Documento - Amnesty International Report 2006

A year in perspective: a glass half full


Krishna Pahadi, a human rights activist in Nepal, has been detained 28 times by the government. When I met him in a police detention centre in Kathmandu in February 2005, shortly after he had been arrested for the 27th time, his message was surprisingly upbeat. The more the regime locks up peaceful protesters like him, he told me, the more it strengthens the cause of human rights. Widespread political unrest and international condemnation of the Nepalese government’s actions support Krishna’s views. Deprived of any reading material in prison except religious books, he had finished reading the Bhagavad Gita and was about to begin the Bible, to be followed by the Qur’an. He has no doubt that his struggle and that of others like him will prevail. It is only a matter of time, he said.

Krishna is not daunted. Nor am I, despite the abuse and injustice, violence and violations across the globe documented in the Amnesty International Report 2006.

The human rights landscape is littered with broken promises and failures of leadership. Governments profess to champion the cause of human rights but show repressive reflexes when it comes to their own policies and performance. Grave abuses in Afghanistan and Iraq cast a shadow over much of the human rights debate, as torture and terror feed off each other in a vicious cycle. The brutality and intensity of attacks by armed groups in these and other countries grow, taking a heavy toll on human lives.

Nevertheless, a closer look at the events of 2005 gives me reason for hope. There were some clear signs that a turning point may be in sight after five years of backlash against human rights in the name of counter-terrorism. Over the past year, some of the world’s most powerful governments have received an uncomfortable wake-up call about the dangers of undervaluing the human rights dimension of their actions at home and abroad. Their doublespeak and deception have been exposed by the media, challenged by activists and rejected by the courts.

I also see other signs for optimism. The overall number of conflicts worldwide continues to fall, thanks to international conflict management, conflict prevention and peace-building initiatives, giving hope to millions of people in countries like Angola, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Institutional reform was initiated at the United Nations (UN) to strengthen the international human rights machinery, despite the attempt by a number of cynical and “spoiler” governments to block progress.

The call for justice for some of the worst crimes under international law gained greater force across the world, from Latin America to the Balkans. Although corrupt, inefficient and politically biased national judicial systems remain a major barrier to justice, the tide is beginning to turn against impunity in some parts of the world. In 2005 several countries opened investigations or conducted trials of people suspected of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Despite the opposition of the USA, support for the International Criminal Court (ICC) has grown, with Mexico becoming the 100th state party to ratify the Rome Statute of the ICC. The UN Security Council’s decision to refer the situation in Darfur to the ICC set an important precedent, demonstrating the link between security and justice.

Ordinary people took to the streets to demand their rights and to seek political change. In Bolivia, the poorest country in South America, massive protests by indigenous communities, peasants and miners led to the resignation of the President and election to power of the country’s first ever indigenous Head of State. Even repressive governments found themselves caught out by mass protest, and were forced to make some concessions.

There will be those who will challenge my sense of optimism. But I take strength from these developments and, most importantly, from the extraordinary display of global activism and human solidarity across borders; from the energy and commitment of Amnesty International (AI) members worldwide; from the huge crowds that turned out to “make poverty history” in the lead-up to the G8 Summit; and from the outpouring of support from ordinary people for the victims of the tsunami in Asia, Hurricane Katrina in the USA and the earthquake in Kashmir.

From peasant farmers protesting against land grabbing in China to women asserting their rights on the 10th anniversary of the UN World Conference on Women, the events of 2005 showed that the human rights idea – together with the worldwide movement of people that drives it forward – is more powerful and stronger than ever.

Torture and counter-terrorism

When suicide bombers struck at the heart of London in July 2005, the UK Prime Minister Tony Blair reacted by announcing plans that would drastically restrict human rights and show the world that “the rules of the game are changing”. Lord Steyn, a retired Law Lord of the UK judiciary, responded aptly: “The maintenance of the rule of law is not a game. It is about access to justice, fundamental human rights and democratic values”.

Fortunately, some of the most outrageous provisions of the legislation proposed by the UK government were thrown out by Parliament. The government was defeated twice on its counter-terrorism legislation in 2005 – the first ever parliamentary defeats for Prime Minister Blair in his nine years of office.

The judiciary also took the UK government to task. The highest court in the land, the House of Lords, rejected the government’s contention that it could use information obtained by torture by foreign governments as evidence in UK courts. In another case, the Court of Appeal rejected the government’s claim that UK forces in Iraq were not bound by international and domestic human rights law. It also ruled that the system for investigating deaths of Iraqi prisoners at the hands of UK armed forces personnel was seriously deficient.

In the USA there was similar questioning of the Bush Administration’s claim that in its fight against terrorism it could exempt itself from the prohibition against torture and ill-treatment. A legislative amendment sought to affirm the ban on torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of all prisoners by US officials and agents, wherever they might be. Not only did the President threaten to veto the bill, the Vice President sought to exempt the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) from the law. The CIA itself admitted to using “water-boarding” (simulated drowning) as an interrogation technique, and the Attorney-General claimed that the USA has the power to mistreat detainees abroad, so long as they are not US citizens.

In the end, it was President Bush who blinked first and was forced to withdraw his opposition to the bill. However, the bill had a serious sting in its tail, with an amendment which stripped GuantE1namo detainees of the right to file habeas corpus appeals in a federal court and barred them from seeking court review of their treatment or conditions of detention. Nevertheless, the President’s public climb-down was indicative of the pressure being put on the Administration by powerful divisions within the USA and increasing concern among its allies abroad.

European governments squirmed as one story after another revealed their role as junior partners of the USA in its “war on terror”. There was public outcry following media reports of possible collusion between the US Administration and some European governments on “CIA black sites” – alleged secret detention centres on European territory. Increasing evidence that prisoners were being illegally transferred through European airports to countries where there was a risk they would be tortured (“extraordinary renditions”) also provoked widespread public condemnation.

The demand for the closure of the detention centre in GuantE1namo Bay gained greater momentum with the UN, various European institutions, and political and opinion leaders, including prominent US figures, adding their voices to the growing pressure. What was once AI’s lone voice in the wilderness has now become a crescendo of condemnation against the most blatant symbol of US abuse of power. That strengthens our own resolve to continue to campaign until the US Administration closes the GuantE1namo camp, discloses the truth about secret detention centres under its control, and acknowledges the right of detainees to be tried in accordance with international law standards or be released.

The shifts I have identified do not mean that support for restrictive measures has disappeared or that attacks on human rights in the name of counter-terrorism have diminished. The USA has not categorically rejected the use of certain forms of torture or ill-treatment. It has failed to institute an independent investigation into the role of senior US officials in the abuses committed in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere, despite growing evidence of high-level involvement.

When the British courts declared the detention of foreigners without charge or trial to be unlawful, the UK government immediately introduced new legislation to hold people under virtual house arrest. It continues to seek “diplomatic assurances” to enable it to return people to countries where they could face torture.

The “export value” of the “war on terror” has not decreased either. With the tacit or explicit approval of the USA, countries like Egypt, Jordan and Yemen continue to detain, without charge or fair trial, people suspected of involvement in terrorism.

What is different about 2005 compared to past years is that the public mood is changing, thanks to the work of human rights advocates and others, which is putting the US and European governments on the defensive. People are no longer willing to buy the fallacious argument that reducing our liberty will increase our security. More and more governments are being called to account – before legislatures, in courts and other public forums. More and more there is a realization that flouting human rights and the rule of law, far from winning the “war on terror”, only creates resentment and isolates those communities targeted by these measures, plays into the hands of extremists, and undermines our collective security.

Lines, however fragile, are being drawn. Voices are being raised. This offers hope for a turning point in the debate and a more principled approach to human rights and security in the future.

Contrary to the statement of the UK Prime Minister, the rules of the game have not changed. Neither security nor human rights are well served by governments who play games with these fundamental rules.

We must continue to condemn in the strongest possible terms the cowardly and heinous attacks on civilians by armed groups. Equally strongly, we must also resist the foolish and dangerous strategies of governments who seek to fight terror with torture.

Reform initiatives

Growing disillusionment and damning criticism of the UN human rights machinery finally led governments to initiate some important reforms as part of a rethink of the UN’s role in international governance.

UN member states agreed to double the budget of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and to focus its work to a much greater extent on protecting human rights through presence in the field.

The member states decided to jettison the discredited UN Commission on Human Rights, and proposed to replace it with a Human Rights Council, elected by and accountable to the UN General Assembly, and able to scrutinize all states, including, first and foremost, its own members. Although a product of compromise, the proposal represents a significant opportunity to improve the UN human rights machinery. Regrettably, the future of the Council hangs in the balance as we go to press because of the refusal of the USA to support it, ostensibly on the basis that it has too many “deficiencies”. One state, no matter how powerful, should not be allowed to undermine a broad, international consensus. I hope that other governments will resist US pressure, rally behind the resolution and get the Council up and running.

