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Amnesty is Watching

Jul 20, 1998 07:40 PM
by Darren

Amnesty is watching 


Related: Individual supreme?
                 Malaysia's stance
                 Charter still relevant

Asiaweek Oct 31, 1997 

AMNESTY International is the best-known of the many organisations
monitoring human rights abuses worldwide. It was Amnesty that coined the
now widely used term "prisoner of conscience," referring to an individual
jailed for his or her beliefs. The London-based non-governmental
organization has grown beyond its activist roots to become a largely
credible source of information on human rights. Not everyone agrees with
what Amnesty asserts. A lot of people couldn't care less. And even Amnesty
would not claim to be right 100 percent of the time. But few doubt the good
intentions and impartiality of a group ready to criticise any nation. Its
detailed and uncompromising reports are a small but necessary attempt at
keeping those in authority honest.

Mostly in vain, though, if the 1997 report is anything to go by. In country
after country, the document relentlessly -- and depressingly -- exposes
unfair trials, torture, executions, the use of flogging and amputation as
judicial punishments, "disappearances," extrajudicial killings,
ill-treatment and deaths in police custody, mass killings and ethnic
cleansing. Unsurprisingly, central and north Africa, central and south
America and West Asia are among the worst perpetrators. Central and eastern
Europe, especially the former Yugoslavia, also figure prominently. And many
Western democracies come under fire too. In Germany, it's for ill-treatment
of foreigners by police. In the UK, deaths in custody. In the U.S., the
introduction of chain gangs for women, as well as 45 executions and the
handing down of some 3000 death sentences.

Asia does not get off free, of course. China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar,
Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea and Vietnam are cited for holding
political prisoners or prisoners of conscience. China is also taken to task
for carrying out executions -- at least 3500 in the past year -- as is
Singapore (38). Thailand is rapped for the extrajudicial killings of
suspected drug traffickers and the forced repatriation of Mon refugees.
Extrajudicial killings before and after Cambodian strongman Hun Sen's
seizure of sole power merit a mention. Both government and separatists in
Sri Lanka are accused of abuses. Even normally placid Malaysia is not left
out. An NGO leader faces prison for spotlighting brutality against migrant
workers, while an oppositionist is tried for sedition. Looks like Amnesty
will stay busy for years to come.

-- By Stuart Whitmore 

Published in the Asiaweek Oct 31, 1997.

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