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Infringing human rights { December 17 2002 }

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Published on Tuesday, December 17, 2002 by Reuters
'War on Terror' Infringing Human Rights, UNHCR Says

HELSINKI - The U.N.'s human rights chief said Tuesday that the U.S.-led "war on terror" was hurting human rights and exacerbating prejudices around the world.

"The war on terrorism has had some damaging effects, I would suggest, on human rights standards across the world," United Nations High Commissioner for Human rights Sergio Vieira de Mello told a news conference in Helsinki.

Governments across the globe have invoked the "war on terror," announced by President Bush after Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, to justify activities that de Mello said are damaging human rights in the industrialized and developing worlds.

De Mello said he understood the need to provide security against attacks on civilians after the September 11 attacks which killed more than 3,000 people. But he said that the "war on terror" had aggravated existing prejudices.

On Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers seized four airliners, smashed two into the World Trade Center in New York and another into the Pentagon near Washington. The fourth crashed in a rural Pennsylvania field.

The U.N. human rights chief echoed the worries expressed by his predecessor Mary Robinson last month about the rise in discrimination against Muslims.

"Arabs and Muslims at large are experiencing increasing incidents of racial discrimination ... Singling out, finger pointing and ... even in some instances (violence)," he said.

The United States blamed the September 11 attacks on Saudi born Islamic militant Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network. Several of the suspected hijackers were Saudis.

De Mello also said anti-Semitism was an issue that needed to be met head on.

He declined to predict if he believed there would be a war on Iraq, but said that the United Nations had learned its lesson from past conflicts and would be ready to act if a humanitarian crisis developed.

"We must at any cost prevent civilians from becoming what some irresponsible people call 'collateral damage'," he said. "In Iraq...civilians have suffered enough."

De Mello, speaking earlier at conference on racism and xenophobia, also said he would unveil a plan in 2003 for improving relations between the Muslim and non-Muslim world, warning that differences would lead to disaster. "I intend to take an initiative in 2003 to improve understanding between the Muslim world and ourselves and open a new era," de Mello said. "If we continue on this (current) path, we will end up in disaster."

He did not comment further on the initiative, saying he was still consulting with governments.

Copyright 2002 Reuters Ltd

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