Europe 'favouring trade deals over human rights'

Click to follow

The EU is undermining the cause of human rights in favour of securing trade deals or co-operation on anti-terror measures, according to campaigners.

Meanwhile, Britain - which last year held the presidency of the EU - has been further criticised for its support of the Bush administration's rendition of prisoners.

Launching its annual report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the EU was guilty of ignoring abuses in Russia, China and Saudi Arabia to secure contracts. It said there had been an "unseemly competition" between the UK, France and Germany to develop relationships with Russia despite abuses in Chechnya.

Britain in particular has been pressing Saudi Arabia to buy weapons "while remaining silent on the kingdom's abysmal human rights record".

On the issue of US covert renditions - the sending of prisoners to other countries for interrogation away from courts and public scrutiny - the report said Britain's support for the US had further "compounded the lack of human rights leadership".

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee is to reopen an inquiry into Britain's role in rendition flights after Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, admitted there had been requests to refuel CIA planes during Bill Clinton's presidency. However, there is mounting evidence that CIA planes have refuelled in Britain since the autumn of 2001.

HRW claimed the Bush administration's abuse of prisoners during interrogation was a deliberate policy rather than an error. White House spokesman Scott McClellan rejected the report. "It appears to be based more on a political agenda than facts."

The HRW report also strongly criticised three insurgent groups in Iraq - al-Qa'ida, Ansar al-Sunna and the Islamic Army - for targeting civilians with car bombs and suicide bombers.