Rights group reports violations in Arab countries

AP News
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Posted: Dec 08, 2009 2:54 PM

U.S.-allied Arab governments in the Middle East are flouting human rights through violations including torture, extra-judicial killings and repressive laws, an Egyptian human rights group said Tuesday.

In a report chronicling the human rights records of 12 Arab countries, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies accused the Obama administration of not taking a clear stand for Middle East reforms.

"The single most worrying sign for the future of the Arab region is the widespread impunity and flagrant lack of accountability that persists," according to the report. "President Barack Obama avoided taking a clear stance on human rights issues in the Arab region."

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said he could not comment specifically on the report's findings because he hadn't seen it, but he denied that the Obama administration has abandoned the quest for improved human rights in the Arab world and elsewhere.

"We continue to sustain a significant human rights dialogue. It's a dimension of virtually every contact that we have with representatives of countries in the region and around the world ... Human rights is vitally important to the United States," he said.

The report also said political and social protests remained targets for repression.

In Egypt, a major U.S. ally, the report noted that the government resorts to emergency laws and state security tribunals to stifle opponents. Other U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states "remain dangerous for human rights activists."

In Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, human rights are increasingly targets for arbitrary arrest, torture, trials and smear campaigns, the rights group said.

Other countries criticized in the report include Tunisia, Iraq and Syria, where President Bashar Assad "continues to crack down."

Officials from Egypt and Saudi Arabia did not comment on the report. Other Arab countries in the past have scoffed at such reports as being "hostile" and have refused to comment.

The report added that gains achieved by the political opposition and civil society over the last five years have now become targets of attack by the Arab governments.

The rights group partially blames the U.S. government, saying U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton failed to address the issue during a meeting with her Arab counterparts in Morocco last month.

"This was a a kind of a green light given to the Arab governments to continue these practices," said Bahey El-Din Hassan, head of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.

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Associated Press Writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.