The U.N. Security Council may be "indirectly encouraging" human rights abuses around the world as part of its campaign to halt the spread of international terrorism, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.
The 15-nation council has repeatedly failed to challenge countries -- including Egypt, Malaysia, Morocco and Uzbekistan -- that have justified repressive policies before it as necessary for the global war on terrorism, the 17-page report by the New York-based advocacy group said.
The report's release coincides with efforts by Javier Ruperez, the former Spanish ambassador to the United States, who was appointed in May to reorganize and strengthen the Security Council's counterterrorism efforts. The report is designed to pressure him into raising the profile of human rights in his work.
Less than three weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1373, which compelled countries to take steps to inhibit terrorists and to strengthen their anti-terrorism laws. The resolution established a U.N. committee to monitor compliance with a series of measures, including a demand that states prosecute sponsors of terrorism and freeze their assets.
Members of the United Nations are required to report to the council on steps they are taking to combat terrorism. Failure to comply can expose states to international criticism or sanctions.
Human Rights Watch said that the council rarely holds governments to account for rights violations, citing its failure to challenge misleading reports by Uzbekistan and other rights abusers.
In a report to the U.N. committee, Uzbekistan listed a law that cites "religious extremism, separatism, fundamentalism" as terrorist offenses.
The law has been used to justify the incarceration of 7,000 independent Muslims, including 4,000 adherents to a nonviolent religious group, Hizb ut-Tahrir, which favors an Islamic state, according to the report. "In essence, Uzbekistan has criminalized legitimate religious practice and belief," the report said.
Human Rights Watch also faulted some governments with strong human rights records, including Sweden, for violating their own principles in the fight against terrorism. In its initial report to the counterterrorism committee in December 2001, Sweden said that it would "never" extradite individuals to a country where they might "risk capital punishment or torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment."
But two days before the report was submitted, Sweden expelled two Egyptian asylum seekers, Ahmed Agiza and Muhammad Zery, who had been reportedly tortured in Egypt, according to the report.
The decision followed the presentation of secret evidence provided by Swedish security police that the men were associated with Islamic groups responsible for terrorist acts. "It has since been reported that the men were transferred from Stockholm to Cairo aboard a U.S. government-leased airplane and that they were hooded, physically abused and drugged in transit," the report states.
Ruperez, who is still hiring an office staff, said that he is aware of the challenges presented by Human Rights Watch. He said that his office will maintain close contact with the U.N. human rights commissioner and that he is considering appointing one or two human rights experts.
"We have to strike the right balance," he said. "We need to fight against terrorism -- after all, it's one of the most serious threats against human rights around the world. But it's quite obvious states have to fight that battle within the rule of law, respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms."