Covering 150 countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, Amnesty
International Report 2006 is a commentary on the state of the world’s
human rights. It covers a range of issues and the responsibilities of
governments - big and small - armed groups and business. But the
overarching message that comes through is that:
Powerful governments are playing a dangerous game with human
Those with power and influence – the US, European Union members, China
and Russia – have been either complicit or compromised by human rights
violations in 2005 at home and abroad.
Governments continued to sacrifice principles in the name of
“the war on terror”.
A year ago, almost to the day, here in this room, on behalf of Amnesty
International (AI), I called for Guantánamo prison camp to be closed.
What was then AI’s lone voice has now become a large and influential
chorus, including opinion leaders in the US, religious figures, key
governments and UN entities, including the UN Committee against
Torture. The US Administration reacted strongly to our call, but in a
recent interview on German TV, even President Bush said that he “would
very much like to close Guantánamo and put the prisoners on trial”. We
in AI strongly urge him to do that or to release them immediately.
A year is a long time in politics – but it is an even longer time
if you happen to be a prisoner without charge, trial, or prospect of
release in Guantánamo. Some 460 people of around 40 different
nationalities remain in Guantánamo. Their desperation is evident in
the large numbers of suicide attempts, in one case more than 12 times,
and hunger strikes. Last Friday’s incident of the attack on prison
guards was yet another sign of the desperate situation. Guantánamo is
a pressure cooker waiting to explode.
Guantánamo is only the tip of the iceberg of a large network of
detention centres in Iraq, Afghanistan and secret locations around the
world where the US and its allies are holding thousands of prisoners
without charge or trial. Last week the UN Committee against Torture
asked the US delegation whether the US maintains secret detention
centres, the delegate responded: “No comment”.
Duplicity and double speak have become the hallmark of
the war on terror.
Senior US officials – including Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and
President George Bush – gave assurances that the US does not practice
torture. Yet, our research over the past year has shown evidence of
widespread torture and ill treatment in the US-controlled detention
centres. Our research also shows that the CIA has forcibly transferred
prisoners to countries where they have been tortured. The IT industry
outsources software development to India – the US outsources torture
to countries like Morocco, Egypt, Jordan and Syria.
A new aspect of the “war on terror” in 2005 was the concrete
evidence that European governments are partners in crime of the US in
rendering or transferring prisoners forcibly to countries where they
have been tortured. At least seven European countries have been
implicated in the rendition of fourteen individuals – but so far only
one country (Italy) has opened criminal prosecution against the CIA.
Public outrage has forced accountability, with investigations by
the European Parliament, the Council of Europe and some national
institutions, into renditions and US-run secret prisons.
Public institutions refused to undermine the prohibition on
torture. The UK House of Lords rejected the argument of the government
that it is lawful to introduce evidence in court proceedings that has
been extracted as a result of torture by foreign agents abroad.
The US Senate adopted a law prohibiting the torture and ill
treatment of prisoners in US custody anywhere in the world.
Sadly, instead of accepting and welcoming the efforts of courts
and legislatures to reinstate respect for human rights, some
governments found new ways to deny or dodge their international
Bending to Republican pressure President Bush signed the bill
prohibiting torture, but attached a statement effectively reserving
the right of the executive to bypass the provision on national
The UK professed to uphold the prohibition against torture but
then, negotiated diplomatic assurances from countries that have a
record of torture so that it could freely return people, including
persons who had been tortured there previously. Lebanon, Jordan,
Libya, Egypt, Algeria are all countries with which the UK has obtained
or is in the process of obtaining such guarantees.
The position in international law is clear. Nothing can justify
torture and ill treatment. Just as we must condemn terrorist
attacks on civilians in the strongest possible terms, we must resist
claims by governments that terror can be fought with torture. Such
claims are misleading, dangerous and simply wrong – you cannot
extinguish a fire with petrol.
When the US government ignores the absolute prohibition on
torture and fails to investigate abuses by its soldiers, when the
European governments bury their collective heads in the sand and
refuse to question their own record on renditions, racism or refugees,
they damage their ability to champion human rights elsewhere in the
Not every human rights abuse can be attributed to the war on
terror but there is no doubt that it has given a new lease of life to
old fashioned repression in some parts of the world.
In 2005 it provided an effective smoke screen for governments in the
Middle East and North Africa to carry on with arbitrary detention,
torture, unfair trial, suppression of political dissent, ethnic
persecution, for instance of Kurds and religious minorities. These
governments today do with greater confidence what they did in the past
with fear of criticism. The war on terror has seen the rehabilitation
of Libya, formerly considered a terrorist state, with the US
re-establishing diplomatic ties, and the UK negotiating diplomatic
assurances. On Sunday a Swiss Amnesty member in Tunisia was expelled,
and yesterday a Tunisian member was arrested and then released – just
two cases among many of harassment of human rights defenders.
But the real cost of the war on terror has not only been in the
curtailment of civil liberties but in the lives and livelihoods of the
2005 saw the biggest ever mobilization of civil society and public
support to eradicate poverty. But in response, the UN Summit showed
governments miserably failing to match promise to performance on the
Millennium Development Goals. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina
and riots in France, 2005 was also a year which showed the glaring
disparity, discrimination and alienation in the heart of richest
countries of the world.
Women’s human rights have been another hidden casualty of the war
on terror. March 2005 marked the 10th anniversary of the Beijing
Platform of Action for Women – but rather than building on the
progress, it was spent resisting the backlash from conservative forces
who have gained new lease of life in the current security environment.
