Human rights defender

  • November 13, 2015
Human rights defender

Clive Stafford Smith delivered the second annual Gates Cambridge Lecture this week.

Torture, the death penalty and Guantanamo Bay were the themes of the Gates Cambridge Annual Lecture, given this week by the lawyer Clive Stafford Smith.

Stafford Smith is director of Reprieve, a human rights organisation which provides free legal and investigative support to British, European and other nationals facing execution, and those who have faced rendition, torture, extrajudicial imprisonment and extrajudicial killing as a result of state counter-terrorism policies.

He has been heavily involved in fighting for the release of several Guantanamo Bay prisoners, most recently the British detainee Shaker Aamer who was one of the first people to be locked up in Guantanamo.

Stafford Smith said it had taken him two and a half years to get access to Guantanamo and that, having been told the prisoners there were “the worst of the worst” he had found many had been arrested on dubious grounds, for example, as a result of leaflets dropped in Pakistan and Afghanistan by the US promising a bounty for information on potential Al Qaeda members. 

Aamer, he claimed, had ended up in Guantanamo because he had been witness to the UK’s involvement in the torture and rendition of a young Saudi boy.

Stafford Smith said the evidence on whether torture worked was weak.  He stated that there was no single example in the last 1,000 years where torture had stopped a bomb being let off. “It never works,” he said. 

Stafford Smith also spoke about his work with the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group Abdel Hakim Belhadj who is now a member of the Libyan government following the fall of Colonel Gaddafi, in which the UK government was involved. Abdel Hakim Belhadj is suing the British Government for what he claims is their part in the illegal rendition and barbaric treatment of both himself and his pregnant wife in March 2004 when the UK was developing closer ties with Gaddafi. Stafford Smith had been with him at the Supreme Court this week and says he was willing to drop the case for £1 and an apology. However, the British Government was unwilling to apologise. Stafford Smith said it was because they feared being subject to criminal proceedings.

He also spoke about his work for Ali al-Nimr, a 17 year old Saudi boy who has been sentenced to death by crucifixion because of his role in a pro-democracy protest. “It is unbelievably barbaric,” said Stafford Smith, who cannot get into Saudi Arabia.

He spoke of the UK government’s involvement with the Saudi regime, in particular its plan to work with the Saudi government on running its prison system. After much lobbying, the UK government has pulled out of this contract. Stafford Smith said he would have relished suing the government had it continued with the plan and highlighting the human rights abuses of the Saudi regime, including the fact that homosexuality is subject to the death penalty.

*Picture credit: Reprieve.

Latest News

Bridging the public health data gap

When Anwesha Lahiri  [2021] was doing her master’s fieldwork in India, she visited a tribal village in a remote area on top of a mountain between two districts. Only around 500 people lived there and there was no proper road leading to the village. At the heart of the problem was the dangerous ascent needed […]

Tracing the origins of our political beliefs

What makes some people more vulnerable to extremism than others? How do we build cognitive resilience against extreme ideologies? And how does the brain react to misinformation on social media? These are some of the key political questions that political neuroscientist Leor Zmigrod [2016] is exploring, putting the science into our understanding of radicalisation.   Leor […]

A leading woman in STEAM

A Gates Cambridge Scholar has been selected as one of the 75 leading women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics in India. Yama Dixit will feature in the second edition of the book She Is, published by the Red Dot Foundation in partnership with the Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser, Government of India to mark 75 […]

Tackling the obesity epidemic in Africa

When she left school, Paula-Peace James-Okoro [2022] intended to become a medical doctor, but after starting a degree in Biochemistry she discovered a passion for the subject and for using it to address one of the major health challenges facing Africa – obesity. She says: “In Africa, the rates of metabolic diseases, like obesity and […]