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Amnesty slams U.S. on human rights

Wednesday, May 25, 2005 Posted: 6:42 AM EDT (1042 GMT)

LONDON, May 25 (Reuters) -- Four years after the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, human rights are in retreat worldwide and the United States bears most responsibility, rights watchdog Amnesty International said on Wednesday.

From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe the picture is bleak. Governments are increasingly rolling back the rule of law, taking their cue from the U.S.-led war on terror, it said.

"The USA as the unrivalled political, military and economic hyper-power sets the tone for governmental behavior worldwide," Secretary General Irene Khan said in the foreword to Amnesty International's 2005 annual report.

"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," she said.

London-based Amnesty cited the pictures last year of abuse of detainees at Iraq's U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison, which it said were never adequately investigated, and the detention without trial of "enemy combatants" at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.

"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," Khan said.

She also noted Washington's attempts to circumvent its own ban on the use of torture.

"The U.S. government has gone to great lengths to restrict the application of the Geneva Convention and to 're-define' torture," she said, citing the secret detention of suspects and the practice of handing some over to countries where torture was not outlawed.

U.S. President George W. Bush often said his country was founded on and dedicated to the cause of human dignity -- but there was a gulf between rhetoric and reality, Amnesty found.

"During his first term in office, the USA proved to be far from the global human rights champion it proclaimed itself to be," the report said, citing Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.

'Blurred distinction'

But the United States was by no means the sole or even the worst offender as murder, mayhem and abuse of women and children spread to the four corners of the globe, Amnesty said.

"The human rights abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan were far from being the only negative repercussions of the response to the terrible events of Sept. 11, 2001.

"Since that day, the framework of international human rights standards has been attacked and undermined by both governments and armed groups," Amnesty said.

The increasingly blurred distinction between the war on terror and the war on drugs prompted governments across Latin America to use troops to tackle crimes traditionally handled by police, the report said.

In Asia too, the war on terror was blamed for increasing state repression, adding to the woes of societies already worn down by poverty, discrimination against minorities, a string of low-intensity conflicts and politicization of aid, it added.

Africa too remained riven by regional wars and political repression, and the abject failure of the international community to take concerted action to end the slaughter in Sudan's vast Darfur region was a cause of shame.

Khan also condemned the United Nations Commission on Human Rights for failing to stand up for those supposedly in its care.

"The U.N. Commission of Human Rights has become a forum for horse-trading on human rights," she said. "Last year the Commission dropped Iraq from scrutiny, could not agree on action on Chechnya, Nepal or Zimbabwe and was silent on Guantanamo Bay."


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i'm usually the last one to side with the US' foreign policies these days...but how the fuck is the US worse than Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe, Sudan, China, Myanmar, or Iran? :confused:

Thank you.

I call bullshit on this whole report. War has been a reality since the beginning of time, and shameful acts have always been committed. Yes, even by American soldiers. But Abu Ghraib was an isolated incident, in my opinion, and the detention at Gitmo is nothing compared to what has been done in the past and what continues to go on in some parts of the world today.

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"One way or the other, we are determined to deny Iraq the capacity to

develop weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them. That

is our bottom line."

- President Clinton, Feb. 4, 1998

"If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We

want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass

destruction program."

- President Clinton, Feb. 17, 1998

"Iraq is a long way from [here], but what happens there matters a great deal

here. For the risks that the leaders of a rogue state will use nuclear,

chemical or biological weapons against us or our allies is the greatest


threat we face."

- Madeline Albright, Feb 18, 1998

"He will use those weapons of mass destruction again, as he has ten times

since 1983." S

- Sandy Berger, Clinton National Security Adviser, Feb, 18, 1998

"[W]e urge you, after consulting with Congress, and consistent with the U.S.

Constitution and laws, to take necessary actions (including, if appropriate,

air and missile strikes on suspect Iraqi sites) to respond effectively to

the threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction


- Letter to President Clinton, signed by Sens. Carl Levin, Tom Daschle, John

Kerry, and others Oct. 9, 1998

"Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass

destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region and he

has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process."

- Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D, CA), Dec. 16, 1998

"Hussein has ... chosen to spend his money on building weapons of mass

destruction and palaces for his cronies."

