- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2012

Human rights conditions remain dismal in North Korea and Iran and got worse in China, where “efforts to silence political activists and public-interest lawyers were stepped up” last year, according the State Department’s annual reports on human rights released Thursday.

The reports on 199 nations point to human rights progress in Colombia and Myanmar and praise the popular uprisings in the Middle East that led to the ousting of longtime dictators in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.

The reports, however, spotlight “torture, intimidation, rape, extra-judicial killings and the use of military force against civilians” in Syria. They noted that “change often creates instability before it leads to greater respect for democracy and human rights.”

“These reports, which the United States government has published for nearly four decades, make clear to governments around the world we are watching, and we are holding you accountable,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said. “They make clear to citizens and activists everywhere, you are not alone. We are standing with you.”

The reports cover every nation of the world, except the United States. They strive to be the “gold standard” for human rights reporting and fidelity to the truth,” said Michael Posner, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor.

Last year brought “historic change led by citizens across the Middle East, North Africa, Myanmar and elsewhere,” he said.

However, there are “a number of situations where human rights continue to be violated, including in Iran, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Eritrea, Sudan and Syria,” Mr. Posner added.

“In too many countries, egregious human rights violations continue,” he said.

The report on China cites an increasing government tendency to resort to “extralegal measures including enforced disappearance.”

In one case, Ran Jianxin, a city council member arrested last May on suspicion of having accepted bribes, “died June 4 while being interrogated,” the report says. It mentions media accounts of his relatives who said they “found wounds and bruises on his body and believe he died an unnatural death.”

The report on Iran cites a harsh crackdown on Arab Spring-inspired demonstrators by the Shiite Muslim clerics who preside over the theocratic regime.

“As part of its crackdown, the government increased its oppression of media and the arts, arresting and imprisoning dozens of journalists, bloggers, poets, actors, filmmakers and artists throughout the year,” the report says.

Similar oppression is cited in North Korea, where the government continues to engage in “arbitrary and unlawful killings” and has “executed political prisoners, opponents of the government, repatriated defectors and others accused of crimes with no judicial process.”

The biggest human rights improvement came in Myanmar, where positive developments include “the emergence of a legislature that allowed opposition parties to contribute substantively to debates” and legal amendments that paved the way for democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi to run for parliament.

The report on Myanmar is not all good. It cites persisting problems such as “military attacks against ethnic minorities in border states” and the continued detention of “hundreds of political prisoners.”

The State Department cites “significant steps” taken in Colombia to “increase resources” for that nation’s most powerful law enforcement office as part of continued efforts to prosecute and punish officials who have committed past abuses.

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