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State of Human Rights Has Deteriorated Since Sept. 11, says UN Rights Chief

Former Irish President Mary Robinson, about to step down as the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, warns that the war against terrorism is eroding human rights around the world. Ms. Robinson has given a generally bleak assessment of the current state of human rights in an interview with the Associated Press.

During the past year, Ms. Robinson says she has seen human rights standards decline throughout the world. In an interview with AP-TV, Ms. Robinson said countries around the world are using the war on terrorism as an excuse to crush civil and political freedoms.

"Suddenly the 'T' word, the terrorism word, is used all the time, and that is the problem," she said. "So many politicians are using the 'T' word and it is very blunt and it does erode standards of civil rights and civil liberties if we are not careful."

The U.N. human rights chief said human rights have tended to slip since September 11. She says she is afraid that some states are clamping down on legitimate political opposition and curtailing freedom of expression by branding dissidents as terrorists.

"And even in developed countries, we have seen an erosion of the international standards," Ms. Robinson said. "People have been held for long periods. The way in which prisoners have been held in Guantanamo Bay with the great uncertainty about their status despite the requirements of the Geneva Convention and so on."

Ms. Robinson is critical of the Bush Administration for holding hundreds of Taleban and al-Qaeda prisoners in the military base in Cuba without being charged. She says this has set the tone for the deterioration of human rights standards around the world.

She accuses other countries of muzzling freedom in the name of fighting terrorism. She singles out Russia's military operation in Chechnya and China's repressive policies against Tibet and Muslim Uigurs in China.

Ms. Robinson says the world needs leadership in human rights and she says that leadership should be coming from the United States. Unfortunately, she says, it is not.

Ms. Robinson's outspoken criticisms have won her many friends among human rights activists around the world. They also have made her some powerful enemies. Her mandate as High Commissioner ends Wednesday. Her supporters say it was not renewed because of opposition from the United States and other countries.