The Foreign Affairs Select Committee Inquiry into the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s (FCDO) handling state level hostage situations has published a submission by Bindmans LLP, on behalf of leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu’s family, into the failures of the FCDO to take appropriate action in response to his torture, extraordinary rendition and arbitrary detention.
The mandate of the Inquiry is to discuss the processes and approaches taken by the British government in securing the release of detainees in Iran and elsewhere.
The submission therefore examines the British government’s approach in Mr Kanu’s case and highlights the limited effectiveness of that approach in the face of the serious breaches of international law that have been, and continue to be, committed against Mr Kanu who is in detention at the facility of the Department of State Services (DSS) Abuja. The submission also makes recommendations to the FCDO for better practice.
Mr Kanu is a British national who ordinarily resides in the UK with his wife and children. On 19 June 2021, Mr Kanu was abducted from the airport in Nairobi, Kenya, and detained and tortured for around ten days in Kenya. He was then subject to extraordinary rendition from Kenya to Nigeria, to face criminal prosecution in relation to his activities with the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
Ever since, Mr Kanu has been detained in conditions that amount to torture at the headquarters of the Nigerian intelligence agency, in Abuja, Nigeria. He has been repeatedly denied access to medical assistance and to his legal team. Mr Kanu has requested consular assistance from the British government, but British High Commission officials have been permitted to visit him on only five occasions.
Mr Kanu remains in detention despite the United Nations (UN) and the Nigerian Court of Appeal having concluded that he was subject to extraordinary rendition and calling for his release on the basis that his detention is arbitrary.
The British government’s response
Despite the Nigerian Court of Appeal ruling and condemnation by the UN, successive Foreign Secretaries have been unwilling to reach any firm view as to whether Mr Kanu has been subject to extraordinary rendition, nor have they called for his release.
On behalf of the family, Bindmans represented Mr Kanu’s family in a judicial review challenge to the former Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss’ unwillingness to reach a decisive view that Mr Kanu was a victim of extraordinary rendition and other human rights abuses by the Nigerian government, an approach maintained by her successor, James Cleverly. The judicial review hearing took place on 15 November 2022 and judgment is pending. This case will set an important precedent on whether the British government is permitted to avoid making a decision on whether a British national is subject to fundamental breaches of international law, in spite of overwhelming evidence of violations of their rights.
Recommendations in the submission
In light of Mr Kanu’s ongoing detention, the Kanu family hopes that the following recommendations made in the submission will be taken into serious consideration by the Inquiry and in turn by the British government, leading to a positive shift in the FCDO’s current approach to its British nationals detained abroad:
The FCDO should reassess its policy in respect of providing consular access to dual British nationals abroad, particularly in circumstances where there is a serious risk of torture, and where there are grounds to suspect that serious and egregious violations of international law have been committed by the state in question against the British national in their custody.
The FCDO should ensure that it provides timely and unprompted updates to family members about the steps it is taking on their behalf.
The FCDO should be open and transparent with family members about its justification for adopting a certain approach and disregarding others.
The FCDO should adopt and implement a specific policy in respect of appropriate action to be taken on behalf of British nationals who have been subject to extraordinary rendition.
The default position under that policy ought to be that, where British citizens have been extraordinarily rendered and/or tortured and then arbitrarily detained overseas, the British government will take all available diplomatic and legal steps to ensure their release and return to the UK.
Mr Kanu’s family is represented by John Halford and Shirin Marker of Bindmans LLP, together with Charlotte Kilroy KC of Blackstone Chambers and Tatyana Eatwell of Doughty Street Chambers.