May 14, 2004
In today’s Wa Po:
Immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, many traumatized and fearful U.S. citizens accepted Washington’s new approach with confidence that our leaders would continue to honor international agreements and human rights standards.
But in many nations, defenders of human rights were the first to feel the consequences of these changes, and international humanitarian organizations began expressing deep concern to each other and to high-level U.S. military and government officials about the adverse impact of the new American policies, and to promulgate reports of actual abuses.
These American decisions had an immediate global impact. In response to urgent requests from human rights defenders from many countries, the late Sergio Vieira de Mello, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, and I agreed that it would be helpful to hear directly from a representative group. After the high commissioner’s tragic death in Iraq last August, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed Bertrand Ramcharan to serve as my co-chair, and in November 2003 the Carter Center brought together leaders of human rights and democracy movements from 41 nations.
We learned from these nonviolent activists that U.S. policies are giving license to abusive governments and even established democracies to stamp out legitimate dissent and reverse decades of progress toward freedom, with many leaders retreating from previous human rights commitments. Lawyers, professors, doctors and journalists told of being labeled as terrorists, often for merely criticizing a government policy or carrying out their daily work. Equally disturbing are reports that in some countries the U.S. government has pushed regressive counterterrorism laws, based on the USA Patriot Act, that undermine democratic principles and the rule of law. Some American policies are being challenged by Congress and the federal courts, but the reversal of such troubling policies is unlikely in countries where legislative and judicial checks and balances are not well developed.
It would be easy forget, but we do have quite an extensive network of Human Rights Watchdogs in this country. Inhofe’s dismissal of them as “humanitarian do-gooders” not withstanding, maybe we can begin listening to them again.
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