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Where are Human Rights in the War on Terrorism?

Human Rights Defenders on the Frontlines of Freedom:
A Conference at The Carter Center, Nov. 11-12, 2003

The Philippines has arrested and tortured people allegedly connected to the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group. Uzbekistan convicted more than 100 people in the months following the terrorist attacks for alleged crimes related to religious worship. Eritrea jailed journalists after accusing them of having terrorist ties, and all independent press outlets were closed in September 2001. And Colombian President Alvaro Uribe recently called human rights organizations "politickers at the service of terrorism" and defended expansive police powers granted to public security forces, arbitrary detentions, and raids of civil society organizations.

Across the world, the U.S.-led war on terrorism has led to some startling actions by governments. Many governments have adopted anti-terrorist security policies, and some have cracked down on dissidents and human rights defenders. At the heart of the matter, governments say, is the United States and the broadening of its own police powers under the Patriot Act.

"After Sept. 11, the United States sought to develop ties with a number of undemocratic, authoritarian governments to increase cooperation on security issues," said Carter Center human rights lawyer Ashley Barr. "These countries have seen this move as a ripe opportunity for them to squash human rights movements or to deprive their citizens of their human rights."

These crackdowns have placed many human rights defenders in increasing danger. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has called the escalating threats disturbing.

"The best way to ensure our collective security is to help these champions of liberty to succeed in their own countries," President Carter said. "We also must fight the war on terror in a way that will increase cooperation and determination among nations to root out extremism, while advancing justice."

For media: Access conference information and the agenda

The Carter Center conference "Human Rights Defenders on the Frontlines of Freedom" on Nov. 11-12 will address cases where human rights and democracy advocates have experienced erosions of their rights since Sept. 11, 2001. Human rights expert Karin Ryan assembled a group of 50 frontline human rights defenders from all regions of the world that are grappling with the consequences of the war on terror as they struggle to develop democracy and liberty in their own societies.

"Ironically, the individuals and organizations being targeted are in the best position to press for legal and social policies that will create stable and less radicalized societies," Ryan said.

"You might think these issues are confined to those developing countries that have been known to abuse human rights, but this problem is worldwide," Barr said. "Besides the United States, The Netherlands, Italy, Spain, and Canada have all pushed through legislation that has compromised human rights."

The conference will culminate in a statement from human rights defenders with concrete recommendations to be presented at a press conference, Nov. 12. After the event, several participants will travel to Washington to present these recommendations to U.S. policy-makers. The statement will be posted on the Center's Web site.

U.N. Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan and U.N. Special Representative to the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders Hina Jilani will join former U.S. President Jimmy Carter at the conference. Other participants will include Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim of Egypt, an activist and professor at the American University in Cairo, who exposed fraud in the Egyptian electoral process and subsequently was sentenced to seven years in prison, convicted for "tarnishing Egypt's image" and "accepting foreign money without approval from the government," according to court documents; and Dr. Willy Mutunga, executive director of Kenya Human Rights Commission, will address a proposed U.S.-supported anti-terrorism law that dangerously expands police powers in Kenya. Additional participants will come from other African and Middle-Eastern countries, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe.

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