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Death Penalty (United States)

Volume 406: debated on Tuesday 10 June 2003

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What recent representations he has made to the US Government regarding British citizens facing the death penalty in the United States. [117949]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Mike O'Brien)

In the last year, Ministers and officials have made representations to the United States Government on behalf of three British nationals charged with death penalty-eligible offences and one facing execution. The three facing charges have now been told that they will not face the death penalty. The British national awaiting execution was executed on 4 February.

The Minister will acknowledge that Britain is a leading member of the Council of Europe and that its 45 members have abolished the death penalty. Britain has also engaged in dialogue with the United States where there is considerable unease about miscarriages of justice relating to people on death row. There is particular concern about Scots-born Kenny Richey who has spent 16 years on death row although there is disputed evidence in the case against him. Additionally, nine British citizens and three minors in Guantanamo Bay face at least the possibility of trial by a military court and the death penalty, which would be executed without the right of appeal. That would be contrary to any human rights legislation that the Government and this country have ever supported. Does the Minister accept that the situation is a major obstacle to good relations between Europe and the United States?

We clearly have a fundamental disagreement with the United States on the death penalty. Our overriding objective is to avoid the execution of any British nationals. We will express our opposition to the death penalty and its use on a British national at whatever stage and level is judged appropriate after the moment when the imposition of a death penalty on a British national becomes a possibility. We do not differentiate among types of British nationals when making those representations.

I confirm that we have been closely involved with the case of Mr. Richey, who recently became a British national and now has dual UK-US nationality. In line with our policy, we have been making representations both on his case and on the hon. Gentleman's points about Guantanamo Bay. We always make it clear that if there is any possibility that a death penalty might be considered, we will make representations. I repeat that we do not differentiate among those who are charged.

When the British visited my constituent Feroz Abbasi in Guantanamo Bay, he said nothing for an entire hour. What assessment has the Foreign Office made of my constituent's mental health, especially given that he is housed in a cage that is 2 m by 2 m, gets only 15 minutes exercise twice a week compared with the hour norm by internal standards and is deprived of much of his family mail? When will there be a proper assessment and support for his human rights, and when will he be charged or else returned to Britain to his family home in Croydon?

We continue to hold discussions with the United States on resolving the issue of Mr. Abassi and other detainees in Guantanamo Bay. We have made it clear that we expect international standards on the way in which individuals are detained to be applied, especially if they are British nationals. We have also made it clear that the matter has dragged on for a long time and that it is time for the United States to find a way of bringing matters to a conclusion and resolving the anomalous situation faced by the Guantanamo detainees.

Will my hon. Friend tell us the United States' reply to those representations? There is great concern about not only British citizens, but EU citizens and all people who are held in Guantanamo Bay in conditions that seem to defy the Geneva conventions and international norms. It is just not good enough. If we are the great ally of the United States and it listens to us carefully about such things, surely it should have something more positive to say about those representations, especially given that press reports this week suggest that the United States has just constructed an execution chamber at Guantanamo Bay.

Our discussions with the United States have been extensive, especially during recent weeks and months. We hope that it will find a way to take the matter forward but the issue is very difficult. I am speaking not only about the nine British detainees in Guantanamo Bay but about the generality of people who are detained there when I say that productive and useful intelligence information is still being received from detainees. However, we have made it clear that we hope that the United States will be able to resolve the matter as soon as possible.