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Britain: An Outpost of Tyranny

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With Home Secretary, Charles Clarke's latest proposals on dealing with terror suspects drawing as much controversy as his predecessor's ideas, IHRC examines whether Britain is crossing the line to becoming a police state.

Briefing: Britain: An Outpost of Tyranny

4 February 2005

With Home Secretary, Charles Clarke's latest proposals on dealing with terror suspects drawing as much controversy as his predecessor's ideas, IHRC examines whether Britain is crossing the line to becoming a police state.

Islamic Human Rights Commission

1 February 2005

Briefing: Britain: An Outpost of Tyranny

A. Introduction
B. The Current Situation
C. Clarke's Proposals
D. The Right to Liberty
E. The Right against Torture
F. Case Study: Egyptians deported from Sweden
G. Britain: The New Burma
H. Conclusion

A. Introduction

On 26 January 2005, the new Home Secretary, Charles Clarke announced plans to replace detention of terrorism suspects without trial with new "control orders", offering a range of powers including house arrest. The proposals come following the historic House of Lords judgment on 16 December 2004, which found the detention with out charge of terror suspects in Britain to be unlawful as a breach of human rights.

B. The Current Situation

Since the introduction of the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001, a total of 17 foreign nationals have been held and detained without charge in maximum security prisons at Belmarsh and Woodhill. To date, three men have been released, most recently “C” who spent three years without charge in Belmarsh; two men have voluntary chosen to leave the UK and eleven remain in indefinite detention without charge. The men have been detained for suspicion of involvement in international terrorism. No charges however have been brought against them nor have they or their lawyers seen the evidence against them. They have been detained on the suspicion of the Home Secretary alone. On 16 December 2004, the House of Lords ruled that the detentions were unlawful as a violation of fundamental human rights.

C. Clarke's Proposals

Mr Clarke has proposed to release the detainees on one of two conditions. They must be deported back to their home countries with “diplomatic assurances” from the governments in those countries that the men will not be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or the death penalty. Failing this, the men may be subjected to certain “control orders” such as house arrest or other restrictions on movement, such as electronic tagging or curfews. Restrictions on association and communication with certain people could also be imposed as well as limitations on the use of telephones and the internet.

Mr Clarke proposals will apply not just to foreign nationals but also to British citizens whom he suspects are involved in terrorism. Mr Clarke has suggested that families and friends of terror suspects may also face similar control orders. Mr Clarke stated, "Just because somebody's wife wants to chat with her friends about going shopping that is not therefore a reason to let somebody cause a bomb explosion at Bluewater."

The control orders would be imposed by the Home Secretary, rather than the courts. A breach of a control order would constitute a criminal offence which could lead to imprisonment.

D. The Right to Liberty

It must be remembered that the detainees have never been charged with any criminal offence. To detain them indefinitely without charge whether in prison or in their homes is a violation of one of the most fundamental human rights as specifically expressed in numerous international treaties including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Under the proposals, it is the Home Secretary who will impose such control orders based on his suspicion alone. The power to sanction an individual is the sole prerogative of the judiciary. That the Home Secretary may punish individuals on his suspicion and not the judiciary on the basis of evidence in a court of law undermines the long established doctrine of separation of powers.

Similar to the prevailing situation, terror suspects subject to the control orders will have no right to know the secret intelligence evidence against them.

E. The Right against Torture

The right not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment is an absolute one. Under both the UN Convention against Torture, the UN Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights, it is prohibited to deport or extradite an individual to a country where there is a real and substantial risk that they may be subjected to the death penalty, torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The detainees originate from Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, countries infamous for their use of torture. For the UK to deport the men to these governments would be a violation of the UK's obligations under international law. Mr Clarke has proposed that the detainees be deported to their home countries on the basis of “diplomatic assurances” that they will not be subjected to such treatment. Previous cases have shown that such agreements are not sufficient safeguards against torture on return.

The European Court of Human Rights itself previously addressed the issue of states' parties' reliance on diplomatic assurances as a safeguard against violations of states' obligations under article 3 (prohibition against torture) of the European Convention on Human Rights. In Chahal v United Kingdom , the court ruled that the return to India of a Sikh activist would violate the U.K.'s obligations under article 3, despite diplomatic assurances by the Indian government that Chahal would not suffer mistreatment at the hands of the Indian authorities. Human Rights Watch has pointed out that the Chahal ruling establishes that diplomatic assurances are an inadequate guarantee where torture is “endemic,” or a “recalcitrant and enduring problem” that results, in some cases, in fatalities. “The court's acceptance that Indian assurances were given in good faith and that the government had embarked on reforms, but that serious abuses persisted, indicates that it took into account the credibility of the requesting government and whether the requesting government had effective control over the forces responsible for acts of torture.”

F. Case Study: Egyptians deported from Sweden

On the 18th December 2001, two Egyptian asylum seekers, Ahmed Hussein Mustafa Kamil 'Agiza and Muhammad Muhammad Suleiman Ibrahim El-Zari, were forcibly deported from Sweden. The Swedish government agreed to deport the suspected terrorists only after receiving diplomatic assurances from the Egyptian government that they would be given fair trials and “would not be subjected to inhuman treatment or punishment of any kind,” according to a confidential memo prepared by Swedish diplomats six days before the expulsion. Their lawyers, relatives and human rights groups however have said there is credible evidence that they were regularly subjected to electric shocks and other forms of torture. On the 27th April 2004, Agiza was sentenced to 25 years in prison by a military tribunal after a trial that lasted less than six hours. In October 2003, El-Zari was released after having spent almost two years behind bars without charge. The U.N. Human Rights Committee, as well as numerous international and national human rights organizations, has criticized Sweden for violating the prohibition against returning a person to a country where he or she is at risk of torture.

This case illustrates well the lack of reliability of diplomatic assurances from nations in which torture is routinely practiced.

G. Conclusion: Britain: An Outpost of Tyranny

Issues such as internment without trial, control orders, house arrest, torture and police brutality and harassment are normally associated with places such as Burma, Zimbabwe and apartheid South Africa. The increasing persecution of the Muslim community in Britain, both foreign nationals and third generation Britons, is an alarming sign of the level of institutional Islamophobia in Britain today. Both Burma and Zimbabwe justify their draconian laws and persecution of minorities due to “internal security issues” or a “terror threat”. Britain today uses the very same justifications for its abuses of basic human rights. Britain today is speaking the language of repression and behaving as a tyrant state.

  1. Chahal v. United Kingdom, 70/1995/576/662, November 15, 1996
  2. Human Rights Watch, '“Empty Promises:” Diplomatic Assurances No Safeguard against Torture' - April 2004
  3. Human Rights Watch, 'Sweden Implicated in Egypt's Abuse of Suspected Militant', 5th May, 2004
  4. Amnesty International, 'Sweden: Concerns over the treatment of deported Egyptians', 28th May 2004


For more information please contact:

Islamic Human Rights Commission
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Telephone (+44) 20 8902 0888
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