Vol 16  No 2 Summer 2005

  • Release of Detainees Announced

    Following various communications with the US and UK governments, two conferences in London and presentations to the UN Committee against Torture, DHR is pleased to see the release of UK citizens from Guantanamo and non citizens from Belmarsh and other UK places of detention. There is ample evidence that the health of both sets of detainees was seriously affected by their lengthy detention without charge or trial. Persons to whom the UK has granted resident status are still detained in Guantanamo, and DHR would like to see the UK representing their interests. It is also possible that UK citizens or residents are being held by US authorities at undisclosed locations under unknown conditions and to whom the International Committee of the Red Cross does not have access, sometimes referred to as ghost prisoners.

    In February, DHR’s Bernie Hamilton attended the meeting between the UK Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights and Charles Clarke MP, the Secretary of State for Home Affairs, on alternatives to detention without trial. Mr Clarke had in mind control orders that might restrict the liberty of terrorist suspects. Quizzed by Committee members on the need for a high court judge to review the evidence for restricting an individual’s liberty, the Home Secretary pointed out that it was the Executive rather than the Judiciary that bore responsibility for national security. The Home Secretary also ruled out putting terrorist suspects on trial where the evidence against them was obtained through electronic intercepts, saying that the adversarial system was not suitable for considering such evidence. He assured the Committee that no evidence would be used if there was a question in his mind that it had been obtained through torture. As we go to press, Parliament has passed legislation in support of control orders on the understanding that this can be reviewed in one year.

  • DHR Goes To Court

    Doctors for human rights has joined with a number of UK–based NGOs in petitioning the House of Lords for permission to intervene in an appeal against A (FC) and other (FC) (Appellants) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (Respondent) X (FC) and another (FC) (Appellants v Secretary of State for the Home Department (Respondent) of 16 December 2004. In that case the judges seemed to reject the notion that the use of evidence based upon information obtained though torture overseas was unlawful.

    Doctors for Human Rights, as a body with over fifteen years experience in this field believes otherwise. The prohibition of torture is absolute. No State can claim that torture is lawful. No relevant global or regional human rights instruments permits any derogation from this, even in the face of terrorism, as the European Court of Human Rights pointed out in Aksoy v Turkey.

    The Prohibition of torture must be supported by certain safeguards, including international laws against torture, measures to enforce those laws and a remedy for victims. The exclusion from evidence of any statement made as a result of torture is such a procedural safeguard. It is known as the exclusionary rule and is clearly articulated in Article 15 of the UN Convention against Torture. The UN Committee against Torture has confirmed this position, and so has the UN Human Rights Committee in its recent General Comment on Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and political Rights which prohibits torture. The UK is a party to both these UN treaties.

    To use information obtained from torture is to encourage the use of torture. To be complicit in torture is both unlawful and hands a moral victory to the opponents of human rights. Information obtained from torture is notoriously unreliable and cannot provide the sole basis for detaining or convicting someone.

    If granted permission to intervene by the House of Lords, DHR together with other NGOs will make these points in writing and in an oral submission to the House of Lords. The current estimated cost to prepare this project is £200. If you would like to contribute to the cost of this petition please send a cheque payable to DHR to Peter Hall , Doctors for Human Rights, 91 Harlech Road Abbots Langley, Herts. WD5 0BE.

  • A Violations Approach to The Right to Health

    DHR convened a roundtable discussion on this topic at Doughty Street chambers in February. The closed meeting attracted about thirty health rights experts from NGOs, law firms and universities. The discussion was led by Audrey Chapman Director of the Science and Human Rights Programme at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Iain Byrne Commonwealth Law Officer, Interights and Judith Bueno de Mesquita - Senior Research Officer to Paul Hunt, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health. The Roundtable which was moderated by DHR’s Bernie Hamilton, was so successful that we have received requests to put on a few weekly sessions in October from 5.30-7pm. If any member can offer a venue in central London please contact Dr Peter Hall.


