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U.S. Warns Of 'Accelerating' Rights Abuses Worldwide

  • RFE/RL

The government of Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev has faced scathing criticism from international rights groups and Western officials over its crackdown on political opponents and independent journalists in recent years.

The government of Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev has faced scathing criticism from international rights groups and Western officials over its crackdown on political opponents and independent journalists in recent years.

The U.S. State Department says in a new report that the world faces a "global governance crisis" as both governments and nonstate actors increasingly infringe on human rights.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in the State Department's human rights report, released on April 13, that Washington saw "an accelerating trend by both state and nonstate actors to close the space for civil society, to stifle media and Internet freedom, to marginalize opposition voices, and in the most extreme cases, to kill people or drive them from their homes."

Kerry also denounced governments for cracking down on freedom of expression by "jailing reporters for writing critical stories" or targeting nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) "for promoting supposedly 'foreign ideologies' such as universal human rights."

Kerry said nonstate actors like Islamic State militants and Boko Haram in 2015 committed "crimes against humanity," including genocide.

He said such groups "flourish in the absence of credible and effective state institutions."

In its annual human rights report, the U.S. State Department says that "authoritarian governments" are reacting against an increasingly strong "civil society" throughout the world "because they fear public scrutiny, and feel threatened by people coming together in ways they cannot control."

"In 2015, this global crackdown by authoritarian states on civil society deepened, silencing independent voices, impoverishing political discourse, and closing avenues for peaceful change," the report says.

The report accuses governments across the former Soviet Union of both overt repression of political freedoms and bureaucratic measures aimed at stifling opposing voices.

Russia's Repression

It criticizes the Kremlin for "a range of measures to suppress dissent," including "new repressive laws" and selective prosecution "to harass, discredit, prosecute, imprison, detain, fine, and suppress individuals and organizations engaged in activities critical of the government."

The report also accuses Russia of "especially" targeting individuals and organizations that have opposed the Kremlin's forceful and illegal annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region and Moscow's support for separatists who are fighting Kyiv's forces in eastern Ukraine.

Russian authorities controlling Crimea, the report adds, have subjected Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars on the peninsula to "systematic harassment and discrimination."

Moscow has repeatedly rejected such accusations by Western governments in the past and typically responds angrily to criticism it faces in the U.S. State Department's human rights report.

The latest report, meanwhile, denounces what it calls repressive actions taken by authoritarian governments across Central Asia.

It says Tajikistan's government "took steps to eliminate political opposition in 2015," including the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), which was recently banned and whose leaders have faced prosecution in secret trials.

The State Department report says Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan in 2015 all enacted new legislation against nongovernmental groups "that could restrict operating space for civil society organizations."

The report also accuses law enforcement authorities in Kyrgyzstan of using arbitrary arrests, torture, attacks, threats, and extortion.

It says Kyrgyzstan routinely violated "procedural protections" in the judicial process during 2015. And it says sexual and ethnic minorities faced "police-driven extortion."

The report says "members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community reported police regularly monitored LGBTI chat rooms and dating sites and arranged meetings with LGBTI users of the sites to extort money from them when they met."

Other human rights abuses in Kyrgyzstan during 2015 noted in the report included poor prison conditions, as well as the harassment of activists, journalists, and employees of domestic and international nongovernmental organizations.

It also says Turkmenistan "already had and enforced a restrictive NGO law."

Azerbaijan's Crackdown

The report from Washington also says that nongovernmental organizations in Azerbaijan face a "severely constrained" space.

"Multiple sources reported a continuing crackdown on civil society" in Azerbaijan, the report says, "including intimidation, arrest, and conviction on charges widely considered politically motivated."

The government of Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev has faced scathing criticism from international rights groups and Western officials over its crackdown on political opponents and independent journalists in recent years.

Azerbaijani authorities in March released 16 jailed opposition politicians, journalists, and rights activists listed by human rights groups as "political prisoners."

Twelve more rights campaigners and journalists on that list remain in prison.

They include opposition leader and rights activist Ilgar Mammadov, and investigative journalist and RFE/RL contributor Khadija Ismayilova.

The report says citizens of Belarus continued to face human rights violations in 2015, including an inability to "change their government through elections," restrictions targeting former "political prisoners," and a failure to account for long-standing cases of politically motivated disappearances."

Macedonian Scandal

The report also accuses Macedonia's government of failing to fully respect "the rule of law" -- citing "high-level" corruption, "cronyism," and selective prosecution.

The release of the State Department's report comes a day after President Gjorge Ivanov announced a decision to halt criminal proceedings against politicians and government officials suspected of involvement in wiretapping thousands of people.

Ivanov's April 12 announcement has triggered violent street protests in Macedonia and both domestic and international criticism.

The report says Macedonian authorities in 2015 continued "efforts to restrict media freedom, interfere in the judiciary, and selectively prosecute offenders."

"Political interference, inefficiency, cronyism and nepotism, prolonged processes, violations of the right to public trial, and corruption characterized the judicial system," the report said.

Hours before the release of the report on April 13, State Department spokesman John Kirby said Washington was "deeply concerned" by Ivanov's announcement "to pardon persons subject to investigation in connection with the wiretapping scandal."

"If implemented, this decision will protect corrupt officials and deny justice to the people of Macedonia," Kirby said.

In Iran, the report says authorities subjected independent rights groups and other nongovernmental organizations to "continued harassment because of their activism."

It says such groups also were threatened with closure by Iranian government officials following prolonged and often arbitrary delays in obtaining official registration."

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