Government secrecy on overseas police training “unacceptable”, say MPs

United Kingdom (Reprieve) – Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee has condemned the Government for the secrecy surrounding the approval of overseas police training, saying the current policy to guard against the human rights risks of such training may not be “fit for purpose.”

The Committee’s report, focused on the UK College of Policing, found that the College “has been put under pressure” by government departments “to raise revenue, including through providing overseas training”, and that some of this training been provided “on the basis of opaque agreements, sometimes with foreign governments which have been the subject of sustained criticism.” In a statement, the MPs warned that some of these programmes “threaten… the integrity of the very brand of British policing that the College is trying to promote and smacks of hypocrisy.”

Earlier this year, it was revealed that the College of Policing had provided specialist training to hundreds of Saudi Arabian police officers. Research by human rights organization Reprieve has found that Saudi police repeatedly use torture to extract ‘confessions’ from prisoners, some of whom have subsequently been sentenced to death and executed.

The Committee’s report strongly criticised the way in which ministers – often tasked with approving training programmes – have applied the government guidance on Overseas Security and Justice Assistance (OSJA). Whenever UK bodies seek to provide law enforcement assistance overseas, they are required to complete a formal human rights risk assessment under the OSJA process.

While the Foreign Office has previously claimed the OSJA process would address human rights issues “in an open and transparent way”, the Government has refused to disclose to Reprieve the contents of multiple OSJA assessments.

Photo: katesheets

Photo: katesheets

The Committee’s report condemned this approach, revealing that the Foreign Secretary had been “unwilling to answer our direct questions regarding the basis on which international assistance is provided”.

The MPs accused the Foreign Secretary of “hiding behind [a] relationship with foreign governments under the guise of ‘commercial sensitivity’”, adding: “For a Foreign Secretary to act in this manner and tell the British Parliament that it cannot disclose such important information is totally unacceptable.”

Commenting, Maya Foa – director of the death penalty team at Reprieve – said:

“This report is clear – excessive secrecy has undermined the Government’s stated aim of avoiding British involvement in human rights abuses. The guidelines for ministers on Overseas Security and Justice Assistance were drawn up with the laudable intention of ensuring the UK would never enable human rights abuses by foreign security forces. But deprived of proper scrutiny, the policy has become a rubber stamp for assistance programmes by rogue police forces, which appear to support the worst excesses of oppressive regimes – from executions of political protestors to the systematic torture of prisoners, including juveniles.

“If British police officers are being asked to risk complicity in human rights abuses, then the public deserve to know about it. Ministers must urgently listen to MPs, and commit to far greater transparency over security and justice assistance.”

 

This report prepared by Reprieve.