Page last updated at 05:02 GMT, Wednesday, 28 May 2008 06:02 UK

World 'failing on human rights'

Detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Photo: May 2008
Amnesty International urged the US to close the Guantanamo Bay camp

World leaders are failing to tackle human rights abuses around the globe, Amnesty International says.

In an annual report, the group says people are still being tortured or ill-treated in at least 81 countries.

In at least 54 states they face unfair trial and cannot speak freely in at least 77 nations, the group adds.

It says world leaders should apologise for 60 years of human rights failures since the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

The group also challenges them "to re-commit themselves to deliver concrete improvements".

US 'defiance'

The report - which covers 150 countries - was published ahead of the 60th anniversary of the human rights declaration, which was adopted on 10 December 1948.

Governments must act now to close the yawning gap between promise and performance
Irene Khan
Amnesty International

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Mary Robinson, who was from 1997 to 2002 the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said recognising the declaration was a very different matter from implementing it.

"I think we have an opportunity during the 60th anniversary year to redress some of the problems since the terrible attacks on the United States, what we now call 911," she said.

But Amnesty's document accuses the US of failing to provide a moral compass for its international peers.

"As the world's most powerful state, the USA sets the standard for government behaviour globally," the report says.

It notes that Washington "had distinguished itself in recent years through its defiance of international law".

'Ban all torture'

The report says the US must close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp for terror suspects and either prosecute the inmates under fair trials or free them.

It also urges Washington to ban all forms of torture and stop propping authoritarian regimes.

It singles out the support of President George W Bush's administration for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf when he imposed a state of emergency, clamped down on media and sacked judges.

The report also says other leading nations must act to improve their human rights records:

  • China is urged to adhere to its human rights promises and allow free speech and end "re-education through labour"
  • Russia is encouraged to show greater tolerance for political dissent, and none for impunity on human rights abuses in Chechnya
  • The EU is being asked to investigate the complicity of its member states in "renditions" of terror suspects.

'Impotence'

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Leaders are failing to protect human rights and all for the reason of money and power
Brandon, Berlin

Launching the document, Amnesty International's Secretary General Irene Khan said: "Injustice, inequality and impunity are the hallmarks of our world today.

"The human rights flashpoints in [Sudan's] Darfur, Zimbabwe, Gaza, Iraq and Myanmar [Burma] demand immediate action.

"2007 was characterised by the impotence of Western governments and the ambivalence or reluctance of emerging powers to tackle some of the world's worst human rights crises."

Ms Khan stressed that "governments must act now to close the yawning gap between promise and performance".

She said: "2008 presents an unprecedented opportunity for new leaders coming to power and countries emerging on the world stage to set a new direction and reject the myopic policies and practices that in recent years have made the world a more dangerous and divided place."

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