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World: Amnesty International's 2002 Report Documents Human Rights Abuses Worldwide

  • Don Hill

The international human rights watchdog group Amnesty International today published its annual human rights report for 2002. The report condemns what it calls human rights violations in visible hot spots like Afghanistan, Chechnya, Iraq, and the Middle East. It also decries "forgotten conflicts" in the world's distant corners.

Prague, 28 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Irene Khan, secretary-general of Amnesty International, says people around the world are more insecure now than at any time since the end of the Cold War.

Kahn's London-based human rights watchdog group issued its annual report for 2002 today. It's a sad document, spotlighting killings, disappearances, torture, and rape, and the abridgment of civil liberties across the globe. And Amnesty points its finger equally at governments in famous capitals like Washington and Moscow and little-known ones from Bujumbura, Burundi, to Katmandu, Nepal.

In an audio press release, Khan said: "During the past 12 months, the international political agenda has been dominated by the war against terror and by the war in Iraq. But under that cover, governments have actually increased political repression around the world and human rights have suffered. Human rights principles, international humanitarian law principles have been undermined."

The 2002 Amnesty report emphasizes the most evident of the world's crises -- the war in Iraq -- even though military action had not begun until March of this year. And it draws lessons from Afghanistan, even though general hostilities ended there at the end of 2001.

It says that 18 months after the war ended, the future for Afghans remains uncertain and insecure. It says the same fate threatens Iraq, short of what the report calls "a genuine effort [to] heed the call of the Iraqi people for law and order and full respect for civil rights." The Amnesty "update" on Iraq notes that widespread violence and looting continue there.

As a nongovernmental organization, the 42-year-old Amnesty International is both an investigative institution and a campaigner for justice. Khan criticized what Amnesty says was the flawed reasoning for the war in Iraq. "We have all noticed how the human rights of the Iraqi people have been used as a selective and convenient cover to undertake this military action and, what we feel now, it's pay-up time. And those who are now occupying Iraq have a responsibility to ensure that human rights and the promotion, the protection of human rights, be the central concern of any reconstruction efforts," she said.

The report does not mention that the United States earlier this month dispatched career diplomat Paul Bremer to Iraq with a mandate to restore order and the rule of law. "The coalition forces did not come to colonize Iraq," Bremer said. "We came to overthrow a despotic regime. That we have done. Now our job is to turn and help the Iraqi people regain control of their own destiny, to help the Iraqi society rebuild on the basis of individual liberties, respect for the rule of law, and respect for each other."

The annual Amnesty report continues, as in years past, to lambaste Russia for its military actions in Chechnya. It says both sides in the conflict -- Chechen separatist fighters and Russian federal security forces -- regularly commit serious human rights abuses. It says it has reports of extrajudicial executions, disappearances, and torture, including rape, by security forces.

In March, Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed a referendum in Chechnya that endorsed a new constitution for the region. Chechens, as Putin put it, "made a choice for peace and development together with Russia."

"We have resolved the last serious problem facing the territorial integrity of Russia. During the referendum on 23 March, the people of Chechnya did it directly and in the most democratic way," Putin said.

Unfortunately, however, continuing reports from Chechnya prove that rebels are continuing in guerrilla attacks on security forces that, in turn, continue to be accused of gross abuses.

On the good-news side, Amnesty International claims what it calls "an important victory" in winning the acquittal and release earlier this year of journalist and environmental whistle-blower Grigorii Pasko. Pasko, persecuted in Russia for almost six years for making public environmental violations by the Russian Navy, also gave credit to Amnesty for his freedom.

"Amnesty International is doing a very important job," Paslo said. "Russian prosecutors, the courts, the bureaucracy are pretending not to see it, not to notice it, but it is impossible, You cannot hide 25,000 letters to Putin with demands that Pasko be freed."

The report also criticizes the United States for continuing to deny internationally recognized rights to people arrested in the context of the "war against terrorism." It says thousands were detained from the war in Afghanistan in defiance of international humanitarian law and that more than 600 detainees continued to be held without charge or legal assistance at a U.S. naval base in Cuba.

And it says many of the 1,200 foreign nationals -- mostly Muslim men of Arab or South Asian origin -- detained in the U.S. during investigations into the 11 September 2001 attacks were also deprived of safeguards under international law.

Amnesty also documented cases of ill-treatment -- "in some cases amounting to torture" -- in Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russian, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Yugoslavia.

In particular, Amnesty notes that an assassination attempt on Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in November "triggered a new wave of repression and clampdown on dissent."

And it says allegations of ill-treatment, including torture, were also received from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Macedonia, Portugal, Romania, Spain, and Switzerland.

The report says, "Members of the Roma community and other ethnic minorities, foreigners, and citizens of immigrant backgrounds appear to have been targets of these practices throughout Europe."

Amnesty says that crises in Israel and the occupied territories remain one of the topics most discussed and least acted upon by the international community. It says both the Israeli army and armed Palestinian groups are responsible for the daily deaths of noncombatants.

Here, too, even the report's "update" on the Middle East has been overtaken by events, with the Palestinian leadership and the Israeli cabinet moving tentatively this week along a route outlined by a U.S.-backed "road map" for peace.

(An electronic version of the annual report is available at