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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 November, 2004, 17:35 GMT
Who violates human rights the most?
By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs correspondent, BBC News website

The annual Human Rights report issued by Britain's Foreign Office lays particular stress this year on the denial of human rights by terrorist groups and not just governments.

Mourners at grave of Beslan school victim
Beslan massacre delayed report

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who introduced the report himself, told a mixed news conference of reporters and human rights activists: "We must look at non-state forces as well as state forces when we look at human rights."

"In the past the gravest attacks on human rights came from states - the Gulag in the Soviet Union, apartheid in South Africa, the crimes of Saddam Hussein. There is a need to recognize non-state groups - from militias in Darfur to international terrorists - as perpetrators of the some of the worst attacks."

This emphasis was described as "bizarre" by one of the activists there, the chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission in London Massoud Shadjareh.

"Is this a way of diverting attention from the actions of governments?" he asked.

Beslan

Publication of the report was delayed from September by the attack on the Russian school in Beslan.

The delay was to enable a page to be added - prominently displayed at the beginning - describing the "inhumanity of the terrorists prepared to put children through such suffering".

There is a need to recognise non-state groups - from militias in Darfur to international terrorists - as perpetrators of the some of the worst attacks.
Jack Straw

The report also criticises the Russian government for "serious human rights violations" in Chechnya.

But the addition about Beslan illustrates the way in which the Foreign Office wants to draw attention to actions by terrorists as well.

Incidentally, the hurried way in which the extra page was added is shown in the description of Russian President Vladimir Putin as the prime minister.

Uzbekistan

The report does criticise many other governments.

The language about the government of Uzbekistan for example is especially strong, even allowing for the generally moderate tone used in British government documents.

"Over the past year progress in the human rights situation in Uzbekistan has been negligible," it says.

It is ironic that in the report, the UK ambassador in Uzbekistan Craig Murray is named twice as being instrumental in forcing concessions from the Uzbek government by publicising cases.

Mr Murray has since been suspended and is subject to disciplinary procedures about which Mr Straw refused to comment.

One case involved the arrest of the mother of man allegedly boiled to death.

Guantanamo Bay

The wording about the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay - where hundreds of terror suspects are held - is very cautious.

It makes clear that London complained to Washington about the treatment of nine British detainees, five of whom were released and that it has "outstanding concerns" about the remaining four.

The Director of Human Rights Watch in London, Steve Crawshaw, said that this was not good enough.

"When you have gross abuse in the entire process, the British government, especially the British government with its close relationship with Washington, needs to say that clearly," he commented.

Iraq

The report also goes into considerable detail to justify what is going on in Iraq. It describes the situation there as "difficult and complex".

It acknowledges the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison as "shameful" and describes photographs of the abuse on prisoners as "shocking."

When you have gross abuse in the entire process, the British government needs to say that clearly
Steve Crawshaw, Human Rights Watch, on Guantanamo

But it also goes into some detail about reforms in Iraq and the political timetable leading to elections next year.

At the news conference Mr Straw said there had been UN approval for the attack on Falluja in Security Council resolution 1546 - which said that "the multinational force shall have the authority to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security".

Detainees in Britain

As for the detention by the British government of 12 foreign nationals without trial under anti-terrorism laws, the report again goes into detail about the background and seeks to justify the government's action.

"We believe our legislation is proportionate to the threat," it states.

One thing most activists can agree on, though, is the troubled Sudanese region of Darfur.

That is perhaps why there is a picture on the front of the report showing the decomposing body of a murdered man.

He is said to have been "killed by Arab militia" in an attack on a village and his body left unburied as a "sign to others not to fight against pro-government forces".

Darfur is an issue everyone can rally around.


SEE ALSO:
Report praises suspended diplomat
10 Nov 04 |  UK Politics
Guantanamo controversy rumbles on
18 Oct 04 |  Americas
Chechens taking Russia to court
14 Oct 04 |  Europe


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