  • 4. Death Penalty Update

    By 5 votes to 4, the Supreme Court has ruled that the death penalty cannot be applied to those below 18 years of age who commit murder. As a result, 72 people on death row will not be executed because they were juveniles when they committed their crimes. The judgement Roper v. Simmons was decided on March 1st and declared that executing juveniles amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, which is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution, one of ten ratified in 1791, that are known as the US Bill of Rights.

    DHR’s Bernie Hamilton expressed surprise and delight at the verdict saying, “I was working in Washington when this last came before the Court in Stanford v. Kentucky in 1989, and witnessed the Court declare by 5 votes to 4 that the execution of 16 and 17 year olds was lawful. In 1995, I participated in a Washington-based coalition that took the issue to the UN Human Rights Committee in New York. The Committee exhorted the authorities to take appropriate steps to ensure that persons were not sentenced to death for crimes committed before they were 18, but no change occurred.”

    “In Roper v. Simmons, the court considered its 2002 judgement in Atkins v. Virginia, where it had decided that the Eight Amendment prohibits the execution of what the US calls a mentally retarded person. The question before it was, had the understanding of cruel and unusual evolved with regard to juveniles in the same way that it had to mentally retarded persons. Knowing the conservative views expressed during the 2004 presidential election campaign and this case was heard in October 2004, I had severe doubts that the Court would recognize such a change. The Court did though, and referred to the weight of international opinion against the death penalty for juveniles. It is through such evolution that human rights defenders often achieve their goals.”

    Adopting a different approach DHR continues to develop arguments that all known methods of execution are cruel and unusual, and plans to discuss these with the UN Human Rights Committee at the appropriate time.

  • DHR Welcomes End of Punitive House Demolitions by Israel

    DHR welcomed February’s announcement by Israel’s Defence Force that it is to end its policy of punitive demolitions of the houses of families of Palestinians accused of suicide bombings and other attacks on civilians and troops. DHR chair Dr Peter Hall, who was a member of a fact– finding trip to the West Bank and Gaza strip in October 1997, said that the practice of demolitions has long been detrimental to the peace process because it was as likely to provoke violence as deter it. Dr Hall went on to say that destroying family homes violated the right to privacy, to family life and to housing, as well as Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits collective penalties and the punishment of civilians for an offence they have not personally committed

  • Darfur, Sudan

    Dismayed by the failure of the international community to respond effectively to the gross violations of human rights in Darfur, DHR Chair Dr Peter Hall has proposed that NGOs mount a campaign to pressure the major powers to do more. As the person who headed DHR’s investigation team in Rwanda at the time of the 1994 genocide, Dr Hall has concentrated initially on members of the International Campaign to End Genocide (ICEG), which he helped to establish in 1999. There has been a swift reaction from ICEG members, and some UK NGOs are hoping to hold a public meeting before the official start of the UK election campaign.

    The UN’s International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur recently recommended that the Security Council refer the situation to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, as this may deter the government backed militias; but this could be opposed by the USA.

    Leading politicians have called for the UK government to propose that the UN Security Council mandate peace-enforcement operations in Darfur. Amongst those signing the letter, were DHR Executive Committee member Dr Jenny Tonge MP and DHR Advisory Council member Baroness Cox.

  • DHR Concerned About Training of Interrogators

    In March, the UK’s Intelligence and Security Committee, a body of nine parliamentarians, published its report on the Handling of Detainees by UK Intelligence Personnel, who conducted or witnessed over 2000 interviews in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and Iraq. The report covered contacts between detainees and the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), the Security Service, both military and civilian Defense Intelligence Staff (DIS) and military intelligence personnel. The purpose of the report was to establish:

    whether the UK intelligence personnel witnessed or were involved in any violations of international instruments of UK policy, and if so what action was taken;

    whether UK intelligence personnel were sufficiently well trained before they came into contact with detainees;

    when ministers were informed of any concerns about the abuse of detainees.

