Amnesty: World must act on rights
Human rights group says world powers must set example on issue or face global chaos.
Last Modified: 28 May 2008 19:24 GMT
Irene Khan, general-secretary of Amnesty, urged the next US president to close Guantanamo Bay [EPA]
Amnesty International, a human rights group, has said that 60 years after world leaders signed the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, their record on the issue is dismal and that urgent action is needed to prevent global chaos.
In its annual report, Amnesty said: "There is a growing demand from people for justice, freedom and equality."
The London-based organisation called on several world powers, including the United States, China and the European Union to set an example on the issue.
Amnesty challenged the countries "to set a new paradigm for collective leadership based on the principles of the [declaration]".
"What we would like governments to do is get out of the state of denial. An apology is a means of getting out of the state of denial. They should then recommit themselves to take action to correct [their past actions]," Irene Khan, Amnesty's secretary-general, told Al Jazeera.
"We identify attacks on civilians during armed conflict. Civilians become fair game; sexual violence and rape is used as a weapon of war; we find criminal justice systems that are being manipulated, secretive and which fail to deliver justice," she said.
"We also identify enormous denial or economic and social rights, of people being pushed into poverty and trapped there because of discrimination, because of abusive power."
'Moral compass'
The report, published on Wednesday, said the US had failed to take a moral lead for its international peers to follow.

Human rights report

Amnesty's 2008 report

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This year it criticised Washington for supporting Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president, when he imposed a state of emergency, imposed media restrictions and sacked judges.

The report said: "As the world's most powerful state, the USA sets the standard for government behaviour globally. [The US] has distinguished itself in recent years through its defiance of international law."

As in the past, the US detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was criticised by Amnesty.

In the report, Khan urged the next US president, due to be elected in November, to announce Guantanamo's closure on December 10, 2008, the 60th anniversary of the UN declaration.

The US state department made no immediate comment on the report, but it has previously complained that the group uses the US as "a convenient ideological punching bag".

Activists persecuted

The report also criticised China's record on human rights, saying the Chinese government continues to persecute human rights activists.

It said Beijing had continued shipping weapons to Sudan in defiance of a UN arms embargo and was trading with countries accused of rights abuses, such as Myanmar and Zimbabwe.

Amnesty said China continued to persecute
human rights activists [AFP]

It noted that what it called China's suppressive media censorship remains in place.

Amnesty also accused China of expanding its "re-education through labour" programme, which allows the government to arrest people and sentence them to manual labour without trial.

But the report said that it had detected a shift in China's position.

It pointed out that in 2007, the country persuaded the Sudanese government to allow UN peacekeepers into Darfur and pressured Myanmar to accept the visit of a UN special envoy.

Khan said: "China is clearly a global power... With that comes global responsibility for human rights. It needs to recognise that economic growth is not enough."

China has rejected previous such reports and says its human rights record has improved in recent years.

Khan told Al Jazeera that civilians in Africa were also subject to human rights abuses.

"I have been to Darfur three years ago. We met women who have been raped, we met people who have been displaced because their villages were burned down. That situation continues to this day," she said.

"In Zimbabwe we see violence against political opponents, against dissidents. Since March we have recorded 1,500 cases of people who have needed hospital care for being beaten up."

Europe warned

With regard to Russia, Amnesty expressed concern about human rights in the country, emphasising a rise in race discrimination.

The group said that the right to freedom of assemblies and associations had come "under a lot of pressure" over the last couple of years.

The report also said the European Union must investigate its member states' alleged involvement in "extraordinary renditions" of terror suspects.

The EU should set the same bar on human rights for its own members as it does for other countries, the report said.

The organisation said that people across the world are still tortured or ill-treated in at least 81 countries, that men and women face unfair trials in at least 54 countries and that they are denied free speech in at least 77.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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