Covering events from January - December 2002

Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II
Head of government: Tony Blair
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
International Criminal Court: ratified

Serious human rights violations took place in the context of the United Kingdom (UK) authorities' response to the 11 September 2001 attacks in the USA. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the UK had violated the right to life. David Shayler was imprisoned for breaches of the Official Secrets Act 1989. Detention conditions in some facilities were inhuman and degrading. In Northern Ireland there were at least 12 paramilitary killings, the majority of which were committed by Loyalists. Members of armed groups were also responsible for "punishment" shootings and beatings and sectarian attacks.


In October the peace process broke down when the government dissolved the Northern Ireland Assembly and reinstated direct rule.

There were allegations that disproportionately harsh sentences were imposed on members of ethnic minorities following trials in connection with the 2001 race riots in several cities in England.

In February, in their reports to the UN Commission on Human Rights, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights defenders and the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers expressed concern at the government's failure to establish public judicial inquiries into the killings of Patrick Finucane and Rosemary Nelson in Northern Ireland.

In April the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture reported on its February 2001 visit to the UK. It noted, among other things, allegations of ill-treatment of young people by police officers in Wales and of inmates by prison officers at Feltham Young Offenders Institution and Pentonville Prison in London.

In October the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern that many of its previous concerns had not been sufficiently addressed. The Committee's recommendations included raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility and ensuring that no child can be tried as an adult.

Response to the 11 September 2001 attacks

By the end of the year, 11 foreign nationals were interned under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (ATCSA) which allows for indefinite detention without charge or trial on the basis of secret evidence of foreign nationals who cannot be deported. Those interned were either asylum-seekers or recognized refugees.

Many of those detained under "anti-terrorism" legislation or on the basis of extradition warrants were held in inhuman or degrading conditions in high-security prisons.

  • Lotfi Raissi, an Algerian national who had been arrested in September 2001, was detained for five months after the US authorities sought his extradition for involvement in the 11 September attacks. In April 2002 a UK judge ruled that there was no evidence to support the US claims and rejected the extradition request. Lotfi Raissi had always maintained his innocence of such charges.
  • In July, Mahmoud Abu Rideh, a Palestinian refugee and torture victim interned in Belmarsh high-security prison, London, since December 2001, was transferred to a high-security mental hospital. AI called for Mahmoud Abu Rideh to be transferred to a low-level secure mental hospital near his family in London, because only such treatment could alleviate his deeply disturbed psychological state.
The UK failed to make adequate representations to the US authorities to ensure that the human rights of UK nationals detained in US custody in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, were respected. The detainees were held indefinitely without charge or trial or access to courts, lawyers or relatives.
  • During the year Feroz Abbasi, Asif Iqbal, Shafiq Rasul and other UK nationals held in US custody at Guantánamo were "visited" and interviewed at least twice by UK officials, including members of the security services; they remained in legal limbo.
Northern Ireland

Sectarian violence reached very high levels in east Belfast in the context of street disturbances over many months. There were concerns about allegations that the policing of those and other disturbances was inadequate and not even-handed and that police officers and soldiers used excessive force. Several people were injured by plastic bullets.

In June the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland expressed concern about the lack of scrutiny of the firing of plastic bullets by the army. In October the Ministry of Defence agreed to publish the army's rules of engagement on the use of plastic bullets. These permitted firing at perceived ringleaders, even if they were not involved in any illegal activity.

In May the UK and Irish governments announced the appointment of Justice Peter Cory, a former Canadian Supreme Court judge, to investigate a number of killings in which the security forces had allegedly colluded. The cases were: Patrick Finucane; Rosemary Nelson; Robert Hamill; Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan, two police officers; Lord Justice Maurice and Lady Cecily Gibson; and Billy Wright. Justice Cory began work in June.
  • In May, two people were convicted after pleading guilty to conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in connection with the death in 1997 of Robert Hamill, who was kicked to death by a Loyalist crowd in Portadown. The two admitted that they had lied to protect a police officer who had telephoned one of the people allegedly responsible for attacking Robert Hamill advising him to destroy evidence that might link him to the attack. Further prosecutions were anticipated.
  • At the end of the year the outcome of a judicial review of the police's failure to disclose their investigation files into the death of Billy Wright was awaited. Billy Wright, a leading Loyalist paramilitary, was shot dead in the Maze prison in December 1997 by three Irish National Liberation Army prisoners.
  • In April, Peter McBride's family lost their legal challenge to overturn the army's decision allowing the two Scots Guards convicted of his murder in 1992 to continue to serve.
  • In May the European Court of Human Rights concluded that the UK had violated Dermot McShane's right to life as a result of its failure to ensure an effective investigation into his death. Dermot McShane died in 1996 when an army vehicle drove over a piece of hoarding behind which he had been sheltering.
  • The Tribunal of Inquiry's hearings into the 1972 killing of 13 unarmed people by soldiers on "Bloody Sunday" were ongoing at the end of the year.
Abuses by armed groups
There were at least 12 killings by members of armed groups during 2002, of which eight were attributed to Loyalists and four to Republican dissidents.
  • Loyalist paramilitaries claimed responsibility for the killing of Daniel McColgan, a 20-year-old Catholic postal worker in January.
  • In August, Republican dissidents claimed responsibility for a bomb that killed David Caldwell, a 51-year-old Protestant construction worker.
According to police figures, there were 206 shootings and assaults by Loyalist paramilitaries and 106 shootings and assaults by Republican paramilitaries. Many of the victims were children.
  • In May a 12-year-old boy had his head doused in petrol and then set alight and a teenager was handcuffed to a lamp post after having tar poured over his body and being covered in sawdust.
Past deaths in custody
  • In March the European Court of Human Rights concluded that the UK had violated the right to life of Christopher Edwards, a 30-year-old man with a history of mental illness who was kicked to death in November 1994 by his cellmate who was also mentally ill at the time.
  • The trial of five police officers in connection with the death in 1998 of Christopher Alder collapsed in June when the judge threw out all charges on the basis of conflicting medical evidence about the cause of death.
  • In July, the report of the first public inquiry into a death in custody, that of Paul Wright, criticized prison authorities and the Home Office for inadequate and substandard medical care provided to him and for withholding information from the family during previous investigations. Paul Wright died in prison in 1996 following an asthma attack.
Fatal police shootings - update

