Amnesty International condemns US, China in report

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The Associated Press
Wednesday, May 28, 2008; 1:03 AM

LONDON -- The United States is shirking its duty to provide the world with moral leadership and China is letting its business interests trump human rights concerns in Myanmar and Sudan, a human rights group said Wednesday.

Amnesty International's annual report on the state of the world's human rights accused the U.S. of failing to provide a moral compass for its international peers, a long-standing complaint the London-based group has against the North American superpower.

This year it also criticized the U.S. for supporting Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf last November when he imposed a state of emergency, clamped down on the media and sacked judges.

"As the world's most powerful state, the USA sets the standard for government behavior globally," the report said. It charged that the U.S. "had distinguished itself in recent years through its defiance of international law."

As in the past, the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay came in for criticism. Irene Khan, Amnesty's secretary-general, appealed for the American president elected in November to announce the jail's closure on Dec. 10, 2008, the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights.

The State Department had no immediate comment on the report, but said the U.S. was justified in detaining enemy combatants at Guantanamo to prevent them from returning to the battlefield. The State Department has previously said Amnesty uses the U.S. as "a convenient ideological punching bag."

Emerging power China came in for a few punches, too. The report said China had continued shipping weapons to Sudan in defiance of a U.N. arms embargo and traded with abusive governments like Myanmar and Zimbabwe. It said that China's media censorship remains in place and that the government continues to persecute rights activists.

The report also accused China of expanding its "re-education through labor" program, which allows the government to arrest people and sentence them to a manual labor without trial.

But Amnesty said it detected a shift in China's position: In 2007, China persuaded the Sudanese government to allow U.N. peacekeepers into the Darfur region and pressured Myanmar to accept the visit of a U.N. special envoy.

Khan told The Associated Press that it was much easier to grapple with human rights problems when the West and China worked together.

"China has the leverage to work with certain governments," she said ahead of the report's release. But she said China needed to use that leverage responsibly.

"China is clearly a global power. With that comes global responsibility for human rights. It needs to recognize that economic growth is not enough," Khan said.

The Chinese Embassy in London referred a query about the report to Beijing officials. A woman who answered the phone at the Foreign Ministry in Beijing said the ministry would look into the report. She refused to comment further or to give her name or position.

China has rejected previous such reports. It says its human rights record has improved in recent years.

Amnesty International said people are still tortured or ill-treated in at least 81 countries, face unfair trials in at least 54 and are denied free speech in at least 77.

But the report also highlighted an increase in mass demonstrations around the world, citing that as a positive sign of a growing willingness by people to fight for their rights.

"Black-suited lawyers in Pakistan, saffron-robed monks in Myanmar, 43.7 million individuals standing up on Oct. 17, 2007, to demand action against poverty, all were vibrant reminders last year of a global citizenry determined to stand up for human rights and hold their leaders to account," it said.

© 2008 The Associated Press