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Amnesty Says Repression, Economic Woes A Potent Mix

Tibetan Buddhist monk in exile walks over Chinese national flags as part of a protest in Dharamsala in March 2008.
Amnesty International's new report on the global state of human rights says the economic crisis has also hit hard at human rights, by subjecting more people to insecurity, injustice, and indignity.

The 400-page report by the London-based rights organization finds many shortcomings in Central Asian, Caucasian, and other countries including Chinese policies in Tibet.

Amnesty International Director General Irene Khan introduced the report by saying that many governments have failed abysmally to protect human rights, human lives, and livelihoods threatened by the economic downturn. She referred to the "profligacy" of recent years, in which she said governments had abandoned oversight of economic and financial regulation to market forces.

"We would like to see stronger commitment and accountability of governments, business leaders, international financial institutions, to human rights," Khan said. "Their strategies, their financial strategies, their economic strategies, their development strategies, have to acknowledge human rights, economic and social rights, the right to food, the right to health, as rights in which they have an obligation to invest."

Khan said the global crisis was about shortages of food, jobs, clean water, land and housing, and also about growing inequality, xenophobia, and repression. She said the term "security" had been used to undermine human rights under the name of fighting terrorism.

She also called for more attention to be given to the poor.

"We believe at Amnesty International the way in which human rights can pull us out of the economic crisis is by paying attention to those who are marginalized," Khan said. "We would like to see an acknowledgment of the human rights of poor people, we would like to see governments actively allow participation of poor people in decisions that effect their lives."

Iran, Afghanistan, And Tibet

The Amnesty International report concludes that in Iran, authorities kept a tight hold on freedom of expression, association, and assembly. They cracked down on human rights activists, including women's and minority rights advocates.

The report found that torture and other ill treatment of detainees remains common and is committed with impunity in Iran. Sentences of flogging and amputation were reported, and almost 350 people are known to have been executed, although the group says the real figure is probably higher.

Amnesty International says that in Afghanistan, millions of people in the south and east of the country have been terrorized by Taliban militants. The government in Kabul in turn has failed to uphold the rule of law or to provide basic services even in the areas under its control.

The Taliban has significantly expanded its areas of attack, adding to people's insecurity and further limiting their access to food, health care and schooling. Freedom of expression has come under pressure from both sides, while woman suffered from traditional prejudices and violence.

As to China, Amnesty finds that in Tibetan-populated areas and in the mainly Muslim Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region, people continued to suffer systematic repression. Both those areas in 2008 witnessed some of the worst unrest in recent years.

Popular protests by Tibetans inside Tibet and in Tibetan-populated provinces were suppressed with a heavy loss of life.

In Xinjiang, authorities announced a sweeping crackdown on Uyghur separatists, and continued their tight control over religious practice, banning all state employees and children from attending services at mosques.

Postcommunist Woes

On Georgia, Amnesty says the summer conflict with Russia resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths, thousands of injured, and at its peak the displacement of some 200,000 people. It says the Georgian military did not appear to take necessary measures to protect civilians in its operations in the breakaway province of South Ossetia.

In the war's aftermath, South Ossetian militia groups engaged in the pillage and arson of several Georgian-majority settlements in South Ossetia.

In many countries across the Caucasian and Euro-Asian regions, religious practice was subject to restrictions, according to the report. Representatives of religious groups or confessions outside officially endorsed structures, or from non-traditional groups, continued to be harassed in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

As to media freedoms, authorities in Turkmenistan launched a new wave of repression against civil society activists and journalists. Also in Armenia and Azerbaijan, independent media outlets that covered opposition activities were harassed. Uzbekistan saw little improvement in freedom of expression and assembly, despite claims to the contrary by the authorities.

In Russia, legislation combating extremism was used to stifle dissent and silence journalists and human rights activists. Amnesty also says media which reported rights violations in Russia's volatile North Caucasus region were targeted by authorities.

Across the region, government failed to adequately protect women. Abuse of women remains pervasive in all age and social groups, in verbal and psychological attacks, in physical and sexual violence, in economic control and even murder.

The report lists at least one bright spot in its catalogue of problems, namely that Uzbekistan joined its neighbors in abolishing the death penalty -- leaving Belarus as the lone, last executioner in the European-Central Asia regions.