Amnesty International:
The backlash - human rights at risk throughout the world

ai-index    ACT 30/027/2001     04/10/2001

The world is still reeling from the shock of seeing thousands  of
people lose their lives in the devastating attacks in the USA  on
11 September. The victims came from many countries and  from  all
walks of life. The immediacy of the tragedy horrified, moved  and
angered people all over the world.

Amnesty  International  condemns  unreservedly  the  attacks.  It
expresses solidarity with the victims and calls in the  strongest
terms for those responsible to be brought to justice.  It  argues
that the response to these crimes must  be  conducted  in  strict
conformity with international human rights standards.

At  this  time  of   widespread   outrage   and   fear,   Amnesty
International has another role -- to try to stop the  attacks  in
the USA being used as a  pretext  for  further  abuses  of  human

Already there is a backlash. In many parts of  the  world  people
have suffered racist attacks because of their  appearance  and/or
their  religion.  In  the   name   of   fighting   "international
terrorism", governments have rushed to  introduce  draconian  new
measures that threaten the human rights of  their  own  citizens,
immigrants and refugees.

There is also the danger that while the attacks in  the  USA  and
the prospects of a future military response  dominate  the  news,
other serious human rights  concerns  are  ignored,  obscured  or
pushed to the bottom of the international agenda. It is precisely
in these circumstances that Amnesty International speaks  up  for
the forgotten victims, the unpopular causes, the human rights  of

Threats to human rights

Amnesty International has concerns in many  parts  of  the  world
about legislative, procedural  and  other  initiatives  that  are
being justified as  part  of  the  fight  against  "international
terrorism". Governments  have  a  responsibility  to  ensure  the
safety of their citizens, but measures taken must  not  undermine
fundamental human rights standards. It appears that some  of  the
initiatives currently being discussed or implemented may be  used
to curb basic human rights and to suppress  internal  opposition.
Some of the definitions of "terrorism" under  discussion  are  so
broad that they could be used to criminalize anyone out of favour
with those in power and criminalize legitimate peaceful  exercise
of the right to freedom of expression and association. They could
also put at risk the right to privacy and threaten the rights  of
minorities and asylum-seekers.

In the USA the government has already proposed a major  expansion
of its power to detain immigrants, a move that could erode  basic
constitutional  freedoms.  Proposals  include   authorizing   the
authorities  to  detain  indefinitely  and   deport   immigrants,
including legal immigrants, without presenting  evidence  against
them or allowing them meaningful challenge  of  the  legality  of
their detention. Proposed anti-terrorism legislation,  which  has
drawn  opposition  in  Congress,  defines  "terrorism"  extremely
broadly, making a range of non-violent activities of  association
deportable offences. In  other  words,  it  introduces  guilt  by
association. Other ideas being considered by the  US  authorities
include ending the ban on  CIA  participation  in  assassinations
outside  the  USA,  which  could  amount  to  an  endorsement  of
extrajudicial executions, and  relaxing  controls  on  recruiting
sources or informants with records of human rights abuses.

Laws that threaten to curb civil liberties  and  possibly  reduce
safeguards against abuses of human rights have been rushed to the
top of the agenda by politicians in Europe and elsewhere.  On  25
September UN High Commissioner for  Human  Rights  Mary  Robinson
said that the  results  of  the  meeting  the  previous  week  of
European Justice  and  Home  Affairs  Ministers  could  signal  a
further erosion  of  certain  liberties  on  the  continent.  The
European Union (EU) is debating measures  that  would  facilitate
the transfer of people suspected of criminal offences from one EU
member state to another by replacing extradition proceedings with
a European arrest warrant. This may reduce  judicial  supervision
of arrest and the procedures of surrendering detainees to another
country.  There  are  also  definitions  of   "terrorism"   under
consideration by  the  EU  that  might  lead  to  vaguely  worded
criminal offences, particularly in  relation  to  the  notion  of
"supporting a terrorist group."

In Russia the Justice Minister proposed  amendments  to  national
laws in order to strengthen the "fight against terrorism".  These
amendments would include the right of law enforcement authorities
to detain people suspected of having links  with  terrorists  and
organized crime for up to 30  days  without  charge  and  without
access to a lawyer.

