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U.S. Rights Report Slams IS Militants, Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Among Others

  • RFE/RL

A protester wearing a mask of Russian President Vladimir Putin participates in a rally in protest against Russian actions in Crimea in St. Petersburg in March 2014.

A protester wearing a mask of Russian President Vladimir Putin participates in a rally in protest against Russian actions in Crimea in St. Petersburg in March 2014.

In a new report, the U.S. State Department strongly criticizes Islamic State (IS) militants -- as well as the Russian, Iranian, and Azerbaijani governments -- for human rights abuses.

The 2014 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, released on June 25, says one of the most notable trends of the year was the brutality of IS militants in Syria and Iraq against the Yezidi minority, Christians, Turkomans, Shabak, Shi'a, and Sunni Muslims who did not conform to their extremist views.

At the same time, the report noted the Iraqi government's inability to rein in abusive and criminal actions by pro-government Shi'a militia fighters in the so-called Popular Mobilization Committees that helped government troops battle against IS militants.

"The message at the heart of these reports is that countries do best when their citizens fully enjoy the rights and freedoms to which they are entitled," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in presenting the report in Washington. "This is not just an expression of hope, this is a reality and it has proven out in country after country around the world."

"Now we understand that some governments may take issue with these reports, including such extreme cases as North Korea or Syria, but also some governments with whom we work closely may also object," he continued. "But I want to say something about that and I think it is important: The discomfort that these reports sometimes cause does more to reinforce than to undermine the value and the credibility of these reports."

Russia

Russia's government came in for strong criticism not only for abuses within Russia's border but for its annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea and its role supporting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The report describes Russia's political system as "increasingly authoritarian" with "a range of new measures to suppress dissent within its borders."

It says Russian authorities "selectively employed the law on 'foreign agents,' the law against extremism, and other means to harass, pressure, discredit, and/or prosecute individuals and entities that had voiced criticism of the government."

It says Russia's government also continued to use laws against extremism to prosecute some religious minorities, and that it adopted several discriminatory laws against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons.

The report highlighted what it called a "growing recognition" of links between corruption, human rights abuses, and repressive governments -- saying corruption in Russia was "widespread throughout the executive, legislative, and judicial branches at all levels of government."

It also criticized the persecution in Crimea by "Russian occupation authorities" of the ethnic Tatar community, certain religious minorities, and others who opposed the occupation -- noting that many were forced to flee the peninsula.

It said Russian forces and Russian-backed separatists also shelled urban areas and committed "numerous other gross human rights abuses" in eastern Ukraine, including killings and abductions.

Iran

The State Department said Iran continues to severely restrict the freedoms of assembly, speech, religion, and the press.

READ MORE: U.S. To Continue Rights Sanctions Against Iran Regardless Of Nuclear Deal

It also noted that Iran had the world's second highest execution rate after "legal proceedings that frequently didn't respect Iran's own constitutional guarantee to due process or international legal norms."

WATCH: Tom Malinowski, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor, says there has no improvement in human rights in Iran:

Azerbaijan

The State Department criticized Azerbaijan's use of the judicial system to punish peaceful dissent and critical journalists amid allegations of widespread corruption.

It says Baku's restrictions included "intimidation, incarceration on questionable charges, and use of force against human rights defenders, civil society activists, and journalists."

It noted an increased number of arbitrary arrests and detention in Azerbaijan along with politically motivated imprisonment, and lengthy pretrial detention for "individuals perceived as a threat by government officials."

It also lists "physical abuse in the military; torture or other abuse in prisons; and harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions" among other serious human rights problems in Azerbaijan.

Islamic State militants prepare to throw a man from a high rooftop as punishment for allegedly being gay in Mosul.

Islamic State militants prepare to throw a man from a high rooftop as punishment for allegedly being gay in Mosul.

Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, the report says, the most significant problem was continued attacks on civilians by Islamic militants -- including violence that killed eight journalists and that targeted women.

It also noted ongoing human rights abuses committed by Afghan security forces.

Other serious abuses included torture and abuse of detainees, targeted violence, and discrimination against women and girls.

The report says while the situation of women "marginally" improved in 2014, domestic and international gender experts considered the country "very dangerous" for women.

Tajikistan

Tajikistan is described an "authoritarian state" where citizens are unable to change their government "through free and fair elections."

The report says authorities in Tajikistan continued to use torture against detainees and others during 2014 while repressing political activists and limiting the free flow of information.

It says human rights abuses also included "violence and discrimination against women, arbitrary arrest, denial of the right to a fair trial, and harsh and life-threatening prison conditions."

