WASHINGTON - The "politics of fear" are polarising the world and leading to an erosion of human rights, according to Amnesty International's annual report released Wednesday.
The report also offers a stinging rebuke to the human rights policy of the United States both at home and abroad.
"Fear thrives in myopic and cowardly leadership. There are indeed many real causes of fear but the approach being taken by many world leaders is short-sighted, promulgating policies and strategies that erode the rule of law and human rights, increase inequalities, feed racism and xenophobia, divide and damage communities, and sow the seeds for violence and more conflict," the report says.
Amnesty International, a global human rights organisation, points to Australian Prime Minister John Howard, U.S. President George W. Bush, Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir and Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe as all playing on fear among their supporters to help them push their own political agendas and, in many cases, expand and strengthen their political power.
"Through short-sighted, fear-mongering and divisive policies, governments are undermining the rule of law and human rights, feeding racisms and xenophobia, dividing communities, intensifying inequalities and sowing the seeds for more violence and conflict," said Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International.
In both developed and emerging economies, the fear of marginalisation and "being invaded by the poor" has led to increasingly tough measures against immigrants, in violation of international human rights.
In Western Europe, fear of uncontrolled migration has been used to justify strict laws against asylum-seekers and refugees and migrant workers continue to be discriminated against around the world, from South Korea to the Dominican Republic, says Amnesty.
Violence between Muslims and non-Muslims, including incidents of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, increased over the past year, largely fueled by discriminatory counter-terrorism strategies in Western countries. "Increasing polarisation has strengthened the hands of extremists at both ends of the spectrum, reducing the space for tolerance and dissent," the report says.
The United States and Russia were cited as two of the biggest abusers of freedom of expression, with the fear of dissent used to justify crackdowns on free speech and due process.
Of particular concern was the U.S.-run prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba where in 2006, 200 detainees were force-fed to end a hunger strike and three men were reported to have committed suicide, which the U.S. taskforce commander at Guantanamo described as "asymmetrical warfare".
Amnesty also cited the use of CIA "black sites" -- secret prisons -- forced renditions and torture as contraventions of international and U.S. laws.
In Russia, the authoritarian crackdown on journalists has been accompanied by a controversial law to regulate the funding and activities of various NGOs.
When Amnesty International, along with several other international NGOs met with Russian President Vladimir Putin regarding the new law, he responded, "We did not pass this law to have it repealed," reports Amnesty.
"Increasing polarisation and heightened fears about national security reduced the space for tolerance and dissent. Around the world, from Iran to Zimbabwe, many independent voices on human rights were silenced in 2006," said Khan.
The report finds that freedom for women has suffered from the "war on terror", which has led to a general backlash against human rights and a backtracking in women's rights resulting from the environment of fear and religious fundamentalism.
Amnesty makes a specific point of singling out the Bush administration's role in using the "war on terror" to justify widespread human rights abuses and "treat(ing) the world as one big battlefield".
"The U.S. administration remains deaf to the worldwide calls for closing down Guantanamo. It is unrepentant about the global web of abuse it has spun in the name of counter-terrorism. It is oblivious to the distress of thousands of detainees and their families, the damage to the rule of international law and human rights, and the destruction of its own moral authority, which has plummeted to an all-time low around the world while the levels of insecurity remain as high as ever," says the report.
Hopeful news is emerging, says Amnesty, evidenced by European demands for transparency and accountability in renditions, U.N. agreement to develop a treaty to control conventional arms and new leadership in a range of countries.
"A new (U.S.) Congress could take the lead in setting the trend, restoring respect for human rights at home and abroad," said Khan. "Just as global warming requires global action based on international cooperation, the human rights meltdown can only be tackled through global solidarity and respect for international law."
"The global mood, the result of such unending tragedies as the conflict in Iraq, the repression of freedoms in China and the humanitarian crisis in Sudan, is bleak at best," said Amnesty International's executive director, Larry Cox.
"For many victims, advocates and human rights defenders, the United States has always been a beacon of hope and a leader in justice," he said. "Now is not the time for a few improvements at home but for colossal actions that carry the world forward in the name of human rights."
Copyright © 2007 IPS-Inter Press Service