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Annual U.S. Rights Report Singles Out Arab Regimes, Others

  • Heather Maher

The report praises "the courage and determination of the activists in the Middle East and North Africa and in other repressive societies."

The report praises "the courage and determination of the activists in the Middle East and North Africa and in other repressive societies."

WASHINGTON -- In its annual report on human rights conditions around the world, the United States has leveled a harsh critique of Arab governments currently embroiled in popular pro-democracy upheavals, saying rights abuses in those countries were "especially serious" last year.

In remarks at the release of the State Department's annual country reports, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the courage shown by citizens of those countries -- Libya, Bahrain, and Syria -- as well as others in the region that have experienced uprisings against repressive regimes, have been inspiring.

"In recent months, we have been particularly inspired by the courage and determination of the activists in the Middle East and North Africa and in other repressive societies, who have demanded peaceful democratic change and respect for their universal human rights," Clinton said.

Clinton specially mentioned Russian abuses in her remarks, which have been committed on the watch of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev.

"In Russia, we've seen crackdowns on civil society groups turn violent, with numerous attacks and murders of journalists and activists," Clinton said.

Ukraine 'Backslid'

In its report on Ukraine, the United States identified "backsliding after positive developments in previous years."

The U.S. State Department annual country reports on human rights practices has found that Ukraine's rights record worsened in 2010,

The report cited serious police abuse and deaths in custody, torture of detainees and prisoners, harsh conditions in prisons and detention facilities, arbitrary and lengthy pretrial detention, and an inefficient and corrupt judicial system.

The report noted incidents of increased government pressure on independent media outlets, limitations on freedom of assembly, and the appearance of politically motivated prosecution of opposition politicians.

Corruption pervaded government and society, and violence and discrimination against women and children continued, according to the report, which also said human trafficking remains a serious problem.

Iran Violence And Intimidation, Including Summary Executions

Clinton also mentioned Iran, which the report said "continued a campaign of postelection violence and intimidation" that began after the much-maligned reelection in 2009 of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

The Iranian government severely limited citizens' right to peacefully change their government through free and fair elections and continued a campaign of postelection violence and intimidation, according to the report.

The report accused the Iranian government of committing extrajudicial killings and executing people convicted as crimes as children, sometimes in groups.

"In Iran, we have multiple reports that the government summarily executed more than 300 people in 2010," Clinton said. "Many of them were ethnic minorities."

The report also said government security forces committed acts of politically motivated violence and repression, including torture, beatings, and rape.

Incidence of administered severe and officially sanctioned punishments, including amputations and flogging, were cited, as well as acts of violence by vigilante groups with ties to the government, such as Basij militia and poor prison conditions.

Other human rights violations highlighted in the report included a crackdown on activists for women's rights, ethnic minority rights, students, and religious minorities. Severe restrictions on freedom the right to privacy and civil liberties also continued, according to the report, as did a lack of judicial independence.

Call To China

The governments of China, Myanmar, Ivory Coast, and Zimbabwe were also flagged as grave abusers of human rights.

The United States says China's human rights record showed a "negative trend" in 2010, with growing restrictions on freedom of speech and "severe repression" in the Tibet and Xinjiang regions.

The recent arrest of Ai Weiwei, one of China's most prominent artists and human rights activists -- who disappeared after he was detained trying to board a plane in Beijing to Hong Kong in April 3 -- has raised international concern about the Chinese government's practice of locking up its political opponents.

Clinton repeated Washington's call for the release of all political prisoners.

"We urge China to release all of those who have been detained for exercising their internationally recognized right to free expression and to respect the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all of the citizens of China," Clinton said.

Arab Awakening

The State Department said this year's report was "framed by the dramatic changes sweeping across the Middle East."

The popular revolts that ousted the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt could change the entire region for the better, the report said, as citizens of those countries are now trying to build democratic governments that respect universal human rights.

In Bahrain, where the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet is based, the report called out Sunni Arab leaders for arresting more than 200 Shi'ite men accused of inciting involvement in street violence.

