AP, Jan. 14, 2003
BY HARRY DUNPHY, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP)–The U.S. government’s willingness to compromise on human rights to fight terrorism sets a dangerous precedent and drives away some nations from joining that war, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.
The private group said U.S. support for human rights in countries that are critical to the anti-terrorism campaign was at best inconsistent and at worst completely muted.
In several key countries involved in the war against terrorism, such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the 558-page report said, even rhetorical U.S. support for human rights has been rare, often nothing more than the State Department’s annual global human rights report.
Department spokesman Richard Boucher, answering a question about the report, said the United States worked to promote democracy and freedom around the world, “in fact it’s been an integral part of helping strengthen societies in the fight against terrorism.”
He said in the Middle East the United States supported calls by Arab leaders and scholars for reform and more openness.
Human Rights Watch also said the United States’ reading of the 1949 Geneva Convention “effectively placed those captured abroad and detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in a type of legal black hole _ a form of long-term arbitrary detention at odds with international requirements.”
The report said this was an example of the United States refusing to be bound by the standards it preaches to others, undermining its authority as a proponent of human rights.
Boucher said the United States was treating detainees at Guantanamo in line with the Geneva Convention.
The report covers human rights in 58 countries. It identifies positive trends such as the formal end to wars in Angola and Sierra Leone, peace talks in Sri Lanka and independence for East Timor.
Negative developments include the continued killings of civilians in wars from Colombia to Chechnya, from Congo to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The report said governments continued highly repressive policies in Myanmar, China, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Liberia and Vietnam.
“The United States is far from the world’s worst human rights abuser,” said Kenneth Roth, the group’s executive director. “But Washington has so much power that when it flouts human rights standards, it damages the human rights cause worldwide.”
The report said that in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States clearly needed to take extra security measures.
“But the U.S. government must also pay attention to the pathology of terrorism, the set of beliefs that leads some people to join in attacking civilians,” it said. “A strong human rights culture is an antidote to this pathology but in too many places Washington sees human rights mainly as an obstacle to its goals.”
Human Rights Watch is an international monitoring group based in New York.
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