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Hands in handcuffs
Human rights abuses continue to occur around the globe, Amnesty International saysImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Righting rights

May 28, 2009

Disaster is brewing and could lead to a humanitarian crisis of poverty, repression and unrest as human rights take a back seat to the global economic downturn, Amnesty International warns in its annual report.


In its annual report, released on Thursday, Amnesty International details human rights abuses from China to the United States and Sri Lanka to Russia and says the ongoing economic crisis is partly to blame for deteriorating rights.

"Underlying the economic crisis is an explosive human rights crisis. The economic downturn has aggravated abuses, distracted attention from them and created new problems," Amnesty chief Irene Khan said. "In other words: we are sitting on a powder keg of inequality, injustice and insecurity, and it is about to explode."

It was a fallacy to believe that economic recovery could be achieved while millions of new "prisoners of poverty" were being created, said Khan as she presented the organization's 2009 report on the state of human rights in 157 countries.

"Ignoring one crisis to focus on another us a recipe for aggravating both," she 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."

New human rights deal

Amnesty International's 2009 report
Amnesty's 2009 report is some 400 pages longImage: picture alliance/dpa

Khan urged a "new global deal" on human rights, and said that the United States and China in particular had to sign up "to human rights for all."

"The United States does not accept the notion of economic, cultural and social rights while China does not respect civil and political rights," said Khan.

The examples of China and Russia were proof that "open markets have not led to open societies," said Khan, urging world leaders to use trade as a "leverage" to demand respect for human rights.

"Business needs stability, and stability comes from respect for human rights."

Amnesty criticized the Group of 20 nations for claiming the "mantle of world leadership" while their own records on human rights were "tarnished."

"The new leadership of the G20 is marred by old, failed approaches to human rights," Khan said.

Problems around the world

Sinti and Roma protest in Italy
Europe is taken to task for its treatment of Sinti and RomaImage: picture-alliance/dpa

In 2008, the period covered in the report, 78 percent of all executions took place in G20 member states, with the United States, China and Saudi Arabia accounting for the highest number of executions, the report shows.

In Europe, Amnesty highlights problems ranging from the use of cluster munitions during the brief Georgia-Russia war, to widespread discrimination against ethnic minorities.

"Migrants, Roma, Jews and Muslims were among those subjected to hate crimes by individuals or extremist groups," Amnesty's report says.

But the human rights group's report isn't all gloomy. Amnesty says states could deal with the wreckage of the economic crisis by rebuilding in a socially aware manner.

"The state has been retreating or reneging on its human rights obligations in favor of the market in the belief that economic growth would lift all boats," Khan said. "With the tide receding and boats springing leaks, governments are radically changing their positions and talking about a new global financial architecture and international governance system in which the state plays a stronger role ... than the one that has characterized international policy-making for the past 20 years."


Editor: Susan Houlton

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