(Washington D.C.) –The worldwide system for protecting human rights was significantly weakened in 2004 by the crisis in Darfur and the Abu Ghraib scandal, Human Rights Watch said in releasing its annual world survey today.
While the two threats are not equivalent, the vitality of global human rights depends on a firm response to each—on stopping the Sudanese government’s slaughter in Darfur and on fully investigating and prosecuting all those responsible for torture and mistreatment in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo.
“The U.S. government is less and less able to push for justice abroad, because it’s unwilling to see justice done at home,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.
Human Rights Watch urged the Bush administration to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate any U.S. officials who participated in, ordered or had command responsibility for torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Human Rights Watch pointed out that senior administration officials have sought to blame the scandal on the young soldiers they sent to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, instead of accepting responsibility themselves for the policies and orders that weakened the rules against torture and inhumane treatment.
The Human Rights Watch World Report 2005 contains survey information on human rights developments in more than 60 countries in 2004. In addition to the introductory essay on Darfur and Abu Ghraib, the volume contains three essays on broad human rights issues: religion and human rights, sexuality and the cultural attack on human rights, and an in-depth analysis of the Darfur crisis.
In the volume’s introductory essay, Roth argues that a large U.N.-authorized military force is needed to protect Darfur residents and to create conditions of security that might allow them to return home safely. The United States and other Western governments, he contends, are wrong simply to hand the problem to the African Union, a new institution with few resources and no experience with military operations of the scale needed.
“Darfur is making a mockery of our vows of ‘never again,’” said Roth.
Roth also urged that, once the United Nations Commission of Inquiry reports to the U.N. Security Council on January 25 on the crimes committed in Darfur, the Security Council should refer the Darfur case to the new International Criminal Court.
“The crimes committed in Darfur must not go unpunished,” said Roth. “The International Criminal Court would be the most efficient and effective institution to prosecute these crimes. The permanent members of the Security Council should not stand in the way of bringing the mass murderers in Darfur to justice.”
Human Rights Watch said that the crisis in Darfur cries out for involvement by the major military powers, but they have chosen to be unavailable. The United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia are bogged down in Iraq, with the United States going so far as to say that “no new action is dictated” by its determination that the killing in Darfur amounts to genocide. France is committed elsewhere in Africa, and Canada is cutting back its peacekeeping commitments, despite promoting the “responsibility to protect.” NATO is preoccupied in Afghanistan; the European Union is deploying forces in Bosnia.
“Everyone has something more important to do than to save the people of Darfur,” said Roth.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government’s systematic use of coercive interrogation has weakened a pillar of international human rights law — the requirement that governments should never subject detainees to torture or other mistreatment, even in the face of war or other serious threat. Yet in fighting terrorism, the U.S. government has treated this cornerstone obligation as a matter of choice, not duty.
By ignoring human rights standards in its reaction to September 11, the Bush administration has made it easier for governments around the world to cite the U.S. example as an excuse to ignore human rights. Egypt has defended a decision to renew its problematic “emergency law” by referring to U.S. anti-terror legislation. The Malaysian government justifies detention without trial by invoking Guantánamo. Russia cites Abu Ghraib to blame abuses in Chechnya solely on low-level soldiers. Cuba now claims the Bush administration had “no moral authority to accuse” it of human rights violations.
“Governments facing human rights pressure from the United States now find it easy to turn the tables,” said Roth. “Washington can’t very well uphold principles that it violates itself.”