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.

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