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World: Amnesty Says Needy Suffer From War On Terror

  • Eugen Tomiuc

Prisoners being held by U.S. forces at the Pol-e Charkhi Prison near Kabul (file photo) (RFE/RL) PRAGUE, May 23, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The war on terror has diverted the world's interest and material resources from human rights emergencies, and caused "enormous damage" to the lives and livelihoods of the ordinary people, concludes the "Amnesty International Report 2006" on "The State Of The World's Human Rights," released today in London.


Amnesty International Secretary-General Irene Khan says powerful governments blocked international organizations and wasted resources in the name of the war on terror, turning a blind eye to massive human rights violations and humanitarian catastrophes in other parts of the world.


As a result, Khan says, such forgotten hotspots bore the brunt of neglect.


"It's the forgotten conflicts that I remember most because those are the things the world needs to remember and the world needs to act to change," she said.


The report says that regional and international institutions gravely failed to tackle humanitarian crises, such as the one in Sudan's Darfur region, where conflicts have displaced millions of people, with war crimes and crimes against humanity being perpetrated by all sides.


Amnesty says Iraq also sank into a "vortex of sectarian violence" in 2005, with the highest price being paid by the poor and powerless -- ordinary Iraqi women, men, and children.


The Middle East conflict slipped off the international agenda in 2005, the report says, "deepening the distress and despair of the Palestinians and the fears of the Israeli population."


Europe, U.S. 'Partners In Crime'


Amnesty International says some European governments have been "partners in crime" with the United States, defying the absolute ban on torture. It says they condoned outsourcing of torture by allowing prisoners to be transferred to states such as Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, which are known to practice torture.


Muhammad al-Assad (AI)

The report highlights the case of Yemeni Muhammad al-Assad, who was detained in 2003 while working in Tanzania. Amnesty says he was rendered to Djibouti and Afghanistan, and then possibly held in Eastern Europe.


Al-Assad, who was eventually released without any terrorism charges in 2006, said his plight completely changed his life.


"How much have I lost? My morale, my reputation," he says. "I've suffered. My children are young. My child was born after I was taken. My father is old."


The report warns that U.S. and Western European governments are undermining their moral authority to champion human rights elsewhere in the world when, Amnesty says, they defy the absolute prohibition on torture.


Washington defends U.S. treatment of foreign terrorism suspects held abroad, saying there have been relatively few actual cases of abuse.



Looking To The Future


Amnesty's Khan says there were some clear signs of hope in 2005, although they were mixed with drawbacks. Khan urged international institutions to act more courageously against human rights abuses.


Darfur refugees in neighboring Chad (epa file photo)

"In 2005 we saw national parliaments, in some cases, we saw the Council of Europe, we saw some European Union institutions standing up and seeking to investigate and hold governments to account but at the same time we also saw institutions like the European Union remain silent in the face of human rights abuse in Chechnya, unable to do very much on situations like Nepal or Darfur," Khan said. "We saw the African Union failing in Darfur to make a difference."


"So what we need, I think, in 2006 is for these institutions to be stronger, to be clearer, and to act with courage and conviction to hold governments to account for human rights abuses and to work to make a real difference in the lives of people," she added.


The "Amnesty International Report 2006" includes four main demands. It calls on the United Nations and African Union to address the Darfur conflict and end human rights abuse; the UN to negotiate an agreement to regulate the trade in small arms; the United States to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and disclose the names and locations of all "war on terror" prisoners elsewhere; and the new UN Human Rights Council to insist on equal standards of respect of human rights from all governments.


Growing Movement Demands Justice


Khan said Amnesty International's demands pose a big challenge for governments and international organizations. But she said she is hopeful that civil society will be instrumental in pushing for more respect for human rights.


"I think there are going to be a number of very important tests in this year. Whether the UN Human Rights Council takes off well, whether there will be certain lessons drawn from governments like the U.S., U.K., other European governments about respect for human rights and whether that will lead to a change of behavior, whether Guantanamo prison camp will be closed," she said.


"There are lots of challenges here but I take hope from the hundreds and thousands of people around the world who are standing up and saying we want justice, we want the rule of law, we want respect for human rights because that's the way to true human security," Khan concluded.


Khan's moderate optimism was supported by the report's findings. It said 2005 was the year of one of the largest-ever mobilizations of civil society in fighting poverty and promoting economic and social rights.


The events of 2005, the document says, "showed that the human rights ideal -- together with the worldwide movement of people that drives it forward -- is more powerful and stronger than ever."

UN Human Rights Council

UN General Assembly delegates applaud the creation of the UN Human Rights Council on March 15, 2006 (epa)

A FRESH START ON HUMAN RIGHTS: The United Nations General Assembly on May 9 elected members to its new Human Rights Council, a step that reformers hope will help improve the United Nations' sullied record on defending human rights. The UN's old human rights watchdog -- the Commission on Human Rights -- had long been criticized for granting membership to countries with dismal human rights records, such as Cuba, Sudan and Zimbabwe.
Every member of the new body has to pledge to promote human rights. (more)


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