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World: Amnesty's Global Survey Condemns Governments For Human Rights Failures

The U.S. treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, figures heavily in the Amnesty report Amnesty International says governments are failing to provide principled leadership in the quest for a world order based on respect for human rights. In its annual global survey, released today, the watchdog group says the global war against terrorism has been more effective in eroding human rights principles than in countering violence. The report singles out the United States for particularly harsh criticism. Amnesty says Washington "thumbed its nose at the rule of law" by not properly investigating reports of prisoner abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghurayb prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and at Bagram air base in Afghanistan. The poor human rights situations in Iran, Russia, Central Asia, and the Caucasus are also highlighted. But Amnesty says there were signs of hope in 2004, too.

Prague, 25 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Suad is the mother of Jamil, a 27-year-old Yemeni man detained in Pakistan in January 2002 and now incarcerated at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. She contends Jamil was simply studying engineering in Pakistan and regrets how difficult his ordeal has been on his children.

"The eldest one remembers her father, and in the street sometimes, she looks at people and thinks she's seen her dad," Suad says. "The 4-year-old was only 1 when he left and does not remember him. And the youngest one doesn't know him. In truth, the eldest is very affected. She is very sensitive. She remembers her father."

Jamil is one of more than 500 detainees being held without charges at the U.S. naval base in Cuba on suspicion of links to Al-Qaeda or the Taliban. The detention of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo, as well as the transfer of some 100 detainees to their home countries, are singled out for criticism by Amnesty International in the annual survey.

Irene Khan, Amnesty International's secretary-general, says 2004 saw governments not only failing to fulfill human rights pledges but betraying those promises in places such as Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, and in Sudan's troubled Darfur region.
The report disputes claims by the Russian government that the conflict in Chechnya is "normalizing." It says security forces enjoyed virtual impunity for human rights abuses, including reports that Russian soldiers tortured, raped, and sexually abused women.

"Take the situation in Darfur, where the UN Security Council failed to take action despite reports of increasing abuse of human rights there," Khan says. "The government of China failed to act because of its own oil interests there. The government of Russia failed to act because of its arms trade with the Sudanese government. And the United States called Darfur genocide but failed to follow it up with any effective action. Take the promise of security which governments made, but failed to provide in Iraq or Afghanistan."

Khan says Washington has instead gone to great lengths to restrict the application of the Geneva Conventions and to "sanitize and redefine" torture by seeking to justify coercive interrogation techniques. She says the United States -- the world's unrivaled superpower -- has failed in its role of setting human rights standards.

In its report, Amnesty calls the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo the "gulag of our times." Brendan Paddy is a spokesman for Amnesty International.

"By saying that Guantanamo Bay is the 'gulag of our times,' Amnesty International is not attempting to draw any direct comparison between the treatment or scale of the Soviet gulag system and Guantanamo Bay and other detention centers run by the U.S.," Paddy says. "What we are saying is that we are gravely concerned that what's happening at Guantanamo is entrenching a practice of arbitrary and indefinite detention in violation of international law."

The U.S. State Department declined to comment on the Amnesty report until its release.

But James Phillips, who specializes in foreign policy issues at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, says he believes the United States is setting a good example for the rest of the world. He says the detainees at Guantanamo represent a real threat.

"I think [Amnesty International] underestimates the threats posed in the war of terrorism, and that the U.S. government is legally acting in keeping these people on Guantanamo," Phillips says. "Some of the [prisoners] that have been released from Guantanamo have already returned to inciting and carrying out terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, so I think they are [at Guantanamo] for a good reason."

The Amnesty report covers 149 countries -- from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.


The report disputes claims by the Russian government that the conflict in Chechnya is "normalizing." It says security forces enjoyed virtual impunity for human rights abuses, including reports that Russian soldiers tortured, raped, and sexually abused women.

"Clearly, there have been very grave abuses committed by armed Chechen separatist groups, most notably those in Beslan, which were clearly absolutely horrific and wholly without any justification of any sort," Paddy says. "But what is equally disturbing is that in Chechnya itself, we have also seen armed forces of both the Chechen government supported by Moscow and also by Russian forces themselves committing horrific abductions, rapes, and murders against Chechen civilians."

Amnesty says the human rights situation in Ingushetia also deteriorated, and that ethnic and national minorities were attacked in many Russian regions, sometimes fatally, with few convictions for racist attacks.