In June an inquest into the fatal shooting in 1999 of an unarmed man, Harry Stanley, returned an "open" verdict after the coroner prohibited the jury from considering a verdict of unlawful killing. Harry Stanley had been fatally shot by a Metropolitan Police armed response unit. Forensic evidence presented at the inquest challenged the account of the police officers involved.

Child soldiers

The UK continued to fail to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflicts.

AI was informed that from September the army would no longer deploy anyone below the age of 18 years on "hostile" operations outside the UK. The Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force had not made a similar policy change by the end of the year. However, procedures were said to have been developed for all three of the services which would, as a rule, remove or replace anyone under 18 during preparation for operations where there was deemed to be a "greater than low probability of them having to take part in, or be put at risk by, hostilities".

Army deaths in disputed circumstances

In March, 17-year-old James Collinson was found dead, reportedly with a single shot to the head, at the Royal Logistics Corps headquarters in Deepcut, Surrey, England. Army officials reportedly suggested to his parents that he had committed suicide. Another 17-year-old, Geoff Gray, had also been found dead with two shots in the head at the same barracks in September 2001. An inquest into the circumstances of Geoff Gray's death, held in March, returned an "open" verdict. However, the coroner reportedly stated that he did not believe that the boy had taken his own life.

In June it emerged that two further deaths had occurred in 1995 at Deepcut, that of Cheryl James, 18 years old, who had been found with a single bullet wound to the head, and for whom an inquest had recorded an "open" verdict; and that of 20-year-old Sean Benton who had been found dead with five gunshot wounds, for whom an inquest had recorded a verdict of suicide. A police investigation into all four deaths was continuing at the end of the year.


The authorities failed to fulfil their obligations to protect the fundamental human rights of children and young people in some prisons in England and Wales.

Mechanisms to prevent suicide and self-harm were inadequate, as was the system for investigating the circumstances of deaths in prison custody, and ill-treatment, bullying and racial abuse by prison staff. Health care and conditions of detention were also inadequate.
  • In September a jury returned a verdict of "suicide to which neglect contributed" at the inquest into the death of Kevin Jacobs, an exceptionally vulnerable 16-year-old, who died in Feltham Young Offenders Institution, London, in September 2001. The jury found that his death had been caused by "gross deficiencies within the system".
In September the Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland highlighted an increase in prisoner-on-prisoner violence, overcrowding and wholly inadequate toilet facilities. In December the report of the Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales also highlighted overcrowding, a 29 per cent increase in suicides, and a deterioration in prison conditions with prisoners spending lengthy periods locked in their cells.

Asylum-seekers and refugees

Under the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act which became law in November, the provision from previous legislation of two automatic bail hearings for detained asylum-seekers, which had never been implemented, was repealed. The Act fails to address deficiencies in the asylum determination process and introduces a list of "safe countries" from which claims would be presumed to be unfounded, denying applicants an effective right of appeal against refusal. It also provides for the withdrawal of state support from any applicant who fails to claim asylum "as soon as reasonably practicable" after arriving in the UK, apart from families with children, those with special needs or those whose home country situation had changed significantly since they came to the UK. The authorities acknowledged that around two-thirds of all asylum applications were made "in-country" and not at the port of entry.

Freedom of expression

In November, David Shayler, a former intelligence agent who had alleged that the security and intelligence agencies were guilty of misconduct, was imprisoned for breaching the Official Secrets Act. The Act does not afford a public interest defence. He was released in December after being electronically tagged.

Samar Alami and Jawad Botmeh

In November the House of Lords refused to grant Samar Alami and Jawad Botmeh leave to appeal against their conviction and sentencing. They had been sentenced in 1996 to 20 years' imprisonment after being convicted of conspiracy to cause explosions in 1994 at the Israeli Embassy and Balfour House in London. AI believes their convictions were unsafe and that they were denied their right to a fair trial.

AI country visits

AI delegates visited Northern Ireland in September and observed proceedings before the "Bloody Sunday" Tribunal in London. AI delegates interviewed detainees in Belmarsh prison in February and June; observed extradition hearings in connection with US requests; and attended judicial hearings pertaining to internment proceedings under the ATCSA and the detention of UK nationals in Guantánamo. Delegates also observed a hearing in connection with the killing of Zahid Mubarek in Feltham Young Offenders Institution.

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