Monitor archives:
Copyrighted material

Human Rights Watch Taps U.S. And Sudan As 2004 Worst Offenders

by Jim Lobe

State Dept. Slammed For Whitewashing Human Rights Report (2004)

(IPS) WASHINGTON -- The relative impunity surrounding the ethnic cleansing in Darfur, Sudan, and the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in U.S.-occupied Iraq has dealt a serious blow to respect for human rights, according to a major U.S. group.

"No one would equate the two," according to a lengthy introduction to the 527-page survey of 60 countries by Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), "yet each, in its own way, has had an insidious effect."

"One involves indifference in the face of the worst imaginable atrocities, the other is emblematic of a powerful government flouting a most basic prohibition," he wrote. "One presents a crisis that threatens many lives, the other a case of exceptionalism that threatens the most fundamental rules."

"The vitality of the global defense of human rights depends on a firm response to each," he went on, urging serious efforts by the UN or any competent group of nations to stop the Sudanese government's slaughter in Darfur and to condemn the policy decisions by the Bush administration that resulted in torture and mistreatment of Iraqi and other detainees and to punish those responsible.

This year's survey, the fifteenth since 1990, covers human rights developments in 63 countries worldwide last year, among them the most problematic and controversial. Next to the annual State Department "Country Reports," which are ordinarily released in February, the annual HRW "World Report" is one of the most comprehensive surveys published each year.

In addition to reporting on each of the covered countries, this year's edition also includes essays on the relationship between religion and human rights; sexuality and the cultural attack on human rights; and an in-depth analysis of the Darfur crisis.

Between 70,000 and 300,000 African Darfurese are believed to have died or been killed over the past two years as a direct result of a "scorched-earth" counter-insurgency campaign by the government and government-backed Arab militias that has also forced some 1.6 million to flee their homes.

That the campaign has been carried out on the tenth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda makes the situation particularly compelling.

Last summer, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution characterising the onslaught as "genocide." The term was explicitly endorsed by Secretary of State Colin Powell in September and later by President George W. Bush, although Powell stated that labeling the killing "genocide" did not imply that any "new action" was required.

While a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have also endorsed the label, neither HRW nor Amnesty International has gone so far, maintaining that too little yet was known about the government's specific intent. Both have nonetheless called for strong international action to stop the killing.

The United States has gone to the UN Security Council to press its concerns. But worries that China, which has substantial oil investments in Sudan, and Russia, which profits from arms sales to Khartoum, oppose strong action have led Washington settle for a series of resolutions.

They have called on Sudan to stop the violence, authorized the deployment of up to 3,500 African Union (AU) troops to observe a "cease-fire" in Darfur (of which only about 1,000 have been able to deploy to date), and mandated a UN Commission of Inquiry to assess the situation and report back to the Council at the end of January.

For several months, human rights groups, including Amnesty and HRW, have been calling for the Council to approve a new UN resolution that would at least authorize the AU mission to protect civilians and threaten specific economic sanctions, including possibly an oil embargo, against Khartoum if the violence does not stop within a short period of time.

Some have called for the U.S. to intervene alongside the AU, as well as other willing powers, to impose an end to the killing.

In his introductory essay, Roth argued that a large, UN-authorized military force is now needed to protect Darfur's residents and create the conditions for them to return home safely. He assailed the United States and western governments for simply "handing the problem to the (AU), 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,'" Roth said Thursday, noting that the western powers "have seemed more focused on limiting their obligation to the people of Darfur than on ending the killing."

As for the mistreatment of U.S. detainees held in alleged violation of the Geneva Conventions, Washington has not only seriously weakened its ability to speak out with any credibility about human rights violations by other countries, according to the HRW director, but has also actually made it easier for terrorists, who are responsible for much more serious crimes, to recruit followers.

"(B)ecause deliberately attacking civilians is an affront to the most basic human rights values, an effective defense against terrorism requires not only traditional security measures but also reinforcement of a human rights culture," Roth wrote.

"But when the United States disregards human rights, it undermines that human rights culture and thus sabotages one of the most important tools for dissuading potential terrorists," he said. "Instead, U.S. abuses have provided a new rallying cry for terrorist recruiters, and the pictures from Abu Ghraib have become the recruiting posters for Terrorism, Inc."

The U.S. government's systematic use of coercive interrogation, he said, has weakened a pillar of international human rights law -- 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," he wrote.

Not only is such treatment considered by professional interrogators as far less likely to produce reliable information than time-tested techniques of careful questioning, probing, cross-checking, and gaining the confidence of the detainee, but it completely undermines the credibility of Bush's insistence that Washington is acting in defense of human rights and democratic values, the group says.

Moreover, its actions have already resulted in other countries, such as Egypt, Malaysia, Russia, and Cuba, citing the U.S.'s violation of the Geneva Conventions and other questionable activities conducted in pursuit of its "war on terror" as justifications for their own abuses.

"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."

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor January 13, 2005 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.