    The Committee found that prior to deployment in Afghanistan SIS were not given specific training on the rights of detainees and the Geneva Conventions, nor were they aware of the UK’s ban on the use of the five techniques of hooding, wall standing, sleep deprivation, food deprivation and white noise that dated back to 1972. Prior to deployment in Iraq, military intelligence were conversant with the Geneva Conventions as a result of their regular training in the laws of armed conflict; but none of the civilian intelligence personnel (SIS, Security Service or DIS) were provided with any training concerning the Geneva Conventions. In June 2003 and April 2004 a detainee was interviewed while hooded by SIS personnel in Iraq. The SIS officers involved were not aware of the UK rules against hooding.

    The Committee expressed concern about insufficient pre-deployment training and recommended that clear instructions be issued on duties and responsibilities regarding detainees’ treatment and reporting procedures in the event of concerns. They also recommended that, in future armed conflicts, Ministers be consulted before staff are deployed to interview detainees held by another country, and that agreement should be sought with allies on the methods and standards affecting the treatment of detainees. Concerns about treatment should be passed to Ministers immediately and investigated and followed up by the UK authorities so far as it is within their power.

    DHR is extremely concerned about the Committee’s findings. Much of last November’s discussion with the UN Committee against Torture centered on the training of military personnel; but a different picture has emerged of non-military intelligence officers. While it is possible to believe that not all of the UK troops accused of abuses in Basra immediately after the fighting were fully conversant with the Geneva Conventions, the notion that professional intelligence officers going overseas to participate in interrogations were not trained in the UK’s obligations under International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights law especially those pertaining to the solemn undertakings given to the European Court of Human Rights during Ireland v. UK is beyond our comprehension. DHR would like to see a parliamentary debate on the Report and mechanisms set in place to ensure that the Committee’s recommendations are implemented in full.

  • UN Committee against Torture

    DHR is compiling a dossier on torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment for the November 2005 meeting of Committee against Torture in Geneva. We are particularly keen to hear from doctors who might have witnessed such violations in prisons or other places of detention, including those in Iraq.

    Information please to Dr Peter Hall - peterhall@doctorsforhumanrights.org

  • DHR Disappointed at Government’s Review of Human Rights Instruments

    DHR’s senior advisor Bernie Hamilton attended the UK’s Joint Committee on Human Rights meeting on the government’s review of human rights instruments this January. David Lammy MP, Department of Constitutional Affairs Parliamentary Under Secretary testified before the committee. The government has completed its review of its obligations under the human rights treaties that the UK has ratified. It was expected to incorporate a number of these treaties into domestic law, so that citizens could obtain a remedy in British courts, something UN treaty monitoring bodies have been recommending to the UK for years. Also, the government was expected to allow UK citizens to complain to the treaty bodies if they believed that the government was in violation of its treaty obligations.

    In the event the government has decided not to move on either of these issues, except to permit complaints to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women ( CEDAW). Questioned by the Joint Committee on why it would not extend the right of complaint to the UN to other rights treaty bodies, Under Secretary Lammy said that the UK had no experience of the UN complaints system, and pointed out that complaints would go to a body of independent experts rather than a court of judges, as happens with the European Convention on Human Rights. He said that the government would review its commitment to individual petitions under CEDAW after two years, but that Joint Committee members should not assume that other human rights treaty obligations would be reviewed at that time.

    Asked whether there was a problem over resources, the Under Secretary replied that legal aid might arise. He said that citizens had an extensive judicial system available to them, and might not need the remedy that incorporating treaty obligations into domestic law might offer. Questioned about the impact of the UK’s refusal to allow its citizens to petition the UN’s human rights treaty bodies on the international community. Mr Lammy emphasized that the UK’s existing court system was comprehensive. Members asked why, if neighbouring states with comprehensive judicial systems could allow individual complaints, the UK needed to be so restrictive. The MP from Tottenham replied that the government preferred to await the development of treaty body jurisprudence before considering further steps.

