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Monday, 2 March 2009

UK ministers refuse to appear before Human Rights Panel

Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Home Secretary Jacqui Smith have both refused to appear before Parliament’s human rights committee to answer questions about allegations of British collusion in the torture of British citizens and residents detained during counter-terrorism operations in Pakistan.

In a move that dismayed members of the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR), a joint letter from the foreign secretary and home secretary is also said to have failed to answer any of the eight questions that the committee asked about legal provisions offering MI5 officers immunity in the UK for crimes committed overseas. The JCHR is now asking Jonathan Evans, the director-general of MI5, to appear before it to be questioned about the agency’s policy and the conduct of his officers.

According to a report in the Guardian on Saturday, MPs and peers on the committee are also expected to demand again that Miliband and Smith answer their questions, while its chairman, Andrew Dismore, says the ministers’ refusal may trigger demands for an independent inquiry into the allegations.

Dismore said it was ‘deeply disappointing’ that neither minister had agreed to appear before the committee, but added: ‘This inquiry isn’t over yet.’ He said MPs may wish to consider an independent inquiry modeled along the lines of one held in Canada, which examined official collusion in the US rendition programme and recommended changes in the supervision of Canadian intelligence services. ‘We don’t want to hang people out to dry, this isn’t about pointing the finger, but we do want to get at the truth,’ Dismore said. ‘If people have been tortured, we can’t un-torture them, but we can make recommendations about how this can be avoided in the future.’ More