The United States is treating the globe like a giant battlefield in its war on terrorism, eroding rights worldwide, a leading human rights group said Wednesday.
Amnesty International’s secretary-general, Irene Khan, said the United States' and its allies’ behavior was setting a destructive example for other nations, and that other countries were using the war on terrorism as an excuse to violate human rights and stifle dissent.
“One of the biggest blows to human rights has been the attempt of Western democratic states to roll back some fundamental principles of human rights — like the prohibition of torture,” Khan told The Associated Press, speaking before the launch of her organization’s annual report on the global state of human rights.
While Amnesty International has highlighted rights issues that have erupted since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, little of the 337-page report dealt with the terrorist threat itself or attacks linked to the al-Qaida terror network.
The report condemned the United States’ response to international terrorism, saying it had done little to reduce the threat, while deepening mistrust between Muslims and non-Muslims and undermining the rule of law. The Bush administration’s policy of extraordinary rendition — the alleged practice of secretly flying terror suspects to countries where they could be tortured — came in for particularly scathing condemnation.
“The U.S. administration’s doublespeak has been breathtakingly shameless,” the report said. “It is unrepentant about the global web of abuse it has spun in the name of counterterrorism.”
In Washington, Deputy State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the report reads more like a political document than an honest review of human rights around the world.
“It’s pretty clear that Amnesty International thought that we’d make a convenient ideological punching bag,” he said.
Khan said America’s unique position on the world stage justified the criticism.
“If we focus on the U.S. it’s because we believe that the U.S. is a country whose enormous influence and power has to be used constructively,” she said. “When countries like the U.S. are seen to undermine or ignore human rights, it sends a very powerful message to others.”
European countries were attacked for failing to challenge the U.S. rendition scheme, while U.S. allies Britain, Australia, and Japan were singled out for passing harsh new anti-terror or anti-immigration laws.
Russia in focus
Russia’s crackdown on journalists also attracted Amnesty’s ire.
“The authoritarian drift in Russia has been devastating for journalists and human rights defenders,” the report said, noting the assassination of journalist Anna Politkovskaya and new laws clamping down on rights organizations.
Khan also noted the deteriorating human rights situation in Zimbabwe and Darfur, which she called “a bleeding wound on world conscience.”
The report also criticized China’s role in shielding Sudan from U.N. action, saying that the Chinese government and companies showed little regard for their “human rights footprint” on the African continent.
The report did sound some positive notes, saying that a change of the political guard in the United States, and the growth of informal networks of activists were grounds for hope.
Khan compared Amnesty’s struggle to the fight against climate change.
“Just as global warming requires global action based on international cooperation, the human rights meltdown can only be tackled through global solidarity and respect for international law,” she said.