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Amnesty International Report 2008 - UK

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 28 May 2008
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2008 - UK, 28 May 2008, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Head of State: Queen Elizabeth II
Head of government: Gordon Brown (replaced Tony Blair in June)
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
Population: 60 million
Life expectancy: 79 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 6/6 per 1,000

The UK continued to attempt to return individuals to states where they would face a real risk of grave human rights violations on the strength of unenforceable "diplomatic assurances". Secrecy in the implementation of counter-terrorism measures led to unfair judicial proceedings. There were continued failures of accountability for past violations, including in relation to alleged state collusion in killings in Northern Ireland. The government sought to limit the extraterritorial application of human rights protection, in particular in relation to the acts of its armed forces in Iraq. Women who were subject to immigration control and had experienced violence in the UK, including domestic violence and trafficking, were unable to access the support they needed. Rejected asylum-seekers continued to be forced into destitution.

'War on terror'

Control orders

As of December there were 14 "control orders" in force, under powers in the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (PTA).

  • In October the UK's highest court, the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords (the Law Lords), ruled on four test cases concerning the system of control orders. The Law Lords confirmed, among other things, that the 18-hour curfew which the Home Secretary had attempted to impose on one group of individuals amounted to a deprivation of liberty beyond what the law allowed. The Law Lords ordered the High Court to reconsider the fairness of the hearing which two individuals received when challenging the control orders served on them. The substance of the allegations against these two men had been withheld from them and from their lawyers of choice.
  • In January an individual was convicted of a breach of control order obligations, the first conviction for an offence under the PTA, and was sentenced to five months' imprisonment.

Deportations with assurances

The UK authorities continued to seek to deport people whom they asserted posed a threat to the UK's national security, despite substantial grounds for believing that the people concerned would face a real risk of grave human rights violations if returned to their countries of origin. The authorities continued to maintain that diplomatic assurances received from the countries to which they were seeking to deport these individuals were sufficient to protect them from that risk, despite those assurances being unenforceable in any court. Proceedings by which these deportations could be challenged, in the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), were unfair, in particular because of their reliance on secret material undisclosed to the appellants or to their lawyers of choice.

During the year eight individuals whom the UK had sought to deport to Algeria on grounds of national security waived their right to continue to appeal against their deportation, and were returned.

  • In January, two Algerian men – Reda Dendani, referred to in legal proceedings as Q, and another man referred to in legal proceedings as H – were deported from the UK to Algeria. Before deportation, both men had reportedly been given verbal assurances by the Algerian authorities that they were not wanted in Algeria. Both were arrested and detained following their return, and charged with "participation in a terrorist network operating abroad". According to reports, both H and Reda Dendani were convicted in November, and sentenced to three and eight years' imprisonment respectively.
  • In May, Moloud Sihali, an Algerian, won his appeal against deportation on national security grounds. The SIAC ruled that he was not a threat to national security.
  • In July, the Court of Appeal ruled on the appeals of three Algerians against the decisions of the SIAC upholding the orders for their deportation on national security grounds. The three were Mustapha Taleb, referred to in legal proceedings as Y; a man referred to as U; and another referred to as BB. The Court of Appeal ruled that the SIAC should reconsider all three cases. In the cases of BB and U the Court of Appeal reached this conclusion on grounds that were not disclosed to the individuals, their lawyers of choice or the public. In November the SIAC reaffirmed its earlier decision that all three could safely and lawfully be returned to Algeria.
  • In February, the SIAC dismissed the appeal of Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, also known as Abu Qatada, against his deportation on national security grounds to Jordan. The SIAC concluded that the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which the UK concluded with Jordan in 2005 would ensure his safety in Jordan. At the end of the year an appeal against this decision was pending.
  • In April, the SIAC blocked the attempt to deport two Libyan nationals – referred to in legal proceedings as DD and AS – to their country of origin on national security grounds. The SIAC concluded that, notwithstanding the assurances given in an MoU between the UK and Libya, there was a real risk that upon return to Libya DD and AS would be tried in proceedings that would amount to a "complete" denial of a fair trial, and would be sentenced to death.

