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Goldsmiths Law roundtable brings together academics, legal professionals and NGO experts to discuss the Human Rights Act

Goldsmiths Law and the Knowing Our Rights research project coordinated a roundtable event on the impact of the European Convention on Human Rights in the UK, on 22 January 2019, at the Royal Society of Arts. You can watch some of the highlights in this video.

The roundtable shed light on issues relating to the UK’s relationship with the ECHR, including:

– the effect of ECHR jurisprudence in the UK, such as in relation to balancing liberty with securitarian interests in the fight against terrorism, the right to vote, state surveillance, the right to private and family life of mothers in prison etc;

– how to fight against human rights sensationalism in the media;

– raising awareness about how human rights affect our lives;

– the link between Euroscepticism and the Conservative Government’s antipathy towards the Human Rights Act;

– where we are now with the Conservative Government’s plan to substitute a British Bill of Rights for the Human Rights Act, and how Brexit may have changed the dynamics.

The event provided another opportunity to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Royal Assent to the HRA, with a focus on the persons behind the HRA, those who helped bring it to life and determine its architecture (and on those who antagonise it too).

Speakers: Jonathan Cooper OBE, Doughty Street Chambers; Sanchita Hosali, Director, British Institute of Human Rights; Liora Lazarus, Associate Professor in Law, Faculty of Law, Oxford; Fellow, St Anne’s College, and Head of Research at the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights; Nadia O’Mara, Policy and Campaigns Officer at Liberty; Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, Visiting Professor, Law, Goldsmiths, University of London; Maya Sikand, Head of the Human Rights Team, Garden Court Chambers; Adam Wagner, Doughty Street Chambers; founder of RightsInfo and UK Human Rights Blog; Ruvi Ziegler, Associate Professor of Law, University of Reading.

Prof Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos, Head of Law at Goldsmiths and director of the Knowing Our Rights project, chaired the event.

The event was supported by the Human Rights Lawyers’ Association.

Investigating UK complicity in torture after 9/11: the Intelligence and Security Committee reports

Goldsmiths Law seminar on torture and rendition

On December 6, 18.00 – 19.45, Goldsmiths Law organised the first in a series of research events that will explore UK compliance with the prohibition against torture.

The event investigated the Intelligence and Security Committee’s (ISC) reports on detainee mistreatment and rendition after 9/11, and we had the unique opportunity to hear from the chair of the Committee, and former Attorney General, the Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC MP, Dr Natasa Mavronicola (Birmingham Law School) and one of the UK’s foremost investigative reporters, including at the Guardian, Ian Cobain.  Goldsmiths’ Pro-Warden for Research, Prof David Oswell, introduced the event, highlighting the Law programme’s ambition to tackle challenging human rights issues. Goldsmiths’ Professor in Law, Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos, chaired the event.

Intelligence and Security Report on Detainee Mistreatment and Rendition

The ISC reports on ‘detainee mistreatment and rendition’ after 9/11, published in June 2018, paint a bleak picture of UK complicity in torture, cruel, degrading and inhumane treatment undertaken by the US intelligence services after the September 11thattacks, and raise serious concern about UK commitment to respecting the absolute right against torture.

Dominic Grieve offered an overview of the report, highlighting that the UK government tolerated action, and took other, that the Committee regarded as “inexcusable”. “The Government is embarrassed” about what is described in the report, he added.

In seeking to contextualise the report’s revelations of the hundreds of incidents of UK complicity in US-ran torture post 9/11, Grieve distinguished between the intelligence services (MI5, MI6, GCHQ) and the military, explaining that military personnel are trained to withstand torture and may be becoming desensitised to it, as a result. Following 9/11, the intelligence services worked with army personnel who had got involved in torture, but were not doing torture themselves, he added.

Grieve also drew a dividing line about what went on until 2010, and what followed, expressing confidence that we now have the protections in place to avoid a similar scandal in the future.

Ian Cobain explained that the ISC reports were a very thorough and candid piece of work, and quite unique in the number of findings of UK complicity in torture it has unearthed. Ian placed the reports in their historic context, drawing on abuses in Kenya, Cyprus and Northern Ireland, with a focus on the adoption of the “five techniques” and the pervasive effect they’ve had upon their victims.

Dr Natasa Mavronicola offered a pessimistic view of the UK’s ability to learn lessons from this history of abuse, analysing torture as an instrument for the dehumanisation of vulnerable groups, minorities, foreigners, an expression of state barbarity towards ‘others’. ‘The ISC Reports confirm and reinforce what many at least suspected to be the widespread, profound and prolonged UK complicity in the torture and rendition practised after 9/11’, she added.

Pro-Warden (Research), Prof David Oswell, opening the seminar on UK complicity in torture

The ISC reports detail the findings of the ISC’s Inquiry into the actions of the UK Agencies and Defence Intelligence in respect of detainees and also rendition. The Committee have taken 50 hours of oral evidence, reviewed 30,000 original documents and a further 10,000 documents which they requested, and 30,000 staff hours have been devoted to this Inquiry.

