‘We do not torture’: UK talks the talk on human rights, but Amnesty increasingly skeptical

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond (Reuters / Ints Kalnins)
“We do not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture or cruel inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment for any purpose,” the UK government’s Annual Human Rights Report says. But Amnesty International claims otherwise.

The report released by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) on Thursday documents the government’s ongoing commitment to “combat terrorism in an effective and sustainable way” and to “promote human rights and the rule of law in other countries.”

Its counter-terror mission statement adds that in order to fulfill its aims, the UK must “live up to our values and obligations at all times, and demand that our partners do the same.”

The annual report follows damning comments in Amnesty International’s annual State of the World’s Human Rights report, published last month, which claimed the UK’s “nationalist, thinly veiled xenophobic attitudes” were responsible for anti-EU rhetoric that targets human rights.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Minister for Human Rights Baroness Anelay acknowledged the UK still has a “long way to go,” but said the country puts “a great deal of effort into protecting and promoting human rights around the world, and remains committed to standing up for those who do not enjoy the freedoms we so easily take for granted.”

She added that during her work she had “seen how human rights are intrinsically connected with British values – open market economies, liberal democracies, free media, individual liberties and rule of law.”

READ MORE: ‘Britain is leading the war against human rights’ – Amnesty International

The report notes that the Counter-Terrorism Programme Fund (CTPF) is one of the FCO’s largest strategic programs, and praises its continued work to prevent extremism and radicalization.

The work of security services, however, was criticized by human rights charity CAGE, which blamed it for the radicalization of Mohammed Emwazi, the man revealed to be Islamic State executioner Jihadi John.

Theresa May’s increased counter-terror measures, which were proposed in autumn 2014, have also drawn accusations of unfairly targeting Muslims.

The government’s report claims its “position on torture is clear – we do not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment for any purpose.” However, Amnesty International said many allegations of UK complicity in torture overseas remain unresolved.

Amnesty also reported that a future Conservative government would repeal the Human Rights Act and create a separate British Bill of Rights. Amnesty expressed its concerns over continuing high levels of communication surveillance.

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

She said that public safety was paramount, but added 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.