UK: British Government apologises to rendition victims

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Press release issued by Reprieve on 10 May 2018. See also: full transcript of the apology and subsequent exchange in the House of Commons (pdf)
The British Government has today apologised to Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar for the UK’s role in their 2004 abduction, torture, and rendition to Libya.

The apology, delivered today in Parliament by the Attorney General Jeremy Wright, comes in a letter from Prime Minister Theresa May to the family. It follows a mediation with the Government and a personal meeting between the Attorney General and the couple, in which they described their ordeal to him.

Fatima Boudchar and her eldest son Abderrahim attended Parliament for the apology. Mr Belhaj will receive the apology immediately afterward at a separate ceremony in Istanbul.

The apology is unprecedented in scope for a “war on terror” case. It says that the couple’s “harrowing experiences…[are] deeply troubling,” and that the UK Government “believes [their] accounts” of their abduction and torture.

The apology accepts that the UK’s actions “contributed to your detention, rendition and suffering,” and that UK officials wrongly “sought information about and from” Mr Belhaj during his detention and torture in Gaddafi’s Libya.

Reacting to today’s apology, Abdul-Hakim Belhaj said:

“I welcome and accept the Prime Minister’s apology, and I extend to her and the Attorney General my thanks and goodwill. For more than six years I have made clear that I had a single goal in bringing this case: justice. Now, at last, justice has been done. My wife and I hope our case will serve as a marker for future generations. A great society does not torture; does not help others to torture; and, when it makes mistakes, it accepts them and apologises. Britain has made a wrong right today, and set an example for other nations to follow.”

Fatima Boudchar said:

“I thank the British Government for its apology and for inviting me and my son to the UK to hear it. I accept the government’s apology. This case has forced me to relive the lowest moments in my life for years, and at times it has been a real struggle to keep going. But by today’s settlement I look forward to rebuilding my life with dignity and honour, and living free from the weight of these events with my husband and our five beautiful children.”

Cori Crider, Reprieve counsel to the family commented:

“This is not just Abdul-Hakim and Fatima’s victory. It is a victory for everyone who opposes injustice, secret detention, and torture. We are gratified by today’s apology and respect the sincere spirit in which it was given. History will judge the CIA’s torture programme as a grave mistake and a crime. Britain lost its way when it got mixed up in rendition, but today, by apologising for its part in that dark story, the UK has stood on the right side of history.”

Sapna Malik, partner at Leigh Day and solicitor to the family commented:

“Today’s historic occasion is a tribute to the resilience of our clients in their quest for justice. After six long years of litigation, HMG has rightly acknowledged that, even in the fields of counter-terrorism and international relations, there are lines which must not be crossed and which were crossed here, with devastating consequences for my clients. This candid apology from the Government helps restore the humanity and dignity so brutally denied to my clients during their ordeal, and is warmly welcomed.”

Notes to Editors:

1. Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar brought this litigation in 2012. They offered immediately to settle the litigation for an unreserved apology and no damages.

2. In January 2017, the UK Supreme Court held that they had the right to a civil trial.

3. As well as HMG, the couple had sued then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and number two at MI6, Mark Allen. Both claims have been withdrawn.

4. Separately, the Metropolitan Police announced Operation Lydd to investigate the complicity of UK officials in the detention and rendition of Mr Belhaj, Ms Boudchar and another family of Libyan dissidents. In October 2014, the Metropolitan Police Service handed a “comprehensive file of evidence in excess of 28,000 pages” to the CPS requesting a charging decision in respect of Sir Mark Allen.

In June 2016, the CPS declined to prosecute Sir Mark Allen, citing “insufficient evidence”. Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar initiated judicial review proceedings against the Director of Public Prosecutions. Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar have decided to withdraw that claim.

5. Fatima Boudchar was heavily pregnant at the time of the rendition. Both she and her husband were tortured by the CIA in Thailand before their rendition to Libya. An account of her ordeal can be read here.

6. The full apology, delivered today by the Attorney General in Parliament, says:

Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar –

The Attorney General and senior UK Government officials have heard directly from you both about your detention, rendition and the harrowing experiences you suffered. Your accounts were moving and what happened to you is deeply troubling. It is clear that you were both subjected to appalling treatment and that you suffered greatly, not least the affront to the dignity of Ms Boudchar, who was pregnant at the time. The UK Government believes your accounts. Neither of you should have been treated in this way.

The UK Government’s actions contributed to your detention, rendition and suffering. The UK Government shared information about you with its international partners. We should have done more to reduce the risk that you would be mistreated. We accept this was a failing on our part.

Later, during your detention in Libya, we sought information about and from you. We wrongly missed opportunities to alleviate your plight: this should not have happened.

On behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, I apologise unreservedly. We are profoundly sorry for the ordeal that you both suffered and our role in it.

The UK Government has learned many lessons from this period. We should have understood much sooner the unacceptable practices of some of our international partners. And we sincerely regret our failures.

See also: full transcript of the apology and subsequent exchange in the House of Commons (pdf)

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