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Thursday, 17 January, 2002, 18:23 GMT
War on terror cloaks rights abuses
US marine in Afghanistan
The US-led campaign is being used as an 'excuse'
World leaders are exploiting the US-led war on terror to justify a crack down on political opponents and abuse human rights, a major human rights group has warned.

In its annual survey of human rights activity in 66 countries in 2001, the US-based Human Rights Watch singles out Russia, Uzbekistan and Egypt as the main offenders of waging indefensible wars against political opponents in the name of the war on terror.

But Israel, China, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and Zimbabwe are also accused of deploying similar tactics.

The report says Western nations and the major powers that form the US-led coalition were missing an opportunity to focus attention on human rights and democracy in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.

It is essential to affirm a culture of human rights as an antidote to terrorism

Human Rights Watch
"These governments often embraced human rights only in theory while subverting them in practice," it said.

Western nations, Human Rights Watch said "tolerated abuses by friendly governments."

The organisation also warns that countries that justify crack downs on domestic political opponents could inadvertently strengthen the ideology that led to the 11 September attacks on the US.

It further finds that some Middle Eastern and Central Asian Governments "have left millions of people with a choice between extremist politics and no politics".

Click below to read about each country


The report says Russia's "cynical strategy" of defending escalating military action in Chechnya as part of its own war against terrorism appeared to have worked.

Russian soldier in Chechnya
Russia has defended its military escalation in Chechnya
Western countries, it says, downplayed previous criticism of Moscow's human rights abuses as they set about building a coalition against international terror.

"In the days following September 11, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said that Russia's actions in Chechnya must be reassessed. The US Government, which in April had supported the UN resolution condemning atrocities in Chechnya, began to play down its human rights concerns and play up alleged links between Chechen rebels and the al-Qaeda network," the report said.

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Uzbekistan is singled out as particularly repressive and an illustration of how the West can overlook torture and other abuses because of the country's strategic importance.

Uzbek woman and child
Uzbekistan is singled out as one of the worst abusers of human rights

Uzbekistan was an important ally because it borders Afghanistan and has its own al-Qaeda-linked rebel movement.

"There are no political parties, no independent media, no civil society of any sort. Efforts by Muslims to pray outside the state-controlled mosque are met harshly, with torture and long prison sentences frequent," the report says.

But while the Bush administration maintained that the war on terror was not a war against Islam, it appeared to make little effort to stop the government from repressing Muslims wanting to worship outside state control, the report says.

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The report says the Egyptian Government had brushed off criticism of torture and summary military trials, suggesting that Western countries should "think of Egypt's own fight against terror as their new model".

It also accuses the government of silencing peaceful political opposition to such an extent that it appears that the only alternative to supporting their authoritarian rule is risking their overthrow by radical opponents.

"The West has quietly accepted this pattern of repression because, in the short term, it seems to promise stability, and because the democratic alternative is feared."

In particular, it says, Egypt has "secured from the US Government massive aid and tacit acceptance of its human rights violations".

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Saudi Arabia

The report describes the country's ruling family as corrupt and says the government imposes strict limits on civil society, severely discriminates against women, and systematically suppresses dissent.

Riyadh can thus claim that it alone stands before the abyss, that human rights must be suppressed for their own protection

Human Rights Watch
It says with peaceful political opposition firmly repressed, "the voices of violence and intolerance have grown in volume".

As a result, the country's 'corrupt' rulers argue that human rights must be suppressed for their own protection.

"Western governments to date have contented themselves with purchasing Saudi oil and soliciting Saudi contracts while maintaining a shameful silence toward Saudi abuses," the report says.

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Ariel Sharon
Ariel Sharon calls Yasser Arafat "our Bin Laden"
The reports says Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has repeatedly referred to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as "our Bin Laden" and made other statements comparing the nation's struggle with the Palestinians to the US-led war on terror.

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The country's deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahman Badawi has defended administrative detention under the Internal Security Act as "an initial preventive measure before things get beyond control.

The report says Mr Badawi was alluding to the 11 September attacks in the US.

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A spokesman for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe justified a crackdown on independent journalists as an attack on the "supporters" of terrorism.

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The report says that after the 11 September attacks, Chinese officials used concern with global terrorism as justification for crack downs in Tibet and Xinjiang.

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See also:

15 Jan 02 | Americas
US defends captives' conditions
16 Jan 02 | Americas
War on terror 'curbing human rights'
16 Jan 02 | Americas
UN concern for US Afghan captives
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