Britain downgrades human rights across globe, Amnesty warns

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Nayef (R) welcomes British Prime Minister David Cameron in Riyadh January 13, 2012. © Fahad Shadeed
Britain is allowing a “culture of impunity” to flourish across the globe by planning to scrap the Human Rights Act, a damning report from Amnesty International has warned.

In its annual report on the worldwide state of human rights, the campaign group criticizes the Tory plan to abolish the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights, excluding the UK from European jurisdiction.

As well as the British Bill of Rights, the report also examines the British government’s breach of privacy and undertaking of mass surveillance.

The UK is setting a dangerous precedent to the world on human rights. There’s no doubt that the downgrading of human rights by this government is a gift to dictators the world over and fatally undermines our ability to call on other countries to uphold rights and laws,” Amnesty’s UK director, Kate Allen, said.

She added that British links with China and Saudi Arabia have shown that the UK is willing to compromise on Human Rights. Allan said she believed the replacement of William Hague as foreign secretary with Philip Hammond has contributed to the lack of focus on human rights.

In particular the report notes that the UK has continued to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, despite concerns that they may be used for illegal activity against civilians in Yemen, where the Saudis are engaged in a war against Houthi rebels.

The report comes as there are fears the Foreign Office’s annual human rights report is likely to be “dramatically scaled back” and almost a quarter the length of previous reports.

The Foreign Office report itself is facing tighter budgets and has been forced to restructure much of its work. It says that a shorter report will allow for more focused work.

In response to the report by Amnesty, the department insisted it was fully committed to protecting human rights across the globe, adding that the Foreign Office had allocated £10.6 million (US$14.7 million) for human rights projects and “strengthening the rules-based international system are vital and integral parts of the FCO’s work.”

“It is irresponsible for any campaign group to criticize our proposals before they’ve seen them. Amnesty have already been told our plans involve the UK remaining in the European Convention, so this scaremongering undermines their own credibility,” Justice Minister Dominic Raab said.