Amnesty attacks Government over human rights

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Amnesty International has accused the British Government of using the war on terror to force through measures which cause "serious human rights violations".

The charity condemned Tony Blair for introducing "control orders" for terror suspects. It said yesterday that the system of house arrest was "tantamount to the executive 'charging', 'trying' and 'sentencing' a person" without a fair trial.

"The Government continued to erode fundamental human rights, the rule of law and independence of the judiciary," Amnesty said in the UK section of its annual report.

The report criticised the new Terrorism Act - which increased the maximum time police can detain terror suspects without charge from 14 to 28 days - for its "sweeping and vague" provisions.

It also highlighted Britain's low conviction rate for rape and violence against women. The UK continued to have "very low conviction rates" for the crime of rape with only 5.6 per cent of rapes reported to the police resulting in a conviction, said the report.

Launching the report in London Irene Khan, Amnesty's secretary general, said: "Governments ... sacrificed principles in the name of the 'war on terror' and turned a blind eye to massive human rights violations. The world has paid a heavy price in terms of erosion of fundamental principles and the enormous damage done to the lives of ordinary people."

Ms Khan accused Mr Blair of seeking to divert attention away from human rights breaches by calling for the "rebalancing" of rights in the UK to give priority to the community over individuals.

The report accused British and US forces in Iraq of breaching international human rights with the internment without charge of over 10,000 people.

Ms Khan said: "When the powerful are too arrogant to review and reassess their strategies, the heaviest price is paid by the poor and powerless, ordinary Iraqi women, men and children."

The annual report said "grave" abuses in Afghanistan and Iraq cast a shadow over human rights "as torture and terror feed off each other in a vicious cycle".

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said the report marked the first occasion when her group had not been able to congratulate the UK on its work on torture.