Wrongs and Rights

This week Amnesty International released its 2002 Annual Report on the status of human rights around the world. The report, which documents human rights concerns in 152 countries, provides numerous examples of how governments worldwide have used the post-September 11 "war on terrorism" to quash legitimate dissent, justify ongoing conflicts, and limit criticism of abuses by others. The organization is particularly concerned that the U.S. government has instituted a self-imposed gag order on criticism of the human rights practices of many old and new allies as it works to maintain a global coalition in the open-ended "war against terrorism." The stifling of such criticism has effectively signaled a green light for governments around the world to ignore fundamental human rights standards. Amnesty is also calling attention to other human rights failings of the U.S., including: widespread detention of foreigners, use of the death penalty, failure to prosecute known torturers seeking safe haven in the U.S., the export of torture devices, and the country's claims of exceptionalism to international treaties.

The 2002 report is not all bad news. Some human rights success stories of 2001:

In Mexico, Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera, environmental activists and prisoners of conscience, were released in November 2001 after two and a half years behind bars. The Montiel and Cabrera cases had been the focus of an intense grassroots campaign by Amnesty International members.

In Myanmar in July, U Pa Pa Lay and his cousin U Lu Zaw, two Burmese comedians known as the "Moustache Brothers," and their colleagues U Aung Soe and U Htwe were released from prison after five years. Overall, 280 political prisoners have been released since high-level talks between the military government and the National League for Democracy began in December 2000.

In Turkey, Eren Keskin, a leading member of the Human Rights Association, and Osman Baydemir, its vice-president, received repeated death threats because of their human rights work. Following an Urgent Action appeal by Amnesty International, the death threats stopped. "I have been a human rights defender for 10 years, but it was only after Amnesty International issued the Urgent Action that for the first time the authorities proposed to protect me and my colleague," said Keskin. "I highly appreciate the activities of the Amnesty members on our behalf and send my warmest thanks to them."

For more information on Amnesty International and the annual report, see amnestyonline.amnestyusa.org.

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