I am encouraged by the support that governments have shown for changes to the UN human rights machinery. This is all the more remarkable, given the way in which much of the UN Secretary-General’s ambitious and forward-looking package on UN
reform – including proposals to expand Security Council membership, strengthen weapons non-proliferation and better equip the UN to act effectively to halt genocide – was rejected or wrecked.

I am also heartened by some less publicized gains in the past year. The UN completed drafting an International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, to address the unacknowledged arrest, detention, torture and often death of prisoners at the hands of agents of the state. AI, which first began campaigning on behalf of the “disappeared” some 35 years ago, welcomes this important contribution to human rights protection.

The UN appointed a Special Representative on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises. Although companies can be a force for positive social and economic development, the impact of some business operations on human rights are deeply damaging, as shown by the violence generated by oil and mineral interests in places like the Niger delta in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan, or the readiness of the information and technology industry to fall in line with China’s restrictive policies on freedom of expression. Yet a powerful combination of political and business interests has managed to resist international efforts to advance the legal accountability of business for human rights. Despite considerable controversy surrounding the UN Norms on business and human rights, the issue of corporate accountability remained firmly on the international agenda. Building on the experience of the Norms, the task now will be to develop a clear set of international human rights standards and principles for corporate actors.

Rhetoric and reality

Institutions are only as strong as the political will of those who govern them. Far too often, powerful governments manipulate the UN and regional institutions to further their narrow national interests. The USA is a prime example, but unfortunately it is not alone, as is evidenced by Russia’s record in the Caucasus and Central Asia, and China’s expanding economic co-operation with some of the most repressive governments in Africa.

Those who bear the greatest responsibility for safeguarding global security in the UN Security Council proved in 2005 to be among the most willing to paralyze the Council and prevent it from taking effective action on human rights. This was clearly demonstrated by the USA and the UK in relation to Iraq, and by Russia and China in the case of Sudan. They appear oblivious to the lessons of history that the road to strengthening global security lies through respect for human rights.

The hypocrisy of the G8 was particularly marked in 2005. The G8 governments claimed to put eradication of poverty in Africa high on their agenda, while continuing to be major suppliers of arms to African governments. Six of the eight G8 countries are among the top 10 largest global arms exporters, and all eight export large amounts of conventional weapons or small arms to developing countries. This should place a particular responsibility on the G8 to help create an effective system of global control on arms transfers. But, despite pressure from the UK government, the leaders of the G8 failed to agree on the need for an Arms Trade Treaty at the Gleneagles Summit in July 2005.

However, the call for a global treaty to control small arms gained support from at least 50 countries around the world. The message of the campaign, jointly led by AI, Oxfam and the International Action Network for Small Arms (IANSA), is clear: the arms trade is out of control, and must be restrained urgently.

Turning to regional institutions, I am disappointed that the European Union (EU) remains a largely muted voice on human rights. It cannot expect to maintain its credibility on human rights and occupy the moral high ground if it buries its collective head in the sand when confronted with abuses committed by its major political and trading partners, or closes its eyes to the policies and practices of its own member states towards refugees and asylum-seekers and on counter-terrorism. It must be more willing to confront Russia’s appalling human rights failures in Chechnya. It must also resist pressures from business to lift its arms embargo against China. This embargo was originally imposed after the brutal 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square in order to show the commitment of the EU to promoting human rights in China. It should not be removed until the Chinese government has made significant human rights concessions.

The African Union (AU) has developed a progressive framework on human rights, and played an important role in resolving the crisis in Togo, but it is sadly lacking the capacity and political will to deliver on its promises consistently. Hampered by logistical constraints and the refusal of the Sudanese government and armed militias to abide by international law, AU human rights monitors could not make a real difference on the ground in Darfur. It showed no stomach to tackle the appalling human rights situation in Zimbabwe. It failed to convince Nigeria or Senegal to co-operate with the efforts to bring to justice the former Liberian and Chadian presidents Charles Taylor and HissE8ne HabrE9. African leaders do a disservice to themselves and the African people when they use African solidarity to shield each other from justice and accountability.

In the face of institutional lethargy and governments’ failures, public opinion, whether in Africa, Europe or elsewhere, is demanding a stronger commitment by governments to human rights at home and abroad. Thanks to human rights advocates and others, and the growing pressure of public opinion, the international community is being forced to acknowledge human rights as the framework within which security and development should be imagined and implemented. Without respect for human rights, neither security nor development can be sustained.

In both international and regional contexts, human rights are increasingly being acknowledged as a benchmark for the credibility and authority of institutions and individual states. That is one of the reasons why governments contested Myanmar becoming the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). That is why the EU decided in the end not to reverse the ban on arms sales to China. That is why India has put human rights considerations as a key element in its approach to Nepal.

Both on principled as well as pragmatic grounds, human rights should be seen as a critical element of sustainable global and regional security strategies, not as an optional extra for good times. There is no doubt in my mind that the events of 2005 show that the political and moral authority of governments will be judged more and more by their stand on human rights at home and abroad. Therein lies one of the most important achievements of the human rights movement in recent times.

There are clear challenges ahead. Vicious attacks by armed groups, the increased instability in the Middle East, the mounting anger and isolation of Muslim communities around the world, the forgotten conflicts in Africa and elsewhere, growing inequalities and glaring poverty – all are evidence of a dangerous and divided world in which human rights are being daily threatened. But far from being discouraged, I believe these challenges make the impetus for action even greater.

As we set our agenda for 2006, AI and its millions of members and supporters take encouragement from the remarkable achievements of the human rights movement and the faith of ordinary people in the power of human rights. We in AI do not underestimate that power. We will use it to fight those who peddle fear and hate, to challenge the myopic vision of the world’s most powerful leaders, and to hold governments to account.


The year 2005 posed some major challenges for governments: intractable conflicts, terrorist attacks, the relentless spread of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the persistence of widespread extreme poverty and natural disasters.

These challenges should have been met with responses based on human rights principles. All too often they were not. Individually and collectively, governments continued to pursue policies that often sacrificed human rights for political or economic expediency.

At the same time, around the world, millions of people lent their weight to calls for greater accountability, more transparency and greater recognition of our shared responsibility to tackle these global threats collectively. From the mass mobilization around the slogan “make poverty history” to the lawyers and activists who took on powerful states in groundbreaking court cases, civil society pressed governments to deliver on their responsibilities.

The year saw a growing understanding that respect for the rule of law is essential for human security, and that undermining human rights principles in the “war on terror” is not a route to security. Similarly, the failure to respect, protect and fulfil economic, social and cultural rights was more and more widely seen as a grave injustice and a denial of human development. Whether in response to the urgent needs of people caught up in natural disasters or the plight of individual victims of government repression, the activities of ordinary people often shamed governments into action.

Human security requires that individuals and communities are safe not only from war, genocide and terrorist attack, but also from hunger, disease and natural disaster. Throughout 2005 activists campaigned for notorious human rights violators and powerful multinationals to be held more accountable, and for an end to racism, discrimination and social exclusion.

Many of the human rights abuses seen in 2005 crossed national boundaries – from torture and “renditions” to the negative impact of trade and aid policies. While borders were being dismantled in some aspects of international relations – particularly in the sphere of economic transactions – they continued to be erected in others, notably migration.

Recognition of the need for global solutions to address global threats, from terrorism to bird flu, undoubtedly grew. There were also many reminders of the necessity for UN reform. These included the continued failure of the UN Security Council to hold rogue states accountable, the exposure of high level corruption at the UN in the Oil for Food scandal, the silence which greeted the failure to meet the first of the UNMillennium Development Goals and the failure of international financial institutions to grapple with the inequities of trade, aid and debt. The UN’s own leadership proposed a number of far-reaching initiatives, but the limited outcomes of the UN World Summit in September revealed how the politics of narrow national self-interest continued to trump multilateralist aspirations.

Yet there was progress, notably in the area of consolidating an emerging international justice system in the form of the International Criminal Court, the ad hoc international tribunals and increased use of extraterritorial jurisdiction. After years of calls for additional resources for the Office of the UNHigh Commissioner for Human Rights, its budget was significantly increased. Proposals to replace the much discredited UN Commission on Human Rights with a UN Human Rights Council were under discussion. Encouraged by these moves, and above all by the growing strength and diversity of the world’s human rights community, AI renewed its commitment to globalizing justice as a means of realizing rights for all in the search for human security.


