The United Nations Committee Against Torture reviewed the U.K.’s record of torture and ill-treatment on the 7th and 8th of May, with the findings due to be released on 17th May. The UN reviewed the record of five other countries, but the U.K. was placed in the spotlight after the submission of an independent report to the UN, that was compiled by 80 civil society groups. Rupert Skilbeck, writing in OpenDemocracy, states how the report highlights the failings of the U.K. government in its anti-torture obligations, since the recommendations of the last review in 2013. The report, published by REDRESS, relays the immediacy and scale of the problem in the United Kingdom. It details, among other accusations, how the U.K. remains the only country in Europe where there is no time limit on immigration detention; how the “levels of child incarceration remain the highest in Western Europe;” and that there has been a 36% increase in incarceration under the Mental Health Act since 2010. The U.K. champions itself as a democratic, open and accepting society; however, this report reveals the extent of humanitarian failings in recent years.
Corey Stoughton, Advocacy Director at Liberty, a contributor to the report, states that “over the five-year reporting period not only have we seen a lack of progress in the fight against torture but also troubling backsliding.” Sonya Sceats, Chief Executive of Freedom from Torture, shares Mr Stoughton’s sentiments by arguing that “the U.K. should be leading the world in its opposition to torture and fostering a place of safety for torture survivors.”
The report outlines plausible and immediate solutions to the current failures of the U.K. government. An integral solution is a need for an “independent judge-led inquiry” to investigate domestic and oversea allegations of torture. Having an independent inquiry, that was already suggested in the 2013 report, can prevent government interference and permit the participation of external state forces in revealing historical human rights abuses. Furthermore, the report lists numerous pragmatic solutions that directly address the failings of anti-torture legislation. Skilbeck says the U.K. government should revise its decision to abandon its anti-torture strategy in 2015, while David Isaac, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Committee, states the government should “introduce a 28-day limit on immigration detention and improve mental health services in the community.”
Skilbeck argues that “austerity is no excuse for torture and ill-treatment.” Years of austerity in the U.K., under the conservative government, has paved the way for the problems outlined in the report. The report highlights how changes implemented through the Immigration Acts of 2014 and 2016 have created a “hostile environment” that makes migrating to the U.K. as difficult as possible; thus, enabling repeated human rights abuses by Home Office officials. According to the Guardian, a Home Office spokesperson denies these allegations of ill-treatment of immigrants; nonetheless, the report highlights how there are frequent reports of malpractice by government officials on asylum-seekers.
Supervision by an international commission, such as the UN Committee Against Torture, is vital to prevent further misgivings within the U.K.’s anti-torture legislation, and other countries for that matter. The report itself is not a legally binding document, but the inclusion of 80 civil society groups reveals that there are many who are dedicated to the abolition of torture within our time. Collaboration between on-the-ground humanitarian organizations and such large-scale institutions, as the United Nations, forces governments to take responsibility for their actions and propose adequate legislative solutions. Hopefully, the conclusions published by the UN committee on 17th May will give credence to the findings of this comprehensive report.
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