Amnesty International Report 2012 - The State of the World's Human Rights

United Kingdom
Head of state
Queen Elizabeth II
Head of government
David Cameron
Death penalty
abolitionist for all crimes
62.4 million
Life expectancy
80.2 years
Under-5 mortality
5.5 per 1,000

The protocol for the Detainee Inquiry was published and fell far short of human rights standards. The government confirmed its intention to expand its deportations with assurances programme to facilitate the return of individuals to countries where they face a real risk of torture. The Baha Mousa Inquiry criticized UK armed forces for serious human rights violations against detainees. The Rosemary Nelson Inquiry heavily criticized state agencies for numerous omissions that may have been able to prevent her killing. A Commission to investigate the creation of a UK Bill of Rights was established in March.

Counter-terror and security

Torture and other ill-treatment

In July, the terms of reference and protocol for the Detainee Inquiry were published. It had been established in 2010 to examine allegations of UK involvement in human rights violations of individuals detained abroad in the context of counter-terrorism operations. Concerns were raised that the protocol did not follow international human rights standards, notably because the government would retain the final say over disclosure of material, undermining the Inquiry’s independence and effectiveness. Solicitors representing individuals who expected their cases to be examined by the Inquiry confirmed they had advised their clients not to participate. Ten NGOs announced that if the Inquiry proceeded as proposed they would not co-operate with it.

The formal launch of the Inquiry was delayed pending the completion of criminal investigations into alleged wrongdoing by UK intelligence agents.

In September, documents discovered in Tripoli, Libya, indicated that the UK had been involved in the unlawful transfers of Sami Mustafa al-Saadi and Abdel Hakim Belhaj to Libya in 2004, despite the real risk of torture and other ill-treatment they would have faced there. Both men subsequently initiated civil claims for damages against UK authorities for alleged involvement in the human rights violations they had suffered, including torture and other ill-treatment.

On 3 October, the High Court of England and Wales gave judgement on the lawfulness of guidance to intelligence officers on detention and interrogation operations overseas and intelligence sharing. The Court ruled that the guidance should be amended to reflect the absolute prohibition on hooding of detainees. However, it rejected arguments that the threshold of risk used to assess whether a detainee would be subjected to torture or other ill-treatment relied on in the guidance was unlawful.

In December, the government wrote to the US authorities asking them to transfer Yunus Rahmatullah to UK custody, after the Court of Appeal ordered that a writ of habeas corpus be issued in his case. Yunus Rahmatullah was captured by British forces in Iraq in February 2004 and handed over to US forces who transferred him to Afghanistan and had kept him since then detained without charge in Bagram.

Legal and policy developments

In January, the Home Office published its review of six counter-terrorism and security powers. Later that month, the maximum period of pre-charge detention in terrorism cases was reduced from 28 to 14 days. However, in February the government published draft legislation which would allow the maximum period to be raised back to 28 days in response to an unspecified future urgent situation.

  • On 13 July, in the case of Al Rawi and others v. The Security Services and others , the Supreme Court ruled that courts could not order a “closed material procedure” – which would allow the government to rely on secret material in closed sessions of the court – in a civil trial for damages without the statutory power to do so.

In October, the government put forward new legislative proposals in the Justice and Security Green Paper. Some of these gave rise to concern. They included expansion of the use of closed material procedures in civil proceedings, including in civil trials for damages, and measures which would restrict the ability of victims of human rights violations from seeking disclosure before domestic courts of material related to those violations on national security grounds. The Green Paper did, however, include some limited proposals to improve oversight of the security and intelligence services.

Control orders

As of 14 December, nine individuals, all British nationals, were under control orders.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, which provided for the control order regime, was repealed in December. It was replaced by the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act, which provided for a new regime of administratively-ordered restrictions (TPIMs) which can be placed on an individual who is suspected of involvement in terrorism-related activities. Although slightly narrower than those applied under the control order regime, the restrictions could still amount to deprivation of liberty or constitute restrictions on the rights to privacy, expression, association and movement. Following a transition period, TPIMs were expected to fully replace the control orders regime in early 2012. The government also provided for an “enhanced” version of TPIMs, which could be introduced in future undefined exceptional circumstances, where the most severe restrictions currently available under the control orders regime may be re-imposed.


