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Britain to Seek Emergency Powers to Fight Terror

November 11, 2001|From Reuters

LONDON — Britain will seek emergency powers Monday permitting the indefinite detention of foreigners suspected of terrorism, the nation's latest move to tighten security after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

The controversial plan, which involves opting out of part of the European Convention on Human Rights, was immediately criticized by a leading human rights advocate.

Home Secretary David Blunkett will put an order before Parliament on Monday saying that events after the attacks are threatening the life of the nation, a Home Office spokesman said today.

By in effect declaring a state of emergency, Blunkett can invoke a clause in European law that allows Britain to opt out of parts of the European Convention on Human Rights--in this case, a clause covering the deportation of foreign terrorist suspects.

The order in Parliament is the first stage of a process that will give the opt-out the power of law within weeks, the Home Office said.

John Wadham, director of rights watchdog Liberty, condemned the plan as a violation of the rule of law and the rights of Britons.

"The government is bringing back internment," he told the British Broadcasting Corp.

"No government should be abandoning the convention, even in these circumstances," he said.

Before Britain signed the European Convention on Human Rights, internment without trial was used against suspected members of the Irish Republican Army fighting British rule in Northern Ireland.

Britain's Terrorism Act allows suspects to be held for a maximum of seven days before being charged. Blunkett wants powers of indefinite detention of foreigners suspected of involvement in terrorism.

Under current human rights laws, foreigners suspected of crimes abroad cannot be detained in Britain if there is no immediate prospect of their being sent back to their country of origin.

Britain's appeals process against deportation often takes years, so suspects are allowed to remain at large. It also is hard to send suspects back to their own country if there are fears about their treatment there.

The Home Office said a change in the law would not deprive detainees of all their rights.

"There is an appeal process," the spokesman said.

Some of those suspected of involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks studied or worked in Britain during the 1990s.

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