- Madeline Albright, Clinton Secretary of State, Nov. 10, 1999

"There is no doubt that ... Saddam Hussein has invigorated his weapons

programs. Reports indicate that biological, chemical and nuclear programs

continue apace and may be back to pre-Gulf War status. In addition, Saddam

continues to redefine delivery systems and is doubtless using the cover of a

licit missile program to develop longer-range missiles that will threaten

the United

States and our allies."

- Letter to President Bush, Signed by Sen. Bob Graham (D, FL,) and others,

December 5, 2001

"We begin with the common belief that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and a

threat to the peace and stability of the region. He has ignored the

mandated of the United Nations and is building weapons of mass destruction

and the means of delivering them."

- Sen. Carl Levin (D, MI), Sept. 19, 2002

"We know that he has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical

weapons throughout his country."

- Al Gore, Sept. 23, 2002

"Iraq's search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to

deter and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in


- Al Gore, Sept. 23, 2002

"We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing

weapons of mass destruction."

- Sen. Ted Kennedy (D, MA), Sept. 27, 2002

"The last UN weapons inspectors left Iraq in October of 1998. We are

confident that Saddam Hussein retains some stockpiles of chemical and

biological weapons, and that he has since embarked on a crash course to

build up his chemical and biological warfare capabilities. Intelligence

reports indicate that he is seeking nuclear weapons..."

- Sen. Robert Byrd (D, WV), Oct. 3, 2002

"I will be voting to give the President of the United States the authority

to use force-- if necessary-- to disarm Saddam Hussein because I believe

that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a real


grave threat to our security."

- Sen. John F. Kerry (D, MA), Oct. 9, 2002

"There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively

to develop nuclear weapons and will likely have nuclear weapons within the

next five years . We also should remember we have always underestimated

the progress Saddam has made in development of weapons of mass destruction."

- Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D, WV), Oct 10, 2002

"He has systematically violated, over the course of the past 11 years, every

significant UN resolution that has demanded that he disarm and destroy his

chemical and biological weapons, and any nuclear capacity. This he has

refused to do" Rep.

- Henry Waxman (D, CA), Oct. 10, 2002

"In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that

Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weap ons

stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has


given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members

.. It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will

continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare,

and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons."

- Sen. Hillary Clinton (D, NY), Oct 10, 2002

"We are in possession of what I think to be compelling evidence that Saddam

Hussein has, and has had for a number of years, a developing capacity for

the production and storage of weapons of mass destruction."

- Sen. Bob Graham (D, FL), Dec. 8, 2002

"Without question, we need to disarm Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal,

murderous dictator, leading an oppressive regime ... He presents a

particularly grievous threat because he is so consistently prone to

miscalculation ... And now he is miscalculating America's response to his

continued deceit and his consistent grasp for weapons of mass destruction

... So the threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real


- Sen. John F. Kerry (D, MA), Jan. 23. 2003

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John Podhoretz


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May 27, 2005 -- CAN it be? Did Amnesty In ternational, which purports to be the world's leading in dependent monitor of human rights abuses, describe the U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay as "the gulag of our times"?

Yes, it did. So let's do a few comparisons between Gitmo and the Gulag — the network of Soviet prison camps set up by Stalin in the 1920s.

Number of prisoners at Gitmo: approximately 600.

Number of prisoners in the Gulag: as many as 25 million, according to the peerless Gulag historian Anne Applebaum.

Number of camps at Gitmo: 1

Number of camps in the Gulag: At least 476, according to Applebaum.

Political purpose of Gulag: The suppression of internal dissent inside a totalitarian state.

Political purpose of Gitmo: The suppression of an international terrorist group that had attacked the United States, killing 3,000 people while attempting to decapitate the national government through the hijack of airplanes.

Financial purpose of Gulag: Providing totalitarian economy with millions of slave laborers.

Financial purpose of Gitmo: None.

Seizure of Gulag prisoners: From apartments, homes, street corners inside the Soviet Union.

Seizure of Gitmo prisoners: From battlefield sites in Afghanistan in the midst of war.

Interestingly enough, even the most damaging charge Amnesty International levels against the United States and its conduct at Gitmo — that our government has been guilty of "entrenching the practice of arbitrary and indefinite detention in violation of international law" — bears no relation to the way things worked when it came to the Gulag. Soviet prisoners were charged, tried and convicted in courts of law according to the Soviet legal code.

For this reason, Gulag prisoners like Vladimir Bukovsky and Anatoly Shcharansky (later Natan Sharansky) were able to gum up the Soviet legal works by using the letter of Soviet law against their captors and tormentors.

