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GENEVA (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Theresa May's pledge to weaken human rights protections to fight terrorism is outrageous and a gift to autocratic strongmen globally, Amnesty International head Salil Shetty said on Wednesday.
In the final days of an election campaign that has been interrupted by terror attacks in London and Manchester, May has stepped up her rhetoric against Islamist extremism, pledging to ensure security services had the powers they needed.
"What I’ve been clear about is if human rights law gets in the way of doing those things which I think are necessary as the threat evolves then we will change those rules," she said on Wednesday, the eve of the election.
Shetty told Reuters in an interview that civilised societies should protect human rights to enhance their security, and it was not a choice between one or the other.
"It’s outrageous, it’s just outrageous, the idea that she's willing to tear up human rights principles," he said. "Otherwise you’re creating a cycle of violence. You’re going to behave in the same way that these so-called terrorists behave. What exactly is the difference?"
He said May's government was already undercutting British people's values with its plan to leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights and replace it with "shortcuts".
"If you think you’re going to win this war by taking shortcuts, you’re sadly mistaken," he said.
His biggest concern was the likelihood that such shortcuts would be replicated in countries such as Egypt, where President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has cracked down on his opponents since overthrowing the elected president in mid-2013.
"These people are running police states and they use the examples of the U.K. and U.S. and France to say you’re in no place to tell anybody about human rights any more."
A wide spectrum of countries, including the United States, Hungary, Turkey, the Philippines and India, had experienced a new "politics of divisiveness" in the past few years, where certain groups such as refugees or Muslims were scapegoated by manipulative politicians, leaving human rights "in freefall".
Amnesty International, a non-governmental organisation that has long campaigned against unelected, illegitimate dictators, is now faced with legitimately elected leaders attacking the media, civil society and the independent judiciary, Shetty said.
"So we are in uncharted and dangerous territory where societal attitudes have been swayed to make being against human rights kind of kosher and cool, and human rights are projected as elite and liberal and not meant for the masses."
Reporting by Tom Miles; Additional reporting by Michael Holden in London; Editing by Tom Heneghan