All over the world, governments are debating or imposing measures
to clamp  down  on  illegal  immigrants,  threatening  abuses  of
desperate people and undermining the  rights  of  asylum-seekers.
Such initiatives are under discussion in the EU, where  proposals
would raise further obstacles to prevent  asylum-seekers  gaining
access to EU territory. Mary Robinson stated  recently  that  the
consequence could be a "harsher climate and context for  refugees
and asylum-seekers --  in  other  words,  potentially  a  further
hardening of the fortress Europe mentality, this time in the name
of terrorism."

The  UK  government  is  introducing  new  immigration  controls.
According to press  reports  in  late  September  the  government
announced that it was considering giving  the  courts  powers  to
detain indefinitely "terrorist" suspects who arrive  from  abroad
until they can be repatriated or sent to another country. It also
stated that it was considering changing legislation in order that
people  suspected  of  being  a  "terrorist"  would   no   longer
automatically have their asylum applications considered.

Millions of Afghans have fled their  country  seeking  safety  in
recent years, including at least  3.5  million  who  are  now  in
Pakistan and Iran.  A  further  1.1  million  Afghans  have  been
internally displaced owing to drought, armed  conflict  and  food

The fear of imminent attack on Afghanistan  has  accelerated  the
mass movement of Afghans towards borders, and  involved  tens  of
thousands of people in September alone. Iran and Pakistan  closed
their borders making it difficult for terrified  people  to  find
sanctuary. Amnesty International called on all  the  neighbouring
states to fulfil their international obligations towards refugees
by  opening  their  borders,  and  called  on  the  international
community to share the costs and responsibility of hosting Afghan

Neighbouring states have obligations under international law,  in
particular the  principle  of  non-refoulement,  which  prohibits
states from returning anyone  against  their  will,  directly  or
indirectly, to another country  where  they  risk  serious  human
rights abuses. The international community must offer  protection
and  relief  immediately  to  the  Afghan  refugees  and  provide
adequate resources to the UNHCR for it to carry  out  effectively
its mandate.

Amnesty International is also concerned that some governments may
use the campaign against "international  terrorism"  to  increase
suppression of their opponents. The day after the attacks in  the
USA, Israeli soldiers and tanks entered Jenin, an area under  the
control of the Palestine Authority. They killed more than a dozen
Palestinians, including a 14-year-old girl, Balgis Arda, who died
in the shelling, a woman, Raja Freihat, and her cousin who  tried
to rescue her. The Minister of Defence Benjamin Ben Eliezar  told
the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot: "It is a fact that we  have
killed 14 Palestinians in Jenin, Qabatiyeh and  Tammum  with  the
world remaining absolutely silent. It's a disaster for Arafat."

On 24 September the Israeli authorities declared a large strip of
land  beside  the  border  of  Israel  a  closed  military  area,
forbidding Palestinians outside the area from entering it. The UN
Secretary-General expressed his  concern  at  what  he  called  a
"unilateral and provocative act".

In the Russian Federation there was increasing talk by  those  in
positions of power or  influence  of  using  the  worldwide  "war
against  terrorism"  to  solve  the  Chechen  question.   Several
government officials have drawn a close link  between  Usama  Bin
Laden's organization  and  the  Chechen  fighters,  stating  that
Chechens had been trained  by  Usama  Bin  Laden.  Following  the
events on 11 September, Russia increased pressure on  Georgia  to
extradite Chechen fighters. Amnesty International fears a further
escalation of human rights violations in the region.

Amnesty International also fears that in countries where there is
an Islamic  opposition  movement,  the  government  may  increase
suppression of such opposition under the banner  of  joining  the
international campaign against "terrorism".

In China, for example, the authorities may use the events in  the
USA to further increase their harsh suppression of Muslim  ethnic
groups accused of being "separatists", "terrorists" or "religious
extremists" in the  Xinjiang  Uighur  Autonomous  Region  in  the
northwest of the country. All official statements in China so far
have emphasized the  need  to  combat  "all"  or  "any  type"  of
"terrorist" activity rather than just "international  terrorism",
but the authorities make little distinction between  "separatist"
and "terrorist" activities.  Such  a  climate  and  response  may
aggravate the already dismal human rights situation in the region
and lead to an increase in the widespread human rights violations
targeted particularly at the predominantly Muslim ethnic Uighurs.
There may also possibly  be  renewed  government  action  against
suspected "separatists" in Tibet.

