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Activists Urge Preserving Human Rights

22 March 2002

Several leading human rights groups joined together Friday in an appeal to governments not to trample human rights with new measures meant to clamp down on terrorism.

"The events of Sept. 11 were a crime against humanity that shocked and changed the world," said Irene Khan, secretary-general of Amnesty International. "However, many governments have seized the moment to step up repression."

"Many governments have introduced draconian legislation in the name of security: measures such as indefinite detention without trial and special courts based on secret evidence, creating a shadow criminal justice system," said Khan.

In a joint declaration to the annual meeting of the 53-nation U.N. Human Rights Commission, non-governmental organizations called for an investigation into the human rights implications of counterterrorism measures.

They also said human rights considerations should be given more clout in the U.N. Security Council's anti-terrorism committee.

The declaration was signed by Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists, the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Kevin Moley, said earlier in the week that the Human Rights Commission had no business getting involved with the war against terrorism.

Khan voiced fears that U.S. proposed military tribunals to try al-Qaida and Taliban suspects lacked sufficient safeguards and independence. She renewed Amnesty's criticism of the U.S. detention without trial of hundreds of people, mostly men of Middle East origin, for visa infringements.

In a new report, Amnesty said China had stepped up its repression of ethnic Uighur opponents of Chinese rule and others branded as separatists in the name of countering "terrorism."

The "real test" of the human rights commission would be whether it would criticize worsening Russian violations in Chechnya, also committed under the guise of driving out Muslim extremists, Khan said.

One week into the commission's meeting, it is still far from certain whether any attempt will be made to introduce a motion criticizing either Russia or China's rights record. The United States is a mere observer at the commission this year although has theoretical rights to sponsor a resolution and no European country has come forward yet. Even if there were to be a resolution on China, it would be condemned to certain defeat by the developing country majority on the commission.

Clare Nullis, in Geneva
Published in the Washington Post © 2002 The Associated Press

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