LONDON - The annual report of Amnesty International (AI) released Wednesday
holds the United States responsible for setting world standards on human rights
-- and then failing in that task.
"As the world's most powerful state, the USA sets the standard for government
behavior globally," but the US has "distinguished itself in recent
years through its defiance of international law."
Like last year, the focus was on US detentions at Guantanamo Bay. The report
said hundreds continue to be detained there, while noting that more than 100
were transferred out of that center last year.
The report was critical of US failures domestically as well. "Soldiers
refusing to serve in Iraq on grounds of conscience were imprisoned. Prisoners
continued to experience ill-treatment at the hands of police officers and prison
guards. Dozens of people died after police used tasers (electroshock weapons)
But while being critical of the position with the US on specific counts,
the thrust of the AI position was controversially that the US carries the
responsibility of setting an example to the rest of the world.
The bulk of the report collates human rights issues through 2007 in the various
country reports. Amnesty has highlighted particularly the issues with the US,
China, Russia and the EU.
On these, it made the following demands:
- China must live up to the human rights promises it made around the Olympic
Games and allow free speech and freedom of the press and end "reeducation
- The US must close the Guantánamo detention camp and secret detention
centers, prosecute the detainees under fair trial standards or release them,
and unequivocally reject the use of torture and ill-treatment.
- Russia must show greater tolerance for political dissent, and none for impunity
on human rights abuses in Chechnya. - The EU must investigate the complicity
of its member states in "renditions" of terrorist suspects and set
the same bar on human rights for its own members as it does for other countries.
"The most powerful must lead by example," said AI secretary general
Irene Khan at the launch of the report.
But the report also draws attention to severe violations in other regions.
"The human rights flashpoints in Darfur, Zimbabwe, Gaza, Iraq and Myanmar
demand immediate action," said Khan.
The AI report says that 60 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
was adopted by the United Nations, people are still tortured or ill-treated
in at least 81 countries, face unfair trials in at least 54 countries and are
not allowed to speak freely in at least 77 countries.
The report highlights the following trends through 2007: - Targeting of civilians
by armed groups and government forces with impunity; - Pervasive violence against
women; - Promotion of torture and ill-treatment as acceptable modes of intelligence
gathering; - Suppression of dissent and attacks on journalists and activists;
- Lack of protection for refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants; - Denial of
economic and social rights; and - Evasion of corporate accountability for human
Much of the Amnesty report continues as before to be based on newspaper and
other reports. This seems particularly the case with China.
"Based on public reports, Amnesty International estimated that at least
470 people were executed and 1,860 people sentenced to death during 2007 (in
China), although the true figures were believed to be much higher," the
report says. It also highlights the situation in Tibet and brings together other
publicized instances of violations.
The section on Iraq exposes acutely AIs limitations by way of investigations
on the ground. The report is really a summing up of familiar positions, and
those only as reported in mainstream media.
The report notes that "thousands of civilians, including children, were
killed or injured amid continuing sectarian and other violence. All sides involved
in the fighting committed gross human rights violations, some of which amounted
to war crimes and crimes against humanity."
On Pakistan, the report capsules the political events around the confrontation
with President Pervez Musharraf, but also blames the US for backing him. "The
hollowness of the US administration's call for democracy and freedom abroad
was displayed in its continued support of President Pervez Musharraf as he arrested
thousands of lawyers, journalists, human rights defenders and political activists,"
But while highlighting abuses of rights, the report speaks also of growing
protests against such violations.
"Black-suited lawyers in Pakistan, saffron-robed monks in Myanmar, 43.7
million individuals standing up on Oct. 17, 2007, to demand action against poverty,
all were vibrant reminders last year of a global citizenry determined to stand
up for human rights and hold their leaders to account."