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 Tuesday, 14 January, 2003, 17:38 GMT
US 'inciting global rights abuse'
Guantanamo Bay inmate and guards
The US is setting a bad example, advocates say
Washington is overlooking abuses in countries which back its war on terror, a human rights group has said.

The willingness to ignore problems in nations which the United States wants as partners is undermining efforts to improve conditions around the world, Human Rights Watch said.

Washington has so much power today that when it flouts human rights standards, it damages the human rights cause worldwide

Kenneth Roth,
Human Rights Watch
Washington is itself guilty of abuses and has bred a "copycat phenomenon" whereby governments around the world flout rights in the name of security, it said.

The group's annual world report criticised dozens of countries, from Australia to Uzbekistan, but found some improvements.

The US came in for heavy criticism because of its standing as the world's only superpower.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said: "The United States is far from the world's worst human rights abuser.

"But Washington has so much power today that when it flouts human rights standards, it damages the human rights cause worldwide."

Free rein

The report by the New York-based watchdog included reports on 58 countries.

It criticised Washington's suppression of rights for detainees being held at its Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba.

Human Rights Watch also said countries sought as allies by the US in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks had been allowed a freer rein by a government keen not to offend.

"By waving the anti-terrorism banner, governments such as Uzbekistan seemed to feel that they had licence to persecute religious dissenters," the report said.

Anti-American protests in Pakistan
There have been anti-American protests in Pakistan
"While governments such as Russia, Israel, and China seemed to feel freer to intensify repression in Chechnya, the West Bank, and Xinjiang."

The report criticised Tunisia for trying civilians on terrorism charges before military courts, and Australia for imposing "some of the tightest restrictions on asylum in the industrialised world" out of fear of letting in terrorists.

The group warned that repression in the name of security would backfire, breeding resentment of governments and the US by the repressed.

It noted resentment in Pakistan for Washington's uncritical backing of General Pervez Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup.

The report also criticised Washington for downplaying repression of Muslims in China and Saudi Arabia.

"To fight terrorism, you need the support of people in countries where the terrorists live," Mr Roth said.

"Cosying up to oppressive governments is hardly a way to build those alliances."

Problems detailed

The annual report identified areas of concern and hope:

  • In Liberia it said government forces "systematically looted and burnt towns" and forcibly conscripted fighters "including children, who were sent to the battlefront in an arbitrary manner". Rebel forces were blamed for less major offences.

  • In Vietnam, the group said: "Officials continued to suppress and control the activities of religious groups."

  • In Afghanistan, "Numerous opportunities to improve the human rights situation - especially for women - were missed," the report claimed. "Not enough attention was paid to making human rights concerns integral to international and US-led assistance and development efforts."

  • In Israel: "Both Israeli security forces and Palestinian armed groups committed grave breaches of the rules of war in deliberately attacking civilians or displaying serious and systematic disregard for innocent civilian lives."

  • "Mexico took unprecedented steps toward establishing accountability for past abuses committed by state security forces," Human Rights Watch said. It added that the government also continued its active co-operation with international human rights monitors.

  • "Sri Lanka's intractable civil war, in which terrorism had played a major part, reached a pause as the most promising negotiations since 1995 began," the report said.

  • In Sierra Leone, the group said the successful disarmament of combatants and their subsequent rehabilitation "contributed significantly to prospects for continued and ongoing peace and stability", though it noted more recent problems.

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    11 Jan 03 | Americas
    10 Jan 03 | Americas
    15 Mar 02 | Americas
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