The problem with the Gulag wasn't that the letter of the law wasn't followed — that the prisoners were given "arbitrary and indefinite" sentences. It's that the charges were trumped up and confessions were coerced.

The situation at Gitmo is entirely different. No one argues that, at the very least, the vast majority of those imprisoned there were, in fact, al Qaeda personnel. The problem, according to those who scream about the unfairness at Gitmo, is that the prisoners aren't being treated as lawful combatants under the terms of the Geneva Convention or as prisoners of war.

They have been handled under special terms because they are stateless — because they granted their allegiance not to a country but to a terrorist group and because their nations of origin wouldn't have wanted them back, would have killed them if they had been returned there or would have foolishly released them to foment further terrorist activity.

The people who work at Amnesty International surely know something of the history of the Gulag. After all, the group was founded in part to serve as a watchdog of Communist human-rights abuse. They surely know that even though they might consider the American camp at Guantanamo Bay a terrible violation of human rights, it is a speck on a speck of a mote of dust compared to the Everest of horror that was the Soviet Gulag.

On the other hand, maybe not. Maybe the people who work at Amnesty International really do think that the imprisonment of 600 certain or suspected terrorists is tantamount to the imprisonment of 25 million slaves.

The case of Amnesty International proves that well-meaning people can make morality their life's work and still be little more than moral idiots

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May 27, 2005, 8:04 a.m.

Amnesty Unbelievable

The human-rights organization plays anti-American politics.

By David B. Rivkin Jr. & Lee A. Casey

Amnesty International’s 2005 “Report†on worldwide human rights was released this week, and its contents have justly outraged Americans who support U.S. efforts in the war on terror — including the Washington Post which noted that Amnesty had “lost its bearings†and joined “in the partisan fracas that nowadays passes for political discourse.†Among other things, the report accuses the United States of “war crimes,†and openly compares the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with the Gulag Archipelago. In addition, the executive director of Amnesty International USA has called on foreign governments to seize and prosecute American officials traveling abroad, just as a Spanish judge attempted to prosecute former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998. In fact, the report says much more about the nature of Amnesty International — and the agenda of similar left-wing nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) — than it does about the human-rights record of the United States.

The Rule of Amnesty Law

First and foremost, Amnesty’s report is emphatically not an honest assessment of American compliance with international law. Rather, it is an assessment of how well the United States complies with Amnesty International’s political and ideological agenda — equivalent to the grading of individual members of Congress by domestic advocacy groups. This is obvious from the report’s three fundamental measures of a good human-rights record, which are applied to every included state: (1) whether the death penalty has been retained; (2) whether the International Criminal Court treaty has been ratified; and (3) whether the U.N. Women’s Convention, and its Optional Protocol, has been ratified. All of these criteria involve controversial political issues where there is fundamental disagreement between right and left and — from Amnesty’s perspective — George Bush’s America fails on all counts. This, of course, is what you would expect, since the president is a conservative, elected by increasingly conservative American voters.

With respect to the war on terror, Amnesty’s principal complaint is that “[h]undreds of detainees continue to be held without charge or trial at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.†This, of course, is the installation that Amnesty’s secretary general, Irene Khan, characterized as “the gulag of our times.†Khan is either profoundly ignorant of the actual gulag, where Communist regimes “re-educated†political dissidents through murderous hard labor, starvation diets, and exposure to the elements, or engaging in highly improvident hyperbole. It is most likely the latter. (As the Washington Post editorialized, the “modern equivalent†of the gulag can be found not at Guantanamo Bay, but in Castro’s Cuba, North Korea, China and, until recently, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.) In a calmer moment, Khan might reflect that comparing American policies with which she disagrees to genuine atrocities committed by some of the most vicious and repressive regimes in history effectively trivializes the actions of those regimes.

We're At War

Of course, the men held at Guantanamo Bay are not political dissidents. They are captured enemy combatants. Under the laws of war, they can be detained until the conflict, or at least actual hostilities, are concluded. This has been the practice of the United States, and of every other major power in Europe and elsewhere, for centuries. It is not illegal; it is not immoral. In fact, this rule is one of the first and most important humanitarian advances made in warfare. The right to detain is the necessary concomitant of the obligation to give quarter on the battlefield, to actually take prisoners alive.

