Page last updated at 10:26 GMT, Thursday, 28 May 2009 11:26 UK

Global crisis 'hits human rights'

Three children in a shanty town outside Nairobi, Kenya (Image: Amnesty International)
Governments are ignoring the poorest people's basic needs, Amnesty says

The global economic crisis is exacerbating human rights abuses, Amnesty International has warned.

In its annual report, the group said the downturn had distracted attention from abuses and created new problems.

Rising prices meant millions were struggling to meet basic needs in Africa and Asia, it said, and protests were being met with repression.

Political conflict meant people were suffering in DR Congo, North Korea, Gaza and Darfur, among others, it said.


The 400-page report, compiled in 157 countries, said that human rights were being relegated to the back seat in pursuit of global economic recovery.

The world's poorest people were bearing the brunt of the economic downturn, Amnesty said, and millions of people were facing insecurity and indignity.

Migrant workers in China, indigenous groups in Latin America and those who struggled to meet basic needs in Africa had all been hit hard, it said.


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Where people had tried to protest, their actions had in many cases been met with repression and violence.

The group warned that rising poverty could lead to instability and mass violence.

"The underlying global economic crisis is an explosive human rights crisis: a combination of social, economic and political problems has created a time-bomb of human rights abuses," said Amnesty's Secretary General, Irene Khan.

The group is launching a new campaign called Demand Dignity aimed at tackling the marginalisation of millions through poverty.

World leaders should set an example and invest in human rights as purposefully as they invest in economic growth, Ms Khan said.

"Economic recovery will be neither sustainable nor equitable if governments fail to tackle abuses that drive and deepen poverty, or armed conflicts that generate new violations," she said.

See below for highlights of the report by region


Amnesty says the economic crisis has had a direct impact on human rights abuses on the continent.

"People came into the streets to protest against the high cost of living," Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty's Africa programme director, told the BBC's Network Africa programme.


"The reaction we saw from the authorities was very repressive. For example, in Cameroon about 100 people were killed in February last year."

But the bulk of Amnesty's report concentrated on the continent's three main conflict zones: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Sudan.

In DR Congo, the focus was on the east where it said civilians had suffered terribly at the hands of government soldiers and rebel groups. The Hutu FDLR movement, for example, was accused of raping women and burning people alive in their homes.

Amnesty said it was also the civilians in Somalia who bore the brunt of conflict, with tens of thousands fleeing violence and hundreds killed by ferocious fighting in the capital, Mogadishu. It also highlighted the killing and abduction of journalists and aid workers.

In Sudan, Amnesty catalogued a series of abuses including the sentencing to death of members of a rebel group, a clampdown on human rights activists and the expulsion of several aid groups following the issuing of an international arrest warrant against President Omar al-Bashir.

A number of countries, including Zimbabwe and Ethiopia, were criticised for intimidating and imprisoning members of the opposition.

And Nigeria came under fire for the forced evictions of thousands of people in the eastern city of Port Harcourt.


Across the region, millions fell further into poverty as the cost of basic necessities rose, Amnesty said.

In Burma, the military government rejected international aid in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis and punished those who tried to help victims of the disaster. It continued campaigns against minority groups which involved forced labour, torture and murder, Amnesty said.

In North Korea, millions are said to have experienced hunger not seen in a decade and thousands tried to flee, only to be caught and returned to detention, forced labour and torture. In both North Korea and Burma, freedom of expression was non-existent.

In China, the run-up to the Beijing Olympic Games was marred by a clamp-down on activists and journalists, and the forcible evictions of thousands from their homes, the report said. Ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet continued to suffer from systematic discrimination, witnessing unrest followed by government suppression.

Millions of Afghans faced persistent insecurity at the hands of Taliban militants. The Afghan government failed to maintain the rule of law or to provide basic services to many. Girls and women particularly suffered a lack of access to health and education services.

In Sri Lanka, the government prevented international aid workers or journalists from reaching the conflict zone to assist or witness the plight of those caught up in fighting between government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels.


Israel's military operation in Gaza in December 2008 caused a disproportionate number of civilian casualties, Amnesty said. Its blockade of the territory "exacerbated an already dire humanitarian situation, health and sanitation problems, poverty and malnutrition for the 1.5 million residents", according to the report.

On the Palestinian side, both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority were accused of repressing dissent and detaining political opponents.

The death penalty was used extensively in Iran, Iraq, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Across the region, women faced discrimination both under the law and in practice, Amnesty said, and many faced violence at the hands of spouses or male relatives.

Governments that included Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen are said to have used often sweeping counter-terrorism laws to clamp down on their political opponents and to stifle legitimate criticism.


Indigenous communities across Central and South America were disproportionately affected by poverty while their land rights are ignored, Amnesty said. Development projects on indigenous land were often accompanied by harassment and violence.

Women and girls faced violence and sexual abuse, particularly in Haiti and Nicaragua. The stigma associated with the abuse condemned many to silence, the report said, while laws in some nations meant that abortion was not available to those who became pregnant as a result of abuse or assault.

Gang violence worsened in some nations; in Guatemala and Brazil evidence emerged of police involvement in the killings of suspected criminals, the report found.

America continued to employ the death penalty, the report noted, and concern persisted over foreign nationals held at America's Guantanamo Bay detention centre, although the report acknowledged the commitment by US President Barack Obama to close it down.


Civilians paid a high price for last year's conflict between Russia and Georgia, Amnesty said. Hundreds of people died and 200,000 were displaced. In many cases, civilians' homes and lives were devastated.

Many nations continued to deny fair treatment to asylum seekers, with some deporting individuals or groups to countries where they faced the possibility of harm.

Roma (gypsies) faced systematic discrimination across the region and were largely excluded from public life in all countries.

Freedom of expression remained poor in countries such as Belarus, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and other Central Asian nations.

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The Independent Irene Khan: The economic crisis has only exacerbated human rights abuses - 34 hrs ago
Al Jazeera Financial crisis 'fuelling abuses' - 52 hrs ago
Reuters UK Amnesty - economic crisis fuels rights "time bomb" - 52 hrs ago Crisis fuels rights time bomb - 59 hrs ago

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