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World: U.S. State Department Issues Report Examining Government Record On Promoting Rights

  • Frank Csongos

The United States says advancing human rights and democracy around the world reflects its values and promotes its interests. The recent scandal involving U.S. troop abuse of detainees at Iraq's Abu Ghurayb prison has been a blow to Washington's image as a human rights standard-bearer. A report issued yesterday by the U.S. State Department paints a mixed picture of the work the U.S. government is doing to promote democracy and human rights in Iraq and elsewhere.

Washington, 18 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. State Department yesterday released its second annual report evaluating Washington’s efforts to advance human rights and democracy in 101 countries.

The 270-page "Supporting Human Rights and Democracy" report -- not to be confused with the State Department's annual country reports evaluating domestic human rights progress in countries around the world -- examines U.S. gains and setbacks in its efforts to promote rights abroad.

Yesterday's release came after a delay of several days sparked by the scandal over U.S. abuse of detainees at Iraq's Abu Ghurayb prison.

The State Department delayed the report out of fear its point would be lost amid the furor of the prison scandal. But Lorne Craner, the assistant secretary of state overseeing human rights, said yesterday that despite the Abu Ghurayb abuse, many people still look to the United States to push for rights in their countries.

“How can we talk about human rights if we fail to uphold the highest standard? You've heard the president [George W. Bush] talk about differences between how we will handle these abuses and how other countries don't," craner said. "To that, I would add only one thing -- who would be better off if we self-consciously turned inward and ignored human rights abuses elsewhere in places like Burma and Zimbabwe and Belarus?”

At the same time, Craner said, democracy is not a simple concept that can be easily transplanted from the United States to other countries around the world. In order for democracy and rights awareness to take root, he said, they must be the product of local initiatives. “People think we export democracy,” he said. “We don't. If we did, it wouldn't work. We cannot implant democracy elsewhere. What we're hearing from people overseas is, ‘We think Abu Ghurayb is an awful thing and we think it shows that the United States is imperfect, but we still want you to help us.’”

The report was unveiled by Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Richard Armitage, the No. 2 State Department official. “The hundred and one nations covered in this report are those with problematic human rights records,” Armitage said. “As already noted, you will find in these pages some of America's most valued allies as well as some of our newest and most important partners in the war on terrorism, but you will also find countries with which we do not enjoy full diplomatic relations such as Iran and such as North Korea.”

The report cites the peaceful change of government in Georgia as a democratic success story. The transition began with the bloodless ouster of former President Eduard Shevardnadze and culminated with the inauguration of Mikheil Saakashvili as the country's president earlier this year.

The report details the U.S. assistance provided to Georgia for both the January election and the subsequent parliamentary elections. Aid included training for new election-commission members, a get-out-the-vote campaign, exit polling, and voter marking. It also continued support to NGOs promoting human rights, religious freedom, and anticorruption efforts in Georgia.

Ultimately, Armitage said, credit for the transformation should go to the people of Georgia themselves. "The people of Georgia ultimately prevailed in their peaceful desire for democracy and, because of our solid diplomacy, they see America as a friend in that endeavors."

Elsewhere, U.S. efforts bore less fruit. The report details continued human rights issues in countries like Azerbaijan, where presidential elections earlier this year led to charges of fraud, spurring violence and politically motivated arrests.

There were also elections or constitutional referendums marred by procedural and substantive irregularities that violated democratic norms, including in Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

In Russia, the report says there were flaws and misuse of state-controlled media in the run-up to the Duma elections, as well as Chechnya's presidential election.

The report says that with important elections coming up in Belarus, Ukraine, and throughout Central Asia, the United States is urging governments to take proper measures to ensure that the election process meets international standards. It says the U.S. government is continuing to work with civil society groups to improve the prospects for free and fair elections.

The State Department study says the continued involvement of the international community remains crucial to overcoming post-conflict issues, the development of democracy and the rule of law, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Significant rule of law reform, it says, from the Balkans to Central Asia is needed to ensure equal protection under the law for all citizens and to combat corruption and organized crime.

(The U.S. State Department's "Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U. S. Record 2003-2004" report is available on the Internet here: http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/shrd/2003/)
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