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Law, War and Human Rights

Guantanamo Bay detaineeby Toby Cadman

The use of torture and extra-judicial rendition is an affront to the rule of law. No State built on democratic principles and with that, the rule of law, should allow such a practice to remain unpunished. Organs of the State that have resorted to 'black op' tactics to target terrorism defeat the very ideals that we hold so highly.

On 11 September 2001 and then on 7 July 2005 our outlook changed. We were struck with a level of fear and vulnerability that allowed principles that we once held dear to suddenly evaporate. In some circles torture suddenly became justified under exceptional circumstances. The war on terror emerged and the rule of law fell away. Guantanamo Bay emerged and extraordinary rendition and coercive interrogation methods constituting torture became commonplace.

It is recognised that there are certain rights that are limited or qualified rights - meaning that they may be limited or restricted in certain exceptional circumstances. Torture and the right to a fair trial do not fall into this category. They are absolute. They cannot be withheld, limited or restricted under any circumstances even during time of war.

Rendition, torture, and the intelligence services are all words that have of late once again come to the forefront of the news and the public conscience. The spotlight has again been shone given the revelations that documents detailing flights in and out of Diego Garcia were 'water-damaged', and therefore could not be examined. The call for the documents came about following allegations that the British air base at Diego Garcia had been used by the US when transporting prisoners made subject to extraordinary rendition. The UK Government issued vehement denials, however, then had to recant when evidence showed that they had known of at least two flights using the base.

Further scrutiny is needed, not just with regard to the use of Diego Garcia, but the actions of the security services, both in this country and abroad, more widely.

Numerous allegations have surfaced that they have been complicit in the detention of UK citizens around the world. Detention that breaches all international standards, and is palpably unlawful under both domestic and international law.

A case recently in the media, published in the Daily Mail and the Independent, is that of Mr. Ali Adorus. Mr. Adorus is a British national and has lived in the UK since he was a child. Whilst in the UK, there is a clear suggestion that he was harassed by members of the security services, a matter that his family consider lacks any justification. According to a recent appeal filed with the United Nations, the harassment spiralled following Mr. Adorus' trip to Ethiopia to visit a family member.

Mr. Adorus was arrested and detained following allegations that he had engaged in terrorist activities. It is important to note that although he has been detained for 18 months, since January 2013, his legal team not been permitted to see the entirety of the evidence against him and therefore he is being prevented from either mounting a proper defence or having any semblance of a fair trial.

During that detention, Mr. Adorus was forced to sign a confession in a language he didn't understand, and having considered that confession, it is suggested that it contains very clear points that could have only come from members of British intelligence. Mr Adorus' case is being championed by Cage UK, their own case study highlighting the previous harassment by the security services and the inhumane conditions in which he is now detained in Ethiopia.

Of further concern is his treatment prior too, and after the signing of that confession. Mr Adorus has been subject to the most appalling acts of torture, including daily beatings, electric shocks, and denied the most very basic of sanitary needs.

Furthermore, his health is failing, and it is no exaggeration to suggest his life is at risk. Having previously suffered from testicular cancer, he has been in remission, however, he has recently experienced severe kidney pains, which could well be an indicator that the cancer has returned. Requests for medical treatment, and an examination by an independent doctor have fallen on deaf ears. There is a strong allegation that not only has the security services been complicit in the torture; they have facilitated the arrest and detention of what could potentially be a dying man.

The criticism of the British Government is not restricted to its security services. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been made aware of the situation, yet it is alleged that they have failed to act to a sufficient standard. They have been asked to take the case up at the very highest levels with the Ethiopian Government and yet they have failed to do so. Let us not forget that this is a British citizen, and there is an obligation to act, and if not an obligation, one would certainly have an expectation that in the circumstances, the issue would be raised.

In these particular circumstances, an urgent appeal has now been submitted to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, asking them to intervene.

The manner in which the British security services act abroad must change. There must be an enquiry in order to ascertain whether the security services were complicit in the detention and torture of Mr. Adorus. It is only through a proper enquiry into such allegations that credibility can be regained. It is simply not acceptable that when allegations are made they are denied, and then a tacit partial admission is made when documents come light. Accountability is essential.

The British Government cannot hold themselves out to be the defender of human rights, and continue to criticise those countries who have no respect for the same when in reality they are trampling on their own citizens behind closed doors.

Toby Cadman is an international criminal law specialist. He is a barrister member at Nine Bedford Row International Chambers in London and a member of the International Criminal Bureau in The Hague.


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