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UN expert regrets US court decision preventing oversight of intelligence services

12 April 2012 – An independent United Nations counter-terrorism expert today expressed profound regret at a decision by a United States court to refuse freedom of information requests by a British organization on extraordinary renditions.

At a public hearing of the European Parliament concerning the involvement of European Union States in secret detention and rendition, Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism Ben Emmerson said the decision by the US District Court of Columbia “flies in the face of the principles of best practice for the oversight of intelligence services.”

On 2 April, the US court refused freedom of information requests made by the United Kingdom’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition.

“The All-Party Group has rightly been pressing for independent oversight of intelligence services, pressing for real answers from the US Department of Defence, the CIA and other US Government agencies on this important issue,” Mr. Emmerson said.

In 2008, the Group made 43 separate requests under the US Freedom of Information Act concerning UK involvement in the US extraordinary renditions programme. The US Government refused the requests on the grounds of a statutory exception which allows US intelligence agencies to refuse requests from ‘foreign government entities,’ the UN human rights office said in a news release.

Mr. Emmerson stressed the decision is “surprising because it seems to be based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the constitution of the United Kingdom and of the universal separation of powers doctrine.

“The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition is an institution of Parliament not the Government. It is wholly independent of Government and is a model of democratic oversight,” he said.

In addition, Mr. Emmerson emphasized the need for transparency and accountability, underlining that “refusing to disclose key information about alleged participation of UK officials in extraordinary rendition runs the risk of promoting impunity for state officials of the UK who may have been party to grave human rights violations.” he said.

“The unjustified maintenance of secrecy, on dubious legal grounds, only delays efforts at establishing the truth,” Mr. Emmerson said.

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