The government reaffirmed its intention to develop and extend its deportations with assurances programme in order to facilitate the return of individuals alleged to pose a threat to national security to countries where they would be at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.

Proceedings by which these deportations could be challenged before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) remained unfair due to the heavy reliance on secret material undisclosed to the individual concerned, or to their lawyer of choice.

  • In March, the Court of Appeal upheld a decision by the SIAC that M.S., an Algerian national, could be deported to Algeria as diplomatic assurances negotiated between the UK and Algeria were sufficient to mitigate any risk he would face upon his return. In 2007 the SIAC had found that M.S. was not a threat to national security. However, the government continued to seek his deportation on alternative grounds, relying on diplomatic assurances to facilitate the return.
  • In July, the Court of Appeal gave permission to appeal in the case of X.X., an Ethiopian national alleged to pose a threat to national security. X.X. had challenged the government’s decision to deport him on the grounds that he would be at risk of torture and other ill-treatment and subjected to a flagrantly unfair trial if returned. One of the grounds granted for appeal was that information relied upon in X.X.’s case had allegedly arisen from the unlawful prolonged incommunicado detention of individuals in unofficial detention centres in Ethiopia. X.X.’s lawyers argued that material obtained in these circumstances should not be admissible.

Armed forces in Iraq

On 7 July, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights gave judgement in the case of Al-Skeini and others v. the United Kingdom, which concerned the killing of six civilians during security operations carried out by UK soldiers in Iraq in 2003. The Court found that the European Convention on Human Rights did apply to the UK’s operations in Iraq during that time because it was an occupying force. Therefore the UK was required to conduct independent and effective investigations into the killings. The Court found that the UK had failed to do so in five out of six cases.

Also on 7 July, the Grand Chamber ruled in the case of Al-Jedda v. the United Kingdom that the prolonged internment of Hilal Abdul-Razzaq Ali Al-Jedda, for more than three years in a detention centre run by UK armed forces in Basra, Iraq, violated his right to liberty and security. The Court rejected the UK’s argument that the UN Security Council resolution 1546 displaced the applicant’s right to the protections of the European Convention on Human Rights.

  • On 8 September, the Baha Mousa Inquiry published its report into the death of Baha Mousa at a UK-run detention facility in Basra, Iraq and the treatment of nine other Iraqi nationals who were detained alongside him. The Inquiry reached the unequivocal conclusion that Baha Mousa died following an “appalling episode of serious gratuitous violence”, and that it was “beyond doubt that most, if not all, of the [d]etainees were the victims of serious abuse and mistreatment”. The report also found a corporate failure by the Ministry of Defence to provide clear and consistent guidelines about the proper treatment of detainees, which led to interrogation techniques banned by the UK government in 1972 being used by soldiers in Iraq. The Ministry of Defence accepted all but one of the recommendations made by the Inquiry and stated it would take relevant measures to ensure that such violations were not repeated. However, lawyers acting for the men and human rights organizations called for further action to be taken against those found to be responsible, including through criminal proceedings.

On 22 November, the Court of Appeal gave judgement in the case of Ali Zaki Mousa. The Court ruled that the Iraq Historical Allegations Team, established to investigate allegations of torture and other ill-treatment of Iraqi citizens by UK armed forces in Iraq, was not sufficiently independent to satisfy its investigatory obligation under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Police and security forces

On 3 May, a jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing at the inquest into the death of Ian Tomlinson, during the G-20 demonstrations in London in April 2009. The jury found that Ian Tomlinson had died of internal bleeding after being struck with a baton and pushed to the ground by a police officer. Consequently the Crown Prosecution Service reversed a decision not to bring manslaughter charges against the police officer involved. The trial was expected to begin in 2012.

