World

End 'ugly' human rights record, group urges Obama

Human Rights Watch is urging Barack Obama to end the "ugly record" of complacency and abuse under U.S. President George W. Bush and make human rights a top priority.

Human Rights Watch is urging Barack Obama to end the "ugly record" of complacency and abuse under U.S. President George W. Bush and make human rights a top priority.

"The new Obama administration in Washington offers the hope of a U.S government that can assume a place of leadership in promoting human rights," the 564-page report released Wednesday says.

The annual review of human rights practices around the world blamed Bush for ignoring some of the most basic requirements of international human rights law in its fight against terrorism following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

It cites the "disappearance" of suspects into secret detention facilities run by the Central Intelligence Agency where they were subjected to torture and the detainment of suspects without charge at the U.S. navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"Reversing that ugly record must be a first priority for the new administration of Barack Obama if the U.S. government is to assume a credible leadership role on human rights," the report says.

The group calls for Obama to close the secret detention centres, make it illegal for the CIA to use coercive interrogation methods, join the United Nations Human Rights Council and ratify key human rights agreements.

The report says the Bush administration undermined the United States's global influence on human rights issues, with the exception of freedom of speech and massive atrocities.

That left mid-sized and smaller countries that support human rights to act without the "firm and consistent backing" of the U.S. and other major Western democracies, the report said.

As a result, the report said, the human rights agenda is being set by countries that would leave human rights to the discretion of individual countries, such as Algeria, China, Egypt, India, Pakistan, Russia and South Africa.

Administration 'proud' of human rights record: McCormack 

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack rejected the criticism of the Bush administration.

"We take a back seat to no one in our defence of human rights, whether that is helping free people in Iraq and Afghanistan or working to put an end to human traffic, or fighting for the right of every individual to worship as he or she wishes," McCormack told the Associated Press.

"We are proud of our record on promotion of human rights."

Several countries were singled out for failing to address crises in neighbouring countries. Among them were South Africa for failing to deal with Zimbabwe, Egypt for trying to limit scrutiny of abuses in Sudan's Darfur region, and India and China for not addressing repression in Burma.

Democracies were not spared criticism in the report. France and the United Kingdom along with the United States are accused of violating human rights in trying to curb terror.

Praised as speaking out for human rights were Botswana, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Zambia in Africa, and Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico and Uruguay in Latin America.

Human Rights Watch, an independent organization founded 30 years ago, has offices around the world, including in Toronto.

With files from the Associated Press