A growing number of governments are responding to stepped-up international pressure to respect basic human rights, says a leading human-rights organization. But in its 25th-anniversary survey of international human rights, published today, Amnesty International says many governments remain guilty of torture, arbitrary executions, and detention without trial, often under the pretext of national security or development requirements.
``Although states have the right to defend themselves within the limits of international human-rights law, the concept of `national security' has been misused in many countries,'' says the 350-page report, which covers 1985.
The London-based group says that since its founding in 1961, a ``remarkable panorama of worldwide activity'' has been generated to increase the accountability of governments for human-rights violations. Today over 1,000 independent human-rights groups, together with individual lawyers, journalists, and human-rights activists, are assisting the work of international organizations in monitoring the human-rights performance of governments around the world.
In addition, the body of international human-rights law has grown to include at least six global and regional treaties, plus a number of specific covenants such as the United Nations torture convention, which provides for the investigation and prosecution of torture complaints.
But the report, which includes profiles of 128 countries, says a large gulf still exists between these international commitments and reality in many countries.
Among the most frequent human-rights violators are countries like Nicaragua and Sri Lanka, where internal conficts have led to the supression of civil liberties and to the killing of noncombatants.
In South Africa, a state of emergency was used to justify the detention of opponents of the government's policy of racial segregation, some of whom were tortured and died in custody.
The report also scores many communist-bloc countries for denying basic freedoms to ``prisoners of conscience,'' while criticizing the United States for its failure to abolish the death penalty.
Two success stories cited in the report are Sudan, where political prisoners were freed following the overthrow of a repressive regime, and Argentina, where nine military commanders responsible for human-rights abuses were put on trial.