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Human Rights Have Been Eroded Since Sept 11 UN's Robinson Says

20 July 2002

The US war on terrorism is encouraging less democratic countries to reduce human rights in the name of security, United Nations human-rights commissioner Mary Robinson said yesterday.

Ms. Robinson said countries accused of violating human rights have been using crackdowns in the United States and Europe since Sept. 11 to justify their own abuses.

"We're finding the situation very serious, that there is an erosion of civil liberties in the name of combating terrorism," she told reporters after voicing the same fear in a speech to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Ms. Robinson said there were problems in particular in what she called "countries without a strong democratic tradition."

"But when the issue is raised with them, they say, 'Why are you pinning us to those standards when those standards are not being observed in the United States and a number of European countries?'

"Their response is, 'Well, look at what is happening in the United States, at the number of people that are being held under immigration laws without a lawyer. . . . Look at what's happening in European countries, at the harsh treatment of asylum-seekers and immigrants.' "

Ms. Robinson's warning echoed those of rights groups such as Amnesty International, which in May accused governments from the United States to South Korea of rushing through laws since Sept. 11 giving themselves emergency powers with little regard for rights.

"We're getting reports from human-rights defenders, trade unionists, journalists around the world that measures are being taken by countries saying that they're combating terrorism but in fact clamping down on political opposition, freedom of the press, branding activities as being terrorist which were not so described before the 11th of September."

Ms. Robinson said her office is compiling a report on serious cases of rights violations linked to security after Sept. 11 and will present it to the UN Security Council.

International bodies such as the 55-member OSCE, a security and rights forum for Europe and North America, need to monitor their members to make sure international human-rights standards are not slipping after decades of progress, she said.

Reuters, Vienna.
Published in the Toronto Globe and Mail, © 2002 Reuters Ltd

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