In a new report, the U.S. State Department calls last year’s uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa “inspirational."
The "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011" says citizens in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria stood up and demanded their universal rights, greater economic opportunity, and participation in their countries’ political future.
Speaking at the release of the report in Washington on May 24, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said 2011 was “an especially tumultuous and momentous year for everyone involved in the cause of human rights."
"Many of the events that have dominated recent headlines, from the revolutions in the Middles East to reforms in Burma (Myanmar), began with human rights, with the clear call of men and women demanding their universal rights," Clinton said.
But the State Department report warns that “change often creates instability before it leads to greater respect for democracy and human rights.”
It also says overall human rights conditions remained “extremely poor” in many of the countries that were spotlighted in last year’s country reports, including Iran, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Syria, Belarus, and China.
On Iran, the report says severe limitations on the citizens’ right to peacefully change their government through free and fair elections, restrictions on civil liberties, and disregard for the sanctity of life were the most “egregious” human rights problems in the Islamic republic during the last year.
Along with “disregard" for civil liberties, arbitrary arrest, and torture, Turkmenistan continued to have no domestic human rights NGOs, due to "the government’s refusal to register such organizations and restrictions that made activity by unregistered organizations illegal."
And in Uzbekistan, “the centralized executive branch dominated political life and exercised nearly complete control over the other branches of government.”
The report says conditions in Belarus “remained poor following the flawed presidential election of December 2010.”
In neighboring Russia, it says, domestic and international monitors reported “significant irregularities and fraud” during the December elections to the State Duma, but also highlighted “unprecedented civic involvement by Russians committed to trying to improve the process.”
Meanwhile, the report points out that Egypt and Kyrgyzstan held historic elections that were deemed to be generally free and fair.
Here's a closer look at how RFE/RL's broadcast countries fared in the report:
The U.S. State Department says Afghanistan faced continuing human rights challenges in 2011. The State Department said widespread violence and corruption remained the main problems in Afghanistan, along with torture and abuse of inmates. The violence included insurgent groups’ killings of officials, but also indiscriminate attacks against civilians.
The document singled out the involvement of Afghan National Police in extrajudicial killings. It also said violence and discrimination against Afghan women and girls remained widespread. The document mentioned President Hamid Karzai’s controversial appointment of a special extraconstitutional court to settle the disputed 2010 election results. Impunity for officials who committed human-rights violations remained widespread, said the report, with the government "either unwilling or unable to prosecute abuses by officials consistently and effectively."
The report says citizens of Armenia live under significant limitations on their right to change their government, a lack of free speech and press, and a government-influenced judicial system. The report found that the Republican Party of Armenia, led by President Serzh Sarksian, continues to dominate the political system. It said Armenian authorities arrested and detained criminal suspects without reasonable suspicion, and often detained individuals because of their opposition political affiliations or activities.
The report found that Armenians with disabilities experienced discrimination in almost all areas of life, as did homosexual and transgender people. One positive development noted in the report was the release of the last six individuals imprisoned in connection with the 2008 presidential election and postelection unrest.
Citizens of Azerbaijan lack freedom of expression, assembly, and association, according to the State Department. The report found that authorities sentenced to long prison terms more than a dozen people who participated in pro-democracy rallies. They also routinely denied applications by citizens to hold political protests in the capital, Baku. The government of Ilham Aliev exerted powerful influence over the country’s judiciary, according to the report, and reports of unfair trials, recrimination against independent lawyers, and torture and abuse in prisons were rampant.
The report also found that citizens’ property rights were routinely violated, with forced evictions and home demolitions a common occurrence. The government failed to prosecute or punish officials who committed human rights abuses.
The report calls Belarus an “authoritarian state” whose government continues to commit “frequent, serious abuses.” The report says that Belarus’ biggest human-rights problem is “the inability of citizens to change their government.” It cites manipulated elections, presidential consolidation of power, and arbitrary government decrees as major areas of concern.
Other serious rights violations, according to the report, involve Belarusian citizens being arbitrarily detained, arrested, and imprisoned for criticizing officials, and a politically driven judiciary that presides over flawed trials. Security forces reporting to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka continue to abuse protesters, including with torture during investigations, the report says. Other abuses cited in the report are freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement restrictions.
The U.S. State Department says that Bosnia-Herzegovina continued to face "deep-seated ethnic divisions" in 2011. The State Department said ethnic divisions continued to be the cause for widespread discrimination in day-to-day life and to undermine the rule of law. The report said harassment and intimidation of journalists and civil society remain a problem in Bosnia, which also faces poor conditions and overcrowding in jails.
