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UN panel has concerns on human rights in Britain
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    LONDON — The U.N. Human Rights Committee is criticizing Britain over its tough counterterrorism laws, legislation that limits free speech and the use of an Indian Ocean territory to secretly move suspected terrorists without legal process.
    The report also says Britain’s Official Secrets Act — enacted during the Cold War to protect national security data — helps silence government whistleblowers and keeps important information from the public.
    The committee issues its human rights reports every three years after countries offer their own assessments.
    ‘‘The UK (United Kingdom) has a proud record in human rights,’’ Britain’s Home Office said in a statement. ‘‘We see the country reviews ... as a process based on collaboration and co-operation, and above all, a commitment to improving human rights on the ground.’’
    The Home Office declined an interview Friday.
    Britain has pushed through a raft of counterterrorism measures since suicide bombers killed 52 commuters in London three years ago, and rights groups argue the government has gone beyond what is needed to protect the public.
    Already one of the leading countries in surveillance, Britain also has some of the most impenetrable secrecy laws.
    ‘‘The committee remains concerned that powers under the Official Secrets Act 1989 have been exercised to frustrate former employees of the crown from bringing into the public domain issues of genuine public interest, and can be exercised to prevent the media from publishing such matters,’’ said the U.N. report, dated July 30. ‘‘It notes that disclosures of information are penalized even where they are not harmful to national security.’’
    Under the act, a British civil servant was convicted last year of leaking a classified memo discussing a 2004 meeting between President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair discussing the conflict in Iraq.
    Several fresh security measures go before Parliament in the fall, including a proposal that would allow judicial inquests to be held in secret if the government believed national security was at risk. It could also deny a jury trial if the proceeding was deemed a security threat
    The U.N. report also urges a full investigation into alleged rights abuses at Diego Garcia, the British territory in the Indian Ocean leased by the U.S. military that has been used to transfer terror suspects to third countries without court authorization — a process known as ‘‘extraordinary rendition.’’
    The U.S acknowledged in February that two suspected terrorists passed through Diego Garcia on rendition flights, but right groups believe more suspects have been held and interrogated in Diego Garcia.
    The U.N. committee criticizes Britain for not issuing a rights report on Diego Garcia and other islands, citing an absence of population. Britain ejected roughly 2,000 islanders when it leased the island to the U.S. It is now home to hundreds of U.S. military personnel and contractors.
    Britain ‘‘should investigate allegations related to transit through its territory of rendition flights and establish an inspection system to ensure that its airports are not used for such purposes,’’ the report said.
    A British Parliament committee pledged last month to conduct a thorough investigation of how the territory is being used.
    Other criticisms from the U.N. body focus on terrorism measures, including the government’s plan to extend pretrial detention without charges to 42 days.
    ‘‘While (the committee) is disturbed by the extension of the maximum period of detention without charge of terrorist suspects under the Terrorism Act 2006 from 14 days to 28 days, it is even more disturbed by the proposed extension of this maximum period of detention under the counterterrorism bill from 28 days to 42 days,’’ the report said.
    It also raised concerns about a provision in the Terrorism Act that allows access to a lawyer to be delayed 48 hours if police believe such access would lead to interference with evidence or alerting of other suspects.

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