LONDON - The war on terror is provoking more terror, Amnesty International
Secretary-General Irene Khan told IPS in an interview Tuesday at the launch
of the human rights group's 2006
"The war on terror and the way it has unfolded actually is premised on
the principle that by eroding human rights you can reinforce security,"
Khan said. "And that is why as part of the war on terror we see restrictions
being placed on civil liberties around the world."
That has led to the establishment of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp "where
people that are considered to be dangerous by the U.S. administration are being
locked up without any charge, without any trial, indefinitely," Khan said.
"That cannot be the best way in which you fight terrorism. Because it plays
straight into the hands of those who would want to destroy human rights."
Khan added: "The proof of what I am saying is that the world is not safer
today. The number of attacks by armed groups has been going up according to
research, and empirical evidence."
Irene Khan had controversially spoken of Guantanamo Bay as the gulag of today,
referring to the infamous Soviet concentration camp. But that comparison now
stands vindicated, Khan said.
"Last year when we called for the closure of Guantanamo, there was a lot
of negative reaction from the U.S. administration, but today a year later you
even have President Bush saying he would like to close Guantanamo."
Last week, the UN committee against torture called for the closure of Guantanamo,
she said. "So what we had said last year about Guantanamo being the gulag
of our times was really that Guantanamo is the symbol of blatant superpower
abuse, just as the gulag was the symbol of superpower abuse during the Soviet
times. And from that perspective, we have been vindicated because more and more
people see Guantanamo as an iconic symbol of human rights abuse, and want to
But that dispute did mean a political brush for a human rights group. Human
rights and politics may not always be easy to separate.
"We are not a political organization; we do not promote any particular
ideology or any particular party," said Khan. "What we are doing is
we are holding all governments to account for their international obligations
on human rights."
But are the two issues easy to separate in Iraq? "What we are looking
at is the situation of the Iraqi people, the human rights of Iraqi people, and
whether those that are responsible for upholding them are doing so, and that
means looking at the Iraqi government, looking at the coalition forces, U.S.,
UK, and others, and looking at the armed groups in Iraq. In every case, there
has been a dismal failure to protect the human rights of Iraqi people."
In Iraq, she said, "We judge what is happening not on the basis of political
or military strategies, but on the basis of international standards of human
rights that have been ignored, eroded, and violated."
But is this not the consequence of political decisions? "Of course, governments
are political beings, and the decisions governments make are made for political
reasons. But it is those same governments that also have legal obligations to
respect human rights. You have to look at the human rights consequences of political
And are Western governments talking of human rights violations only where it
suits them? "Of course, we see that very much happening, we see that for
example in the context of the European Union, which has been looking at human
rights abuses elsewhere in the world, but not necessarily within the European
Union, and we see it now with the information that is coming out about renditions
and the CIA flights carrying prisoners to countries where they could be tortured."
The European Union is often silent on abuses by its own member states, Khan
said. "So clearly there are double standards, but those double standards
apply also to governments like Russia and China. Darfur is a very good example
of where they have miserably failed, because of their own oil interests, and
the arms trade with the Khartoum regime."
Despite such human rights failures, the Amnesty report points to a brighter
side of the human rights story last year.
"One of the most interesting things about last year is the contradiction
that on the one hand we have seen abuses, and despair and hopelessness, but
on the other we are also seeing some remarkable progress and signs of hope,"
On the issue of impunity, she said, over the last year both former Peruvian
president Alberto Fujimori and former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet are
now on the way to being tried. And the International Criminal Court issued the
first indictment against armed groups in North Uganda and the Democratic Republic
"We have also seen that though governments basically rejected the UN reform
package put forward by the UN secretary-general, they actually accepted his
proposals on the UN human rights machinery," Khan said. "We have a
new human rights council in place, we have seen a doubling of the budget of
the UN high commission on human rights."
In Britain, she said, the House of Lords threw out the government's claim that
they could use evidence obtained by torture by foreign officials in British
courts. "We have seen Parliament question the anti- terrorism legislation
of the government, forcing the government to modify some of the provisions there."
One of the most positive developments of last year was the mobilization of
global civil society, she said. "Think of last year's campaign against
poverty, think of the changing public mood on issues of torture. We have seen
a number of very positive things happening, but the question is the way in which
governments are still in denial."