Human rights campaigners have taken the British foreign office to court over claims that British aid money could be supporting the use of the death penalty in Pakistan.
Reprieve, an anti-death penalty charity, has sued the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and is seeking the release of a human rights ‘checklist’ which is completed by diplomats before aid is given to other countries.
Further, the charity has also asked the British foreign office to reveal warnings issued by civil servants to ministers over support for the Pakistani counter-narcotics police.
Last year, Britain issued £338 million to Pakistan, making it the biggest single recipient of UK aid. Among other things, the money was primarily given for anti-drug operations. It should be noted that drug trafficking in Pakistan carries a death penalty.
Currently, there are some 8, 000 people on death row, including 23 Britons, who now face execution in Pakistan after the country lifted a moratorium on death penalty last December.
Reprieve used the Freedom of Information Act to request a copy of the Overseas Security and Justice Assistance Guidance (OSJA), a system introduced by former UK foreign secretary William Hague in 2011 following a scandal over British aid to Libya. They oblige civil servants to record any human rights risks that arise from aid to foreign police services.
However, the British foreign office refused the application on the basis that it could damage relations with Pakistan and could hamper the work of the security services.
The Information Commissioner’s Office upheld the refusal which led the charity to take the case to the First Tier Tribunal.
Aidan O’Neill QC for Reprieve told the court in February there is “a strong and overwhelmingly compelling public interest in confirming whether or not the UK followed the clear terms of the OSJA Guidance”.
The British foreign office lawyers countered, “Revealing details of the process would expose a lack of confidence by the UK in Pakistan, which would have an adverse effect on relations.”
Parts of the first hearing of the tribunal were heard in secret without Reprieve’s lawyers present in order to protect intelligence services.
However, the charity has appealed against this. Maya Foa, a director at Reprieve, said, “The British public deserves to know how much of its money is funding hangings in Pakistan, particularly as the country continues its aggressive execution spree.”
She added that the foreign office’s case that releasing the documents would jeopardise the security services was “spurious”.
A British foreign office spokesperson clarified their stance on death penalty, and said, “It remains our long-standing policy to oppose the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle. The UK and Pakistan have a shared interest in working together to tackle organised crime including the trafficking of drugs, which is a threat to both our societies. The British government is not aware of any case in Pakistan where UK counter narcotics cooperation has led to a death penalty sentence. We continue to review the situation as we have always done.”
Britain has also supplied millions of pounds to support anti-drug trafficking operations by the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF), under a United Nations scheme to halt the flow of drugs from Afghanistan.
Last year, Britain cancelled a £27 million aid scheme supporting the Ethiopian police forces, which was assessed by civil servants to pose a “high” risk to human rights.
The article originally appeared on The Telegraph