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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 January 2006, 20:41 GMT
EU under fire over human rights
Chinese soldiers
The group is critical of efforts to lift an EU arms embargo on China
The EU is neglecting human rights in favour of securing trade deals or co-operation on anti-terror measures, a human rights group has said.

In its annual report, Human Rights Watch said the UK in particular was ignoring abuses in Russia and Saudi Arabia to secure business contracts.

And it accused the US of having a deliberate strategy of abusing terror suspects during interrogation.

The US dismissed the report as "based more on a political agenda than facts".

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the United States did "more than any country in the world to advance freedom and promote human rights".

The EU... continued to punch well below its weight
HRW annual report

"We have liberated 50 million people in Afghanistan and Iraq, people that lived under oppressive, brutal regimes, and now they are living in freedom and they have human rights that previously they were denied," he said.

He said Human Rights Watch (HRW) should focus on countries that violate and deny people their liberties, not on the US.

There has been little public reaction to the report from European governments.

'Hollow denials'

The rights group said before Mr McClellan spoke that White House reassurances that it does not torture should not be believed.

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President George W Bush "continues to offer deceptive reassurances that the United States does not 'torture' suspects, but that reassurance rang hollow", the report said.

The country's resulting lack of credibility on human rights issues left "a global leadership void when it came to defending human rights".

The 544-page annual report said 2005 was marked by a "continuing tendency to subordinate human rights to various economic and political interests".

The group said there was an "unseemly competition" between leaders from the UK, France and Germany to proclaim the closeness of their relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite human rights concerns in Chechnya.

The EU also "utterly failed" to tackle the US on its "practice of 'disappearing' terrorist suspects", HRW said.

It singled out France and Germany for pressing to lift the EU arms embargo on China despite a lack of progress on holding accountable those responsible for the crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Meanwhile, the UK has been pressing hard for Saudi Arabia to buy arms from British manufacturers "while remaining silent on the kingdom's abysmal human rights record", the report said.

In its look at other countries, HRW said:

  • The situation in Iraq has deteriorated significantly through the actions of anti-US insurgents and US-led international and Iraqi forces. The group said it was particularly concerned about "the absence of basic precautions by the US military to protect civilians"

  • Pakistani President Gen Pervez Musharraf has neglected the rights of women and religious minorities since he came to power in 1999, political opponents are arbitrarily detained, and news media are intimidated and harassed

  • China has made progress but remains a one-party state that "leads the world in executions... and represses minorities"

  • In Nepal, government forces and Maoist rebels "continue to engage in serious violations of international humanitarian law"

  • North Korea continues to be one of the most repressive countries in the world, with its citizens lacking even basic civil freedoms

  • India drew praise for halting weapons sales to Nepal after a royal seizure of power, and Kyrgyzstan was lauded for rescuing about 400 people from Uzbekistan after a government crackdown in Andjian.

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