CAIRO: Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan on Wednesday urged governments to ensure that their responses to the global economic crisis do not sideline human rights, during the launch of the rights group’s 2009 annual report.
Speaking in London, Khan pointed to the poor human rights records of many G20 member nations.
“World leaders need to put human rights at the center of their economic rescue plan. But to be credible leaders they need also to fix their own appalling human rights records, Khan told the press conference.
Khan drew parallels between human rights violations committed in the name of security and those perpetrated during states’ response to economic conditions.
She warned that the global financial situation has made the human rights crisis far worse.
“The economic downturn has aggravated abuses, distracted attention from them and created new problems. In the name of security, human rights were trampled on. Now, in the name of economic recovery, they are being relegated to the back seat.
Khan urged governments to focus on the “human rights crisis alongside the economic crisis and said that open markets “have not led to open societies, pointing to Russia and China as examples of this.
There were some positive developments in 2008, despite the fact that the report warns that “the world is in the middle of a human rights crisis…we are sitting on a social, political and economic time-bomb that will explode if human rights concerns are not addressed.
Closure of Guantanamo Bay and the outlawing of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Egypt figure amongst these developments.
The law banning FGM is virtually the only positive development in the report’s description of human rights developments in Egypt last year.
It paints a grim picture of continuing political oppression, discrimination against religious minorities and men suspected of being gay as well as a serious housing crisis.
Referring to a landslide which killed over 100 people last September in Duweiqa, a slum area in Cairo, Amnesty says, “the tragedy provided a stark reminder of the risks facing many of Egypt s slum-dwellers, who number between 5 and 11 million people, according to official estimates, and live in around 1,000 overcrowded informal settlements that lack basic adequate services. The report also points out that rising food prices and growing poverty “fuelled a wave of strikes by private and public sector workers.
The report is critical of “grossly unfair trials before military and special courts including that of Muslim Brotherhood members tried in a military court and the September trial of 49 people accused of involvement in violent protests on April 6, 2008.
Torture is “systematic in Egyptian police stations, prisons and state security investigations detention centers, the report says.
“Impunity continued for most perpetrators, exacerbated by police threatening victims with re-arrest or the arrest of relatives if they lodged complaints. However, some alleged torturers were brought to trial during the year.
As in previous years, denial of the right to freedom of expression is mentioned in the 2009 report.
“The authorities used repressive laws to clamp down on criticism and dissent. They prosecuted journalists for defamation and other offences, censored books and editions of foreign newspapers and imposed restrictions on the Egyptian media, the report reads.
“Some internet websites were blocked and bloggers and others who criticized the government were arrested.
The report also mentions the “up to 1,200 Eritrean asylum-seekers were forcibly returned to their country by the Egyptian authorities despite the risk of torture they face.
In addition, the report says that 28 people were shot dead and scores injured while trying to cross the border from Egypt into Israel.