In Turkey,  suspected  members  of  the  armed  opposition  group
Hizbullah (not the organization based in Lebanon)  have  recently
been detained arbitrarily and tortured. There are fears that such
abuses  will  increase  in  the  current  climate.  The   Turkish
government also appeared to  alter  course  in  relation  to  the
ongoing review of the 1982 Constitution, which was  initiated  as
part of the effort aimed at meeting criteria for  EU  membership.
The review had previously aimed at removing or altering  articles
that facilitated human rights violations.  On  19  September  the
Prime Minister said that the constitutional amendments would  now
aim to "eradicate terrorism".

In Pakistan, the crisis has led to increased tension between  the
government and  Islamist  opposition,  some  with  links  to  the
Taleban. On 21 September two people were shot dead in Karachi  as
police broke up several rallies in support of the Taleban.

There is also concern that  the  Uzbek  government  may  use  the
current climate as an opportunity to increase its suppression  of
any manifestation of perceived Islamic  opposition  with  greater
impunity. Thousands  of  alleged  supporters  of  banned  Islamic
opposition parties  or  movements,  including  members  of  their
families, have been  detained  or  sentenced  to  long  terms  of
imprisonment in Uzbekistan  in  recent  years.  There  have  been
consistent allegations of widespread and systematic  torture  and

There are several other human rights issues that may be  obscured
in the current climate. In many countries Muslims and  people  of
Middle Eastern origin have been detained on  suspicion  of  links
with Usama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network. Amnesty International is
concerned that the  rights  of  such  people  may  not  be  fully
respected. In several countries in  the  Americas,  for  example,
including Argentina,  Brazil,  the  Dominican  Republic,  Mexico,
Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay, people have been detained or suspects
are being sought on suspicion of links with Usama Bin  Laden.  It
is feared that some may be victims  of  arbitrary  detention  and

In addition, Amnesty International has fears that in the  attempt
to  build  an  international   coalition   against   "terrorism",
proposals are being considered to increase military transfers  to
countries with a poor human rights record that might have serious
consequences for human rights. There  is  also  the  danger  that
governments will ignore human  rights  violations  by  their  new
"allies" in the coalition, and that other human rights crises  or
concerns will slip way  down  the  agenda  of  the  international
community and the world's media.

Amnesty International remains concerned about the continuing  and
gross human rights abuses suffered by people  in  Afghanistan  --
concerns it has been raising with vigour for many years.  In  the
areas controlled by the Taleban -- at least 90 per  cent  of  the
country -- Afghans have suffered extreme  restrictions  on  their
most basic  civil  rights,  such  as  the  right  to  freedom  of
expression  and  religion.  Thousands  of  civilians  have   been
massacred by Taleban forces, thousands  have  suffered  arbitrary
detention, and countless numbers have  suffered  torture,  cruel,
inhuman or degrading punishments, and the death penalty.

In the areas controlled by opposition forces -- now known as  the
Northern Alliance -- Afghans have also suffered widespread  human
rights abuses. These  include  massacres  of  prisoners  of  war,
unfair trials, torture and executions.

Amnesty International fears that many people  inside  Afghanistan
are suffering additionally as a result of the backlash  from  the
attacks in the USA. Among those  most  vulnerable  are  civilians
living in areas at the centre of renewed fighting between  forces
of the Northern Alliance and the Taleban, and non-Pushtuns living
in Taleban-controlled areas, who may be seen  as  sympathetic  to
the Northern Alliance.

Racist attacks

Soon after the 11 September attacks, graffiti appeared on a  wall
near a mosque in South Shields, the UK. Painted  in  red  letters
two metres high were the words, "Avenge USA - kill a Muslim now".

It is a  terrible  irony  that  within  weeks  of  the  UN  World
Conference against Racism, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance  in
Durban, South Africa,  many  communities  around  the  world  are
facing a dramatic increase in racist abuse. This is  despite  the
many calls by intergovernmental organizations as well as  leading
politicians in the USA, Europe and other  regions  for  religious
tolerance and against racist acts of vengeance.

