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Tuesday, October 6, 1998 Published at 18:13 GMT 19:13 UK

World: Americas

Why Amnesty turned its guns on the US

Amnesty International accuses the US of double standards

By US Affairs Analyst Jonathan Marcus

Amnesty International's report entitled United States: Rights for All makes surprising and sober reading. The notes on the cover speak of "a persistent and widespread pattern of human rights violations".

The study points to "entrenched and nationwide police brutality". To quote again "it highlights the physical and sexual abue of prisoners many of whom are held in inhuman and degrading conditions".

But this is not an investigation of a military dictatorship or pariah state. It is the United States of America that has fallen under Amnesty International's spotlight; and it is not a pretty sight.

Amnesty has a long and distinguished track record of unmasking and campaigning against human rights abuses around the world.

Many of its targets have been among developing countries, perhaps where democratic institutions are weak at best or even non-existent.

Inevitably this has prompted condemnation from some governments who have been criticised, and allegations that this is a first-world pressure group passing judgement on countries who have few of the benefits of advanced Western societies.

'One standard for all'

Amnesty has always been able to counter by insisting that it is a truly international organisation with sections in as many countries as will allow it to operate. It would also argue that the values of human rights are indeed universal. One standard must apply to all.

And that is exactly what it is seeking to prove by publishing this lengthy report on the United States.

This report then has a political as well as a practical purpose: to show that Amnesty International's concerns apply to all countries, even the world's one remaining superpower.

But the substance of the report provides a sometimes chilling indictment of federal and state authorities in the USA. It launches a broadside against the use of the death penalty for murder, which it describes as "racist, arbitrary, and unfair".

It catalogues widspread police brutality and desperate conditions inside many American jails. At the international level it also criticises the policy guiding US arms sales abroad.

In short the US is accused of double standards; preaching lofty principles while not abiding by these high standards itself. There is much ammunition here for America's critics.

The United States is a society where the rule of law prevails. It is not a dictatorship and the Amnesty report makes little allowance for the political and legal context.

Nonethless it identifies serious shortcomings in the US system, which must be addressed, according to Amnesty, if the US is to play a leading role in advancing human rights elsewhere.

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