To be fair, Amnesty International knows this. (Indeed, it restated the traditional rule in the report’s chapter on Morocco, which notes that the rebel Polisario Front was obliged “nder international humanitarian law†to release its government prisoners when hostilities ended in 1991.) What Amnesty is really saying is that, in its view, America’s fight against al Qaeda is not an armed conflict, to which the laws of war apply, but a criminal-enforcement matter where the rights to a speedy, civilian trial are applicable. This is evident in the report’s description of the Guantanamo detainees as individuals “held without charge or trial . . . on the grounds of possible links to al-Qa’ida or the former Taleban government of Afghanistan.†Despite the fact that the vast majority of detainees at Guantanamo were captured on the battlefield, in arms against the United States or its allies, this “criminal enforcement†view is widely held on the Left. It is also a historical and legally incorrect.

The American military was deployed against al Qaeda, and its Taliban allies, in accordance with a specific congressional authorization (dated September 18, 2001) for the use of force. As the Supreme Court recognized as early as the 1798-1801 “undeclared†or “quasi†naval war with France, the United States can be at war without a formal declaration. In addition, as the Court also ruled — in cases dealing with Indian tribes — the United States can be at war with a non-state. Both of these rules are fully consistent with the requirements of international law. States can be engaged in an “armed conflict†with non-state actors.

Indeed, Amnesty’s insistence on applying a criminal-law model to captured al Qaeda and Taliban members is particularly ironic, since similar advocacy groups, like the International Committee of the Red Cross, spent much of the later 20th century promoting rules that applied the laws of war to non-state actors, albeit with special privileges and advantages for irregular forces. Their goal at the time was precisely to avoid the criminal trial and punishment, including imposition of the death penalty, on captured members of “national liberation movements.†For its part, the United States properly resisted efforts to grant special privileges to guerillas and terrorists. It remains fully entitled to rely on the customary law of war in combating al Qaeda — and in classifying that group as “unprivileged†or “unlawful†combatants who do not qualify for prisoner of war (POW) status upon capture.

POW status, as defined in the 1949 Geneva Conventions, requires treatment — in terms of food, clothing, shelter, and medical attention — on a par with the detaining power’s own armed forces, along with an array of other privileges designed to make captivity as pleasant as circumstances permit. Captured unlawful combatants are not entitled to POW status because such men are associated with groups that do not comply with even the most basic law of war requirements — such as the prohibition on targeting civilians. They do not enjoy special privileges under the Geneva Conventions, although customary international law provides that they must be treated humanely. That, of course, is exactly what President Bush ordered — clearly and unequivocally.

To be sure, his orders have not always been obeyed. There have been instances of prisoner abuse, at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. The armed forces are a human institution and, like any such institution, there are flaws. That is why we have an elaborate and highly responsive military-justice system. Investigations are ongoing, prosecutions have been brought, and some individuals have already been punished. In fact, the record of human-rights compliance so far compiled by the United States Armed Forces in the war on terror has been exemplary. Tens of thousands of individuals have been captured and processed by American forces. There have been a few hundred allegations of abuse, and only a few dozen documented cases.

Playing Politics

In light of this record, suggestions, like those made by Amnesty International and its U.S. executive director, that American officials should be prosecuted for war crimes are gratuitous, and show the left at its very worst — at its most willing to criminalize political and policy differences. This is especially true with respect to Amnesty’s claims that the “US administration had sanctioned interrogation techniques that violated the U.N. Convention against Torture.†In fact, the administration has “sanctioned†only the use of stressful interrogation methods, such as standing, hooding, and sleep deprivation, at a level which does not constitute “torture,†under either the U.N. Convention or U.S. law.

As Amnesty International knows, the U.N. Convention defines “torture†as “severe pain or suffering.†That means that there is some level of pain and suffering, which is not severe, that does not constitute torture. So long as coercive interrogation methods do not cross that line, and are not otherwise “cruel, inhuman or degrading,†they are lawful. What constitutes “cruel, inhuman and degrading†treatment is not defined in the treaty. The meaning of these terms depends very much on the situation and individuals involved. The European Court of Human Rights, in a case dealing with British interrogation of IRA terrorists, concluded that a series of stress methods — including hooding, stress positions, loud noise and sleep deprivation — did not constitute torture, and were “inhuman†only when used together.