It noted there were very few prosecutions of government officials in Tajikistan for rights abuses.

Bosnia-Herzegovina

The U.S. State Department said government corruption remained among "most serious problems" in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2014, which it says resulted in "continued political and economic stagnation."

It also says some political leaders "manipulated deep-seated ethnic divisions" that weakened democracy and governance, undermined the rule of law, fostered discrimination in most aspects of daily life, distorted public discourse in the media, and obstructed the return of persons displaced by the 1992-95 conflict.

Iraq

At the same time, it noted the Iraqi government's inability to rein in abusive and criminal actions by pro-government Shi'ite militias that fought against IS militants.

Belarus

The State Department said authorities in Belarus have continued to "arrest individuals for political reasons and to use administrative measures to detain political activists."

It describes Belarus as an "authoritarian state" where "authorities arbitrarily arrested, detained, and imprisoned citizens for criticizing officials, participating in demonstrations, and other political reasons."

It says Belarus' judiciary suffered from "political interference and a lack of independence and trial outcomes often appeared predetermined."

It also says corruption in "all branches of government" remained a problem in Belarus during 2014.

Here's a look at the other countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region:

Armenia

The State Department says that “systemic corruption and lack of transparency in government” was a serious human rights problem in Armenia last year.

The report says “allegations of persistent corruption at all levels of government undermined the rule of law although the government took limited steps to punish corruption by low- and mid-level officials.”

The report also says that “limited independence of the judiciary, and limitations on the ability of citizens to change their government” were among other serious problems in the country.

Suspicious deaths in the military under noncombat conditions and continued hazing by officers and fellow soldiers were among other abuses cited in the report.

It also notes that there were several incidents of violence toward journalists in connection with citizens’ protests.

Georgia

The State Department says the most important human rights problems reported in Georgia during the last year included domestic violence and politically motivated violence and “increased societal intolerance” of members of minority groups.

The report also denounces interference with religious worship in the country and intimidation that prevented freedom of assembly.

The report adds that “persistent shortcomings” in the legal system led to “incomplete investigations, premature charging of suspects, and inappropriate use of pretrial detention.”

Other problems included abuse by law-enforcement officials, “substandard” prison conditions, and pressure on opposition figures to withdraw from local elections.

The report says de facto authorities in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia continued to “restrict the rights, primarily of ethnic Georgians, to vote or otherwise participate in the political process, own property, register businesses, and travel.”

Kazakhstan

The State Department says Kazakhstan’s government limited freedom of expression last year and exerted influence on the media through "laws, harassment, licensing regulations, internet restrictions, and criminal and administrative charges."

The report says judicial actions against journalists and media outlets, including civil and criminal libel suits filed by government officials, led to the suspension of several media outlets and encouraged self-censorship.

The report warns that Kazakhstan’s parliament passed new criminal and administrative offenses codes as well as a new labor law, which it says have “the potential to further limit freedoms of speech, assembly, and religion.”

Other reported abuses included arbitrary or unlawful killings, detainee and prisoner torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, infringements on citizens’ privacy rights, prohibitive political party registration requirements, and restrictions on the activities of nongovernmental organizations.

Kosovo

The State Department says actions to block the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina was among the most important human rights problems in Kosovo in the past year.

The report also cites restrictions on such rights as freedom of movement and freedom of worship by Serbian Orthodox pilgrims.

The report says “societal violence and discrimination against members of ethnic minorities, persons with disabilities, and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community constituted a second significant area of concern.”

Domestic violence against women was a third major problem, it adds.

The report says the government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, but adds that “many assumed that senior officials engaged in corruption with impunity.”

Kyrgyzstan

The U.S. State Department says routine violations of procedural protections in all stages of the judicial process, and systematic, police-driven extortion of vulnerable minority groups, were among the most serious human rights violations in Kyrgyzstan last year.

The report also denounces a “continued denial of justice" in connection with deadly ethnic clashes in the southern city of Osh five years ago as a serious rights issue.

“Underscoring the country’s human rights problems was an atmosphere of impunity for officials in the security services and elsewhere in government who committed abuses and engaged in corrupt practices,” the report adds.

It also denounces torture, poor prison conditions, corruption, and pressure on independent media in the country.

Macedonia

The State Department says the most significant human rights problem in Macedonia last year stemmed from “significant levels of corruption” and from the government’s “failure to respect fully the rule of law.”

The report also says political interference, inefficiency, favoritism toward well-placed persons, and corruption characterized the country's judicial system.

