The UK is backsliding on civil and political rights, the UN body says

An influential United Nations human rights body gave a scathing assessment of civil rights protections in Britain on Thursday, accusing the Conservative government of backsliding and urging the country to abandon its controversial legislation requiring applicants to be sent asylum in Rwanda.

The criticism from the UN Human Rights Committee came as it presented the conclusions of two days of meetings in Geneva this month with a delegation of 24 British officials to review the country's compliance with an international treaty protecting civil rights and politicians.

“We are seeing a really regressive trend and trajectory” in Britain, committee member Hélène Tigroudja said at a news conference in Geneva. She said the trend is happening “in many, many areas when it comes to civil and political rights, and I hope our message is heard by the UK”.

The 18-person UN committee addressed wide-ranging concerns over the two days. Britain is one of more than 170 countries that have ratified the treaty – the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – and member states go through periods of review. The committee's findings are generally taken seriously, but it has no power to impose sanctions.

The commission called on Britain to “swiftly repeal” provisions of a law passed last year to try to curb illegal immigration and a fiercely contested bill in Parliament that would send asylum seekers to the East African country of Rwanda.

Noting that the UK Supreme Court had ruled that the bill violated international law, the committee said it deprives asylum seekers of their most basic rights.

“These texts exemplify the regressive trend experienced in the United Kingdom,” French professor of international law Professor Tigroudja said in a written comment, “and not only on the exercise of civil and political rights, but also on respect for the state.” . of law, the judicial system and the fundamental principles of humanity enshrined in the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees”.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made curbing the arrival of migrants and asylum seekers via small boats one of his government's flagship policies as he prepares for elections due this year. And a British government spokesperson said in an emailed statement Thursday that the country is “committed to the Rwanda Security Bill, which will help stop illegal immigration into the UK, dismantle trafficking gangs and save lives ”.

The Conservative government has argued that the best way to stop the arrival of undocumented migrants and asylum seekers is to ensure they cannot remain in the country and that asylum seekers can continue to challenge their deportation.

The UN committee also took issue with Britain's counter-terrorism legislation and warned that proposed amendments to laws governing intelligence agencies' control of information could allow for excessively large government collection of personal data.

The committee said an anti-protest law passed last year, the Public Order Act 2023, imposed “serious and undue restrictions” on the right to peaceful assembly and criminalized some forms of peaceful protest by Britons. He said he was deeply concerned about the excessive use of the law to limit civic space and that law enforcement should end the use of facial recognition and mass surveillance technologies during protests.

The committee also expressed concern about a law passed last year to address the legacy of violent conflict in Northern Ireland that allows conditional immunity from prosecution for people who have committed serious crimes and human rights abuses, and a law passed three years ago that sets a time limit on lawsuits against military personnel arising from overseas operations.

The laws raise long-standing questions about the lack of investigation into allegations of torture or prosecution of war crimes and other abuses, Ms. Tigroudja noted. “We brought this into the conversation because it's really a serious concern,” she said.

The British government spokesperson said in Thursday's statement that “the Legacy Act seeks to put in place effective information recovery for victims and families, while respecting our international obligations.”

British officials said legislation on overseas military operations leaves open the possibility of prosecution in all cases, subject to prosecutorial discretion.

“We cannot say we are satisfied with this general response,” Ms. Tigroudja said.

Ms Tigroudja said the committee was particularly concerned about laws that limit the ability to investigate or prosecute serious human rights abuses committed during the conflict in Northern Ireland or by British military personnel on overseas operations. The committee said Britain should repeal or amend both laws.

Stefano Castello contributed reporting from London.

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