Overall, these are difficult exercises in line drawing, and reasonable minds can certainly differ. In discussing this question, however, the administration’s opponents — especially among the “human rights†community — distinctly fail to recognize or acknowledge that there are humanitarian imperatives on both sides of this question. The United States turned to the use of stressful interrogation methods because non-stressful methods were not producing the intelligence necessary to protect American forces, and especially American civilians at home, against attack by a group that has made plain its purpose and intent to kill as many American civilians as possible. This is the “security†interest that Amnesty International, and other NGOs, decry as having undercut human rights and civil liberties. They simply do not consider that the defense of the American population, and the vindication of each individual’s right to live without the threat or actuality of terrorist attack, is their problem — and it is time they did.

Like too many other NGOs, Amnesty is trapped in a 20th-century mindset where the greatest threat to individual life and liberty stemmed from the actions of sovereign governments. That is simply no longer the case. Although the world remains full of repressive regimes, the most immediate threat to the civilian population in the United States and other democracies comes from pan-national terrorist movements who deliberately target non-combatants as a means of achieving their ends. Amnesty International, like other NGOs, must accept — and start to address — this new set of circumstances.

In the meantime, Amnesty International should reflect that its extravagant and unfounded claims that the United States has violated international law, and that its officials should be the subject of criminal prosecution, work to undercut its own mission. Amnesty claimed that “[w]hen 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.†In fact, it is Amnesty International, and similar NGOs, who have granted that license. They have done this by failing to distinguish clearly between American interpretations of international law, including the Geneva Conventions and Torture Convention, with which they may disagree as a policy matter, and actual illegal conduct. It is hardly surprising that repressive regimes claim that the United States has violated the law, thus permitting them to follow suit, when groups like Amnesty persistently state that American policy at Guantanamo Bay is illegal even though this is simply not true.

— The authors are partners in the Washington, D.C. offices of Baker & Hostetler LLP. They served in the Justice Department under President Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and are members of the U.N. Sub-commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. The views here expressed are their own.

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Propagandish OP-EDs.
Amnesty International


Regional overview 2004

Respect for human rights remained an illusion for many as governments across the Americas failed to comply with their commitments to uphold fundamental human rights. Widespread torture, unlawful killings by police and arbitrary detention persisted. The US-led “war on terror†continued to undermine human rights in the name of security, despite growing international outrage at evidence of US war crimes, including torture, against detainees.

Democratic institutions and the rule of law were at risk throughout much of Latin America. Political instability – fuelled by corruption, organized crime, economic disparities and social unrest – resulted in several attempts to bring down governments. Most were by constitutional means but some, as in Haiti, by-passed the democratic process.

Political armed groups and criminal gangs, principally those engaged in drug trafficking, had an increasing impact on people’s fundamental rights. Poverty and discrimination affected millions of people, particularly the most vulnerable groups – women, children, indigenous people and Afro-descendant communities.

Positive developments were seen in the vigorous campaigns maintained by human rights defenders, who held both governments and armed groups to account, in defiance of harassment and persecution. Courts in several countries gave rulings that brought closer the prospect of bringing to trial military and political leaders responsible for massive human rights violations in previous decades.

National security and the ‘war on terror’

The blatant disregard for international human rights and humanitarian law in the “war on terror†continued to make a mockery of President George Bush’s claims that the USA was the global champion of human rights. Images of detainees in US custody tortured in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq shocked the world. War crimes in Iraq, and mounting evidence of the torture and ill-treatment of detainees in US custody in other countries, sent an unequivocal message to the world that human rights may be sacrificed ostensibly in the name of security.

President Bush’s refusal to apply the Geneva Conventions to those captured during the international armed conflict in Afghanistan and transferred to the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, was challenged by a judicial decision in November. The ruling resulted in the suspension of trials by military commission in Guantánamo, and the government immediately lodged an appeal. The US administration’s treatment of detainees in the “war on terror†continued to display a marked ambivalence to the opinion of expert bodies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and even of its own highest judicial body. Six months after the Supreme Court ruled that the federal courts had jurisdiction over the Guantánamo detainees, none had appeared in court. Detainees reportedly considered of high intelligence value remained in secret detention in undisclosed locations. In some cases their situation amounted to “disappearanceâ€.

The “war on terror†and the “war on drugs†increasingly merged, and dominated US relations with Latin America and the Caribbean. Following the US elections in November, the Bush administration encouraged governments in the region to give a greater role to the military in public order and internal security operations. The blurring of military and police roles resulted in governments such as those in Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Paraguay deploying military forces to deal with crime and social unrest.

