A British freedom of speech organization said Thursday censorship is the prime human rights violation worldwide and cited the plight of the Kurds as an example.

Article 19 of the International Center of Censorship said in a report that censorship, secrecy and disinformation allowed "other violations to go unchallenged by the international community.""Draconian censorship in Turkey, Iran and Iraq has denied the Kurds a voice for decades," said Frances D'Souza, Article 19 director.

"Until recently other governments have found it expedient to discount the brutal onslaughts against the Kurdish people, including the many chemical attacks during 1987 and 1988," he said.

Article 19 said tons of books in Turkey including the Penguin Map of the World and the Turkish edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica had been pulped for "referring to the history of the Kurds whose very existence is officially denied."

"Such a policy is tantamount to condoning human rights abuse and colluding with censorship," D'Souza said.

Article 19 gave details of several cases of alleged censorship. The group said the use of violence to settle a libel dispute was implicitly endorsed by Uruguay's Interior Ministry when it authorized a police inspector's use of an ancient legal provision to challenge a newspaper editor to a duel.

In Albania, citizens who are members of ethnic minorities such as the Greeks have been forced to change their "offensive" names to traditional Albanian names, the report charged. Article 19 also classified as censorship a Saudi ban on films showing a woman with a man other than her husband or relative.

"Censorship is an instrument of power used as much in times of peace as of war," D'Souza said. "Censorship mechanisms are becoming both more sophisticated and more brutal: ranging from the jamming of satellite broadcasts to the killing of journalists by government-linked death squads."