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War on Terror ‘Undermining Human Rights’
Published on Tuesday, May 23, 2006 by Financial Times
War on Terror ‘Undermining Human Rights’
by Sarah Witt

Governments and international institutions have turned a blind eye to massive human rights violations and “sacrificed principles in the name of the war on terror,” Amnesty International said on Tuesday.

In its annual report, the London-based human rights watchdog said the security agenda of the powerful and privileged had diverted the world’s attention from serious human rights crises elsewhere.

Criticising western governments, Irene Khan, Amnesty’s secretary general, said: “When the UK remains muted on arbitrary detention and ill-treatment in Guantánamo, when the US ignores prohibition on torture, when European governments are mute about their record on renditions, racism or refugees, they undermine their own moral authority to champion human rights elsewhere in the world.“

While the report covers the past twelve months, the British government has recently called on the US to close the Guantánamo Bay detention centre, which prime minister Tony Blair branded an “anomaly”.

The United Nations also came in for censure. According to the report the UN had failed to monitor the human rights performance of China and Russia “allowing their political and economic interests to prevail over human rights concerns domestically or internationally.“

“Those who bear the greatest responsibility for safeguarding global security in the Security Council proved in 2005 to be the most willing to paralyse the Council and prevent it from taking effective action on human rights,“ Ms Khan said.

Amnesty said attacks by armed groups reached new levels of brutality and intensity in 2005 but insisted the perpetrators should be brought to justice through fair trial, not torture or secret detention. The “war on terror” was failing, the report claimed, and would continue to fail “unless human rights and human security are given prededence over narrow security interests.”

The 288-page document said torture and ill-treatment was reported in 104 of the 150 countries covered by the survey, despite the fact that 141 countries were party to the UN convention against torture and other ill-treatment.

Highlighting the continuing conflict in Darfur, which she described as “staggering in scale”, Ms Khan said the UN and the African Union’s “feeble action” had fallen “pathetically short” of what was needed. There had been 13 Security Council resolutions on Darfur but the number of UN peacekeepers deployed there was zero. 2.2m people had been displaced by the conflict and an estimated 285,000 killed by starvation, disease and violence.

The report also scrutinised America’s continued use of Guantánamo Bay to hold detainees without trial. Amnesty said 759 people had been held at the camp in Cuba since January 2002, including at least two juveniles, yet none of the prisoners had been convicted of a criminal offence.

In an otherwise damning overview of international human rights, Amnesty saw some signs of progress. It hailed the first-ever indictments from the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Uganda. It also welcomed the fact that in the past year powerful governments had been “called to account by their courts and public institutions.”

It cited the UK, where the High Court rejected the government’s plan to use evidence extracted under torture in other countries and investigations by the Council of Europe and the European parliament into European involvement in the US-led “renditions” - unlawful transfer of prisoners to countries where they would be at risk of torture.

Other grounds for optimism were the falling number of overall global conflicts in places like Angola, Liberia and Sierra Leone; the crowds that turned out to urge the G8 to “Make poverty history” and the “outpouring of support” from ordinary people to the victims of natural disasters.

Copyright © 2006 Financial Times


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