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U.S. Issues Country Reports On Human Rights Practices

A demonstrator argues with police officers in front of the Belarusian Embassy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in 2012.
A demonstrator argues with police officers in front of the Belarusian Embassy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in 2012.
By RFE/RL
The U.S. State Department has released its "Country Reports On Human Rights Practices" for 2012, highlighting crackdowns on civil society, struggles for democratic change, and threats to freedom of expression.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presented the reports to the media in Washington on April 19.

The document states that “governments continued to repress or attack the means by which individuals can organize, assemble, or demand better performance from their rulers.”

It criticizes countries such as Iran and China for repressing civil liberties and cites Russia for adopting "a series of measures that curtailed the activities of [nongovernmental organizations]," particularly those receiving international funding.

The report faults Russia for “large increases in fines for unauthorized protests, a law recriminalizing libel, a law that limits Internet freedom by allowing authorities to block certain Web sites without a court order, and amendments to the criminal code that dramatically expand the definition of treason.”

Afghanistan is said to have “significant human rights problems,” but the study says it is a hopeful sign that a law passed in December would remove "existing barriers to the receipt of foreign funding for social organizations."

The report says a record high of 232 journalists were in prisons in 2012. It says Turkey had the most behind bars, with 49.

It also says that Kazakh courts “used a sweeping application of a vague law against ‘inciting social discord’ to ban several media groups.”

The document says too many governments allow the persecution of women and minority groups, including migrants, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

The report also calls democratic progress across the Middle East "uneven." It says “countries that gave rise to the Arab Awakening in 2012 witnessed a bumpy transition from protest to politics, brutal repression by regimes determined to crush popular will, and the inevitable challenges of turning democratic aspirations into reality.”

The “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices" applauded Burma’s “significant steps in a historic transition toward democracy.” But it also states “Many elements of the country’s authoritarian structure -- repressive laws, pervasive security apparatus, corrupt judiciary, restrictions on freedom of religion, and dominance of the military -- remain largely intact.”

The State Department’s annual report is now in its 36th year.

Here is a country-by-country summary -- in alphabetical order -- of the conclusions contained in this year's report concerning RFE/RL's broadcast region:

Afghanistan

The authors say Afghanistan still has “significant human rights problems.” The report says the country's most significant issues are the torture and abuse of detainees by Afghan security forces, widespread violence, official corruption, and “endemic violence" and discrimination against women.

The document also cites “widespread disregard for the rule of law and official impunity” for those who committed human rights abuses.

The report says Taliban fighters and other insurgents continued to kill civilians, while "antigovernment elements also threatened, robbed, and attacked villagers, foreigners, civil servants, and medical and nongovernmental organization workers."

It says it is a hopeful sign that a law passed in December that would remove "existing barriers to the receipt of foreign funding for social organizations."

Armenia

The State Department says Armenia’s most significant human rights problems included limitations on the right of citizens to change their government and the limited independence of the judiciary.

The report cites flaws in the conduct of May's general elections, including the misuse of government resources to support the ruling party and allegations of vote buying.

It says allegations of “persistent corruption” in government undermined the rule of law, despite “limited steps” to punish low- to mid-level official corruption.

The document says courts remained subject to political pressure from the executive branch, resulting in politically motivated prosecutions and sentencing.

It also criticizes the alleged use of torture by police to obtain confessions and the continued lack of objective news reporting.

Azerbaijan

The report says Azerbaijan’s most significant human rights problems included restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly and the unfair administration of justice.

It also cites the intimidation, arrest, and use of force against journalists as well as human rights and democracy activists.

The document says the government approved three demonstrations in the spring but limited them to a location far from the center of Baku.

It says other applications for political protests were denied, unsanctioned protests were forcefully dispersed, and demonstrators often detained.

The report mentions continued reports of arbitrary arrest and detention, politically motivated imprisonment, and allegations of torture and abuse in police or military custody that resulted in at least four deaths.

It says impunity among officials remains a problem.

Belarus

The report says Belarus remains an authoritarian state where "power is concentrated in the presidency."

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's government, it says, "further restricted civil liberties, including freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement."

It cites a lack of democratic means for the transfer of power, the persistence of political repression, including detention of activists and demonstrators, and widespread abuses by the authorities.

Other human rights issues include the reported use of torture and unlawful detentions.

The document says the judiciary suffers from inefficiency and political interference, and that trial outcomes are often predetermined.

