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U.S. Issues Annual Human Rights Report

Washington, 26 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- A United States government study sees human rights improvements in Afghanistan and Iraq, but says there are continuing human rights problems in the republics of Central Asia, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and the Middle East.

The annual report on the status of human rights worldwide in 2003 was released by the U.S. State Department in Washington on Wednesday. The study is mandated by Congress.

According to the report, the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq last spring ended years of grave human rights violations by Saddam Hussein's dictatorial regime. It said Saddam continued to engage in wholesale violations right until the time he was deposed.

On Afghanistan, the document hailed an improvement of democracy and liberties since the ouster of the Taliban militia in late 2001.

Concerning Iran, the report said the Tehran's government's poor human rights record worsened last year.

In releasing the report, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said respect for human rights is a foundation of U.S. foreign policy. "[U.S.] President [George W.] Bush regards the defense and advancement of human rights as America's special calling and he has made the promotion of human rights an integral and active part of his foreign policy agenda," he said. "That is why the annual human rights reports are more than an informational tool. They're a vital policy instrument."

On the Central Asian republics of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, U.S. officials said that while their general human rights record is poor, it appears there has been some easing of religious policies.

The report said Turkmenistan's human rights record worsened in 2003 under the one-party state dominated by President Saparmurat Niyazov.

On Russia, the report said human rights worsened in a few areas last year, such as the situation in Chechnya, and that authorities had failed to meet international standards in parliamentary elections last December.

The U.S. report criticized Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Arab governments of the Middle East for a wide range of human rights abuses and failing to meet international standards.