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Amnesty's Rights Report Blasts China – and U.S.

Wednesday, 30 May 2001 12:00 AM

The United States has abandoned its leadership role in promoting human rights and pursues policies that put political concerns ahead of justice, Amnesty International charged.

The report, released as Amnesty this week commemorates its founding 40 years ago, says globalization and other modern phenomena make today's human rights problems more complex than those that plagued the world in 1961.

The report takes aim at several repressive regimes, with emphasis on China. Highlighting the report's theme that in many countries economic globalization has not led to republicanism and freedom, William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said the group had noted a decline in respect for human rights by Beijing since the U.S. granted it "permanent normal" trading status. (

Supporters of U.S. trade with Beijing insist that economic engagement will lead to reforms in China.

Amnesty cited its "greatest disappointments" of the past 40 years, including:

The report includes an overview of human rights in 149 countries, showing that, while reports of executions and "prisoners of conscience" had decreased from 1990 to 2000, other abuses (torture, political killings and "disappearances") went up. Torture was by far the most common, with 84 percent of the countries (125) the subject of such reports.

Washington's policies are often "double standards" that undermine its credibility with other governments on human rights, Schultz said. The United States on May 4 was voted off the United Nations' top human-rights monitoring panel for the first time in its 54-year history, a move that has outraged the Bush administration and many congressmen and other Americans.

"It's no wonder that the United States was ousted from the United Nations Human Rights Commission," Schulz said. "That defeat was precipitated in part by waning U.S. influence and by double standards, by the practice of exceptionalism - the notion that we can make a set of rules but don't have to abide by them, a practice that has occurred in several administrations and Congresses in the last few years."

However, this criticism raises questions about Amnesty's agenda. Critics of the U.N. say its hypocrisy is far greater than any alleged U.S. double standard. They question its failure to advance human rights and condemn it for adding to the rights commission such notorious abusers as genocidal, slavery-inflicting Sudan.

Schultz criticized the U.S. for:

The House has passed, and the Senate is considering, a bill to block any U.S. cooperation with the court, if it comes into force without Senate ratification. Lawmakers say such a tribunal could enable hostile nations to target American armed forces for prosecution without justification.

"Sadly, in 2001 we have no prominent leaders in the [Bush] administration sounding the clarion call for human rights," Schulz said. "Instead, we have a U.S. government that has abdicated its duty to lead, that has actively opposed the Convention on Landmines and the International Criminal Court, that has failed to sign or ratify other important treaties and conventions, and that all too often sacrifices human rights concerns for political or economic expediency."

Schulz said the report was not singling out the Bush White House for criticism, noting that it was still "very new," but rather to a decline in leadership by Bill Clinton and other past presidents and Congresses "over a good many years." However, he blamed Bush for not doing more to try to end the recent months of violence in the Middle East.

The State Department objected to Amnesty's findings. Department spokesman Philip Reeker said he had seen news accounts of the report but had not yet read it himself.

"We fundamentally disagree, however, with the assertion in the report that the United States has become a, quote, 'impediment' to the advancement of international human rights," Reeker told reporters. "I think anybody who has followed the cause of human rights around the world over the years and the decades will realize that the United States has been and will remain the leading advocate for human rights throughout the world.

"And I would just say that our record speaks very much for itself and refer you to a long shelf of annual human rights reports that we put out painstakingly documenting the human rights situation in countries around the world."

Reeker said the department respects and often praises nongovernmental groups that work to advance human rights. "But obviously, in this case we do not agree with every conclusion that they draw," he said.

The Amnesty International report also notes that freer trade and economic globalization have not bridged the divide been rich and poor nations and says such disparities often set the stage for violent unrest.

"The indivisibility of human rights is not an abstraction: The context which gives rise to human rights violations is invariably complex and cannot be divorced from issues of wealth and status, injustice and impunity," it states.

It praises advances such as broader recognition of certain inalienable rights, a "democratization of information" that has pushed violations into public view and the formation of local groups that monitor abuses and pressure governments to address them. Amnesty says it has lobbied governments on behalf of more than 45,000 people who were either imprisoned, tortured or killed for their political views, or facing the death penalty for any reason. The organization, which has almost 1.1 million members in more than 140 countries and territories, is using its anniversary to reflect on gains and setbacks in the quest for universal respect for human rights.

Amnesty began as a letter-writing campaign to press for the release of two Portuguese students who were jailed for drinking a toast to freedom. Their plight had been the subject of a May 28, 1961, article in the British newspaper The Observer by London lawyer Peter Benenson. The organization now has a staff of 350 and a yearly budget of $28 million.

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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The United States has abandoned its leadership role in promoting human rights and pursues policies that put political concerns ahead of justice, Amnesty International charged. The report, released as Amnesty this week commemorates its founding 40 years ago, says...
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Wednesday, 30 May 2001 12:00 AM
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