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America's Exceptional Values

More on America's Exceptional Values. From the LA Times, 5/30/01:

U.S. 'Impediment' to Human Rights, Report Declares

Justice: Amnesty International cites opposition to ban on land mines and abuse of female prisoners as examples of backsliding.

By NORMAN KEMPSTER, Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON—The United States set the international standard for freedom and democracy decades ago but recently has fallen far short of the mark, often becoming an "impediment" to the sort of human rights that it once championed, Amnesty International says in a report to be issued today.

The organization, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977, put Washington's recent record at the top of a list of "the five greatest disappointments" in the field of human rights in the past 40 years.

"Twenty-five years ago, [President] Jimmy Carter made human rights a central tenet of his foreign policy," the report says. "Today, however, the United States is as frequently an impediment to human rights as it is an advocate."

The report says Carter's successors in the White House, both Democrat and Republican, "have ignored or opposed several key human rights treaties."

It cites specifically the Clinton administration's opposition to pacts banning the use of land mines and establishing an international criminal court. The Bush administration also opposes the measures.

Other nongovernmental human rights organizations have criticized the U.S. in the past, but the Amnesty International report is one of the most scalding. And it comes just weeks after Washington lost its seat on the U.N. Human Rights Commission, an incident that generated a wave of anger on Capitol Hill and produced a defensive U.S. response to any sort of human rights criticism.

Opening a hearing on the U.N. vote last week, Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), chairman of the international operations subcommittee, said it may be time to reorganize a U.N. commission that excludes the U.S. but includes Sudan, widely criticized here for its human rights record.

Allen added that the European Union—which holds three seats on the U.N. panel—may have to assume the leading role that had been played by the United States. Previously, he said, Europe "tended to treat dictatorial governments like Cuba, Libya and Sudan as ordinary countries" with which profitable business could be done.

The Amnesty International report levels a similar criticism at the United States: "Ten years after the end of the Cold War, the U.S. continues to support—through aid, military training and arms sales—many of the world's most egregious human rights abusers."

The report gives no examples, but William F. Schulz, executive director of the U.S. branch of the London-based organization, cited U.S. aid to the Colombian military, a force frequently accused of human rights violations.

Schulz conceded that the U.S. is not in the same league with countries such as Sudan when it comes to repression. But he charged that U.S. hypocrisy and a failure to live up to its own standards merited the spot at the top of the list of disappointments.

"The U.S. is a model and has always seen itself as a model of democracy," Schulz said in a telephone interview. "When you are a model . . . you set the rules and decide which ones to play by."

The State Department issues an annual report rating the human rights practices of every nation except for one—the United States. But Schulz suggested several U.S. practices that might merit criticism in the report if they occurred elsewhere.

"The United States is the leading producer of equipment that can be used for torture, such as electric shock batons and handcuffs with serrated edges," Schulz said. "We have seen growing examples of sexual mistreatment of women prisoners by guards and prison officials. And the treatment of political asylum seekers is deplorable. When they come here, instead of having their cases adjudicated quickly, they are often thrown into county jails."

Other matters on Amnesty International's list of disappointments include the failure of the fall of communism in Europe to produce a genuine democratic revolution; continued acts of "genocide" in nations such as Cambodia, Rwanda and Sudan, despite the world's vow of "never again" following the Holocaust; continued impediments to universal human rights; and the failure of international institutions to support and promote human rights.

In a contrasting list of human rights advances since Amnesty International was established in 1961, the report cites a "democratization of information" produced by the spread of computers and access to the Internet.

Schulz said the cyber-revolution means that governments can no longer hide repression and persecution.

Moreover, he said, repressed populations have a way of discovering what their rights are, sometimes a first step toward asserting those rights.

Other advances cited by the report include the growth of institutions of accountability, such as the international tribunals adjudicating war crimes committed in the former Yugoslav federation and Rwanda, the development of local human rights organizations, and growing recognition that human rights should be universal.

Copyright © 2001 Los Angeles Times

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