Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble yesterday described the human rights ``industry'' as ``one of the great curses of this world''.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner was attending an International Congress on Victims of Terrorism in Madrid.
He said: ``One of the great curses of this world is the human rights industry. They justify terrorist acts and end up being complicit in the murder of innocent victims.''
But Mr Trimble acknowledged the ambiguity of terms such as victims or terrorism.
``What about an activist who dies as a result of their own actions? You may not think of that individual as a victim but they have a husband or a wife or children,'' he said.
Robin Kirk, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, last night criticised Mr Trimble's remark, saying: ``To call human rights defenders a curse is clearly unhinged and absurd.''
Meanwhile, the Ulster Unionists have pledged to reform a branch of the party in Kilkeel, County Down, after the local association dissolved in protest at the Trimble leadership.
Some 26 members of the party, meeting in the town's Orange hall on Monday night, walked away from the party complaining that David Trimble was too moderate.
Those who left included James Donaldson, father of Jeffrey Donaldson, the MP who quit the party in December and joined the Democratic Unionists earlier this month.
The Donaldson family is still based in the area and wields considerable influence. Mr Donaldson snr said yesterday he would consider his future. It is understood his joining the DUP remains an option.
The UUP holds just one of the six Assembly seats in the constituency.
So far, the Donaldson defection has cost the UUP one Westminster seat, making the DUP the largest unionist party in the Commons; three Assembly seats; and at least 150 members.