Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has risked upsetting his hosts at an international summit in Kazakhstan by issuing a forthright demand for all participating states to protect human rights.
Addressing the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe summit in Kazakh capital Astana, Mr Clegg said that some members were falling short of their commitments.
He insisted that human rights were not a Western concept, but applied to all 56 members of the OSCE, who had a “duty” to treat their own people with “dignity and respect”.
Kazakhstan has come under fire for its human rights record, with Amnesty International warning in its 2010 annual report that torture and ill-treatment of suspects by security forces remains “widespread”, while confessions extracted under torture are admitted as evidence in courts.
The human rights group noted that freedom of expression and freedom of religion continue to be restricted in the central Asian state.
Meanwhile, an OSCE report on the 2007 Kazakh parliamentary elections – in which the ruling party won all 98 contested seats – criticised shortcomings in the country’s electoral practices, including a ban on independent candidates and restrictions on the formation of political parties.
In his speech to the OSCE, Mr Clegg made no direct reference to Kazakhstan’s record.
But he said it was “essential” that all members are “steadfast in our defence of human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law”.
And he added: “These commitments… are not a reflection of Western values; not Eastern values either. They are the fundamental rights of all people, everywhere.
“Yet, still, there are participating states who are not meeting their commitments.”