Annual Report: Human rights threatened by 'war on terror'

The 'war on terror', far from making the world a safer place, has made it more dangerous by curtailing human rights, undermining the rule of international law and shielding governments from scrutiny.

It has deepened divisions among people of different faiths and origins, sowing the seeds for more conflict. The overwhelming impact of all this is genuine fear – across all sectors of society.

Amnesty International's 311-page report is launched at a time when more than 600 people are still held by the US without charge or trial in Guantanamo Bay and the UK Home Secretary has announced within the past ten days that people could be held for 14 days without charge under the Terrorism Act rather than the previous seven day period.

The organisation also warns of the dangers of a lack of long-term investment and support in post-conflict situations with essential institutions, including the police, prisons and judiciary undermined as a result.

More than eighteen months after the war in Afghanistan ended, millions of Afghans, including returning refugees, face an uncertain and insecure future.

'There is a very real risk that 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,' said Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen.

The organisation also warned of the heavy toll on human rights and human lives that took place while the international focus was on Iraq in places as diverse as Côte d'Ivoire, Colombia, Burundi, Chechnya and Nepal.

'Drawing attention to 'hidden' crises, protecting the rights of the 'forgotten victims' is the biggest challenge we face today,' added Kate Allen.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the human rights situation remains bleak, with continuing fighting and attacks on civilians, particularly in the east.

In Burundi, government forces carried out extrajudicial killings, 'disappearances', torture and other serious violations, while armed groups unlawfully killed, maimed, abducted and tortured civilians in pursuit of their political aims. Child soldiers were recuited, sometimes forcibly. The human rights crisis in Israel and the Occupied Territories is among the issues most discussed but was in 2002 among the least acted upon by the international community. In Colombia, the security measures enacted by the new government exacerbated the spiralling cycle of political violence. The breakdown of peace talks in February between the government and the main armed opposition group, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), deepened the human rights crisis.

Governments around the world have spent billions in an effort to beef up national security and the 'war on terror', but for millions of people the real sources of insecurity were corrupt and inept systems of policing and justice; brutal repression of political dissent; severe discrimination and social inequities; extreme poverty and the spread of preventable diseases.

At a time of heightened insecurity governments chose to ignore and undermine the collective system of security which the rule of international law represents. While claiming to bring justice to victims in Iraq, the United States has actively sought to undermine the International Criminal Court, the mechanism for universal justice.

'It is vital that we resist the manipulation of fear and challenge the narrow focus of the security agenda. The definition of security must be broadened to encompass the security of people, as well as states. That means a commitment to human rights. That means recognising that insecurity and violence are best tackled by effective, accountable states which uphold, not violate human rights,' Kate Allen concluded.

Background

Successful Amnesty International campaigns running through 2002:

  • Moving towards global accountability with the entry into force of the International Criminal Court
  • Obtaining justice for Sierra Leoneans with the establishment of a Special Court for that country
  • The release of individuals including former Russian prisoner of conscience Grigory Pasko, released on parole in January 2003

Amnesty International's Annual Report covers 151 countries. The full report is produced in eight languages: English, French, Spanish, Arabic, German, Italian, Japanese and Portuguese; and a shorter version produced in Greek, Hebrew, Dutch, Polish, Russian and Swedish. Around 95,000 copies are produced in total, with one copy sent to each head of state in every single country in the world. The report can be found online at: http://web.amnesty.org/report2003/index-eng

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