RFE/RL: The report criticizes European countries for colluding with the United States in rendition flights of terror suspects. It also describes European countries as having a muted voice on human rights. It paints a picture of Europe as being pretty spineless and losing its moral authority.
Judit Arenas: Europe has been very good at looking outside its own borders and being very critical of governments that lie outside the EU borders and those who seek to join them, but it has not paid the same attention to the human rights violations taking place within. In terms of renditions we've seen how evidence continues to emerge of a very high number of CIA-led flights which may have transported individuals from one place to another where they may have been tortured.
We've also seen how this duplicity has undervalued and undermined them [Western governments] because they no longer have the moral authority to speak authoritatively about human rights and to ask other governments, like Sudan or Nepal, to respect human rights, because they just are not being taken seriously at the moment.
RFE/RL: On the other hand, last year also saw investigations into those reports of rendition flights, or of secret CIA prisons in Europe. Are people in Europe increasingly challenging the idea there has to be a tradeoff between human rights and security?
Arenas: Absolutely. 2005 was actually a year of contradictions and Europe exemplifies it very well. While the skies were being crisscrossed by potential CIA flights carried out by shady companies and nobody really knew who was being transferred and to where, on the other hand we saw that international and national institutions took very active steps to pursue accountability.
The Council of Europe and the European Parliament launched investigations into European involvement into renditions. In Italy, we saw how the prosecutors issued arrest warrants for these CIA operatives that were alleged to have been involved in the rendition of one person from Milan. The U.K. House of Lords threw out the government's plans to allow evidence extracted under torture to be used in British courts.
These are all strong signs that show for the first time ever since [the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001] we were seeing positive measures of people willing to stand up and recognize that the way the war on terror was being fought was not perhaps the most effective way.
RFE/RL: Does this change also apply more directly to the United States, for instance with growing calls for the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay to be closed?
Arenas: A year ago we were perhaps the first organization to call for Guantanamo to close. In the last year, we've been joined by a number of other voices, from actors, singers to politicians and including a European Parliament resolution calling for Guantanamo to be closed. We also saw how the U.S. Senate adopted an amendment banning torture and other ill-treatment, which President [George W.] Bush was eventually forced to accept, and we've also seen [U.S. Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice and President Bush give assurances that the United States will not condone torture. While that remains to be seen in practice, these are very encouraging measures and the first time since 9/11 that we're actually observing them.
RFE/RL: On Iraq, the report notes one positive event for 2005 -- the start of the trial of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein -- in an otherwise horrendous picture regarding human rights.
Arenas: The spiraling violence in Iraq we would actually describe as a bloody harvest being reaped in Iraq. On the one hand we have armed groups whose brutality is increasing, beheadings being televised, the number of hostages going up, the whole of Iraq being torn into sectarian violence. On the other hand you've got multinational forces and the Iraqi security forces also committing human rights violations. We've seen allegations of torture and ill-treatment, of arbitrary detention and excessive use of force, and all of this is contributing to a mix that makes the situation very explosive, a very unstable one and one in which unfortunately there is at the moment no chance of security being achieved in the near future.
RFE/RL: Amnesty notes that Iran still has scores of political prisoners in jail, that torture is still routine, and that it has executed people who were under 18 at the time of their crime. What are the areas of most concern for Amnesty?
Arenas: Iran is one of the countries that very seriously concerns us and if you look at the region as a whole any further destabilization could have very serious consequences. Our main appeal to the [Iranian] president is to end what appears to be intensifying repression of ethnic minorities. We've called on him to lift the limitation on freedom of expression and association, to end torture, and to put in place a moratorium on the death penalty. Iran was the only country we know of to have executed a minor in 2005 and for Iran to stand out on the death penalty in such a blatant way is very symptomatic of the other problems that the country is facing.
Police in Moscow arrest human rights demonstrators on February 1 (courtesy photo)
THE RECORD ON RIGHTS: On March 8, the U.S. State Department issued its global report on human rights. According to the report, 15 years after the breakup of the Soviet Union, human rights are improving in many post-communist countries. But problems persist in others, it says, despite the worldwide explosion of information and Western efforts to spread democracy. (more)
For more detailed information, see:
Azerbaijan Cited For Political Harassment, Police Brutality
Child Labor, Human Trafficking Cited In U.S. Report On Afghanistan
U.S. Says China, Iran 'Most Systematic' Rights Violators
Human Rights Not A Priority In Central Asia, U.S. Report Says
U.S. Report Points To Serious Abuses In Iraq
Abuses In Chechnya, Centralized Power Cited In U.S Report On Russia
U.S. Says Serious Human Rights Violations Occurring In Iran