    The Parliamentary Under Secretary was also asked about the reservations the government had entered upon ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the extent to which these were compatible with the treaties. Mr Lammy appeared to accept that some difficulties might arise. The Joint Committee also enquired about the delay in signing up to the Council of Europe’s revised Economic and Social Charter. Mr Lammy again referred to the government’s desire to await the development of the body of independent experts case law and ensure that this would not become a means of externally imposed policy making if the UK empowered trades unions and NGOs to bring collective complaints to the European body.

    The testimony of the government was extremely disappointing. Not only had its review resulted in very few changes, but there was a reluctance to provide detailed explanations for it’s inaction to the Joint Committee. With so many of the UK’s EU neighbours allowing citizens to complain, the idea of the UK continuing to hold out following its review seems anachronistic. If the UK wishes to persuade Commonwealth members and other countries to adhere to human rights treaties then it needs to do so itself, and allow its citizens the right to complain of violations within the UK courts and to the relevant treaty bodies themselves. If it cannot do that, the government can no longer claim to be bringing human rights home.

  • DHR Issues Alert on Hospital Closures

    Alarmed by reports from Turkmenistan that President Niyazov has ordered the closure of all hospitals in the country except those in the capital, Ashgabat, DHR issued an alert to all members of the International Federation of Health and Human Rights Organizations (IFHHRO), asking them to take what action they could to protest this blatant attack on the human rights of a large number of Turkmenistan’s citizens.

    A number of members responded. PHR in Boston has taken up the issue and PHR-Israel, which normally focuses on the treatment of Palestinians, managed to publicise the issue through Israeli radio and the press. It is hoped that the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health will also take up this issue with the government of Turkmenistan

  • UN Special Rapporteur on The Right to Health

    Essex University’s Professor Paul Hunt’s term of office as Special Rapporteur expires this year, but he is eligible for nomination for a second term of three years. DHR, which supported his candidacy in 2002, believes that Professor Hunt has been a fine Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, and it has worked with other members of the International Federation of Health and Human Rights Organisations (IFHHRO) to gain support for his re-election at the current session of the UN Commission on Human Rights. Despite the opposition of certain States to the entire concept of social and economic rights, DHR is hopeful that Paul will be re-elected.

  • DHR and Reform of Mental Health Act

    It is now over six years since the government announced its intentions to reform the Mental Health Act 1983. Since then there has been a Green Paper, a White Paper and a draft bill in 2002 followed by a revised draft bill in September 2004. The proposals put forward in that time have caused considerable uncertainty and anxiety, in particular among mental health service users and their carers.

    One aspect of the proposals that has always concerned DHR were plans, outlined in the White Paper, Reforming the Mental Health Act, to detain those people with “severe personality disorders” who are considered to pose “a significant risk of serious harm to others”. The proposals grew out of the outcry over Michael Stone, whose conviction in 1998 for the brutal attempted murder of Josie Russell and murder of the little girl’s mother and sister in a quiet lane in rural Kent, horrified the public.

    As early as 1999 committee members Christina Pourgourides and Morag Robertson published a letter in the Guardian on DHR’s behalf, in which they expressed alarm at proposals to detain unconvicted people with severe personality disorders because they threatened the civil liberties of innocent people. Three years later the government’s first draft mental health bill was universally condemned as being excessively focused on public safety and was rejected by the profession because it could have obliged psychiatrists to order the detention of people with severe personality disorders, even if they had committed no crime and had no prospect of a cure.