The inquiry into the death of Azelle Rodney, shot by Metropolitan police officers on 30 April 2005, remained ongoing.


In September, the CERD Committee raised concerns about widespread discrimination against and marginalization of Gypsies and Travellers, and urged the government to take concrete measures to improve their access to education, health care and services, and employment and adequate accommodation.

  • In October, between 300 and 400 Irish Travellers were forcibly evicted from Dale Farm, Essex, despite calls from a range of UN and Council of Europe bodies and experts, NGOs and civil society and religious leaders to halt the eviction.

Corporate accountability

In September, the CERD Committee expressed concern that operations abroad by transnational corporations registered in the UK were adversely affecting the human rights of Indigenous Peoples and urged the government to adopt measures to ensure that UK companies respected human rights when operating abroad.

The Committee also criticized the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which, if passed, would restrict the ability of foreign claimants to gain access to justice in the UK courts against transnational corporations.

Northern Ireland

Incidents of paramilitary violence in Northern Ireland continued. On 2 April, Police Constable Ronan Kerr was killed by a bomb attached under his car. Dissident republicans were blamed for the killing.

The Police Ombudsman was severely criticized over his lack of independence during investigations into historical cases of police misconduct in unlawful killings. He announced that he would step down from his post in early 2012.

In May, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of McCaughey & Anor. It found that an inquest into the death of Martin McCaughey and Dessie Grew, who were shot and killed by members of the UK armed forces in 1990, must comply with the procedural obligations of the right to life as protected by the Human Rights Act 1998.

  • In February it was announced that the Robert Hamill Inquiry had completed its final report. However, it would not be published until legal proceedings against three individuals in connection with the case on charges of perverting the course of justice had been concluded.
  • In May, the findings of an inquiry were published into the death of Rosemary Nelson, a lawyer killed on 15 March 1999 by a bomb attached to her car in Lurgan, Northern Ireland. The report heavily criticized state agencies for numerous omissions that might have prevented her killing, but did not find any evidence of any act by a state agency that directly facilitated her murder.
  • In October, the government announced that it had appointed a senior lawyer to review all available documentation relating to the killing of Patrick Finucane, a lawyer killed by loyalist paramilitaries on 12 February 1989 with the collusion of UK state agents. The decision reneged on past promises to establish a full public inquiry into the killing and was severely criticized by human rights organizations on the grounds that it would not constitute an effective, independent, impartial and thorough investigation in conformity with international human rights law. The family of Patrick Finucane commenced judicial review proceedings challenging the decision.

In September, the Northern Ireland Executive announced proposals for the establishment of an inquiry to investigate historical institutional child abuse. There could, however, be a delay in providing the inquiry with a statutory basis, which might initially leave it without the necessary powers to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents.

Violence against women and girls

In March the government introduced a cross-departmental action plan on violence against women and girls. In the same month the Home Secretary announced that a pilot project, supporting victims of domestic violence who lack access to public funds because of their insecure immigration status, would be made permanent. However, the pilot project only covered women on spousal visas; women on other visas or temporary work permits continue to be denied access to essential services.

Concerns were raised that plans to abolish the migrant domestic worker visa, which allows domestic workers to change employer once in the UK, may increase the vulnerability of migrant domestic workers to exploitation and, in some cases, human trafficking.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

Proposed cuts to publicly funded legal representation (legal aid) gave rise to concerns that the lack of funds for asylum and immigration legal advice, already absent in some parts of the country, would be exacerbated.

Forced returns of rejected asylum-seekers to Afghanistan and Iraq continued despite a real risk of human rights abuses.

  • The criminal investigation into the death of Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan national who died during an attempted forcible removal in 2010, remained ongoing at the end of the year. His death triggered calls for changes to the enforced removals system due to concerns about dangerous control and restraint techniques being used by private security companies during enforced removals.
  • In June, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in the case of Sufi and Elmi v. The United Kingdom that the return of two Somali nationals to Mogadishu, Somalia would be a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, due to the real risk of ill-treatment they would face on return (see Somalia entry).

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