War on terror is 'leading to civil rights abuses'

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The Independent Online

Governments may be using the war against terror in Afghanistan as an excuse to lower their own standards on civil liberties, Human Rights Watch said.

The group, which monitors human rights abuses around the world, issued the warning in its 2002 annual report.

In central Europe and central Asia, it said: "In much the same way as the Cold War once distorted the human rights agenda, the prospects for tackling the region's persistent and newly emerging human rights problems seemed suddenly to dim in light of the competing and overriding anti-terrorism imperative."

The report said Russia, Uzbekistan and Egypt were among countries using the war against terror to step up abusive military campaigns within their borders and to crack down against political opponents.

The organisation is particularly pointed about plans to create military tribunals in the United States to try terrorist suspects. Kenneth Roth, its executive director, wrote: "Imagine the US condemning military tribunals set up by a tinpot tyrant to get rid of his political enemies. That kind of criticism can have real sting.

"But now it will ring with hypocrisy – if the Pentagon does not narrow President Bush's order on military commissions with appropriate guidelines."

Terrorists believed that "anything goes in the name of their cause", Mr Roth wrote. "The fight against terror must not buy into that logic. Human rights principles must not be compromised in the name of any cause. For too many countries, the anti-terror mantra has provided a new reason to ignore human rights."

And Mr Roth warned European governments moving to pass anti-terror laws not to lower their own moral standards in the process. "The fight against terror isn't just a matter of security," he said. "It's a matter of values."

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