REPORTS of an accelerated campaign of terror by Peru's Shining Path guerrillas illustrate the severity of a human rights crisis facing not just that country, but the whole world. Amnesty International's ``Report 1989'' shows that the rampant killing going on in Peru is duplicated in dozens of other countries. As in Peru, the worst abuses often occur where a rebel movement and a government are in conflict. Over 1,000 civilians have died in politically inspired violence in Peru this year. Many have been politicians and local officials targeted by the guerrillas. Many others have been people killed by government troops operating in areas where whole populaces are assumed to be the enemy.
These two sources of killing - nongovernmental groups challenging a government and troops or security forces responding to that challenge - feed off each other in a vicious cycle of violence.
While decrying the often heinous acts of rebel groups, Amnesty International takes direct aim at rights abuses that carry an official stamp. This year's report, looking back at the record of 1988, puts particular emphasis on ``extrajudicial execution.'' The murder of people without benefit of trial (or what could objectively be termed a trial) included Iran's summary execution of 1,200 political prisoners, Iraq's slaughter of its Kurdish minority, and the suffocation of 41 students in a police van in Burma.
As Amnesty indicates, the ``killing fields'' created by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia extend beyond that battle-torn land.
What can be done?
The work of Amnesty International, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and other organizations spotlight abuses and help rally public opinion behind change. International outcry and pressure have in many instances brought the release of jailed lawyers, activists, and others who've spoken out against repression. Amnesty now has 3,985 local groups spread around the world helping identify and publicize rights violations.
Focusing humanity's thought on the human rights failings of governments is a crucial step toward improving the record.
Scanning the world today, it's heartening, too, to see some governments dropping the reflexive use of violence, imprisonment, and execution against dissent. The Soviet Union and parts of Eastern Europe come to mind.
The work of separating mankind from the evils of torture and politically motivated murder will not be short. But it has been taken up, and the moral force behind it is likely to grow.