    At this stage DHR completed a lengthy and detailed analysis of potential violations of human rights, particularly health rights, contained within the first draft mental health bill on behalf of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

    The 2004 revised draft bill, representing as it does a compromise between the Home Office’s desire to lock up all potentially violent psychopaths and the medical profession’s view that mentally ill patients deserved the best possible care, was condemned by the Mental Health Alliance, a coalition of 60 mental health groups including the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Royal College of Nursing, user groups and charities. The president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists was concerned that the bill would extend use of compulsory powers to a wider group of patients than is medically necessary, put pressure on psychiatric services, and infringe people’s human rights.

    This revised Draft Bill went before a Joint Select Committee of both houses of Parliament for prelegislative scrutiny in September last year to decide whether it was an effective compromise or falls between two stools. The scrutiny committee has taken written submissions and oral evidence from interested parties since, and published their recommendations on the 23rd March 2005. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has publicly approved the Committee’s recommendations, and it is speculated that there will be a Mental Health Bill in November, assuming no change in Government intervenes. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has asked DHR to help with the analysis of the Mental Health Bill when that time comes.

  • DHR Welcomes Newest Committee Member

    Peter Hall and Bernie Hamilton went to the House of Commons in January to meet with Dr Jenny Tonge MP. Jenny, who is standing down at the next general election, agreed last year to join DHR’s Committee and was elected at the 2004 A.G.M. The meeting focused on DHR’s new identity, the unique contribution that doctors can bring to rights of physical and mental integrity, such as the right to life, freedom from torture and the right to found a family as well as to health rights, such as an acceptable standard of public health measures and health care. The need to enlist more doctors and also raise money to meet the rising demand for DHR’s expertise was also discussed.

    Jenny, who is a former shadow spokesperson on international development for the Liberal Democrats has addressed our AGM in the past and also hosted the launch of our 1998 report on Palestinian Health and Human Rights. She will arrange for Doctors for Human Rights to gather at the Houses of Parliament later this year - elections permitting.

  • Head of DHR’s 1994 delegation reviews Hotel Rwanda

    Hotel Rwanda is a moving but disturbing feature film depicting the true story of a Hutu hero, who defied the Hutu supremacist genocidaires that planned to eradicte the 1.5 million Tutsis living in Rwanda in 1994. That they succeeded to the extent of killing up to a million men, women and children in 3 months, is as much a measure of the pusillanity of the West’s failure to intervene, as of the terrible power a totalitarian dictatorship can wield. No one knows what proportion of the non Tutsi Rwandan population participated in the massacres, but the first indicative figure, recently published by the Justice Ministry, maintains that at least 761,000 - roughly one in every ten Rwandans - should stand trial for their role in the genocide.

    Much less widely recognised has been the role of the many unidentified Hutus who refused to participate in the genocide at risk to their lives. As Father Modeste Mungwarareba, a Tutsi Catholic Priest who survived the massacres in southern Rwanda said, “There were many such heroic acts by unknown people in the hills where the media did not go. Several martyrs of this conflict are known only to God.” African Rights addressed the important issue in its 2002 report on Rwanda: Tribute to Courage, which, using a collection of remembrances from survivors and witnesses, describes acts of individual heroism in the face of genocide.

    The principal character in Hotel Rwanda, Paul Rusesabagina, is one such– an accidental hero, a Rwandan Schindler, who in seeking to protect his Tutsi wife, children and in-laws, found himself assuming responsibility for hundreds of terrified Tutsis. As manager of the four star Hotel Milles Collines, an elegant colonial hotel in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, he saved over a thousand Tutsis who would otherwise have been slaughtered. The life of the guide who minded DHR’s doctors, during our documentation of massacres in Rwanda as the genocide took place, had been saved by Mr Rusesabagina. Our guide’s sister had bribed the killer militia to allow him safe passage from the murderously precarious sanctuary of the nearby Sainte Famille church to Hotel Milles Collines. (see DHR’s report of the genocide on www.doctorsforhumanrights.org)

    Like many outsiders who chronicled the genocide I have long yearned for a process, a method that adequately illustrates to those who were not there, the terrible nature of the crime of genocide in particular. Very early on I concluded that a feature film, with its capacity to allow the audience to develop empathy with the victims, was perhaps the most effective medium. Hotel Rwanda has another, and perhaps for Rwandans more important role. In a land where hundreds of thousands of ordinary people participated in the genocide, it is important to publicly and internationally celebrate one who risked his life to protect hundreds he never knew.

