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U.S. Chides China, Iran, Central Asian States Over Rights (Part 1)

Tibet, along with the Xinjiang region, was among the State Department's greatest concerns with respect to China.
Tibet, along with the Xinjiang region, was among the State Department's greatest concerns with respect to China.
The U.S. State Department has issued its annual report assessing human rights around the world during 2008. Among its most notable passages, the report criticizes Russia for putting civil liberties "under siege" and faults China for a record that "remained poor and worsened in some areas." We summarize the report in a two-part series. Here in Part 1, we look at the State Department's assessment of Asian states.

WASHINGTON -- U.S. officials sharply criticized China's human rights record as they presented the annual State Department Human Rights Report in Washington on February 25.

The report says China's record "remained poor and worsened in some areas" even as the country hosted the summer Olympics -- an event that brought China much favorable international attention.

The report says "the Chinese government increased detention and harassment of dissidents, petitioners, human rights, defenders and defense lawyers." There were also extra judicial killings, torture and coerced confessions of prisoners, the report said.

"We continue to press our concern of the areas in which China's human rights record worsened this year was in the treatment and the social, cultural, and religious restrictions on Tibet and on the Xinjiang Autonomous Region," acting Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Karen Stewart told journalists at a press conference to introduce the report.

China's state media immediately rejected the report, calling it groundless and irresponsible.

Washington also had harsh words for North Korea.

"North Korea certainly falls in that the general trends of a country where you have a very authoritarian leadership -- and human rights, I have to say, are really, when you look at the whole situation and read the report from North Korea, abysmal in that case," Stewart said.

Middle East

Turning to Iran, the State Department report says Tehran "severely limited citizens' right to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections" and that "security forces were implicated in custodial deaths and committed other acts of politically motivated violence, including torture."

"We will continue to encourage Iran to abide by its international commitments, to respect human rights," Stewart said. "And in this report, we call attention to where we see the problem areas."

Looking at Iraq over the year 2008, the report finds "a climate of violence; misappropriation of official authority by sectarian, criminal, and extremist groups; (and) arbitrary deprivation of life."

It adds: "[I]nsurgent and extremist violence, coupled with weak government performance in upholding the rule of law, resulted in widespread and severe human rights abuses."

In Afghanistan, the report finds "the human rights record remained poor. Human rights problems included extra judicial killings; torture; poor prison conditions; (and) official impunity." It says that "although the government deepened its authority in provincial centers, Taliban or factions operating outside government control exercised authority in some areas."

Central Asia

Moving to Central Asia, the report says in Kazakhstan there were "severe limits on citizens' rights to change their government; military hazing that led to deaths; detainee and prisoner abuse" and lack of an independent judiciary and freedom of assembly and expression.

In Kyrgyzstan, the report says, "there were isolated cases of serious human rights abuses," including torture. There are also restrictions on citizens' right to change their government and pressure on nongovernmental organizations and opposition leaders.

In Tajikistan, the State Department says, "the government's human rights record remained poor, and corruption continued to hamper democratic and social reform." Problems include "restricted right of citizens to change their government; torture and abuse of detainees and other persons by security forces" and restricted freedom of speech and freedom to worship.

In Turkmenistan, the report finds that "although there were modest improvements, the government continued to commit serious abuses," including severe restrictions on political and civil liberties, torture and mistreatment of detainees, and arbitrary arrest and detention. It said "measured improvements in human rights included registration of the first community-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) in three years."

In Uzbekistan, the report finds continued instances of security forces torturing, beating, and otherwise mistreating detainees under interrogation to obtain confessions or incriminating information.

It adds: "[H]uman rights activists and journalists who criticized the government were subject to harassment, arbitrary arrest, politically motivated prosecution, forced psychiatric treatment, and physical attack."

The report equally faults Tashkent for pressuring other countries to return forcibly Uzbek refugees who were under the protection of the UNHCR.

In summarizing the annual report, Stewart praised those people in repressive systems who press for their own rights and those of their fellow countrymen and women, often at the risk of their own freedom or lives.

Stewart said human rights abuses come when too much power is in too few hands.

"Human rights abuses remain a symptom of deeper dysfunctions within political systems," Stewart said. "The most serious human rights abuses tended to occur in countries where unaccountable rulers wielded unchecked power, or there was government failure or collapse, often exacerbated or caused by internal or external conflict."

The annual report is the first to be issued by the new administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, who took office five weeks ago. It was largely compiled, however, under the previous administration.

compiled by RFE/RL's Central Newsroom

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