Report: Anti-Terror Campaign Cloaks Rights Abuses
By Evelyn Leopold - UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A leading human rights group said on Wednesday the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism often is used by nations as an excuse to revoke civil liberties, whether in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uzbekistan, Russia or even in Europe.
And new restrictions in the United States, such as the proposed military tribunals for suspected terrorists, could compromise Washington's ability to criticize rights abuses in other nations, Human Rights Watch said in its annual 670-page report covering 66 nations.
``Defeating terrorism is going to require undermining the ends-justify-the-means amorality of terrorism and the only way to do that is to reaffirm human rights as particular suspects are pursued,'' said Kenneth Roth, executive director of the New York-based group.
``Otherwise, you may end up capturing a particular terrorist but you reaffirm the logic of terrorism -- the view that anything goes in the name of a cause,'' he said in an interview. ''For too many countries, the anti-terror mantra has provided a new reason to ignore human rights.''
Declaring the Sept. 11 attacks antithetical to human rights values, the report said too many governments substituted expediency for a firm commitment to human rights, closed channels for dissent and thus encouraged radical groups.
In the Middle East, Human Rights Watch said there was a ''shameful silence'' by the United States and other Western nations of abuses by a corrupt government in Saudi Arabia, home of Osama bin Laden (news - web sites) and many of his adherents, as well as in Egypt where patterns of repression seem to promise stability.
NONVIOLENT DISSENT 'UPSTAGED'
``They leave people with the desperate choice of tolerating the status quo, exile or violence. Frequently as political options are closed off, the voices of nonviolent dissent are upstaged by a politics of radical opposition,'' it said.
Thus Saudi Arabia and Egypt can credibly portray themselves as bulwarks against extremism because the political center has been ``systemically silenced,'' the report said.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks against the United States, several governments touted their own domestic struggles as fights against terrorism, the report contended.
In Russia, Human Rights Watch accused President Vladimir Putin (news - web sites) of embracing the anti-terrorist rhetoric to defend his government's brutal campaign in Chechnya (news - web sites) and the West downplaying earlier criticism of Moscow's abuses.
China took a similar position to defend its response to political agitation in Xinjiang province.
Egypt brushed off criticism of torture and military trials as equivalent to giving terrorist human rights, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (news - web sites) repeatedly referred to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat (news - web sites) as ``our bin Laden'' and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe justified a crackdown on journalists as an attack on ``supporters'' of terrorism.
Uzbekistan's government was singled out in the report as particularly repressive and an illustration of the West's selectivity on human rights. The country has no political parties and no independent media. Muslims caught praying outside the state-controlled mosque are tortured and given long prison sentences.
But as a state bordering Afghanistan (news - web sites), and with its own al Qaeda-linked rebel movement, Uzbekistan was an obvious potential ally of the United States. It also has been kept off the State Department list of countries that repress religious freedom, the report said.
In Europe, Human Rights Watch said, too many countries stepped up anti-immigrant rhetoric and further restricted the rights of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, in the name of fighting terrorism.
Britain has proposed emergency anti-terrorism legislation that would deny some asylum seekers an individual hearing, classify as a ``terrorist'' any foreigner with ill-defined ''links'' to terrorist organizations, and allow authorities to indefinitely detain them.
In Hungary, all Afghan refugees were transported to special detention facilities. In Greece, some migrants arriving on ships were denied access to asylum procedures and given fifteen-day expulsion orders.
``If the logic of terrorism, not just immediate terrorist threats, is ultimately to be defeated, governments must redouble their commitment to international standards, not indulge in a new round of excuses to ignore them,'' Roth said.''