Amnesty International will place Britain firmly in the dock on Monday as "the most influential and aggressive promoter in Europe" of the policy of returning detainees to countries where they may face torture. This policy, which Britain has pursued since 1992, of repatriating people who it believes pose a risk to national security, is based on insubstantial assurances from other governments that they will not be tortured. It has always been the most transparent of excuses for a tactic which doesn't give a damn for the interests and rights of the individuals concerned, but concentrates on an "out of sight, out of mind" philosophy, which might be convenient for the British government, but is potentially lethal for its victims. Many of the countries that have given such assurances routinely practise torture on prisoners and the idea that these pledges are worth even the flimsy paper that they are written on is a despicable fraud. It is being worked on those least able to take care of their own interests and is a transparent attempt to evade the international responsibilities laid on the government to take due regard for the safety of refugees and political exiles, whatever it may think of their political principles. Britain is, of course, not alone in adopting this callous and evil practice.
Amnesty makes it clear that it has spread all across Europe and it lists at least 12 countries where it has been adopted and even enshrined in domestic law. There are no words to explain just how dangerous this is to its victims and cases abound where these assurances have been proven to be worthless;and shockingly it's not just in Europe that it has been adopted enthusiastically. In one sense, it's merely the diplomatic version of the "extraordinary rendition" used by the US to transport suspects in the so-called war on terror to countries where they could be conveniently tortured while keeping US hands comparatively clean. The US has also used this diplomatic fiction extensively. Indeed, it was only last week that we reported the conclusion of a "Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty" between the US and Algeria, a country not notorious for its gentle treatment of detainees. This led justice campaigners Reprieve to issue a desperate plea to European countries to intervene to rescue Guantanamo Bay detainee Ahmed Belbacha from deportation and almost certain torture in Algeria. The severity of his plight can be measured by the fact that he is campaigning to stay in the US prison camp rather than face return to Algeria. What appears to be happening is that governments the world over are abandoning civilised standards of behaviour as too onerous for them to apply and washing their hands of these unfortunate individuals.
But, in carelessly abandoning such standards under flimsy legal fictions, they are sabotaging a move to a more humane and progressive set of moral standards that the world has been struggling painfully towards under the pressure generated by generations of human rights campaigners. This campaign has been going on since the darkest days of empire in the 19th century and was showing just the faintest signs of success. That success is now in jeopardy because, with the hysteria and violence generated by the phoney war on terror, the world is steadily moving backwards. Lord knows, it wasn't much progress. But to abandon it now under the camouflage of cheap and worthless paper agreements is to abandon all the civilised values that capitalist countries claim to value and abide by, but routinely betray. We cannot allow them that retreat and that betrayal. It is one retreat among many that are designed to roll back hundreds of years of hard-won progress by the working class and progressive movement and it really is one step too far.
A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.