Afghanistan was plagued in 2004 by lawlessness and insecurity, which hampered efforts to establish peace and stability, Amnesty says. Afghan women in particular experienced widespread discrimination and violence.

"One of the particularly disturbing things about the situation in Afghanistan is -- regardless of who appears to be in control in each area -- the situation for women has not improved to any significant extent, as far as we can judge," Paddy says. "We've seen numerous cases of women being subjected to what amounts to tribal justice, where the writ of Afghan law does not seem to run."

Middle East

In Iraq, Amnesty accuses both U.S.-led military forces and armed militant groups of committing gross human rights violations. Thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed in the crossfire.

In Iran, Amnesty notes, scores of political prisoners were sentenced to prison following unfair trials. Many more were arrested in 2004 on charges that articles they had written endangered national security or defamed officials or Islamic religious precepts.

Central Asia

In Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan are cited for threatening Uyghur asylum seekers and refugees with detention and expulsion to China. Conditions on death row in Kyrgyzstan are described as cruel and inhuman. And despite its own moratorium on capital punishment, Amnesty says Bishkek deported prisoners to China and Uzbekistan, where they faced execution.

Uzbekistan is condemned for what Amnesty describes as its "appalling" human rights record in 2004.

"One of the most serious concerns that Amnesty has had about Uzbekistan is the apparent reluctance in parts of the international community, particularly on the part of the United States, to directly challenge the government regarding its human rights record, which has been appalling in 2004, apparently because of the close connection between the two governments in their so-called war on terror," Paddy says. "One of the consequences of this is the government of Uzbekistan may have misunderstood the latitude it had in responding to the more recent protests which have occurred in the east of the country."

Amnesty notes the arbitrary detention of hundreds of devout Muslim men and women in Uzbekistan following a series of attacks and bombings in 2004. It says scores were given unfair trials and sentenced to long prison terms. Evidence obtained through torture was routinely admitted in court.

Human rights abuses were also widespread in Turkmenistan, where Amnesty says religious minorities and civil society activists faced harassment and imprisonment.

In Tajikistan, reports of torture and ill treatment by police were noted. Amnesty says at least four men were executed in secret shortly before a moratorium on the death penalty took effect.


In the Caucasus, police in Armenia and Georgia are criticized for the use of excessive force, while courts in Azerbaijan are singled out for reportedly using evidence extracted under torture and for sentencing at least 40 opposition activists to jail after unfair trials.

Room For Optimism

But Amnesty says 2004 also witnessed progress on the human rights front. Paddy says people in Ukraine and the Middle East, for example, felt increasingly willing to challenge government failures. He also highlights legal challenges to what Amnesty calls the "dangerous new agenda" being pursued by many governments.

"There have obviously also in 2004 been some hopeful signs that people, that the judiciary, that parts of the UN system, will not accept the betrayal of governments of the promises they have made," Paddy says. "We have seen, for example, both in the U.K. and also in the U.S., the highest courts in those respective countries directly challenging the executives' removal of certain fundamental rights from particular prisoners, in Guantanamo, and in the case of the U.K., those held at Belmarsh prison under suspicion of involvement in terrorism."

Paddy also notes positive movement toward reform at the United Nations, in particular in its flawed human rights mechanisms. He says the mission of governments and international institutions must now be to reassert the primacy of human rights.

"The most critical thing that governments can do -- rather than making new promises and new pronouncements about their respect for justice, the rule of law, human dignity, and human rights -- is turn that rhetoric into reality," Paddy says. "Most of the law that is needed to protect people from these grave violations and to lay the bedrock of respect for the rule of law, which must be the basis on which you can build any just, stable, secure, and peaceful society, rather than respect those, they continue to make new promises."

Amnesty says the popular movements in support of the victims of the South Asian tsunami and the Madrid train bombings prove the power of ordinary people to "promote hope over fear."

(RFE/RL correspondent Andrew F. Tully contributed to this report.)
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    Grant Podelco

    Grant Podelco is the editor in chief of RFE/RL's English-language website. He first joined RFE/RL in Prague in 1995 as a senior correspondent after working for many years as a writer and editor for newspapers in New York, Oregon, and Texas. He reported from Afghanistan in 2002 to mark the one-year anniversary of the fall of the Taliban.