HRW: Too many countries' security measures coming at expense of human rights

HRW report slams US and allies for allowing their military focus on fighting IS “to overshadow efforts to push Damascus to end its abuses.”

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January 29, 2015 18:02
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Syrian Kurds

A Turkish soldier stands guard as Syrian Kurds wait behind a border fence near the southeastern town of Suruc on September 22. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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“Human rights violations played a major role in spawning or aggravating many of today’s crises,” Human Rights Watch Director Kenneth Roth said on Thursday, while presenting the organization’s annual report.

“Protecting human rights and ensuring democratic accountability are key to resolving” those crises, Roth continued.

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In the document, “World Report 2015: Rights Aren’t Wrong in Tough Times,” HRW reviews the record in more than 90 states and territories, concluding that too many countries “ignore human rights to counter serious security challenges.”

Attempting to invert the conventional wisdom that Islamic State has spawned massive innocent killings and human rights violations, the report says the group “is among those global challenges that have sparked a subordination of human rights.”

Islamic State “did not emerge out of nowhere. In addition to the security vacuum left by the US invasion of Iraq, the sectarian and abusive policies of the Iraqi and Syrian governments, international indifference to them, have been important factors in fueling” Islamic State, the report adds.

While most Western media coverage has focused on Islamic State as the main problem in Iraq and Syria, HRW emphasizes that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has failed to disband and relied too heavily “on Shia militias, who carry out killing and cleansing of Sunni civilians with impunity.”

The report adds, “Government forces also attack civilians and populated areas.



Reforming a corrupt and abusive judiciary, and ending sectarian rule so Sunnis feel they have a place in Iraq, will be at least as important as military action to stop ISIS atrocities, but Abadi has so far failed to implement essential reforms.”

Moving to Syria, the report blasts President Bashar Assad for ordering his forces to “deliberately and viciously” attack “civilians in opposition- held areas,” noting that “their use of indiscriminate weapons – most notoriously, barrel bombs – has made life almost intolerable for civilians.”

The report criticizes the UN Security Council, with most of the blame placed on Russia and China, for standing by and blocking any “unified efforts to end the carnage.”

Next, HRW slams the US and its allies for allowing their military focus on fighting Islamic State “to overshadow efforts to push Damascus to end its abuses.”

HRW adds that “this selective concern allows ISIS recruiters to portray themselves to potential supporters as the only force willing to stand up to Assad’s atrocities” – though the NGO does not explain how the US or others could force Assad to observe human rights and does not endorse using ground troops against him to do so, while fighting Islamic State at the same time.

The rights group criticizes US President Barack Obama for refusing to criminally investigate and prosecute CIA and former Bush administration officials who approved enhanced interrogation techniques, referred to by most as torture, in questioning terrorists post-September 11, 2001.

Further, the report references the recent US Senate report and Obama’s own condemnations of the interrogation methods as torture, but faults the president as clearing the way for his successors to reinstate the torture techniques since there was no accountability.

Next, the report says “this failure also greatly weakens the US government’s ability to press other countries to prosecute their own torturers.

HRW does not cite polls in the US that show continued widespread support for enhanced interrogation techniques under certain circumstances.

Despite the large impact of last summer’s Gaza war and 11 pages of the 656- page report being devoted to alleged human rights abuse by Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, none of this is highlighted in the executive summary.

While the 11 pages do criticize all three parties on a range of issues from violating the laws of war, to what it characterizes as illegal settlement building, to criticizing Israel’s policies on migrants and home demolitions, to criticizing the PA and Hamas for torture and arbitrary detention – the report breaks no major ground on any of the matters.

Going against the stance of many Western governments, the report blasts Egypt for its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.

HRW says the “government’s crushing of the Muslim Brotherhood sends the utterly counterproductive message that if political Islamists pursue power at the polls, they will be repressed without protest – which could encourage violent approaches.”

The report does not mention the context of the Muslim Brotherhood’s human rights violations before the current secular Egyptian government taking power and even cites the current government as having reversed earlier progress, without explaining contradictions between that progress and the Brotherhood’s violations.

While much of the world is debating whether France will respond too meekly to its elevated terrorism threat after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the report takes the opposite tack, saying “there is a danger that the government’s response...

using counterterrorism legislation to prosecute speech that does not incite violence – will have a chilling effect on free expression and encourage other governments to use such laws to silence their critics.”

The document goes into detail about human rights violations by both Boko Haram and the government in Nigeria, discussed 12 instances of using explosives in populated areas, including in Israel/Gaza, and a global initiative to limit their use, the threat of government surveillance of the Internet and “Mega-Sporting Events and Human Rights.”

“Meeting security challenges demands not only containing certain dangerous individuals but also rebuilding a moral fabric that underpins the social and political order,” HRW said.

“Some governments make the mistake of seeing human rights as a luxury for less trying times, instead of an essential compass for political action,” Roth said. “Rather than treating human rights as a chafing restraint, policy- makers worldwide would do better to recognize them as moral guides offering a path out of crisis and chaos.”

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