NEW YORK U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Negroponte yesterday brushed off concerns by the U.N. human rights chief and two European organizations that governments including the United States were violating human rights in their pursuit of radicals and terrorists.
A communique issued jointly by High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe warned that governments must refrain from “excessive steps” that target ethnic groups or infringe on freedom of expression.
Mr. Negroponte said in an interview he could not comment directly on the communique, which he first saw yesterday afternoon. But, he said: “The attack on September 11 was against our way of life and our values and I think any comments that in any way equate us with the terrorist attackers would be a very, very misguided thing indeed.
“As far as what we do to respond to these terrorist attacks, I just am totally convinced that whatever we do it is going to be completely consistent with our political and historical values. I don’t have any concern in that regard, and I don’t think Mary Robinson should have any concern.”
Yesterday’s statement, issued in London, is not the first time the U.N. officials or European leaders have sounded alarm over new laws and executive orders introduced in the United States since September 11.
“We call on all governments to refrain from any excessive steps, which might particularly affect the presumption of innocence, the right to a fair trial, freedom from torture, privacy rights, freedom of expression and assembly, and the right to seek asylum,” the joint statement said.
“Anti-terrorism measures targeting specific ethnic or religious groups would also be contrary to human rights law and international commitments and would carry the risk of sparking a dangerous upsurge of discrimination and racism,” it said.
“The purpose of anti-terrorism measures is to protect human rights and democracy, not to undermine these fundamental values of our societies.”
The statement was signed by Walter Schwimmer, the secretary-general of the 43-nation Council of Europe, and Gerard Stoudmann, head of the OSCE’s human rights department, as well as Mrs. Robinson. The three also offered to assist states in developing and monitoring anti-terrorism efforts.
Their communique does not mention any specific nations, but the United States, Britain and Canada are among those to have proposed or passed broad some say Draconian counterterrorism measures since September 11. These have included restrictions on asylum-seekers and new laws allowing unprecedented surveillance and interrogation of suspects, the majority of which are Arab or Islamic.
Human rights advocates, politicians and lawmakers have expressed concern about the human rights implications of such measures. An executive order permitting the use of military tribunals to try terror suspects in the United States has drawn the sharpest criticism both here and abroad.
Earlier this week, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar said his government was reluctant to extradite 14 detained al Qaeda suspects who could faced military trials, and perhaps the death penalty. However, in a Rose Garden ceremony with President Bush on Wednesday the two played down their differences.
Richard Goldstone, the South African judge and a former chief prosecutor for the U.N. war crimes tribunal, denounced the military courts as “second- or third-class” justice that would not have credibility in the international community.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters yesterday that the military courts would be used only “in limited cases, if any.”