By Lucia Mouat, writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
THOSE democratic breezes wafting through Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union have helped spur "great improvements" in human rights practices there, says Amnesty International USA director John Healey.
Thousands of East European prisoners of conscience - those detained for their beliefs or race or ethnic origin who do not advocate or use violence - have been released in the last several months.
In the Soviet Union, no more than 20 prisoners of conscience are being held, Mr. Healey says; and psychiatric wards are no longer used for them. Human rights have also gained in newly democratic Chile and Namibia.
But that's about it for the good news from Amnesty International. This month the London-based organization issued a 300-page report summarizing human rights violations during 1989 in 138 countries. It's a story of real-life violence that makes the action-packed summer movies look mild by comparison.
Much of the human rights abuse, perpetrated by governments, is directed against ethnic and racial minorities, Healey says in a telephone interview from Amnesty's Washington office. Though prodded by rebel or nationalist groups, insecure governments often reach beyond the immediate threat and subject entire minority populations to arrests, torture, and murder. Amnesty contends that governments have no excuse for violating basic human rights of citizens or others under its control.
By Amnesty's tally, prisoners were tortured in close to 100 countries. Arrest and imprisonment for political reasons continues in more than half of all countries surveyed. Calling China's recent human rights record "bad beyond belief," Healey notes that Tibetan demonstrations for independence last year prompted numerous reports of torture and murder by the Chinese government and more than 1,000 arrests. "Death squads" gunned down critics in at least 35 countries in 1989, according to Amnesty's report. In some cases, residents of entire towns were rounded up and shot. People have "disappeared" or been secretly detained in more than 20 countries. …