The report also mentions government corruption, discrimination, and violence against women as well as sexual and religious minorities among the challenges faced by the country. Human trafficking and limits on employment rights were also among the human rights challenges faced by Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The U.S. State Department says it is concerned about the abuse of Georgian prisoners and detainees by government officials, as well as “dangerously substandard prison conditions.” In its report, the State Department said it found problems with Georgia’s adherence to the rule of law, citing concerns about the judiciary’s independence and even-handed application of due process protections. It also noted that problems continued with the resettlement of internally displaced persons.
President Mikheil Saakashvili's government is further criticized in the report for interfering with labor unions, using excessive force against opposition demonstrators, and for politically motivated prison sentences. Government influence over media outlets is also cited as a concern. On a positive note, the U.S. report says protection of religious minorities improved.
The U.S. State Department says Iran’s severe limitations on its citizens’ right to peacefully change their government through free and fair elections, restrictions on civil liberties, and disregard for the sanctity of life were the most “egregious” human rights problems in the Islamic republic during the last year. The report also accused Iran of severely restricting freedom of speech and the press, association, and religion.
The report noted the Iranian government committed extrajudicial killings and executed individuals for criminal convictions as juveniles, on minor offenses, and after unfair trials. The State Department says Iranian security forces were involved in politically motivated violence and repression, including torture, beatings, and rape. The report also says that official corruption and a lack of government transparency persisted in Iran in 2011.
Sectarian violence and abuses by armed ethnic groups and government-affiliated forces were Iraq’s most pressing human rights problem in 2011, the report said. It said the country’s precarious security situation was worsened by divisions between Shi'a and Sunni Muslims and between Arab and Kurdish sectarian groups. The report also cited Iraq’s “fractionalized population” and rampant government and societal corruption as major drivers of human rights problems.
Specifically, the report said Iraqi citizens are subjected to random killings, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, denial of fair trials, and limits on free speech, press, and assembly. Iraq’s large population of internally displaced persons and refugees were also denied basic rights, the report said, as were women and ethnic, religious, and racial minorities.
Rampant and diverse violations marred Kazakhstan's record on human rights last year, according to the report. It said the most pressing issues were "severe limits on citizens’ rights to change their government," the clampdown on freedom of expression, and a lack of judicial independence and rule of law, "especially in dealing with pervasive corruption and law enforcement and judicial abuse."
The report cited December's deadly riots in the town of Zhanaozen, during which the authorities reportedly opened fire at unarmed protesters. Other reported abuses included abuse and torture of prisoners, arbitrary detention, restrictions on NGOs, human trafficking, gender-based discrimination, and child labor. The report said the government did take "modest steps" to prosecute officials who committed abuses, but also cited "widespread impunity."
The U.S. State Department says Kosovo’s human rights record in 2011 raised “serious concern.” The report said Serb hard-liners employed “violence and intimidation” against domestic opponents and international security forces, resulting in deaths. The report also pointed out discrimination against ethnic and other minorities, persons with disabilities, and members of the homosexual and transgender community, as well as domestic violence.
Additional human-rights concerns included allegations of prisoner abuse, judicial inefficiency, intimidation of media by public officials, government corruption, and trafficking in persons -- although the government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses. The report said general elections conducted beginning in December 2010 met many international standards, but “serious irregularities and electoral manipulations” in some areas raised concerns.
The most pressing human rights problems affecting Kyrgyzstan last year stemmed from persisting tensions between Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks, according to the report. It said the aftermath of the June 2010 ethnic riots saw "the pervasive oppression of ethnic Uzbeks and others by members of law enforcement." It said that authorities committed violations, including arbitrary arrest, mistreatment, torture, and extortion among all ethnic groups, but disproportionately among Uzbeks.
"The central government’s inability to hold human rights violators accountable allowed security forces to act arbitrarily and emboldened law enforcement to prey on vulnerable citizens," the U.S. survey said. Harassment of NGOs, activists, and journalists; corruption; discrimination against women, persons with disabilities, and minorities; and child abuse were also mentioned.
The U.S. State Department says Macedonia's top human-rights problem in 2011 was the government’s "failure to fully respect the rule of law." The report said the government was guilty of "interference in the judiciary and the media, selective prosecution of political opponents of the country’s leaders, and significant levels of government corruption and police impunity."
The report also highlights ongoing tensions between ethnic Albanian and Macedonian communities, and points to the discrimination against Roma and other ethnic and religious communities. Domestic violence and discrimination against women remain areas of concern, according to the report. The document identifies Macedonia as "a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children for sex trafficking and forced labor."
Government corruption is the most serious human-rights issue facing Moldova, according to the report. It found that in Moldova during 2011, corruption undermined the credibility and effectiveness of police and the judiciary. Police torture and mistreatment of persons in detention was another area of concern. The report says Chisinau failed to hold officials accountable for killings and other abuses by government security forces after the 2009 postelection demonstrations.
Little progress was made on longtime problems of human trafficking, discrimination against Roma, or violence against women. In the breakaway Transdniester region, a slew of rights abuses were uncovered, including torture, arbitrary arrests, harassment of journalists and opposition lawmakers, and discrimination against Romanian speakers.
