No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
- Article 3 of the Human Rights Act
After the horrors of the Second World War the international community made sure that an absolute ban on torture was central to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The prohibition on torture or inhuman or degrading treatment is one of the few absolute rights – it can never be justified, regardless of circumstances.
In the UK this right has been used to protect the rights of:
- Prisoners in Northern Ireland subjected to stress positions. hooding, sleep and food deprivation and loud and continuous noises pending interrogation;
- Those facing deportation to countries where they face a real risk of torture;
- Those seeking refuge in the UK who were not given any means of support and were prohibited from working;
- Children who were seriously neglected and starved by their parents after social services refused for a number of years to act;
- Children in detention centres subjected to physical assault by detention centre staff;
- A child severely beaten by his stepfather who the state failed to protect;
- Elderly residents in nursing homes kept in dirty and unsanitary conditions;
- Disabled people who have not been treated humanely in the provision of health care and other services.
The prohibition on torture also means that the Government cannot send someone to another country where they face a real risk of torture.
Extraordinary rendition is the illegal transfer of a person by a state to another country, particularly in circumstances where the person is likely to face torture or inhuman or degrading treatment. It is often aptly called the ‘outsourcing of torture’.
From ‘Torture Flights’, to the case of Binyam Mohamed, to allegations of UK interrogations of those held in secret detention centres around the world. Over the past few years increasing evidence has come to light of UK knowledge of, and involvement in, the CIA’s post 9/11 programme of rendition and torture.
In July 2010 the Government announced an inquiry into the UK’s involvement in this mistreatment, led by Sir Peter Gibson. When the terms of the inquiry were announced, it became apparent that this was not going to be a transparent search for accountability. Instead the final word on whether material could be made public was to rest not with a Judge – as in public inquiries and normal legal process in Britain – but with the Cabinet Secretary, the Government’s chief civil servant.
Liberty campaigned to get the Inquiry’s protocol changed to make sure it would not take place in secret. In January 2012, the Justice Secretary announced that the Gibson Inquiry would be cancelled to allow for a criminal investigation into possible UK involvement in rendition to Libya. Once all police investigations have concluded, the Government intends to set up ‘an independent, judge-led inquiry’.
The ill-judged and misnamed 'War on Terror' has also led to attempts to use information obtained through the use of torture as evidence in UK courts.