Despite the growing strength of the human rights movement, abusive governments have begun to hit back at activists who challenge them, according to Human Rights Watch's newly released annual report.
Created through extensive investigative work from HRW staff, the 612-page report summarizes major human rights trends in more than 90 nations and territories. In the introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth argues that human rights defenders have become targets for oppressive regimes.
"Attacks on rights defenders might be seen as a perverse tribute to the human rights movement, but that doesn't mitigate the danger," Roth writes. "Under various pretexts, abusive governments are attacking the very foundations of the human rights movement."
The report goes on to highlight countries where human rights activists have faced attacks, including Burma, Russia, China and Sri Lanka. Israel was also singled out for the hostile climate created for those who tried to document abuses committed during the Gaza fighting in December 2008 and January 2010, and the subsequent blockade of the region.
"Governments that support human rights need to speak out, to make respecting human rights the bedrock of their diplomacy - and of their own practices," Roth says.
The USA was singled out as bearing an exceptional responsibility, and President Barack Obama was criticized for not translating rhetoric into policy; the report cited the delayed closure of Guantanamo as an example.
Members of the African Union were also criticized for failing to recognize an arrest warrant released by the International Criminal Court. The warrant was ordered for President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, due to alleged war crimes, and crimes against humanity, committed by Sudanese forces and allied militia against the civilian population of Darfur.
"Governments that consider themselves human rights supporters often keep silent in the face of these abuses by allies, citing diplomatic or economic priorities," Roth says. "But that silence makes them complicit in the abuse. The only proper response to serious human rights violations is to turn up the heat on the abusers."