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Rights Group Condemns Abu Ghraib, Darfur Conflict in Annual Report


A U.S. human rights organization is calling for prosecution of Sudanese officials responsible for the slaughter in Darfur and high-level U.S. officials who might be involved in the torture of prisoners in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. The group Human Rights Watch says both events have significantly weakened the worldwide system for protecting human rights.

In its annual survey of global human rights, Human Rights Watch leads with condemnations of ethnic cleansing in Darfur and the torture of prisoners by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.

The organization's executive director Kenneth Roth, says the group recognizes that the two issues are not of equal magnitude, but that each nevertheless undermines the vitality of the global defense of human rights. "So far, I'm sorry to say, the response to these two crises has not been encouraging," he said.

At a Washington news conference, Mr. Roth criticized the United Nations Security Council for a tepid reaction to the Darfur slaughter, saying it has not deployed a large enough protective force and or applied sanctions to Sudanese leaders in Khartoum. Mr. Roth holds out special criticism for Council member China, which he says is unwilling to offend Sudan in order to protect its interest in the country's oil supplies.

He accuses the international community of a charade of feigned concern. "Ten years after the Rwandan genocide, the continued ethnic cleansing in Darfur makes a mockery of our vows of never again," he said.

Human Rights Watch also calls for the establishment of a special U.S. prosecutor outside of Bush administration control to investigate the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal. Mr. Roth says the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib has been duplicated at other U.S. military detention centers at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and in Afghanistan. In his view, it goes beyond the low level military personnel charged with abuse and reaches to top Bush administration officials. "This abuse of prisoners is the predictable product of an environment created by a series of policy decisions taken at the highest level of the Bush administration. It is a product of the Bush administration's continuing refusal to end and disown coercive interrogation," he said.

The Bush administration rejected the Human Rights Watch call, saying the present military judicial proceedings against the U.S. guards at Abu Ghraib are sufficient.

"I think the administration has been very clear, the president's been very clear, the documents released by the administration have been very clear: We do not condone torture or abuse of prisoners," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. "The actions of the administration have been quite clear in prosecuting this and investigating it and bringing it to light."

Human Rights Watch argues that that the United States does not do enough to promote human rights around the world, despite issuing an annual country-by-country survey of abuses. But Mr. Boucher counters by saying the United States is at the forefront of the defense of human rights around the world. He says it is integral to U.S. diplomacy and foreign aid programs, such as journalist training and support for civil government. "We have been very active in countries, many of whom we're working with closely against terrorism. But in some cases, like Uzbekistan, [we have withheld] funding, even though we have this cooperation on terrorism, because of our concerns about the human rights situation," he said.

The State Department spokesman points to progress in human rights in Afghanistan, where elections have been held, and in Ukraine, where he says the United States publicly decried elections it claimed were rigged.

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