In its annual survey of human rights around the world, New York-based Human Rights Watch dubbed the abuse of Muslim and Arab prisoners by US forces in Iraq one of the two most serious incidences of rights abuses of 2004, along with the displacement and killing of tens of thousands of people in Sudan’s Darfur region.

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) World Report 2005 explores the state of human rights, including the prevalence of torture, religious freedom, due process under the law, racial and ethnic discrimination, and other issues.

The report said violations of rights by the US are undermining international law and eroding the country’s role on the world stage, and the group said the US can no longer claim to defend human rights overseas if it practices abuses itself.

“The US government is less and less able to push for justice abroad because it’s unable to see justice done at home,” said the group’s director, Kenneth Roth.

Mr Roth said recent US action on the war on terrorism has compromised Washington’s authority on human rights and civil justice matters.

“Governments facing human rights pressure from the United States now find it easy to turn the tables,” said Mr Roth at a Washington press conference announcing the report’s publication.

“Washington can’t very well uphold principles that it violates itself.”

The White House defended itself against the accusations.

“The United States is at the forefront of the defence and promotion of human rights around the world,” said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, pointing out the department’s annual human rights report, programs to support democracy and training journalists.

“We have made human rights an integral part of our policy in terms of the various pressures and diplomatic efforts that can be applied to places where we think there are problems with human rights,” he said.

The group has urged the US government to fully investigate any US officials involved in torture or mistreatment.

HRW also highlighted the atrocities in Sudan, where the United Nations estimates about 70,000 people have died in recent months and some 1.5 million have been displaced.

Roth called for criminal prosecutions there, too.

“The crimes of Darfur must not go unpunished,” he said, adding that “the International Criminal Court would be the most efficient and effective institution to prosecute these crimes.”