Britain accused of failing to protect victims of torture

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A leading human rights group accused the Home Office yesterday of breaching its international obligations to protect asylum-seekers with a history of being tortured in Pakistan, Turkey, India and Sri Lanka.

Pakistan is not normally at the top of most lists of human rights abusers. In 1996 the Home Office issued a formal legal declaration that there was generally no serious risk of persecution there.

But in a study yesterday, the Medical Foundation, a London-based group specialising in helping torture victims, accused successive Pakistani governments, civil and now military, of being unwilling to protect its citizens from torture.

The study is based on the cases of 51 Pakistani men and women between 1996 and 2000 who were medically documented victims of torture. They had been punched and beaten with batons and leather straps. Some had been hung upside down. One in three had been burnt with cigarettes, acid or boiling water, and one in five had been sexually tortured and raped. Most of the victims had been detained on political grounds, and were very rarely formally charged.

But although Pakistan is in the top 10 countries generating asylum-seekers to the UK, and "considerable numbers" of Pakistanis went to the Medical Foundation for help, every year for the past four years, the Home Office has refused between 96 and 99 per cent of Pakistani applicants.

Normally, says the Foundation, the Home Office ignored not only a claimant's own evidence of torture, but also medical evidence and other evidence that torture was used in Pakistan, so they could fast-track applications and dismiss them.

The same treatment was being applied to asylum-seekers from India, Sri Lanka and Turkey, the report says. This was leading, it said, to a "systemic failure" by Britain to honour its treaty obligations to offer shelter to people with a history of torture.