Amnesty International Criticizes Amnesty Laws

THE advent of a new world order hasn't ended human rights abuses. Last year government-sponsored torture, murder, kidnapping, and detention without charges or trial continued apace, according to Amnesty International's (AI) 1992 annual report.

A significant factor behind this continued repression, says the just-released report, is that those who commit the deeds have little fear of reprisal. The problem isn't just that government leaders don't care to take action or let investigations drag on for years. When reformers take power, they often pass amnesty laws in the name of healing or unity, preventing prosecutions for past human rights crimes.

Although well-intentioned, "amnesty laws which prevent the emergence of the truth and accountability before the law are not acceptable," says the report.

In Uruguay, for instance, an "Expiry Law" passed in 1986 continues to block investigations into murder and torture that occurred under military rule from 1973 to 1985. In Benin, demonstrators protesting personal immunity granted former President Mathieu Kerekou have been arrested.

In Argentina, five commanders of the junta that ran the country between 1976 and 1983 have been convicted of human rights crimes, but amnesty laws have stopped further prosecutions and granted immunity to those who acted under orders, complains Amnesty.

Overall, the report says torture and ill-treatment of prisoners continues in 104 countries around the world. Forty-five nations experienced political killings by official forces or shadowy "death squads." Unacknowledged abductions, or "disappearances" occurred in 20 countries last year, says the group.

Among the worst abuses:

* In Burundi, a country rife with ethnic tension, 1,000 people or more were executed in extrajudicial killings.

* In China, at least a thousand people were executed and thousands of political prisoners remained in jail.

* In Peru, some 360 people were kidnapped and killed by security forces in the face of widespread atrocities by Shining Path guerrillas.

In addition, war in the Balkans is leading to widespread reports of torture and deliberate killing of civilians by all sides, though Amnesty representatives have been unable to investigate the charges.

Still, there were some human rights bright spots last year. In El Salvador, a colonel was convicted for the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests. In Albania, the fall of the communist government has led to the release of at least 700 political prisoners.

In Morocco, Fatima Oufkir and seven members of her family were released after 18 years of detention without charge. They had been arrested after Fatima's husband, Gen. Mohamed Oufkir, died after allegedly participating in a 1972 coup attempt.

Dramatic political changes have given human rights as great a prominence in international affairs as ever. "Countries whose rulers would not even have paid lip service to human rights a decade ago are now declaring their importance," concludes the report.

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