In a new report, the global rights group Amnesty International (AI) documents abuses in 159 countries and territories that it says were "inflicted by those in power on those who stand in the way of their vested interests."
The findings were published on May 23 in Amnesty International's 2012 annual report
, "The State of the World's Human Rights."
It reports numerous cases of torture, poor prison conditions, persecution of rights activists, and the suppression of freedom of speech.
The assessment highlights the courage of rights activists to effect change.
Amnesty International Secretary-General Salil Shetty, speaking in a video released by her organization, says abusive governments can no longer use the issue of sovereignty to justify their actions.
"Governments have been created to protect the rights of their citizens, but we then have governments who are actually doing exactly the opposite, who are actually violating the rights of their own citizens and people who are living inside their boundaries," Shetty says. "So I think in this day and age the excuse of national sovereignty, that these are internal affairs, is simply not acceptable."
'Dozens Tortured, Jailed'
Amnesty International's program director for the Middle East and North Africa, Philip Luther, spoke to RFE/RL about the many rights abuses in Iran.
Amnesty International's Salil Shetty
"Amnesty International has been documenting waves of arrests in both 2012 and 2013 in Iran. Those arrests have targeted lawyers, students, journalists, political activists and their relatives, filmmakers, and also people with international connections, particularly to foreign media, such as BBC Persian," Luther says. "Dozens have been tortured and jailed, among them prisoners of conscience, and many others have been banned from traveling abroad."
The report documents a crackdown on the media after violent antigovernment protests, resulting in the suspension of licenses of 10 satellite channels.
Amnesty International's Afghanistan researcher, Horia Mosadiq, tells RFE/RL that the situation for women is deteriorating in that country.
"The report also covers cases and issues of violence against women and it documented, only during seven months of 2012, more than 4,000 cases of violence against women, which shows a 28 percent increase compared to the previous year," Mosadiq says.
The researchers say that there has been a suppression of freedom of expression to varying degrees in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.
They say that in Russia, increased peaceful political protests have prompted "repression," including restrictive new laws and the harassment of rights activists, journalists, and lawyers.
David Diaz-Jogeix, Amnesty International's deputy program director for Europe and Central Asia, tells RFE/RL that Kyrgyz authorities were guilty of ethnic discrimination after deadly clashes between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz three years ago.
"We have reported a pattern where ethnic Uzbeks continue to be targeted disproportionately for detention and prosecution in relation to the June 2010 events," he says.
In Georgia, Diaz-Jogeix says the new government is dealing with a delicate political balancing act.
"The new government faces the challenge of both revamping the criminal justice system and the judiciary and addressing the wrongdoings committed under the previous administration without using the process of retribution against political rivals," he says.
WATCH: Amnesty Highlights The Situation For Syrian Refugees
The Amnesty report calls on Belarus to abolish the death penalty, which it says has been carried out in a "cruel and inhuman" way.
It criticizes Moldova for not doing enough to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The assessment mentions the importance of new media and video-capable mobile phones.
Amnesty International says it "wants to make sure everyone has the tools to access and share information and to challenge power and sovereignty when it is abused."
Here is a synopsis of the Amnesty report, focusing on RFE/RL's broadcast countries:
Amnesty says thousands of Afghan civilians continue to suffer from "targeted and indiscriminate attacks" by armed militant groups. Amnesty's report quotes figures from the UN, which held militants responsible for 80 percent of the 2,700 civilians killed last year. The assessment of Afghanistan says torture remained common in detention facilities, despite government efforts to reduce ill-treatment. The report also says violence and discrimination against women and girls remained commonplace. Tougher government controls on the media were also reported.
Amnesty says public hostility in Armenia remains high toward attitudes perceived as "unpatriotic." It says people expressing such views occasionally faced violence, while police and local authorities failed to properly investigate the attacks and at times appeared to be colluding in them. The assessment also says that conditions in prisons were reported to amount to inhuman treatment. It notes that by the end of the year more than 30 men were serving prison sentences for refusing to perform military service on grounds of conscience.
Amnesty criticizes Azerbaijan for its continued intimidation and imprisonment of people and groups critical of the government in 2012. The assessment says President Ilham Aliyev's government targeted human rights defenders and journalists and subjected them to intimidation, harassment, and arrest. The report highlights the case of RFE/RL correspondent Khadija Ismayilova, who was spied on, blackmailed, and threatened because of her investigative reports. The assessment notes that freedom of association continues to be targeted by the government, with NGOs working on human rights and democracy being subjected to pressure and harassment. It says public protests continued to be banned in Baku and torture and ill-treatment against activists remained widespread.
