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U.S.: State Department Releases Human Rights Report Criticizing New Allies

  • Jeffrey Donovan

The U.S. released its annual report on human rights around the world on 4 March. In it, the State Department criticizes many of its new allies in the war on terrorism but says its new engagement with them is likely to improve their respect for human rights and democracy.

Washington, 5 March 2002 (RFE/RL -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell released the State Department's annual report on human rights around the world yesterday, saying America's concern for world freedom helps fight terrorism, instability, and conflict.

Painting a bleak picture of widespread corruption, trampled press freedom, and violence against civilians, the survey -- mandated by the U.S. Congress -- shows no mercy in passing judgment on human rights and democracy in countries from Russia and Rwanda to Burma and Belarus.

The report covers the year 2001. Among other things, it calls post-Taliban Afghanistan "a triumph of human rights" but says some U.S. allies in the war on terrorism -- Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, and Russia -- had major human rights violations in 2001.

In presenting the report -- which does not include an assessment of the United States itself -- Powell said it is in U.S. interests to promote freedom and democracy because they bring about prosperity and stability and kill the impetus for terrorism.

"Experience has shown that countries which demonstrate high degrees of respect for human rights are also the most secure and the most successful. Indeed, respect for human rights is essential to lasting peace and sustained economic growth -- goals which Americans share with people all over the world."

Among the countries cited with the worst human rights violations last year are Iraq, Iran, and North Korea -- which U.S. President George W. Bush has dubbed an "axis of evil" -- as well as China and, except for the Baltic nations, most of the former Soviet republics.

While Russia is heavily criticized for reports of violence against civilians in its war in Chechnya, it generally fares better than Central Asian nations such as Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and especially Turkmenistan, a country the report says allowed its people absolutely no political participation.

Belarus, under authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, is also singled out as being grossly remiss on human rights and democracy.

The survey says Lukashenka has taken no steps to solve four politically motivated disappearances dating to 1999 that may have involved senior government officials. It also says repression of the opposition, the media and civil society has worsened following Lukashenka's re-election in September.

President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan takes similar criticism in the report, despite having become one of the key U.S. allies in the war on terrorism. The survey says Karimov, who is scheduled to meet with Bush in Washington next week, has restricted rights ranging from political association and religious observance to press freedom.

The report says about 7,500 people were jailed in Uzbekistan in 2001 for political and religious reasons or on suspicion of terrorism. But the report says most were picked up simply for attending mosques that had not been officially certified by the state.

State Department officials were asked by reporters how the U.S. could reconcile its scathing human rights criticisms of countries such as Uzbekistan, while at the same time making them key allies in the war on terrorism.

Lorne Craner, assistant secretary of state for human rights, democracy, and labor, said that by working with such nations, Washington hopes to help them change for the better.

"If in aligning ourselves with them, we're able to address human rights situations in their countries and improve the situation in their countries -- where we might otherwise not be able to do that -- I'm not concerned. I think it is actually for the better that it happened. I think we'll look back some years from now and say it was an important by-product of our alliance with them."

Craner acknowledges that many people fear human rights issues will take a back seat to fighting terrorism in the Bush administration, but he says human rights are, in fact, a key part of that fight -- a lesson, he suggested, that many in the White House had learned from bad experiences during the Cold War.

"I think a lot of people feared a reversion to the 1950s to '70s period, when I think there was less regard for human rights in foreign policy because we had this Cold War, which was a monumental issue. And I think a lot of the policymakers today lived through that, and they saw that didn't always work out right -- that in a number of countries around the world, we ended up worse off because of it."

Craner admits that some governments -- such as China and Uzbekistan -- have used the war on terrorism as a pretext to crack down on domestic political opponents. But he says some of them also realize that to achieve prosperity and to build long-term ties with the U.S., they will have to respect human rights and embrace democracy.

"I'm also being pleasantly surprised by the number of governments -- like I said, if they're going to get their economies on a sound footing, and they want a real relationship with us, they're going to have to start addressing these issues."

On positive notes, the report points to Afghanistan and Peru as being the success stories of 2001, with Lima staging a successful and peaceful democratic transition after years of authoritarian rule.

And after several years of Taliban governance -- when public floggings for petty crimes and summary executions for adultery and murder were the norm -- the survey says the new interim government in Kabul has brought hope for a better future to millions of Afghans, especially women.

The interim government took office in late December, on the heels of a U.S.-led bombing campaign that also worked with Afghan resistance fighters on the ground.

(The complete State Department report on human rights and democracy around the world is available on the Internet at