Wed, May 24, 2006 - Page 1 News List

War on terror used to justify curbs on rights


Amnesty International said yesterday that the relentless pursuit of security by powerful nations had undermined human rights, draining energy and attention from crises afflicting the poor and underprivileged.

In releasing its latest annual report, the human-rights watchdog condemned countries such as the US, China and Russia for focusing on narrowly defined interests, diluting efforts to solve conflicts elsewhere -- such as Sudan's Darfur region.

"There is no doubt that it [the war on terror] has given a new lease on life to old-fashioned repression," Irene Khan, Amnesty International's secretary general, told a news conference.

The group called on the UN to address abuses in Darfur, where violence has killed more than 180,000 people and displaced 2.5 million since 2003. Many of the atrocities are blamed on the so-called Janjaweed, a disparate group of Arab militiamen allegedly backed by the Sudanese government.

"[The United States] has basically mortgaged its moral authority on the streets of Fallujah and Baghdad -- and lost moral authority to speak on this issue," Khan told AP Television News in regard to Darfur.

Amnesty also called for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, and for full disclosure on prisoners implicated elsewhere in the "war on terror." It also asked for the UN Human Rights Council to insist on equal standards "whether in Darfur, Guantanamo, Chechnya or China."

"Guantanamo prison camp is an aberration under international law," Khan said. "It places people outside the rule of law. And it sends a message to other regimes around the world -- like Egypt or China -- that they too can ignore human rights. They too can lock people up in the name of national security."

Amnesty appealed for a change of strategy in Iraq, which it described as having sunk into "a vortex of sectarian violence."

"When the powerful are too arrogant to review and reassess their strategies, the heaviest price is paid by the poor and powerless -- in this case ordinary Iraqi women, men and children," Khan said in a statement.

Amnesty has criticized US President George W. Bush's approach to tackling international terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks, complaining that hard-won human rights and civil liberties are being sacrificed in the name of stepped-up security.

Along with cases of abuse of prisoners in US detention, the assault on rights makes it harder for Western countries to press other governments to clean up their rights record, Amnesty said. Countries such as Colombia and Uzbekistan used counterterrorism to justify the repression of opponents, it said.

The increasing brutality of terrorist and militant attacks is a "bitter reminder that the `war on terror' is failing and will continue to fail until human rights and human security are given precedence over narrow national security interests," Khan said.

Meanwhile, China's rights situation is not keeping pace with its economic development, Amnesty said as it called on the EU to maintain its arms embargo Beijing.

"China detained many human-rights defenders, including journalists and lawyers and some were sentenced to prison terms," it said.

China still executes a high number of prisoners, with at least 1,770 executions and 3,900 death sentences issued last year, it said, quoting official statistics.

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