Amnesty condemns UK’s ‘human rights violations’

Amnesty International has today accused the British government of “serious human rights violations” in its annual report.

The human rights group says the Terrorism Act introduced in the wake of the London bombings last summer contains “sweeping and vague provisions that, if enacted, would undermine the rights to freedom of expression, association, liberty and fair trial”.

The accusations come as part of a wide-ranging report into human rights abuses across the world, in which the United States also receives a stinging rebuke for the continued operation of Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba.

Amnesty International secretary general Irene Khan said that unless western countries, and particularly the permanent members of the UN security council, respect human rights, they will have no chance in persuading other states to do the same.

“When the UK government remains muted on arbitrary detention and ill-treatment in Guantanamo, when the US ignores the absolute prohibition on torture, when EU governments are mute about their record on renditions, racism or refugees, they undermine their own moral authority to champion human rights elsewhere in the world,” she said.

Ms Khan warns in particular of the dangers to human rights posed by efforts to tackle terrorism, saying governments had “paralysed international institutions”, “squandered public resources” and “sacrificed principles” in the name of the war on terror.

“As a result, the world has paid a heavy price, in terms of erosion of fundamental principles and in the enormous damage done to the lives and livelihoods of ordinary people,” she said.

Today’s report condemns the measures outlined by Tony Blair the month after the attacks, in which he stated that the “rules of the game have changed” as mostly “inconsistent with the UK’s obligations under domestic and international human rights law”.

Amnesty says the system of control orders to restrict the movement and associations of people suspected of terrorist offences, was the equivalent of charging, trying and sentencing someone without the fair trial guarantees required in criminal cases.

And it warns that the UK “breached international and domestic human rights law” through its role in the internment without charge of at least 10,000 people in Iraq. At the end of October, it says, the UK was itself holding 33 detainees without charge.

The report comes after Mr Blair last week announced a review of the Human Rights Act, prompting outrage from civil liberties campaigners.

“We need a profound rebalancing of the civil liberties debate – it is not about whether we care about civil liberties, but about what this means in the early 21st century with completely different crime and terrorist threats,” the prime minister said.

But Lord Falconer insisted afterwards that the government had a “long-lasting” commitment to human rights, and rejected the Conservatives’ call to scrap the Human Rights Act, which entrenches the European Convention on Human Rights in UK law.

“The convention rights do not remotely reduce the ability of the state to provide proper protection for its citizens – indeed it imposes an obligation on the state to protect its citizens from death or injury,” the constitutional affairs secretary said.