    The film succeeds on at least one level. However as one of BBC2’s regular Newsnight reviewers, the perceptive author Julie Myerson correctly observed, it does not give a full sense of what the genocide was really like. She was roundly reprimanded by Ian Hislop who found oblique glimpses of massacres and implied mass rape scenes to be quite enough thank you. Both are right. More graphic depictions of, for instance, children being hacked to death by machete, as most of the 300,000 children who died were, would have been unbearable. The film also failed to achieve my target because it did not take time to patiently develop in real depth the personalities of the main characters, and of the situations that arose, as skillfully and comprehensively as, for instance, Schindler’s List does.

    But as a thriller, Hotel Rwanda is compelling and entertaining. Focusing on the emotional interaction between its characters as they struggle to survive, the main characters are utterly convincing, except perhaps for Nick Nolte who plays a bluff distressed UN commander solidly if a little as if by numbers. The two stars, Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo, were both deservedly Oscar nominated. The director and the whole team are to be congratulated on a magnificent achievement.

    That the film has a happy ending is faithful to reality and a kindness to the audience, but is tragically unrepresentative of what was happening outside the hotel gates. Please go and watch Hotel Rwanda to get, albeit at a distance, a sense of the evil that strode the land for 100 days.

    Two more films, yet unseen by me, that focus on the Rwandan genocide will be following in short order, and might portray reality more starkly. Michael Catons– Jones’s film Shooting Dogs was recorded at Ecole Technique Officielle, a high school in Kigali where the actual events took place. The title of the film comes from the fact that UN Peacekeepers used to shoot local dogs that fed on the decomposing bodies of the genocide victims. The film stars John Hurt and Hugh Dancy, and is based on the true story about an exhausted Catholic Priest (Hurt) and a young idealistic English teacher (Dancy) who find themselves caught in the genocide. It’s a morality tale as the two have to decide on whether to stay with the thousands of Tutsis about to be massacred, or flee to save themselves.

    The third film, Raoul Peck’s “Sometimes in April” focuses on the experiences of a single family. The story begins in April 2004 as Augustin ( Idris Elba), a school teacher, prepares to visit his estranged brother, Honore, a one-time radio journalist now on trial for his part in inciting genocide with his inflammatory broadcasts. Augustin was a moderate Hutu, but his wife was a Tutsi. They were split apart in tragic circumstances during the genocide.

    Importantly Peck’s film is said to depict the banality of genocide -how violence became normalised. Elderly men say goodbye to their wives, pick up their machetes and march out to murder their former neighbours as if they’re simply off on a day’s work. Teenagers sit swigging beer at roadblocks, ready to kill anyone who doesn’t have the right papers.

    It is the banality of the genocide that persuaded me as we were documenting it, that many more than the recently quoted figure of three quarters of a million participants, were complicit. For instance, those who made cups of tea for the boys “working” up at the church would have been implicitly supporting the massacre there. Article III of the 1948 Genocide Convention enumerates the following acts as punishable: (a) Genocide; (b) Conspiracy to commit genocide; (c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide; (d) Attempt to commit genocide;(e) Complicity to genocide.

    To mark the screening of Hotel Rwanda, DHR is publishing its unique report (Rwanda 1994 - a report of the genocide) downloadable without charge on the DHR website. DHR was one of only two human rights organisations to go to Rwanda to document the genocide as it was taking place. The 48 page report represents a succinct yet comprehensive account of the genocide, much of it as recounted by survivors and witnesses, as well as the events that led up to it.



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