The U.S. State Department says one of the most important human rights problems facing Montenegro in 2011 was the “mistreatment” of refugees and other persons displaced as a consequence of conflicts in the 1990s. The report said another problem was discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, age, and disability.
The report said corruption continued to be a serious problem, despite some improvements in the government’s battle against it. Other human-rights problems included police mistreatment of suspects, inadequate independence of the judiciary, and physical attacks on journalists. The report said the government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, but impunity remained a problem in some areas.
"Thousands of citizens in nearly all areas" of Pakistan last year were victims of extrajudicial killings, torture, and disappearances committed by security forces, and by extremist and terrorist groups, according to the report. It highlighted the cases of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, the federal minister for minorities, who were assassinated for supporting revisions to the country's blasphemy law. The document also said there were "many reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings" and that impunity was widespread.
Rights abuses in Pakistan also included harassment of journalists, an increasing number of religious freedom violations, child abuse, and forced labor. Rape, domestic violence, “honor” crimes, and discrimination against women remained "serious problems."
Compromised elections, rule of law violations, and restrictions on expression marred Russia's rights record last year, according to the U.S. State Department. The report highlighted voting irregularities and unfair restrictions on opposition parties in December's parliamentary elections, which generated mass protest. The report also said, "Individuals who threatened powerful state or business interests were subjected to political prosecution," and characterized rule of law in the North Caucasus as "particularly deficient."
The report also said that journalists and activists who challenged the government or big business were often subjected to harassment, politically motivated prosecution, or physical attacks. Other problem areas identified include restrictions on assembly, xenophobic hate crime, trafficking in persons, discrimination against the homosexual and transgender communities, and "widespread corruption at all levels of government and law enforcement."
The U.S. State Department says government corruption and discrimination against minorities remained the main human-rights problems in Serbia in 2011. The report praised the Serbian government's efforts to prosecute officials, both in police and other branches of the government, who were suspected of abuses. But the report said action was apparently taken only when such cases became public, and added that, according to many observers, "there were numerous cases of corruption, police mistreatment, and other abuses that went unreported and unpunished."
The document mentioned the 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections in Serbia as being "mostly in line with international standards."
Torture and abuse of detainees and others by state security forces were among Tajikistan's most pressing human rights concerns last year, according to the report. It said that arbitrary arrests were "common," despite authorities' claims that there were no political prisoners in the authoritarian state. Some security officials reportedly continued to use beatings or other forms of coercion to extract confessions.
The government, dominated by President Emomali Rahmon, refused to allow international observers to monitor prison conditions, which former inmates have described as life-threatening. Other rights abuses cited in the report include denial of the right to a fair trial, new and continuing restrictions on access to websites, limitations on religious education, forced labor, and human trafficking.
"Disregard" for civil liberties, including freedoms of speech, press, assembly, religion, and movement under authoritarian President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov marred Turkmenistan's human-rights record last year, according to the report. Other violations cited were arbitrary arrest and torture. Compounding these problems was rampant impunity, as there were "no prosecutions of government officials for human rights abuses" last year.
Turkmenistan also continued to have no domestic human rights NGOs, due to "the government’s refusal to register such organizations and restrictions that made activity by unregistered organizations illegal." Other continuing problems highlighted by the report include citizens’ "inability to change their government;" denial of due process and fair trial; violence against women; and restrictions on workers' rights.
Ukraine’s most serious human-rights violation in 2011 was the “politically motivated detention, trial, and conviction of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, along with selective prosecutions of other senior members of her government,” according to the report. Government limits on peaceful assembly was another major concern noted in the report, as was courts who came under political pressure to deny permits for most opposition protests. Protests that were held in 2011 were overshadowed by an “overwhelming police presence.”
The State Department also criticizes Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s government for increasing the pressure on independent media outlets, which “led to conflicts between the media owners and journalists, and to self-censorship.” The report highlights the high rate of police detention, prison abuse, and torture, and rampant government corruption.
Abuse and torture of detainees remained "routine" in Uzbekistan last year, according to the U.S. State Department. The report said that in 2011, law enforcement and security officers frequently mistreated detainees to extract confessions, and cited reports of "severe beatings, denial of food, sexual abuse, simulated asphyxiation, tying and hanging by the hands, and electric shock."
The report also highlighted lack of political plurality in the "authoritarian" country, with President Islam Karimov "[dominating] political life and [exercising] nearly complete control over the other branches of government." Among a slew of other violations cited in the report were restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association; rampant official corruption and impunity; politically motivated persecution of activists; restrictions on freedom of movement; and "government-organized forced labor" in cotton harvesting.
Compiled by Heather Maher, Richard Solash, Irena Chalupa, Eugen Tomiuc, Golnaz Esfandiari, and Antoine Blua