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Annual U.S. Rights Report Focuses On 'Concentration Of Power'

The U.S. State Department has issued its annual report on human rights in more than 190 countries around the world. In it, the administration of President George W. Bush stressed persistent problems during 2007 in countries where power is concentrated in the hands of a few.

The report for 2007 seemed to single out Russia. It said the government under President Vladimir Putin wasn't accountable to the nation's people.

The document's complaint focused on the amount of power that has been given to the Russian president by an acquiescent Duma. Meanwhile, it says, the rule of law is compromised by corruption and selective enforcement.

Jonathan Farrar, acting assistant secretary of state, said Russian authorities had harassed NGOs and imposed restrictions on media.

Russia wasn't alone, however, in being cited for concentrating power. The report says that problem isn't limited to a single region or culture, but seems able to impose itself anywhere.

"Countries in which power was concentrated in the hands of unaccountable rulers remained the most systematic human rights violators. Here we would cite North Korea, Burma, Iran, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Eritrea, and Sudan," Farrar said.

The document cited problems in much of the former Soviet Union and in some of the countries that were aligned with Moscow before the fall of the Iron Curtain. The complaints tend to involve police abuses, inhumane prison conditions, corruption in the judiciary, unfair elections, and discrimination against minorities.

But the report held out hope that true democratic change is possible.

In her remarks introducing the document's release, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reinforced that optimism.

"Indeed change will take time. But change will come. As long as citizens around the world champion the universal values of human rights, there is hope. And we in the United States continue to believe that it is our duty to support these courageous men and women," Rice said.

The report also acknowledged questions about the U.S. human rights record. Some have accused the Bush administration of having a double standard by criticizing other countries while neglecting the rights of suspected illegal combatants being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Farrar said the State Department "remains mindful of international and domestic criticism of the U.S. human rights record."

"We take all of our human rights commitments seriously. The U.S. government will continue to reply forthrightly to concerns about our own practices, including the actions we have taken to defend our nation from the global threat of terrorism."