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US Faces Criticism In British Gov’t Human Rights Report

Agence France Presse
November 11, 2004

UK criticizes For the US this sort of report is "embarrassing", The United States faced rare criticism over human rights from close ally Britain on Wednesday, with an official British government report taking Washington to task over concerns about Iraq and the Guantanamo Bay jail. The differences were limited, and all had been raised previously with US officials, but it remains nonetheless embarrassing for Washington to be lined up alongside repressive nations such as North Korea and Zimbabwe in the report.

Formally unveiling the report in London, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw stressed that countries had to respond to the greatest human rights threat of modern times, terrorism. "States cannot protect human rights without fighting the threat from terrorism," he said in a speech, while stressing that nations "must never stoop to the level of the terrorist." The 310-page Human Rights Annual Report 2004 brought up the cases of Britons held at the US detention center for terrorism suspects in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba."The UK position has been that British detainees should either be tried fairly in accordance with international standards or returned to the UK," it said.

Four Britons remain among hundreds of non-US nationals held without trial at the base for periods of up to three years, and could face military tribunals for alleged involvement in global terrorism. London had "concluded that the proposed military commissions would not provide sufficient guarantees of a fair trial according to international standards", the report added. The report quoted Straw himself also condemning the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the US-run Abu Ghraib jail near Baghdad as "utterly shameful, disgusting and disgraceful", noting that no similar allegations of systematic mistreatment had been levelled against British forces.

Straw, while conceding that there were unresolved rights issues with Washington, stressed however that there was a clear difference between nations where abuses were routine and others that were "self-correcting." Additionally, the bulk of the report's criticisms were aimed at 20 specific countries or territories, not including the United States, where human rights are considered by Britain to be at particular risk.Among these was Sudan, where the report said Britain was "hugely concerned" about the humanitarian catastrophe in the Darfur region, and Zimbabwe, where the rights situation was "in crisis." Also heavily criticized was Uzbekistan, despite the decision by London last month to suspend Britain's ambassador to the Central Asian state, Craig Murray, according to Murray because his criticism of rights abuses had proved embarrassing to an ally in the US-led "war against terrorism." Straw refused to comment on Murray's situation, but stressed that human rights were currently "the primary focus of the UK's bilateral relations with Uzbekistan."

Along with countries such as Myanmar and Iran, China was also singled out for criticism over its continued use of torture, detention of dissidents and repression of the Falungong spiritual group and in Tibet and Xinjiang. "The picture over the last year was mixed, with progress in some areas but no improvement in others," the report said.

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