Events of 2009

Allegations of complicity by UK intelligence services in extraordinary renditions and the torture of terrorism suspects, including UK nationals, dogged the government throughout the year. The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights and the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee issued critical reports in August. The Joint Committee and human rights groups called for an independent inquiry into all allegations, calls the government has rejected.

In March the attorney general ordered a criminal investigation into alleged collusion by Security Service (MI5) agents in the torture and ill-treatment of Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian UK resident released from Guantanamo Bay and returned to the UK in February. Police are also investigating a separate case involving alleged complicity by Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) personnel in the abuse of an unnamed foreign national. The UK High Court ruled in February that it could not publish summaries of classified intelligence documents from the United States that support Mohamed's allegations of torture while in Pakistan, due to concerns about disrupting UK-US intelligence cooperation.

In June the Law Lords ruled that reliance by the government on secret evidence to impose control orders on terrorism suspects restricting their liberty violated the right to a fair hearing. The ruling followed a February judgment from the European Court of Human Rights against the UK for its now-defunct policy of indefinite detention, in which the Court stressed that denying terrorism suspects the right to know the case against them violates their rights.

Since June the High Court has quashed three control orders – including two in November where it rejected government arguments that less restrictive orders did not require disclosure of the evidence on which they were based – and obliged the government to modify another, while the government lifted another order rather than reveal all the evidence. In September the government asked the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation to conduct an assessment of the control order regime.

Three men were sentenced to life imprisonment in September for conspiring to kill thousands of people in 2006 by using home-made liquid bombs to explode airplanes flying from London to the United States. A fourth man was sentenced to a minimum of 22 years.

Efforts to deport terrorism suspects on the basis of unreliable diplomatic assurances of humane treatment continued. In February the Law Lords ruled the government could deport two Algerians and Jordanian Omar Othman (known as Abu Qatada) under the terms of assurances provided by the governments of their respective countries of origin. Abu Qatada appealed the ruling to the European Court of Human Rights, which at this writing has yet to hear the case. The UK government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Ethiopia containing similar diplomatic assurances in December 2008.

The government announced in April 2009 it would increase the number of detention facilities for failed asylum seekers and those being processed under the "detained fast-track" procedure. Particularly vulnerable asylum seekers with complex claims, including women who survived sexual violence, were routed through this accelerated procedure and faced detention and removal without adequate consideration of their claims. The UK continued to detain migrant children with their parents, with demonstrable negative impact on their mental and physical health.

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