Carter: U.S. human rights missteps embolden foreign dictators

Perceived human rights violations by the United States during the war on terrorism could allow dictators in other nations to justify their own abuses, former President Jimmy Carter and other activists said Tuesday.

America vs. Human Rights
“The United States has long regarded itself as a beacon of human rights, as evidenced by an enlightened constitution, judicial independence, and a civil society grounded in strong traditions of free speech and press freedom. But the reality is more complex; for decades, civil rights and civil liberties groups have exposed constitutional violations and challenged abusive policies and practices. In recent years, as well, international human rights monitors have documented serious gaps in U.S. protections of the human rights of vulnerable groups. Both federal and state governments have nonetheless resisted applying to the U.S. the standards that, rightly, the U.S. applies elsewhere.”
Human Rights Watch

Opening a conference of international human rights workers, Carter said the erosion of civil liberties in the U.S. has given a blank check to nations who are inclined to violate human rights already.

He cited the indefinite detention of hundreds of terrorism suspects from Afghanistan at the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo and a post-Sept. 11 roundup of roughly 1,200 U.S. immigrants _ many of whom were held for months without being formally charged with any crime.

I say this because this is a violation of the basic character of my country and its very disturbing to me, Carter said.

The Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider whether foreigners held at the Navy base in Cuba should have access to American courts.

The Bush administration has cited World War II-era laws stating that foreign prisoners detained during wartime have no right to access federal courts.

Attorney General John Ashcroft has argued that the 2001 Patriot Act _ which the administration is asking Congress to expand further _ has helped the Justice Department prevent more terrorist attacks.

The conference, which began Tuesday at The Carter Center, attracted more than 40 human rights activists from across the world, including United Nations acting High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertran Ramcharan.

Attendees planned to craft what on Tuesday was being called The Atlanta Declaration _ a document calling for renewed attention to human rights as nations craft anti-terrorism laws.

Activists say some governments are using those laws to crack down on dissidents and human rights defenders.

Carter said representatives from the conference will travel to Washington and New York to present recommendations to the U.S. Secretary of States office and the United Nations.

Egyptian activist Saad Ibrahim, a professor at the American University in Cairo who has been persecuted for his work, said the United States should not be singled out for criticism, but that U.S. actions cast a long shadow over the rest of the globe.

The United States is very important because whatever the United States does has repercussions all over, said Ibrahim, who was jailed for seven years after exposing fraud in the Egyptian election process. Every dictator in the world is using what the United States has done under the Patriot Act … to justify their past violations of human rights and to declare a license to continue to violate human rights.

Carter said the U.S. remains a safe harbor for human rights compared to other countries. He pointed out that free speech is still championed, even for those who, like himself, criticize government policies.

Our country still protects the rights of people like me and Al Gore to bring up these principles, he said, referring to a speech the former vice president delivered Monday, in which he said the Bush White House is using the Sept. 11 attacks to justify an offensive against American freedoms and liberties.

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