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Global crisis 'hits human rights'

May 30, 2009

BBC News
May 28, 2009

The global economic crisis is exacerbating human
rights abuses, Amnesty International has warned.

In its annual report, the group said the downturn
had distracted attention from abuses and created new problems.

Rising prices meant millions were struggling to
meet basic needs in Africa and Asia, it said, and
protests were being met with repression.

Political conflict meant people were suffering in
DR Congo, North Korea, Gaza and Darfur, among others, it said.

'Time-bomb'

The 400-page report, compiled in 157 countries,
said that human rights were being relegated to
the back seat in pursuit of global economic recovery.

The world's poorest people were bearing the brunt
of the economic downturn, Amnesty said, and
millions of people were facing insecurity and indignity.

Migrant workers in China, indigenous groups in
Latin America and those who struggled to meet
basic needs in Africa had all been hit hard, it said.

Where people had tried to protest, their actions
had in many cases been met with repression and violence.

The group warned that rising poverty could lead
to instability and mass violence.

"The underlying global economic crisis is an
explosive human rights crisis: a combination of
social, economic and political problems has
created a time-bomb of human rights abuses," said
Amnesty's Secretary General, Irene Khan.

The group is launching a new campaign called
Demand Dignity aimed at tackling the
marginalisation of millions through poverty.

World leaders should set an example and invest in
human rights as purposefully as they invest in economic growth, Ms Khan said.

"Economic recovery will be neither sustainable
nor equitable if governments fail to tackle
abuses that drive and deepen poverty, or armed
conflicts that generate new violations," she said.

See below for highlights of the report by region

AFRICA

Amnesty says the economic crisis has had a direct
impact on human rights abuses on the continent.

"People came into the streets to protest against
the high cost of living," Erwin van der Borght,
Amnesty's Africa programme director, told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

"The reaction we saw from the authorities was
very repressive. For example, in Cameroon about
100 people were killed in February last year."

But the bulk of Amnesty's report concentrated on
the continent's three main conflict zones: the
Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Sudan.

In DR Congo, the focus was on the east where it
said civilians had suffered terribly at the hands
of government soldiers and rebel groups. The Hutu
FDLR movement, for example, was accused of raping
women and burning people alive in their homes.

Amnesty said it was also the civilians in Somalia
who bore the brunt of conflict, with tens of
thousands fleeing violence and hundreds killed by
ferocious fighting in the capital, Mogadishu. It
also highlighted the killing and abduction of journalists and aid workers.

In Sudan, Amnesty catalogued a series of abuses
including the sentencing to death of members of a
rebel group, a clampdown on human rights
activists and the expulsion of several aid groups
following the issuing of an international arrest
warrant against President Omar al-Bashir.

A number of countries, including Zimbabwe and
Ethiopia, were criticised for intimidating and
imprisoning members of the opposition.

And Nigeria came under fire for the forced
evictions of thousands of people in the eastern city of Port Harcourt.

ASIA

Across the region, millions fell further into
poverty as the cost of basic necessities rose, Amnesty said.

In Burma, the military government rejected
international aid in the aftermath of Cyclone
Nargis and punished those who tried to help
victims of the disaster. It continued campaigns
against minority groups which involved forced
labour, torture and murder, Amnesty said.

In North Korea, millions are said to have
experienced hunger not seen in a decade and
thousands tried to flee, only to be caught and
returned to detention, forced labour and torture.
In both North Korea and Burma, freedom of expression was non-existent.

In China, the run-up to the Beijing Olympic Games
was marred by a clamp-down on activists and
journalists, and the forcible evictions of
thousands from their homes, the report said.
Ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet continued
to suffer from systematic discrimination,
witnessing unrest followed by government suppression.

Millions of Afghans faced persistent insecurity
at the hands of Taliban militants. The Afghan
government failed to maintain the rule of law or
to provide basic services to many. Girls and
women particularly suffered a lack of access to health and education services.

In Sri Lanka, the government prevented
international aid workers or journalists from
reaching the conflict zone to assist or witness
the plight of those caught up in fighting between
government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels.

MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA

Israel's military operation in Gaza in December
2008 caused a disproportionate number of civilian
casualties, Amnesty said. Its blockade of the
territory "exacerbated an already dire
humanitarian situation, health and sanitation
problems, poverty and malnutrition for the 1.5
million residents", according to the report.

On the Palestinian side, both Hamas and the
Palestinian Authority were accused of repressing
dissent and detaining political opponents.

The death penalty was used extensively in Iran,
Iraq, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Across the region,
women faced discrimination both under the law and
in practice, Amnesty said, and many faced
violence at the hands of spouses or male relatives.

Governments that included Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon,
Syria and Yemen are said to have used often
sweeping counter-terrorism laws to clamp down on
their political opponents and to stifle legitimate criticism.

AMERICAS

Indigenous communities across Central and South
America were disproportionately affected by
poverty while their land rights are ignored,
Amnesty said. Development projects on indigenous
land were often accompanied by harassment and violence.

Women and girls faced violence and sexual abuse,
particularly in Haiti and Nicaragua. The stigma
associated with the abuse condemned many to
silence, the report said, while laws in some
nations meant that abortion was not available to
those who became pregnant as a result of abuse or assault.

Gang violence worsened in some nations; in
Guatemala and Brazil evidence emerged of police
involvement in the killings of suspected criminals, the report found.

America continued to employ the death penalty,
the report noted, and concern persisted over
foreign nationals held at America's Guantanamo
Bay detention centre, although the report
acknowledged the commitment by US President Barack Obama to close it down.

EUROPE AND CENTRAL ASIA

Civilians paid a high price for last year's
conflict between Russia and Georgia, Amnesty
said. Hundreds of people died and 200,000 were
displaced. In many cases, civilians' homes and lives were devastated.

Many nations continued to deny fair treatment to
asylum seekers, with some deporting individuals
or groups to countries where they faced the possibility of harm.

Roma (gypsies) faced systematic discrimination
across the region and were largely excluded from public life in all countries.

Freedom of expression remained poor in countries
such as Belarus, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and other Central Asian nations.
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