Britain 'setting a dangerous precedent to the world on human rights', says Amnesty

Condemnation comes as UN describes moves to scrap the Human Rights Act as 'profoundly regrettable'

Chris Green
Wednesday 24 February 2016 01:02
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An Amnesty protest outside the Saudi embassy in London last January against the flogging of blogger Raif Badawi
An Amnesty protest outside the Saudi embassy in London last January against the flogging of blogger Raif Badawi

The UK is setting a “dangerous precedent” to the rest of the world by undermining the human rights of its own citizens at the same time as continuing to supply arms to questionable regimes such as Saudi Arabia, according to a major report published on 24 February.

The Government's commitment to repealing the Human Rights Act, its reluctance to open the UK's borders to Syrian refugees and proposals for the mass surveillance of UK citizens are all criticised in Amnesty International's annual global analysis of 160 countries and territories.

The Conservatives committed to replacing 1998's Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights ahead of last year's general election. The Government has yet to unveil the details of the changes, but the UN has described the move as “profoundly regrettable” and has raised concerns that repealing the Act could have an impact on the country's most vulnerable people.

The Amnesty report also criticised the draft Investigatory Powers Bill – which it said could “threaten human rights” by opening the door to the mass surveillance of citizens' internet habits and phone records – and the Trade Union Bill, which it said would make it more difficult for workers to exercise their right to strike.

“The UK is setting a dangerous precedent to the world on human rights,” said Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen. “There’s no doubt that the downgrading of human rights by this Government is a gift to dictators the world over and fatally undermines our ability to call on other countries to uphold rights and laws. People around the world are still fighting to get basic human rights and we should not let politicians take our hard-won rights away with the stroke of a pen.”

The report also notes the UK’s continued reluctance to “share responsibility” for the increasing number of refugees arriving in Europe from Syria, pointing out that it was accepting far fewer people than some other countries, and criticises the Government's continuing arms exports to Saudi Arabia in the face of claims that the country may be responsible for atrocities in Yemen.

Responding to the report, the Government accused Amnesty of prejudging its changes to the Human Rights Act. “It is irresponsible for any campaign group to criticise our proposals before they've seen them,” said Justice Minister Dominic Raab. “Amnesty have already been told our plans involve the UK remaining in the European Convention [on Human Rights], so this scaremongering undermines their own credibility.”

A HMG Spokeswoman said: “The Government is absolutely committed to promoting and protecting universal human rights. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s departmental report is clear that human rights, democratic values and strengthening the rules-based international system are vital and integral parts of the FCO’s work. The FCO has also doubled funding for global human rights and democracy projects to its highest ever level of £10.6m.

“Far from undermining human rights, the investigatory powers bill will promote freedoms and rights by protecting both the privacy and security of the public while ensuring world-leading oversight and safeguards.

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