Human rights activists from 41 countries, gathered
Nov. 11–12 at the Carter Center for the conference, "Human
Rights Defenders on the Frontlines of Freedom," called for
more protection for themselves and their work as they come under
increasing threats in the wake of the war on terrorism. They joined
former President Jimmy Carter, U.N. Acting High Commissioner for
Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan, and U.N. Special Representative
to the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders Hina Jilani.
The activists said their work is becoming increasingly dangerous,
as many countries have expanded their police powers since 9/11 and
some have used the war on terrorism as an excuse to crack down on
human rights. A number of activists said they or their colleagues
have been arrested on suspicion of terrorism because of their human
"There was a general consensus that the unconscionable terrorist
attacks of September 2001 have precipitated policy changes in the
United States and other nations because of preoccupation with the
use of force as the sole means to combat terrorism," Carter
said. "This is leading to an alarming erosion of the rule of
law in established and emerging democracies and giving comfort to
undemocratic governments that previously were the subject of intense
pressure on their human rights policies."
For example, Eritrea jailed journalists after accusing them of having
terrorist ties, and all independent press outlets were closed in
September 2001. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe recently called
human rights organizations "politickers at the service of terrorism"
and defended expansive police powers such as arbitrary detentions
and raids of civil society organizations. Also, members of the Human
Rights Society of Uzbekistan were imprisoned on the basis of weak
evidence and dubious trials for allegedly recruiting Islamic militants.
"There is a real threat to the preservation of norms of human
rights," Jilani said. "Human rights would be sustainable
if the rule of law was strengthened. We have almost abandoned political
solutions to political problems. In the name of security, we have
seen human rights standards being destroyed."
The defenders wrote an "Atlanta Declaration" with proposals
to combat the troubling backslide on human rights since the beginning
of the war on terrorism that will be presented to U.S. and other
nations’ policymakers. In addition to calling for some legislation
repeal, the activists asked for the human rights programs of the
United Nations and other international bodies to be strengthened
to ensure the autonomy needed to monitor and report on violations
without undue political influence. UN reports detailing human rights
should be given greater visibility, the declaration said.
"The escalating threats against human rights activists who
challenge government policies, often at tremendous risk to themselves,
are disturbing," said Ashley Barr, the Carter Center’s
senior program associate for human rights. "The best way to
ensure our collective security is to help the champions of liberty
succeed in their own countries. We also must fight the war on terror
in a way that will increase cooperation and determination among
nations to root out extremism, while advancing justice."
To read a transcript of Carter’s remarks at the conclusion
of the conference, access www.cartercenter.org/viewdoc.asp?docID=1534&submenu=news
to read the full text of the Atlanta declaration.