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Human Rights Violators, as the U.S. Sees It

Annual Report Surveys the World

WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 18, 2006 (Zenit) - The U.S. State Department on March 8 issued its annual overview of human rights in the world. The publication, "The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2005," comprises dossiers on 196 countries.

As is now usual the report drew criticism from some countries that resent being issued a report card by the United States. China for its part criticized the human rights record of the United States, the New York Times reported March 9. "As in previous years," declared a statement issued by China's State Council, "the State Department pointed the finger at human rights situations in more than 190 countries and regions, including China, but kept silent on the serious violations of human rights in the United States."

Russia was also unhappy. Reuters on March 10 quoted the Foreign Ministry as saying: "Unfortunately, such unfair reports stand in the way of developing U.S.-Russian relations."

Perhaps anticipating such criticisms, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, during the report's presentation, commented that the promotion of human rights and democracy "helps to lay the foundation for lasting peace in the world." She also argued that free nations have a duty to defend human rights and help spread democracy.

The report's introduction made six broad observations, based on the data collected:

-- Countries in which power is concentrated in the hands of unaccountable rulers tend to be the world's most systematic violators of human rights. These states range from closed, totalitarian systems that subject their citizens to a wholesale deprivation of their basic rights, to authoritarian systems in which the exercise of basic rights is severely restricted.

-- Human rights and democracy are closely linked, and both are essential to long-term stability and security. Free and democratic nations that respect the rights of their citizens help to lay the foundation for lasting peace.

-- Some of the most serious violations of human rights are committed by governments within the context of internal and/or cross-border armed conflicts.

-- Where civil society and independent media are under siege, fundamental freedoms of expression, association and assembly are undermined. A robust civil society and independent media help create conditions under which human rights can flourish.

-- Democratic elections by themselves do not ensure that human rights will be respected. But such elections can put a country on the path to reform and lay the groundwork for institutionalizing human rights protections.

-- Progress on democratic reform and human rights is neither linear nor guaranteed. Steps forward can be marred with irregularities and there can be serious setbacks.

Poor record

China's complaints were perhaps spurred by the strong criticism from the U.S. State Department. Its rights record remained poor, the report stated, as the Beijing government continued "to commit numerous and serious abuses."

Among the abuses noted were the following: physical abuse resulting in deaths in custody; harassment, detention and imprisonment of those perceived as threatening to party and government authority; a politically controlled judiciary and a lack of due process in certain cases; increased restrictions on freedom of speech and the press; cultural and religious repression of minorities; and forced labor.

North Korea's record on rights was also targeted. Among the abuses highlighted in the U.S. report were extrajudicial killings, disappearances and arbitrary detention; forced abortions and infanticide in prisons; lack of an independent judiciary and fair trials; and denial of freedom of speech, press and association.

The State Department calculated that 150,000 to 200,000 people are being held in detention camps in remote areas, including for political reasons. Reports indicate that conditions in the camps for political prisoners are extremely harsh and many inmates are not expected to survive.

African continent

The section on Africa noted numerous problems. In Congo, for example, government control in some areas of the country remains weak, with armed groups operating freely. And even where the government does rule, civilian authorities generally are unable to maintain effective control of the security forces, which, the report said, commit numerous serious human rights abuses with impunity, particularly in the east.

Sudan is another country with severe human rights problems. Both government and the militia forces, which operate with state support, committed serious abuses during the past year. The U.S. State Department cited figures from the World Health Organization that estimate the conflicts have resulted in 70,000 civilian deaths and 1.9 million ...

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