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Making the world a more dangerous place
Ali Abunimah, Electronic Iraq
30 May 2003
The US "war on terror" has made the world a more dangerous place. So says the human rights organization Amnesty International in its annual report for 2003.
The murderous bombings in Bali, Mombassa, Riyadh and Casablanca dramatically demonstrate that underground groups still have the capacity to attack innocent civilians more or less wherever they please.
While these attacks are most visible, security is being taken away from millions of people all over the world in more insidious ways, especially by governments acting in the name of security. In a message accompanying the report, Amnesty's secretary-general Irene Khan says: "At a time of heightened insecurity, governments chose to ignore and undermine the collective system of security which international law represents. Draconian measures -- by democratic as well as autocratic governments -- to intrude and intercept, to arrest and detain suspects without trial and to deport people with no regard to their fate, weakened human rights protection of individuals as well as respect for the standards of international law."
"Human rights," Khan reminds us, "are not a luxury for good times. They must be upheld, including in times of danger and insecurity." Far from making the world safer, she argues, the greater emphasis on security "has made it more dangerous by curtailing human rights and undermining the rule of international law, shielding governments from scrutiny by deepening divisions among people of different faiths and origins, and by diverting attention from festering conflicts and other sources of insecurity." Now, with world attention focused on Iraq, the failures and lurking dangers in the "war on terror's" first stop, Afghanistan, have been obscured.
Original DoD caption: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld (right) announces the military strikes against al Qaeda terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan during a Pentagon press briefing on Oct. 7, 2001. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard B. Myers, U.S. Air Force, joined Rumsfeld for the announcement. The carefully targeted actions are designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a base for terrorist operations and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime. (DoD photo by Terry C. Mitchell.)
Amnesty admits that "there were significant improvements in the human rights situation" in that country after the fall of the Taleban in 2001. But there was much more bad news in 2002.
On the political front, the Amnesty report states that, "the Loya Jirga (Afghan national council) intended to accord national legitimacy to the peace process failed to open up space for democratic debate and entrenched in power many against whom there were allegations of massive human rights abuses." As for security, "the central government had no real control outside Kabul," the capital, resulting in "increased lawlessness, factional fighting and repression, and continued human rights abuses." "Impunity remained entrenched," Amnesty says, and reports of violence, torture, and ill-treatment by warlords and official authorities are common.
The US may be making things worse. "US coalition forces allegedly funded and rearmed militias and those regional commanders crucial to helping their war on terror despite concerns about abuses by these groups," according to Amnesty. And, under the US gaze, "military commanders suspected of past grave human rights abuses were integrated into the transitional administration."
Screenshot from USAID website's "Rebuilding Afghanistan" section, focused on "Empowering Women". Click to visit.
Women's rights, championed by liberal supporters of the Afghan war are in a dreadful state. Back in November 2001, a New York Times editorial gushed: "America did not go to war in Afghanistan so that women there could once again feel the sun on their faces, but the reclaimed freedom of Afghan women is a collateral benefit that Americans can celebrate. After five years of Taleban rule, women in Afghanistan are uncovering their faces, looking for jobs, walking happily with female friends on the street and even hosting a news show on Afghan television."
The changes in women's status were -- forgive the pun -- largely cosmetic. While the Taleban's worst anti-women decrees were formally lifted nationwide, they have been reimposed by individual warlords. In Herat, for example, repressive new decrees restrict women's movement and participation in civil society, and women's NGOs are systematically intimidated and harassed. Throughout the country, Amnesty says, "violence against women by both state and nonstate actors continued. The violence took the form of rape, forced marriages, kidnappings and traditional practices discriminatory toward women in settling tribal disputes." Women found no redress through the inadequate, biased and in many places nonexistent judicial system. Overall, Amnesty concludes, "fears for their personal safety" prevented Afghan women from "participating fully in civil society and denied them the opportunity to exercise their basic rights."
On top of these problems, almost 2 million Afghan refugees have returned home to a country in chaos with collapsed health and education systems, continued drought and insufficient international aid.
Tony Blair, one of the most enthusiastic participants in the Afghan war, promised that, "this time we will not walk away from Afghanistan." Yet he and the world have done precisely that. This is the same Blair, by the way, who affirmed at that time that he would oppose any military action against Iraq unless strong evidence emerged linking the regime to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
The situation in Afghanistan is an enormous, ongoing tragedy, but as we watch chaos, disease and insecurity spread in the "liberated" Iraq, the Afghan experience has a depressing resonance. With the UN giving its belated blessing to the US occupation of Iraq, there does not seem to be an international mechanism to hold Washington accountable for the smoldering wrecks its wars leave behind. The most frightening prospect is that new and ever more ruthless anti-US groups will emerge to try to fill that gap, fueling forever this endless global "war."
This article first appeared in The Daily Star.
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