Rights activists target of backlash in 2009: report

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Rights groups suffered an intense backlash in 2009 in some countries, with activists harassed, detained and killed, Human Rights Watch said yesterday as it urged governments to make human rights a bedrock of diplomacy.

In its 20th annual review of global human rights, the group said attacks on rights monitors were not limited to authoritarian countries such as Myanmar and China. It said there was an increase in attacks on rights activists in countries with elected governments facing armed insurgencies.
“These attacks might be seen as an unwitting tribute to the human rights movement,” Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth wrote in the introduction to the World Report 2010.
“If governments were not feeling the heat they would not bother trying to smother the source.”
“Under various pretexts, these governments are attacking the very foundations of the human rights movement,” he said. “Activists have been harassed, detained, and sometimes killed. Organizations have been shut down or crippled.

The report said human rights monitors had been killed in Burundi, Kenya, Russia, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, while Sudan and China routinely shut down human rights groups and Iran and Uzbekistan harassed and detained activists.

Colombia, Venezuela and Nicaragua were accused of threatening and harassing activists and violence was used in countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sri Lanka, Human Rights Watch said.

Some governments, such as Ethiopia and Egypt, use extremely restrictive regulations to suppress the work of nongovernmental organizations, it said.

Other countries use the disbarment of lawyers (China and Iran), criminal charges (Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan) and criminal libel laws (Russia and Azerbaijan) to silence critics, the report said.

It also found that local and international human rights groups working in Israel had experienced a more hostile climate since the three-week Gaza war a year ago.
“Governments that support human rights need to speak out, to make respecting human rights the bedrock of their diplomacy and of their own practices,” Roth said. “They need to demand real change from abusive governments.”



The report can be seen at www.hrw.org/world-report-2010.