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World: Amnesty Blames 'Politics Of Fear' For Rights Abuses

  • Heather Maher

(Amnesty International) May 23, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Governments and armed groups around the world are using "the politics of fear" to crush human rights and encourage dangerous divisions in society, according to Amnesty International’s 2007 human rights report, released today.


The international rights group warns that the use of fear as a political tool is threatening to create a world in which no person is safe and no right is protected.


Amnesty lays much of the blame for this grim situation on the global "war on terror,” which it says has encouraged human rights abuses and poisoned the atmosphere of international relations.


Joshua Rubenstein, Amnesty’s Northeast Regional Director, said the criticism applies to governments around the world – including China, Russia, Zimbabwe – but rests heavily with the United States, which is no longer seen as a leader on human rights.


U.S. 'Setting A Bad Example'


"In pursuing its so-called war on terror, the U.S. is winking at the use of torture, it is holding people without trial, without charges, in Guantanamo Bay and trying to restrict access by their attorneys," he says. "It’s setting a terrible example for the rest of the world.”


And in a statement accompanying the report, Amnesty’s secretary general, Irene Khan, accuses the United States of "globalizing” human rights abuses with its "war on terror” and renditions program, in which suspects are taken to secret prisons abroad for interrogation.


She says the United States is treating the world as "a giant battlefield.”


The rights group also has harsh words for insurgent groups that use terror tactics against civilians to advance their agendas, and points to the almost daily attacks in Iraq as a prime example.


In the past year, divisions between Muslims and non-Muslims around the world have deepened, largely because of what Amnesty calls "discriminatory counterterrorism strategies in Western countries.”


Discrimination Against Minorities


And the report notes that racism and xenophobia have increased because governments from Ireland to Russia have turned a blind eye to hate crimes and discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities.


Amnesty gives several reasons for concern in Russia, including the crushing of independent media, crackdowns on public protests, the eviction of ethnic minorities from bazaars, and hate crimes that go unpunished.


It condemns the failure to make arrests when journalists are killed, and singles out the October, 2006, murder of the journalist and human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya.


AI's Rubenstein says President Vladimir Putin's brutal handling of the conflict in the Caucasus has led to a culture of violence in many parts of Russia.

Demostrators in Moscow rallying against hate crime last year (ITAR-TASS)


"In Russia, the way President Putin has exploited the conflict in the Caucasus, particularly in Chechnya, has created a climate in which there is greater violence against minorities and people who appear to be dark-skinned in Russia," he says.


"This includes attacks on people who are thought to be from the Caucasus, on African students, and on Jews. So there’s a climate of xenophobia and chauvinism in Russia. And we do not believe the government is doing enough to counteract that, to hold people responsible.”


Uzbekistan, Belarus Rated Among Worst


Both Uzbekistan and Belarus are held up by Amnesty as among the world’s worst human rights abusers.


In Uzbekistan, Amnesty faults the authorities for ignoring international calls for an independent investigation into the May, 2005, killings of hundreds of civilians by government troops in the town of Andijon.


The group says harassment, imprisonment, and torture of human rights activists occur on a wide scale, and President Islam Karimov’s regime has revoked the licenses of several U.S.-funded nongovernmental groups, forcing them to leave the country.


Rubenstein says the media climate in Uzbekistan is one of intimidation and restriction.


"You see journalists being restricted, apparently Uzbek citizens are not permitted to write for foreign media, foreign newspapers, and the foreign media who are trying to be present in Uzbekistan are under tremendous pressure not to criticize the government," he says.


The report also condemns Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan for cooperating with Uzbekistan in the "war on terror” by forcibly returning people suspected of belonging to banned Islamist parties.

"The way Putin has exploited the conflict in the Caucasus has created a climate in which there is greater violence against minorities and people who appear to be dark-skinned." -- Joshua Rubenstein, Amnesty International

In Belarus, Amnesty cites the March 2006 elections, after which thousands of people protested the results and hundreds were beaten and arrested, as an example of how civil society has deteriorated there.


"Belarus is really one of the most, I suppose it’s fair to say, extreme examples of human rights violations in Europe today, with certainly one of the most flawed elections one could imagine in Europe,” he says.


Yet Putin, he adds, is "indifferent” to democracy and human rights in the entire former Soviet sphere and is not encouraging democratic reforms or rule of law.


