World Report 2011

General elections in May resulted in a coalition between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, Britain's first coalition government since 1945.

In July the new government announced a judge-led inquiry into allegations of complicity of UK intelligence agencies in torture, and for the first time published guidance for intelligence officers on interrogating detainees abroad. The inquiry, whose detailed terms of reference have yet to be published at this writing, is not expected to begin until all ongoing criminal investigations into alleged complicity by British agents in overseas torture were resolved. In November the UK's top prosecutor announced there was insufficient evidence to prosecute a Security Service (MI5) officer over the abuse of Binyam Mohamed. The same month the government announced it would pay former Guantanamo Bay detainees compensation to settle civil suits and avoid disclosure of classified documents, without UK authorities admitting culpability.

Concerns remained that current guidelines on overseas interrogations give too much latitude to intelligence officers, appear to create ministerial discretion to permit use of abusive techniques, and foresee assurances as a means of mitigating the risk of torture or ill-treatment, despite their inherent unreliability.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission warned the government in September that it would seek judicial review by the courts if the guidance was not amended. Lawyers representing civilians detained and allegedly tortured by British forces in Iraq also threatened action because the guidelines do not unequivocally prohibit hooding, an issue central to the public inquiry into the 2003 death of Iraqi hotel receptionist Baha Mousa while in British military custody in Basra. The inquiry's hearings ended in October and a final report is pending at this writing.

Heavily redacted documents were published in July and September following a High Court order in a civil case brought against the UK government by six former Guantanamo Bay detainees. The documents provided evidence that the government was aware as early as January 2002 of allegations that UK citizens and residents were being tortured in US custody but failed to object to transferring UK nationals to Guantanamo Bay. The documents also included 2002 guidance to UK intelligence officers that if they observed the "mistreatment" of prisoners in foreign custody "the law does not require you to intervene to prevent this."

In July the Home Office launched a review of much-criticized counterterrorism measures, including control orders, extended pre-charge detention, stop and search without suspicion, and deportation with assurances. At this writing the government has yet to present its reform proposals to parliament. The government suspended the terrorism stop and search power in July, following the ECtHR's confirmation that the powers violated privacy rights, was too broad, and lacked safeguards.

Despite the Home Office review, the coalition government agreement endorsed the use of diplomatic assurances to deport terrorism suspects.

In May the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) blocked the deportation on the basis of diplomatic assurances to Pakistan of two Pakistani terrorism suspects. In July the US government began extradition proceedings against one of the suspects. The case is ongoing at this writing. SIAC ruled in September that an Ethiopian terrorism suspect could be safely deported to Ethiopia despite the risk of torture, the first case involving a 2008 agreement between the two countries. An appeal is pending at this writing.

In June the UK High Court confirmed a moratorium on transfers of terrorism suspects to the National Directorate of Security (NDS) facility in Kabul following allegations of torture. In March the ECtHR ruled that the UK violated the rights of two Iraqis by transferring them from UK military custody in Basra to Iraqi authorities in December 2008. The court rejected the UK government's appeal in October.

The prime minister publicly apologized in June for the "unjustified and unjustifiable" 1972 killing of 14 unarmed protestors in Northern Ireland by British soldiers, following the long-awaited report from the Bloody Sunday Inquiry published the same month. The 12 year inquiry concluded the soldiers did not face any threat and gave no warnings before firing.

The death in October of an Angolan man as he was being deported by private security guards working for the Home Office prompted an inquiry by the Parliamentary Home Affairs Committee into restraint techniques used during such removals. A criminal investigation into the death was ongoing at time of writing.

Children continued to be detained in immigration centers despite the government's pledge in May to stop the practice. Women, including survivors of sexual violence in Pakistan, Sierra Leone and Uganda, continued to be placed in the "detained fast-track" asylum procedure unsuited to considering such complex claims.

The Supreme Court ruled in July that two gay asylum seekers from Iran and Cameroon could not be denied protection on the grounds that they could conceal their sexuality in their countries of origin. The Home Office announced new rules to prevent removals to countries where individuals face persecution based on their sexual orientation or gender identification.

Associated documents