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Rights Report Condemns European Attitude to Torture

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International watchdog Human Rights Watch says three powerful European countries - France, Germany and Britain - use foreign intelligence obtained under torture.

In its new report, Human Rights Watch says France, Germany, and Britain cooperate with foreign intelligence services that routinely use torture, even though torture is illegal under international law.

Senior Western Europe researcher at the U.S.-based watchdog, Judith Sunderland, says the European countries are sending out the wrong message.

"Uncritical use of foreign torture intelligence from countries where torture is routine risks creating or participating in, if you will, a market for torture information," Sunderland said. "And Berlin, Paris, and London should be working to eradicate torture, not relying on foreign torture intelligence."

The report says intelligence services in the three European countries do not have adequate guidance on how to deal with information coming from a country that is known to use torture. It says in Germany and France information obtained through ill-treatment has been used in criminal proceedings.

Sunderland says these European countries are, in effect, condoning torture.

"Any practice or policy that essentially sends a message to countries that torture is okay, is acceptable in the name of fighting terrorism totally contradicts those values and those obligations under international law to work towards preventing and eradicating torture worldwide," Sunderland said.

She says since the September 11th terrorism attack in New York the public has been increasingly tolerant of torture as a tactic to prevent terrorism. That, she says, is an attitude that can only breed more violence.

Researcher Tim Cooke-Hurle, from the Britain-based legal charity Reprieve, says countries are breaking international law.

"You can not simply outsource your torture and then state that you are in compliance with your international law obligations," Cooke-Hurle said. "That is simply not the case, you can not dodge it like that. But there is a risk that the countries involved, and the public, might put up with that in a way that they would not if their own operatives were involved."

He says the guidance given to British intelligence services working overseas, which has not been made public, may sanction complicity in torture. Britain's new coalition government, which was voted in last month, says it will rewrite and publish a new guidance policy for its intelligence officers that will be made public.