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Amnesty International: Human Rights Worldwide in Retreat

The London-based human-rights organization, Amnesty International, says respect for human rights across the world is on the slide, and the group says U.S. policy has a lot to do with that. The 308-page annual report highlights the state of human rights in nearly 150 countries.

Last year was not a good one as far as human rights goes. That is the conclusion of Amnesty International. Based on detailed information from 145 countries, the organization says governments are betraying their promise of a world order based on human rights.

Amnesty's Secretary General Irene Khan delivered her gloomy assessment.

"In 2004, far from any sign of principled leadership, what we saw was actually a new and dangerous agenda in the making," he said. "Rewriting the rules of human rights, discrediting institutions of international cooperation and usurping the language of justice and freedom to promote policies that create fear and insecurity."

Ms. Khan singled out Sudan, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nepal, Uzbekistan, and Haiti as among the worst human-rights offenders.

Amnesty International says the United States, by its actions, is sending out a permissive signal to abusive governments and that is leading to more torture worldwide.

Ms. Khan says the United States must end, what she calls, its practice of indefinite detention, which she says is in breach of international law.

"Amnesty International is calling on the U.S. administration to close Guantanamo and

A detainee is escorted to interrogation by US military guards at Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base
disclose the rest," she said. "Either release the prisoners or charge and prosecute them with due process. By peddling the politics of fear and division, this new agenda has also encouraged intolerance, racism and xenophobia."

Amnesty International has been refused access to the prison camp. The Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross is the only independent group to have access to the Guantanamo detainees.

Amnesty's Khan says the United States sets the human rights standard worldwide and is the most important role model for other nations.

"The U.S., as the unrivaled political, military and economic super-power, sets the tone of government behavior worldwide," said Ms. Khan. "By thumbing its nose at the rule of law and human rights, what message does the U.S. send to repressive regimes who have little regard for international law anyway?"

Ms. Khan says several governments have openly defied human rights and international humanitarian law in the name of national security and "counter-terrorism."

Amnesty also criticizes the United Nations as being unable and unwilling to hold its member states to account. The report says the U.N. Commission on Human Rights has become a forum for horse-trading on human rights.

Among the few positive trends the group noted in 2004, were U.S. and British legal decisions curbing some anti-terror measures and what Amnesty calls a rise in human-rights activism.

The U.S. government has not responded to the Amnesty report, but a military spokesman says the United States continues to be a leader in human rights, treating detainees humanely and investigating all claims of abuse.