Global Policy Forum

US Foreign Policy Hinders

Amnesty International
March 6, 2007

In response to the Department of State's release today of its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Amnesty International said that while the reports recognize the plight of human rights defenders around the world, they fail to acknowledge that U.S. foreign policy may have exacerbated conditions for many of these brave individuals. In the name of national security, the Bush administration continues to turn a blind eye to many instances of abuse by countries cited by the State Department for appalling human rights records.

"Today's reports provide useful data that should be factored into foreign policy decisions," said Larry Cox, Amnesty International USA executive director. "However, if the Bush administration persists in allowing other considerations to trump human rights concerns, the real-world impact of these reports will be greatly diminished."

"There are many countries listed in these reports that have questionable human rights records, including Turkey, India, Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia," said Cox. "The United States can, in its capacity as a major donor, provide the leadership to help end abuse around the globe. However, for meaningful change to occur, the Bush administration must not only give lip service to condemn the abuses, but also must refuse to conduct business as usual with repressive governments.

"While Amnesty International welcomes the reports' emphasis on accountability, until the United States changes its own policies of holding detainees indefinitely, in secret prisons and without basic rights, it cannot credibly be viewed as a world human rights leader," added Cox. "Human rights abuses must not be hidden behind a faí§ade of national security rhetoric."

Amnesty International and others have reported that the United States is believed to have transferred, "rendered" or "disappeared" more than one hundred detainees in the war on terror to countries that the report cites for torture or ill-treatment of detainees. Some detainees are believed to be held in a labyrinth of secret prisons around the globe run by the United States government in collusion with regimes that have problematic human rights records.

Amnesty International's analysis reveals that the United States, in the context of the war on terror, has been silent on human rights abuses committed by many of its new-found friends. In the Balochistan province of Pakistan, for example, Amnesty International has documented torture, possible extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings and disappearances. In January, Amnesty International issued an urgent action on behalf of Baloch political leader Akhtar Mengal, currently being held incommunicado in solitary confinement in Karachi without access to needed medical care. The administration has thus far failed to take any effective public action on his case.

The section regarding Iraq omits crucial elements of the full human rights picture in that country. It lacks any information about human rights abuses against Iraqis perpetrated by U.S. personnel, especially in detention centers. It fails to acknowledge the severe legal and judicial flaws in the Iraqi judicial system, epitomized by the rushed execution of Saddam Hussein. It does not adequately document patterns of abuse and discrimination by the Iraqi government against vulnerable groups such as religious minorities, women, and gays and lesbians. Finally, the section fails to recognize the sheer scale of the Iraqi refugee problem -- some 1.2 million people, according to most estimates, who have fled Iraq due to the utter lack of security there.

In today's report, the State Department asserts that in Egypt, "The continued imprisonment of former presidential candidate Ayman Nour raised serious concerns about the path of political reform and democracy in the country. Continuing a trend begun in 2005, the government arrested and detained hundreds of activists affiliated with the banned-but-tolerated Muslim Brotherhood, generally for periods lasting several weeks." Yet Egypt remains one of the United States' largest recipients of foreign assistance and a key landing pad for U.S.-sponsored "extraordinary renditions" of terror suspects. Amnesty International has reported that President Hosni Mubarak has expanded Egypt's emergency laws to suppress freedom of speech and expression. Recently, an Egyptian student was sentenced to four years in prison for expressing his views on his blog. In 2006, the Egyptian government cracked down on NGOs.

The State Department reports emphasize the further limiting of freedom of press and speech by Russian President Vladimir Putin. In 2006, he temporarily closed NGOs operating in the country, including Amnesty International. Government pressure continued to erode media organizations' autonomy. The government used controlling interest in all major media outlets to blunt criticisms against it and to prevent news from Chechnya from reaching the masses. There were credible reports that government pressure led to self-censorship on the part of many journalists. The United States should take a lead role to ensure that Russia cease curtailing the freedom of its citizens.

"We welcome the State Department's contribution to the effort to protect individual human rights defenders around the world," said Cox. "But the administration as a whole must ensure that its deeds match its words. Courageous human rights defenders deserve no less."

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