The challenges that the human rights movement faced in the wake of the attacks in the USA on 11 September 2001 continued. Governments continued to promote the rhetoric that human rights are an obstacle to, rather than an essential precondition for, human security. However, thanks to the efforts of human rights activists and others, there was growing criticism of and resistance to government efforts to subordinate human rights to security concerns.

Despite the governmental resources and efforts committed to combating terrorism, the year saw a rising number of attacks by individuals and armed groups espousing a wide range of causes in many countries.

Deliberate attacks on civilians, breaching the most basic human rights principles, were seen around the world. For example, in India in October, during the run-up to the annual festival season, a series of bomb blasts in Delhi left 66 people dead and more than 220 injured. In Iraq, hundreds of civilians were killed or injured in attacks by armed groups throughout the year. In Jordan, three bombs in hotels in Amman killed 60 people in November. In the UK, bomb attacks on the public transport system in London in July killed 52 people and injured hundreds.

Some of the counter-terrorism tactics adopted by governments flouted human rights. Some governments even tried to legalize or justify abusive methods that have long been deemed illegal by the international community and can never be justified.

Thousands of men suspected of terrorism remained in US-run detention centres around the world without any prospect of being charged or facing a fair trial. At the end of 2005, some 14,000 people detained by the USA and its allies during military and security operations in Iraq and Afghanistan were still held in US military detention centres in Afghanistan, GuantE1namo Bay in Cuba and Iraq. In GuantE1namo, dozens of detainees staged hunger strikes to protest against the conditions of their detention and were force fed.

Terrorism suspects were held by other countries too, some of them detained for long periods without charge or trial, including in Egypt, Jordan, the UK and Yemen. Others languished in prison facing the threat of deportation to countries where torture was routine. Many detainees were subjected to torture and other

During 2005, it became increasingly clear how far many countries had colluded or participated in supporting abusive US policies and practices in the “war on terror”, including torture, ill-treatment, secret and unlimited detentions and unlawful cross-border transfers. Many governments faced demands for greater accountability and there were key judicial decisions in defence of basic human rights principles. Even within the US government itself, tensions emerged over the curtailment of fundamental liberties.

Information continued to emerge in 2005 that helped to expose some of the secret and abusive practices developed by states in the name of fighting terrorism. For example, further information came to light about the illegal transfer of terrorism suspects from one country to another without any judicial process – a practice known in the USA as “extraordinary renditions”. It was revealed that the USA had, through this practice, transferred many detainees to countries known to use torture and other ill-treatment in interrogations, including Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Syria. Such transfers effectively outsourced torture.

What renditions mean in reality was highlighted in 2005 by the case of Muhammad al-Assad, a Yemeni living in Tanzania, who was arrested at his home in Dar-es-Salaam on 26 December 2003. He was hooded, handcuffed and flown to an unknown destination. It was the beginning of a 16-month ordeal of unacknowledged detention and interrogation, in which he had no contact with the outside world and no idea where he was.

He was held for a year in a secret facility where he was subjected to extreme sensory deprivation. His masked guards never spoke a word to him, but communicated their instructions in sign language. There was a constant low-level hum of white noise. Artificial light was kept on 24 hours a day. Muhammad al-Assad’s father was told by Tanzanian officials that his son had been turned over to US custody, and that no one knew where he was. His family heard nothing of him until he was flown to Yemen in May 2005, where he was imprisoned, apparently at the request of the US authorities. Muhammad al-Assad was still in custody in Yemen without charge or trial at the end of 2005.

Other testimonies from former detainees collected during 2005 by AI were shockingly similar to the experience described by Muhammad al-Assad. Two other Yemeni men were transferred to Yemen by the USA in May 2005, where they remained in custody without charge or trial at the end of the year. In separate interviews with AI in June, September and October 2005, all three described being held in isolation for 16 to 18 months in secret detention centres run by US officials. The interviews conducted by AI provided strong new evidence of the US network of secret detention centres around the world.

In December 2005, after the UK Foreign Secretary said that he was not aware of any renditions flights refuelling or using other facilities in the UK since early 2001, AI published details of three flights that refuelled in the UK, hours after transferring detainees to countries where they risked “disappearance”, torture or other ill-treatment. Information increasingly came to light in 2005, partly because evidence was uncovered by victims themselves and partly due to governmental inquiries, that other European countries may have been similarly involved in secret transfers. Inquiries were conducted in Germany, Italy and Sweden into the role of government officials in specific rendition cases; in Spain, an investigation was opened by the Spanish authorities into the use of Spanish airports and airspace by aircraft operated by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). In Iceland, Ireland and the Netherlands, government officials or activists called for official inquiries.

Investigations by journalists, AI and others in 2005 left little doubt that the US government was running a system of covert prisons, known as “black sites”. There were persistent reports that the CIA had operated such secret detention centres in Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Pakistan, Thailand, Uzbekistan and other unknown locations in Europe and elsewhere, including on the British Indian Ocean territory of Diego Garcia. About three dozen detainees deemed to have high intelligence value had “disappeared” in US custody, and were allegedly being held in black sites, completely outside the protection of the law.

In November the Council of Europe launched an investigation into reports that the network of US secret prisons and involvement in renditions included sites in Europe. AI strongly endorsed calls to European governments to investigate such allegations by officials of the Council of Europe, one of whom declared: “not knowing is not good enough regardless of whether ignorance is intentional or accidental”.

At a conference jointly organized by AI and the UK-based NGO Reprieve in London in November, former detainees and families of detainees held in GuantE1namo or in UK facilities testified to the human cost of indefinite detention without charge or trial. Speaking of the trauma of the families of those detained, Nadja Dizdarevic, the wife of Boudelaa Hadz of Bosnia and Herzegovina who has been held at GuantE1namo for four years, said:

It is difficult to be a mother to my children because I have not enough time for them and I am everything that they have85 At night after I put my children to sleep I start my work and while the whole world sleeps in peace I tirelessly write complaints, requests, letters, learn the laws and human rights conventions so that I could continue my struggle for the life and release of my husband and the others.”

Governments have over the years requested “diplomatic assurances” from countries known to use torture in order to allow them to deport people there. In 2005 the UK government sought to rely on diplomatic assurances and concluded Memorandums of Understanding with Jordan, Lebanon and Libya, and was seeking similar agreements with Algeria, Egypt and other states in the region. AI opposed the use of such “diplomatic assurances” as they erode the absolute prohibition of torture, and are inherently unreliable and unenforceable.

Evidence that many governments had been engaging in, conniving in or acquiescing to the outsourcing of torture underlined the need for greater transnational accountability in a world where human rights responsibilities do not stop at the borders of a state.

The outsourcing of torture meant that the USA and some of its European allies, which had for decades unreservedly condemned torture at all times and in all circumstances, openly defied the absolute ban against torture. The implication was that they believed that some torture and ill-treatment was justifiable in the “war on terror”.

The US administration continued its attempts to redefine and justify certain forms of torture or other ill-treatment in the name of “national security” and public order. When questioned about the US position on the treatment of prisoners, the US Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, made it clear that his government would define torture in its own way. Although the US leadership denied that the government condoned torture, evidence emerged that the CIA used “water boarding” (simulated drowning), prolonged shackling or induced hypothermia on prisoners held in secret prisons. Some people within the US administration apparently continued to believe that certain forms of torture and ill-treatment practices were acceptable if used to gather intelligence to counter terrorism. However, growing challenges to these policies both within the USA – where at the end of the year the US Senate passed legislation affirming the ban on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment – and among the USA’s allies in the “war on terror” offered hope of a more principled approach to human rights and security in the future.

Human rights abuses in the context of counter-terrorism policies were not confined to the USA and its European allies. In Uzbekistan, the authorities claimed that people taking part in a demonstration in Andizhan at which peaceful demonstrators were killed had been coerced to do so by "terrorists". Subsequently, more than 70 people were convicted of "terrorist" offences after unfair trials and sentenced to long prison terms for allegedly participating in the protest.

In China, the authorities continued to use the global “war on terror” to justify harsh repression in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), resulting in serious human rights violations against the ethnic Uighur community. While China’s latest “strike-hard” campaign against crime had subsided in most parts of the country, it was officially renewed in the XUAR in May 2005 to eradicate “terrorism, separatism and religious extremism”. It resulted in the closure of unofficial mosques and arrests of imams. Uighur nationalists, including peaceful activists, continued to be detained or imprisoned. Those charged with serious “separatist” or “terrorist” offences were at risk of lengthy imprisonment or execution. Those attempting to pass information abroad about the extent of the crackdown faced arbitrary detention and imprisonment. The authorities continued to accuse Uighur activists of terrorism without providing credible evidence for such charges.

