War on terror leaves world in fear, says Amnesty

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The United States and Britain are using the "war on terror" as a pretext to abuse human rights and their oppressive actions have made the world "more insecure than since the Cold War", Amnesty International said yesterday.

In a hard-hitting and controversial report, the watchdog body claimed that Washington and London had used the 11 September terrorist attacks to introduce draconian laws.

"What would have been unacceptable on 10 September 2001 is now becoming almost the norm", said Irene Khan, Amnesty's secretary general, launching the report. "What would have been an outrage in Western countries during the Cold War - torture, detention without trial, truncated justice - is readily accepted in some countries today.

"The great supporters of human rights during the Cold War now readily either roll them back in their own countries or encourage others to do so and turn a blind eye.

"We have exposed the hypocrisy, selectivity and double standards of governments, and the situation where the US and UK attack Iraq supposedly because of weapons of mass destruction but continue to sell deadly weapons to known abusers of human rights.

"Governments spend billions to beef up security to fight the war against terror, but people, whether rich or poor in the global north or south, feel more insecure today than ever since the end of the Cold War.

"The US continues to pick and choose which bits of its obligations under international law it will use, and when it will use them. By putting the detainees at Guantanamo Bay into a legal black hole, the administration appeared to continue to support a world where arbitrary unchallengeable detentions become acceptable."

Amnesty said that the detention by the US of more than 600 foreign nationals, including Britons, at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba was a human rights scandal and that the prisoners should be released or charged. The UK, too, was accused of serious human rights violations. The report said that 13 foreign nationals had been interned without charge in "inhuman and degrading conditions" in high-security prisons under the Home Secretary's Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act.

It highlighted the case of Lotfi Raissi, an Algerian held in the UK for five months for extradition to America. The judge ruled that there was no evidence to support the extradition claim and rejected the case. Mr Raissi was freed. It also pointed to a European Court of Human Rights ruling in May, 2002, that the UK had violated the right to life of Dermot McShane, who was crushed by an army vehicle in Northern Ireland in 1996, by failing to ensure an effective investigation into his death.

Amnesty warned that the failure of the US and Britain to tackle the mounting problems in post-Saddam Iraq was likely to replicate the situation in Afghanistan, where human rights abuses were officially sanctioned. "There is a very real risk Iraq will go the way of Afghanistan if no genuine effort is made to heed the call of the Iraqi people for law and order and full respect of human rights. Afghanistan does not present a record of which the international community can be proud," the report said.

Magda Wendorft, Amnesty's representative in Afghanistan, on a video-link from outside Bagram air base, north-east of Kabul, spoke of two prisoners who had died at the base under US interrogation. The Americans had refused to give Amnesty access to Bagram or Guantanamo Bay. Ms Wendorft said: "Bagram stands as an indictment of the US and all other countries which refuse to condemn its existence. Afghan-istan has been overshadowed by Iraq and Bagram overshadowed by Guantanamo Bay."

Amnesty cited "forgotten" conflicts that had taken a heavy toll on human rights and lives in places as diverse as Ivory Coast, Colombia, Burundi, Chechnya and Nepal. "Iraq and Israel and the occupied territories are in the news, Ituri in the Democratic Republic of Congo is not, despite the imminent threat of genocide." The situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo remained "bleak, with continuing fighting and attacks on civilians", it said. "In Burundi, government forces carried out extrajudicial killings, 'disappearances', torture and other serious violations."

The Colombian government had "exacerbated the spiralling cycle of political violence", it said. The report accused Israel of committing war crimes in the occupied territories and the Palestinians of committing crimes against humanity by targeting civilians in suicide bombings. "At least 1,000 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli army [in 2002], most of them unlawfully," it said. "Palestinian armed groups killed more than 420 Israelis, at least 265 of them civilians."

Ms Khan said it was vital for the world to "resist the manipulation of fear and challenge the narrow focus of the security agenda".

Watchdog names the offenders

United States

Amnesty said the detention of more than 600 foreign nationals, including Britons, at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba was a "human rights scandal" and the prisoners should either be released or charged. Two prisoners were killed at Bagram air base, north-east of Kabul, under American interrogation. Amnesty had not been allowed access to Bagram or Guantanamo Bay. The US, the only country to officially sanction the execution of juveniles, executed 71 people last year, 33 of them in Texas.

UK

The UK was accused of "serious human rights violations". Thirteen foreign nationals were interned in jail without charge in "inhuman and degrading conditions" under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act. Lotfi Raissi, an Algerian, was held for five months for extradition to the US in a case thrown out by the judge.

Israel/Palestine

Amnesty International accused the Israeli army of war crimes and Palestinian militants of crimes against humanity. At least 1,000 Palestinians were killed by Israeli soldiers in 2002; most of the killings had been unlawful. In the same period, Amnesty said, Palestinian militant groups killed more than 420 Israelis, at least 265 of them civilians.

Indonesia

The human rights situation in Aceh and Papua is grave. Scores of unlawful detentions by both the police and military were reported. At least nine prisoners of conscience were given jail terms and three others were charged with "insulting the President".

Colombia

New security measures in Colombia worsened political violence. The breakdown of peace talks between the government and main rebel movement had deepened the human rights crisis. Armed opposition groups and paramilitaries were said to be responsible for killing civilians and most of the 1,500 kidnappings.

Nepal

Said to be racked by political instability that contributed to a spiralling human rights crisis in which civilians were routinely killed and tortured by security forces and Maoist rebels. There had been a significant increase in unlawful killings, "disappearances" and torture by both sides in the conflict.

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