Fri, Nov 12, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Britain's allies prove rather embarrassing

UNPLEASANT TRUTH A government report said that some of the nation's closest `war on terror' allies were among the worst human rights abusers


Buyers of British arms and Britain's close allies in the "war on terror" are named as being among the worst abusers of human rights in a British government report published Wednesday.

States identified include Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Uzbekistan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The US and Russia are also mentioned.

The 310-page annual human rights report published yesterday by the UK Foreign Office praises the role of Craig Murray, the British ambassador to Tashkent, in speaking out about human rights abuses in Uzbekistan, although Murray has been suspended on full pay and faces a disciplinary hearing for gross misconduct.

The report praised Murray for publicising the case of Fatima Mukadirova, whose son was tortured to death with boiling water in 2002. "We believe this played a significant role in bringing the case to the attention of the international community," the FO report says.

The UK foreign secretary, Jack Straw, said yesterday he could not comment on the case.

The report was due to have been released on September 16, but was postponed after the Beslan school massacre in Russia. Straw said yesterday that he delayed the publication "in order to reflect the horror of that attack and the wider implications of terrorist attacks."

The report now emphasises the threat from terrorists. Straw said that the casualties in Iraq since the end of April last year were the "direct responsibility" of terrorists as well as insurgents.

Yesterday's report refers to "serious human rights violations", including torture, by Russian officials in Chechnya. But it also says that "the UK recognises the genuine security problems faced by the Russian government in Chechnya and the north Caucasus." It refers, too, to "abductions, torture, mine-laying, assassinations and looting carried out by Chechen militants."

The report says there has been no significant improvement in human rights in Saudi Arabia, where it estimates that the authorities executed 52 people last year. Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest markets for British arms.

The report describes the abuse of Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad as "shameful." It also reiterates the government's position that the remaining four British detainees at Guantanamo Bay should be returned to Britain. But it questions statements by the five others who have returned that they were abused there.

Amnesty International yesterday contrasted the report's strong words condemning torture with what it called the "creeping acceptance" of the practice by the UK.

The UK government's failure to fully incorporate the UN convention against torture into British law had left the door open for the authorities to rely on evidence obtained through torture by foreign agents, said Amnesty.

The thinktank Saferworld said it appeared that the UK government was failing to apply its own stated human rights criteria when licensing arms exports. It pointed to recent signficant arms sales to Indonesia, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Nepal, all criticised in yesterday's report.

"The report highlights the disparity between the government's human rights and arms export policy," said Paul Eavis, director of Saferworld. "The [UK] government risks undermining other important human rights work it is has achieved in the international arena unless changes to export controls are made."

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