Amnesty says Belarus has seen a serious decline in human rights since 2010. The assessment notes the country has six people in prison in connection with a demonstration against the reelection of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in December 2010, four of whom are considered prisoners of conscience. The government is also criticized for violations of the rights of expression, association, and assembly. Minsk executed three people in 2012. The report says executions are conducted in "utmost secrecy" with neither the condemned nor their relatives being informed in advance.
Amnesty says nationalist rhetoric by the main political parties in Bosnia-Herzegovina increased in 2012, while challenges to the integrity of the state intensified. The assessment says that the nationalist rhetoric, including "increasingly secessionist remarks" by Bosnian Serb leaders, weakened state-level institutions, particularly the judiciary. It says that while prosecution of war crimes under international law continued before domestic courts, progress remained slow and impunity persisted. It says many civilian victims of the 1992-95 war were still denied access to justice and reparations.
Amnesty says rampant violations of free speech took place in Georgia in 2012. The assessment cites reports of harassment, intimidation, and even beatings of opposition supporters in the run-up to the October parliamentary elections that led to Bidzina Ivanishvili's appointment as prime minister. Amnesty says many opposition sympathizers, particularly schoolteachers, were reportedly fired from their jobs for their political views. Following the election, a number of high-ranking officials close to President Mikheil Saakashvili were charged with crimes, prompting international concerns about the possibility of selective prosecution. Amnesty also notes cases of harassment against Muslim worshippers and gay-rights activists by Orthodox Christians.
Amnesty says Iranian authorities continued to impose "severe restrictions" on freedoms of expression, association, and assembly in 2012. It says Iranian dissidents and human rights campaigners were arbitrarily arrested, imprisoned after unfair trials, tortured, and banned from traveling abroad. Amnesty condemns what it described as discrimination against women, religious and ethnic minorities, and homosexuals. It condemns the use of judicial punishments such as flogging, amputation, and execution, and voices regret that new amendments to the Penal Code prohibited neither the death penalty for juvenile offenders nor executions by stoning. The report also criticizes the disqualification of thousands of prospective candidates from the March 2012 parliamentary elections.
Amnesty says authorities in Iraq detained thousands of people in 2012, sentencing hundreds to death or prison terms. It says many were convicted after unfair trials. The assessment says many defendants alleged they were tortured during interrogation in pretrial detention and forced to confess. The assessment says at least 129 prisoners were executed, more than in any year since executions resumed in 2005. Meanwhile, armed groups opposed to the government killed hundreds of civilians in suicide and bomb attacks.
Amnesty says reports of torture and other ill-treatment by security forces "continued unabated." The assessment says authorities used "excessive force" to break up strikes and public protests by oil and gas workers in southwestern Kazakhstan from May through the end of 2012. Hundreds of employees were dismissed, dozens of protesters, trade unionists, and opposition activists were detained, and at least 16 people were killed during clashes between protesters and police in December 2011. The report also says refugees were forcibly returned to China and Uzbekistan, despite international protests.
Amnesty says Kyrgyzstan “failed to fairly and effectively investigate” the 2010 violence between ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks. The assessment says reports of torture and other ill-treatment in the aftermath of the June 2010 violence in southern Kyrgyzstan, which left hundreds dead, continued throughout 2012. The document adds that prosecutors "regularly failed to thoroughly and impartially investigate" such allegations and bring those responsible to justice. It also says lawyers defending ethnic Uzbeks "continued to be threatened and physically attacked."
Amnesty says Macedonia has failed to provide justice to relatives of people abducted during the 2001 armed conflict between ethnic Albanian rebels and Macedonian security forces. It condemns Macedonia's Constitutional Court for rejecting an appeal by relatives of Macedonians allegedly abducted by Albanian rebels. The court supported a parliamentary decision that terminated the investigation and prosecution of four war-crime cases, including charges relating to the disappearances. The reports notes that relations between Macedonians and ethnic Albanians further deteriorated in 2012, with a number of interethnic beatings and killings taking place. Amnesty also said conditions in Macedonian police stations fell short of minimum standards.
Amnesty calls on Moldova to do more to combat reported torture and ill-treatment of detainees and to protect citizens from discrimination. The assessment criticizes the government for responding slowly to allegations of abuse by police. There were 143 complaints filed against the police in connection with demonstrations in 2009. Only three police officers had been convicted in connection with them by the end of 2012. All were given suspended sentences. Moldova was also cited for a law mandating the chemical castration of violent child abusers.
