Britain says Guantanamo detentions unacceptable

LONDON (AP) — The detention of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay is unacceptable and counterproductive, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said Thursday, underlining an increasingly critical British line on the US camp in Cuba.

Beckett, releasing Britain’s annual report on human rights around the world, said that detention without trial of hundreds of suspects was “unacceptable in terms of human rights” and “ineffective in terms of counterterrorism.” “It’s widely argued now that the existence of the camp is as much a radicalising and discrediting influence as it is a safeguard for security,” she said.

The report called for the camp to be closed and said Britain welcomes President George W. Bush’s statement that he hopes to see it shut.

It sharply criticised rights abuses in nations including Iran, Sudan, Syria, Cuba and Zimbabwe. Less harshly, the report raised concerns about violations in Israel, the Palestinian territories, Russia and China and acknowledged there were still major troubles in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Beckett said human rights and counterterror efforts were not at odds, but should go hand in hand, since rights abuses only provoke extremism, she argued. The report also criticised repressive regimes it said had used democracies’ adoption of tough anti-terror laws as cover for their own, more authoritarian, crackdowns.

The Foreign Office report listed 20 nations as “major countries of concern.” They included Afghanistan, Myanmar, China, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

The United States was not on that list but was cited elsewhere for the detentions without charge at Guantanamo and its use of the death penalty.

Beckett’s strong words on Guantanamo came on the same day that the court of appeal upheld the government’s refusal to seek the release of three of the six British residents still held there.

Although the government previously had won the release of nine British citizens who had been held at Guantanamo, it argued that it had no duty to represent the interests of residents who were not citizens.

Prime Minister Tony Blair so far has gone no further in public than calling the camp an “anomaly” which sooner or later must end.

But two senior legal officials, Attorney General Lord Goldsmith and Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer, spoke out against the US detention policy earlier this year.

Last month, Falconer said the US policy of “deliberately seeking to put the detainees beyond the reach of the law” was a “shocking …. affront to the principles of democracy.” He said that was the British government’s view, not simply his own opinion.

A group of six human rights organisations accused Britain of failing to make human rights a priority. It cited the government’s handling of violations in Myanmar, the Chagos islands, Colombia, Tibet, West Papau and Western Sahara and said “Human rights have not just taken a backseat, but have been locked away in the boot [trunk].” The groups included the Burma Campaign UK, Justice for Colombia and the Free Tibet Campaign.

The new report said the human rights situation in Iran had worsened in the past year, with repeated, serious violations of freedom of expression and association and the appointment to top government jobs of those implicated in repression in the 1980s and 1990s.

“The future does not look positive,” it said, asserting that the Iranian government did not appear willing to reform.

In Sudan, the report said there have been widespread rights abuses — including sexual violence — by all parties to fighting in the Darfur region, where some 200,000 have died.

Syria’s human rights situation has also worsened this year.  “We remain deeply concerned by Syria’s ongoing support for Hizbollah,” the report said. It criticised the group for kidnapping two Israeli soldiers and firing rockets into Israel, actions that prompted Israel’s military operations in Lebanon.

The report did not criticise the Israeli bombardment, which killed hundreds of Lebanese civilians. Beckett said it had happened too recently to be included in the 350-page document.

It cited both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, criticising Israelis for targeting Palestinians for killing, firing artillery shells near populated areas in the Gaza Strip, building settlements in the West Bank and restricting Palestinians’ movement by closing checkpoints and imposing curfews and roadblocks.

Palestinian security forces, the report said, must do more to prevent violence, including attacks on Israeli civilians, and hold those responsible to account.

The report said that “progress is being made” on human rights in Iraq, but acknowledged that “security… continues to be a serious challenge” and said rising violence had limited women’s freedom of movement.

While Afghanistan has made progress on rights since the 2001 toppling of the Taleban regime, widespread domestic violence and forced marriages show there is still little respect for women’s freedoms, the report said. Harassment of journalists is also a problem, it said.

Check Also

As Right-Wing Extremism Rises, Jihadism Still Persists

Six separate terrorist attacks took place in Europe between late September and late November of …