"We have no prominent leaders in government sounding the clarion call for human rights," said William Schulz, the executive director of Amnesty International USA. "Instead, we have a U.S. government that has abdicated its duty to lead."
Presenting the organization's annual report, Schulz said the group's greatest disappointment was the decline of U.S. leadership on human rights. As examples he cited the U.S. failure to ratify a convention to ban anti-personnel land mines, opposition to establishment of an international criminal court an continued use of the death penalty.
Amnesty also criticized the United States for cases of police brutality, racial discrimination, torture and ill treatment in prisons and jails, abuse of incarcerated children and maltreatment of women prisoners.
"It is no wonder that the U.S. was ousted from the United Nations Human Rights Commission," Schulz said. "That defeat was precipitated by waning U.S. influence and double standards practiced by various administrations and Congresses."
State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said he disagreed with Schulz's criticism of the U.S. human rights record.
"Anybody who has followed the cause of human rights around the world over the years will realize the United States has been and will remain the leading advocate of human rights," Reeker said.
He said the U.S. record "speaks for itself," as do the annual reports the department issues that "painstakingly document the human rights situation in countries around the world."
These four countries account for 88 percent of all known state killings, Schulz said, noting that they go counter to an international trend: more than 60 countries have abolished the death penalty since the United States resumed executions in 1977.
Amnsty's report also criticized the execution of U.S. prisoners who were under 18 when they committed crimes, the mentally impaired and those who got inadequate legal representation.
The year 2000 saw 85 U.S. prisoners executed in 14 states, bringing the total number of executions to 683 since the Supreme Court lifted a moratorium on the death penalty in 1976.
The group singled out the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles as a human rights "scoundrel" and Illinois Gov. George Ryan as a hero for declaring a moratorium on the death penalty "in light of evidence that wrongly convicted people stand a real chance of being executed."
It also cited a California energy company, Unocal, as a scoundrel for business practices that allegedly support the military regime in Myanmar, a charge the company denied.
Amnesty International was born on May 28, 1961, when The Observer newspaper in London published a piece by London lawyer Peter Benenson calling for the release of "prisoners of conscience" incarcerated because of their beliefs or origins.
Forty years later, the group employs more than 350 staff and has an annual budget of almost $28 million. It says it has so far dealt with the cases of 47,000 prisoners of conscience.
This year's annual report documents executions outside the bounds of judicial process in 61 countries, prisoners of conscience in at least 63 countries and cases of torture and ill treatment in 125 countries.
Some other highlights of the report, by region, included:
- Africa: War had a disastrous effect on rights in Burundi, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Sudan, with refugees often caught in the conflicts. There was evidence of torture in at least 32 African countries.
- Americas: Colombia topped the list of problem countries, with its ongoing civil war and thousands of disappearances. Torture and ill-treatment of those in jail was reported "in most countries across the region."
- Asia: China was slammed for repressing religious and ethnic minorities and Myanmar accused of promoting forced labor. Rights deteriorated in Indonesia and failed to improve in Pakistan, while inter-caste warfare claimed lives in India.
- Europe: While violence continued in Chechnya and Kosovo, law enforcement officials in nine countries engaged in "racist ill-treatment" of minority groups. There were reports Russia mistreated detainees, that Spain tortured Basque separatists, and that cops in France and Turkey were given wide latitude to violate rights.
- Middle East: The report slammed both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian violence, saying the Palestinian Authority had detained prisoners of conscience. Security forces and militias killed thousands in Algeria, while torture was reported in Egypt, Iraq and Tunisia, and political repression was seen in Iran.
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