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Human Rights Watch was dismayed to learn that the planned launch of the UK government’s Human Rights Annual Report, previously scheduled for Thursday 16 September, has been delayed. We understand that publication of the report at this time is deemed “inappropriate”, in the light of the terrible events in Beslan.

The scenes that we have seen from Middle School No 1 in Beslan in recent days are deeply shocking. The callous brutality of those who have shown themselves willing to blow up large numbers of innocent young children, including on their first day at school, is difficult to overstate. The deaths at Beslan are an international tragedy and a terrible crime. Criminal acts such as these are, however, not a reason to put other human rights abuses to one side. On the contrary. This is an important moment to re-emphasise the importance of accountability and justice. Those who murder civilians must face justice. That is true whether the killers are bombers, ready to commit a massacre in a school, or uniformed soldiers who – as happens in Chechnya on a regular basis -- bundle civilians out of their homes at night, never to be seen again.

As you yourself noted in your introduction to the UK Human Rights Annual Report in 2002: “The promotion of human rights is not just right in itself but an integral part of our long-term security.” That important lesson has been ignored in many places around the world in the past two years. All of us have lost out, as a result. The holding of detainees without trial for two years at a time, and a newly permissive attitude towards torture, are just two examples: the trampling of international law at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib have made the world more dangerous, not less.

It would be entirely appropriate that you, when presenting this year’s human rights report, should address the tragic events at Beslan. There can be no more obvious abuse of human rights than the murder of so many young children. For you to imply, however, that there is a “right” and a “wrong” time to focus on serious violations committed by governments sends a disastrous message. Human Rights Watch would urge you to reconsider.

Yours sincerely

Steve Crawshaw
London director

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