May 28, 2008 / 5:13 AM / 11 years ago

Sixty years on, human rights a global mess: Amnesty

LONDON (Reuters) - Six decades after world leaders unanimously signed the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the record is dismal and urgent action is needed to prevent global chaos, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.

Protesters shout slogans during a demonstration outside the Sudanese military headquarters in Khartoum, May 14, 2008. Six decades after world leaders unanimously signed the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the record is dismal and urgent action is needed to prevent global chaos, Amnesty International said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdalla (SUDAN)

From Asia to the United States and Africa, countries are reneging on their global commitments to uphold human rights and people are starting to lose patience, secretary general Irene Khan said in an interview marking the group’s annual report.

“There is a burning platform out there, flashpoints around the world, Iraq, Darfur, Zimbabwe, the Middle East, the Palestinian conflict. Governments have to act before things worsen,” she told Reuters.

China had to live up to its new world-power status and end rights abuses, the United States — which had condoned the use of torture — must clean up its act, Myanmar must open up to the world and African leaders had to show responsibility, Khan said.

Although China had fallen down on the promises on human rights it made when winning its bid to host the Olympic Games in August, the global event will be a lever for change, she said.

“It is important that China recognizes that it is a global power, it is coming on the global stage, it must uphold global values — the global values of human rights at home and abroad.”

“The Chinese government has changed its position on Darfur in the U.N. Security Council. The Chinese government has used its influence on Myanmar to open its door to the U.N.”

“So there is potential there for China to positively use the Olympics to bring about human rights change inside China,” Khan said.

On December 10, 1948 the U.N. general assembly proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, forming a foundation for international human rights law and a first universal statement on the basic principles of human rights.


Amnesty’s annual report, in strong language for an organization that often uses legal jargon, accused the U.S. government of “breathtaking legal obfuscation” in condoning the use of torture to obtain information.

But it also criticized European governments for at best ignoring and at worse facilitating “extraordinary rendition” flights taking U.S. terrorism suspects to countries where torture was used.

“Unfortunately powerful governments like the U.S., like the members of the European Union, set the pattern for behavior of governments around the world but they tend to forget it themselves,” Khan said.

“There is an imperative for governments to change their behavior and that imperative is that human rights problems are like viruses, they spread around the world.”

She welcomed the action by dockworkers in South Africa who earlier this year refused to unload a cargo of arms from China destined for Zimbabwe.

But she also noted the bloody backlash around Johannesburg against immigrants — many who have fled Zimbabwe where the economy is in ruins, starvation is rampant and there is a crackdown on political dissent.

“That is the type of tension that is likely to spill out if governments don’t take care of the root causes of the human rights problems of the kind that we see in Zimbabwe,” Khan said.

But while the past 60 years were cause for lamentation on human rights progress, Khan said there was a glimmer of hope.

“What gives me hope ... is the resurgence of people power. There is a much stronger global movement of people demanding justice and equality. That puts pressure on governments,” she said.

“In the long term history shows that stability comes through respect for human rights.”

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