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Group urges Obama to focus on human rights

Group urges Obama to focus on human rights

President-elect Barack Obama should put human rights at the center of U.S. foreign, domestic and security policy to undo "the enormous damage" of the Bush years, a leading research and advocacy group said Wednesday in its survey of conditions in more than 90 countries.
In a 564-page report, Human Rights Watch said the Bush administration largely withdrew from the defense of human rights after deciding to combat terrorism "without regard to such basic rights as not to be subjected to torture, enforced disappearance or detention without trial."
"As a vital first step, Barack Obama and his team should radically rethink how they fight terrorism," said Kenneth Roth, the executive director of the group, a worldwide organization promoting human rights and civil liberties.
Roth said the Bush administration arrogantly has abandoned effective diplomatic efforts to reverse abuses.
"It's not only wrong but ineffectual to commit abuses in the name of fighting terrorism or to excuse abuses by repressive governments because they are thought to be allies in countering terror," he said.
The criticism was flatly rejected by State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. "We take a back seat to no one in our defense of human rights, whether that is helping free people in Iraq and Afghanistan or working to put an end to human traffic, or fighting for the right of every individual to worship as he or she wishes," he said.
McCormack added, "We are proud of our record on promotion of human rights."
In its world review, the report highlighted a human rights crisis in Gaza that existed before hundreds of civilians were killed in recent fighting between Israel and Hamas. Since the report is a review of developments last year, it did not dwell on the current combat. But Human Rights Watch condemned both Israel and the Palestinian militant group for 2008 actions.
These included Israel's blockade of Gaza and indiscriminate Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli towns _ continuing problems that inflamed the recent crisis. The report also documents "serious abuses" that Fatah, the mainstream Palestinian organization, and Hamas imposed on each other.
Between last January and June, Israeli forces killed 388 Palestinian fighters and civilians in Gaza; between January and October, Israelis killed 41 Palestinians on the West Bank, the report said.
Palestinian groups fired rockets into Israel, killing four Israeli civilians through November, the report said. Rocket attacks killed an additional four Israelis, including a soldier, as the tensions escalated at year's end.
In early November alone, Hamas and other Palestinian groups fired over 80 rockets at targets inside Israel in response to an Israeli military operation that killed six fighters, the report said.
The report, meanwhile, said Human Rights Watch had also documented ongoing human rights abuses, including attacks on civilians, during conflicts in Afghanistan, Colombia, Congo, Georgia, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Sudan, and political repression in Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe.
Several countries were singled out for failing to address crises in neighboring countries. For example, the report cited South Africa as failing to deal with Zimbabwe, Egypt as trying to limit scrutiny of abuses in Sudan's Darfur region, and India and China as not addressing repression in Burma.
Democracies are not spared criticism in the report. France and the United Kingdom along with the United States are accused of violating human rights in trying to curb terror.
Praised as speaking out for human rights were Botswana, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Zambia in Africa, and Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico and Uruguay in Latin America.
In Asia, Japan and South Korea tend to be sympathetic to rights but are generally reluctant to take strong public positions, the report said.
Mid-sized and smaller countries that support human rights have been forced to act without the "firm and consistent backing" of the major Western democracies and therefore cannot forge a solution to repression, the report said.
As a result, the report said, the human rights agenda is being set in international forums by countries that would leave human rights to the discretion of individual countries. The report said opponents of international enforcement, such as Algeria, China, Egypt, India, Pakistan, Russia and South Africa, often set the agenda.
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On the Net:
http://www.hrw.org


Updated : 2021-03-06 21:44 GMT+08:00