It notes discrimination against persons with disabilities and against ethnic and sexual minorities, people with HIV/AIDS, and those seeking to use the Belarusian language.

Bosnia-Herzegovina

The report says that in Bosnia-Herzegovina, "political leaders continued to intensify and manipulate deep-seated ethnic divisions that fostered widespread discrimination in most aspects of daily life."

It says that such manipulation undermined the rule of law, distorted public discourse in the media, and obstructed the return of persons who were displaced during the 1992-95 conflict.

The report says government corruption remained one of the country’s most serious problems.

Harassment and intimidation of journalists and civil society were also present, the same as other human rights problems such as deaths from landmines; harsh conditions in prisons and detention centers; discrimination and violence against women and sexual and religious minorities; discrimination against persons with disabilities; trafficking in persons; and limits on employment rights.

Georgia

The State Department says torture and abuse of prisoners, detainees, and others by law-enforcement officials were among Georgia’s most significant human rights problems.

The report also cites “dangerously substandard prison conditions” and shortfalls in the rule of law, such as lack of judicial independence.

It also points to reports of irregularities in last year's general election campaign, including the misuse of government institutional resources.

The document says that prior to the election, the previous government frequently terminated or delayed probes into alleged rights abuses committed by officials.

After the October vote, however, more than 25 high-level former government officials were indicted on torture, abuse of power, and corruption-related charges.

Iran

The report says Iran continued its crackdown on civil society and repression of civil liberties. It also accuses the government and its security forces of having “pressured, intimidated, and arrested journalists, students, lawyers, artists, women, ethnic and religious activists, and members of their families.”

The document says the judiciary continued to “harshly punish, imprison, or detain” rights activists and opposition members without charges, while the government “significantly increased” its surveillance of citizens’ online activities.

Other rights problems included the government’s “disregard for the physical integrity of persons whom it arbitrarily and unlawfully killed, tortured, and imprisoned.”

The report says the government took “few steps” to hold accountable officials who committed abuses, adding that “impunity remained pervasive.”

Iraq

The report says “chronic” human rights problems persisted in Iraq. It says the most important problems included “politically motivated sectarian and ethnic violence,” abuses by both government officials and illegal armed groups, and a lack of governmental transparency exacerbated by “widespread corruption.”

The document also cites denial of fair public trials, limits on freedoms of speech, press, and assembly, violence against journalists, and limits on religious freedom due to extremist threats.

It says a “culture of impunity” largely protected members of the security services and government bodies.

Kazakhstan

The report says Kazkhstan's most significant human rights problems were "severe limits on citizens’ rights to change their government, restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, religion, and association, and lack of an independent judiciary and due process."

It also cites "pervasive corruption and law enforcement and judicial abuse."

The document notes that Kazakhstan's government is dominated by President Nursultan Nazarbaev and the ruling Nur-Otan Party, with power concentrated in the presidency under the constitution.

The report says national 2012 elections for the lower house of parliament fell short of international standards and stresses that Nazarbaev received 95 percent of the vote in the 2011 presidential election.

It also mentions arbitrary arrests and detentions by authorities.

Kyrgyzstan

The report says Kyrgyzstan’s most important human rights problems included continued ethnic tensions in the south and a lack of accountability in judicial and law enforcement proceedings.

The report also cites law enforcement officials’ use of arbitrary arrest, mistreatment, torture, and extortion -- particularly against ethnic Uzbeks.

The document says there were problems with arbitrary killings by law enforcement officials, a lack of judicial impartiality, the harassment of nongovernmental organizations, activists, and journalists, and pressure on independent media.

The report says the government’s inability to hold rights violators accountable allowed security forces to act arbitrarily, emboldened law enforcement to “prey on vulnerable citizens,” and empowered mobs to disrupt trials by attacking defendants, attorneys, witnesses, and judges.

Macedonia

The State Department says Macedonia’s most critical human rights problem was the government’s failure to fully respect the rule of law.

The report says that reflected in the government’s failure to follow parliamentary procedures, interference in the judiciary and the media, and selective prosecution of political opponents of the leadership.

It also cites “significant levels” of government corruption and police impunity as well as tensions between the ethnic Albanian and Macedonian communities and discrimination against Roma and other ethnic minorities.

Other rights problems included mistreatment of detainees, delayed access to legal counsel by detainees and defendants, child prostitution, and mistreatment of patients in psychiatric hospitals.

Moldova

The report's authors list government corruption as the most serious human rights problem in Moldova.

