Arab regimes have taken advantage of the US-led "war on terrorism" to adopt extreme security measures eroding civil and political liberties, a UN report said Monday.
Restrictions adopted in the United States and other Western countries in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks had also hit Arabs particularly hard, said the world body's latest Arab Human Development Report.
"Extreme security measures" adopted in response to the suicide hijackings had "exceeded their original goals and led to the erosion of civil and political liberties in many countries in the world, notably the United States", said the report released by UN Development Programme regional director Rima Khalaf Hunaidi.
Such restrictions had often ended up "diminishing the welfare of Arabs and Muslims living, studying or travelling abroad, interrupting cultural exchanges between the Arab world and the West and cutting off knowledge acquisition opportunities for young Arabs."
The report cited data from a "number of Arab missions" indicating that Arab student numbers in the United States had dropped by an average of 30 per cent between 1999 and 2002.
Inside the Arab world the impact of such "freedom-constraining measures in developed countries" had been even more damaging as they "gave authorities in some Arab countries another excuse to enact new laws limiting civil and political freedoms".
"The Arab countries as a group adopted an expanded definition of terrorism, which assumed institutional expression at the regional level in 'The Arab Charter against Terrorism'", the report said.
The report recapitulated criticism of the charter by human rights watchdogs.
"It allows censorship, restricts access to the Internet, and restricts printing and publication," the report said.
"Moreover, the Charter neither explicitly prohibits detention or torture, nor provides for questioning the legality of detentions.
"Furthermore, it does not protect personal freedom, since it does not require a prior judicial order authorising the wire-tapping of individuals or groups."
The UN report also took issue with Israel, hitting out at the "horrifying human casualties and material destruction" that had resulted from its military operations in the Palestinian territories.
"From September 2000 to April 2003, Israeli occupation forces killed 2,405 Palestinian citizens and injured 41,000 others," it said.
"Most of those killed (85 percent) were civilians. A large proportion (20 percent) of them were children.
"UNICEF (the UN children's fund) estimates that 7,000 children were injured and that 2,500 persons, of whom 500 were children, suffered permanent handicaps," it added.
The report described the US-led occupation of Iraq as a "challenge" for the region as whole.
"The only way to meet that challenge is to enable the Iraqi people to exercise their basic rights in accordance with international law, free themselves from occupation ... and take charge of rebuilding their country," it said.
Before his death in a truck bombing at the United Nation's Baghdad headquarters in August, UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello had been an outspoken critic of the slow pace of coalition moves to return power to Iraqis.