(Dec 4th 2004) The Concluding Observations of Committee against Torture
29th November 2004

PHR-UK welcomes UN torture experts’ conclusions on UK

After spending six hours with over twenty British officials who had traveled to Geneva to explain the UK's compliance with the Convention against Torture, the UN’s independent human rights experts took the rare step of asking the UK to respond within a year to eight of its recommendations.

Welcoming the experts’ conclusions, PHR-UK Chair Dr. Peter Hall said in London today, “I very much welcome the Committee against Torture’s conclusions. Their suggestion that the courts rather than the politicians are best placed to determine the medical competence of someone like Pinochet to stand trial has been on my mind since I first wrote to the Home Secretary on this six years ago.”

“I’m also pleased to see that the Committee sought a formal expression of the Government’s intention not to rely on information believed to have been obtained through torture. In addition, it wanted to see a way for individuals to challenge the legality of evidence that might have resulted from torture, which is a terribly important guarantee in any democracy.”

“Obviously, the recommendation that any violations of the torture convention revealed by inquiries into the conduct of UK forces in Iraq or Afghanistan should be publicised and subject to an independent review where appropriate, will be welcomed by everyone, and not just doctors. The armed forces have a very difficult role to play and they deserve appropriate training and support. I understand that some NATO exercises will now incorporate international humanitarian law scenarios and I hope that human rights obligations also find their way into these.”

“I’m particularly pleased that the Committee said the Government should ensure that the conduct of officials, including those attending interrogations at any overseas facility, should conform strictly to the torture convention, and any breaches should be investigated and if necessary prosecuted. I’ve long felt that doctors weren’t given the training to help them resolve the role conflicts they confront when dealing with detainees, and human rights education can really help here.”

“It goes without saying that the Committee’s recommendation that alternatives to indefinite detention under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act should be reviewed is very welcome. The uncertainty related to indefinite detention for reasons that are not understood can have a serious psychological impact on persons.”

“I’m very glad that concern was expressed about extraditing persons overseas where diplomatic assurances had been obtained that such persons would not be harmed. The Committee rightly asks how many such removals have occurred since 911, what was the minimum acceptable guarantee and how have these been monitored following removal. There have been too many stories circulating of persons being persecuted after the UK has deported them, and we need to be sure that the UK’s procedures are effective.”

“The Committee’s recommendation that there should be a routine medical examination of everyone who is to be forcibly removed by air, and a further one should the removal fail is something I’d like to see the Government explore. Nobody would wish to add to the trauma of expulsion, but medical examinations conducted appropriately along the lines suggested by the UN experts could provide a deterrent against any excesses of the kind revealed by a recent study of failed asylum seekers.”

About Physicians for Human Rights – UK

PHR-UK is a human rights organisation that was established in London in 1989. Its membership is made up almost entirely of health professionals. It seeks to bring a medical perspective to human rights while promoting an awareness and appreciation of human rights within the medical community.

PHR-UK’s June conference on the health and human rights of unlawful detainees featured Ms Gareth Peirce, Professor Ian Robbins, Professor Gisli Gudjonsson, Ms Louise Arimatsu, Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP and Mr. Azmat Begg.

PHR-UK Chair Dr. Peter Hall, wrote to the Committee in May, as stories surfaced about the behaviour of British professionals in Guantanamo, Iraq and elsewhere.

PHR-UK is holding a public meeting on Saturday 4th December at the Middlesex Hospital, London, to discuss the UN experts’ conclusions.

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