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US abuse undermines global rights drive-report
By Paul Eckert

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration's attempts to defend inhumane interrogation methods and seek exemptions from planned anti-torture legislation compromised campaigns for human rights around the world in 2005, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.

The U.S.-based group said in a report on rights conditions in 70 countries that abuses committed by the United States in its war against terrorism had damaged American credibility and had prompted other countries to adopt similar tactics.

The report, which was dismissed by the White House as politically motivated, said Washington should appoint a special prosecutor and Congress should set up an independent panel to investigate U.S. abuses.

"The hypocrisy factor has encouraged copycat techniques around the world by people who do like the United States does and has also weakened the United States as one of the traditional important supporters of human rights," Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, told a news conference in Washington.

President George W. Bush's administration has come under heavy criticism from rights groups at home and abroad, and from many foreign governments, over its treatment of suspects caught since the September 11, 2001 attacks and in the war in Iraq.

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White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters he had seen only media accounts of the 532-page report, but said it "appears to be based more on a political agenda than facts."

"The United States does more than any country in the world to advance freedom and promote human rights," he said, citing the ousting of repressive regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The focus should be more on those who are violating human rights and denying people their human rights," McClellan said.

A 'GLOBAL LEADERSHIP VOID'

Bush was last month forced under congressional pressure to sign legislation outlawing torture by U.S. security forces but has resisted attempts to give terrorism suspects in American custody access to U.S. courts.

Roth said U.S. policies undercut efforts by Washington to deal with 2005 troubles such as the massacre of hundreds of demonstrators in Uzbekistan, ethnic cleansing in Darfur, Sudan and severe repression in countries such as Myanmar, North Korea, Turkmenistan, China and Zimbabwe.

"Even when the administration spoke out in defence of human rights or acted commendably, its initiatives made less headway as a result of the credibility gap," the report said.

It said the credibility gap resulted in muted U.S. criticism of abuses in Egypt, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

The group was also critical of some Western U.S. allies.

It criticised Britain for trying to send terrorism suspects to countries where they faced torture and said Canada had tried to dilute a new treaty outlawing enforced disappearances.

It said those practices by U.S. allies -- combined with the European Union's practice of subordinating human rights to trade in its relationships with many rights offenders -- left a "global leadership void" in defending human rights.

"Sadly, Russia and China were all too happy to fill that void by building economic, political, and military alliances without regard to the human rights practices of their partners." the report said.

Russia, trying to counter democratic currents in former Soviet states, and China, seeking resources for its economy, bolstered abusive governments, creating pressure for other powers to do the same or risk losing influence, it said.

The 16th annual world report by Human Rights Watch, published at http://hrw.org/wr2k6, said increased international pressure on Myanmar and North Korea were among several "bright spots" in 2005.

The group lauded India for freezing military aid to Nepal after a royal coup there in February and credited Kyrgyzstan for rescuing more than 400 refugees from a massacre in its Central Asian neighbour, Uzbekistan.


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