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Amnesty: Powerful Governments 'Stand Above the Law' on Human Rights

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Amnesty International has released its 2010 report on global human rights abuses. It says on the whole it has been a landmark year for international justice - but barriers to justice have been built by powerful governments who shield allies and only act when it is politically expedient. Amnesty also says poverty and repression remain major problems around the world.

Speaking in London as Amnesty launched its report, interim Secretary General Claudio Cordone told VOA that international justice has moved forward. He says a number of landmark convictions have shown that impunity is on the wane.

"We're very encouraged by the trend for example in Latin America where we had three former heads of states brought to justice from Peru, Uruguay and Argentina," said Cordone.

But he also says powerful governments are limiting progress in international justice by acting only when it is politically expedient.

"We still see governments who hold themselves above the law, for example by not accepting the jurisdiction of the international criminal court," he said. "Among those are seven of the G20 countries. And also, we see governments shielding their political allies from international scrutiny."

The United States, China, and Russia are three of the seven countries that so far have not signed up to the International Criminal Court, or ICC.

Cordone says when the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al Bashir in 2009 it was a breakthrough. It showed, he says, that even sitting heads of state are not above the law.

But the African Union has not cooperated with the warrant - and this, he says, shows how governments are guilty of putting politics before justice.

Cordone says repression remains a major problem around the world. He spoke about the repression seen in Iran following the disputed outcome of the presidential election.

"People have been arbitrarily arrested; have been tortured even the government had to acknowledge that actually women were raped in custody," said Cordone. "We've had death sentences being passed and we've seen the violence in the streets against demonstrators and the situation is still dire for anyone who is a critic that opposes the government or that just wants to carry out proper human rights work."

Amnesty International's report found torture or other ill-treatment in over 100 countries, unfair trials in over fifty, and restrictions on free speech in almost 100 countries.

It says women and migrants remain particular targets of human rights abuses. And xenophobia has risen sharply in Europe.

Widney Brown, Amnesty's Senior Director of International Law and Policy, told VOA that human rights violations are driving and deepening poverty, especially in Africa.

"In Africa, where it's a very resource rich continent, and you have many companies including multi-national corporations and some government-owned, for instance from China, who are going in and extracting the natural resources often with devastating human rights consequences for the people living in the country or the area where the mining is being done," said Brown.

She says massed forced evictions across Africa and especially in Angola, Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria, are driving people further into poverty.

The Amnesty report documents human rights abuses in 159 countries.

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