In both Malaysia and Singapore, where national security legislation allows prolonged detention without charge of terrorism suspects, dozens of individuals remained in detention under Internal Security Acts without charge or trial.

In Kenya and certain other African countries, the rhetoric of counter-terrorism was employed to justify repressive legislation which was used to silence human rights defenders and obstruct their work.

The exposure during 2005 of the unlawful practices of governments in the name of countering terrorism mobilized and affirmed the growing demands for accountability. The determined work of human rights activists, lawyers, journalists and many others helped to lift the blanket of secrecy to expose states that transferred, detained and tortured those they suspected of terrorism.

The year 2005 also witnessed some successes in the struggle by civil society to stop the trend towards states justifying, on security grounds, the use of information extracted through torture. The year ended with a major judicial victory when the UK government lost its legal battle in the domestic courts to reverse the centuries-old ban against the admissibility of information obtained as a result of torture in judicial proceedings. AI had intervened in the case, arguing that the absolute prohibition of torture and ill-treatment under international law prevented such use.

The attempts by governments to weaken the ban on torture and other ill-treatment compromised both the moral integrity and practical effectiveness of efforts to combat terrorism. 2005 showed the absolute necessity of holding governments accountable to the rule of law, and reconfirmed that an independent and impartial judiciary plays a vital role in preventing the erosion of fundamental safeguards and securing respect for human rights.


The number of armed conflicts around the world continued to fall, but the toll of human suffering did not. Continuing violence fed on a steady diet of unresolved grievances arising from years of destructive conflict and the failure to hold perpetrators of abuse to account. It was sustained by the easy availability of weaponry; the marginalization and impoverishment of entire populations; systemic and widespread corruption; and the failure to address impunity for gross violations of human rights and humanitarian law.

Millions of people faced violence and hardship in conflicts caused or prolonged by the collective failures of political leaders, armed groups and to some extent the international community. Millions more endured insecurity, hunger and homelessness in the aftermath of conflicts, without the necessary levels of support from the international community to rebuild their lives.

The failure of governments and armed groups alike to seek the political solutions needed to end conflict and to abide by negotiated settlements took a heavy toll on the human rights of ordinary people. Some governments sought advantage from conflicts in other countries, often arming one side or the other, while disclaiming responsibility. When the international community mustered enough support to put pressure on warring factions through the UN Security Council or regional bodies, the parties often failed to deliver on their commitments, as seen in Sudan and CF4te d’Ivoire.

In their quest for political or economic gain, government forces and armed groups often showed total disregard for the civilian population caught in their path and even specifically targeted civilians as part of their military strategy. The large majority of casualties in armed conflicts in 2005 were civilians. Women and girls were exposed to the violence that accompanies any war and were also subject to particular, often sexual, abuse. In Papua New Guinea girls were reportedly exchanged for guns by their male relatives. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo large numbers of women and girls were abducted and raped by armed combatants. In nearly three quarters of the conflicts around the world, children were recruited as soldiers.

The world’s attention focused largely on Iraq, Sudan, and Israel/Occupied Territories while prolonged conflicts in Afghanistan, Chechnya/Russian Federation, Nepal, northern Uganda and other corners of the world were largely ignored or forgotten.

In Iraq, US-led multinational forces, armed groups and the transitional government all failed to respect the rights of civilians. Armed groups deliberately attacked civilians causing great loss of life. They targeted humanitarian organizations and tortured and killed hostages. The killing of two defence lawyers involved in Saddam Hussain’s trial highlighted the chronic insecurity in the country. This insecurity drastically curtailed the ability of many Iraqi women and girls to go about their daily lives in safety, and a number of Iraqi and non-Iraqi women politicians, activists and journalists were abducted or murdered. During 2005 evidence mounted that the US-led multinational forces and foreign private security guards committed grave human rights violations, including killing unarmed civilians and torturing prisoners. The failure to mount effective investigations into these abuses and to hold those responsible to account undermined claims by the occupying forces and the transitional authorities that they were restoring the rule of law in the country.

The removal of some 8,000 Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip under the so-called disengagement plan diverted attention from Israel’s continuing expansion of Israeli settlements and its construction of a 600km fence/wall in the occupied West Bank, where some 450,000 Israeli settlers lived in violation of international law. The presence of Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank was the main reason for the stringent restrictions (military checkpoints and blockades) imposed by the Israeli army on the movement of some 2 million Palestinians between towns and villages within the occupied West Bank. These restrictions on freedom of movement paralysed the Palestinian economy and curtailed Palestinians’ access to their land, their places of work, and to education and health facilities. The resulting increased poverty, unemployment, frustration and lack of prospects for a predominantly young population contributed to the spiral of violence, both against Israelis and within Palestinian society, including growing lawlessness in the street and violence in the home. However, the year saw a significant reduction in the number of killings by both sides: some 190 Palestinians, including around 50 children, were killed by Israeli forces, and 50 Israelis, including six children, were killed by Palestinian armed groups, as compared to more than 700 Palestinians and 109 Israelis killed in 2004.

Atrocities continued in Darfur, Sudan, despite considerable efforts throughout 2005 by the international community to reach a political solution to end the violence. The Sudanese government and its allied militias (Janjawid) killed and injured civilians in bombing raids and attacks on villages, raped women and girls, and forced villagers from their lands. Abuses by the opposition armed groups escalated as their command structures broke down under increased factionalism and in-fighting between rival leaders. The violations in Darfur were described by the UN Secretary-General and UN agencies as staggering in scale and harrowing in nature with widespread and systematic human rights abuses, violations of humanitarian law, forced displacement of millions of people and looming hunger. In early 2005 the UN negotiated a peace agreement, raising hopes of a “peace dividend”. The African Union deployed forces, but their mandate to protect civilians was limited and they were further hampered by the relatively small number of troops deployed and the lack of logistical support. The peace did not hold. A UN Commission of Inquiry found that the government and the Janjawid militia were responsible for crimes under international law and the case of Darfur was referred by the Security Council to the International Criminal Court. Although the International Criminal Court began investigations, by the end of 2005, it had not been granted access to Sudan.

Similar patterns were seen in many other conflicts that received less international attention during 2005: targeting of civilians, sexual abuse particularly of women and girls, the use of child soldiers, and a pattern of impunity. These conflicts were fought in both urban and rural settings, generally using small arms and light weaponry. Often diverse pockets of violence erupted, with little chain of command or accountability. In some cases, governments armed civilians in an effort to distance themselves from accountability or culpability for abuses.

In Colombia, after 40 years of internal armed conflict, serious human rights abuses by all parties remained at critical levels. A law was passed providing a framework for disarmament and demobilization of paramilitaries and armed groups. However, there were fears that the legislation would allow the most serious human rights abusers to enjoy impunity, while human rights violations continued to be committed in areas where paramilitaries had supposedly demobilized. In addition, government policies designed to reintegrate members of illegal armed groups into civilian life risked recycling them into the conflict.

Despite claims that the situation was normalizing, Russian and Chechen security forces conducted targeted raids in Chechnya during which they committed serious human rights violations. Women were reportedly subjected to gender-based violence, including rape and threats of rape, by Russian and Chechen soldiers. Chechen armed opposition groups committed abuses including targeted attacks on civilians and indiscriminate attacks. There was also violence and unrest in other North Caucasus republics, increasingly accompanied by reports of human rights violations.

In Nepal, the human rights situation deteriorated sharply under a state of emergency imposed in February 2005, with thousands of politically motivated arrests, strict media censorship and atrocities committed by the security forces and Maoist groups. Following a mission to Nepal in the immediate aftermath of the emergency, AI called on the governments of India, the UK and the USA, Nepal’s main arms suppliers, to suspend all military supplies to Nepal until the government took clear steps to halt human rights violations. It made a similar call to other governments, including Belgium, Germany, South Africa and France (which supplied crucial components for helicopters assembled and delivered by India). However, although some governments responded positively to the appeal for a suspension of military supplies, China continued to supply arms and ammunition to Nepal.

The failure to resolve manifest injustices, to address impunity and to control the spread of arms led to continuing insecurity and violence in many countries trying to emerge from conflict. Even in countries where steps towards peace had been agreed, there was often little political will or rigour to ensure that agreements were respected and faithfully implemented.

In Afghanistan, lawlessness, insecurity and persecution continued to blight the lives of millions of Afghans. Factional commanders – many suspected of having committed gross human rights crimes in previous years – wielded public authority independently of central government control. Absence of the rule of law left many victims of human rights violations without redress, and the criminal justice system barely functioned. Thousands of civilians were killed in attacks by US and Coalition Forces and by armed groups.

