The United States-led anti-terrorist campaign, which followed the devastating attacks on New York and Washington September 11, is threatening human rights in many countries, including the United States itself, according to a review of 2001 released Wednesday by Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Many repressive governments around the world have used the campaign as a way to justify cracking down on their peaceful opposition, while others have offered Washington their co-operation--including the use of their military facilities--in exchange for aid and other help in propping up their rule, according to the group's 'World Report 2002.'
And the United States and Western Europe have taken their own anti-terrorism measures at the expense of civil liberties and long-held principles of human rights, the report says.
"Terrorists believe that anything goes in the name of their cause," said Kenneth Roth, HRW's executive director. "The fight against terror must not buy into that logic. Human rights principles must not be compromised in the name of any cause."
The 670-page report, which covers 66 countries worldwide and includes special chapters on U.S. and European policy, refugees, corporate responsibility, and women's and children's rights, among other issues, notes a number of important advances for human rights around the world last year, particularly in the area of accountability for past
Among these were the surrender of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, the indictment in Chile of former President Augusto Pinochet, and the judicial lifting of Argentina's amnesty laws that had protected top officials of the former military junta.
The report also applauded the entry into force of an international treaty outlawing the use of child soldiers, and noted that the International Criminal Court (ICC)--which will prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity--is likely to come into existence very
soon, as 47 countries have now ratified its underlying treaty, with only 13 more required for it to take effect.
It also called the collapse of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan "an opportunity for positive change," particularly for women's rights, but urged the new authorities and their international backers to ensure that warlords and others responsible for past atrocities be kept out of power.
The year also witnessed setbacks to the human rights cause, the report found.
Prosecutions of the perpetrators of grave abuses in Cambodia, Sierra Leone, and East Timor --based on pledges made by the United Nations --made little or no progress.
In addition, continued warfare and political violence in Algeria, Angola, Burundi, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, and Sudan claimed the lives of thousands of innocent civilians during the year, even if much of the world failed to notice, particularly after September 11.
The report is particularly scathing about the U.S.-led anti-terrorist campaign which, it said, "risks reinforcing the logic of terrorism unless human rights are given a far more central role."
Washington has mostly stood by silently while repressive governments, such as China and Egypt, have used the war against terrorism to justify their own abuses against political dissidents.
Similarly, it has been reluctant to criticize Russia's brutal counter-insurgency war in Chechnya or Israel's harsh measures against Palestinians in the occupied territories in light of the two government's efforts to depict their struggles as part of the larger anti-terrorist struggle.
"Rebel or insurgent attacks on civilians are condemned, but government attacks on civilians--especially attacks by key government allies--are ignored," according to the report which charges that such inconsistencies only undermine Washington's credibility as a force for human rights.
That applies with special force in the Middle East and North Africa, the region that has drawn the most recruits to the al-Qaeda network, according to the report.
Key regional allies, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, that have resisted political reform have left their people "with the desperate choice of tolerating the status quo, exile, or violence." Washington's failure to use its leverage with their governments has contributed to the region's radicalization, the report argued.
At the same time, measures taken by Washington to fight terrorism at home--including authorizing the creation of military commissions to try al-Qaeda leaders, and singling out Arab and Muslim immigrants for special scrutiny by law enforcement agencies--have also undermined its ability to criticize abuses elsewhere, according to HRW.
Copyright © 2002 IPS-Inter Press Service