In the USA there was a wave of compassion for the victims of  the
attack, with many people rushing to help, some  at  the  cost  of
their lives. But the horror and fear triggered by the attack also
unleashed a wave  of  bigotry  across  the  country  targeted  at
Muslims, Asians and those  of  Middle  Eastern  appearance.  Such
sentiments were fuelled by radio stations falsely reporting  that
Muslims in the USA were celebrating the attack.

The Council on American-Islamic  Relations  received  reports  of
more than 540 attacks on Arab-Americans in the week following the
hijackings, ranging from verbal abuse to physical assaults,  many
directed at school children. In the same  period  more  than  200
Sikhs were victims of some kind of racist abuse. Two weeks  after
the attacks, the FBI  had  formally  opened  investigations  into
about  90  hate  crimes,  and  local  and  state  agencies   were
investigating hundreds of other incidents of assaults, harassment
and threats.

Dozens of mosques and  Hindu  temples  have  been  firebombed  or
vandalized. The Islamic Center of Irving, for example,  a  mosque
in Texas, had its windows shattered by gunshots. A bag  of  pig's
blood was reportedly left on the doorstep  of  a  mosque  in  San
Francisco. Many schools and colleges have been  forced  to  close
because of death threats, bomb threats and fears for  the  safety
of students. Shops have been pillaged for racist reasons.

A few victims have died  as  a  result  of  alleged  hate  crimes
sparked by the 11 September attacks. An Egyptian-born shopkeeper,
a Christian, was shot dead in Los Angeles. A Sikh petrol  station
owner was shot and killed in Arizona. A Pakistani man was  killed
in Dallas. A Yemeni-American was  shot  dead  in  Detroit.  Other
victims have sustained horrific injuries. A 20-year-old  student,
for example, was stabbed three  times  in  Boston  by  assailants
yelling anti-Arab abuse. A Sudanese refugee  reportedly  survived
an attempted stabbing in an Atlanta street when  another  refugee
came to his aid.

Hundreds  of  people  have  suffered  death  threats  and  racist
intimidation. In Pennsylvania the chairman of the Islamic Supreme
Council of America was threatened by motorists and  then  stopped
by police because of his appearance.  He  was  returning  from  a
national memorial service for the victims  of  the  11  September
attacks and had been advised by the FBI not to fly.  A  woman  in
Los Angeles was threatened with a  gun  in  her  face.  An  Arab-
American shop-owner was pepper-sprayed. In  Laramie,  Wyoming,  a
woman and her children were chased from a  supermarket  by  angry
shoppers screaming at her to go back to her country.  There  have
also been several examples of local communities taking action  to
show their solidarity with their Muslim neighbours.

Racist attacks have not been restricted to the  USA.  In  Canada,
Mosques were attacked.

In Australia, a school bus carrying Muslim children  in  Brisbane
was pelted with stones and bottles. Mosques were  firebombed  and
at least one burned down. A Lebanese church was vandalized.

In India there are reports of informal talks at the level of  the
Home  Ministry  and  the  Law   Ministry   about   the   possible
promulgation of an ordinance to deal with  terrorist  crimes.  As
the Parliament is presently not in session and the  ordinance  is
considered by the government to be urgently needed, it  would  be
promulgated  by  the  President  without  prior   discussion   in
Parliament. It is hoped  that  the  new  ordinance  will  contain
sufficient guarantees regarding arrest, detention and fair  trial
and will be in line with international human rights standards.

An Islamic organization, the Student Islamic  Movement  of  India
(SIMI), was banned on 27 September and hundreds of its  militants
were arrested all over the country. It is  unofficially  reported
that the organization was banned for its  links  with  Pakistan's
Inter Services Intelligence, but the grounds for the ban have not
yet  been  made  public.The  arrests  of  SIMI   activists   were
accompanied by violence in the city of Lucknow on the  same  day,
where five people were killed by police during a riot.

Muslims and members of ethnic minorities suffered racist  attacks
in the UK, particularly in London, the Midlands and Scotland.  An
Afghan taxi driver in London was left  paralysed  from  the  neck
down after being dragged from his taxi and beaten by  three  men.
An Asian woman in Swindon was beaten with a baseball bat  by  two
men. A 20-year-old Bangladeshi man's jaw was broken by a group of
youths in Tyne and  Wear.  Mosques  were  vandalized  in  London,
Manchester, Oldham, Southend, Glasgow and Belfast. The  level  of
intimidation against Muslims led to the closure of three  schools
in London.