In CF4te d’Ivoire, where a disastrous decline in the economy precipitated a conflict in a country until recently regarded as one of the most stable in West Africa, easy access to small arms contributed to violations of the agreed ceasefire, inter-ethnic conflict in the west of the country, xenophobia and the ongoing use of child soldiers. Despite efforts by the African Union to restore peace and security in the country, the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process remained deadlocked. In October, AI publicized reports of small arms proliferation, re-circulation and possible new arms transfers to both sides of the conflict despite a UN-imposed arms embargo.

In several post-conflict countries the dominant culture of impunity – the failure to bring to justice those responsible for human rights abuses – fostered continued cycles of violence. In Sri Lanka, for example, the security situation deteriorated in 2005 as both the government and the armed opposition failed to make the human rights guarantees in the ceasefire agreement work. Tensions over scarce resources were exacerbated by internal displacement resulting from the conflict and the tsunami.

The struggle to overcome impunity can last for decades, or even generations. The survivors of Japan’s system of military sexual slavery during World War II – the so-called “comfort women” – have persistently called for recognition and justice for more than half a century, their numbers dwindling with time. Once again in 2005 the Japanese government refused to accept responsibility, formally apologize, or provide official compensation for the suffering endured by thousands of women.

There were some exceptions to this generally grim landscape, including elections in a number of states emerging from conflict. Greater stability in Sierra Leone allowed the UN forces to leave the country. The Polisario Front, which demands independence for Western Sahara, released 404 Moroccan prisoners of war who had been held for well over two decades despite the formal cessation of hostilities 14 years ago. Efforts to overcome impunity moved forward with the prospect of Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) leaders being brought before the International Criminal Court charged with war crimes in northern Uganda.


The blurring of cultural boundaries often associated with globalization, far from overcoming deep divisions based on identity, was accompanied by continued, and some believe increasing, racism, discrimination and xenophobia. Across the world, people were attacked and deprived of basic human rights because of their gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and other similar aspects of their identity, or combinations of these identities.

In the context of the “war on terror”, 2005 saw continued polarization along identity lines in an increasingly intolerant and fearful world. Many people were targeted for discrimination and violence because of their identity – Muslims, those identified as Muslims, other minorities, migrants and refugees all fell victim. Some Muslim communities in Europe and elsewhere said they felt under siege: they feared and abhorred the bombings, but also experienced growing racism, fostered in part by some governments and media broadly linking the “terrorist threat” with “foreigners” and “Muslims”. On top of this, many suffered the consequences of counter-terrorism measures that were discriminatory in law and practice as young Muslim males continued to be portrayed as “typical terrorists”.

In their efforts to assert their power or resist challenges to their authority, repressive regimes targeted ethnic or religious minorities. One of the most blatant examples was the treatment of Kurdish groups in Syria and Iran. Up to 21 people were reportedly killed, scores injured and at least 190 more arrested in a brutal clampdown on civil unrest in the Kurdish areas of western Iran from July onwards. The mass arrests and excessive use of force against protesters in the Kurdish areas were part of a pattern of abuse of ethnic minorities in Iran, where up to half the population is Persian and the rest is made up of other ethnic groups including Kurds, Arabs and Azeri Turks.

In Syria too, Kurds continued to suffer from identity-based discrimination, including restrictions on the use of the Kurdish language and culture. Tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds remained effectively stateless, and were consequently denied full access to education, health services and employment, as well as the right to a nationality. However, in June, at its first meeting for 10 years, the ruling Ba’th Party Congress ordered a review of a 1962 census which could result in stateless Kurds obtaining Syrian citizenship.

Challenges to mainstream religious views were severely punished in some countries. In Egypt, despite the (Emergency) Supreme State Security Court ruling at least seven times in his favour, Mitwalli Ibrahim Mitwalli Saleh remained in administrative detention for his scholarly views on apostasy and marriage between Muslim women and non-Muslim men. In Pakistan, where blasphemy laws make it a criminal offence for members of the Ahmadiyya community to practise their faith, police investigations into killings of Ahmadis were slow or did not take place at all. In just one incident in October, eight Ahmadis were shot dead and 22 injured in their mosque by men shooting from a passing motorbike. Eighteen men arrested shortly afterwards were released without charge. In China, religious observance outside official channels remained tightly circumscribed. In March, the authorities issued a new regulation aimed at strengthening official controls on religious activities, and in April a crackdown on the Falun Gong spiritual movement was renewed. A Beijing official stated that since the group had been banned as a “heretical organization”, any activities linked to Falun Gong were illegal. Many Falun Gong practitioners reportedly remained in detention where they were at high risk of torture or ill-treatment.

In Eritrea, where the government cracked down on evangelical Christian churches during 2005, more than 1,750 church members and dozens of Muslims were in detention at the end of 2005 because of their religious beliefs. They were held in indefinite and incommunicado detention without charge or trial, some in secret locations. Many were tortured or ill-treated, and large numbers were held in metal shipping containers or underground cells.

A perceived lack of ethnic “purity” was used as a basis to exclude people from employment and education in Turkmenistan. Many members of ethnic minorities such as Uzbeks, Russians and Kazakhs were dismissed from their workplaces and denied access to higher education. Members of religious minority groups risked harassment, arbitrary detention, imprisonment after unfair trials and ill-treatment. Latvia ratified the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities during 2005, but the government’s definition of a minority effectively excluded most members of the Russian-speaking community from qualifying for recognition as a minority.

In many countries, indigenous people remained an underclass and were victims of widespread human rights violations. Discussions on an international Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, deadlocked for almost a decade, made halting progress in 2005. This dilatory response by the international community to the urgent need to recognize and respect the rights of indigenous people was reflected at the national level. In Brazil, for example, the government’s demarcation and ratification of indigenous territories fell far short of its promised goals. This contributed to insecurity and violent attacks on indigenous communities and forced evictions, aggravating already severe economic and social deprivation.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, who visited New Zealand in 2005, said that there were significant, and in some cases widening, disparities between Maori and the rest of the population. He said Maori considered this the result of a trans-generational backlog of broken promises, economic marginalization, social exclusion and cultural discrimination.

At a time of unprecedented globalization, with barriers to the free flow of capital and goods across borders being dismantled, it was ironic that the movement of people across national boundaries became more highly regulated than ever. Migrant workers became the focus of particular attack and ill-treatment, notwithstanding the benefits that host communities derived from their presence. An estimated 200 million migrants lived and worked outside their country of origin. From Burmese agricultural workers in Thailand to Indian domestic workers in Kuwait, many migrant workers all over the world faced exploitation and abuse. Ill-treated by employers and often with alarmingly little legal protection, they had scant access to justice. When irregular migrants came to the attention of the authorities, they risked being arbitrarily detained and expelled in conditions that violated their human rights.

As in many parts of the world, in the Mediterranean region there continued to be a blatant disregard for migrants' and asylum-seekers’ rights. Some of the thousands of people attempting to enter the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, on the north African coast, were intercepted and forcibly taken back to Morocco. Migrants and asylum-seekers fleeing extreme poverty and repression in sub-Saharan Africa were rounded up by Moroccan forces and detained. Some were deported to Algeria or taken to remote desert regions along the border with Algeria and Mauritania and left with little or no food and no means of transport. In Italy and Greece migrants and asylum-seekers continued to be detained, often in grossly inadequate conditions.

Most of the world’s governments declined to commit themselves to enhancing migrants’ rights – by December 2005 only 34 countries had ratified the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. Of the 20 countries committed to report to the UN Committee on Migrant Workers, just two had done so by the end of 2005.

Bilateral agreements between migrant-sending and migrant-receiving countries often ignored the human rights of migrants, treating human beings as commodities, “service providers” or “agents of development”, regardless of the contribution of migrants to their host societies and countries of origin. Many states focused on border controls while turning a blind eye to the exploitation of migrants, including migrant workers employed in the informal economy. The important contributions made by migrants to their host societies were frequently obscured in public debates that were often overtly racist and xenophobic, encouraging a climate in which human rights abuses against migrants were overlooked or even condoned.

Women migrants were at particular risk of gender-specific human rights violations. A foreign domestic worker was sentenced by a Shari’a (Islamic law) court in the United Arab Emirates to 150 lashes for becoming pregnant outside marriage. Many women migrants were not only vulnerable to sexual exploitation by traffickers and employers, but also faced systematic discrimination in the country where they worked. A woman from India working in Kuwait who was raped and became pregnant was held in prison after giving birth; she was not allowed to leave the country without the permission of the child’s father.

