Straw defends record on human rights

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The Government yesterday defended its human rights record over the past year, saying that national security was a pre-condition for human rights.

The Government yesterday defended its human rights record over the past year, saying that national security was a pre-condition for human rights.

In the 2002 human rights report, launched by Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, the Government said the Anti-Terrorism Act introduced after the 11 September attacks was "a necessary and proper step" in response to a "clear and present terrorist threat to the UK".

The Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein was singled out by the report as having "probably the worst human rights situation anywhere in the world".

The report said that Iraq reportedly beheaded dozens of alleged prostitutes and engaged in "systematic and widespread abuses, including the use of the death penalty, torture and rape as political tools".

But Mr Straw said that the balance of human rights observance around the world in the 12 months from July 2001-July 2002 was positive.

The report hailed the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, as a result of Allied intervention, and said that since then, "core rights, such as freedom of association, freedom of expression and women's rights are better respected than they have been in a generation".

As well as the end of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the report noted the establishment of the International Criminal Court and significant human rights improvements in Sierra Leone, East Timor and Kosovo, which had all successfully held elections. It also recorded "encouraging, but fragile progress in Bosnia and Iran".

The inclusion of Iran shows a continuing split between British and US assessments of the situation in that country. The US Administration continues to name Iran as part of its "axis of evil" while the British government has just named a new ambassador to Iran, ending a four-month dispute with Tehran which rejected its first choice.

The report contained routine criticism of China over persecution of members of the Falun Gong movement and Russia over violations of human rights in Chechnya. But, after Iraq, the country to receive the sharpest criticism was Zimbabwe. "The number of human rights violations increased as President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party resorted to violence, intimidation and draconian legislation in the run-up to March's flawed presidential election," the report said.

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