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Human Rights Watch World Report Criticizes US on Torture

A leading human rights organization is criticizing the United States for torture and detention without trial, and says Washington is not capable of providing global leadership on the issue of human rights. VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Washington Human Rights Watch issued its annual report, five years after the United States sent the first suspected terrorist detainees to a U.S. military facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Human Rights Watch executive director Ken Roth especially singled out the United States for criticism, lamenting what he called the "demise" of U.S. credibility as an effective champion of global human rights.

"Frankly, one cannot preach what one does not practice," he said. "And so, as a result, while the United States can still talk in broad terms about democracy, it can certainly still help curtail severe atrocities as in Darfur, it cannot credibly combat efforts to use torture, the disappearance of suspects or the detention of suspects without trial, since those are all abuses that the United States itself has been committing."

He specifically referred to the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay. Human rights groups have long charged that the detainees there are subject to cruel and inhuman treatment, and are trapped in an unfair system that may hold them for years, with little or no recourse.

The commander of the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Rear Admiral Harry Harris recently told VOA the nearly 400 detainees who remain in custody were captured on the battlefield, and may be terrorists. He added that they are treated legally and ethically.

Human Rights Watch's Roth said the group's World Report 2007 touches on a long and wide-ranging list of headline concerns.

"Among the major challenges that we outline in the report are the ongoing crimes against humanity in Darfur, which we have all known about for too long and have done too little to stop," he said. "The continuing sectarian violence in Iraq. The resurgent killing in Afghanistan."

He added that there are also ongoing human rights problems in many countries.

"Totalitarian repression that persists in North Korea, Burma, Turkmenistan. Continued closed societies in places like Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Syria. A renewed crackdown on NGO's in places like Russia, Egypt, and Iran. Backsliding in China," he said.

Roth warned that Russia and China are working to fill what he described as a global human rights leadership void, and are trying to lead human rights efforts in what he described as the "wrong direction."

Beijing responded that Human Rights Watch takes "a prejudiced attitude" against China.

Roth also singled out the European Union out for criticism, saying it is, "punching well below its weight when it comes to promoting human rights around the world." He called for Germany, which just took over the six-month rotating EU presidency, to make human rights improvements a priority in its agenda.