Irene Khan: 'The US has weakened its authority to speak out on human rights'

From a speech by the Director-General of Amnesty International, delivered at the Foreign Press Association, in London
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Amnesty International Report 2005 reflects the voices of the many millions from 149 countries across the world who feel betrayed and let down by the failure of governments and the international community to

Amnesty International Report 2005 reflects the voices of the many millions from 149 countries across the world who feel betrayed and let down by the failure of governments and the international community to

uphold human rights. I choose the word "betrayed" deliberately. The gap between the promise and performance of governments, between their rhetoric to respect human rights and their work to disregard and distort them, was so wide in 2004 that I can find no other word to describe it.

The most publicised instance of inaction was Darfur. The government of Sudan betrayed the people of Darfur by unleashing a campaign of killing, rape, displacement and destruction. But the UN also betrayed them by doing too little, too late. The people of Darfur were held hostage to China's oil interests, Russia's arms trade and the US's aversion to the International Criminal Court.

Just as the UN failed the people of Darfur, the African Union is failing the people of Zimbabwe right now. African leaders do a disservice to themselves and their own people when they use African solidarity as a cover for impunity, rather than a call for accountability.

But of all the promises made by governments, none was as hollow as the promise to make the world a safer place from terrorist attacks. Attacks by armed groups pose a major threat. We have seen unimaginable brutality and barbarity by armed groups in Iraq, Beslan and Madrid. Yet, the US government and its allies, who lead the "War on Terror", continue to persist with politically convenient but ineffective strategies, which undermine human rights.

As the unrivalled political, military and economic Super Power, the US sets the tone of governmental behaviour world-wide. By thumbing its nose at the rule of law and human rights, what message does the US send to repressive regimes who have little regard for the rule of law anyway? By lowering the human rights standards, the US has weakened its own moral authority to speak out on human rights.

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