By Robin Millard
LONDON — China's record on civil liberties is a "serious cause for concern", the government said Wednesday in its annual report on human rights as Foreign Secretary David Miliband flew in from Beijing.
Miliband went straight from Heathrow Airport to the launch of the report in central London.
He said the Foreign Office report ensured that "the most oppressive governments who refuse to be held to account by their own people, they are at least held to account by the international community."
"I reject the notion that national sovereignty should be able to shield states from scrutiny," said Miliband, who raised rights issues in Beijing including the fate of missing human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng.
"China's human rights record remained a serious cause for concern in 2009," the report said.
While Beijing had made economic and social progress, it had been "far slower on civil and political rights, with a marked deterioration in some areas," it said.
The report highlighted three issues: the "increasing harassment of defence lawyers; the treatment of detainees in relation to ethnic unrest... and the detention of human rights defenders and political dissidents."
"A worrying number of people were imprisoned in 2009 for attempting to exercise their right to freedom of expression," it said.
"Officials from the British Embassy in Beijing made repeated efforts to attend the trials of individuals in priority cases but were denied access.
"Increasingly, the authorities are using criminal charges to shut down the activities of human rights defenders."
It added: "Positive trends in 2009 included indications of increased government accountability in some areas.
"Citizens have better, though still restricted, access to official information. They are starting to take the government to court."
Miliband said London would continue to push for sanctions against "the most oppressive states such as Burma and Zimbabwe".
The 192-page report highlighted 22 "countries of concern": Afghanistan, Belarus, China, Colombia, Cuba, North Korea, the DR Congo, Iran, Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Territories, Myanmar (Burma), Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.
The report said it had been a "particularly grim year" in Iran while there were "signs of considerable progress" in Iraq.
The situation in Russia was "serious" and has shown "little sign of improvement".
While acknowledging lower levels of violence in Zimbabwe, it said the progress achieved "is not irreversible and serious abuses continue".
"Supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change and members of civil society continue to suffer abuse and intimidation at the hands of the police and the army," it said.
Elsewhere, the report said Britain must continue to work with foreign intelligence agencies to fight terrorism even if they do not share British human rights standards.
"We cannot afford the luxury of only dealing with those that do. The intelligence we get from others saves British lives," it said.
Miliband denied that allegations of British complicity in torture had weakened its standing in speaking out on human rights.
"I don't believe that Britain's position is undermined," he said, adding that such allegations could be fully investigated in the courts, proving the strength of the British judicial system.