Amnesty International accuses governments and armed groups of fomenting fear to erode human rights and create an increasingly polarized world. The human rights organization launched its annual report in London and other world capitals. VOA's Sonja Pace has this report from the British capital.

A time of fear is how Amnesty International describes this past year. Amnesty Secretary-General Irene Kahn spoke of an erosion of human rights in an increasingly divided and dangerous world.

"In 2006, short-sighted, fear-mongering policies undermined the rule of law and human rights, fed racism and xenophobia, fueled discrimination, suppressed dissent, intensified conflict and sowed the seeds of more violence," she said.

Speaking to reporters in London, Kahn outlined some of the main points of the report, which documents the human rights situation in 153 countries from January to December 2006.

The U.S.-led war on terror came in for harsh criticism and the report accuses powerful governments of playing on the public's fear to introduce increasingly restrictive laws that erode human rights.

"The U.S. administration is treating the world as one giant battlefield for its war on terror and more evidence surfaced in 2006 to show how suspects were kidnapped, arrested, detained, tortured and transferred from one secret prison to another across the world within impunity and with the complicity of allies," she said.

The report also describes what is says were gross human rights violations across the Middle East, including Iraq.

"The Iraqi security forces are inciting rather than stopping sectarian violence. The Iraqi justice system is woefully inadequate and the worst practices of Saddam Hussein's regime - torture, unfair trials, capital punishment and rape with impunity are very much alive today," said Kahn.

Kahn asserts that the war on terror and ongoing violence and turmoil in Iraq have had far reaching effects elsewhere - in that they have diminished U.S. credibility in the world and limited its efforts to stand up for human rights.

Darfur in Sudan is a case in point, says Khan.

"Darfur is a bleeding wound on the world's conscience," she said. "The U.S. government has been outspoken on the need to protect civilians in Darfur and we welcome that very much. But nothing proves more clearly the loss of U.S. moral authority than its failure to persuade the Sudanese government to accept U.N. peacekeepers."

The Amnesty report says lack of action by the United States and other U.N. Security Council members to stop last year's war in Lebanon [between Israel and the Hezbollah militant group] and to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is adding to sectarian differences and instability. Kahn cites the ongoing violence and chaos in Gaza, in particular.

"With renewed military attacks, widespread violence, a strangled economy and a collapsing Palestinian pre-state, a human rights nightmare is unfolding under our very eyes while the international community remains complacent," she said.

The Amnesty report's list goes on - repression, detentions, violence against women around the globe from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, in stable democracies such as Britain and the United States and in emerging economic powers such as Russia and China.

While the report harshly criticizes the lack of political leadership around the world to uphold human rights, it praises the work of civil society - non-government groups, activists and in some instances the media, in highlighting human rights abuses and holding governments accountable.