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World: Amnesty International Sees Widespread Human Rights Violations

  • Frank Csongos

Amnesty International has issued its annual report on human rights violations, a nearly 300-page study. The picture that emerges is one of a world where abuses are not confined to areas of armed conflict. Amnesty International says human rights violations are committed on a daily basis -- virtually everywhere. RFE/RL Senior Correspondent Frank T. Csongos reports from Washington.

Washington, 15 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Amnesty International says human rights were violated in at least 144 countries last year.

The world largest human rights organization issued its annual global report on 14 June in which it sought to document summary executions, the detention of prisoners of conscience and torture.

William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, discussed the report at a Washington news conference.

"Amnesty found that in 1999, 69 percent of countries tortured or mistreated people, and that is an increase of 23 percent from a decade ago."

Schulz says that in some countries, people vanished without a trace.

"We also found that in nearly one out of every five countries authorities 'disappear' men, women, and children, many of those people never to be seen again, their whereabouts unknown, their remains unaccounted for, their victimizers unpunished. The percentage of countries committing disappearances rose by 58 percent over the last decade."

The report highlighted the Russian military offensive in Chechnya, during which a large number of civilians were killed. Amnesty International said atrocities were committed by both Russian soldiers and Chechen fighters.

It also detailed abuses against the ethnic Albanian population in Kosovo by Serbs prior to the NATO-led takeover of the province. And it criticized aspects of NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia such as hitting a radio tower -- a charge rejected by both NATO and U.S. officials.

Not everything was bleak, however.

"There have also been some positive developments in human rights. The percentage of countries that detained prisoners of conscience, who are people imprisoned for their non-violent political beliefs or activities, declined by 24 percent over the last decade. Amnesty also found that the percentage of countries committing executions decreased by 20 percent."

Schulz said many of the world's crises could have been prevented if the United States and other governments had placed human rights at the top of their agendas.

"Even when human rights crimes are committed in public, the U.S. government and the international community often fail to hold the perpetrators to account. This sends a dangerous message that the butchers and thugs of the world can commit atrocities with impunity."

The report says that with the withdrawal of Serbian and Yugoslav forces from Kosovo, Serbs, Roma, and other ethnic minorities suffered human rights abuses in their turn. It says despite the presence of a large peacekeeping force, these abuses continue in Kosovo.

Amnesty International was also critical of the international community's failure to vigorously pursue suspected war criminals in the Balkans.

"NATO's failure to take into custody indicted Bosnian-Serb war criminals sent [Yugoslav] President Slobodan Milosevic a tragic message that he could commit his ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and get away with it. And the fact that Milosevic remains free despite being indicted himself for crimes against humanity, fuels continued hatred in the Balkans. It's little wonder that we have witnessed Albanian abuses now against Kosovar Serbs."

Concerning the Chechen conflict, Amnesty International says it fears that the situation could erupt into full-scale crisis in the entire Caucasus region.

"We are concerned about the stability of the Caucasus region beyond Chechnya itself. The conflict in Chechnya has caused more than a quarter million people to flee to Ingushetia and other neighboring republics in the Russian Caucasus. This massive migration of people could have a destabilizing political and economic effect on Ingushetia and the other republics in the Caucasus, including Daghestan, Kabardino-Balkariya, and North Ossetia. Moreover, the conflict between Moscow and the regions could provoke great instability."

He added: "Other factors that cause instability in the Caucasus include the continuing ethnic discrimination by the Russian authorities, religious tensions, disillusionment about democracy and capitalism. Russian security forces continue to torture and rape in Chechnya. Meanwhile Western governments who are trying to support the Russian government and preserve so-called stability, may ultimately undermine that effort if they don't insist that the Putin administration hold violators to account for their crimes and respect human rights and the rule of law."

Amnesty International says reports of police abuse -- frequently racially motivated -- continued last year. It says intimidation and excessive force were often used by police in Bulgaria and torture in detention was linked to an alleged protection racket in Moldova.

The report says Roma fell prey to prejudice in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Kosovo.

Amnesty International also said it considers executions of convicted criminals a violation of basic human rights.

"Eighty-five of all executions worldwide took place in just five countries. The United States stands in the same reprehensible league of executioners as China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo."

Asked about the report, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States does not claim to be perfect. He said the U.S. has a solid judicial system and a free and open society.