Demonstrations in the island kingdom erupted in February and officials responded with a brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters that caused dozens of deaths and injuries. The Obama administration has condemned the violence and urged the ruling authorities to allow people to protest without fear.

The State Department report noted that the ruling government, which is headed by King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa, has banned the websites and newsletters of the two main legal opposition parties and restricted freedom of assembly and association.

In Libya, where a civil war has erupted after citizens took up arms against Muammar Qaddafi's 42-year rule following democracy demonstrations and NATO has intervened on a UN-mandated resolution to protect civilians, the report said last year the government committed "torture and arbitrary arrests" with impunity.

It said that "a large, but unknown number" of people were jailed for peaceful political activity, and the government restricted freedom of expression by routinely monitoring the people's telephone conversations and Internet communications.

Syria was also singled out for unlawful killings by security forces, the detention of political and human rights activists, and prisoner torture.

Clinton said Washington supports people everywhere who are fighting for universal human rights and democratic progress in their societies.

"The United States will stand with those who seek to advance the causes of democracy and human rights wherever they may live," Clinton said, "and we will stand with those who exercise their fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly in a peaceful way, whether in person, in print, or in pixels on the Internet."

Iraq Suffers From Extremist Violence, Weak Government

The report identified significant human rights abuses that took place in Iraq last year, including arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life; extremist and terrorist bombings and executions; disappearances; torture; arbitrary arrest and detention; impunity; limits on freedoms of speech, press, and assembly and discrimination against women and minorities.

The annual assessment said extremist violence, coupled with weak government performance in upholding the rule of law, resulted in widespread and severe human rights abuses there.

The report also said that despite some reconciliation and easing of tensions in several provinces, the Iraqi government's human rights performance consistently fell short of according citizens the protections the law provides.

On a positive note, the State Department said credible and legitimate national parliamentary elections in all 18 provinces on March 7 were a significant achievement in advancing the free exercise of human rights in Iraq.

Afghan Record Stained By Extrajudicial Killings, Corruption

The report said Afghanistan's human rights record in 2010 was marked by a number of problems, including extrajudicial killings, torture, official corruption, arbitrary arrests and detention, restrictions on freedom of the press and religion, violence and social discrimination against women, and sexual abuse of children.

The report also said the Taliban and other insurgents killed numerous civilians, both in attacks and with car bombs and suicide bombs.

The report also noted killing and attacks on villagers, foreigners and nongovernmental organization (NGO) workers by the Taliban and other antigovernment elements.

Pakistan's Torture, Extrajudicial Killings, Culture Of Impunity

The major human rights problems in Pakistan in 2010 included extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and torture, according to the State Department's annual report on human rights practices.

The report said although the government initiated an investigation into an Internet video showing men in military uniforms apparently committing extrajudicial killings, a failure to credibly investigate allegations, impose disciplinary or accountability measures, and consistently prosecute those responsible for abuses contributed to a culture of impunity.

Other issues cited for tarnishing Pakistan's human rights record in the past year included poor prison conditions, instances of arbitrary detention, lengthy pretrial detentions, a weak criminal justice system; insufficient training for prosecutors and criminal investigators, and infringements on citizens' privacy remained problems, according to the report.

Washington noted that a law to increase protection against sexual harassment was passed and more than 40 ministries and departments incorporated the new code of conduct into their policies, although women's rights groups sought more effective implementation.

Azerbaijan's Restrictions On Freedom Of Expression, Assembly

Restrictions imposed by Azerbaijan on freedom of expression and assembly in 2010 impaired political party activities and significantly limited citizens' right to change their government through peaceful elections, according to the report.

The report said the torture and beating of people in police and military custody resulted in at least seven deaths, and law-enforcement officials acted with impunity.

The report also found that prison conditions were generally harsh, and in some cases, life-threatening.

Despite the release of a few political prisoners, the report said the Azerbaijani government continued to imprison people for opposing the government of President Ilham Aliyev.

Other human rights concerns highlighted in the report included pervasive corruption, and state-imposed restrictions and pressure on the media.

See the entire report with country-specific links, here

with additional agency material