- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Human rights abuses by governments and nonstate actors are on the rise worldwide, according to an annual review by the State Department, which homed in on the usual suspects of Syria, Iran, China, North Korea and Russia — but also faulted allies such as Turkey and countries with warming relations with the U.S. such as Cuba.

In releasing the review Wednesday, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said the situation “points to a global governance crisis” in which regimes are cracking down with an increasingly heavy hand because more people than ever around the world are demanding fair treatment and civil liberties.

Russia was cited as a prime example, with the report contending that the government of President Vladimir Putin has engaged in “a range of measures to suppress dissent.”

Today, Russian authorities aim “systematically to harass, discredit, prosecute, imprison, detain, fine, and suppress individuals and organizations engaged in activities critical of the government, including [nongovernmental organizations], independent media outlets, bloggers, the political opposition, and activists,” the State Department said.

Officially known as the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights, the review also hit Iran, asserting that despite last summer’s nuclear accord, the government in Tehran continues to refuse to work with human rights organizations at the most basic level.

State Department officials cited “severe restrictions” on freedoms of assembly, association and speech in Iran, as well as government abuses of due process, dubious detentions and the “escalating use of capital punishment” — in some cases for crimes committed by juveniles.

The review cited the use of torture by Iranian authorities, including “judicially sanctioned amputation and flogging,” and noted the ongoing presence of “harsh and life-threatening conditions in detention and prison facilities, with instances of deaths in custody.”

On China, it said, government-sponsored “repression and coercion markedly increased during the year against organizations and individuals involved in civil and political rights advocacy,” with a “particularly severe” crackdown on the nation’s legal community.

The review released Wednesday was the 40th produced by the State Department. The document, posted on the department’s website, is a country-by-country assessment of every nation of the world, except the United States, and often sparks harsh responses from its named targets.

While the document cannot force the U.S. government to cut ties or military aid to rights abusers or to impose sanctions upon them, it is generally regarded as a prime source for tracking human rights abuses by governments around the world.

Other nations that received significant attention this year included Sudan, Rwanda, Congo, Venezuela, Azerbaijan, Uganda, Egypt and Vietnam. Several Islamist terrorist groups also drew condemnation, including the Islamic State, Nigeria’s Boko Haram, Somalia’s al-Shabab and the Taliban movement in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The abuses included genocide and crimes against humanity directed at religious minorities, including Christians, in Syria and Iraq.

Despite President Obama’s much-touted outreach to Cuba, the report found that Havana continues to violate basic political freedoms, with the Communist Party’s monopoly on power very much still in force.

“State security continued its practice of arbitrary, short-term detentions to impede the exercise of freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly,” according to Wednesday’s review. “The government also re-arrested several political prisoners it had released in January 2015 who had continued their activism during the year.”

The report also called out key U.S. allies in the Middle East — most notably Egypt, which receives some $1.3 billion in annual military aid from Washington, and Turkey, the lone NATO member state in the region.

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