AS Amnesty International, the human rights monitoring group, released its 1991 annual report this week, it urged the United States to apply a uniform standard of human rights in dealing with other nations.The report, released Tuesday, examines the record of 141 countries and decries the tendency to allow rights to "become a casualty of political expediency." This was most evident recently in the case of Iraq: Amnesty International (AI) notes that before the Gulf crisis, its documentation of Iraqi abuses and appeals to governments and UN bodies drew scant response. Only after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait did government leaders begin quoting AI's reports as justification for concerted action against Saddam Hussein's regime. "Selective operation hurts the human rights movement worldwide," says John Healy, AI-USA's executive director. Aside from Iraq, Mr. Healy notes, Congress did not ask AI to testify on Israel last year, but it did invite AI's testimony on Syria and Iran. According to State Department official Nathan Kingsley, however, "The US already employs a single standard for evaluating human rights abuses around the world...." The US response takes "different forms depending on ... the nature of the abuses and our judgment as how best to bring about their end," he says. Despite the dramatic changes at the start of the 1990s - the end of one-party rule in Eastern Europe, the freeing of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, elections in Latin America - AI says "abuses continued and often got worse." In Africa, instances of peaceful political change were overshadowed by government-sanctioned ethnic violence, executions, and unlawful detentions. The pattern was repeated in the Middle East, with thousands of detentions for political reasons, hundreds of executions, and widespread torture. In Asia and South America, ill-treatment of prisoners was extensive, while death squad activity left hundreds dead or "disappeared" in Central America. In the near term, Healy says, China's situation is a major challenge because one-fifth of the world's population lives there. It's imperative that the world stop this massive rights abuse." Last year AI worked on behalf of more than 4,500 detainees classified or under investigation as "prisoners of conscience those imprisoned for the nonviolent exercise of their rights. In that year 1,609 prisoners, on whose behalf AI volunteers lobbied, were freed. And seven countries - including newly independent Namibia - abolished the death penalty for any crime. But the US, Healy charges, is "moving in the opposite direction," with 23 executions and 2,300 prisoners on death row in 1990. Twenty-nine nations executed prisoners, and 60 passed death sentences last year.