"He seems happy to work with [Belarusian President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka and Karimov and other authoritarian figures in the [former] Soviet Union.”


'Deterioration' In Iran


In Iran, where jail cells hold hundreds of political prisoners, Amnesty says the human rights situation has worsened.


Journalists, activists, and lawyers are routinely arbitrarily detained, and torture before trials is common. Mass arrests after demonstrations occurred several times in 2006, and more than 175 executions were carried out.


The group also criticizes the Afghan government and the international community for failing to establish the rule of law and respect for human rights in Afghanistan. Instead, it says, insecurity and corruption have been allowed to flourish, which has helped the Taliban re-emerge.

REACTIONS TO AMNESTY REPORT
U.S. Fighting To 'Advance Human Rights'
A U.S. policy expert says the United States is fighting a global war against terrorism to improve human rights for all. more
European Scholar Says Report 'Goes Too Far'
While the U.S. government has made mistakes, a former Polish dissident says Amnesty International is too anti-American. more
RFE/RL's Broadcast Countries

A boy sells balloons in Kabul because he is unable to go to school (epa)

A BLEAK PICTURE: Below, HRW experts comment on the human rights situations in some of RFE/RL's broadcast countries.

Human Rights Watch's Asia Research Director Sam Zarifi, speaking about Afghanistan:

"The Taliban have been using increasingly brutal tactics such as suicide bombings and attacking soft targets, such as health clinics and schools. The attacks on schools have been particularly vicious. More than 200,000 children who were in school last year have not been able to go to school this year. We've seen over 130 schools attacked. The resulting fear, of course, has caused a huge amount of resentment, especially in southern Afghanistan, because ordinary Afghans feel that President [Hamid] Karzai and his international backers are not able to support them and provide them what they need.
Basic reconstruction and development throughout the south has essentially come to a halt in many areas. The situation is not just bad in the south, however. In the north and in the west of the country, warlords -- many of them ostensibly allied with the government - have also used the threat of the Taliban and the weakness of the international community and President Karzai to re-entrench themselves and so Human Rights Watch has been documenting numerous instances of land grabs, political oppression and rampant human rights abuses by these warlords, many of whom are also involved in the drug trade."

Giorgi Gogia, of Human Rights Watch's Caucasus Office, speaking about Georgia:

"Georgia, in late 2005, announced a reform of its criminal justice system and started a rigorous fight against organized crime, particularly against the power of organized crime bosses. While this move is certainly commendable, this had some negative consequences, particularly overcrowding in prisons and abuse of power by some police or law enforcement structures. Overcrowding is particularly a big problem in Georgian prisons, considering that they are very poorly ventilated, filthy, and prisoners very often receive inadequate nutrition and substantive medical care."

Rachel Denber, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division, speaking about Kyrgyzstan:

"In September, Human Rights Watch released a report that documented the poor state response to domestic violence and bride kidnapping for forced marriage in Kyrgyzstan. Our main finding, which I think is consonant with the conclusions of Kyrgyz human rights organizations, is that the authorities just allow for impunity for domestic violence and kidnapping for forced marriage."

Rachel Denber, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division, speaking about Turkmenistan:

"Turkmenistan is one of the world's most repressive and closed countries. The authorities severely suppress all forms of dissent and they absolutely isolate the population from the outside world. The president, who just passed away on December 21, President Saparmurat Niyazov, had declared himself president for life. He presided over a massive and grotesque cult of personality. This year, due to international pressure, the government reduced some harassment of followers of minority religions; they released several people from psychiatric institutions, where they had been forcibly detained as a measure of punishment. And they allowed one dissident to travel abroad. But otherwise, 2006 was as disastrous as every other year for human rights in Turkmenistan."

Rachel Denber, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division, speaking about Uzbekistan:

"2006 was one of the worst years for human rights in Uzbekistan in the 15 years since Uzbekistan's independence from the Soviet Union. There has still been no justice for the massacre that happened in May 2005 in Andijon, in Uzbekistan, during which government troops fired on mostly unarmed protestors -- no justice for that whatsoever. And the Uzbek government has continuously rejected all efforts to have an international, independent investigation of the massacre. The government crackdown on human rights defenders, independent journalists, and political activists, is the fiercest we have ever seen in Uzbekistan, since independence."

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