Human rights problems also included physical mistreatment of detainees and prisoners by police and prison guards, discrimination against Roma and other ethnic minorities, societal discrimination against sexual minorities, and child labor.

The report also says the government "took some steps to punish police officials guilty of excessive force, but impunity continued to be a problem.”​

Montenegro

The U.S. State Department says corruption was among Montenegro’s most pressing human rights problems last year.

The report says corruption was pervasive in health care, education, and multiple branches of government including law enforcement.

It was characterized by impunity, political favoritism, nepotism, and selective prosecution of political and societal opponents, the report adds.

According to the report, Montenegro also suffered from a continued deterioration of the environment for nongovernment institutions, including the media and civil society.

Other human rights problems included mistreatment by law enforcement officers of persons in their custody, overcrowded and dilapidated conditions in prisons, and domestic violence against women and children.

Moldova

The State Department says corruption, particularly in the judicial sector, continued to be “the most significant human rights problem” in Moldova last year.

The report says corruption remained “widespread” in the judiciary, the Tax Inspectorate, the customs service, and other public institutions.

“Poor conditions, mistreatment, and abuse in psychiatric and social care homes were major areas of concern,” the report adds.

Other significant problems included “erosion of media freedom, the opaque ownership of media outlets, and increased monopolization of the media and the advertising market.”

According to the report, the human rights situation in Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniester “deteriorated in some respects, including through new restrictions on internet freedom.”

Pakistan

The U.S. State Department mentions serious human rights abuses in Pakistan, including “extrajudicial and targeted killings, disappearances, torture, lack of rule of law” and continued “sectarian violence.”

The report warns that harassment of journalists continued, “with high-profile attacks against journalists and media organizations."

Human rights problems also included “poor prison conditions, arbitrary detention, lengthy pretrial detention, a weak criminal justice system, lack of judicial independence in the lower courts, and infringement on citizens’ privacy rights.”

The report says “lack of government accountability” remained a problem while abuses often went unpunished, “fostering a culture of impunity.”

It adds that violence and intolerance by militant organizations contributed to “a culture of lawlessness” in some parts of the country.

Serbia

The U.S. State Department says the most serious human rights problem in Serbia last year included discrimination and societal violence against members of minority groups, especially Roma.

The report says harassment of journalists and pressure on them to self-censor was also a significant problem in the Balkan country.

Human rights problems also included police mistreatment of detainees, government censorship of the Internet, harassment of human rights advocates as well as government critics, and domestic violence against women and children.

It says the government took steps to prosecute officials when the public took notice of abuses, adding that many believed that numerous cases of corruption, police mistreatment, and other abuses went unreported and unpunished.

Turkmenistan

The State Department denounced human rights violations in Turkmenistan, including arbitrary arrest, torture, and disregard for civil liberties.

The report says officials in the security services and elsewhere in the government acted with impunity.

Human rights problems also included denial of due process and fair trial, discrimination and violence against women, trafficking in persons, and restrictions on the free association of workers.

The report says there were no reports of prosecution of government officials for human rights abuses.

Ukraine

The State Department said the most significant human rights developments in Ukraine last year were linked to antigovernment protests in Kyiv, Russia’s occupation of Crimea, and conflict in the country’s east.

The report says ousted President Viktor Yanukovych government’s decision to use force to disperse citizen protests in central Kyiv in February “resulted in more than 100 civilian deaths, most by sniper fire from special security forces, and numerous injuries.”

The report says Russia’s occupation and annexation of Crimea in March “displaced more than 18,000 Crimeans, while Russian authorities committed “numerous human rights abuses, targeting ethnic and religious communities, particularly Crimean Tatars.”

The report says fighting between government forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine since April destabilized the region and resulted by year’s end in more than 4,700 civilian deaths. The toll is now more than 6,500.

Generally, the document says, actions by the rebels deprived more than 5 million people of “access to education, health care, housing, the opportunity to earn a living and to the rule of law," and forced more than 1 million people to leave the area.

Uzbekistan

The State Department accuses Uzbek officials of “frequently” engaging in "corrupt practices" with impunity.

The report also denounces serious human rights issues in Uzbekistan including, “torture and abuse of detainees by security forces,” denial of due process and fair trial,” and “widespread restrictions on religious freedom.”

It says Uzbek authorities subjected human rights activists, journalists, and others who criticized the government, as well as their family members, to harassment, arbitrary arrest, and politically motivated prosecution and detention.

Human rights problems also included restrictions on freedom of speech and on civil society activity as well as violence against women.

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