World: Amnesty Lashes Out Against War On Terrorism In Annual Rights Report
By Kathleen Knox
A "war on global values." That's how Amnesty International is summing up the past year in human rights. In its annual report released today, the London-based human rights watchdog says governments and armed groups have produced the most sustained attack on human rights and international humanitarian law in 50 years. And it says the policies pursued by governments in the U.S.-led war on terrorism have actually made the world a more dangerous place.
Prague, 26 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- In its annual report, Amnesty International says human rights came under sustained attack during the past year.
The human rights watchdog blames the armed groups who were behind such deadly attacks as the Madrid train bombings in March and the destruction of the United Nations' headquarters in Baghdad last summer.
But it also says governments around the world continued to undermine human rights protections in the name of security and the U.S.-led war on terrorism.
Irene Khan, Amnesty's secretary-general, said the global security agenda promoted by the U.S. administration of President George W. Bush is "bankrupt of vision and bereft of principle."
Speaking in an audio news release, she said, "Looking back over the past 12 months, what I see is a war on global values -- a war that is being fought on the one hand by armed groups that are ready to go to any extremes of inhumanity to attack ordinary people, and on the other side we see governments which have shown an equal zeal in attacking human rights and global principles. In between, ordinary people are paying a heavy price in terms of their human rights and in terms of their lives."
Specifically, the Amnesty report criticizes Washington for the abuse of prisoners in Iraq and possibly Afghanistan, and for its opposition to the International Criminal Court.
And it says the Iraq war "virtually paralyzed" efforts by the United Nations to hold states to account on human rights.
Khan says the war in Iraq also diverted attention from other human rights hot spots, such as Chechnya and Congo -- and from other pressing problems, like poverty or the proliferation of small arms.
"We have seen the United States and the United Kingdom and their allies fight a war in the name of destroying weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But the real weapons of mass destruction are small arms and light weapons, not nuclear weapons, not chemical, not biological weapons. These small arms and these conventional weapons kill 500,000 people every year," Khan said.
The report makes grim reading, cataloging rights abuses around the world.
In Uzbekistan -- described as having an "appalling human rights situation" -- at least 6,000 political prisoners continue to be held in cruel, inhuman, and degrading conditions.
Human rights defenders and hundreds of people suspected of political or religious dissent have been harassed, beaten, and detained without trial, and torture is common.
Turkmenistan is also described as having an appalling human rights situation. There, at least 55 people were convicted last year in "unfair" trials in connection with the alleged assassination attempt in 2002 on President Saparmurat Niyazov. There were allegations of torture, and a number of prisoners were reported to have died in unexplained circumstances following the trials.
In Belarus, the report notes that investigations into a number of high-profile disappearances were halted without adequate explanation. Human rights organizations were closed down, and independent newspapers suspended. Protesters were detained for nonviolent opposition activities.
In Russia, the report says security forces continue to enjoy "almost total impunity" for serious violations of human rights committed in Chechnya, though it says Chechen fighters are also guilty of serious human rights abuses.
It also says conditions in Russian pre-trial detention centers and prisons are often cruel, inhuman, and degrading, and that there is widespread discrimination against ethnic minorities.
The report calls Afghanistan "a country slipping slowly into chaos," where a deteriorating security situation is undermining human rights and deterring the return of refugees.
It says the criminal justice system is a source of violations rather than a mechanism for providing justice, and that the U.S.-led coalition is responsible for arbitrary detentions.
Women and girls face a high level of violence; rape and sexual violence by armed groups is common.
The report also criticizes the international community for not giving Afghanistan the support it needs.
But Amnesty notes there was progress, too, last year.
The International Criminal Court appointed its prosecutor and began work, despite U.S. opposition.
Courts in the United States and Britain began to scrutinize the power of the executive branch to restrict human rights.
And all over the world, civic groups and ordinary people took to the streets to voice opposition to war and to terrorist attacks.
Copyright (c) 2004. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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