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Asian Human Rights Group Urges U.N. to Set Higher Standards


To mark the U.N. International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, an Asian human-rights group is drawing attention to the status of human rights in several of the region's countries.

The Asian Human Rights Commission says the possibility of torture is part of life today in many of the region's countries. In a recent statement, the activist organization based in Hong Kong urges the new United Nations Human Rights Council to require its members to enact and enforce laws against torture, or risk losing their seats.

Bruce Van Voorhis, a spokesman for the Asian Human Rights Commission, says members of the U.N. council should be held to high standards.

"If you have countries sitting on the U.N. Human Rights Council that are basically practicing widespread torture, what hope do people living in the rest of the world have?"

Among the U.N. council's Asian members, the commission notes that Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines have no laws against torture, though their governments have ratified the international convention against torture.

The commission says torture is regularly used by law enforcement in India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan. Human Rights Watch has also criticized these countries for custodial abuses.

The commission says recent developments in Nepal offer the most hope for improved human rights in the region. The country has formed a group to investigate abuses the government is accused of committing during recent protests that ultimately forced the king out of power.

The United States was also criticized in the commission's report for setting a bad example for countries with less democratic traditions. It referred to the recent scandal regarding abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and allegations of inhumane treatment at the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

The Bush Administration says it does not endorse or permit torture. The U.S. is among the 105 countries that have ratified the convention against torture. It did not seek membership on the new U.N. council.

The U.N. Human Rights Council is meeting in Geneva. It replaced the old Commission for Human Rights, which was criticized by activists and many governments for allowing some countries with poor human-rights records to be members and to use the commission to protect themselves from scrutiny.

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