State-backed attacks on activists grow

Jan 21, 2010 (DVB), A leading rights watchdog has reported a global rise in the number of state-sanctioned abuses against "rights defenders", fueled in part by the inability of the rights movement to protect victims.

The annual report, by New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), said that attacks on human rights monitors "are not limited to authoritarian governments like Burma and China", but are now rampant in countries such as Russia, Sri Lanka, Burundi and Afghanistan.

In the case of Burma, despite growing calls for the ruling junta to be investigated for war crimes and crimes against humanity in 2009, "no government has yet taken the lead in either initiative at the UN", HRW said.

The report also expressed concern about the regime's refusal to allow prison access to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), amid reports that detained US citizen Kyaw Zaw Lwin, a prominent exiled Burmese rights campaigner, was being tortured.

According to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP), the junta imprisoned 231 activists, lawyers, journalists and politicians in 2009, many of whom were sentenced on or around the two-year anniversary of the September 2007 monk-led uprising.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of HRW, said that the attacks "might be seen as a perverse tribute to the human rights movement, but that doesn’t mitigate the danger. Under various pretexts, abusive governments are attacking the very foundations of the human rights movement."

He went on to criticize US president Barrack Obama's "incomplete translation" of improved rhetoric "into policy and practice".

The US last year attacked the deteriorating political situation in Burma by announcing that it would begin dialogue with the junta after years of isolation, although earlier this week it signaled its impatience over the lack of progress toward democratic reform in the country.

Despite increasing attention from Washington, Burma has however been labeled a "boutique issue" for the US, which is under heavy pressure to transform its image in the Middle East, whilst Obama deflects growing discontentment over his domestic performance.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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