- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2014

The past year has been a particularly bad one for human rights around the world, from a deadly chemical weapons attack in Syria to a bloody crackdown by Egyptian security forces on demonstrators in Cairo to the collapse of a packed eight-story garment factory in Bangladesh, the State Department says in an annual report.

Atrocities in Syria, where President Bashar Assad’s government has been waging a war for nearly three years on mostly Sunni rebels determined to topple him, “stands apart in its scope and human cost,” the report says.

On Aug. 21, 1,429 Syrians, including children, were killed in a chemical attack on an opposition stronghold on the outskirts of Damascus. The attack was one of the most lethal uses of weapons of mass destruction in decades.

“In Syria, hundreds were murdered in the dead of night when a disaster occurred at the hands of a dictator who decided to infect the air of Damascus with poisonous gas, and many more have been, unfortunately, confined to die under a barrage of barrel bombs, Scud missiles, artillery and other conventional weapons,” Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Thursday at the State Department.

More than 100,000 people have been killed in the war in Syria.

Still, the Syrian slaughter was not the only significant human rights calamity of 2013.

The collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh in April killed more than 1,000 people and injured more than 2,500. In Egypt, security forces killed up to 900 protesters in a crackdown on sit-in demonstrations by supporters of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, who was ousted by the army July 3 after massive protests against his government.

Other violations include “some born of negligence and others of malice, some committed by physical force, and others by legislative abuse,” the report says.

Mr. Kerry said the annual report, which is mandated by Congress, is “not just some high-minded exercise.”

“This is about accountability. It’s about ending impunity,” he said.

The report finds governments around the world have cracked down on civil society, restricted expression and press freedom, allowed security forces to commit abuses with impunity, not protected labor rights, and marginalized religious and ethnic minorities, women, children, gays and the disabled.

The report studied nearly 200 countries.

“From Independence Square in Ukraine to Gezi Park in Turkey, authorities resorted to violence to disperse peaceful protests around the world, seriously injuring scores of people,” the report says. “Cuba continued to organize mobs to physically assault peaceful marchers, China tightened controls on the internet and stepped up a crackdown on anti-corruption protesters and other activists, Vietnam continued to use vague national security laws to curb freedom of expression and association both online and offline, and Russia continued to suppress those critical of the government.”

The report also found:

In Iran, the most egregious human rights problems were the government’s manipulation of the electoral process that “severely limited” Iranians’ right to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections, and restrictions on civil liberties.

In China, authorities cracked down on individuals and organizations, including members of the New Citizens Movement, involved in civil and political rights advocacy.

Human rights violations in North Korea, including the public executions of leader Kim Jong-un’s uncle and his former mistress.

Abuses by security forces in Sudan, Libya, Nigeria, Russia, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Zimbabwe.

The report was completed before Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled over the weekend in the face of massive protests.

In Ukraine, tens of thousands took to the streets “to demonstrate again the power of people to be able to demand a more democratic and accountable governance, and to stand up even against those who would sniper from roofs and take their lives in the effort to have their voices heard,” Mr. Kerry said.

On Venezuela, where tensions between Washington and Caracas have resulted in a tit-for-tat expulsion of diplomats this month, Mr. Kerry said a solution to the protests against the government “will not be found through violence, but only through dialogue with all Venezuelans in a climate of mutual respect.”

The report also highlights an increase in discrimination against the lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual community, including anti-gay laws in Nigeria and Uganda.

Such laws contribute to rising violence against gays and their supporters, Mr. Kerry said.

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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