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Daily Archives: February 1, 2008

US flouts human rights with secret prisons, torture

The United States continues to violate basic human rights by keeping secret detention facilities abroad, holding people illegally as "disappeared" and justifying torture, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said yesterday.
The Human Rights Watch World Report 2008 found no improvement in the human rights situation in the United States, despite efforts by the US Congress to end the alleged abuses carried out in its war on terrorism.
"There was no evident progress concerning the treatment of so-called enemy combatants, including those held at Guantanamo Bay (Cuba), or the use of secret detention facilities" in foreign countries, HRW said.
The Pentagon in 2007 released more than 100 "war on terror" detainees held in the prison facility at the US Navy base in eastern Cuba, but 305 continue to be imprisoned there, most of them without having been formally charged.
After the 2006 legislative elections that put Democrats in charge of both houses of Congress, a bill restoring Guantanamo prisoners' right to habeas corpus was proposed but has yet to be approved.
HRW said in its report that by announcing in April that a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) prisoner had been transferred to Guantanamo, the Pentagon made it clear there still were US detention facilities around the world.
The rights group said it believed 39 people were being held in US secret detention facilities and recalled that the US government had admitted to holding 100 prisoners in all.
"Under international law those persons remain unlawfully 'disappeared' until the United States can account for them," the report said.
And despite congressional pressure forcing the Pentagon to adopt new rules for prisoner interrogations to preclude torture-like abuses, HRW said the US government continues to justify such techniques in certain cases.
"The CIA contends that it is not bound by these rules, and the (US) administration has gone to great lengths to justify the CIA's continued use of certain techniques banned for use by the military," said the report.
On the domestic front, HRW said 2.2 million people were imprisoned in 2007 in the United States, a 500 percent increase over the past 30 years and equivalent to five times the entire prison population of Britain.
In addition to having the largest prison population in the world, the report added, the United States imprisoned blacks at a rate 6.5 times higher than that of whites.
HRW also found that undocumented foreigners faced greater risk of arrest in the United States, had difficulty in asserting their legal rights in court and were imprisoned under sometimes abusive conditions.
The report also criticized US laws listing people convicted of sexual offenses in a national sexual offender registry that turns them into social pariahs with little chance of finding employment or housing, and making them the target of violence.

US, Europe embrace false democrats out of self-interest: HRW

Europe and the United States increasingly tolerate autocrats posing as democrats out of pure self-interest, in countries such as Pakistan, Kenya, Nigeria and Russia, as human right abuses go on, Human Rights Watch charged yesterday.
"By allowing autocrats to pose as democrats, without demanding they uphold the civil and political rights that make democracy meaningful, the United States, the European Union and other influential democracies risk undermining human rights worldwide," the rights watchdog warned in a statement on releasing its World Report 2008.
Countries including Kenya and Pakistan must guarantee the human rights central to democracy — not just profess to be democrats, the group said.
"In 2007 too many governments, including Bahrain, Jordan, Nigeria, Russia and Thailand, acted as if simply holding a vote is enough to prove a nation 'democratic,' and Washington, Brussels and European capitals played along," Human Rights Watch argued, adding that the current US administration has not pushed for all governments to respect human rights.
"It's now too easy for autocrats to get away with mounting a sham democracy," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "That's because too many Western governments insist on elections and leave it at that. They don't press governments on the key human rights issues that make democracy function — a free press, peaceful assembly, and a functioning civil society that can really challenge power."
Roth also said countries should boost pressure on China around the 2008 Olympic Games to improve respect for human rights. HRW said the Games were "exacerbating problems of forced evictions, migrant labor rights abuses, and the use of house arrests to silence dissidents."
"The 2008 Olympics are an historic opportunity for the Chinese government to show the world that it can make human rights a reality for its 1.4 billion citizens," said Roth.
Separately in its World Report 2008, HRW reviewed rights situations in more than 75 countries, identifying many troubling cases such as atrocities in Chad, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia's Ogaden region, Iraq, Somalia, Sri Lanka, and Sudan's Darfur region.
The report also voiced concern at closed societies or severe repression in Burma, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Libya, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.
Meanwhile HRW slammed abuses in the "war on terror" in France, Pakistan, Britain and the United States.
HRW deemed US abuses against so-called "war on terror" detainees "a major concern." It said 275 detainees are still held at Guantanamo Bay without charge. "Others remain after being cleared by the United States for release, because they cannot be sent home and no country will resettle them," the HRW statement said.
The United States still has the highest incarceration rate worldwide, with black men incarcerated at more than six times the rate of white men, HRW noted.
The report cited what it called "elections manipulated through: outright fraud (Chad, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Uzbekistan); control of electoral machinery (Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Malaysia, Thailand, Zimbabwe); blocking or discouraging opposition candidates (Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Libya, Turkmenistan, Uganda); political violence (Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Lebanon); stifling the media and civil society (Russia, Tunisia); and undermining the rule of law (China, Pakistan)."