Angry Blunkett threatens to resign from Amnesty

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Indy Politics

David Blunkett threatened to resign from Amnesty International yesterday after it accused ministers of creating a Guantanamo Bay on British soil by holding foreign terror suspects without trial.

The Home Secretary was furious after the human rights organisation denounced his emergency internment powers, under which 14 men have been jailed, as a "perversion of justice". He said he was now considering quitting the charity, to which he has made donations during 20 years' membership, in protest at the report. Mr Blunkett said: "When I became a patron and supporter of Amnesty many years ago, I did so to support them in tackling death and torture, the threat of people having their lives taken away and their well-being destroyed.

"I didn't join Amnesty to see them support those who, through every part of the system that we have set up, have been accorded and recognised as being correctly certificated as being a threat to us." He said the British detainees had been legally represented and were free to leave, providing they went to another country, were kept in decent conditions and a system had been set up to review their detention. "It's a very sad day for Amnesty International and a very sad day for me as a patron." He said he was "weighing up" whether to resign his membership.

Amnesty International, formed 42 years ago in London by Peter Benenson, a journalist, to highlight the treatment of political prisoners, now has 1.4 million members in more than 150 countries. Over the last year it has produced several reports critical of Government policy, including the return of asylum-seekers to Afghanistan and arms sales to Israel and Indonesia.

In its report yesterday, UK: Justice Perverted under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, it accused Mr Blunkett of presiding over a "shadow" criminal justice system for foreigners. By allowing them to be locked up indefinitely without charge or trial, ministers had failed to meet international standards, creating "a Guantanamo Bay in our own backyard".

Fourteen people are being held in high-security prisons as terrorist suspects. Six have been held for two years.

Last night, a spokesperson for Amnesty International said: "We hope David Blunkett will not conclude it is incompatible to be Home Secretary and a member of an organisation that champions human rights, fair trials and international standards of justice.

"Many MPs of all parties, including ministers, are members of Amnesty International, clearly believing that worldwide human rights and justice are of critical importance."

It said it had praised the Government on a number of issues, including the introduction of the Human Rights Act and planned legislation on domestic violence. "We also have a very important job to do in holding the government to account when we believe that human rights are under threat," Amnesty said.

The Home Secretary also disclosed yesterday he had met Muslim community leaders this week in an effort to reassure them minority groups were not being targeted by the security services following several arrests over the past week under anti-terrorism laws.

In a new pamphlet, Mr Blunkett called for museums to do more to "promote powerful messages about embracing the rich diversity of our cultural heritage". And he said staff in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate were being encouraged to build stronger links with local schools to achieve "better understanding of diversity and difference within our country".

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