The US doubled the ceiling on the number of US personnel deployed in Colombia in counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics operations. The Colombian government in turn persisted in redefining the country’s 40-year internal conflict as part of the international “war on terrorâ€.

Conflict, crime and instability

Civilians continued to be the principal victims of political violence. The human rights situation in Colombia remained critical, its civilians targeted by all sides in the conflict: the security forces, army-backed paramilitaries and armed opposition groups. Despite an agreed ceasefire and demobilization of some combatants, paramilitary forces were again responsible for widespread abuses. Security policies introduced by the government drew civilians further into the conflict.

Further evidence of spill-over from Colombia’s internal war was seen in neighbouring countries. Frequent border skirmishes were reported in Venezuela and Ecuador, where the number of Colombians seeking refuge grew.

Political polarization and instability continued to affect Venezuela for much of the year. Levels of violence and protests diminished briefly after a referendum failed to unseat President Hugo Chávez, but the death of a high-profile special prosecutor in a car bombing raised fears of renewed political violence.

Long-standing instability in Haiti reached crisis levels after a military uprising toppled the government of President Jean Bertrand Aristide. Political violence and widespread human rights violations persisted, despite the presence of a UN military and police force. The severe loss of life and structural damage caused by a hurricane in September exacerbated instability and the breakdown of the rule of law, hampering distribution of international aid.

In a report on Guatemala, the UN warned that failure to bring about effective social, economic and political reforms could promote conflict.

Public protests against violent crime, particularly kidnapping, spread throughout Latin America. Crime levels remained high in Mexican and Brazilian cities, and in parts of Central America where poverty combined with the easy availability of weapons and the legacy of civil wars. Governments responded with tougher legislation, which sometimes violated constitutional and human rights safeguards. Vigilantism and mob lynchings of suspected criminals were reported in countries including Guatemala, Mexico and Peru, where confidence in the security forces continued to evaporate.

Impunity for human rights violations

Despite setbacks, efforts across the region to combat impunity for gross human rights violations in previous decades continued to gain momentum.

A series of rulings and actions based on international jurisdiction showed that military and security chiefs whose forces were responsible for human rights violations could no longer escape trial. An Argentine court issued an international warrant for the arrest of former Paraguayan President Alfredo Stroessner for his alleged involvement in human rights violations committed under Operation Cóndor, a joint plan to eliminate opponents by military governments of the 1970s and 1980s in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. Spain’s Supreme Court confirmed that the Spanish justice system had jurisdiction to try former Argentine navy officer Adolfo Scilingo for human rights violations under the military government of 1976-83. More than 20 years after the alleged crimes, a former Honduran intelligence chief faced a civil action in the US courts brought by relatives of Hondurans tortured and killed in the 1980s.

National courts also made significant, if slow, progress in shedding light on past human rights violations. The Chilean Supreme Court lifted former President Augusto Pinochet’s immunity from prosecution, allowing proceedings to be opened against him for human rights violations during Operation Cóndor.

In Brazil, the Supreme Court ordered the federal government to open files on the military operations against armed opposition groups in the region of Araguaia, state of Pará, during the military dictatorship. These may enable relatives finally to locate the bodies of victims of military actions.

Military and police courts continued to claim jurisdiction, despite recommendations by international human rights bodies. In Bolivia, the military initially rejected a Constitutional Court ruling that officers charged with offences against civilians should be tried in civilian courts. In Peru and Colombia, cases of human rights violations continued to be transferred to military courts in spite of rulings by the respective Constitutional Courts that they had jurisdiction only over offences committed “in the line of dutyâ€. In Ecuador, police courts still claimed jurisdiction in cases involving abuses by police agents although the authorities had given assurances that they would be heard by civilian courts.

Trial before civilian courts was no guarantee of justice, however. In Colombia, against all the evidence, charges were withdrawn against former General Rito Alejo del Río, indicted for forming illegal paramilitary groups responsible for human rights violations in the 1990s.

The USA continued to pressure governments throughout the region to sign unlawful immunity agreements shielding US personnel from surrender to the International Criminal Court. Of 12 countries that had refused to sign, 10 had some military aid suspended as a result. In November the US Congress threatened to cut off development aid to countries that refused to sign.

Death penalty

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.

