- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2013

A number of the globe’s most powerful countries “continued to repress or attack the means by which individuals can organize, assemble, or demand better performance from their rulers,” according to the State Department’s annual review of human rights worldwide released Friday.

“From Iran to Venezuela, crackdowns on civil society included new laws impeding or preventing freedoms of expression, assembly, association and religion,” according to the assessment, officially titled the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012.

The report also highlighted an uptick in restrictive actions by the governments of Russia, Egypt, Bangladesh and China, and cited an overall trend of “heightened restrictions on organizations receiving funding from abroad” as well as the “killing, harassment and arrest of political, human rights and labor activists.”

“These reports send a very clear message that all governments have a responsibility to protect universal human rights,” Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Friday in releasing the documents to the public. “They help to blaze a path forward for places where those rights are either threatened or denied.”

Uzra Zeya, the acting assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor said the annual reports serve as “the factual foundation upon which we build and shape our policies.”

A summary of the reports — posted on the State Department’s website — maintains that there are some “hopeful signs,” particularly with regard to new laws proposed in Afghanistan and Mongolia that would promote government transparency, as well as accountability with regard to the manner through which government funding finds its way into the hands of non-government organizations.

The summary also homes in on the social and political tumult gripping the Middle East and North Africa, saying that transformations occurring from Tunisia, to Libya, Egypt and elsewhere are “every bit as profound and consequential as the changes which swept over Latin America, Europe, and Eurasia two decades ago.”

Regarding the bloody civil war in Syria, the summary asserts that the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad has “conducted frequent police and military operations against peaceful civilians, including attacks on funeral processions, breadlines, schools, places of worship and hospitals, and continued to use indiscriminate, disproportionate, and deadly force to terrorize the Syrian population into submission.”

The summary takes aim at Iran, asserting that the Islamic republic’s government is “supporting the Assad regime and terrorist organizations outside its borders,” as well as continuing to “severely restrict the rights of its own citizens.”

“According to NGO reports, the government [of Iran] executed a total of 523 persons in 2012, many after trials that were secret or did not provide due process,” the summary states.

By contrast, the State Department pointed to a positive trend in Burma, where, since 2011, the government has “released more 700 political prisoners, many of whom had been imprisoned more than a decade.”

While a growth of political freedoms in Burma is also cited, the summary maintains that “Burma’s transition is not yet complete” and that “many of elements of the country’s authoritarian structure — repressive laws, pervasive security apparatus, corrupt judiciary, restrictions on freedom of religion, and dominance of the military — remain largely intact.”

The reports also delve into a host of other categories, including attacks on media freedoms in Ecuador and Ethiopia; the sustained prevalence of antisemitism in parts of the Middle East, Latin America and Europe; along with violence toward women and girls in several nations, with particular attention given to eastern areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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