Uncovering the truth

The United Nations must step in to establish the level of British collusion in US renditions in light the of new claims

Today's allegations that the UK office of Jeppesen Dataplan - a subsidiary of the Boeing Corporation - provided logistical support to US rendition flights are the latest in a long line of claimed links between the United Kingdom and the US' programme.

We know that the British government has been involved in this policy. The then foreign secretary, Jack Straw, confirmed on January 20 2006 that in 1998 permission was given for the rendition of two suspects through the UK. Between 73 and 170 flights by planes which have been linked to "rendition circuits" have passed through the UK or its overseas territories since 2001. The concern of many is that these flights have transported detainees, outside the legal process, to secret detention or to places where they face a real risk of torture. Yet the full extent of the UK's complicity is still unclear.

Myriad investigations have attempted to get to the bottom of this - many have been met with indifference or obstruction by the government. The European parliament's committee, set up to look into EU involvement in the rendition programme, "deplored" the government's level of cooperation with their enquiries. The UK's own foreign affairs committee described the government as having a "policy of obfuscation". Despite this, many investigations have been able to establish further evidence of UK involvement in renditions.

The government's apparent policy of keeping no records and asking no questions on rendition makes establishing past complicity and preventing future involvement all the more difficult. Much of what they know is based on the "recollection of officials" according to Jack Straw. This is not good enough. Legislative reform is needed to give the public confidence that our country is not aiding and abetting the transfer of detainees to torture, or to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The government has so far been unresponsive.

The United Nations human rights council may offer an answer. The Universal Periodic Review mechanism, which provides for the cyclical review of the human rights records of all UN member states, provides a new opportunity to hold the government to account. The United Kingdom will be considered in the first session next year, where the council will examine the fulfilment of the UK's human rights obligations and its cooperation with human rights bodies, among other things.

I do not underestimate the threat from dangerous extremists, or the importance of maintaining a good relationship with key allies. But extraordinary rendition makes us in the west less secure, not more. Legal actions such as those brought against Jeppesen Dataplan, and international investigations by human rights bodies will sooner or later shed more light on this murky practice. If we are to advocate respect for human rights and the rule of law abroad, we must first ensure that we are practicing this respect at home.


Andrew Tyrie

The GuardianTramp

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