Discrimination and violence on grounds of gender persisted in every country in the world, as documented in several major reports released by AI during 2005 as part of its global campaign to Stop Violence against Women. In Nigeria, girls and women were left blind from beatings, doused with kerosene and set on fire, jailed for reporting that they had been raped or murdered for daring to report that their husbands were threatening to kill them. AI’s report on family violence in Spain analyzed the obstacles women face when trying to escape abusive relationships. In particular, migrant women, Roma women and women with physical or mental disabilities were rarely able to gain access to shelters and financial aid for survivors of gender-based violence.

During 2005 AI campaigned for the rights of women disregarded by the criminal justice system. Hundreds of cases of women abducted and murdered in Guatemala were not adequately addressed by the authorities and the government itself reported that 40 per cent of cases were archived and never investigated. Such official inaction sent the strongest signal possible to those who perpetrated these crimes that they did so with impunity.

Despite moves towards greater legal recognition of their rights in certain countries, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people continued to face widespread discrimination and violence, often officially sanctioned. The authorities tried to ban Latvia’s first ever Gay Pride march to mark the struggle for the rights of LGBT people. Homophobic remarks made by the Latvian Prime Minister and other senior figures – who, together with religious leaders, opposed the march – were reported to have encouraged a climate of intolerance and hatred. In Saudi Arabia, 35 men were sentenced to flogging and imprisonment for attending what was described as a “gay wedding”. AI’s findings in a major report on the USA showed that LGBT people were targeted for human rights abuses by the police. The discrimination against them significantly restricted their access to equal protection under the law and to redress for abuses. A 60-year-old gay man arrested in St Louis, Missouri, told AI:

I did nothing wrong85 did not hurt anyone and was targeted simply for being a gay male in a city park 85 Nothing is more unfair than singling out a group and making them criminal when they are not.”

Depriving a person of their rights because of a characteristic they cannot change or that is so central to their being that they should not be forced to change it, such as their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, attacks the central premise of human rights – the conviction that every human being is equal in dignity and worth.


During 2005 the international community’s commitment to “make poverty history” became more prominent on the international agenda. However, while government leaders pronounced their intention to reduce poverty, particularly in Africa, most of the targets set under the UN’s 15-year Millennium Development Goals showed little, if any, prospect of being met. The first time-bound target to achieve gender parity in primary education passed unmet with little or no protest from the international community. There was more rhetoric than real commitment to action, and not nearly enough attention to basing strategies on human rights principles.

Action by states to relieve poverty and deprivation globally is not an optional extra – it is an international obligation. It was a measure of states’ failure to fulfil this obligation that in 2005, when the world’s economic output was at its highest level ever, more than 800 million people around the world were chronically malnourished. At least 10 million children died before the age of five. Over 100 million children (the majority girls) did not have access even to primary education.

The disappointing outcome of the UN World Summit, which took place in September, illustrated clearly the gap between political rhetoric and genuine commitment. A small number of countries blocked efforts to make significant progress on human rights, security, genocide and poverty reduction. Delegates had to work so hard to maintain commitments made in the past that they had little time to discuss implementation of the Outcome Document, a political declaration where governments made pledges in the four areas of development, peace and security, human rights, and UN reform.

The lack of progress on the Millennium Development Goals was particularly shocking in light of the fact that some of the Goals set levels of expected achievement lower than those that states are required to meet under international human rights law. The Goal of halving hunger, if met, would hugely increase life expectancy, health and human dignity. Yet the 152 states that have ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights have, at the very minimum, an obligation to take the necessary action to mitigate and alleviate hunger for the whole population, even in times of natural or other disasters.

While global poverty climbed up the international agenda during 2005, it was also a year that exposed the gross economic and social inequalities within even the wealthiest of countries. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina shocked many around the world as it revealed the underbelly of deprivation, racial inequalities and poverty within the USA, the most powerful economy in the world.

The riots in France drew attention to decades of social inequality and discrimination against migrants and French nationals of African descent. The French government responded by declaring a state of emergency, imposing curfews and allowing law enforcement officials to carry out searches without warrants, close public meeting places of any kind and place people under “house arrest”. The government also announced plans to expel migrants convicted during the riots, regardless of whether they had a legal right to reside in France.

In countries of all political colours, and all levels of development, many were still unable to access even minimum levels of food, water, education, health care and housing. Deprivation in the midst of plenty could not be blamed solely on a lack of resources – it resulted from unwillingness, systemic corruption, negligence and discrimination by governments and others, and from their failure to respect, protect and fulfil economic, social and cultural rights.

For example, millions of people living with HIV/AIDS were unable to realize their right to health not just because of poverty, but because of discrimination and stigma, violence against women, and trade and patent agreements that obstructed access to life-saving drugs. During 2005, fewer than 15 per cent of those needing anti-retroviral treatment in the developing world received it, demonstrating the failure not only of governments, but also of intergovernmental bodies and companies, to fulfil their shared responsibilities for human rights.

In a globalized economy, the failure to uphold human rights also brought to the fore the debate about the responsibilities of companies and financial institutions for human rights. The process of establishing human rights principles applicable to companies moved forward in 2005 with the appointment in July by the UN Secretary-General of a Special Representative on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises. There was debate over the UN Human Rights Norms for Business and some further progress was made towards the acceptance by companies of voluntary codes of conduct. However, the need remained for common universal standards for corporate commitment on human rights and legal accountability.

Countless situations across the globe highlighted how poverty can be an aggregate violation of human rights – civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights – and how poverty, marginalization and vulnerability to violence are often inescapably linked.

In Brazil, where millions lived in poverty in favelas (shanty towns), the government’s continued failure to address systemic levels of criminal violence and human rights violations at the hands of the police reinforced patterns of social exclusion. The state’s persistent negligence over public security in favelas not only resulted in some of the highest homicide figures in the world, but effectively criminalized whole communities, further prejudicing access to already meagre public services such as education and health care as well as employment. For example, many favela residents would not be able to get a job if they gave their true address, as they were so widely seen as criminals. Armed violence was an inescapable part of daily life, either at the hands of drug gangs, police or vigilante “death squads”. A police policy of military-style incursions into the favelas not only failed to curb violence, it endangered the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in society. In October, a referendum on a total ban on the sale of guns in Brazil was defeated. Many analysts attributed the result to people’s sense of despair about the security situation and lack of faith in the police’s ability to protect them.

In Haiti, high levels of violence, particularly sexual violence, were perpetrated by armed groups and vigilante groups against women in poor communities. Many women were under constant threat of attack. Given the extremely low rate of conviction in relation to crimes of sexual violence, and the lack of official, community or family support to identify and investigate perpetrators, it was not surprising that these victims did not seek justice. Law enforcement officials have consistently failed to provide adequate protection or access to justice for these women.

Roma communities across Europe were often denied basic economic, social and cultural rights such as access to education and health services, and were frequently the targets of police abuse. In Slovenia, Roma formed a significant proportion of the people unlawfully removed from the Slovenian registry of permanent residents in 1992, known as the “erased”, and as a result they were not able to access basic social services.

Whether in response to natural disasters or humanitarian crises, the international community often faces criticism for failing to provide timely and adequate assistance to people in urgent need of aid. However, in some countries humanitarian efforts were hampered by governments unable or unwilling to address the needs of the poor and marginalized in their own countries. In Zimbabwe, despite overwhelming evidence of humanitarian need, the government repeatedly obstructed the humanitarian efforts of the UN and civil society groups for political reasons. One of the major factors behind the need for external support was the impact of government policies; hundreds of thousands of people were forcibly evicted from their homes and tens of thousands of people lost their livelihoods and the ability to support their families.

In 2005 there were some positive steps towards greater recognition of economic, social and cultural rights at national and international levels. These included an important Inter-American Court of Human Rights decision in the case of two Haitian girls, Dilcia Yean and Violeta Bosico, against the Dominican Republic, which had denied them access to education on the basis of their nationality. Also, steps were taken towards creating a UN mechanism for lodging complaints of violations of economic, social and cultural rights. Such a mechanism would help put economic, social and cultural rights on an equal footing with civil and political rights and end this arbitrary classification of human rights. It would strike a blow against impunity for economic, social and cultural rights violations and open a much-needed avenue for victims to claim redress.


For AI, genuine human security means that all rights – civil, cultural, economic, political and social – are realized. These are interrelated and indivisible – no security policy can ignore any one dimension. Human beings can flourish and fulfil their potential only if secure in all aspects of their lives. Human security therefore depends on the full range of interdependent human rights being respected, protected and fulfilled.

This report shows how human security, understood in this way, has often been a casualty of the national security strategies of the world’s most powerful governments, and those emboldened by their example. Our collective human security will not be safeguarded through such state-centred and narrowly defined approaches to security. It requires a more comprehensive vision of what security means, as well as a collective sense of shared responsibility for protecting it within and beyond the boundaries of the state.


