Alistair Carmichael: “Torture is an abhorrent violation of human rights and dignity”

Carmichael Glasgow AmnestyToday is the UN’s Day of Support for Victims of Torture. Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Scotland Alistair Carmichael has a long association with Amnesty International and he visited the Glasgow group last night to mark the occasion.

He spoke about the imprisonment of the Egyptian journalists, the death penalty, how Scotland has such a big impact on human rights as part of the UK and what the Coalition has done to advance the cause of human rights. The whole speech is available here on my blog, but here are some of the highlights.

Caged in Kirkwall

A few weeks ago I was pleased to be part of an action day with my own local group in Orkney, which coincided with the visit to the county of our director Kate Allen.  To draw attention to the plight of prisoners of conscience I was locked in a cage for half an hour on Albert Street in Kirkwall.

I certainly got the attention of local people even if some of the tourists off a visiting cruise liner did look a little bemused.

As I said then, it would have been nice if a few more of my constituents had even pretended to look surprised at seeing their member of parliament in handcuffs and behind bars.

Why bother about human rights?

Our human rights are the most precious things we have in common worldwide – and it is the responsibility of us all to do what we can to protect and nurture our shared humanity.

The UN universal declaration of Human Rights may often seem to us to be a little high level and possibly esoteric.  Last year when I was volunteering with a local legal aid NGO in Cameroon, however, I found that declaration on the wall of every lawyer’s office that I visited.  To them it is not high level or esoteric.  For many people in Cameroon and elsewhere it is the most robust and meaningful protection that their human rights can have.

“Shocked and appalled’ at jailing of journalists for doing their job

I am shocked and appalled by the unacceptable procedural shortcomings during the trial process and the guilty verdicts handed down to the journalists.  As a former Procurator I find it deeply disturbing and unsettling that key prosecution evidence was not made available to the defence team.

Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of a stable and prosperous society and restrictions of freedom of expression is an issue the UK Government has raised repeatedly with President Al Sisi, the Egyptian Foreign Minister and wider authorities in Egypt.

The Foreign Secretary and the UK Government will continue to urge that this case be reviewed.

Death penalty “robs state of moral authority”

I recognise the terrible crimes that some of those on death-row have committed, and to campaign against the death penalty is not belittle or play-down the pain and hurt that they have caused to others.

It is, however, to assert that for a state to have the authority to punish its citizens is not merely a question of legality but also of morality.  The use of capital punishment robs a state of that moral authority.  If it is wrong for one person to kill another (and it is) then it can be no less wrong for the state to kill a person.

Blades of grass

In 2009 I travelled to the US state of Georgia with Amnesty International to meet Troy Davis, on death row- I’m sure you all remember this case.

It was a humbling and sobering visit – to see a man who had lost his life- before he had even been executed- having spent so many years on death row.

He told me that in the eighteen years he had lived with the death sentence he had only once stood on grass – when he had been removed from his cell block to go to hospital.

In fact when I left the prison where Troy was being held, I took a few blades of grass from the garden in the car park.  I still have them today – a reminder of the brutality of a system that brutally killed a man I was proud to have met.

Scotland at top table

Together, we have been able to promote our shared values of peace, justice and dignity through the top-seats of international institutions, and also through our extensive diplomatic network with 267 embassies and consulates around the world in over 100 countries.

And together as a United Kingdom, our  political weight and international standing has made our involvement so effective.

On human rights, we can speak truth to power without fear or favour, confident our stature on the world stage means our voice will be heard.

The coalition and human rights

From contributing to the fight against poverty by giving 0.7% of GDP in aid, to funding projects aimed at protecting human rights to crisis response, the Coalition has done much to further human rights.

More recently, the Coalition Government launched an initiative on preventing sexual violence in conflict.

We used our international clout to show leadership on an issue that has been long considered taboo and ignored.

We used the platform created by the UK’s Presidency of the G8 in 2013, as well as the UN, to secure commitments from international partners to bring about a change in attitude towards sexual violence.

Teenager on Death Row after 8 years in prison for stealing mobile phones

Alistair highlighted the disturbing case of a young man, a year older than my daughter, who has been shot and tortured by the authorities and sentenced to death on the basis of a confession extracted by, among other things, pulling his fingernails out. He then said what the UK Government was doing to stop things like this happening.

The UK has consistently and unreservedly condemned the practice of torture, continuing to work with national and international NGOs and through the UN on torture prevention initiatives.

For example this time last year  my colleagues at the FCO launched a campaign for increased ratification of the Convention Against Torture and its Optional Protocol.

The UK Government is also working with other countries and organisations to prevent torture by funding projects to make criminal justice systems fairer and developing national organisations that can effectively monitor places of detention.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • “The UK has consistently and unreservedly condemned the practice of torture”

    So what? I want the torture to stop. One of our closest allies, the US, is engaged in it.

    Tell me what is actually being done to distance ourselves from the US

  • If it is wrong for one person to kill another (and it is) then it can be no less wrong for the state to kill a person

    Hang on. Does that mean that if it is wrong for one person to imprison another (and it is) then it can be no less wrong for the state to imprison a person?

    So we should immediately free all prisoners, as their imprisonment robs the state of all moral authority.

    Or is killing somehow a different category of act to imprisoning, and if so, why?

  • Voter is right. It’s no use smugly condemning countries far away when British polticians and security officials happily pretend that there is such a thing as ‘evidence gained by torture’ and work closely with US torturers.

  • I was thinking of Camp Delta where there is forced-feeding. This is just another word for torture. As far as I know, it is still happening now.

    Also, Egypt gets a lot of money from the US and yet the regime has put journalists in prison simply for reporting the truth.

    I do not know if the CIA is still doing torture but their record does not exactly inspire confidence.

    This is the sort of thing that could be a redline in coalition negotiations.

  • A Social Liberal 26th Jun '14 - 11:51pm

    quite right – we let the IRA hunger strikers realise their desire to die because their unreasonable demands weren’t met. The Americans would do well to allow the muslim prisoners do the same if they so wish.

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