War on terror gets attention – the war on women goes unnoticed, with
hundreds of women, for instance, in Mexico and Guatemala being killed
with impunity; or 25% of women globally facing sexual abuse at the
hands of their partner.
At a time of unprecedented globalization, with barriers to goods
and capital being dismantled, 2005 saw the building of borders against
refugees and migrants. Ignoring the economic exploitation of illegal
migrants, governments focussed instead on building borders – whether
against Burmese workers in Thailand, or African migrants in the
Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, and now in the US.
The security agenda of the powerful and privileged hijacked the
energy and attention of the world from serious human rights crises.
Social development was not the only casualty. The forgotten conflicts
in Africa, Asia and the Middle East took their toll. Israel and the
Occupied Territories also slipped off the international agenda in
2005, deepening the distress and despair of Palestinians and the fear
Powerful governments squandered their resources and spend their
capacity in pursuit of military and security strategies that reaped a
The score card of continued conflict and mounting human rights abuses
are there for all to see in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The failure to investigate or prosecute abuses committed by their
own soldiers or private security contractors undermined the claims by
the Multi National Forces (MNF) that they were restoring the rule of
law in the country. The current strategies of the Iraqi government and
the MNF are clearly not working. When the powerful are too arrogant to
review and reassess their strategies the heaviest price is paid by the
poor and the powerless: in this case ordinary Iraqi women, men and
Governments, collectively and individually, paralysed
international institutions and squandered resources and capacity in
misguided military and security strategies.
Darfur was the saddest case in point in 2005. Two million people
have been displaced, over 200,000 have died, thousands have been raped
and the atrocities continue unabated. Intermittent attention and
feeble action by the United Nations and the African Union fell
pathetically short of what was needed in Darfur. China and Russia
paralysed the UN Security Council to protect their oil interests and
arms trade with Khartoum. The US was keen but its capacity was sapped
by Iraq, and its moral authority tarnished by the war on terror.
In a year in which the UN spent much of its time discussing reform
and membership of the UN Security Council, it failed to give attention
to the performance of two key members – China and Russia – who have
consistently allowed their narrow political and economic interests to
prevail over human rights and responsibilities domestically and
Russia’s behaviour sent a strong message on human rights to its close
neighbours. Its hostility to its own human rights defenders did not go
unnoticed by other states with similar desires to clamp down on civil
society. Russia supported Uzbekistan when it refused to allow an
independent investigation into the Andizhan killings. Russia’s own
approach to Chechnya was based on impunity for the abuses committed by
its own security forces.
China’s rise as a global economic power places upon it greater
responsibility in international relations. But China continued to show
little concern for human rights at home or abroad, entering into
economic partnerships with some of the most repressive regimes around
the world, and continuing to restrict human rights at home.
2005 has been a year of contradictions – with signs of hope
wrestling against failed promises and failures of leadership.
The overall number of conflicts worldwide has been decreasing, thanks
to international conflict management, prevention and peace-building
initiatives, giving hope to millions of people in countries like
Angola, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
In Nepal, resistance by human rights defenders, journalists and
political leaders, on the one hand, and firm pressure from allies
abroad on the other, forced the King to hand power back to Parliament.
Despite the shortcomings of national judicial systems, the fight
against impunity continues to gain new strength with steps being taken
to bring Augusto Pinochet, Alberto Fujimori and Charles Taylor to
justice. The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued its first
indictments against leaders of armed groups in northern Uganda and the
Democratic Republic of Congo.
The much discredited UN human rights machinery was overhauled and a
new Human Rights Council has been established.
And in 2005 we saw an extraordinary display of solidarity and
resistance across borders of human rights activists and ordinary
people. From indigenous groups rallying in Latin America, to women
asserting their rights in Asia, to mass demonstrations of migrants in
US cities, the human rights idea – and the world-wide movement
of people that drives it forward – is more powerful and stronger than
More and more, governments are being called to account: before
legislatures, in courts and other public forums. Lines, however
fragile, are being drawn. Voices are being raised. This offers hope
for a more principled approach to human rights and security in the
future. In the long-term, this growth of civil society and mass action
bodes well for the protection of human rights. There is real potential
here for change.
As we look forward to 2006 it is clear that there are both
opportunities and risks – through our campaigns we are putting
First, Guantánamo must close. President Bush should keep his word. His
credibility will be held hostage until he ends this shameful symbol of
US abuse of power. The US and its allies must disclose the names and
locations of all others held in secret detention – the detainees
should be prosecuted or released.
Second, small arms are the real weapons of mass destruction. They fuel
conflict, poverty and human rights abuses worldwide. The UN Review
Conference this June is an opportunity for governments to agree to an
Arms Trade Treaty. We call on all governments to support it.
Third, the new UN Human Rights Council machinery will
meet for the first time next month. It must not be tainted with old
power games. It must insist on equal standards by all governments,
whether in Darfur or Guantánamo, Chechnya or China.
Finally, the killings, rape and displacement in Darfur must stop.
The Darfour Peace Agreement contains strong human rights provisions
that offer a way ahead, if properly implemented. But for it to work,
the UN Security Council must urgently deploy UN peacekeepers, and must
not allow itself to be manipulated by the government of Sudan. Pending
their deployment, the African Union monitors must be supported by the
international community to carry out their work. There is a particular
responsibility on the Arab states to encourage Sudan to concede to the
UN operation. Arab leaders do a disservice to themselves and their
people when they use solidarity as a shield to avoid their human
More than ever the world needs countries with power and influence to
behave with responsibility and respect for human rights. Governments
must stop playing games with human rights.