Amnesty's view of British human rights comes uncomfortably soon after two highly-critical Human Rights Watch reports, which concluded that it was 'saddening to find such extensive human rights violations in a democracy like the United Kingdom'. Amnesty's annual report, published yesterday, suggest that killings in Northern Ireland by both Republican and Loyalist armed groups have been increasing, with 40 people in the year under review reportedly killed by the IRA, 16 of them active members of the security forces, seven by other Republican armed groups and 41 in Loyalist attacks.
In a passage of the report devoted to innocent civilians shot dead by the security forces, Amnesty highlights the case of Kevin McGovern, a student shot last September by police: he was neither armed, nor involved in any illegal activities. Just over a month later, Gerard Maginn, 17, was shot by two RUC officers when sitting in a car. The RUC said that they had fired during a high-speed chase; eye-witnesses said that the car had already stopped when the firing began.
The alleged ill-treatment of people detained by police under emergency legislation in Northern Ireland is also criticised. Five people, two aged 17, complained of being hit, punched and threatened after the IRA killing of a police officer. In November last year, the report points out, the United Nations Committee against Torture expressed some concern about interrogation procedures in Northern Ireland.
During the Gulf war, 90 Arabs, most of them Iraqis, were arrested pending deportation on grounds of national security. Many of them fell under Amnesty's criteria for 'prisoners of conscience'. Under the 1971 Immigration Act, the Government was not obliged to give detailed reasons for these arrests, and the Arab detainees had no right of appeal.
Most damaging, perhaps, is the evidence that emerged during 1991 of police misconduct and falsification of evidence, examined at some length in the report.
In Amnesty's conclusions, the United Kingdom, albeit in a very minor way, now joins Syria and Sri Lanka as a country in which detainees are ill-treated or tortured; Switzerland and Greece as one in which prisoners of conscience are held; Peru and Mali as somewhere that killings by security forces in suspicious circumstances take place.
Amnesty International Annual report; pounds 12 plus pounds 1.50 P&P; 99-119 Rosebery Avenue, London ECI.
Amnesty worldwide, page 12