Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 8 2006 (IPS) — The U.S.-led global war on terror – which began five years ago after a rash of terrorist attacks on the United States – has been transformed primarily into a war against minorities, says a London-based human rights organisation.

“Too often the war on terror has come at the expense of human rights,” says Mark Lattimer, executive director of Minority Rights Group (MRG) International.

In most cases, he said, people from minority communities have been the target, often suffering in silence because of their minority status.

The minorities singled out as part of racial profiling, both by the United States and the West, include Arabs, Muslims, Sikhs, Pakistanis – and, also in general, Middle Easterners and South Asians.

The United States, Canada and some European states, including Britain, Spain and Holland, have seen anti-terror laws fuel violations of the rights of Muslim, Asian, north African and Middle Eastern minority communities, Lattimer said.

The Muslims and South Asians living in these countries, he pointed out, often feel targeted and isolated, potentially leading to an increase in sympathy with extremist groups, the silencing of moderate voices and setbacks for women’s rights.

Michael Ratner, president of the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, says the administration of President George W. Bush has received a free pass on many of its so-called anti-terrorist initiatives that violate civil rights because the targets of those efforts are minorities, particularly Muslims and South Asians.

He said that after the attacks on the United States on Sep. 11, 2001, there were the round-ups of Muslim non-citizens from certain countries, the interrogation of thousands of young Muslims and the failed criminal prosecution of many men, suspected of terrorism, because of their Muslim faith.

“For the U.S. administration and for some other governments, a key factor leading to an arrest is the religion or national origin of the supposed suspect,” Ratner told IPS.

Muslims are perceived by many in the United States as “the other,” a perception that allows them to be treated inhumanely without mass protest, he said, adding that it is hard to imagine those of the non-Muslim majority being rendered to other countries for torture, sent to CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) secret sites or to the U.S.-run Guantanamo detention facility in Cuba, or tried by military commissions.

Sadly, Ratner argued, the United States, which should be the leader in assuring equality of all before the law, has now become the example for the contrary proposition: Muslim faith and country of origin are factors that can lead to suspicion.

“It was similar in the United States during World War II. The United States rounded up Japanese, but did not do so with those of German or Italian heritage. It was thought that the United States learned a lesson from that example; it did not,” he added.

Norman Solomon, executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, told IPS there’s no doubt that many governments have been exploiting the “war on terror” slogan to try to justify a multitude of sins against basic human rights.

The Bush administration has led the way in this regard, “setting a horrific example – as well as actively winking, nodding and giving support to regimes that mouth the war on terror mantra as a cover for violating human rights,” Solomon told IPS.

He said the conclusions of the MRG report ring true – especially because, in the power dynamics within so many countries, racial and religious and ethnic minorities routinely suffer from chronic discrimination and exclusion from power.

Oppressive regimes seek to retain and expand power that rests on grievous economic and political inequities, which often run parallel to racism, ethnic prejudice and religious suppression, said Solomon, author of “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death”.

“Washington’s global agenda has to do with economic power, military dominance and geopolitical positioning. As an adaptable umbrella of rhetoric, the war on terror provides superb shelter for what Martin Luther King Jr. called the madness of militarism. And of course all kinds of horrible assaults on human rights become normalised in the process,” he added.

In a statement released Friday, MRG said that since Sep. 11, 2001, governments have increasingly used the war on terror to target minorities, particularly ethnic and religious ones, and clamp down on their rights. The past five years have also seen minority communities erroneously stigmatised as terrorists.

Lattimer of MRG said the indiscriminate or cynical use of the term “terrorism” is also effectively criminalising and repressing minority groups. Too often entire minorities are being labeled terrorists, he adds, in the place of effective international cooperation targeted at groups such as al Qaeda.

MRG says the war on terror has also provided a convenient cover for many countries to evade their human rights obligations and engage more easily in attacks against minorities.

In Latin America, the term “terrorist” has in many places replaced “communist” as means to justify suspension of the basic rights of indigenous people and to avoid dialogue over issues such as land and resources, MRG points out.

Countries such as China, that do not have a visible terrorism problem, have used anti-terror laws to repress minorities, including Uyghur Muslims, Tibetans and Mongolians.

According to MRG, in most cases anti-terror laws target Muslim minority groups and have resulted in an increase in arbitrary arrests, detention without charge or trial and torture of people from these communities.

Britain is one of many European countries that has cooperated in the rendition of suspects arrested without charges to countries where they may face torture and other human rights violations.

Asked about his take on the war on terror, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters Thursday: “Let me say that the U.N.’s position and my own position has been very, very clear.”

“In the fight against terrorism, we ought to be very careful not to erode human rights and civil liberties. I do not believe there is or there can be a trade-off between the effective fight against terrorism and protection of civil liberties.”

“If, as individuals we are asked to give up our freedom, our liberties and human rights, for protection against terrorism, and we do it, do we in the end have protection? I think we need to be careful not to undermine human rights and civil liberties in this fight against terrorism because if we do, we are handing the terrorists a victory they cannot win on their own.”


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