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US State Department publishes human rights report

Latest update : 2009-02-26

The US State Department released its annual human rights survey, spotlighting dire conditions in North Korea, China, Zimbabwe, and the former USSR. The US vowed to heed international concerns about its own record.

AFP - The United States vowed Wednesday to heed international concerns about its own human rights record in an annual report detailing abuses by other countries, in a striking departure under President Barack Obama.
"Not only will we seek to live up to our ideals on American soil, we will pursue greater respect for human rights as we engage other nations and people around the world," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in preface to the State Department report.
The State Department's annual survey of human rights conditions around the world spotlighted deteriorating human rights conditions in countries like North Korea, China, Zimbabwe, Russia and other states of the former Soviet Union.
It noted a "pushback" by governments in many parts of the world against their people's demands for greater personal and political freedom, and said the most serious abuses tended to occur in countries with unaccountable rulers or where the government had collapsed.
"Taken together, these three trends confirm the continuing need for vigorous United States diplomacy to act and speak out against human rights abuses, at the same time that our country carefully reviews its own performance," the report said.
But in a surprising opening passage, the report acknowledged international concerns about the United States' human rights performance, alluding to allegations of torture and abuse of detainees scooped up in the US "war on terror."
"As we publish these reports, the Department of State remains mindful of both domestic and international scrutiny of the United States' record," it said.
"As President Obama recently made clear, 'we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.'"
The report said it did not consider others voicing views about the United States' human rights record to be interference in its internal affairs, "nor should other governments regard expressions about their performance as such."
"We and all other sovereign nations have international obligations to respect the universal human rights and freedoms of our citizens, and it is the responsibility of others to speak out when they believe those obligations are not being fulfilled," it said.
The report offered a chilling compendium of abusive conditions around the world, often in countries that make regular appearances in the annual report.
It said the human rights situation in North Korea was "abysmal," with reports of abuses emerging from the closed and secretive country with increasing frequency.
"Reports of extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and arbitrary detention, including of political prisoners, continued to paint a grim picture of life inside the reclusive country," the report said.
"Some forcibly repatriated refugees were said to have undergone severe punishment and possibly torture. Reports of public executions also continued to emerge," it said.
China's human right record "remained poor and worsened in some areas," the report said.
"Authorities (in China) committed extrajudicial killings and torture, coerced confessions of prisoners, and used forced labor," it charged.
It also noted that privacy rights and freedom of speech and the press remain under pressure in China.
In Africa, "Zimbabwe's illegitimate government engaged in the systematic abuse of human rights, which increased dramatically during the year, in conjunction with an escalating humanitarian crisis," the report said.
Russia "continued a negative trajectory in its overall domestic human rights record with numerous reports of government and societal human right problems and abuses during the year," the report said.
In the Middle East, Iran "intensified its systematic campaign of intimidation against reformers, academics, journalists, and dissidents through arbitrary arrests, detentions, torture, and secret trials that occasionally end in executions," it said.
Defendants who were juveniles at the time of their arrest continue to be executed in Iran, the report said
It said Iranian-American dual nationals and Iranians in contact with the United States were targets of intimidation and harassment.
In Iraq, continuing insurgent and extremist violence against civilians undermined the government's ability to uphold the rule of law, "resulting in widespread and severe human rights abuses," the report said.
Egypt, a close US ally, allows "serious" human rights abuses, including torture and censorship, the report said.
The report's section on Latin America highlighted an increase in the suppression of freedom of speech and assembly in Cuba, and "an erosion of both democratic and human rights" in Venezuela.

Date created : 2009-02-25