Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Country Reports On Human Rights Practices (State Department)

The US State Department has just released its massive, 2 volume, 3000+ page report to Congress on human rights practices "of all nations that are members of the United Nations and a few that are not." You can get Volume 1 (covering Africa, East Asia, the Pacific, Europe and Eurasia) here and Volume 2 (which covers the rest of the world) here. Expect them to take some time to download...

The reports are exhaustive and based on 2006 data (apparently it took over a year to collate and confirm the reports based initially, at least, on US embassy reporting). The introduction to this comprehensive report is 11 pages long and pretty much defies summarization. That said, here are some of the highlights I have picked out (Boldface, italics and hyperlinks are mine):

  • "These reports describe the performance of governments in putting into practice their international commitments on human rights. These fundamental rights, reflected in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, constitute what President Bush calls the 'non-negotiable demands of human dignity.'"
  • "The United States takes its human rights commitments seriously. We recognize that we are writing this report at a time when our own record, and actions we have taken to respond to the terrorist attacks against us, have been questioned."
  • "The reports review each country’s performance in 2006. Each report speaks for itself. Yet, broad patterns are discernible and are described below, supported by country-specific examples."
  • "First, the advances made in human rights and democracy were hard won and challenging to sustain."
    • "Despite President Musharraf’s stated commitment to democratic transition and ‘‘enlightened moderation,’’ Pakistan’s human rights record continued to be poor. Restrictions remained on freedom of movement, expression, association, and religion. Disappearances of provincial activists and political opponents continued, especially in provinces experiencing internal turmoil and insurgencies. The security forces continued to commit extrajudicial killings. Arbitrary arrest and torture remained common. Corruption was pervasive throughout the Government and police forces."
    • "Though Egypt held a first-ever, multi-party presidential election in 2005, in 2006 public calls for greater democratization and accountability sometimes met with strong government reaction. The continued imprisonment of former presidential candidate Ayman Nour raised serious concerns about the path of political reform and democracy in the country. Continuing a trend begun in 2005, the Government arrested and detained hundreds of activists affiliated with the banned-but-tolerated Muslim Brotherhood, generally for periods lasting several weeks. Two senior judges were brought in for questioning in February for publicly calling for an independent judiciary. Egyptian police arrested and detained over 500 activists for participating in demonstrations in support of judicial independence. In addition, severe cases of torture by authorities were documented. The Government also arrested, detained, and abused several Internet bloggers."
    • Note: Liberia, Indonesia, Morocco, the Democratic Republic Of Congo, Haiti, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Venezuela, Fiji and Thailand are also highlighted in this section.
  • "A second sobering reality is that insecurity due to internal and/or cross-border conflict can threaten or thwart advancements in human rights and democratic government."
    • "Despite the Iraqi Government’s continuing commitment to foster national reconciliation and reconstruction, keep to an electoral course, and establish the rule of law, both deepening sectarian violence and acts of terrorism seriously undercut human rights and democratic progress during 2006. Although the Iraqi constitution and law provide a strong framework for the protection of human rights, armed groups attacked human rights from two different directions: those proclaiming their hostility to the Government—Al- Qa’ida terrorists, irreconcilable remnants of the Ba’athist regime, and insurgents waging guerrilla warfare; and members of Shi’a militias and individual ministries’ security forces—nominally allied with the Government—who committed torture and other abuses."
    • "Although Afghanistan made important human rights progress since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, its human rights record remained poor. This was mainly due to weak central institutions and a deadly insurgency: the Taliban, Al-Qa’ida, and other extremist groups stepped up attacks against government officials, security forces, NGOs and other aid personnel, and unarmed civilians; and the number of suicide bombings rose dramatically during the year, as did attacks on schools and teachers. There were continued reports of cases of arbitrary arrests and detention, extrajudicial killings, torture, and poor prison conditions. In December President Karzai launched a Transitional Justice Action Plan designed to address past violations of human rights and improve the institutional capacity of the justice system."
    • Note: Lebanon and East Timor are also singled out in this section.
  • "Third, despite gains for human rights and democratic principles in every region of the world, much of humanity still lives in fear yet dreams of freedom."
    • "In 2006 North Korea remained one of the world’s most isolated and repressive regimes. The regime controls almost all aspects of citizens’ lives, denying freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association, and restricts freedom of movement and worker rights. The constitution provides for ‘‘freedom of religious belief,’’ but genuine religious freedom does not exist. An estimated 150,000 to 200,000 people, including political prisoners, were held in detention camps, and many prisoners died from torture, starvation, disease, and exposure."
    • "The Iranian Government flagrantly violated freedom of speech and assembly, intensifying its crackdown against dissidents, journalists, and reformers—a crackdown characterized by arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, disappearances, the use of excessive force, and the widespread denial of fair public trials. The Government continued to detain and abuse Baha’is and other religious minorities and hosted a widely condemned conference denying the existence of the Holocaust. In the lead-up to the December 15 Assembly of Experts elections in Iran, more than two-thirds of those who had applied to run—including all female candidates—were disqualified, leaving many seats uncontested. Hundreds of candidates in nationwide municipal elections also were disqualified. The Government continued to flout domestic and international calls for responsible government in 2006 by supporting terrorist movements in Syria and Lebanon as well as calling for the destruction of a UN member state."
    • Note: Burma, Zimbabwe, Cuba, China, Belarus and Eritrea are mentioned in this section as well.
  • "The fourth sobering reality is that as the worldwide push for greater personal and political freedom grows stronger, it is being met with increasing resistance from those who feel threatened by political and societal change."
    • "In Russia in 2006, a new NGO law entered into force in April imposing more stringent registration requirements for NGOs, strict monitoring of organizations, extensive and onerous reporting requirements on programming and activities, and empowering the Federal Registration Service to deny registration or to shut down an organization based on vague and subjective criteria. Freedom of expression and media independence declined due to government pressure and restrictions. In October unknown persons murdered human rights defender Anna Politkovskaya, a prominent journalist known for her critical writing on human rights abuses in Chechnya. The Government used its controlling ownership of all national television and radio stations, as well as of the majority of influential regional ones, to restrict access to information deemed sensitive."
    • "The Syrian Government strictly controlled the dissemination of information and prohibited criticism of the Government and discussion of sectarian issues, including religious and minority rights. There were detentions and beatings for individual expressions of opinion that violated these restrictions, for example the February arrest of journalist Adel Mahfouz after he called for interfaith dialogue following the controversy surrounding the depiction of the Prophet Muhammed in cartoons. The Government relied on its press and publication laws, the penal code, and the Emergency Law to censor access to the Internet, and it restricted electronic media. Harassment of domestic human rights activists also occurred, including regular close surveillance and the imposition of travel bans when they sought to attend workshops and conferences outside the country."
    • Note; Other countries mentioned in this section include Belarus, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Burundi, Rwanda, Venezuela, China and Vietnam.
  • "Genocide was the most sobering reality of all. "
    • "Almost 60 years after the adoption of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights—an expression of the outraged conscience of mankind to the enormity of the Holocaust and the cataclysm of the Second World War—genocide continued to ravage the Darfur region of Sudan."
  • "Secretary Rice also issued ten guiding NGO principles regarding the treatment by governments of nongovernmental organizations. These core principles will guide U.S. treatment of NGOs, and we also will use them to assess the actions of other governments."
  • "When democracies support the work of human rights advocates and civil society organizations, we are helping men and women in countries across the globe shape their own destinies in freedom. And by so doing, we are helping to build a safer, better world for all."
  • "We must defend the defenders, for they are the agents of peaceful, democratic change.'

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