An Appalling Year for Rights

The Christian Century, August 11, 1993 | Go to article overview

An Appalling Year for Rights


GOVERNMENTS continue to put polities before people's lives," declared Amnesty International as it released its 1993 annual report. The report was issued in the wake of the first U N World Conference on human rights in 25 years, and the London-based organization took advantage of the occasion to level some critical remarks at the recent UN gathering in Vienna. "The World Conference has restated the human rights principles of the past, instead of dealing with the violations of today and the threats of the future," said Amnesty. "When we compare the fine speeches and final document [of the conference] with the damning evidence of political repression in this report, it is clear that goverments have yet to prove that the World Conference will make a difference to the lives of people around the world."

Amnesty International's latest report details human rights violations in 161 countries--the largest number cited in the organization's 32-year history. Goverments of all complexions have failed to protect basic rights at home and abroad, according to the report. In their responses to the human rights crises of 1992, governments showed their blatant hypocrisy, Al said. Human rights violations of allies were often greeted with silence, while those of declared enemies were met with public condemnations, sometimes backed with action.

A number of gross human rights violations were detailed in AI's global survey. The rising political conflict, often violent, in Egypt, Algeria and Israel and the occupied territories led to government killings, mass arrests, renewed reports of torture in Algeria and continuing torture in Egypt. Torture and rape of prisoners were widespread throughout India, where the vast majority of victims were poor or from other vulnerable sections of society. With the complete breakdown of any semblance of national government in Somalia, thousands of unarmed civilians were deliberately killed by armed political groups. And in a largely unreported civil war in Tadzhikistan, officials estimated that 20,000 people had died by the end of 1992; many unarmed civilians were deliberately killed. Al also said that executions spiraled in the U.S., with 31 prisoners killed by the state--more than double the count for the previous year.

Other human rights violations worldwide detailed in the report fell into the following categories: * Prisoners. Prisoners of conscience--jailed solely for the peaceful exercise of their basic human rights--were held in some 62 countries. Possible prisoners of conscience were held in 32 other countries. The number of known prisoners of conscience in those countries totaled more than 4,400. At least 300,000 political prisoners were detained without charge or trial or put under administrative detention in more than 60 countries. * Unfair trials. More than 1,500 political prisoners were imprisoned after unfair trials in at least 30 countries. Political prisoners in 20 countries were still in prison after unfair trials in previous years. * Torture/ill-treatment. Detainees were tortured or ill-treated in prisons, police stations or secret detention centers in at least 110 countries. In some 48 countries more than 500 people died apparently as a result of torture or inhuman prison conditions or tinder "suspicious" circumstances. …

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