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Human rights abusers 'turn on activists in 2009'
By Sebastian Smith (AFP) – 5 hours ago

NEW YORK — Human rights defenders from Russia to Sri Lanka were
themselves targets of vicious abuses in 2009, Human Rights Watch said
Wednesday in its annual world report.

HRW's executive director, Kenneth Roth, introduced the 624-page report
by saying abuses against defenders of human rights represented a
backlash by governments feeling the pressure.

"Attacks on rights defenders might be seen as a perverse tribute to the
human rights movement, but that doesn?t mitigate the danger," Roth said.
"Under various pretexts, abusive governments are attacking the very
foundations of the human rights movement."

The report highlights the daylight kidnapping and murder of Natalia
Estemirova, who investigated abductions, torture and illegal executions
in Chechnya — most of them by Russian and Russian-installed Chechen forces.

Her murder came after a prominent human rights lawyer, Stanislav
Markelov, was shot dead in central Moscow, and was followed by the
murder of two charity workers in Chechnya and the gunning down of an
opposition and civic activist in neighboring Ingushetia.

Other countries where human rights monitors were murdered included
Afghanistan, Burundi, Kenya and Sri Lanka, HRW said.

Authoritarian countries such as Mynamar and China also saw repression,
while Eritrea, North Korea and Turkmenistan were so abusive that "no
domestic human rights movement can function," HRW said in a statement
launching the report.

In addition to violent attacks, countries including China and Iran used
the disbarment of lawyers, faked criminal charges, or — as in Russia
and Azerbaijan — libel laws to silence dissent, HRW said.

Sudan and China in particular regularly close human rights groups, while
Iran and Uzbekistan "openly harass and arbitrarily detain" rights defenders.

Another government singled out is Israel where human rights defenders
"have experienced a more hostile climate than ever before after
documenting abuses committed by Israel, as well as Hamas."

HRW also criticized the United States, saying that despite President
Barack Obama's pledge to close Guantanamo Bay and end torture,
Washington is maintaining military commissions for some terrorist suspects.

That and "continuing to hold suspects indefinitely without charge or
trial… (risk) perpetuating the spirit of Guantanamo," Roth said.

He called for prosecution of all "those who have ordered, facilitated,
or carried out torture and other ill-treatment," he said.

Roth said the only hope for human rights defenders in dangerous
countries is international support.

"Governments that support human rights need to speak out, to make
respecting human rights the bedrock of their diplomacy — and of their
own practices," Roth said.

HRW also decried what it called a concerted attack on the International
Criminal Court (ICC) following the issuing of a war crimes arrest
warrant against Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, whose forces are
accused of atrocities in Darfur.

"Instead of applauding the ICC for taking action to redress the mass
murder and forced displacement…, the African Union resolved in July
not to cooperate in executing the arrest warrant," HRW said.

Human Rights Watch also highlighted:

— China's "harsh crackdown" on ethnic violence in the Uighur-majority
Xinjiang province.

— Cuba, where the switch from Fidel Castro to his brother Raul in 2006
"has had little effect on Cuba?s dismal human rights record. Cuba
remains the one country in Latin America that represses virtually all
forms of political dissent."

— The Democratic Republic of Congo where the government and rebel
forces were responsible for a "dramatic increase in violence against
civilians." The report said "at least 2,500 civilians were slaughtered,
over 7,000 women and girls were raped, and more than one million people
were forced to flee."

— Iran's crackdown following the June 2009 presidential election where
"ordinary protestors and prominent opposition figures faced detention
without trial, harsh treatment including sexual violence and denial of
due process."

— Iraq where "conditions in Iraq remain extremely poor, especially for
displaced persons, religious and ethnic minorities, and vulnerable
groups such as women and girls, and men suspected of homosexual conduct."

— Israel and Gaza where civilians were the targets of military
assaults, particularly in the intense Israeli assault on Gaza a year ago.
On the Net:

* Human Rights Watch: World Report:

AFP: Human rights abusers 'turn on activists in 2009' (20 January 2010)

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