Every year, the U.S. State Department publishes a report on the state of human rights around the world. This year's account, issued today, expresses concern about what it calls a lack of democratic reform in Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union. But on the whole, the document is one of hope, according to one State Department official who cited a growing trend toward democratic reform.
Washington, 28 February 2005 -- Paula Dobriansky, the U.S. undersecretary of state of global affairs, said this year's report reflects President George W. Bush's commitment to stand by those who live under tyranny and yearn for democracy.
The report covers the state of human rights in 196 countries during 2004. At a special press briefing where she released the report, Dobriansky made brief opening remarks in which she quickly listed human rights abuses in several countries.
"We are concerned with circumstances in many other parts of the globe, and we detail them concisely in these reports," Dobriansky said. "But our message today is one of hope and promise. This report is the embodiment of President Bush's commitment that the United States will stand shoulder to shoulder with those who live in tyranny and hopelessness and struggle for a better life."
The report was particularly critical about Russia. Its complaints included increased Kremlin control of the country's news media and President Vladimir Putin's decision to appoint regional governors rather than have them elected locally.
China was accused of severely limiting the democratic rights of its citizens. The document also said Beijing has been using the war on Islamic militants as an excuse for cracking down on Muslim Uighurs in Western China.
At the briefing, one reporter asked whether the United States has been constrained in criticizing a country such as China even as it seeks closer diplomatic and commercial ties with it.
Michael Kozak, deputy assistant secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, replied that Washington felt no such constraint.
"There were a lot of people, for example, who thought that when we made allies in Central Asia that that would be the end of any criticism of those countries for their human rights record, that it would be the end of efforts," Kozak said. "In fact, it's had just the opposite effect, that we've paid more attention to [the] human rights situation in places like Uzbekistan, for example, and been more active in trying to side with people who are pushing for change there."
Iran, too, was the target of criticism. Kozak said that as a democracy, Iran is "out of phase" with some neighboring countries. He pointed to the recent Palestinian elections, as well as the vote in neighboring Iraq. And he spoke positively of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's promise to hold multi-candidate elections as well.
Meanwhile, Kozak said, Iran persists in the practice of limiting candidates to those approved by the country's religious leadership.
"Iran's got a real problem if it wants to become a respected member of the family of nations. It's not doing the things that get you there," Kozak said.
Kozak also noted that the United States does not include itself in the human rights report, despite recent human rights abuses including the abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghurayb prison in Iraq. He said that is up to others, and noted that other countries include the United States in their periodic reports.
He said the United States openly admits when it is guilty of a breach of human rights, and that it quickly punishes those responsible. He pointed to the courts-martial now being held for those accused of the Abu Ghurayb abuses.
Kozak said Washington hopes other countries would respond to their own human rights problems in the same way.