LONDON – The United States is treating the globe like one giant battlefield for its war on terror, eroding rights worldwide, a leading human rights group said Wednesday.
Amnesty International's Secretary-General Irene Khan said the United States and its allies' behavior was setting a destructive example for other nations, and that countries across the world were using the war on terror as an excuse to violate human rights and stifle dissent.
"One of the biggest blows to human rights has been the attempt of Western democratic states to roll back some fundamental principles of human rights — like the prohibition of torture," Khan told The Associated Press, speaking before the launch of her organization's annual report on the global state of human rights.
The report condemned the United States' response to international terrorism, saying it had done little to reduce the threat, while deepening mistrust between Muslims and non-Muslims and undermining the rule of law. The Bush administration's policy of extraordinary rendition — the alleged practice of secretly flying terror suspects to countries where they could be tortured — came in for particularly scathing condemnation.
"The U.S. administration's double speak has been breathtakingly shameless," the report said. "It is unrepentant about the global web of abuse it has spun in the name of counterterrorism."
America's unique position on the world stage justified the criticism, Khan said.
"If we focus on the U.S. it's because we believe that the U.S. is a country whose enormous influence and power has to be used constructively," she said. "When countries like the U.S. are seen to undermine or ignore human rights, it sends a very powerful message to others."
The U.S. Embassy in London declined to comment, saying it wanted to study the report before formulating its response.
European countries were attacked for failing to challenge the U.S. rendition scheme, while U.S. allies Britain, Australia, and Japan were singled out for passing harsh new anti-terror or anti-immigration laws.
Russia's crackdown on journalists also attracted Amnesty's ire, as did the deteriorating human rights situation in Zimbabwe. Above all other concerns, though, was the continuing violence in Darfur, which Khan called "a bleeding wound on world conscience."
"The authoritarian drift in Russia has been devastating for journalists and human rights defenders," the report said, noting the assassination of journalist Anna Politkovskaya and new laws clamping down on rights organizations.
The report also criticized China's role in shielding Sudan from U.N. action, saying that the Chinese government and companies showed little regard for their "human rights footprint" on the African continent.
But the weakened moral authority of those pushing for international intervention was also to blame, Khan said.
"On the one hand distrust, and on the other hand double dealing has made the U.N. Security Council dysfunctional on Darfur," she said.
The report did sound some positive notes, saying that a change of the political guard in the United States, and the growth of informal networks of activists were grounds for hope.
Khan compared Amnesty's struggle to the fight against climate change.
"Just as global warming requires global action based on international cooperation, the human rights meltdown can only be tackled through global solidarity and respect for international law," she said.