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Amnesty International Says Rights Abuses Continue To Plague World

Russian police detaining protesters in Moscow in July 2009.
Watchdog Amnesty International has warned that human rights abuses continued to plague the world in 2009, with torture or ill treatment, unfair trials and imprisonment, and restrictions on free speech among the most common violations.

The conclusions come in the group's annual "State Of The World's Human Rights" report, which documented abuses in 159 countries.

Long criticized for its human rights record, Russia showed few signs of improvement in 2009 despite pledges from the very top, according to Andrea Huber, Amnesty International's deputy program director for Europe and Central Asia.

"We heard a couple of human rights pledges by President [Dmitry] Medvedev, but unfortunately, those haven't arrived on the ground," Huber said. "One major concern is of course the volatile situation in the North Caucasus. The impunity and the lack of rule of law is really pervasive and is a huge concern. We've seen disappearances, killings, arbitrary detention -- and civilians are pretty much held hostage between violence by both armed groups as well as law enforcement officials."

The report's authors said violations in Russia continued to extend beyond the North Caucasus as well, with human rights defenders, lawyers, and journalists threatened or attacked, racist reprisals on the upswing, and widespread impunity for offenders.

Also marring Russia's record last year, the report said, was unfair detention and trials, as well as trumped-up charges against critics of the government.

Asian And Caucasus Problems

Similar obstacles to justice were also in evidence in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

"For example, in Azerbaijan, a journalist, Eynulla Fatullayev, had been charged with three different sets of charges, and when the European Court for Human Rights confirmed that those were trumped-up charges and he had to be released, right in time a fourth set of charges had been brought forward against him," Huber said. "So we are in a situation where in the whole region, governments do not protect human rights defenders but rather, they clamp down on dissent."

While the ill treatment and prison death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky made headlines, less documented cases of prisoner abuse were also all too common last year in Russia and Central Asia, said Huber, who cites Kazakhstan as a top offender.

"One focus that we had on Kazakhstan in the past is torture and ill treatment. And unfortunately, those practices are pervasive, especially in the very beginning of detention, in the period of the first days, where it might not even be formally recognized that the person has been detained," Huber said. "Unfortunately, there is also basically no way to hold anybody accountable, because your detention might not even be recorded in an official document."

The countries of the former Soviet Union were far from alone in their rights abuses in 2009.

Iran's brutal crackdown on demonstrators in the wake of last June's disputed presidential election drew condemnation. The report said freedom of expression was being suppressed to an unprecedented level, with mobile-phone networks and Internet communications blocked.

In Pakistan, women continued to be the victims of "honor killings," and discrimination against Roma remained pervasive in Serbia.

In Iraq, the report noted that while violence was broadly down, government forces and armed political groups continued to commit gross human rights abuses.

Amnesty International faulted the United States for continuing to hold detainees at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan "in violation of international standards."

The Bright Side

But the report noted some human rights progress in 2009.

It praised the spread to new countries of international jurisdiction, the ability to prosecute suspects abroad under international law, even when they receive impunity for crimes at home.

It also commended the International Criminal Court for issuing an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir -- who's being sworn in today for another term -- on crimes against humanity. It was the first time a sitting head of state faced the charges.

Amnesty International called on Russia, China, and the United States to join the ICC.

written by Richard Solash in Washington with reporting by RFE/RL Turkmen Service's Muhammad Tahir
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