1992 was 'a very bad year' for rights, Amnesty says

July 08, 1993|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,London Bureau

LONDON -- Human rights violations worldwide reached record levels last year, Amnesty International said yesterday in its 1993 annual report.

Yugoslavia and Somalia captured most of the attention, but elsewhere-- in Egypt and Israel, from India to Tajikistan, in Zaire and Guatemala, even in the United States -- it was more of the same.

It was a very bad year, the worst in the 32-year-old human rights organization's history, a year in which "governments showed their blatant hypocrisy on human rights issues," the report said. It told of "the deaths of thousands of unarmed men, women and children deliberately and arbitrarily killed by police, soldiers or undercover agents, or by armed political groups."

"While publicly proclaiming their commitment to human rights, rulers in every region of the world resorted to violent repression," Amnesty said. It added: "Opposition groups also committed horrifying abuses on innocent bystanders, including torture, deliberate and arbitrary killings and hostage taking."

The situation was described by Peter Benenson, the godfather of the international human rights movement founded some 30 years ago, as "a disappointment to us all."

According to the Amnesty report, some 62 countries put people in prison for their political beliefs last year, about 4,400 prisoners in all. In 110 countries, prisoners were tortured or otherwise badly treated; over 500 died of this, or under "suspicious" circumstances.

People who were government opponents, or members of targeted ethnic groups, were executed without trial in 45 countries. In Latin America at least 3,700 people died this way -- most of them in Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala and Haiti -- at the hands of "death squads."

Some 950 people in 25 countries "disappeared" after being arrested by security forces. Hundreds of these disappearances occurred in India, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. Thousands upon thousands of other people still are missing from previous years.

Officially, 1,708 prisoners were legally executed in 35 countries last year, according to the report. But it added: "The true figures are certainly higher."

China and Iran, it said, accounted for 82 percent of the known executions. The United States contributed 31 to this total, more than double the number executed in 1991.

Prominent among the victims of all types of human right violations were women, children and indigenous peoples.

A spokesman for Amnesty, Anita Tiessen, attributed the growth in the level of human rights depredations to the increase in political activity, especially in Africa as countries there move to a multiparty political system.

She also agreed that the reporting of violations from areas

formerly behind the Iron Curtain is more thorough than before. "In some cases information is easier to get from the former Soviet Union, but the nature of the violations has changed," she said. "Where formerly there were cases of long imprisonments [of dissidents], now the violations are the consequences of civil unrest."

Both she and Mr. Benenson, who founded Amnesty in 1961, expressed disappointment at last months's international conference on human rights held in Vienna.

During the conference ("The first time in 25 years that governments got together to talk about human rights," Ms. Tiessen noted), some countries called into question the inalienable nature of human rights as set out in the United Nations Charter.

They suggested that the existence of such rights depends on the level of a country's development.

Ms. Tiessen spoke of the "amazing growth of human rights groups", particularly in Asia, that "repudiate the government line that everything has to be subjected to economic development."

Mr. Benenson said the conference's most abject failure was in not appointing a human rights commissioner at the United Nations, an appointment blocked by a small number of African and Asian countries, especially China.

"They shouldn't be allowed to go on blocking it," he said. "This decision should be taken by a majority."

Taking the long view, Mr. Benenson noted that, as far as human rights go globally, there was much progress during the first 25 years of the movement, but generally a sharp decline has occurred over the past two or three years.

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