|Human rights groups outraged as
security exchange scheme aggravates
row over UK policy of ‘critical dialogue’
Britain is training senior members of China's state police force, which has been accused of torture and selling the organs of executed prisoners for transplants, it emerged last night. The revelation came amid a growing row over British handling of human rights abuses in China.
MPs and human rights groups are now demanding an investigation into the government-funded exchange scheme between China's People's Security University, which trains the country's 1.2 million senior police officers, and British institutions.
The Independent (London), March 19, 2000
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More than 20 Chinese police chiefs have already received training on community policing and "how to manage people" at the National Police College at Bramshill, Hampshire, and the Scottish Police College near Stirling. British officers have also gone to China to study Chinese policing techniques.
The exchange is seen as part of the policy of "critical dialogue" Britain has pursued with Peking since the Labour Party came into office in 1997.
This approach was under fire from other quarters yesterday, as a report into policing of the controversial state visit of China's President Jiang Zemin to Britain last year was condemned as a "whitewash".
The Metropolitan Police admitted last October that its handling of the visit was not "totally right". There were suggestions that Foreign Office pressure led to demonstrators being kept well away from Mr Jiang and police vans frequently blocking any view of protests, but the internal report, released by Scotland Yard, revealed that no minutes were taken at a crucial meeting with Foreign Office officials, during which a senior police officer emphasised that everyone had a right to demonstrate.
The Foreign Office said this weekend that there was no evidence of improper pressure on the Met, but Francis Maude, the shadow foreign secretary, said the failure to keep minutes of the meeting was "mysterious" and left a "glaring gap". "Normally Foreign Office officials make a note when they say 'Good morning' to each other," he said in an interview with BBC Radio's Today programme yesterday.
Mr Maude accused the Government of "speaking with a forked tongue" on human rights in China, pointing out that the Conservative government used to co-sponsor an annual motion condemning China at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, a policy Labour had dropped. The US is seeking backers for a similar resolution this year, but Britain is unlikely to lend its support when European Union ministers, who would have to reach a consensus, discuss the issue in Brussels tomorrow.
Defenders of "critical dialogue" point out that China has always succeeded in blocking the UN human rights motions. "We understand and respect the views of non-governmental organisations, but we believe critical dialogue is the best way to get China to make human rights improvements on the ground," said a Foreign Office spokesman. "There has been some progress, though we are the first to admit that it is not enough."
Amnesty International, however, criticised Britain's stance, saying there had been a "serious deterioration" in human rights in China, which executes more people than the rest of the world put together. In 1998 there were 2,700 death sentences passed and 1,769 confirmed executions.
Chinese police have also been accused of arranging the sale of organs of executed prisoners and, in one incident, parading more than 1,700 condemned criminals through the streets before executing them with a bullet in the back of the neck.
John Battle, a Foreign Office minister, said the police exchange had been agreed on the basis that respect for human rights was a central feature of police reform in China. Greg Wilkinson, who was involved in training the Chinese police officers at Bramshill, said human rights training was an important part of the course.
"The Chinese are desperate to change and want to change to our model of the community police officer," said Mr Wilkinson. "But they realise they have to change their whole infrastructure." The Foreign Office added that at a dialogue meeting last month, the Chinese government said it wanted to move towards the abolition of the death penalty. A panel of experts which advises the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, on capital punishment was expected to visit China shortly.
But Dennis Canavan, independent MP for Falkirk West, condemned the police exchange, saying: "So much for Robin Cook's ethical foreign policy. China has one of the most unethical regimes in the world and the state police are responsible for mass executions. The UK government should not be involved in such schemes until the Chinese have more respect for human rights."
His views were echoed by Amnesty, which said it had grave doubts about what British police could learn from the scheme.
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