UW: Amnesty International has just published its annual human rights report. Which country is the worst?
– Unlike some other NGOs, we don’t rate countries. We only disseminate the information we have collected on our own and verified through several sources. With certain human rights violations, like the death sentence, China is the worst. North Korea is the most closed country. In some other countries, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo or Somalia, human rights have been systematically denied for years.
UW: Have you noticed any common trends in former Soviet countries?
– I wouldn’t draw general conclusions for the entire post-communist region. You can’t compare Poland to Belarus, for instance, and countries in Central Asia show different trends. The North Caucasus is a whole different world in itself that lives by its own rules. Yet, they have a few things in common. In my opinion, all these countries still tend to show discriminatory instincts and behavior towards gypsies, homosexuals and so on. People are still persecuted for their lifestyle in the Balkans, Hungary, Russia and Uzbekistan. Belarus, Ukraine and Russia have trouble with the freedom of assembly and civic activism. Neither are the penitentiary systems in these countries getting any better. We have seen the number of unjust sentences, unjustified house arrests and cases of prisoner torture increase in all three countries, while real criminals remain unpunished.
According to our report, the situation has deteriorated in Ukraine. Law enforcement agencies are fighting those who are trying to uphold the law. Amnesty International monitors how prisoners are being treated. We support people who are working to get unjust sentences overturned.
UW: What pushes former totalitarian regimes towards freedom?
– Some people believe that ensuring economic development is enough and internal political freedom will emerge on its own. We often hear that with regard to China. But I believe that the real impulse for change is growing public awareness. Human rights have taken root only in places where people have started to understand that these rights are there for them – and began to fight for themselves.
UW: How can civil society become more effective – especially with a government that ignores human rights advocates?
– That’s a tough question. For years we haven’t been able to get permission to visit China or Myanmar. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have information from there. People have stopped being afraid. They find ways to get around prohibitions and inform the world about what’s going on around them. In closed countries like that, we work through third parties. We work with diplomats, politicians, and activists from those countries that have access to territories we can't access. Mobilizing Western democracies keeps pressure on those governments that have the ear of those who are behind hermetically-sealed borders.
UW: How do you decide whom to protect?
Our central office in London has an expert team. Requests have to be sent to them. This can be done by the persecuted person’s lawyer or close relatives.
UW: What would you recommend to those who see that their country’s government is becoming more authoritarian and the legal system serves its repressive purposes?
Remember that no country has the right to brutalize its own citizens. Don’t expect to wait out political bad times. People say that if you keep your head down, you won’t get hit. This isn’t true. The history of all totalitarian regimes shows one thing: brutality entrenches itself only where there is no opposition.
Amnesty International is a worldwide non-government human rights organization with 3 mn members. It has its head office is in London and is represented in 43 countries. Amnesty International won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 and is one of the most respected human rights organizations in the world. Amnesty International celebrated its 50-year anniversary on 28 May.
Amnesty International Annual Report 2011: The state of the world's human rights could be seen following the link