Wednesday, May 25, 2005

What's Good for the Goose....Amnesty International Blasts US Human Rights Record

Amnesty International issued its 2005 Human Rights Report today, blasting the US on Guantanamo, rendition practices and the abuses at Abu Ghraib. The full report covers human rights practices around the world (or at least of 149 countries), and is generally respected as one of the best-sourced human rights reports available. And, unlike the annual State Department Report, it offers a thorough analysis of US human rights practices.

Here is the excerpt from foreword written by AI Secretary General Irene Kahn that aims directly at the US:

In 1973 AI published its first report on torture. It found that: '"torture thrives on secrecy and impunity. Torture rears its head when the legal barriers against it are barred. Torture feeds on discrimination and fear. Torture gains ground when official condemnation of it is less than absolute." The pictures of detainees in US custody in Abu Ghraib, Iraq, show that what was true 30 years ago remains true today. Despite the near-universal outrage generated by the photographs coming out of Abu Ghraib, and the evidence suggesting that such practices are being applied to other prisoners held by the USA in Afghanistan, Guantanamo and elsewhere, neither the US administration nor the US Congress has called for a full and independent investigation.

Instead, the US government has gone to great lengths to restrict the application of the Geneva Conventions and to "re-define" torture. It has sought to justify the use of coercive interrogation techniques, the practice of holding "ghost detainees" (people in unacknowledged incommunicado detention) and the "rendering" or handing over of prisoners to third countries known to practise torture. 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. Trials by military commissions have made a mockery of justice and due process.

The USA, as the unrivalled political, military and economic hyper-power, sets the tone for governmental behaviour worldwide. When the most powerful country in the world thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights, it grants a licence to others to commit abuse with impunity and audacity. From Israel to Uzbekistan, Egypt to Nepal, governments have openly defied human rights and international humanitarian law in the name of national security and "counter-terrorism."

In the section on the Americas, AI discusses the death penalty in the US (note that this paragraph was drafter prior to the Roper v. Simmons decision) and the failure of the US to provide notice to foreign arrestees of their rights under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations:

The USA continued to flout international human rights standards by inflicting the death penalty on child offenders, people with mental disabilities, defendants without access to effective legal representation, and foreign nationals denied their consular rights. In 2004, 59 executions were carried out by a capital justice system characterized by arbitrariness, discrimination and error. Scheduled executions of a number of child offenders were stayed pending a Supreme Court ruling on the case of a death row prisoner aged 17 at the time of the crime.

It's not all about the US, of course, though US failures make for a better headline on the press release. Among other highlights: AI criticizes the failure of the world community to act in Darfur and takes up the issue of human rights reform at the UN, noting that changes to the UN human rights machinery are needed "urgently and radically." AI also criticizes acts of terrorism and the terrorists who have "taken humanity to new depths of bestiality and brutality." Its central mission, however, is to take on state power -- particularly those states that would justify torture of any sort or water down definitions of humane treatment -- in defense of individual rights and the rule of law. AI might not be the last word on where the balance between security and rights should be struck (the report is least effective where it comments on Security Council practices and reform, nonetheless an important source of facts on who is falling short.

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