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US leads global attack on human rights
Updated: 2005-05-25 22:07

LONDON - Four years after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, human rights are in retreat worldwide and the United States bears most responsibility, rights watchdog Amnesty International said on Wednesday.

U.S. Army PFC Lynndie England (L) is escorted to the courthouse for the start of her Article 32 hearing at Fort Hood, Texas, May 24, 2005. [Reuters]
From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe the picture is bleak. Governments are increasingly rolling back the rule of law, taking their cue from the U.S.-led war on terror, it said.

"The USA as the unrivalled political, military and economic hyper-power sets the tone for governmental behavior worldwide," Secretary General Irene Khan said in the foreword to Amnesty International's 2005 annual report.

"When the most powerful country in the world thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights, it grants a license to others to commit abuse with impunity," she added.

London-based Amnesty cited the pictures last year of abuse of detainees at Iraq's U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison, which it said were never adequately investigated, and the detention without trial of "enemy combatants" at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.

"The detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has become the gulag of our times, entrenching the practice of arbitrary and indefinite detention in violation of international law," Khan said.

Accused at a news conference of being too harsh on the United States, Khan replied that the facts spoke for themselves.

Hundreds of people were being held in Guantanamo and the U.S. airbase at Bagram in Afghanistan -- some for more than three years -- without either charge or trial and no access to legal representation.

"By actively undermining human rights the United States, the European Union and others have actually made the security situation worse," she said.

She also noted Washington's attempts to circumvent its own ban on the use of torture.

"The U.S. government has gone to great lengths to restrict the application of the Geneva Convention and to 're-define' torture," she said, citing the secret detention of suspects and the practice of handing some over to countries where torture was not outlawed.

"Governments are trying to subcontract torture. Justice is not just being denied it is being diverted," she said. "To argue that torture is warranted is to push us back to the Middle Ages."

The new governmental agenda on human rights and the rule of law was now "erode where you can, select if you must and subvert at will," Khan said.

President Bush often said his country was founded on and dedicated to the cause of human dignity -- but there was a gulf between rhetoric and reality, Amnesty found.


But the United States was by no means the sole or even the worst offender as murder, mayhem and abuse of women and children spread to the four corners of the globe, Khan said, citing Colombia, Sudan and Zimbabwe among a host of others.

The increasingly blurred distinction between the war on terror and the war on drugs prompted governments across Latin America to use troops to tackle crimes traditionally handled by police, the report said.

In Asia too, the war on terror was blamed for increasing state repression, adding to the woes of societies already worn down by poverty, it added.

Africa too remained riven by regional wars and political repression, and the abject failure of the international community to take concerted action to end the slaughter in Sudan's vast Darfur region was a cause of shame.

Khan also condemned the United Nations Commission on Human Rights for failing to stand up for those supposedly in its care.

"The U.N. Commission of Human Rights has become a forum for horse-trading on human rights," she said. "Last year the Commission dropped Iraq from scrutiny, could not agree on action on Chechnya, Nepal or Zimbabwe and was silent on Guantanamo Bay."

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