Amnesty criticizes Montenegro for continued intimidation and harassment of the political opposition and free media. The report notes examples of open, official criticism of nongovernmental organizations. It also highlights the case of investigative journalist Olivera Lakic, who was beaten and hospitalized after her articles resulted in the opening of criminal inquiries regarding alleged industrial fraud. The assessment says that discrimination against sexual minorities continues. It says that while war crimes prosecutions continued in 2012, verdicts in such cases were inconsistent with international law and resulted in lenient sentences or acquittals.
Amnesty says Pakistan's human rights defenders and journalists face "serious risks" amid widespread rights abuses. The assessment singles out the October shooting of the teenage activist Malala Yousafzai as an example of the dangers faced by rights campaigners. The report says that armed groups and the military continue to engage in abuses in northwestern tribal areas and the southwestern Balochistan Province. It says that "enforced disappearances, abductions, torture, and unlawful killing" continued in these restive regions. Amnesty notes that attacks on health workers have a negative impact on access to medical services. The report says that religious minorities in the Muslim nation continue to suffer persecution with "targeted killings."
Amnesty says that in Russia, increased peaceful political protests have prompted “repression,” including restrictive new laws and the harassment of rights activists, journalists, and lawyers. The assessment of Russia notes that trials in Russia fall short of acceptable standards and the number of apparently politically motivated verdicts is on the rise. The situation is said to be particularly bad in the volatile North Caucasus, where Amnesty says Russia often fails to properly investigate claims of abuse by law enforcement officials. The assessment says torture and ill-treatment of detainees remain a problem.
SERBIA & KOSOVO
Amnesty criticizes Serbia for violations of the rights of ethnic and sexual minorities. It also chides Kosovar authorities for their continued failure to prosecute war crimes
allegedly committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army in 1999.
The assessment of Serbia mentions the forcible eviction of some 1,000 Belgrade Roma from their homes and the continued ban on an annual gay-pride parade in Belgrade. The report notes the start of the war-crimes trials in The Hague of former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic and Croatian Serb leader Goran Hadzic and the acquittal by the same court of former Kosovo Premier Ramush Haradinaj.
It also criticizes the use of excessive force by Kosovar police.
Amnesty says torture and ill-treatment remain widespread in Tajikistan while impunity for perpetrators continued. The assessment says independent monitoring bodies were given "no access to detention facilities." It notes that children, elderly people, and witnesses in criminal cases endured torture that included "the use of electric shocks, boiling water, suffocation, beatings, and burnings with cigarettes." The report noted that suspects involved with banned Islamic groups "were at particular risk of torture." Amnesty says that in a climate of impunity, victims of torture were afraid to lodge official complaints, fearing reprisals. The report says that Tajik authorities continued to restrict the freedom of expression of human rights activists and journalists in 2012.
Amnesty says harassment of the opposition and the media remain widespread in Turkmenistan, despite the adoption of a law which allows opposition parties to register. It mentions that the 2012 reelection of autocratic President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov with an overwhelming majority was criticized by international rights watchdogs, which did not send observers, citing Turkmenistan's limited political freedom. The assessment notes that torture and other forms of ill-treatment of those suspected of criminal offenses remain widespread in Turkmenistan. It cites electric shocks, rape, and the forcible administration of psychotropic drugs among the methods employed by authorities against suspects. It said freedom of movement remained drastically restricted.
Amnesty says Ukraine is plagued by failings in its criminal justice system and a lack of safeguards for detainees. The assessment of Ukraine notes that an international delegation that visited in 2011 was "inundated with allegations from detained people." Kyiv has ignored a UN recommendation that it establish an independent body to investigate torture allegations. The AI report for 2012 notes the apparently politically motivated prosecutions of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and members of her government. It also said the rights of homosexuals and transgenders are at risk because of pending legislation.
Amnesty says Uzbekistan has restricted freedom of expression because human rights campaigners and journalists are continually harassed. It says that in 2012, some 10 journalists and human rights defenders remained imprisoned in "cruel, inhuman, and degrading conditions." The assessment says that authorities routinely monitor rights activists and journalists and frequently question them and place them under house arrest. Amnesty says it is concerned over the "frequent use of torture and other ill-treatment to extract confessions" against opposition figures and government critics. The report says that suspected members of banned religious groups are a particular target of ill-treatment by Uzbek authorities.