Guantánamo detainees with UK links

  • In April, Bisher Al Rawi, a former UK resident, was returned to the UK after more than four years in US military custody at Guantánamo Bay.
  • In August the UK authorities wrote to their US counterparts to request the release from Guantánamo Bay and return to the UK of former UK residents Jamil El Banna, Omar Deghayes, Shaker Aamer, Binyam Mohammed and Abdennour Sameur. No request was made on behalf of a sixth former resident, Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian who had reportedly been cleared for release and would face a real risk of secret detention, which would put him at risk of torture or other ill-treatment, if returned to Algeria.
  • In December, Jamil El Banna, Omar Deghayes and Abdennour Sameur were returned to the UK. All three were detained on arrival. Abdennour Sameur was released without charge. Jamil El Banna and Omar Deghayes were released on bail, pending a full hearing of a request for their extradition to Spain to stand trial there. At the end of the year Binyam Mohammed, Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha remained in Guantánamo Bay.


In July the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) published a report on the UK's alleged involvement in the US-led programme of renditions. The report made limited criticisms of the UK authorities, including of the failure to keep "proper searchable records" of requests to conduct rendition operations through UK airspace, but concluded that there was "no evidence" that the UK had been complicit in "extraordinary renditions" as the ISC defined that term.

The ISC reports directly to the Prime Minister, who decides whether to place its reports before Parliament. Amnesty International considered it insufficiently independent of the executive to conduct the necessary independent and impartial investigation into allegations of UK involvement in renditions.

Reports continued to emerge suggesting that UK territory, including the island of Diego Garcia, may have been used by aeroplanes involved in rendition flights. The UK authorities told Amnesty International that the UK "does not routinely keep records of flights in and out of Diego Garcia", but that they were "satisfied with [the] assurance" given by the US that they "do not use Diego Garcia for any rendition operations".

UK armed forces in Iraq

The government continued to seek to limit the application of its human rights obligations outside UK territory, in particular in relation to the acts of its armed forces in Iraq.

  • In March, the court martial of seven UK military personnel concluded. They were charged in relation to the torture and death in September 2003 of Baha Mousa, and the treatment of a number of other Iraqi civilians arrested and detained at a UK military base in Basra at around the same time as him. One defendant pleaded guilty to a charge of inhumane treatment, a war crime. He was acquitted of the other charges against him. Six others were acquitted of all charges. The judge noted that hooding detainees, keeping them in stress positions and depriving them of sleep had become "standard operating procedure" within the battalion responsible for detaining the men.
  • In June, the Law Lords ruled on six cases brought under the name Al Skeini, concerning the deaths of six Iraqi civilians. Five of the six were shot and fatally wounded, in disputed circumstances, in the course of operations carried out by UK armed forces; the sixth was Baha Mousa.

The Law Lords ruled that the first five individuals were not within the UK's jurisdiction at the time of their deaths, and that the UK's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) were therefore not applicable to them. They ruled that Baha Mousa had come within the UK's jurisdiction, albeit only from the moment of his arrival at the UK-run detention facility, rather than the time of his arrest. The Law Lords directed that Baha Mousa's case should return to a lower court, for it to determine whether there had been a violation of the rights to life and to freedom from torture. By the end of the year these judicial proceedings had not resumed.

  • In December the Law Lords ruled on a challenge to the detention without charge or trial for more than three years of Hilal Al-Jedda, one of approximately 75 "security internees" held by UK forces in Iraq. They ruled that Hilal Al-Jedda was within the UK's jurisdiction, since his detention was legally attributable to the UK, not (as the UK had argued) to the UN. However they held that UN Security Council Resolution 1546 effectively allowed the UK to intern people in Iraq, notwithstanding that to do so would otherwise have been incompatible with the UK's obligations under the ECHR.

