MONTREAL - Another government has seized the opportunity presented by Washington's
"war on terrorism" to justify violating the human rights of its citizens, says
a report released
Wednesday by Amnesty International (AI).
China has detained tens of thousands of people in the northwest Xinjiang Uighur
Autonomous Region (XUAR) since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks on New
York and the Pentagon, using "anti-terrorism" as its motive, says the report,
"Uighurs Fleeing Persecution as China Wages its War on Terror."
"Repression has continued in the region over the last two years, in the context
of an ongoing political and security crackdown against the so-called 'three
evils' of 'separatists, terrorists and religious extremists,' as China continues
to use 'anti-terrorism' as a pretext to suppress all forms of political or religious
dissent in the region," adds the document.
U.S. President George W. Bush launched his "war on terrorism" by attacking
Afghanistan in October 2001, blaming that country's Taliban regime and its associates
in the al-Qaeda terrorist group for the airborne 9/11 strikes that killed more
than 3,000 people in the United States.
In its pursuit of the "war," the Bush administration has passed a number of
questionable legal measures to broaden the powers of U.S. security agencies
and has ignored internationally recognized legal norms, such as when it attacked
Iraq without the support of the United Nations Security Council in March 2003.
Bush justified launching that particular campaign on the need to seize nuclear
arms and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) allegedly held by Iraqi President
Saddam Hussein. But more than a year later, those weapons are yet to be found.
As early as 2002, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) was reporting that several
countries were using Washington's war on terror as a cloak to hide increasing
It singled out Russia, Uzbekistan and Egypt as the main offenders, but said
Israel, China, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe were also using similar tactics.
It is difficult to know if more governments today are hiding behind the excuse
of terrorism to justify repression, HRW lawyer Reed Brody told IPS on Wednesday,
saying, "It has become almost a permanent part of the landscape."
He added that the phenomenon has various implications: governments are using
it to label opponents "terrorists" and treat them unlawfully, while the United
States has lost its legitimacy as an authority on human rights and justice.
"And then you see it play out in how other countries lower their voices because
of the war on terror," added Brody. For instance, "(Russian President Vladimir)
Putin and Chechnya got off the hook this year at the UN rights commission. People
are not going to be looking as closely at (countries') records if they're aligning
with the war on terror."
That could change, he suggested, if Washington severely cracks down on the
officials responsible for torture of prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq, particularly
in Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison. "If the United States would actually get to
the bottom of it and prosecute more than just the foot soldiers, I think it
might set an example."
Two senior Justice Department officials have already resigned over the scandal
after it was revealed that political appointees within the administration drafted
memos arguing that Bush had the authority to treat "enemy combatants" in the
war on terror without regard to the Geneva Conventions and other international
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court curtailed the war on terror when it ruled
the administration could not hold U.S. prisoners in a special prison in Guantanamo
Bay, Cuba without granting them the legal rights guaranteed in the constitution,
and that foreign prisoners had a right to challenge their detentions in a U.S.
AI reports that repression of the ethnic Uighur community, most of who are
Muslim, has continued since mass protests and violent riots in XUAR in 1990.
"Over the last three years, tens of thousands of people are reported to have
been detained for investigation in the region and hundreds, possibly thousands,
have been charged or sentenced under the criminal law; many Uighurs are believed
to have been sentenced to death and executed for alleged 'separatist' or 'terrorist'
offences, although the exact number is impossible to determine."
The report also says many of those arrested – although it is impossible to
glean exact numbers – are prisoners of conscience "detained solely for engaging
in peaceful acts of freedom of expression, association or other rights."
Included in the repression is growing pressure from Beijing on the governments
of nearby states to forcibly return so-called "separatists" or "terrorists,"
adds AI. One such case involved Uighur activist Shaheer Ali, who was returned
from Nepal after having been granted status as a United Nations refugee in that
country, which borders China.
"The exact date of Shaheer Ali's execution is unclear, but he was reportedly
sentenced to death in March 2003 after being convicted of various offences including
'separatism', 'organizing and leading a terrorist organization', and 'illegal
manufacture, trading and possession of weapons and explosives,'" according to
Among its recommendations, Amnesty calls on China to stop pressuring other
states to return Uighurs to their homeland. It also urges the nation's neighbors
and the United States to ensure that Uighur asylum seekers are given the full
protection of international law and to "express concern about the extensive
human rights violations currently taking place in the XUAR."