Racist attacks have been reported across  much  of  the  rest  of
Europe. In Poland, a mosque in Gdansk was stoned by youths on  14
September. In the Netherlands, mosques were being attacked daily,
according to reports, and in Nijmegen an Islamic  primary  school
was set on fire. Dutch police registered more than 20 attacks  on
Muslim targets in the 10 days after 11 September, with  incidents
ranging from arson and stone-throwing to threatening letters  and
racist graffiti. In Denmark, police arrested  a  man  as  he  was
about to throw petrol bombs at a  mosque  in  Copenhagen,  and  a
pizzeria owned by Kurdish immigrants was vandalized in  the  town
of Dragoer. In Ireland, a Muslim man  at  an  Islamic  centre  in
Dublin was beaten up, and  a  Muslim  school  in  Clonskeagh  was
closed following a bomb scare.

In Hungary,  the  Minister  of  the  Interior  ordered  that  800
recognized Afghan refugees and asylum-seekers, who were  held  in
various detention centres for asylum-seekers, be transferred to a
facility in Debrecen, where they are to be held isolated from all
other foreigners. The Minister explained that this was to  ensure
the safety of the Afghan refugees. No  official  explanation  has
yet been given to the UNHCR.

In Italy, the Northern  League  has  made  blatantly  anti-Muslim
statements. Of particular concern was a statement made  by  Prime
Minister Silvio Berlusconi  during  a  visit  to  Germany  on  26
September. He said: "We should be conscious of the superiority of
our civilization, which consists of a value system that has given
people widespread prosperity in those countries that embrace  it,
and guarantees respect for  human  rights  and  religion...  This
respect certainly does  not  exist  in  the  Islamic  countries".
Amnesty International fears, that in the  present  climate,  such
statements may condone racist attacks.


Amnesty   International   welcomes   the   statements   made   by
intergovernmental organizations as well as  many  politicians  in
the USA, Europe and elsewhere to combat the  racist  backlash  in
the wake of the attacks in the USA. However, there  is  a  danger
that  as  the  world's  political  leaders  focus  on  combatting
"terrorism" from abroad, a climate is engendered in which  racism
and xenophobia can flourish.

Amnesty International urges governments  to  take  strong  action
against racist attacks directed at the Muslim, Asian  and  Middle
Eastern populations in their countries. In a climate of fear  and
perceived external threat, it is essential that  the  authorities
step up measures to ensure  that  people  from  all  communities,
whether citizens  or  not,  are  equally  protected.  Governments
should continue  to  denounce  racist  violence  and  threats  of
violence,  and  make  clear  that  such  crimes   of   hate   and
discrimination will not be tolerated.

Governments must not use the  "war  on  terrorism"  to  introduce
draconian  measures  that  limit  civil   liberties   and   allow
violations of human rights. Such measures are  likely  to  stifle
dissent and curtail basic freedoms. For this reason, they must be

In reaching a balance between security  and  individual  freedom,
the internationally recognized safeguards to protect human rights
must  not  be  sacrificed.  Even  in  the  most  extreme  crisis,
governments  do  not  have  a  completely  free   hand.   Amnesty
International calls on all governments to ensure that  the  human
rights of all people are respected in their response  to  the  11
September attacks in the USA.

The human toll of this crisis must not fall on those who are  the
most vulnerable - refugees and asylum-seekers who are  themselves
fleeing repression and terror. Some  governments  are  exploiting
the climate  of  public  fear  to  tighten  up  asylum  laws  and
policies. All governments must ensure that the rights of  asylum-
seekers are protected, that all asylum-seekers have access  to  a
fair and satisfactory asylum determination process, and  that  no
one is returned to a country where they risk serious human rights
abuses. The international community should insist that  countries
neighbouring Afghanistan open their borders, and should share the
costs and responsibility for hosting Afghan refugees.

Amnesty International calls on  the  international  community  to
hold to account all governments for human rights  violations.  It
also urges the international community and media not to  let  the
focus on the campaign against  "terrorism"  obscure  other  human
rights crises or concerns around the world.

Amnesty  International  is  impartial  and  independent  of   any
government, political persuasion or religious creed.

(c) Amnesty International