Police shootings and deaths in custody

  • In November a jury convicted the Office of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police of an offence under health and safety legislation in relation to the policing operation which led to the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in July 2005.

Following the verdict, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) published its report into the shooting. The IPCC reiterated concern at the attempt made by the police to prevent the IPCC from carrying out from the outset the investigation into the shooting.

In December a hearing opened to consider whether the coroner's inquest into the death, which had been adjourned pending completion of the criminal prosecution, should resume. The IPCC announced that four police officers involved in the operation would face no disciplinary charges.

  • In June, the Court of Appeal upheld the 2004 verdict of an inquest jury that police officers who fatally shot Derek Bennett in 2001 had acted lawfully.
  • In August, the IPCC announced that none of the eight Metropolitan Police officers involved in the events leading to the death in custody of Roger Sylvester in January 1999 would face disciplinary action.

Northern Ireland

In May, direct rule came to an end with the restoration of the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly, suspended since 2002.

Collusion and political killings

In January, the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland published a report of an investigation which found evidence of collusion between the police and loyalist paramilitaries as recently as 2003.

In June, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted its second interim resolution concerning the UK's compliance with a number of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. The cases in question were brought by the families of individuals who had allegedly been killed by, or with the collusion of, UK security forces in Northern Ireland. The Court had held in each case that the UK had failed to instigate adequate investigations into these killings. The Committee of Ministers regretted that "in none of the cases [has] an effective investigation ... been completed".

  • In June, the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal reversed a December 2006 High Court decision, which had ruled unlawful the decision to hold the inquiry into allegations of state collusion in the killing of Billy Wright under the Inquiries Act 2005. The inquiry proceeded under the Inquiries Act.

In October the inquiry panel announced its intention to produce an interim report early in 2008 on the co-operation given to the inquiry by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), in particular in relation to significant gaps in the material provided to the inquiry by the PSNI.

  • By the end of the year the government had still not established an inquiry into allegations of state collusion in the 1989 killing of Patrick Finucane.
  • In December, the verdict was delivered in a criminal prosecution relating to the 1998 Omagh bombing, among other incidents. The only defendant was acquitted of all charges against him. The judge was critical of the prosecution case, in particular the use made of DNA evidence. He accused two police employees of "deliberate and calculated deception", and referred the case to the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

In October, the UK Borders Act was passed. The Act failed to end the forced destitution of rejected asylum-seekers caused by existing legislation.

The UK government continued to enforce the return of rejected Iraqi asylum-seekers to northern Iraq.

Ongoing legal action prevented the UK government from removing rejected asylum-seekers to Zimbabwe.

In November, the Law Lords overturned a Court of Appeal ruling that it was "unduly harsh" to send refused asylum-seekers from Darfur back to the Sudanese capital Khartoum.

Violence against women

Women who were subject to immigration control and had experienced violence in the UK, including domestic violence and trafficking, found it almost impossible to access the housing benefit or income support they needed, as a result of the "no recourse to public funds" rule. This provides that certain categories of immigrants who have leave to enter and remain in the UK for a limited period only have no right (subject to limited exceptions) to access such benefits.

Trafficking in human beings

In March the UK signed the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, but had not ratified it by the end of the year.

In December, it was reported that four women who had been trafficked to the UK for sexual exploitation were to be awarded financial compensation by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, a decision which could lead to other victims of trafficking becoming eligible for compensation.

NGOs were concerned at the lack of appropriate government-funded accommodation for victims of trafficking.

Amnesty International visit/reports

  • Amnesty International delegates observed judicial hearings in the UK, including some under counter-terrorism legislation.
  • United Kingdom: Deportations to Algeria at all costs (EUR 45/001/2007)
  • Europe and Central Asia: Summary of Amnesty International's concerns in the region, January–June 2007 (EUR 01/010/2007).
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