Victims must be allowed to speak at torture inquiry, say civil rights groups

Nine NGOs, including Amnesty International, Liberty, Justice and Reprieve, have written to the judge who is to head an investigation into the UK’s involvement in torture and rendition, setting out what they believe his inquiry must achieve to be effective. They told Sir Peter Gibson that his efforts need not only be independent, thorough and subject to public scrutiny, but should also allow for the participation of victims.
“Survivors or victims must be involved in the process to ensure their right to effective investigation and redress, and special measures must be adopted to ensure this participation is supportive, safe and effective,” the NGOs wrote.

They also said that the inquiry must be able to blame the British state, where appropriate, as well as senior officials who bear responsibility for any crimes committed, and hold them to account.

“It must be able to pronounce on state responsibility for knowledge and involvement in the serious human rights violations that have been alleged and to identify any individuals responsible for such abuses, including establishing the responsibility of superior officers for crimes committed by subordinates under their effective control,” they wrote.

Among the inquiry’s purposes must be “the need to hold accountable those responsible for serious human rights violations”.

The NGOs added that they believe the inquiry should:

  • Hear as much evidence as possible in public.
  • Aim to achieve maximum public disclosure.
  • Not allow its independence or thoroughness to be compromised by government or intelligence agency attempts to invoke secrecy.
  • Decide for itself which documents it will publish.
  • Ask agents of foreign intelligence agencies to give evidence.
  • Compel the co-operation of corporations doing business in the UK who are alleged to have been involved in the abuses.

The NGOs also said they believe that both victims of torture and the intelligence agencies should have the right to legal representation funded by the inquiry.

They also said that it is “imperative” that the inquiry’s report be published and that any redactions for national security reasons should be agreed by Gibson and his two inquiry colleagues, and must also be “subject to review by a court”.

The letter added:

“A sufficiently empowered and transparent inquiry could discharge the UK’s duty to effectively investigate damaging allegations of knowledge and/or involvement by state actors or agents in the torture, ill-treatment or rendition of individuals that have arisen in the last decade. Such an inquiry could also play an important role in clarifying how involvement in torture, ill-treatment or rendition might be prevented in the future.”

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