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Page last updated at 17:23 GMT, Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Obama pressed over human rights

Guantanamo Bay camp at sunrise, 19 November
Guantanamo detention camp has long drawn international criticism

A leading advocacy group called today for US President-elect Barack Obama to put human rights at the centre of US foreign, domestic and security policy.

The US-based Human Rights Watch called on Mr Obama to undo "the enormous damage" of the Bush administration.

The group's annual report criticises Israel and Hamas for what it calls a human rights crisis in Gaza.

The report also says China has broken promises made to Olympic organisers to improve human rights in the country.

In its 564-page report reviewing international civil liberties during 2008, Human Rights Watch said the Bush administration largely withdrew from the defence of human rights after deciding to combat terrorism.

It said it did so "without regard to such basic rights as not to be subjected to torture, enforced disappearance or detention without trial".

People increasingly are taking to the streets, with tens of thousands of public protests, at times violent, taking place across China each year
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"As a vital first step, Barack Obama and his team should radically rethink how they fight terrorism," said Kenneth Roth, the executive director of the group.

"It is not only wrong but ineffectual to commit abuses in the name of fighting terrorism or to excuse abuses by repressive governments because they are thought to be allies in countering terror," he said.

US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack rejected the criticism, saying Washington was "proud of our record on promotion of human rights".

"We take a back seat to no-one in our defence of human rights, whether that is helping free people in Iraq and Afghanistan or working to put an end to human traffic, or fighting for the right of every individual to worship as he or she wishes," he said.

Abuses

The report highlights human rights problems in Gaza that existed before the current military offensive by Israel.

It condemned Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip and indiscriminate Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli towns.

Human Rights Watch also noted "serious abuses" that Fatah, the mainstream Palestinian organisation, and Hamas have committed against each other.

The report says China has broken promises made to Olympic organisers to improve human rights, with leaders in Beijing instead tightening restrictions on citizens' freedoms.

It says that in the months leading up to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, China cracked down on activists and minorities and obstructed the work of civic organisations.

The group said that people in China were growing frustrated, and "with nowhere else to turn, people increasingly are taking to the streets, with tens of thousands of public protests, at times violent, now taking place across China each year".

The report also noted a "sharply deteriorated" situation in Tibet, where China staged a crackdown after riots broke out in March in the region's capital, Lhasa.

China has not commented on the report but has rejected past reports as biased.

Political repression

The report said Human Rights Watch had also documented abuses - including attacks on civilians - during conflicts in Afghanistan, Colombia, Congo, Georgia, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Sudan.

The group had also noted political repression in Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe.

It criticised some countries for failing to address crises in neighbouring countries such as South Africa for failing to deal with Zimbabwe and Egypt for trying to limit scrutiny of abuses in Sudan's Darfur Region.

Some Western democracies are also criticised in the report - France and Britain along with the US are accused of violating human rights in trying to curb terror.

On a more positive note, the report praises various nations for speaking out for human rights such as Botswana, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Zambia in Africa, and Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico and Uruguay in Latin America.

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