​‘Britain is leading the war against human rights’ – Amnesty International

Britain's Prime Minister Cameron. (Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett)
Ramped up surveillance in Britain against a backdrop of dwindling legal protection has contributed to the most rattling assault on human rights in Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall, human rights experts warn.

In its annual ‘State of the World’s Human Rights’ report, Amnesty International heavily criticized the British government’s record at home.

The NGO condemned the coalition government for rushing counter-terror and surveillance legislation through parliament without reasonable time for debate.

It also criticized the coalition for passing laws that erode fundamental civil liberties, and stressed continued cuts to legal aid in Britain is a recipe for injustice.

‘A recipe for injustice’

In 2014, David Cameron pledged a re-elected Tory government would scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a home-grown British Bill of Rights. He also vowed to limit the power of the European Court of Human Rights if the Conservatives win May’s general election.

Amnesty’s report, published on Wednesday, said the Tory’s proposals are an attack on the European Convention on Human Rights. The group accused Prime Minister Cameron of leading this assault.

Amnesty also noted the rise of discriminatory, nationalistic policies in Britain. It warned “nationalist, thinly veiled xenophobic attitudes” were instrumental in an increasingly restrictive migration policy and anti-EU rhetoric, which targets human rights.

The group also expressed deep concern over Britain’s Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act. The legislation, which came into force in 2014, increases UK authorities’ powers of interception – reaffirming Britain’s status as a leading surveillance state.

With respect to the Act, Amnesty argued the British government failed to set up adequate safeguards to ensure surveillance is authorized and carried out in accordance with citizens’ rights to privacy and freedom of expression.

Amnesty's annual report concluded the international human rights framework in Europe is the most fragile it has been for 25 years.

“At no time since the fall of the Berlin Wall has the integrity of, and support for, the international human rights framework in the Europe and Central Asia region appeared quite so brittle,” the report said.

A call for reform

Director of Amnesty International UK, Kate Allen, said Britain “is going in the wrong direction on rights, protections and fairness.”

She acknowledged public safety is paramount, but stressed it should not be achieved at the cost of fundamental civil liberties.

“The UK talks the talk on the global stage on human rights but this year’s summary shows they need to tend to their own garden,” she said.

“Twice this year GCHQ spies have been rumbled breaking the law. We should be concerned about waking up in a surveillance state, without having a proper public debate about it first.”

Amnesty’s damning report also condemned global leaders for failing to adequately intervene in recent conflicts in Gaza, Ukraine and Syria.

It described 2014 as a “catastrophic year” for millions trapped in violent and dangerous surroundings.

The human rights group also urged the UN Security Council to discard an influential veto power wielded by permanent member states: Britain, China, France, Russia and the US.

Such a move would make it easier to send peacekeeping troops into conflict zones and prevent genocide, it said.

The UN is yet to respond to Amnesty’s call for reform.