- NEW YORK (OneWorld)
-- Government leaders across the world must stop using anti-terror laws
as a tool to suppress opposition movements and deprive ordinary citizens
of their due civil and human rights, say international civil society groups
attending the World Social Forum in Kenya this week.
- "The 'so-called war on terror' is being used by
both democratic and repressive governments alike to justify restrictions
on civil society activities," said Kumi Naidoo, secretary general
of the World Alliance for Citizens' Participation (CIVICUS), a Johannesburg,
South Africa-based coalition of hundreds of advocacy groups.
- On Tuesday, in collaboration with the international human
rights group Oxfam and the U.S.-based Institute for Policy Studies (IPS),
Naidoo's group held a news conference where they charged that many governments
were committing human rights abuses and imposing unlawful restrictions
on the movement of activists.
- From Tunisia to Tonga and from the United States to Uzbekistan,
the voices of activists and organizations are being silenced, said the
groups' representatives, noting that many governments were trying to justify
new security laws as a means to protect their citizens, but in practice,
they were using them to create a climate of fear.
- Many held the United States particularly responsible
for the rise of such disturbing trends.
- "The Bush administration has used the guise of the
'global war on terror' to obliterate fundamental principles of habeas corpus
and sanction torture in Guantanamo," Emira Woods of IPS, who was present
at the news conference, told OneWorld.
- Describing the recent U.S. air attack on the Somali people
as "unprovoked," she added: "This irresponsible set of policies
constrains civil liberties, undermines democracy, increases anti-American
sentiment, and makes the world less safe."
- In amplifying concerns over the governments' abuse of
power and restrictions on oppositions' movements, a number of Nobel Laureates
and prominent figures from the entertainment world, who are attending the
Forum meetings, also joined the activists' call to respect civil liberties
and fundamental human rights.
- "The war on terror in the world will never be won
by force and injustice," said Desmond Tutu, the Noble Peace Prize-winning
archbishop of South Africa, at the Forum. "It will remain a problem
as long as there are conditions in the world that make people desperate,
like dehumanizing poverty, disease, and ignorance."
- Attending the Social Forum, Danny Glover, the award-winning
Hollywood actor and former UN goodwill ambassador, and Nobel Peace Laureates
Shirin Ebadi and Jodi Williams, said they fully shared such concerns and
assured their full support for those demanding the protection of human
rights and justice.
- In addition to taking the United States to task, some
activists expressed their grave concerns over the Russian government's
use of draconian laws that threaten the activities of local and international
non-governmental organizations. Others admonished the governments of Belarus
and Zimbabwe for their continued attempts to silence political dissent.
- Noting that in most cases, the definition of terrorism
remained "vague and broad," activists said they had every reason
to believe that anti-terror laws could be used to criminalize peaceful
activities and violate freedom of expression, association, and assembly,
a point that many United Nations experts on human rights have fully
acknowledged in a number of reports.
- Expressing their concerns as far back as October 2005,
UN officials warned the General Assembly that attempts by many states to
adopt new anti-terror measures could undermine international human rights
- In a report submitted to the General Assembly at the
time, they emphasized that terrorism required "concerted action by
the international community," not legislative steps that deny individual
rights to a fair trial, freedom of speech, assembly, or to strike.
- "Nothing can combat irrational acts and extreme
forms of violence more effectively than the wisdom embodied in the rule
of law," UN special rapporteur on human rights Leandro Despouy told
the General Assembly.