Amnesty International has accused the United States of effectively giving governments a licence to torture.
In its annual report covering 2004, the human rights organisation says the Bush administration’s selective disregard for international law and abuses of detainees was sending a ‘permissive signal to abusive governments’.
‘Governments are betraying their promises on human rights.
‘A new agenda is in the making with the language of freedom and justice being used to pursue policies of fear and insecurity, said Amnesty secretary general Irene Khan, launching the 300-page report yesterday.
The report singles out the US in particular for damaging human rights with its attitude to torture and treatment of detainees.
Khan added yesterday: ‘The US, as the unrivalled political, military and economic hyper-power, sets the tone for governmental behaviour worldwide.
‘When the most powerful country in the world thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights, it grants a licence to others to commit abuse with impunity.’
The Bush administration was seeking ‘to dilute the absolute ban on torture’, she warned.
Khan also condemned the United Nations Commission on Human Rights for failing to stand up for those supposedly in its care.
She said: ‘The UN Commission of Human Rights has become a forum for horse-trading on human rights.
‘Last year the commission dropped Iraq from scrutiny, could not agree on action on Chechnya, Nepal or Zimbabwe and was silent on Guantanamo Bay.’
The report finds that US-occupied Afghanistan was slipping into a ‘downward spiral of lawlessness and instability’ and US-led coalition forces in Iraq were responsible for ‘unlawful killings, torture and other violations’.
The report also highlights concerns about a lack of accountability for human rights violations in Haiti, where the US-backed opposition forced President Aristide out of office.
It condemns the lack of a full independent investigation into abuses against detainees in US custody in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.
In its section on Afghanistan, the report says ‘lawlessness and insecurity increased, hampering efforts towards peace and stability’ adding ‘US forces continued arbitrary and unlawful detentions and failed to conduct independent investigations of reports that Afghan prisoners had been tortured and ill-treated.’
On Iraq it says: ‘US-led forces in Iraq committed gross human rights violations, including unlawful killings and arbitrary detention, and evidence emerged of torture and ill treatment.
‘Thousands of Iraqi civilians were killed during armed clashes between US-led forces and Iraqi security forces on the one side, and Iraqi armed groups on the other.’
It adds: ‘A letter by the US Secretary of State annexed to UN Security Council Resolution 1546 lists “internment” among the tasks of the “Multinational Forces” after 28 June, but fails to mention what legal framework or safeguards would apply.’
It continues: ‘In June the UK authorities announced that four members of the Royal Regiment of the Fusiliers would face court martial for abuse of detainees elsewhere in Iraq.’
It adds: ‘In February UK officials said that UK forces had been involved in the killing of 37 civilians since 1 May 2003, and acknowledged that the figure was not comprehensive.
‘On 1 January Ghanem Kadhem Kati’ was shot dead in Beit Asfar by UK soldiers.
‘A neighbour reportedly tried to tell the soldiers that earlier gunfire was part of a wedding celebration.
‘Ghanem Kadhem Kati’ was unarmed and standing with his back to the soldiers.
‘The UK military police apparently launched an investigation, but its findings were not published by the end of 2004.’
The report says: ‘US, UK and other foreign forces in Iraq continued to enjoy immunity from Iraqi criminal and civil law.’
In the UK section the report says in 2004: ‘The authorities sought to circumvent their obligations under international and domestic human rights law in respect of the conduct of UK armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
‘Self-inflicted deaths, self-harm, overcrowding and detention conditions in (UK) prisons were of major concern.
‘Public inquiries into cases of alleged collusion by security forces in killings in Northern Ireland were announced. However, the authorities further delayed the establishment of an inquiry into the killing of Patrick Finucane.
‘Eleven foreign nationals continued to be interned under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (ATCSA) – legislation adopted after the 11 September 2001 attacks in the USA.
‘Most had been detained for more than three years in high-security facilities under severely restricted regimes.’