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U.S.: Global Human Rights Report Cites Improvements, And Setbacks

Demonstrators outside the Belarusian Embassy in Washington last month carried banners that read: "Political Prisoners in Belarus" and "Kidnapped and Killed in Belarus" (RFE/RL) Fifteen years after the breakup of the Soviet Union, human rights are improving in many post-communist countries, according to the U.S. State Department. But problems persist in others, it says, despite the worldwide explosion of information and strong Western efforts to spread democracy.

WASHINGTON, March 8, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The United States said today that serious human rights problems persist in several former communist states and in Iran. But it noted improvements in others.

In issuing the State Department's annual "Country Reports On Human Rights" for 2005, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at a news briefing that the goal is not to pass judgment on any country, but to erect a guidepost that promotes respect for human rights around the world.

"We hope that reports will encourage governments, organizations, the media, and publics to address human rights problems. We also hope that the reports will be a source of information and inspiration to the noble men and women across the globe who are working for peaceful democratic change," she said.

A 'Dictatorial Regime' In Belarus

The report said that among the countries with the most troubling records are Belarus, Uzbekistan, and Russia, mostly for concentrating too much power in the central government. Iran, meanwhile, was accused of giving too much power to its religious leaders.

The report noted grave human rights abuses in Chechnya, including torture, summary executions, and disappearances.

In Belarus in 2005, according to the report, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka ran a "dictatorial regime" that fined and even imprisoned his political opponents, including students, journalists and politicians. Several Belarusian newspapers also were closed.

And Russia, under President Vladimir Putin, was cited for a concentration of power in the capital. It pointed to the abolition of direct elections for local governors, who now are nominated by the president and confirmed by the national legislature.

The document also said Russian judges are subject to political pressure, and it accused Putin's government of harassing pro-democracy, non-governmental organizations.

Using Disproportionate Force In Uzbekistan

There were grave human rights abuses in Chechnya in 2005, the report said. They included torture, summary executions, and disappearances. And Russia was accused of not maintaining enough control of pro-Moscow Chechen paramilitaries that commit some of these abuses.

Hundreds of people died when the government crushed a demonstration in Andijon (epa)

Uzbekistan's human rights record deteriorated in 2005 from a state that already was not enviable, according to the report. It highlighted what it called a "disproportionate use of force" against demonstrators in Andijon in May. And it accused the government of Islam Karimov of beating and jailing many human rights activists and journalists in the aftermath of the Andijon bloodshed.

The report said Iran arbitrarily and severely limited the number of candidates in last year's presidential election. It also pointed to deteriorating conditions at prisons in Iran, restrictions on the press and religious expression, as well as summary executions for some crimes. Again it accused Iran of supporting what it called terrorist organizations.

Balkans Doing Better

The State Department said that pointing out such problems is not meant to be interfering in the internal affairs of sovereign nations. Barry Lowenkron, the assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor, told the briefing that writing and updating such a record is important in international relations

"States that severely and systematically violate the human rights of their own people are likely to pose threats to neighboring countries and the international community, and Iran is a case in point," he said.

On the positive side, Ukraine was praised for its progress in human rights since the Orange Revolution of late 2004. It pointed to increased independence for the news media and more accountability for the police.

The report also praised the improvement of human rights in Kyrgyzstan, although it said problems there persist. It cited improved procedures in last year's presidential and parliamentary votes.

The State Department said human rights also improved throughout the Balkan states. After a decade of conflict, it said, an increasing number of suspected war criminals either have been convicted or are awaiting trial. But it noted that the region's two most notorious war crimes suspects -- Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic -- are still at large.

Also, elections in all the Balkans are increasingly conforming to internationally accepted standards, according to the report. And once-hostile neighbors are beginning to cooperate on problems left over from the conflicts of the 1990s.

Iraq And Afghanistan Striving To Improve

In a kind of nether world are Iraq and Afghanistan, where the United States has ousted repressive governments and is now providing military security. The report said both are striving to establish democratic institutions.

But the document said Iraq is hampered by an insurgency, and Afghanistan's central government is having trouble establishing its authority in largely lawless areas of the country.

Members of the International Security & Assitance Force (ISAF) secure the site of a suicide blast in Kandahar (epa)

Lowenkron was asked if the State Department was somehow excusing of the weakness of the governments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We do not hold [Iraq and Afghanistan] to lower standards," he answered. "What we do, and what you find in the reports on Afghanistan and on Iraq, is an assessment of the impact of the deadly insurgency on the ability of the Iraqi government and the ability of the Afghan government in order to build and sustain and nurture democratic institutions and practices."

The report claimed what it called "major progress" for democracy in Iraq, and pointed to three nationwide elections in a country that previously had been a brutal dictatorship for more than three decades. But it conceded that the continuing insurgency has made daily life difficult in much of Iraq.

Afghanistan, too, is just emerging from nearly a generation in which its people lacked basic human rights. But in September 2005, the country held parliamentary elections in which many women voted -- and were elected to public office. But, as with Iraq, this effort was offset somewhat by Kabul's inability to ensure democratic rule throughout the country.

The State Department has been issuing its annual human rights reports since 1977, under orders from the U.S. Congress.

For more detailed information, see:

Azerbaijan Cited For Political Harassment, Police Brutality

Limited Press, Religious Freedom In Armenia, Says U.S.

Child Labor, Human Trafficking Cited In U.S. Report On Afghanistan

U.S. Says China, Iran 'Most Systematic' Rights Violators

Human Rights Not A Priority In Central Asia, U.S. Report Says

U.S. Report Points To Serious Abuses In Iraq

U.S. Gives Romania, Moldova Mixed Rights Report

Abuses In Chechnya, Centralized Power Cited In U.S Report On Russia

Ukraine Improves On Human Rights, But U.S. Says Gaps Remain

Belarus Human Rights Situation Worsened In 2005, U.S. Says

U.S. Cites Human Rights Issues In Balkans

U.S. Says Serious Human Rights Violations Occurring In Iran

U.S. Rights Report Point Finger At China

U.S. Report Says Conditions Worsened Considerably In Uzbekistan

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Human Rights In Georgia

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