Wednesday, February 25, 2004

The annual State Department report on human rights welcomes improved conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan but continues to hammer away at traditional violators such as China, North Korea, Cuba and Russia.

“We began 2003 with hopes that the incremental but unprecedented progress in China seen in 2002 would be continued and expanded; however throughout the year, we saw backsliding on key human rights issues,” the report said.

The report, released yesterday, was particularly harsh about Beijing’s practices in Tibet.

“The Chinese government’s record in Tibet remains poor, and ongoing abuses include execution without due process, torture, arbitrary arrest, detention without public trial and lengthy detention of Tibetans for peacefully expressing their political or religious view,” it said.

The State Department faulted China, Cuba, Iran, Zimbabwe and Burma, as expected, but also criticized U.S. allies Russia and Israel and supporters of the U.S. war on terrorism such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia for systematically abusing their citizens’ basic rights.

Human rights groups were mostly pleased with this year’s report, but Amnesty International, while praising the report in general, said some countries would use the war on terror to dilute international criticism.

“The content of this report has little correspondence with the administration’s foreign policy. Indeed, the U.S. is increasingly guilty of a ‘sincerity gap,’ overlooking abuses by allies and justifying action against foes by post-facto reference to human rights,” said William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA.

“In response, many foreign governments will choose to blunt criticism of their abuses by increasing cooperation with the U.S. war on terror rather than by improving human rights.”

Human Rights Watch, which issued reports on Uzbekistan and Indonesia, was pleased.

“It continues the tradition of honest, hard-hitting reporting on human rights abuses,” said Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch, which often is critical of the United States for not demanding more from its allies. “This report pulls no punches.”

Israel, America’s closest ally in the Middle East, is accused of “the use of excessive force by security forces, the shelling, bombing and raiding of Palestinian civilian areas.”

Last month, Israel unsuccessfully lobbied Washington to postpone the release of the report.

In Cuba, the report said, “human rights abuses worsened dramatically.”

Pakistan, which is on the front line in dealing with al Qaeda and the Taliban, is criticized for “abuse by members of the security forces, ranging from extrajudicial killings to excessive use of force.”

The government of Russian President Vladimir Putin is accused of manipulating elections, eliminating the last major independent television station, intimidating the financial supporters of opposition political parties with threats of criminal prosecution and continued human rights abuses in Chechnya.

The report chastises the Saudi government for its lack of democracy, “violence and discrimination against women,” as well as against religious and ethnic minorities. On the positive side, it credits the Saudi government with taking steps to “address religious extremism.”

North Korea gets special mention “as one of the world’s most inhumane regimes.” The report says human rights abuses practiced by Pyongyang include killings, persecution of forcibly repatriated North Koreans, torture, forced abortion and infanticide.

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