The human rights organisation Redress says more than 100 British citizens a year are subjected to ill-treatment or torture in foreign jails, but many struggles to get the Foreign Office assistance they need.
Highlighting the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British mother jailed in Iran, the report accuses the Government of “a failure to speak out in the face of serious human rights violations” that “seriously weakens the protection of its own nationals and risks legitimising abuses.”
Demanding that the rights to consular assistance and diplomatic protection be enshrined in UK law, the report also alleges a catalogue of failings involving other Britons, many of whom can’t be named for their own protection, including:
In comments likely to add to pressure on Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson over his handling of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case, the report says the British Government shows “reluctance [in] acknowledging human rights violations committed against its own nationals abroad”.
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case, the report argues, is an example of how this reluctance exists even after mistreatment of the British national has been highlighted by international bodies like the UN.
“The FCO,” the report says, “Frequently refuses to acknowledge the findings of international human rights bodies [like] the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
“This not only undermines its own human rights strategy, but seriously weakens the protection of its own nationals.
“A failure to speak out in the face of serious human rights violations committed against its nationals risks legitimising such abuses.”
The Beyond Discretion report argues that many of the alleged failings occur because the right to consular assistance and the right to diplomatic protection measures in cases where there have been serious human rights violations are not enshrined in UK law.
This, the report argues, allows the British Government to treat consular assistance and diplomatic protection as “discretionary” policy commitments rather than things that it is under a legal obligation to provide.
As a result, the report says, “Survivors and their families have raised complaints regarding the lack of (effective) consular assistance and diplomatic protection.
“For many, what is fundamentally missing is a lack of transparency, making it unclear under what circumstances and how the FCO will actually provide consular assistance or exercise diplomatic protection.
“Another consequence of the discretionary policy is the significant challenges in holding the FCO accountable for any arguable shortcomings.”
“Overall,” the report adds, “There is often a frustrating gap in expectations regarding what the UK Government should be doing, and what it actually does.
“Families can feel like they are in a ‘constant battle’ with the FCO and ‘jumping through hoops’ to achieve very little progress in their cases.
“There is more the UK Government should be doing in regards to its nationals who face or have suffered serious human rights abuses abroad.”
The report comes as Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratclifffe, prepares to report her case to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, alleging she has been subjected to mistreatment including lengthy periods of solitary confinement, despite being innocent.
Mr Ratcliffe is also continuing to press the Government to grant his wife diplomatic protection status. This would allow UK diplomats to go beyond consular assistance requests and instead assert that because Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been treated badly, she is entitled to protection as an extension of the British state and must therefore be released.
Welcoming the Redress report, Mr Ratcliffe said it took the furoreover Boris Johnson’s erroneous statement that his wife had been teaching journalists before the UK publicly criticised Iran and said she was an innocent mother who had gone on holiday with her daughter.
Mr Ratcliffe added that the report reflected his own experiences of trying to get Foreign Office assistance in the year following his wife’s arrest in April 2016 on charges related to national security.
He said: “The lack of a clear framework for expectations and obligations is a real impediment to trust.
“Opaque assurances can easily feel like empty promises - in the first year I often felt like I was being managed and spun in circles.”
Arguing that there was a discrepancy between how the Police were expected to act in the UK, and the obligations on Foreign Office diplomats abroad, he added: “In the UK, the Police would not be guided by discretion about whether to act in cases of serious abuse. They would have a [legally-binding] obligation.
“It seems counterintuitive that discretion should apply when overseas, when you might be so much further away from those that can protect you.”
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We note the publication of the Redress Report.
“The Foreign Office is committed to providing professional, non-judgemental, polite and helpful consular assistance to British nationals overseas, irrespective of gender, race, age, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, religion or belief.
“We take all allegations or concerns of torture and mistreatment very seriously and will follow up with action appropriate to the circumstances of the case.”
The Iranian government has previously said that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe has always received fair treatment and been subject to “due judicial process.”
The original article was published in the Independent.
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