UK’s human rights record and treatment of asylum seekers attacked at UN inquiry

The UK’s plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda and tear up the Human Rights Act have been fiercely criticised at a special United Nations meeting.

Rishi Sunak’s government suffered the embarrassment of countries ranging from the United States and Germany to Angola questioning its human rights record, at the gathering in Geneva.

Washington highlighted how the UN refugee agency has raised the alarm about the intention “to send asylum seekers to third countries”, starting with Rwanda.

New Zealand called on the UK to “ensure its treatment of asylum seekers is consistent with its commitments under international human rights law and international refugee law”.

Both Germany and Belgium raised fears the Human Rights Act overhaul would undermine commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – with a potential impact on the Brexit trade deal.

Switzerland questioned why the UK allows unlimited detention of asylum seekers – as controversy rages over the “wretched” conditions at the Manston processing centre.

And Angola highlighted the cost of living crisis in the UK, suggesting “an emergency poverty strategy” to ease the pain for “the most affected” people.

Yasmine Ahmed, UK Director of the organisation Human Rights Watch, warned the UK’s “international reputation” was in danger, at the regular review by the UN Human Rights Council

“This review of the UK’s human rights record could not be timelier. The slide towards becoming a human rights pariah will be of grave concern to the international community,” she told The Independent.

“Hopefully, the international spotlight will make the UK rethink its zealous attacks on human rights and change course. Failure to do so risks emboldening autocrats.”

But, in Geneva, junior British justice minister Mike Freer fought back, saying: “The United Kingdom has a long, proud tradition of providing a home for people fleeing persecution and oppression.”

He insisted the Rwanda plan – stalled by a court challenge – would “make the system fairer and more effective, so that we can better protect and support those in genuine need of asylum”.

“Our immigration and asylum systems and processes have been subject to significant strain over the last decade and continue to face enormous challenges,” Mr Freer argued.

The Home Office has argued the Rwanda deportation plan can cut the number of small boat crossings across the English Channel, but its own top civil servant disputed the claim.

Suella Braverman, the scandal-hit home secretary, sparked outrage by describing the arrival of an unprecedented 38,000 people this year as an “invasion”, adopting the language of the far right.

A  new Bill of Rights will fulfil the Conservative dream of replacing Labour’s Human Rights Act, but critics warn it will rip up vital protections.

The idea was dumped by Liz Truss’s short-lived premiership – but has been revived by Dominic Raab, reappointed as justice secretary.

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