At least 2,148 people were executed in 2005 and at least another 5,186 were sentenced to death. These figures only reflect cases known to AI; the true figures were certainly higher.

Many of those put to death had been denied a fair trial; they had “confessed” under torture, had not had proper legal representation or were not given an impartial hearing. Drug smuggling, embezzlement and fraud were some of the crimes for which capital punishment was imposed. Some people lived under sentence of death for more than 20 years before being executed, while others were executed almost immediately. Executioners used various means, including hanging, firing squad, lethal injection and beheading. Among those put to death were children and people with mental disabilities.

As in previous years, the vast majority of executions took place in only a handful of countries: 94 per cent of executions in 2005 were in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the USA.

In 2005 Mexico and Liberia abolished the death penalty for all crimes, bringing the number of countries that are abolitionist for all crimes to 86. In 1977, the year when the USA resumed the use of the death penalty and AI convened a groundbreaking International Conference on the Death Penalty in Stockholm, only 16 countries were abolitionist. At the end of 2005, 122 countries were abolitionist, either in law or practice.

The campaign against the death penalty gained strength in the course of 2005. The third World Day Against the Death Penalty, on 10 October, was marked in more than 50 countries and territories, including Benin, Congo, China (Hong Kong), the Democratic Republic of the Congo, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mali, Puerto Rico, Sierra Leone and Togo. Around the world there were demonstrations, petitions, concerts and televised debates to campaign against capital punishment. AI members in 40 countries participated in such events.

There was progress also at the UN level. UN Resolution 2005/59 on the question of the death penalty, passed in April 2005, came the closest yet to condemning the death penalty as a violation of human rights. The resolution affirms the right to life and declares, significantly, that abolition is “essential for the protection of this right”. Resolution 2005/59 was co-sponsored by 81 UN member states, the highest number ever. The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions issued strong statements in 2005 against the use of mandatory death sentences. He said that they remove a court’s freedom to exercise leniency or to take account of any extenuating or mitigating circumstances and that mandatory sentencing is entirely inappropriate in a matter of life or death.

One of the most powerful arguments against capital punishment is the inherent risk of executing the innocent. In 2005 both China and the USA released people from death row who had been wrongly convicted: China also acknowledged that innocent people had been executed. Unfair trials have led to executions in many countries; in 2005 people were executed in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan, reportedly without being given the benefit of due process of law, and therefore not afforded sufficient opportunity to present evidence of their innocence.

Discrimination based on a wide range of characteristics such as ethnicity, religion and poverty manifested itself at every stage of the death penalty process.

In a large number of countries, including India, Uzbekistan and Viet Nam, information about the death penalty remained secret. Sometimes information was withheld not only from the public but even from the victims. Japan remained one of the countries where inmates are not told when they are going to be executed until a few hours before their death. Just five hours before they were beheaded, six Somali nationals put to death in Saudi Arabia in April were reportedly still unaware that they were at risk of execution.

Even members of groups protected from the death penalty by international law and standards – such as juvenile offenders and the mentally disabled – were executed in 2005. In the USA, where more than 1,000 people have been executed since the resumption of capital punishment in 1977, the person who died in the thousandth execution was borderline mentally disabled. In Iran, at least eight people were executed for crimes committed when they were less than 18 years old – at least two were children under the age of 18 when they were hanged.

In a welcome judgment on 1 March 2005 the US Supreme Court ruled that the use of the death penalty against people under the age of 18 was unconstitutional, leading to more than 70 child offenders under sentence of death having their sentences commuted. Concerns remained, however, that the Supreme Court’s ruling did not apply to GuantE1namo detainees who were juveniles when they were detained.


In recent years, the number of refugees worldwide has fallen significantly, but the reality in 2005 was more complex and far bleaker than the numbers suggested.

In 2004, the last year for which figures were available, the number of refugees recorded was the lowest in almost 25 years. The decline in refugee numbers was largely because of the numbers of refugees who returned to their countries of origin, but not all were able to return to their homes and villages of origin, and many returned in conditions that were not voluntary, safe or dignified.

In all, more than 5 million refugees were returned – not all voluntarily – to their countries of origin between 2001 and 2004. Many of the returns took place to countries such as Afghanistan, Angola, Burundi, Iraq and Liberia where their safety and dignity could not necessarily be guaranteed. Some returns breached the fundamental principle of non-refoulement – the cornerstone of international refugee protection – that no one should be returned against their will to a situation where they would be at risk of serious human rights abuse.

The focus on numbers by both the international community and individual governments often led to the rights of refugees being disregarded. In many countries, asylum-seekers were excluded from seeking protection, either physically or by procedures that failed to provide a fair hearing. In Greece, for example, in 2004 just 11 asylum-seekers were recognized as refugees and 3,731 were rejected. The refusal rate in fast-track asylum procedures in the UK was 99 per cent. In South Africa some asylum-seekers were arbitrarily deported because of corrupt practices at refugee reception centres and borders. In China hundreds, possibly thousands, of North Korean asylum-seekers were arrested and expelled with no opportunity to claim asylum.

While the number of people crossing international borders in search of protection fell, the number of internally displaced persons remained unchanged at 25 million in 2004, many of whom had been displaced for years. States continued to be reluctant to allow international observers to monitor the conditions and human rights situation of internally displaced people in their countries. The UN Secretary-General’s March 2005 report on the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, In Larger Freedom, recommended strengthening the inter-agency response to the protection and assistance needs of internally displaced people. The resulting new inter-agency “cluster approach” promised to deliver greater accountability, but it remained to be seen whether it would deliver more predictable, robust and coherent protection to the millions of internally displaced people around the world.

For refugees living in camps, conditions worsened in 2005, particularly as many faced reductions in food rations – a sign of the failure of the world’s governments to fulfil their international obligations to share the responsibility of protecting and assisting refugees. This often resulted in an increase in violence against women, including domestic violence, and sexual exploitation of women who were forced to exchange sex for food rations as their only means of survival. Refugees continued to be denied freedom of movement outside camps and so were unable to earn a living, raising serious questions about the impact of long-term encampment policies on the rights and lives of refugees. In urban settings, many refugees were denied legal status and the right to work, forcing them into destitution or into a dangerous search for survival elsewhere, sometimes by travelling to other countries.

For governments keen to minimize their obligations to protect refugees, the rhetoric of the “war on terror” provided yet another excuse to increase border controls. In many countries, politicians and the media fuelled xenophobia and racism, falsely linking refugees with terrorism and criminality and whipping up hostility towards asylum-seekers.


2005 saw some significant developments towards bringing to justice those responsible for crimes under international law, including genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances. However, there was also continuing widespread impunity in national courts in the states where crimes were committed, as well as only limited use of universal jurisdiction by courts in other states.

In October, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced its first ever arrest warrants for five leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in northern Uganda. AI called on the ICC and the Ugandan government to ensure that tens of thousands of other crimes committed during the conflict were investigated and prosecuted, including crimes by government forces. AI urged the Ugandan government to repeal an amnesty law which prevents Ugandan courts from addressing these crimes.

The ICC continued to investigate crimes committed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but did not issue any arrest warrants during 2005. It also undertook preliminary analyses of eight other situations. However, the President and Prosecutor of the ICC suggested that resource constraints would limit its ability to undertake any new investigations until the current ones were completed.

While the UN Security Council’s referral to the ICC of crimes committed in Darfur, Sudan, was a positive step in addressing impunity, it was disappointing that the Security Council, as part of a compromise to ensure US support, included in its resolution a provision to exempt nationals of states not party to the Rome Statute of the ICC (other than Sudan) from the jurisdiction of the Court. In AI’s view, this provision creates double standards of justice and violates the UN Charter and other international law.

The struggle against impunity was reinforced by the work of other international and internationalized courts, notwithstanding some constraints and setbacks. The Special Court for Sierra Leone advanced in three trials involving nine suspects charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, the Sierra Leone government took no steps to end an amnesty, part of the 1999 LomE9 peace accord, which prevents prosecution of all others in Sierra Leone responsible for crimes under international law. Ignoring calls from the international community, Nigeria continued, with the apparent support of the African Union, to refuse to surrender former Liberian president Charles Taylor to the Special Court for Sierra Leone, where he has been charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes against the population of Sierra Leone.

Some progress was made in establishing special courts – Extraordinary Chambers – for Cambodia. These were expected to try no more than half a dozen people for crimes committed while the Khmer Rouge were in power, while tens of thousands of others continued to benefit from a national amnesty. AI was concerned about the composition of the courts and whether the Cambodian judges would have the necessary training and experience, given the serious weaknesses in the Cambodian judicial system.

