Blair faces torrent of criticism on human rights

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair remained defiant last night in the face of a torrent of protests over Britain's human rights record, accusing his critics of having "the world the wrong way round".

The Prime Minister was under pressure over his support for US " rendition flights", his failure to call openly for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay camp in Cuba, and over draconian anti-terror laws, after damning reports by the Labour-led Commons Foreign Affairs Committee and by Amnesty International. His comments on the state of Iraq came on another day of bloodshed in the country.

He even appeared out of step with his own Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, who warned his cabinet colleagues that terrorist suspects were entitled to the same legal protections as "law-abiding citizens".

Speaking at the London School of Economics, Lord Goldsmith said: " Determining if a particular person is, or is not, a terrorist requires more than mere assertion on the part of an authority, however genuine and well-intentioned that authority may be."

In a combative performance, Mr Blair used his monthly press conference at Downing Street to reject criticism of the Government's attempts to return terror suspects to countries such as Algeria and Egypt which have a record of torturing prisoners. "We hear an immense amount about their human rights and their civil liberties. But there are also human rights of the rest of us to live in safety," he said.

Amnesty International called for more guarantees of the safety of suspects before they were deported, and monitoring afterwards. But Mr Blair said: "I think we have got the world the wrong way round. You cannot have a situation where we are expected to keep people in this country without any limit at all, irrespective of the disharmony, disunity and, in some cases, acts of violence that they are inciting."

He added: "I totally understand the issues raised in respect of Guantanamo but the reports of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Amnesty International are far broader and were talking about deportation cases here. I think we have the whole thing upside down. I do not see why we should not be able to deport people from this country, who are not nationals, who have come to this country just to cause trouble."

In a scathing report, Amnesty International protested that anti-terrorism legislation had led to a serious erosion of human rights in Britain since 2001. Irene Khan, Amnesty International's secretary general, said: " There is now a dangerous imbalance between draconian actions the UK is taking in the name of security and its obligation to protect human rights. These measures tarnish the UK's image and its ability to promote human rights abroad."

However, the Prime Minister was unrepentant about his support for President Bush in the war on terrorism. The Foreign Affairs Committee, chaired by the Labour MP Mike Gapes, said the detention of 500 people in Guantanamo diminished the United States' moral authority and was a hindrance to the pursuit of the war on terrorism.

Asked why he had so far failed publicly to condemn Guantanamo, like his MPs and one of his ministers, Peter Hain, Mr Blair said: "I have said why I think Guantanamo is an anomaly. I also think it is important we never forget the context in which this has happened: the war in Afghanistan and the reason for that; the slaughter of 3,000 innocent people on September 11."

Amnesty International also criticised alleged UK involvement in " rendition flights" by the US of terrorist suspects for questioning under torture. Mr Blair denied there was any evidence Britain had co-operated.

Mr Blair defended the war in Iraq, describing it as a battle between democracy and terrorism and extremism. But the situation on the ground continues to deteriorate: more than 130 people have died in violence since the Golden Mosque in Samarra was blown up on Wednesday.

He had time for a sideswipe at the Prince of Wales for suggesting in his diaries that the Government relied too heavily on focus groups. Asked about the Prince's criticism, he replied: "I don't know I can answer that question - until we have had a focus group."

Causes for concern

The verdict of the Foreign Affairs Committee on the Government's human rights record

GUANTANAMO BAY

The continued existence of the American detention centre, which is holding at least six British residents, diminishes the moral authority of the US and hinders the war on terrorism. Ministers should drop their behind-the-scenes lobbying to "make loud and public [their] objection" to the camp.

EXTRAORDINARY RENDITION

There are "serious concerns" over allegations the CIA used British airports and airspace to transport prisoners for interrogation, and possible torture, in other countries. Ministers have a duty to investigate the claims and to "make clear to the USA that any extraordinary renditions to states where suspects may be tortured is completely unacceptable".

DEPORTATIONS

Attempts to sign "memoranda of understanding" - guarantees that anyone deported there will not be harmed - with states such as Algeria are legally "questionable". They must not be used as a "fig leaf to disguise the real risk of torture". There are "strong concerns" that monitoring to check that deportees are not mistreated after their return may not be adequate.

IRAQ

Concerns about abuses of Iraqi prisoners by coalition troops have been renewed by the recent videotape showing British soldiers beating captives. "The United Kingdom has a responsibility to engage its ally both privately and publicly on the question of abuses by US troops. We recommend that the Government make clear and public its condemnation of human rights abuses committed by any of the multinational forces in Iraq."

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