Caught in the backlash: Human rights under threat worldwide in aftermath of September 11 attacks

In a report released today, Amnesty International documents evidence of a backlash against Muslims and people of Middle Eastern or Asian origin or appearance in at least 10 countries. The report also highlights the first worrying indications that the 'fight against terrorism' may be opportunistically used to clamp down on civil liberties and human rights.

'The horror of the attacks on September 11 should not result in other communities around the world being victimised in the name of ‘fighting terrorism,'' Amnesty International said.

In Europe and elsewhere, governments are rushing to the top of their political agenda's laws that threaten to curb civil liberties and possibly reduce safeguards against abuses of human rights. Measures to clamp down on illegal immigrants, that threaten to undermine the rights of asylum seekers , are being debated in a number of countries.

In what appears to be a spate of racial hate crimes directly linked to the attacks on New York and Washington, men and Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights of all ages have suffered abuse and even serious attacks in streets, schools and workplaces just because of their - real or perceived - religious or national identity.

Despite positive calls for tolerance and restraint by the authorities, in the USA alone, more than 540 attacks on Arab-Americans and at least 200 on Sikhs have been reported in the week following the attacks. Mosques, Hindu temples and community centres have been attacked and vandalised in countries as diverse as Poland, India, the United Kingdom and Denmark.

Amnesty International fears that many people in Afghanistan will be at heightened risk of suffering human rights abuses, noting that non-pushtuns living in Taleban controlled areas are particularly vulnerable as they may be viewed mistakenly as sympathetic to the Northern Alliance.

'It is a sad irony that, only weeks after the United Nations World Conference on Racism, many communities around the world are facing increased discrimination and racist abuse,' Amnesty International said.

'There is also a danger that, while the attention of the world is focussed elsewhere, governments will increase their repression of opponents,' Amnesty International warned. 'While the world is looking the other way, abuse and repression can be carried out without fear of rebuke,' the organisation added.

When over a dozen Palestinians, including a 14-year-old girl, were killed by Israeli security forces in the 2 days following the attacks, getting hardly any attention by the international media, the Israeli Defence Minister Benjamin Ben Eliezar said in a press interview: 'It is a fact that we have killed 14 Palestinians [...] with the world remaining absolutely silent. It's a disaster for Arafat'.

Official statements in China have given rise to fears that the authorities might use the events on 11 September to further increase their harsh repression of Muslim ethnic groups accused of being 'separatists', 'terrorists' or 'religious extremists, in the Xinjian Uighur Autonomous Region in the north west of the country. Similarly, there is concern that the Uzbek government may use the current climate as an opportunity to clamp down on any manifestation of perceived Islamic opposition with greater impunity.

In the face of these disquieting trends, Amnesty International is urging all governments to step up measures to ensure that the rights of all, whether citizens or not, are equally protected and to send a clear message that racist violence and threats will not be tolerated.

In particular, the organisation is calling on governments to ensure that:

- the rights of all people are respected in the response to the attacks of 11 September;

- any new legislation passed in response to the attacks of 11 September contains provisions to respect human rights;

- the rights of asylum seekers are protected;

- all asylum-seekers have access to a fair and satisfactory asylum determination process;

- no one is returned to a country where they face serious human rights violations; and

- hate crimes are denounced and those responsible for them are brought to justice.

'While Amnesty International recognises the right - and indeed the duty - of all governments to take measures to protect their citizens, it is essential that these measures do not lead to violations of human rights,' Amnesty International said.

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