National courts in a number of countries also contributed to the effort to end impunity by investigating and prosecuting crimes committed in other countries using universal jurisdiction legislation. People were convicted of crimes under international law in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK. Canada opened its first case under its universal jurisdiction legislation of 2000, charging DE9sirE9 Munyaneza with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in 1994 in Rwanda.

In September, Belgium issued a request for Senegal to extradite the former president of Chad, HissE8ne HabrE9, to face prosecution for the murder of at least 40,000 people, systematic torture, arbitrary arrests and other crimes, but Senegal referred the matter to the African Union. In November, former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori was arrested in Chile. He had been shielded from prosecution for extrajudicial executions and “disappearances” by Japan, which refused to extradite him to Peru.

The long-awaited trial of Saddam Hussain started in Iraq in October. Although the opportunity to obtain justice for some of the crimes committed under his regime was welcome, AI had serious concerns about the lack of fair trial guarantees in the statute of the tribunal, denial of proper access to counsel and the provision of the death penalty.

Despite progress on international justice, much more remained to be done to address impunity. 2005 was the 10th anniversary of the massacre of around 8,000 Bosnian Muslims after the UN “safe area” of Srebrenica fell to the Bosnian Serb Army in 1995. While crimes committed in Srebrenica have been recognized as amounting to genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the women of Srebrenica whose husbands and sons were killed are still waiting for most of the perpetrators to be brought to justice. In June, AI voiced concerns to the UN Security Council about its efforts to close the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia without establishing effective national courts to deal with the tens of thousands of crimes that the Tribunal was not able to investigate and prosecute. (There were similar concerns over the future of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.)

At the international level, the courts and tribunals require the full support of states, in terms both of providing resources and of exercising the political will to hand over suspects. At the national level, obstacles to prosecutions, such as amnesties, have to be removed, and where national justice systems have been destroyed by conflict long-term rebuilding plans are urgently needed. While the increase in universal jurisdiction cases in 2005 was welcome, states still have to ensure that they do not provide a safe haven for people accused of crimes under international law.


Some 3,000 representatives from governments and women’s and human rights organizations came together in New York in March 2005 to mark the 10th anniversary of the Beijing UN World Conference on Women and to assess progress towards fulfilling the Beijing Declaration and Program for Action. While governments unanimously reaffirmed the commitments they had made a decade ago, they failed to make further pledges to promote and protect women’s human rights. This failure was in part the result of a retrogressive attack on women’s human rights that has become evident over the past few years. This attack, especially regarding women’s sexual rights and reproductive rights, was led by conservative US-backed Christian groups and supported by the Holy See and some member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

The attacks on women’s rights, the changed global security context and the lack of will by states to implement international human rights standards formed the backdrop against which AI continued throughout 2005 to join with women’s groups around the world to promote women’s human rights.

Areas of progress included new legislation in a number of countries which reduced discrimination against women. In Ethiopia, a new Penal Code removed the marital exemption for the crimes of bride abduction and associated rape. The Kuwaiti Parliament amended the electoral law to grant women the right to vote and stand for election. AI welcomed the entry into force of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. Women’s organizations in the Solomon Islands celebrated the creation of the country’s first purpose-built shelter for victims of family violence.

Despite the gains made by the global women’s movement over recent years, pervasive discrimination and impunity for crimes of violence against women continued to undermine women’s fundamental rights to freedom, security and justice.

AI’s campaign to Stop Violence against Women concentrated during 2005 largely on violence against women in armed conflict, violence within the family and the role of women human rights defenders.

As its campaign increasingly focused on the private sphere of violence in intimate relationships, AI emphasized the duty of governments to intervene to adequately protect, respect, promote and fulfil women’s human rights. AI produced reports documenting domestic violence in a number of countries including Afghanistan, Guatemala, Gulf Cooperation Council countries, India, Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Territories, Nigeria, the Russian Federation, Spain and Sweden. Reports were also issued on the impact of guns on women’s lives, and on women, violence and health.

The long-term impact of violence against women was also highlighted in a major World Health Organization study published in 2005. As AI has consistently argued, violence against women causes prolonged physical and psychological suffering to women, and has repercussions for the well-being and security of their families and communities. The connection between violence against women as a human rights issue and as a public health crisis led AI to accept an invitation to join the Leadership Council of the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS.

At a conference of women human rights defenders held in Sri Lanka towards the end of 2005, organizations and individuals recognized the significant contribution of women human rights defenders to the advancement of the human rights of all people, and the serious risks to which they are exposed, including killings, abductions, rapes, “disappearances” and assaults. Those who defend and promote women’s human rights and gender equality are often targeted for their activism and can face marginalization, prejudice and danger. Defenders of contested rights such as environmental or sexual rights were particularly at risk in 2005 as they were seen to threaten the status quo.

The need for integrated approaches to combating violence against women was highlighted by two 2005 decisions by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. In the Mexican city of Ciudad JuE1rez, hundreds of poor, largely indigenous, women have been abducted and murdered in recent years without the authorities taking appropriate action. The Committee called for a thorough, systemic revision of the criminal justice apparatus, and for mass popular education to address structural discrimination against women. A Hungarian woman brought a case claiming that the authorities in Hungary had failed to protect her from a series of violent assaults by her former common law husband, despite repeated appeals for help. In this case, the Committee reaffirmed that, where government authorities fail to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and punish violations of rights, states themselves bear responsibility for actions of perpetrators.


Tackling the proliferation and misuse of weapons remained a key element of AI’s efforts to combat human rights violations, whether committed in the course of conflict, crime or security operations.

The Control Arms Campaign – launched in October 2003 by AI, Oxfam International and the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) – achieved some notable successes in 2005.

By the end of the year, about 50 governments had declared their support for an enforceable international Arms Trade Treaty – a key demand of the Control Arms Campaign. An arms control treaty based on international human rights and humanitarian law would save lives, prevent suffering and protect livelihoods. Costa Rica, Finland, Kenya, Norway and the UK, among others, promised to back the treaty. In October, the European Union (EU) Council of Foreign Ministers called for global support for such a treaty. There was considerable backing from governments for the UK position that separate UN negotiations on a treaty that would cover all conventional arms should begin in late 2006.

At the UN, governments agreed on a global standard for marking and tracing small arms in October 2005. This went some way towards fulfilling the proposal put forward by the Control Arms Campaign for a global system to track small arms and to hold arms traders accountable. However, not only did the agreement exclude ammunition, but it was not legally binding.

The global arms trade remained largely unaccountable and most transfers were shrouded in secrecy. Accurate and up-to-date statistics were therefore difficult to obtain. However, the information available suggested some striking trends. Most of the worldmilitary equipment and services were traded by a relatively small number of countries. According to an authoritative report by the US Congress, 35 countries exported some 90 per cent of the world’s arms in terms of value. By 2005, more than 68 per cent of arms exports were going to countries in the global South.

Six of the eight G8 countries are among the top 10 largest global arms exporters, and all eight export large amounts of major conventional weapons or small arms to developing countries. A series of loopholes and weaknesses in arms export controls, common across most G8 countries, meant that the G8’s commitments to poverty reduction, stability and human rights were undermined. Arms exports from G8 countries reached some of the world’s poorest and most conflict-ridden countries. Such countries included Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Philippines and Sudan.

In 2005 large quantities of weapons and ammunition from the Balkans and Eastern Europe continued to flow into Africa’s conflict-ridden Great Lakes region. Shipments to the DRC continued, despite a peace process initiated in 2002 and a UN arms embargo.

Weapons and ammunition supplied to the governments of the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda were subsequently distributed to armed groups and militia in the eastern DRC involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity. In addition to committing other crimes, these armed groups systematically and brutally raped and sexually abused tens of thousands of women. Arms dealers, brokers and transporters from many countries including Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Israel, Russia, Serbia, South Africa, the UK and the USA were involved in these arms transfers, highlighting once again the key importance of regulating the operations of arms brokers and dealers. By the end of 2005 only about 30 states had laws regulating such brokers.

Hundreds of thousands of people were killed using small arms in 2005. In Haiti, for example, small arms were used by armed groups and former soldiers to kidnap, sexually abuse and kill Haitians with impunity. Without disarmament and effective justice for the victims, Haiti risked sinking further into crisis.

Women paid a high price for the unregulated trade in small arms, both in their homes and in their communities. The presence of a gun in the household has been shown to vastly increase the risk that violence in the home will have fatal consequences. In 2005, the Control Arms Campaign called on governments to address inadequate firearms regulations, poor law enforcement and widespread discrimination which put women at heightened risk
of violence.

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