The Committee reached the point in their Inquiry where they had covered the breadth of the issues but needed to examine certain matters in detail, which could only be done by taking evidence from those who had been on the ground at the time. But restrictions were imposed by the Government which reduced the list of potential witnesses to just four; even those individuals would not be allowed to give evidence on specific cases. The Committee was therefore forced to draw a line under the Inquiry, deciding that what they had found to date should be put into the public domain.

The report brought to light:

  • evidence of two cases in which UK personnel were directly involved in detainee mistreatment administered by others;
  • evidence of UK officers making verbal threats in nine cases;
  • that senior Agency staff had been briefed by the US Agencies and had a clear warning of US treatment of detainees and rendition;
  • 13 incidents recorded where it appears that UK personnel witnessed at first hand a detainee being mistreated by others;
  • 25 incidents recorded where UK personnel were told by detainees that they had been mistreated by others;
  • 128 incidents recorded where Agency officers were told by foreign liaison services (whether formally or informally) about instances of what appears to be detainee mistreatment;
  • 232 cases recorded where it appears that UK personnel continued to supply questions or intelligence to liaison services after they knew or suspected (or, in the Committee’s view, should have suspected) that a detainee had been or was being mistreated;
  • 198 cases recorded where UK personnel received intelligence from liaison services obtained from detainees whom they knew had been mistreated, or with no indication as to how the detainee had been treated but where, in the Committee’s view, they should have suspected mistreatment;
  • three individual cases in which SIS or MI5 made, or offered to make, a financial contribution to others to conduct an extraordinary rendition operation, to countries where there was real risk of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of the detainees;
  • that the Agencies also suggested, planned or agreed to rendition operations proposed by others in 28 cases.

After publication of the report, there have been calls from across the political spectrum and human rights organisations such as Liberty, Amnesty and Reprieve, for a “full blown” judge-led investigation into British involvement in extraordinary rendition and torture.

The Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan subsequently told Parliament that the government would decide within 60 days whether or not to hold an inquiry led by a judge – but the deadline passed without an announcement.

In the light of these developments, analysis of UK’s involvement in serious human rights violations such as rendition and torture is urgently needed, and the Law programme at Goldsmiths is keen to take part in, and inform, the debate, and help instil policy reform in this respect.

 

Call for papers: Technology and Human Rights symposium

Call for papers: Technology and Human Rights in the wake of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica and GCHQ-NSA scandals

Goldsmiths, University of London

Organiser: Law at Goldsmiths (with the Knowing Our Rights research project and the New Europeans civil rights organisation)

Monday, 5 November 2018 (09.30 – 16.30)

data analyticsDigital technology touches on and empowers every aspect of our lives, whether as consumers, users of public services, citizens or voters.

Yet the collection and exchange of personal information can interfere with our right to privacy, and the abuse of technology can distort our democracies and lead to serious breaches of human rights.

The informational privacy mega-scandals of recent years, such as the revelation (by Edward Snowden) of the post 9/11 global, mass, surveillance systems operated by security services, or the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data harvesting scandal (which came to the surface through the work of Carole Cadwalladr and whistle-blower Chris Wilie), point, worryingly, to the rise of a new Panopticism that threatens to suppress private existence in the interest of security, financial gain and control of political power.

In this one-day international, interdisciplinary, symposium, we will ask:

  • How can the law be used to strike the right balance between freedom and security in the age of the internet?
  • What more can be done to make sure big technology firms respect the rule of law?
  • How can government surveillance best be monitored and held to account so that law enforcement agencies retain public confidence?
  • Can technology be used to promote democracy and development while respecting human rights?
  • Should the government be allowed to operate systems of bulk interception of private communications, intelligence sharing with foreign government and acquisition of communications data from communication service providers?
  • Does the European Court of Human Rights judgment in Big Brother Watch and Others v the United Kingdom strike the right balance?
  • How can the sociology of security and surveillance inform the debate on law, technology and human rights?
  • Who is best positioned to provide the legal solutions required? What are the limitations facing individual countries?
  • Has the European Union been successful in dealing with these challenges, and what are the next steps in the process of regulating the internet, securing privacy rights and enhancing data protection?
  • What role can international organisations such as the Council of Europe play?
  • What extra challenges for human rights are posed by the rise of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning?

We will discuss these issues with international experts and practitioners including from the fields of politics, law and social sciences, in order to crystallise the key questions and issues facing our society as we are confronted with modern technology that is increasingly invading our private lives.

Papers submitted can relate to any of the issues raised, and questions asked, above.

Deadline for the submission of abstracts (max 200 words): Friday, 12 October 2018

Papers should be submitted to d.giannoulopoulos@gold.ac.uk

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