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Human Rights Watch: Abuse on the Rise - 2002-01-17

A leading human rights organization says countries around the world are using the United States-led war against terrorism to crack down on domestic dissent. Human Rights Watch says western governments are ignoring human rights abuses in some countries that have joined the campaign against terrorism.

In its annual global report, Human Rights Watch named Russia, Uzbekistan and Egypt as nations that are using the war against terrorism to crush internal dissent. Speaking at a Washington news conference, the organization's executive director, Kenneth Roth, said western criticism of Russia's military campaign in Chechnya faded following the September 11th terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

"Shortly afterwards, German Chancellor Schroeder and Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi said that Russia's actions in Chechnya must be reassessed," says Mr. Roth. "The U.S. government, which in April had supported a U.N. resolution condemning atrocities in Chechnya, began to downplay its concerns over human rights and to play up alleged links between al-Qaida and the Chechen rebels, although there are signs now that that tolerance of Russian atrocities in Chechnya may be beginning to wane."

Human Rights Watch directs similar criticism at the government of Uzbekistan. Calling the country's human rights record "appalling," the report says Uzbekistan imprisons and tortures Muslims praying outside state-run mosques. The report says the country does not allow the formation of independent political parties or a free press, but because Uzbekistan borders Afghanistan, the report says its violations are overlooked by the west.

Egypt is also cited in the report for its deteriorating human rights policies that permit torture and unfair military trials.

While the report condemns the September 11 attacks, it says nothing must be allowed to compromise human rights principles. It says some nations, such as Zimbabwe, have used the campaign against terrorism to further restrict independent journalists.

Human Rights Watch says Afghanistan, the center of the fight against terrorism, should participate in a post-war effort to remedy past violations. Mr. Roth called for an investigation into atrocities that took place there.

"Afghanistan today has a wonderful opportunity, having escaped the highly-repressive Taleban regime," he says. "Will the west now put pressure on the Afghan parties to break definitively with the atrocities of the past, by bringing abusive figures of all factions to justice?"

The report also criticizes some efforts by western governments to crack down on terrorism. Mr. Roth says new restrictions on civil liberties in the United States, and Australia's attempts to limit immigration could compromise the ability of either country to question human rights violations abroad.

Mr. Roth also says adherence to human rights and tolerance of dissent limits the development of terrorism. He cites Morocco, Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain and Iran as countries that have made improvements in their human rights policies.