The report says that allegations of police torture and mistreatment of detainees were a second major area of concern.

The document says Moldova is a parliamentary democracy where powers are separated clearly, but notes that a prolonged political crisis undermined insitutional stability while corruption eroded the credbility of the police and judiciary.

It says impunity among corrupt officials was "a major problem."

The report also mentions that the central government in Chisinau continues to be barred from exercising control in the separatist region of Transdniester, where authorities have established parallel administrative structures.

It lists torture, arbitrary arrests, and unlawful detentions as regular practices in Transdniester.

Pakistan

The report says extrajudicial and targeted killings, forced disappearances, and torture affected thousands of citizens in nearly all parts of Pakistan.

Other human rights problems included poor prison conditions, arbitrary detention, and a lack of judicial independence in the lower courts.

It says harassment of journalists, some censorship, and self-censorship continued, along with religious freedom violations and discrimination against religious minorities -- including some violations sanctioned by law.

The document says rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and discrimination against women remained serious problems.

It says abuses by government officials often went unpunished, fostering a culture of impunity, and criticizes the government, saying it made few attempts to combat widespread corruption.

Russia

The State Department criticizes Russia for introducing measures last year that limit political pluralism and curtail the activities of nongovernmental organizations.

The report says Russia adopted laws that impose “harsh fines” for unsanctioned meetings, recriminalize libel, allow authorities to block websites without a court order, and “significantly expand” the definition of treason.

The document also cites a new law identifying nongovernmental organizations as “foreign agents” if they engage in “political activity” while receiving foreign funding.

It says media outlets were “pressured to alter their coverage or to fire reporters and editors critical of the government.”

The report says the government failed to take adequate steps to punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in “a climate of impunity.”

Serbia

The report says that Serbia is a constitutional parliamentary democracy but it faced some serious human rights problems last year that included discrimination and violence against minorities, especially Roma.

The report also ranks harassment of journalists as being a significant area of concern, as well as corruption in health care, education, and government.

It also points to an inefficient judicial system as being the cause for lengthy and delayed trials, and long periods of pretrial detention.

Other problems reported during the year included physical mistreatment of detainees by police, harassment of human rights advocates, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) groups and individuals, as well as groups and individuals critical of the government.

It says trafficking in persons remained a grave problem.

Tajikistan

The report's authors call Tajikistan "an authoritarian state" that is politically dominated by President Emomali Rahmon and his supporters.

The report says the country's constitution provides for a multiparty political system but, in reality, the government obstructs real democracy in the country.

The document states that the most significant human rights problems are "the torture and abuse of detainees and other persons by security forces, restrictions on freedoms of expression and the free flow of information, including the repeated blockage of several independent news and social networking Web sites, the erosion of religious freedom; and violence and discrimination against women."

The report also cites arbitrary arrests, the denial of the right to a fair trial, and harsh prison conditions.

Turkmenistan

The report says Turkmenistan’s most important human rights problems include the use of arbitrary arrest and torture.

It says the government's “disregard” for civil liberties translated into restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and movement.

It also points to citizens’ inability to change their government, interference in the practice of religion, and the denial of fair trials.

The document says officials in the security services and elsewhere in the government acted with impunity, with no reported prosecutions of government officials for human rights abuses.

Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov remained president following a February election that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights said involved limited choices for voters.

Ukraine

The State Department says one of the most serious human rights problems in Ukraine is the “politically motivated” imprisonment of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

The report says another major problem was the failure of the October parliamentary elections to meet international standards of fairness and transparency.

It cites other issues including “increased government interference with and pressure on media outlets,” abuse of people in custody, an “inefficient and corrupt” judicial system, “pervasive corruption in all branches of government,” and government pressure on nongovernment organizations.

The document also highlights a "rise in discrimination and violence" against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people.

It says the government “generally did not” prosecute security officials who committed abuses.

Uzbekistan

The report says Uzbekistan’s executive branch under President Islam Karimov exercised nearly complete control over the other branches of government.

The report says the most significant human rights problems included the torture and abuse of detainees by security forces, the denial of fair trials, and “widespread restrictions” on religious freedom.

Other continuing problems were sometimes life-threatening prison conditions, governmental restrictions on civil society activity, and government-organized forced labor in cotton harvesting.

The document says authorities subjected those who criticized the government to harassment, arbitrary arrest, and politically motivated prosecution and detention.

It adds that officials “frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.”

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