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EU Urged to Lead on Human Rights as U.S. Loses Moral Authority
Published on Friday, January 12, 2007 by
EU Urged to Lead on Human Rights as U.S. Loses Moral Authority
by Haider Rizvi

NEW YORK - The Bush administration's failure to address international human rights concerns has prompted an unusual call from one of the world's leading human rights organizations.

With U.S. credibility undermined by the use of torture and detention without trial, the European Union must fill the global leadership void on human rights, New York-based Human Rights Watch said Thursday in releasing its World Report 2007.

"Since the U.S. can't provide credible leadership on human rights, European countries must pick up the slack," said the organization's executive director Kenneth Roth, who observed that instead, "the European Union is punching well below its weight."

The organization urged European countries to overcome bureaucratic obstacles that leave its leaders "mired in procedures," effectively tying the hands of those seeking a tougher approach to serious rights abuses.

The call came on the day that marked five years since the United States started sending terrorism suspects to Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. military base located in Cuba.

The authors of the 556-page report, which documents worldwide violations of human rights, said the U.S. abuses against detainees in Washington's so-called "war on terror" remained a major concern, as the Bush administration continued to defend torture by referring to it as "an alternative set of [interrogation] procedures."

Though a few prisoners have been released, more than 600 people are still locked up in the Guantanamo camp, where many have complained of severe torture and inhumane and degrading treatment at the hands of their captors.

Human Rights Watch and many other rights advocacy groups made fresh calls for the closure of the camp Thursday, noting that it was "long past time" to either bring to trial or set free the detainees who remain there.

Last October, when the international community and human rights organizations demanded fair trials for the prisoners, the Republican-led U.S. Congress flatly refused to entertain such requests.

But with the change of leadership in the Congress, it seems organizations like Human Rights Watch may find some reason to be hopeful about their demands.

"The U.S. Congress must act now to remedy the worst abuses of the Bush administration," said Roth. "Without firm and principled congressional action, the loss of U.S. leadership will likely persist."

Responding to a question Wednesday, new UN chief Ban Ki-moon, like his predecessor Kofi Annan, refused to accept the Bush administration's line of reasoning on indefinite detentions.

"(The) prison at Guantanamo should be closed," he told reporters at his first-ever formal news conference. Ban is due to meet Bush at the White House next week.

In addition to its criticism of U.S. behavior, authors of the Human Rights Watch report said worldwide many human rights challenges were in need of urgent action.

That includes the killing of innocent civilians in Iraq as a result of sectarian violence and frequent abuses of human rights by repressive regimes in Burma and Turkmenistan.

While deploring the persistence of dictatorships in Saudi Arabia and Syria, the authors note that China is "moving backwards" and there has been no end to crack downs against non-governmental organizations in Russia and Egypt.

The report is also highly critical of human rights violations of various descriptions in Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Colombia, Israel, and Lebanon.

Noting that no situation is "more pressing" than the bloody crisis in Darfur, where estimates of the dead range from 200,000 to nearly half a million, the report chastised the UN Security Council for its inaction.

"Civilians in Darfur are under constant attack, and the conflict is spilling across Sudan's borders," said Roth, "yet the five permanent members of the Security Council managed little more than to produce stacks of unimplemented resolutions."

The report's authors said they noted "some positive developments" coming out of the global South, including African leaders' support for the trials of former Liberian president Charles Taylor and Chad's Hissene Habre. They also praised Latin American support for the International Criminal Court.

However, they also urged southern democracies to "do more" to protect human rights, such as breaking with abusive regional leaders to play a "more constructive role" at the UN Human Rights Council.

"Because many new democracies of the South have emerged from periods of extreme repression, whether colonialism, apartheid, or dictatorship, they could have special moral authority on human rights," Roth said. "But few have shown the consistency and commitment to emerge as real human rights leaders."

© Copyright 2007


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