under the 1983 Mental Health Act, which allows the detention of a person suffering from a mental disorder for up to 72 hours for the purpose of being examined by a doctor and receiving treatment. The police subsequently found the applicant’s aunt at his address, seriously injured by him.
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When does an expert report constitute “independent evidence” of torture?

2 May 2012 by

R (on the application of AM) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] EWCA Civ 521 – Read judgment

Whether expert evidence relied upon by an asylum seeker amounted to “independent evidence” of torture was the key issue before the Court of Appeal in this case . The issue arose in the context of AM’s claim against the Home Office for wrongful imprisonment contrary to the UK Border Agency’s  Enforcement Instructions and Guidance. The Guidance, which contains the policy of the Agency on detentions (amongst other things), says that where there is “independent evidence” that a person has been tortured, that person is suitable for detention only in “very exceptional circumstances”.

AM, an Angolan national, was detained pending removal following an unsuccessful appeal from the refusal of her asylum claim, the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal having found her to have “no credibility whatsoever” and rejected her evidence that she had been raped and tortured. She later launched a fresh asylum claim on the basis of new evidence, in the form of an expert report by a wound and scar specialist, Ms Kralj, which linked the various scars on her body to torture. The claim was refused again but AM won her appeal. The Tribunal this time found that she had been raped and tortured as she had claimed, causing the scars on her body.

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Secrecy for torture evidence – analysis

8 March 2012 by

W (Algeria) (FC) and BB (Algeria) (FC) and others v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] UKSC 8 – read judgment

As we reported in our summary of the decision earlier, the Supreme Court has confirmed that the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) has the power to order that certain witness evidence may be produced in conditions of absolute and irreversible secrecy.

A brief recapitulation: the appellants were resisting return to Algeria, a a country where torture has been systematically practised by the relevant authorities. The respondent secretary of state had obtained assurances from the Algerian Government that the appellants’ rights would be respected upon return, but, in appeals to the Commission, the appellants wished to adduce evidence from witnesses with inside knowledge of the position in Algeria that those assertions would not be honoured, and that torture and ill-treatment of the returnees was likely. The witnesses were not prepared to give evidence in the appeals unless their identity and evidence would remain forever confidential to the Commission and the parties to the appeal. The Court of Appeal held that despite the breadth of the Commission’s powers under Rule 39(1) of the SIAC (Procedure) Rules 2003, it was not open to it to give such guarantees. The Supreme Court overturned that ruling, declaring that  SIAC could give an absolute and irrevocable guarantee of total confidentiality to a witness who was prepared to testify that the deportee was likely to be subjected to torture or ill-treatment upon return despite contrary assurances from the authorities in the country of return.

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Challenge to intelligence services guidance succeeds in part – Shaheen Rahman

6 October 2011 by

Equality and Human Rights Commission v Prime Minister & Ors [2011] EWHC 2401 (Admin) – Read judgment

A challenge to published guidance for intelligence officers interviewing detainees overseas has been partially successful.

Mr Al Bazzouni and the EHRC argued that the guidance as to what officers should do if they suspect detainees might be subject to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (“CIDT”) was unlawful.

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UK would have been obliged to use torture evidence to find Bin Laden

3 May 2011 by

The New York Times reports that after years of promising leads gone cold, the final piece of evidence which led to Osama Bin Laden was found by interrogating detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Given the rough interrogation techniques which were in use at the prison camp, the killing has reopened the debate over torture, and whether it is ever justified. 

Blogger David Allen Green, amongst others, asks whether the Bin Laden scenario may amount to an exception to the “otherwise absolute rule” that torture is wrong. I would like to pose a slightly different question: on the basis of current UK law, would it have been lawful for UK authorities to use information obtained under torture to capture or kill a known terrorist?

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