Human Rights Review

OR the 33rd year, Amnesty International has performed its somber, self-assigned duty of detailing human rights violations around the world.

The good news: The exercise of the death penalty is on the decline worldwide, even though 38 prisoners were executed in the United States.

But as in the past, most of the organization's annual report offers too little evidence of reform. In 112 out of the 151 countries that Amnesty International monitored, prisoners were tortured or abused. In 53 of those countries, more than 100,000 political prisoners remained locked up without trial or without being charged.

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And while application of the death penalty might be down, political assassinations ordered by governments occurred in 61 countries - more than one-third of those observed.

A casual television viewer only has to recite names to trigger images of man's inhumanity to man. To pronounce Rwanda is to recall up to 500,000 victims, including women and children, caught in the crossfire of ethnic war, with the survivors fleeing for their lives along the dirt roads leading to exile.

Bosnia-Herzegovina has come to stand for Bosnian Serb detention camps - to say nothing of the civilians killed by random artillery fire.

The same day that the Amnesty International report appeared, newspapers featured two other human rights stories. Moshood Abiola, widely believed to have won election as president of Nigeria a year ago, has been imprisoned by the military dictators still running his country.

And in Burma (also called Myanmar), the fifth anniversary of house arrest was sadly noted in the case of Nobel prize winning dissident Aung San Suu Kyi.

A rare coincidence? Hardly. Scarcely a day passes without multiple headlines on human rights violations in China, in Haiti - anywhere and everywhere.

An Amnesty International report is never easy reading. As Derek Evans, the deputy secretary-general of the organization remarked last week, ``The overall area of human rights generally does not give rise to complacency.''

Still, one consoling fact remains: In its 33 years of existence, Amnesty International has helped free some 25,000 prisoners.

This single bright statistic shines out from all the rest, redeeming at least partially the dark statistics that surround it.

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