No judicial executions were carried out in the Caribbean, but the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council – the final court of appeal for most of the English-speaking Caribbean – reopened the possibility of a resumption of executions in Trinidad and Tobago by overturning a decision that the mandatory death penalty was unconstitutional. It ruled that mandatory death sentences for capital murder violated the Jamaican Constitution, and ordered new sentencing hearings for Jamaica’s death row inmates. It also ruled that the mandatory death penalty was constitutional

in Barbados.

Economic, social and cultural rights

Economic indicators improved in Latin America after a prolonged period of stagnation. However, growth was insufficient to significantly affect poverty levels. Extreme disparities in wealth, and in access to basic rights such as education, health, water and electricity, continued. Inequalities were persistently driven by race and ethnicity, particularly for indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples, who are among the poorest in the region.

According to a UN study on the spread of HIV/AIDs, the Caribbean is the second most affected region in the world. Social attitudes such as homophobia and stigmatization are cited by the UN among factors contributing to the spread of the epidemic.

Severe political violence and instability in Haiti exacerbated the long-standing denial of basic rights, including access to health services as the breakdown in health provision reached crisis proportions.

Disputes over land and labour conditions on plantations continued to fuel protracted conflicts and human rights violations in countries such as Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala and Paraguay. Both protesters and police officers were killed as claims for access to land by landless peasant families brought them into conflict with large landowners backed by the security forces or hired gunmen.

By the end of 2004, Central American governments and the Dominican Republic had approved a free trade agreement with the USA. Civil society groups raised concerns about the lack of guarantees on labour rights, on protection of the environment and on continued access to affordable medicines. In December, 12 South American countries signed an agreement to create a political and economic regional bloc.

Violence against women

Women and girls remained at serious risk of human rights violations across the Americas. The Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women – which marked its 10th anniversary – had received more ratifications than any other treaty on human rights in the region. Only Canada and the USA had failed to ratify. However, its provisions were largely ignored by governments across the region, and gender-related violence against women remained endemic in the home and the community.

A UN report on the state of the world’s cities stated that Latin America had the highest risk of all types of sexual victimization, with approximately 70 per cent of reported incidents described as rapes, attempted rapes or indecent assaults. Despite efforts by the Mexican authorities, there were further killings of women in the state of Chihuahua, and the horrific brutality that characterized killings of women in Guatemala gave cause for growing international concern.

Women were particularly vulnerable in situations of conflict. In Colombia, all parties to the conflict subjected women and girls to sexual violence, including rape and genital mutilation. They were targeted to sow terror, wreak revenge on adversaries and accumulate “trophies of warâ€.

There was a growing awareness of the impact of people trafficking in the Americas on human rights, particularly of women and girls. According to a study by the Organization of American States, over 100,000 men, women and children were “trafficked†across Latin America and the Caribbean each year, 80 per cent of them women and most for the purposes of sexual exploitation.

Human rights defenders

Human rights activists across the Americas campaigned vigorously to hold governments and armed groups to their obligations to respect international and domestic human rights standards.

Women’s rights activists were acclaimed in Colombia for their work for thousands of innocent victims of conflict and for the meaningful involvement of women in peace negotiations and the political process. Indigenous activists in Ecuador championed their community’s rights to defend their livelihoods during disputes over the extraction of natural resources. Despite public hostility and prejudice, the work of Jamaican and Honduran sexual rights activists to promote equal rights and HIV/AIDS prevention was increasingly recognized and supported by human rights organizations at the international level.

The difficulties and dangers faced by activists in the Americas ranged from intimidation and restrictions on travel, to unfounded accusations of “terrorist†links or other violent activities, arbitrary detention, false criminal charges, and even death. Activists working locally on rural poverty and development, often in isolated areas, and journalists covering issues such as corruption were killed in Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico.

On the international stage, governments gave commitments to support the work of human rights activists. However, some undermined the integrity of these pledges by tolerating slanderous statements by high-ranking government officials against those working for human rights. Appeals by women’s rights activists for the authorities to examine their concerns and proposals seriously were frequently dismissed

or ignored.

Only one government, Brazil, responded to a request by both the UN Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders and by AI for governments to draft, publish and make operational plans to implement the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

Regional initiatives

During the European Union/Latin America and Caribbean Summit in May, AI highlighted its concerns about the use of the judicial system to persecute human rights defenders. Delegates from AI’s International Secretariat and from AI sections in the region attended the Americas Regional Social Forum in Quito, Ecuador, in August. In the same month, AI also participated in the III Human Rights Defenders Consultation in São Paulo, Brazil.


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