Human rights abuses still common: Amnesty Intl

"The powerful must lead by example," said the head of Amnesty International on Wednesday. Abuses were still common in China as well as in the rest of the world, and international leaders needed to do more.


The world needs to maintain pressure on China for human rights reform after the Beijing Olympics, the head of Amnesty International told AFP, as the group published its annual report Wednesday.

Irene Khan said China's growing weight as a world power means it can no longer ignore human rights both at home and abroad, after Western criticism of its involvement in hotspots like Sudan, Zimbabwe, Myanmar and North Korea.

Abuses, including the torture and ill-treatment of prisoners, use of the death penalty, censorship, restrictions on assembly and repression of minorities are still commonplace in China, the report said.

Severe restrictions remain on freedom of religion, freedom, and association in Tibet while peaceful expressions of support for the Tibetan spiritual and political leader the Dalai Lama were "harshly punished", it added.

"I think it will be important to maintain the pressure on and engagement with China post-Olympics. That will be a real challenge as it slips off the (news) agenda," Khan said in an interview to mark the report's publication.

Amnesty's secretary-general said the group had detected "some improvement" in 2007 in Chinese civil society and on the death penalty -- where there are moves to hold trials and appeals in public -- and for access by foreign media.

Chinese moves to support African Union and United Nations peacekeepers in Darfur and its help in Myanmar, after a military crackdown on pro-democracy campaigners last year, were "glimmers of hope", she added.

But she said Beijing still had a way to go and should realise that, even on a business level, promoting stability in places like Zimbabwe, North Korea, Myanmar and Darfur could be in their own interests.

"In the longer term, we hope China will begin to realise the value of human rights," she added.

Amnesty gave a bleak assessment of the state of the world's human rights in 2007, 60 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed.

Unrest in Pakistan, post-election violence in Kenya and a crackdown against pro-democracy campaigners in Myanmar showed the West's "impotence" and the "ambivalence or reluctance" of emerging powers to tackle human rights head on.

"Injustice, inequality and impunity are the hallmarks of our world today. Governments must act now to close the yawning gap between promise and performance," Khan said in the report's foreword.

Pressing issues for 2008 were Darfur, Zimbabwe, Gaza, Iraq and Myanmar, she added, calling on governments to recommit to the founding principles of the UN treaty forged in the aftermath of bitter conflict in World War II.

"The powerful must lead by example," she added.

The United States, where a new president will be elected this year, should close the Guantanamo Bay camp for suspected Islamist extremists, charge or release detainees and unequivocally reject torture like "waterboarding".

The European Union came in for criticism for "complicity" with the US-led rendition programme of "secret and unlawful detentions", while Russia was attacked for being "increasingly intolerant of dissent or criticism".

And emerging economic powers like India, Mexico, South Africa and Brazil, need to become role models, it added.

Amnesty said the last 60 years had seen positive developments, including the widespread abolition of the death penalty, the passing of human rights legislation and war crimes prosecutions.

"People power", like the recent Myanmar protests, suggested a shift, as did new alliances between the UN and regional blocs like the AU or Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in addressing crises.

"2008 could be a watershed," Khan told AFP. "For the past few years we have been going down a particular track -- 'the West and the rest' -- which has been very damaging.

"That configuration is going, new bridges are being built, new opportunities are being created. When you combine that with pressure from people, it makes for a pretty hopeful future."

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